Observation is a game that sets itself up like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but which instead turns out to be more like The Cloverfield Paradox.
The elevator pitch for Starcom Nexus is that it’s a modern, somewhat lighter version of Star Control. You’re an officer in an incredibly thinly-veiled analogue for the Federation from Star Trek, and you have control of a single ship that is, to begin with, just an engine, a bridge section and a plasma turret bolted together. This is not much with which to face the scenario the game tosses you into roughly thirty seconds after you boot it up: a magical rift in space appears (some might even call it… a Nexus) and tosses both your ship and a nearby friendly space station into a totally uncharted region of the universe, full of weird new phenomena and unknown alien races to make friends with/blow up for resources. You use those resources at the friendly space station to bolt new modules onto your ship, growing it from a rinky-dink shuttle into a titanic space behemoth that lays waste to everything around it, while solving the central mystery of where you are, how you got there, and how you can possibly get back.
This is not the first time I’ve played Halo: Reach. The first time I played it was back in 2013 during my misguided attempt to catch up on the Halo series post-Halo 3, when I played through ODST, Reach and Halo 4 in quick succession. I didn’t like ODST much, though I will admit it is infinitely better than the staggeringly awful Halo 41. I did quite like Reach, however; it wasn’t up to the standards of the original Halo trilogy, but it at least didn’t go out of its way to break the fiction-gameplay relationship like ODST did, and it didn’t replace the Covenant with an incredibly uninspired race of Generic FPS Baddies called Prometheans like Halo 4 did. Instead it focused solely on what the series has done best: punchy FPS combat against waves of well-designed enemies whose AI meant that you had to get somewhat tactical in order to survive. Reach at least qualified as an actual Halo game in my eyes even if there were other things missing that meant I’d put it at the bottom of the pile, and in theory it’s not a bad game to kick off the series’ long-overdue return to the PC platform.
I’ll admit I didn’t have the best start with Pathfinder Kingmaker. It’s an isometric fantasy RPG in the style of Baldur’s Gate that’s based on an obsessively literal adaptation of the well-regarded Pathfinder variant of the D&D ruleset. Specifically it’s an offshoot of the 3rd edition D&D rules, which I’ve intensely disliked just about everywhere I’ve encountered it (both Neverwinter Nights games and both KOTOR titles) for reasons that I’ll explain later in the review. Still, it looked very attractive and had an outstanding interface that actually tried to break down all of the 3rd edition bullshit in a halfway understandable fashion, and I quite enjoyed the first hour of the game where you do the tutorial in a mansion that’s under attack by assassins. Once you get into the game proper, though, the very first side quest you’re given is to retrieve some berries from a cave for a hermit alchemist. Not exactly glamorous stuff, but hey, you’re a Level 1 Adventurer, and you don’t get to battle gods and dragons until level 17 at least. Berry hunts are how you work your way up the adventuring ladder.
Disco Elysium is a text-heavy narrative RPG in which you play a cop with amnesia trying to solve a murder case in a sci-fi city. Because of these themes — and not least because of the amnesia — it has been described as a successor to Planescape: Torment, which is one of the most powerful curses in gaming1. If anything, though, that description is hugely underselling what Disco Elysium is trying to do. Planescape is nearly 20 years old now and was unnecessarily constrained by the relative infancy of the story-driven CRPG, while Disco Elysium is a game that’s fully aware of what it is and where it’s coming from. It knows the player is probably going to have expectations on how it’s going to work based on their previous experience of the genre, which is why it immediately sets out to subvert them.