The impossible finally happened: Supergiant Games have made something that I unambiguously like.
I’m not sure if it’s the current state of the world or simply my getting older, but I find my perception of time is starting to unravel a bit. For example, my first reaction upon learning Wasteland 3 had been released was something along the lines of “Wow, it wasn’t that long ago that I reviewed Wasteland 2!” only to then realise that that was back in 2014 and that developers inXile have had time to put out two more RPGs in the intervening six years – Torment: Tides of Numenera and Bard’s Tale IV — both of which I have also played and reviewed and then immediately forgotten. While all of these games have been heavily flawed they have, at least, demonstrated that inXile are on a generally upward trajectory; there’s been a noticeable process of slow improvement with each one as they gradually figure out how to best put together writing, structure and systems design to create a compelling RPG. So my general expectation for Wasteland 3 was that it was going to be okay, even if my previous experience with inXile’s games has also taught me to expect bugs and combat balance issues and entirely missing chunks of game. I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be more than that, and probably wouldn’t have bothered if I’d actually had to buy the thing for fifty quid instead of getting it as part of my £4-a-month GamePass subscription.
The first time the words “A Hideo Kojima Production” popped up during the opening credits of Death Stranding, I merely greeted it with a raised eyebrow. It’s always struck me as a particularly pretentious thing to try and put your own name front and centre on a game that’s been produced by a team of hundreds, but it’s also par for the course from Kojima at this point. I let it go.
The second time the words “A Hideo Kojima Production” popped up during the opening credits of Death Stranding, I did a bit of a comical double-take. Hadn’t he already told me this was A Hideo Kojima Production? Maybe it was a bug. Surely the man’s ego couldn’t be large enough that he’d put his name on it twice1.
The third time the words “A Hideo Kojima Production” popped up during the opening credits of Death Stranding, my eyes rolled back so far in my head I think I caught a glimpse of my brain.
First, an apology to Hidden Path. Back in 2013 I slated the first remaster of AoE 2, Age Of Empires 2 HD, as being little more than a widescreen upgrade for the game. Granted it did have Steamworks integration for multiplayer, but on launch the game was plagued with bugs and desyncs and so at the time I didn’t see the long-term value of an AoE 2 with a modern multiplayer backend. Hidden Path kept at it, however, fixing those bugs and shoring up the game and providing a base for another studio, Forgotten Empires, to release their own campaigns and civilization packs. A couple of years back I discovered that Age Of Empires 2 now has a thriving esports community with some of the highest viewer counts on Twitch during major tournaments; I have enjoyed watching many of those matches myself, and that’s something that probably wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of Hidden Path and Forgotten Empires1. However, while Age Of Empires 2 has certainly aged more gracefully than several of its contemporaries, there was no getting around the fact that the HD Edition was just that – it upped the resolution while doing nothing to update the underlying look of game, and that’s been a bit of a problem as the modern obsession with 4K displays and 144Hz refresh rates intensifies. Given that Microsoft is going through one of its more consumer-friendly phases at the moment, and given that there’s a proven audience for Age Of Empires out there, it’s not that surprising that they’ve taken a stab at a full remaster with Age Of Empires 2: Definitive Edition.
What is a little surprising, though, is just how outstandingly good this remaster is.
In this age of Steam shovelware and low-effort mobile ports it’s difficult to remember a time when we weren’t awash in terrible adaptations of various Games Workshop properties. These days you can’t throw a rock without hitting a digital version of one of their Specialist Games from the ‘90s – Space Hulk, Mordheim, Adeptus Titanicus, Man O’ War, Battlefleet Gothic and so on — and with the notable exception of Battlefleet Gothic all of them have ranged in quality from “sub-par” to “indescribably awful”. Years before the floodgates opened, however, there was Cyanide’s 2009 adaptation of the classic American-Football-but-with-Orcs punch ‘em up Blood Bowl, which was a game that got a headstart on everyone else through a surprising application of copyright infringement1. Unlike the many games that followed it Blood Bowl didn’t piss about trying to figure out how to convert the board game into something more appropriate for a videogame, and instead just ported the board game rules across on a 1:1 basis. This proved to be an unusually successful approach, for two very good reasons that I’m surprised the later GW adaptations (including some of Cyanide’s own) didn’t pick up on. One is that while it was far from perfect Cyanide had managed to balance automating away most of the cruft that slows down a physical game of Blood Bowl while still preserving the board game feeling with stuff like highly visible digital dice rolls. The other is that people liked the old Specialist Games for a reason, and Blood Bowl is the best of the lot. You don’t need to go tinkering with the gameplay to make it work. It already does.
As long as you have somebody else to play it with, anyway.
Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider is an expandalone for Dishonored 2 that came out towards the end of 2017. Given that Dishonored 2 and its sci-fi stablemate Prey are two of my favourite games of the last few years it’s possibly a little surprising that it’s taken me two years to get around to playing it; however they also came out within six months of each other and Death Of The Outsider looked like more of the same, so I decided to let it breathe for a few months and come back to it when I was ready. As it is now 2020 I appear to have gotten a little bit distracted between now and then, but that’s actually done Death Of The Outsider a considerable favour: it is, arguably, just more Dishonored, and if I’d played it so soon after Prey and Dishonored 2 I’d likely be much more critical of it. However, since both games underperformed it’s highly unlikely we’ll see more of either from Arkane in the near future. Death Of The Outsider is the last Dishonored thing we’ll be getting for some time, and if you view it through that lens it being more of the same is no bad thing at all.