Assasin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassins creed odyssey

Ironically for a game set in ancient Greece, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is anything but Spartan. This epic-scale action-roleplaying game shines as a grand adventure through a magnificent and beautiful open world on a scale we’ve rarely seen. With so few compromises between quantity and quality, Odyssey vaults over its predecessors to become the most impressive game in the history of the series.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey begins more than 2,400 years ago at the onset of the Peloponnesian war: a decades-long struggle between Athens and Sparta for dominion over the ancient Greek world. It’s a fitting period to explore that’s rife with social and political intrigue, full-scale warfare on land and sea, and a tangible air of myth and legend. And after an astonishing 60-plus hours of galloping, sailing, and slicing through that historical-fiction sandbox, it’s easy to see why it was worth fighting so hard over.

Odyssey’s world is the biggest and most vibrantly colorful of the series. Even though much of its playground is blanketed in the fickle blue waters of the Aegean sea, its playable acreage is immense and rivaled only by its sheer jaw-dropping beauty. Greece is a stunning series of picturesque locales: white-stone isles, eternally autumnal forests, sun-blasted desert islands, an endless expanse of beach, alabaster cities defended by titanic statues of bronze and stone, and the inviting, rolling waves of the open sea. These beautiful scenes explode into life thanks to a lighting system that still causes me to stop and snap a picture even all these hours later.

Of course, as with virtually all grand-scale game worlds, flaws lurk just under the surface. They range from minor immersion-breaking hiccups like draw distance that never seems to be quite far enough to capture the view, textures that arrive moments too late, or slightly off-sync audio, to the more severe: getting terminally stuck on geometry, finding an unlootable lootable item, or having your tamed beast become untamed when you die and reload – which may very well cause you to die and reload again if you happen to have had a tamed bear. Bugs like these were annoying, sure, but not quite frequent enough to sour me on exploring what has become one of my favorite open-world maps ever.

For the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game we get a choice of whether to play exclusively as a man or a woman: siblings Alexios and Kassandra. True, as far as the story’s concerned they’re effectively the same character, but even though they’re superficial there are some meaningful differences. Namely, Kassandra’s voice acting is generally more consistently well done than that of her brother.

For that matter, accents and voice delivery throughout Odyssey are hit or miss, usually falling somewhere between good and outright scenery-chewing, especially when it comes to no-name NPCs who sound like someone who’d watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding once before being asked to do an impersonation. But the facial animation of the marquee characters is superb, and you can sense the subtle disgust or confusion on the face of Alexios or Kassandra without them having to say a word.

These protagonists are easily the most flexible characters in any Assassin’s Creed game to date when it comes to their personalities. As a mercenary, my Alexios was free to be whoever I decided he should be. A merc with a conscious, a one-track-mind horn dog, or a ruthless murdering psychopath – there are no wrong answers, but there were definitely consequences to the decisions I chose.

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Battlefield 5

Battlefield 5 opens with a solemn prologue in which you play as a series of doomed soldiers dying in increasingly horrible ways. Its intent, I presume, is to evoke the futility and horror of war. But it feels out of place in a game where you can wear a Union Jack gas mask, jump out of a plane in mid-air, land on your feet, then whack a Nazi over the head with a cricket bat.

Developer DICE can’t seem to decide if war is hell, or just cool as hell, which creates some wild tonal dissonance. The notoriously chaotic Battlefield is by no means an accurate approximation of a real, gruelling war, which makes a soldier’s agonised screams of “I wanna go home!” as he bleeds out just seem a bit tasteless. The Swedish studio needs to own the fact that its game is really just a fun, silly, knockabout shooter, because that what it does best.

In the thick of a firefight, with planes screaming overhead, tanks trundling by, and sniper scopes glinting in the distance, Battlefield 5 can be exhilarating. And the dense, detailed maps only add to the turmoil, particularly the post-apocalyptic Devastation, which is set among the shattered ruins of a bombed-out Rotterdam. With 64 players fighting together, few multiplayer games are this frenzied. And a welcome return to World War II brings back fond memories of the first wave of Battlefield games.

This chaos also results in some exciting, emergent moments that could almost be scripted set pieces, such as the Spitfire I saw flying too low and buzzing a church’s bell tower, carving a hole in the side with its wing and leaving a trail of dust and rubble. But this can also work against it, and I’ve lost count of the visual bugs I’ve encountered: usually involving corpses getting stuck in scenery or flailing around like they’re being reanimated by a necromancer.

This is a series famous for its destruction, but now you can build things too. Whip out your hammer and on certain parts of the map—usually around control points—you’ll see the shimmering outline of sandbags, barbed wire, and other buildable fortifications. Any class can build them and you don’t have to harvest resources or anything like that, but the process is slow and leaves you open to attack while you wait for a meter to slowly tick up.

A good example of this is in the Aerodrome map, where the entrance to a large aircraft hangar can be plugged up with cover, Czech hedgehogs, and other obstacles to make the lives of the opposing team more difficult. Some maps even let you dig trenches for your fellow troops to move safely through. It never feels like the outcome of a battle hangs on the construction of these fortifications, but they can really change the flow of a map.

Speaking of maps, it’s a mixed bag, but some are among Battlefield’s best. Twisted Steel is the clear highlight: a vast, swampy map set in France and dominated by an enormous bridge, part of which has dramatically collapsed. Below the structure is a marshy forest for skirmishing in, but it’s on the bridge itself where the most exciting firefights inevitably take place around the two capture points placed strategically at either end of it.

When the enemy team has control of the bridge, wrestling it back from them is a fun, satisfying challenge. Its elevated position gives snipers a great vantage point on the swamp and buildings below, but luckily the bridge is strewn with rubble and flaming wrecks, providing just enough cover for the opposing team to push through and claw back territory.

Arras is another great map: an expanse of French countryside covered in vivid yellow rapeseed fields. The open areas are perfect for vehicle skirmishes, while infantry can battle for control of the farmhouses and villages scattered around the area. Fjell 652, set in the mountains of Norway, is a lot of fun too, particularly the control point situated among a scattering of cabins. Its exposed mountainside location makes for some hectic firefights, with opportunities for distant snipers and aircraft to make your life hell.

Less successful is Devastation, the Rotterdam-based map I mentioned earlier. It’s visually impressive and incredibly atmospheric, but the cluttered geometry and lack of clear, identifiable paths to each control point make it feel messy and poorly paced. Hamada, a large desert map, is great for vehicle combat, but the distances between control points and the generally increased time-to-kill in Battlefield 5 mean you spend a lot of time running back to where you died and, if you’re unlucky, being sniped by someone on the way.

Narvik and Aerodrome sit somewhere in the middle. The former is based around a Norwegian harbour town, and except for a few memorably tense fights around an elevated train yard on the waterfront, nothing really sticks out about it. The latter is another big, open map ideally suited to vehicles and I only really found it interesting when both armies descended on the colossal hangar at the heart of the map. Ultimately, there are no bad maps in Battlefield 5: just a few mediocre ones. And for an online-focused FPS at launch, that’s pretty decent.

Squads are more important than ever in Battlefield 5. Not only can you spawn on an ally if they aren’t engaged in combat, but now non-medic characters can perform a ‘buddy revive’ on a fallen comrade. This is a lot slower than when a medic does it, but still fairly invaluable in the final stages of a match. It also encourages squads to stay close together, as tempting as it might be to run off and test out your new sniper rifle. You can still leave your assigned squad and play as a lone wolf, but the game actively discourages it.

Another benefit of working in a team is that, when enough points are accumulated, the leader can call in a so-called Squad Reinforcement. These range from a fire-spewing tank to, best of all, a devastating rocket that can absolutely flatten a control point, killing anyone in the blast radius. The sound of the aircraft that launches it buzzing overhead is always nerve-wracking—unless you’re the one firing it, of course. You can see the explosion from way across the map, and pushing in with your fellow soldiers to take a point after a rocket drops on it is always a thrilling moment.

Building on Battlefield 1’s Operations mode, Grand Operations are vast, themed battles that take place over three days, loosely connected with a story that changes depending on the performance of each team. While Battlefield is often a good game to dip in and out of, you’ll need to set a decent chunk of time aside—in some matches, as long as an hour—for these sprawling epics. Each day is heavily objective-based, with teams attacking or defending key structures including giant artillery guns that players can operate.

I’m not sure about Final Stand, though. This tie-breaker round is triggered if both teams are evenly matched and there’s no clear winner. Essentially playing out like the tense final minutes of a game of Fortnite or PUBG, respawns are disabled and surviving players are gradually pushed together by a shrinking play space. The last team standing wins the Grand Operation, which kinda negates your team’s performance in the previous rounds.

While Call of Duty has abandoned singleplayer, it’s good to see DICE still making the effort. War Stories is a series of solo missions with lavish production values and melodramatic cutscenes, set in lesser-known corners of World War II. The missions have an open structure, with multiple objectives that can be completed in any order, but there are still a lot of moments where it’s clear you’re playing something quite heavily scripted.

Nordlys, set during the German occupation of Norway, is the best, following a resistance fighter as she fights behind enemy lines. The environment design is stunning (that snow, so powdery) and skiing between locations is fun. Overall, War Stories is more interesting than CoD’s shallow, linear meat grinder campaigns and boasts some genuine spectacle, but it’s not worth buying the game for. Online is still the reason Battlefield exists, but these missions are well made and a worthwhile addition to the game.

While the flow of the action in BF5 is almost identical to the last few games, character movement has been altered to feel more physical—and I’m not a fan. This is most notable in the laboured, disorientating animations that play when entering/exiting vehicles. Previously you’d just appear in a vehicle, which was a little illusion-shattering, but basically fine. Now, though, you have to watch as your guy slowly, painfully climbs in or out, with the camera flipping all over the place. I get what they’re going for, trying to make you feel more connected to the world, but it just isn’t as fluid as it should be.

Here’s the thing, though: Battlefield 5 is gonna change, a lot. DICE is already addressing community complaints such as bombers being overpowered, as well as planning new modes including its inevitable take on the battle royale genre, Firestorm. There’s also a new tank-focused singleplayer mission, The Last Tiger, on the way in December. In a year this could be a much better, deeper, richer experience, but for now it’s just a very good Battlefield game with a few great maps and plenty of those moments of beautiful chaos that have come to define the series.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate review: the ultimate brawler for Switch

Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Oh, Smash Bros. Nintendo’s iconic, chaotic brawler has given us a lot of good memories over the years, and the latest addition to the series looks set to continue its legacy, while looking back on everything – and every fighter – that made it great.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate packs in more fighters, more stages, more gameplay modes, and more tactical elements of any game in the franchise. This is, for all intents and purposes, the definitive Super Smash Bros., with everything that entails.

We’ve sampled all of the Classic, Smash, Spirit, and World of Light game modes Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has to offer – including the crucial online competitive multiplayer, now that the game’s global servers have finally stuttered online.

But what did we think of the latest iteration of Nintendo’s iconic brawler? Read on in our definitive Super Smash Ultimate review below.

The joy of Smash

The core experience of any Smash Bros. game is the multiplayer, whether that’s local co-op on the couch, or smashing heads in competitive matches online. 

Like its predecessors, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate looks to the tactical mechanics of traditional fighting games, and then chucks them into a sandpit of all your favorite toys – throwing together characters from Pokemon, Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Metroid, Animal Crossing, and countless other Nintendo or third-party IP. The result is a chaotic, joyous, maddening, sometimes incomprehensible mess of blows, items, assist trophies, and finishing moves. In short: it’s very, very fun.

As ever, each fighter comes with a variation on standard attacks (A button and directional pad), special attacks (B button and directional pad), grab attacks (L / R), and shields (ZL / ZR). That’s not to mention the seismic ‘smash attack’ that fighters earn from capturing a floating orb called the ‘Smash Ball’ that wanders onto the stage – a massive and over-the-top special move with the potential to brutally damage the other fighters onstage.

A smash attack might see a fighter jet fly into the fray (Fox McCloud) a ball of lightning knock players off the stage (Pikachu), or a vampire-slayer banish an opponent into a virtual coffin (Richter Belmont). Smash Bros. has a flair for the dramatic, and Ultimate is no exception.

Ultimate remains surprisingly accessible too, with enough luck thrown in that you never quite know how a match is going to turn out. Jumping around and button-mashing remains a valid – and crucially, fun – way to start out, given how dynamic the stages and interfering items tend to be.

The chaos is part of the charm, of course, and Ultimate ramps up the overall speed for livelier, faster-paced combat. Other mechanical changes that prevent skidding, stop fighters from ‘phasing’ past each other, and make grabs bounce off each other, make this a game where you can’t as easily run or avoid attacks, and it’s all the stronger for it.

The ability to customize matches, though, means you can either ramp up the heat or strip the back the experience for something simpler.

You can cull all the items, or only allow banana peels and Pokeballs. You can pick your favorite stage to battle on – out of the immense 103 options available – allocate one at random, or set the game to jump to a different stage at an unspecified point in the match. You can vary the number of lives, turn off damage counters, restrict character selection, and too many other things to list here. 

There’s no shame in sticking to default settings, but if that sort of detail and customization interests you, you may spend as much time experimenting with small settings changes as you do actually brawling.

Local co-op can support up to eight individual players around one console, with either a Pro Controller, paired Joy-Con grip, or single Joy-Con.

Online mess

While players with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription can battle in up to four-player matches online, there isn’t as much freedom as you’d like.

Players can set their ‘preferred rules’ regarding use of items, number of players, and style of match, but it’s just that: a preference. You’ll often find yourself playing in configurations you didn’t sign up for, just because that’s what the game found easier to match you up in. Recent patches seem to be improving this, though.

Players are also reporting numerous issues with lag and connection speed – crucial for high-speed competitive play where a few milliseconds could be the difference between dodging an attack or being thrown offscreen. 

The promise of Smash Bros. competitive multiplayer will have sold a lot of Nintendo Switch Online subscriptions, so we’re hoping this continues to be addressed – but be warned that you’ll need a strong internet connection, and possibly some patience, to get the online experience you wanted.Advertisement

The whole gang’s here

The sheer number of fighters on the roster – 74, at launch – may look daunting, and it is. To start, however, players will be starting with only eight: Mario, Pikachu, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Samus, Link, Kirby, and Fox. And yes, this is the starting roster from the original 1999 Super Smash Bros. (Boy, do Nintendo know how to do a throwback.)

You’ll then have the ability to unlock other fighters through the single-player modes, or in chance encounters that literally spring out at you when navigating the game’s menus.

The main point here is that near enough anyone sitting down the play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will know one of the characters on the roster. Whether you’re a veteran gamer who grew up playing Ice Climbers and Pac-Man, a long-time Metroid or Super Mario fan, or someone who bought a Nintendo Switchjust to play Splatoon 2, you’ll recognize some of the faces, and likely have played some of the IP featured here.

While the mechanics are complex, and painstakingly tweaked to ensure balance between the huge number of characters – we couldn’t even guess how many hours of playtesting Nintendo needed – anyone can pick up a Joy-Con and start swinging their fists as Kirby or Donkey Kong. By going big with its character list, Nintendo have opened up the franchise far beyond any of the previous games.

You’ll see this with the 11 brand new fighters added for Ultimate. While the likes of Ridley and King K. Rule both offer small variations on ‘heavy’ fighters, and Daisy and Dark Samus copy the moveset of existing characters, others bring something far more experimental. 

The Inklings from Splatoon have an ink meter that needs to be recharged every few moves – literally by submerging yourself in paint – though this will leave you vulnerable to melee attacks. The Pokemon Incineroar too offers big offense, but has a tendency to launch itself offstage if you’re not careful about where you’re facing.

A mode for every occasion

But there’s still so much more than just smashing. The recently revealed World of Light mode functions as a single-player campaign, based on a cataclysmic event that tears the entire world’s souls from their bodies. (Yup.)

Everyone except pink little Kirby, that is, who’s presumably too cute to be doomed with the others.

You set off as Kirby on a quest to fight the possessed bodies of your friends, who have been inhabited by ‘spirits’, in order to add other fighters to your roster and choose your route across the World of Light map as you make your way to the final boss, Galeem: some sort of feathery-light-serpent-god that’s to blame for messing with everyone’s souls.

These spirits offer the main departure from previous Smash Bros. games. Spirits are essentially a form of collectable sticker you can allocate to fighters to increase their stats, alter their weight and speed, or add special effects and items in battle.

Spirits replace the collectable trophies players would collect by battling and defeating characters in previous games, with a far more tactical element. The spirits also take the form of hundreds of other Nintendo and third-party characters that are likely to inspire joyous nostalgia and puzzled looks in equal measure.

That’s not to mention the Classic Mode, with a unique series of stages and opponents for each fighter. Or dedicated challenge modes and All-Star Smash stages (where you fight every single fighter on the roster). Or the camera mode for replaying battles and picking the perfect angle for your heat-of-battle stills. Or the new training mode that lets you test out the exact distance, power, and angle of each of your fighter’s moves on a literal giant graph.

But whether you’re here to hone your skills, take some fun snaps, or just smash that controller to high heaven, Ultimate has something for you, and enough fighters to offer near endless replay value – even if you’re only ever likely to stick with a handful that suit your play-style.

The whole spirit conceit is slightly nonsensical – but for the gamers who recognise Mega Man’s Skull Man boss, Advance Wars’ pilot Hawk, or the Slime from Dragon Quest, finding and collating those stickers is a treat unto itself, and will offer a whole other layer of tactical complexity to those who are looking for it.Advertisement

Fan service

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is all about giving players what they want.

Say what you want about Smash Bros. on the home console Wii U or lower-spec handheld 3DS – few people bought into the hardware to play on the former, while it was never going to feel like a complete experience on the latter.

The line-up of games for the Nintendo Switch has had no shortage of Wii U ports, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Pokken Tournement DX, or Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze – and we could well have got a port of the Super Smash Bros. entry that came to Nintendo 3DS and Wii U.

But Nintendo went further. We got a brand new Smash Bros. game, built from the ground up for Nintendo Switch. We got every character ever featured in the series, along with a host of new faces, and a fully fleshed-out single-player mode.

That’s 74 fighters total, with another five coming in DLC (Piranha Plant and Persona 5’s Joker are both confirmed, and our money’s on Detective Pikachu making an appearance). For comparison, Street Fighter V has a roster of 34 characters, while the latest Tekken game lists 48.

We may never get to play as Waluigi (sadly relegated to an Assist Trophy) but there’s more than enough here to distract ourselves.

Fallout 76

After more than 50 hours plundering the irradiated wasteland of Fallout 76, the greatest mystery still lingering is who this mutated take on Fallout is intended for. Like many of Vault-Tec’s underground bunkers, Bethesda’s multiplayer riff on its post-nuclear RPG series is an experiment gone awry. There are bright spots entangled in this mass of frustratingly buggy and sometimes conflicting systems, but what fun I was able to salvage from the expansive but underpopulated West Virginia map was consistently overshadowed by the monotony of its gathering and crafting treadmill.

On the surface, Fallout 76 is another dose of Bethesda’s tried-and-true open-world RPG formula on a larger-than-ever map that’s begging to be explored. As you emerge from Vault 76 you’ll start in a relatively peaceful forest and venture out into more dangerous pockets of the irradiated wasteland. My favorite is traveling the lengths of the Cranberry Bog, where the pinkish-red fields are seemingly inviting from afar but turn out to be full of a snaking system of trenches and alien forests that hide the worst horrors of the wasteland, but there are many more.

But while the lighting and art direction of these different regions are great at setting the eerie mood and tone of a destroyed Appalachia, the actual objects like trees, shrubs, buildings, cars, and more somehow look flatter and less detailed than those in Fallout 4 did three years ago. Coupling that with Bethesda’s still-unimpressive character animations, Fallout 76 isn’t a good-looking game except when viewed from the exact right angles.

When you look closer, it becomes obvious that Bethesda’s ambitious idea to replace all human NPCs with other players results in a lack of meaningful interaction with the world. Other than 20-something other players spread so thinly over a massive map that chance encounters are rare outside of quest locations, just about the only voices you’ll hear are recordings of long-dead questgivers, robots, and AI constructs who simply deliver information at you. Where past Fallout games have more than made up for some of their frustrations with brow-furrowing questions like whether to destroy the town of Megaton or what should become of the New Vegas Strip, there’s no opportunity for the morally tricky decision-making in Fallout 76 because no one talking to you can hear you.

Because of that, the so-called main story quests to track down and eliminate the source of a spreading plague boil down to obediently following a breadcrumb trail of journals and notes. With the exception of some occasional goofy and creative tasks, it all feels like chasing ghosts. And though later missions mask the shallowness with some cool large-scale battles and events, they’re fleeting moments.

Wandering the diverse wasteland of Appalachia does reveal one of Bethesda’s great strengths: environmental storytelling. Discovering a goofy teddy bear playing pots-and-pans drums in a shack in the middle of nowhere tells me someone was here for a time, and so very bored. A skeleton holding flowers, a bottle of wine, and a stuffed animal reveals that someone was about to take the plunge and profess their admiration when the world burst into flame. A half-sunken church with tunnels leading into a deeper, icicle light-adorned cavern has me wondering who reclaimed this place? Was it a sanctum? A place to hide from everything outside?

All of these little moments and so many more are dotted across the landscape of West Virginia, and though they’re such small things, they speak volumes about the diverse variety of lives that were led before the bombs fell and in the times shortly thereafter. But really, it just made me want to meet some of them.

By now this shouldn’t be news to anyone, but: a new Fallout game has bugs. Yet even by the notorious standards of a Bethesda open-world game, Fallout 76 is technically shaky, and unlike the radiation-soaked radroaches and bloatflys you encounter these annoying bugs can’t be resolved by incinerating them with a laser pistol. Technical problems occupy the spectrum of severity. Some can be endearing: I’ve casually shot the head off a feral ghoul, sending both parts cartwheeling into the air at hilarious speed, and watched a hulking crustacean get caught in a small patch of trees, unable to free itself from what, to it, should’ve been a tiny weed. That’s not ideal, but in dour moments they can add an absurdist sense of humor to the otherwise-dreary wasteland environment.

I’m far less amused, however, by the hive of deeply frustrating bugs that’s infested virtually all of Fallout 76’s systems. There are noticeable framerate dips and freezes for several seconds at a time that sometimes recover and sometimes crash the application, and these are as common as the rising and setting sun.There are quests that can’t be completed – some of which were addressed with a ridiculously large post-launch patch, but others have not – and I’ve had quest targets already dead upon arrival, forcing me to jump from server to server (not easy to do because there’s no server browser – you’re automatically assigned one on every login) until I found one where it was still alive. I’m looking at you, Evan. I’ve seen whole sections of my camp suddenly disappear, or load in 30 seconds after I’d fast-traveled to it, or duplicate all the materials for no reason, forcing me to delete the entire blueprint and rebuild piece by piece. I’ve been stuck on never-ending loading screens. I’ve watched wasteland cows glitch 30 feet into the air, and back down, over and over. I’ve stared in disbelief as power armor turned player characters into long-appendaged vaguely humanoid monsters (Okay, maybe that one should be in the funny category) or cause players to go invisible. One of my cohorts’ characters became stuck for a full day and couldn’t play at all.

The list goes on and on and on. But despite their frequency and severity, most are corrected when you quit the application and relaunch – but because you can’t declare one server your home and find it again on demand, that means any server-specific things you do, like taking over workshop camps and building resource generators, are left behind and become casualties of Fallout 76’s rampant issues. Bethesda’s open-world games have always had a touch of random instability, but at least everything was usually as we left it when we restarted and came back. I imagine the fact that Fallout 76 is an online game has ratcheted all the usual problems up quite a bit.

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