Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Creative Director Responds To Xbox Series X Gameplay Reveal.

assassin's creed valhalla

New footage of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla premiered during the Xbox Series X event this week, but some fans were hoping to see more. Creative director Ashraf Ismail has now responded to the reaction, saying he understands people wanted to see more of the next-gen Assassin’s Creed title. More details on the game, including an “in-depth gameplay” demonstration will come later on, he said.

“You rightfully expected to see more today. We have a long marketing campaign ahead of us, you will see in-depth gameplay and get a lot more info about the game,” he said on Twitter. “Thank you for your excitement and passion! Be patient with us and be kind. It will be worth it!”

Full video:

The Valhalla trailer shown during the Xbox event disappointed some fans because, despite being labeled as a “gameplay trailer,” it didn’t exactly deliver on that. Instead of featuring combat or exploration, the video put more of an emphasis on the locations you’ll visit when Valhalla launches this holiday.

You can play as a man or woman in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but either way their name will be Eivor (pronounced Ay-vor). Like many Assassin’s Creed games, this one is based on real history, but the historians at Ubisoft had to do a little more digging to construct a narrative from the dark ages. At the same time, Ubisoft says it isn’t concerned with comparisons to God of War, despite the similarly Norse setting. For more on Valhalla, witness our pre-order guide.

Persona 5 Royal Review – Hearts Of Gold

Persona 5 Royal

In the three years since Persona 5‘s original release, I’ve thought about it almost every day. Its lavish style gracefully captures its spirit of rebellion and breathes life into its dynamic combat system. The evocative, banging soundtrack perfectly encapsulates the emotion of each moment. The downtime spent in Tokyo with your friends brings you closer to each of them, invigorating your fight for what’s right. All those qualities feed into a bold story that unapologetically puts its foot down against the injustices that reflect our own society.

The extended version, Persona 5 Royal, brings the heat all over again. But beyond a plethora of superb gameplay refinements and features that improve an already-rich RPG comes a momentous new story arc seeded within the original narrative and paid off in full by the end. It delivers something genuinely surprising, leading to awe-inspiring moments and emotional conclusions that recontextualize what I thought the game was. Through its lengthy 120-hour runtime, Persona 5 Royal proves itself as the definitive version of a modern classic.

The minute you start P5R, you’re given the fantastic in media res introduction that brilliantly showcases the ride you’re in for–and provides a glimpse at the Royal-exclusive character Kasumi. After this teaser, you’re brought to the chronological start of the story that then walks you through the events that lit the fire inside our protagonist (aka Joker) and kicked off his journey as a virtuous trickster. The opening hours may take some time to pick the pace back up, but by easing you into the game’s systems, you’re set up for the rest of its flow.

P5R expertly intertwines the daily structure of living life as a Japanese high school student and a supernatural-powered vigilante fighting evil in an alternate dimension. Because the social sim elements and RPG dungeon crawling are woven together seamlessly, you grow attached to the very world you’re fighting to change. It’s a format that’s been the series foundation since Persona 3, and it is at its most effective here in P5R with a range of possibilities and new minor UI elements that help communicate your options. Carefully choosing how to spend your precious days and nights by balancing school life, relationships, and your duties as a Phantom Thief throughout the calendar year even makes the mundane exciting.

Best girl Makoto is down to throw hands while being a straight-A student.
Best girl Makoto is down to throw hands while being a straight-A student.

You’ll spend time with characters to learn about what drives them and witness their growth as they internalize and overcome their traumatic pasts. Among your connections are kindhearted adults exhausted by a system that has failed them and teenagers haunted by their past and dreading their future. These are very human stories that often hit close to home and inspire in their own small way (although some are inherently awkward). And these relationships with your Confidants bestow powers you carry into battle. P5R makes the Confidant process easier with new scenes, in the form of phone calls, to help rank them up faster, effectively granting the opportunity to see more of these enticing stories. It’s important because there are a few new Confidants to bond with as well.

The key new opportunities are with Goro Akechi, who is now someone you choose to spend time with, which eventually leads to a better understanding and development of him this time around. Kasumi Yoshizawa has been touted as the big addition to the roster; she fits in well and you’ll see that her desire to be an elite competitive gymnast comes from a darker, complicated place. Although her screen time is limited in the first half of the game, she becomes vital to the delivery of the new story beats and a welcome ally to fight alongside the rest of the gang you know and love. Above all is the school counselor Takuto Maruki, a tremendous character who truly elevates P5R’s narrative. He’s an excellent thematic fit, offering perspectives on mental health that hadn’t been touched in the original. His story is cleverly integrated into the core narrative, and he’s also key for unlocking what’s beyond Persona 5’s original story and some of P5R’s best moments.

Persona 5 Royal wouldn't be what it is without Dr. Maruki.
Persona 5 Royal wouldn’t be what it is without Dr. Maruki.

Relationships are what drive you, but the hard-fought battles take place in the Metaverse, a physical manifestation of corrupted cognition. Demonic shadows lurk as you work to metaphysically crush the distorted desires of abusers who have oppressed your friends and many others–and you do so with a hyper-stylized, confident swagger. With most Palaces comes a new party member and story thread about what led them to join the cause. These aren’t solely tragic backstories for the sake of being dramatic, though–it’s how you come to understand their fighting spirit before they become a beloved comrade. Taking on these story-critical Palaces never loses its luster, as their trippy, imaginative designs and enemies allure you into the wild battles throughout. At times, the very premise of Palaces is subverted to great effect; sometimes evildoers aren’t the only ones who need a change of heart. It further compels you to seek what lies ahead.

Beyond a plethora of superb gameplay refinements and features that improve an already-rich RPG comes a momentous new story arc seeded within the original narrative and paid off in full by the end.

Palaces feature some small but smart changes in P5R, too. Rearranged dungeon layouts accommodate Joker’s new grappling hook, letting you swing to new areas. They often lead to Will Seeds, a collectible that replenishes SP and mold into useful accessories. Returning players may also notice that some dungeon layouts have been streamlined, making exploration smoother. Mementos, the Metaverse’s collection of procedurally generated floors, also gets some much-needed overhauls. Driving around to progress in these twisted subway depths as the Morgana bus was novel, but grew repetitive in the original game. P5R throws in new mechanics like collecting flowers and stamps to cash in for useful items and perks to boost battle rewards. And the most welcome change is that, instead of the same song throughout, new tunes play at deeper levels.

Joker and Kasumi be like v O_O.
Joker and Kasumi be like v O_O.

Aside from stealthily navigating these surreal dungeons, you’ll be spending a ton of time engaged in P5R’s dynamic turn-based combat. It’s swift and stylish, and builds on the strong foundation of Shin Megami Tensei, which has you focusing on exploiting elemental weaknesses and earning extra turns. Standard enemies can be fodder once their affinities are exposed, but tougher ones, minibosses, and bosses tap into combat’s intricacies. P5R layers more onto battles, like the absurd Showtime attacks that have two party members partner up for a high-damage combo that initiates in clutch situations. The powered-up Baton Pass mechanic is even more crucial as it can boost damage and replenish HP and SP. And boss fights now have different phases that present new, tough challenges that require you to think more tactically, testing your mastery of the combat system.

The dripping swagger of it all extends to the snappy and efficient UI that helps keep up combat’s fast pace. Everything unfolds in such a quick and ridiculously stylish fashion that you can’t help but fall in love with it and the Phantom Thieves who pull off all these flashy moves. Even in a second version of the game, executing all-out attacks and watching them unfold hasn’t lost one bit of its charm. Never has a turn-based combat system been this thrilling.

Persona 5 Royal is many things: a collection of small inspiring stories, an ambitious harrowing journey with some good friends, a stunning visual and auditory experience, a resounding call to action.

But P5R isn’t here to just look pretty. Beneath the mask of its unrelenting style and charming silliness are the friendships you naturally form and motivate you to follow the fight through to the very end. From their persona awakenings to the moment you see them fully realize their goals, your fellow Phantom Thieves become your ride or die in this heavy-hitting story. In targeting perpetrators of sexual assault, worker exploitation, and vile authoritarianism, Persona 5 draws a clear line in the sand–people like this have no place in our society and deserve no mercy. There is no middle ground, no compromise to be made, no both sides-ism. Your crew’s personal drama sometimes seeps into the broader message, but not without illustrating why you’re fighting so hard to change things. Even when doubt about their vigilante ways starts to creep in, characters work through it, stick to their ideals, and realize there wasn’t really a choice in the matter.

Morgana said eat the rich.
Morgana said eat the rich.

Admittedly, P5R is often subtle as a brick. It’s easy to nitpick where its writing falls into being too simplistic or a bit rote–although it has improved in some ways, it can still be crude at times. It isn’t particularly nuanced in its storytelling, but it doesn’t have to be. In being clear as day in its narrative, the messages and characterizations are unmistakable. It’s also so wild to me that the game’s almost-caricature villains have become less and less far-fetched in just the three years since the original release–the blatant abuse of power, their wrongdoings laid bare, and the masses uninterested in seeing them face consequences. The conclusion to the original narrative arc just hits differently now, and the game’s dramatic battles have become increasingly cathartic.

Transitioning into the Royal-exclusive third semester, there’s a tonal shift that’s effortlessly executed. Stranger things begin to happen, in an oddly unsettling way, especially during the seemingly blissful winter. Here, P5R takes a turn toward genuine moral quandaries. In this third semester, there’s a bit more to learn about your friends, and there’s one final Palace to infiltrate. And it is, without a doubt, the best one in the entire game.

These new events are beautifully captured with new Royal-exclusive songs that amplify what was already an iconic, genre-bending soundtrack.

Kasumi fits right in fighting alongside the Phantom Thieves.
Kasumi fits right in fighting alongside the Phantom Thieves.

The mysteries within will surprise you, and fascinating revelations about characters propel them well beyond who they presented themselves to be. The pace at which it’s told and how the series of events are framed paint Persona 5 in a new, captivating light while staying true to its original spirit. This new story arc achieves a grand sense of scale and finality, yet captures a more intimate, personal tone. And it all builds up to what’s also the greatest boss battle in all of the game, pushing your combat abilities to their limits.

P5R effectively solves one of the original’s shortcomings: its somewhat abrupt end. In the vanilla version, even after over 100 hours, it felt like there was still a missing piece; P5R has that missing piece. There’s 15 to 20 hours worth of excellent content that takes Persona 5 in a different direction while going all-in on its best qualities. It gives a dramatic, stunning finish even after the original’s bombastic, over-the-top conclusion.

These new events are beautifully captured with new Royal-exclusive songs that amplify what was already an iconic, genre-bending soundtrack. I always recognized “Life Will Change” and “Rivers In The Desert” as perfect examples of how Persona 5 uses its music to portray precise emotions of the moment–songs that exude the infectious confidence of the Phantom Thieves going in to take a corrupted heart. As the case with our old favorites, the new evocative jams become a powerful narrative device. “I Believe” stands as a bold recollection of the long, hard-fought journey that culminates to one last battle, while “Throw Away Your Mask” carries the hint of reluctance between a clash of ideals. The new Palace’s theme has a wistfulness that permeates the scenarios that unfold. Music is inseparable from the Persona experience–the series thrives because of it–and somehow, some way P5R delivers again to make an even stronger impact.

The downtime gives you the opportunity to reflect and just chill with your crew.
The downtime gives you the opportunity to reflect and just chill with your crew.

So, just like in the original, the song “Sunset Bridge” brought my time with P5R to a close. It’s a bittersweet tune that’s used throughout the game to signify a moment of clarity for its characters. But as the final background track before having to leave the game behind, it became my own personal moment of clarity, realizing just how much I’ve cherished my time here, and now for all-new reasons.

As P5R comes to a close, it tries to ease you into its end with heartfelt scenes, some new and some familiar. But in doing so, it only makes it harder to say goodbye again. Persona 5 Royal is many things: a collection of small inspiring stories, an ambitious harrowing journey with some good friends, a stunning visual and auditory experience, a resounding call to action. By refining what was already great and building on its best qualities with a brilliant new story arc, Persona 5 Royal asserts itself as an unforgettable and empowering RPG that should be recognized as one of the best games of our time.

Minecraft Dungeons

I am hopelessly in love with Mojang’s passion project, Minecraft Dungeons. After several hours in the fairly limited closed beta, I simply can’t put it down. It takes everything you love about Minecraft’s world, with enchanting music, whimsical humor, and that signature aesthetic and combines it with everything you love about Diablo, with deep action RPG customization and combat, that simply feels great.

Here’s why I think Minecraft Dungeons is set to be a special entry in Microsoft’s growing Xbox Game Studios portfolio, ahead of its planned May 2020 launch.

Minecraft Dungeons, first and foremost, looks and feels like a classic Minecraft game, right down to the aesthetics and music. Save for one crucial difference: no building. Minecraft Dungeons is one-hundred percent action RPG, with a self-proclaimed mild emphasis on story. That’s not to say there isn’t any story. You’re an adventurer on a quest to defeat the evil Arch Illager, whose Illager hordes and Redstone monstrosities are rampaging across the land, pillaging and defiling as they go.

Built with Unreal Engine, Minecraft Dungeons retains the charming blocktastic aesthetic of the sandbox game we all know and love, albeit through an action RPG lens. Monsters are more varied and dynamic in their movements and attacks. Skeletons fall apart into piles of bones, rather than simply flop over dead like in the base game, for example. And spells and effects come with more spectacular profiles, giving your abilities a real sense of impact upon the world. Tossing a crate of TNT into a crowd of enemies sends them flying all over the place with glorious ragdoll physics, shattering against walls and trees. It simply feels great to play.

The beta we’ve had access gives us just a small glimpse at the types of environments players can expect. We have zombie-filled spooky forests, pillaged pumpkin farmlands, and tombs crammed with enchanted skeletons.

The (rather gorgeous) full world map reveals several Minecraft staple biomes, including desert temples, mining hills, mountain peaks, and forest ruins. Mojang has also said they have two additional pieces of DLC on the way, with more planned for the future. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll end up in the Nether or The End?

People who aren’t into Minecraft often associate it with younger audiences, despite the cavernous amount of depth it has. I have already gotten the question a few times about whether Minecraft Dungeons is a “true” action RPG, akin to Diablo, or something more simplistic aimed at younger audiences. Just like Diablo, you can tailor the difficulty quite heavily, spanning from easy and accessible all the way up to reactive and challenging. Once you’ve beaten the main story, two more difficulty tiers unlock as well, granting access to even more powerful loot and even more challenging enemies.

Minecraft Dungeons is made up of story scenarios that are set in their layouts, but there are also many procedurally-generated random dungeons that change every time you enter them. The first we found was hidden in the Creepy Woods, known as the Creepy Crypt, and it was truly gargantuan. Exploring every part of it on maximum difficulty took the best part of forty minutes, and the rewards were incredibly compelling.

We got a powerful bow that produced explosions on-hit, which stacked with our various enchants to produce cascading explosions and all sorts of chaos. To add to the flavor, it was hidden away in a secret room behind a secret door, adding an element of Indiana Jones to the proceedings. We’ve seen the random dungeons spawn different types of puzzles and other sorts of traps and obstacles as well, beyond merely battling hordes of enemies.

Speaking of enemies, even in the set story levels, it seems that the types of enemies you’ll meet are randomized to a degree. On higher difficulties, you’ll start seeing purple “enchanted” enemies who come with unique modifiers, granting them specific attack bonuses. The way enemy abilities can intersect and overlap makes combat feel incredibly dynamic as well, in a way even Diablo III often doesn’t.

On the maximum difficulty available to us in the beta, Creepers were just as deadly as they are in the base game left unchecked. When combined with Evil Wizard enchantments and Spider webs holding you down, Creepers went from a nuisance to incredibly dangerous in a split second.

On top of the regular enemies, Minecraft has a range of boss-type enemies that come with far more powerful abilities and more complicated attack patterns. The only one we’ve seen so far in the beta is the Evoker, which is a more powerful type of Wizard that can summon creepy demon Cherub-like mobs that swarm you, while also producing massive jaws out of the ground that deal tremendous amounts of damage. Dodging these attacks while maintaining your damage is as fun as it is challenging, and the rewards can be oh so sweet.

Speaking of rewards, Minecraft Dungeons doesn’t have any microtransactions or “pay-to-win” elements (thankfully). All the items you obtain are found in-game, or via randomized vendors that will let you exchange emeralds for a random artefact ability or gear piece. Artefacts make up the game’s ability slots, as Minecraft Dungeons has no fixed classes, as is often the case with other similar games. Instead, you tailor your playstyle around weapon types, armor styles, and artefact skills.

If you want to make an archer, for example, you’d pick armor that increases your arrow supply and ranged damage while looking for artefacts that push melee enemies back at range. Melee attackers might want to find heavy armor and enchants that boost close-quarters combat, and so on. You may even want to make builds that revolve around special weapon types you find. The possibilities seem endless.

When making your character, the game offers a ton of skins to choose from, although it seems like some will be tied to preorder bonuses or Xbox Game Pass perks. You can always make new characters if you want to try out something new, or simply build up multiple gear sets on an existing character, using different enchants, armor, and weapons that fit your preferred playstyle. There are quite literally dozens we’ve found so far at low level, with hundreds, maybe thousands of potential combinations. Who knows how many to expect in the full game.

Minecraft Dungeons already seems to hold so much potential and promise, even via the tiny slice of the content we experienced in the game’s closed beta. The game is aiming to launch in May, after Mojang issued warnings that the current work-from-home policies hitting the world may impact the game’s final release date. It’s hitting PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC, complete with local and online play for up to four friends, and with cross-play on Xbox One and PC.

Minecraft Dungeons looks to live up to the rewarding, satisfying expectations set by the genre. I’ve rarely found myself addicted to a beta, but here we are. Considering this game is hitting every platform, complete with multiplayer, and the potential it has for post-launch updates and continuous play, I’d say Microsoft is on to a big win here.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Since our time with Final Fantasy 7 Remake at Gamescom 2019, we’ve had a few more hours with the game at a hands-on event.

Not only did we get to play the opening of the game, as detailed below, but we also got a chance to jump ahead to later sections where Aerith and Tifa have joined your party – and the battle with Abzu – and got to try out Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s classic mode

What we can tell you is this: FF7 Remake lives up to the hype. It’s a stunning reimagining of the game that holds so much nostalgia for many. It’s not just the aesthetic that has seen an improvement, the level of detail in cutscenes is mesmerizing and combat feels fluid – while technological advancements have been introduced which see voice-matching being more succinct and the game’s music dynamically shifting while maintaining the same melody. 

Midgar is truly brought to life, with each area within the city boasting its own personality and experience. We can’t wait to sink our teeth into the full game.

Final Fantasy 7is one of the few games that has truly worked its way into the cultural lexicon. Releasing more than 20 years ago, this timeless JRPG completely transformed the way stories in games were perceived – at least in the mainstream. This game is responsible for creating one of the most beloved narratives of all time, along with a cast of unforgettable characters that are beloved to this day. So, Square Enix has a lot to live up to with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. 

We got a chance to go hands-on with the Final Fantasy 7 Remake at Gamescom2019, and while it was a very small slice of the game – essentially a boss fight and some change – we can honestly say that the title may end up living up to all the hype leading up to it. Of course, we won’t know for sure until we get a chance to review the full game, but at least we got a taste. 

One of the biggest changes fans will immediately notice is that Final Fantasy 7 is no longer the turn-based JRPG they grew up with. Instead, the game uses a hybrid battle system that feels like a perfect mesh of action combat and slower tactical RPG gameplay. 

Essentially, you attack enemies with the Square button, use Circle to dodge and the R1 button to block. By attacking enemies and blocking attacks, you’ll build up your ATB gauge, which you can then spend using combat abilities and items. Don’t worry, Limit Breaks are still in the game, and you’ll build up your Limit Meter by taking damage, which you then spend on extremely powerful attacks. 

In our time with the game, we go to face up against the first boss, the Guard Scorpion. And, well, its a lot different than we remember. Instead of the quasi-tutorial that the boss served as in the original game, this boss fight has teeth now. If you’re not paying attention, dodging and blocking the gunfire, there’s a real chance of failure – something we expect to be amplified during more difficult fights later on in the game. 

One thing that really struck us was how good it feels to both switch between characters and issue orders. You see, whichever character you’re not controlling will automatically fight, building up their ATB gauges for future attacks. 

At any point, you can take control of that character and resume the fight as if you were building those points up yourself. Or, even if you just want to issue a quick command, you can just enter the tactical screen and issue a single command and continue fighting as a different character. It’s a fantastic way to make up for the fact that you’re not fully in control of every character like you were in the original game. 

While the combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake is definitely going to be an important aspect, this is one of the most beloved stories in video game history, so there’s a lot to live up to. 

From what we saw at Gamescom, Final Fantasy VII starts out with the same iconic train cutscene the original did, but obviously with way more modern visuals. However, in the demo played before our eyes – we only got to personally play through the boss fight at the end of the demo – there is a lot more to the world. Rather than some mysteriously connected screens due to the hardware limitations of the PlayStation, everything seems to connect in a way that makes sense. It feels more like an actual city, as the developers didn’t have to imply the spaces in between the screens. 

But, what especially reassured us that Final Fantasy’s story is intact (at least, so far), is a scene that plays out between Barrett and Cloud on an elevator, where the former tells the protagonist that Mako is the planet’s lifeblood, and the planet is screaming out in pain. Cloud, of course, shrugs it off. Admittedly, in a story that will now take multiple games to tell, this is just a tiny sliver. It is reassuring, though. 

We were told that Square Enix would be expanding the story in Midgar, a section of the original game that only took an hour or so to play through, to be its own game. We’re not sure how exactly that’s going to play out, but what we’ve seen so far was so intricately detailed that we’re sure it will be done tastefully. And, the way we look at it, as long as the central themes of the original game are firmly in place, more detail really can’t hurt.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the most anticipated games of 2020. However, in our brief time with the game, we’re now reassured that the game might be able to live up to that gargantuan level of hype. 

Some JRPG purists might balk at the idea of turning Final Fantasy VII into an action RPG, but the combat system really does feel like the best of both worlds. And, beginners to the genre and series newcomers will have a much easier time getting into Final Fantasy VII than ever before.