With Season 2 of hit multiplayer game Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout out today (8th October), the newest Let’s Chat is going to take a view of the game up to this point in a new way; that’s right, we’re going to be listing our personal ranking of every Fall Guys round. All of them. For this, Ashley Harrison is making his return to Let’s Chat after a hiatus in recent times! I shall say that if you are not familiar with Fall Guys then it may be tough to follow this article – it is more suited to those who are aware of most/all the stages. Furthermore, this piece was written over quite a bit of time, but here it is, ready for the new Season, where we shall have even more stages to play. Let’s go!
William Robinson: Hi again Ash! So, we were wondering about topics for Let’s Chat, and then we realised we were in the same situation of joy and pain in Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, huh?
Ashley Harrison: Genuinely, I think this is up there with in my top 3 Game of the Year candidates already, despite how frustrating it can be at times, especially in certain minigames. It’s genuinely pretty much the only Battle Royale I’ve actually enjoyed playing, and whilst doing “research” for this Let’s Chat, I actually finally managed to score my first win!
WR: Meaning that we two are now superior humans, right, for having won an Episode in Fall Guys? I’ve already talked about the game in my review, so I won’t go on too much here myself other than reiterating that I find it fun but a bit lacking in options. How would you sum up your time with it?
AH: Like I said, it’s up there in my GotY discussion personally, so to say anything other than I’m really enjoying it would be doing it a disservice. If, however, I had to give criticisms, I really wish there was more variety in which minigames you play, because I keep seeming to play the same ones over and over. I believe it changes what games are more likely to appear every day, but it’s not great having Gate Crash as your opening game 7 times in a row.
WR: Not sure if that was intentional, or just a sign of how synced up we are now, but that is a nice segway into the specific purpose of this Let’s Chat: you may have heard many opinions about the game, but here we are going to somehow attempt to list all of the stages from best to worst. Now, to prevent us loading the back of the list with Team games, we’re gonna split this into two lists, one for Team games, one for Solo. Sound good with you, Ash?
AH: Given how awful all of the team games are (that’ll be fun trying to rank them from best to worst, haha) I’m fine with that. I definitely think we’d both be putting all of the team games at the bottom of the list because, in my opinion, there isn’t a single one that holds a candle to the solo games.
WR: That doesn’t seem an unpopular opinion, either. It’s just that feeling of your result feeling out of your hands, right? While at least in the solo games I can only blame myself.
AH: When you get put on Yellow Team, you know you might as well just quit out of the game there already.
WR: Ahaha, yeah, there was a game of Egg Scramble where Yellow ended with a score of 1. ONE. It’s cruel.
AH: So, going back to what I mentioned about feeling like you’re always playing the same minigames? Just today, after who knows how many games played, I actually played Egg Scramble for the first time ever. I’ve genuinely just had to look at a list of all the minigames to find out which it actually is.
WR: OK, so as there are less Team games than non-Team, let’s tackle those first. I’m immediately suggesting either Jinxed or Team Tail Tag for last place. As reference, here is the list:
Rock ‘N’ Roll
Team Tail Tag
AH: I finally got to play a game of Jinxed and that was enough for me to decide it’s undoubtedly the worst mini-game in the whole thing, so I’d put that below Team Tail Tag because it’s just awful. Team Tail Tag is another I am not a fan of; the fact that you can have your tail grabbed from seemingly miles away, yet you can literally go right up to people and have the grabbing animation play when pressing R2 but not steal their tail whilst trying to get one for yourself, is enough to make me quit any time I see it come up.
WR: I’ve played quite a bit and only had Jinxed appear once, so it does seem rare – it’s similar to Team Tail Tag in terms of it essentially being a game of “it”. Not only is there the baked-in advantage or disadvantage of starting with or without being Jinxed or having a tail, but your teammates can drag you down without you being able to do much about it. So let’s put Jinxed last, with Team Tail Tag next. Of the other 5, which is your next one to knock off the list?
AH: For me, the next one I’d have to knock off is Hoopsie Daisy. Not only is it yet another game where you’re relying solely on your team (let’s be honest, you can be the best player in the world, you’re not single-handedly carrying your team to either 1st or 2nd place in this without them) but you also have to get lucky with RNG in terms of where the rings themselves spawn. If you can’t even reach the rings before someone else does, it’s another easy goodbye.
WR: Yeah, I can agree with that – also, if the Golden Hoops spawn in a spot that favours the other team, that skews it as well. I’m noticing we’re gonna have the games with a focus on ball games towards the top here!
AH: Who’d have ever seen that coming with the two of us haha? Even real life sports interests put aside, I do genuinely think the ball games are the best of the team ones.
WR: The question is, does Egg Scramble knock one of the ball games out of the top three? I’m saying no. Though, it is close with Hoarders for me.
AH: I’m not a fan of Rock ‘N’ Roll, so for me, it does. The first half of Rock ‘N’ Roll is a great team exercise forcing you to work together, but the second half? Man, it’s so annoying. I don’t think I’ve played a game of it yet where the 2nd half hasn’t just turned into 2 teams stopping whichever team is last to get their ball to the ramp from being able to push their ball to the goal. At least with Egg Scramble, the whole point of that game mode is to try and literally steal the win from your opponents; in Rock ‘N’ Roll, people just do it for fun.
WR: You know, it may be because I’ve generally done well in Rock ‘N’ Roll, but that has often been an aspect I haven’t considered. It does bring out the bad side of players, eh? I guess for that, we should knock it down. So we have a Top Three of Egg Scramble, Fall Ball, and Hoarders. We reckon Fall Ball as the best? It’s essentially Rocket League…
AH: Yup, I have to agree there. I always love a good football mini-game (give us a new Mario Strikers dammit Nintendo), so it has to be at the top for me. There’s no luck involved with it, it’s purely skill-based, being able to work with your team to outscore the opponents. When it’s as simple as that, you can’t dislike it.
WR: There also tends to be less players involved when it pops up, so less of a random element. Very satisfying to score from the ball first being dropped too! If Mario Strikers ever returns, Let’s Chat is gonna be very excitable.
AH: Yeah, I only ever seem to get Fall Ball when there’s between 10-14 people remaining, so there’s enough people on the teams to make both attacking and defending at the same time possible, but not too many people so that it’s impossible to score because they just play the Mourinho way and have everyone in defence.
WR: Park the… Guys? Aha! OK, so that leaves the fight for 2nd between Egg Scramble and Hoarders. Not sure about you, but I prefer Egg Scramble, if only for it being so different.
AH: I’m with you there too, Egg Scramble definitely wins 2nd place for me. Not even for being so different – because they’re both essentially Capture the Flag minigames – but because it’s easier to steal the eggs to place in your team’s goal than it is to control the balls in Hoarders.
WR: Nice, so this is our list. You all in agreement for this?
1: Fall Ball
2: Egg Scramble
4: Rock ‘N’ Roll
5: Hoopsie Daisy
6: Team Tail Tag
AH: I see no issues with that if you don’t.
WR: Onto the second list, of all remaining Rounds. This should be fun… So, the rounds:
AH: I mean, I can start there easily with the worst game in that list and I don’t think it’ll take a genius to work out which. By far the worst solo game is Tail Tag.
WR: I’d actually say that Royal Fumble is lower for me. It’s essentially Tail Tag but for the final, so whoever has the tail at the end wins. It often occurs when there are not that many players left for the final, too – and it is such an advantage for whoever is randomly selected to start with the tail, as with less players around, it’s tougher to get the tail from another.
AH: There’s an even worse version of Tail Tag? Oh Jesus, thank God I’ve yet to come across that. It sounds awful. Yeah, I’ll put that as the worst of the solo games for sure with you. Tail Tag with even less players and only one having a tail sounds absolutely horrible to play.
WR: More than once, I have gotten to a final, really excited, seen it is Royal Fumble, and just internally sighed. Give me either Jump Showdown or Hex-A-Gone for the final, yeah?
AH: I’m quite partial to Fall Mountain for the final round to be honest with you, because it’s just pure platforming skill. Although I might be biased on that because it’s the course I won my first crown on, and I haven’t really come close to winning on either of the others.
WR: You won on Fall Mountain? Woah, impressed here, I’m not great at it. Tell us more about your victory?
AH: Yeah, I won on Fall Mountain! Should actually have won twice on it, but for my first should’ve-been-guaranteed victory, I forgot to press R2 to grab onto the Crown, and as such, bonked into it and ended up losing when I’d had such a clear run up until that point. My actual victory though: I got there as the Crown was at the top of its possible height, so I had to wait for it to come down which allowed people to catch up, but luckily I still managed to grab it first through the wave of people jumping.
WR: Oh man, that first one sounds agonising. One mistake can ruin your whole chance there, so as I say, impressed. My victory was on Hex-A-Gone, I scraped it; literally as I was falling off the final floor, the other person fell first. It was so close that my screen initially didn’t register it as my win! I had to wait to get my rewards show up.
AH: Man, that sounds so intense. To think you’ve lost it, only to realise that you actually haven’t and had scored the win. Crazy that, though I do kind of have to feel for the other guy if it was that close.
WR: Pfft, no time for sentiment in Fall Guys. Give me that Crown! OK, so we’re putting Royal Fumble last, and Tail Tag second last. I’d personally put – based on how tough I have found them – Fall Mountain and Fruit Chute quite low, though that may be skewed by me just not being great at them.
AH: I won’t agree with Fall Mountain being low down – however, I will agree with Fruit Chute. There’s been too many times I’ve been trying to climb, gotten near the top, then just been absolutely sniped by the fruit from seemingly out of nowhere, so I have quite a lot of disdain for that game mode.
WR: It’s just so hard to predict. My only real strategy is running behind others and hoping they take the hit instead…
AH: That’s such a cheap way of getting through though, and even if they do take the hit, you still gotta avoid them otherwise they’ll take you down with them.
WR: I mean, it doesn’t really work. I’ve only made it through Fruit Chute once! OK, so let’s put Fruit Chute there. Of the remaining, which would you suggest next?
AH: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever actually not qualified from Fruit Chute, but it has come far too close for my liking on some rounds; more than once I’ve qualified last. My next one I hate to put here, because Takeshi’s Castle is one of my favourite TV programs of all time, and this is just one of their games, but it has to be Door Dash for me next. I hate the games that just descend into as many people as possible trying to squeeze through a gap, and unfortunately this is the biggest culprit for it, so it has to go low on my ratings.
WR: I can agree that it should go further down the list, but for me there are stages that aren’t as fun – Perfect Match, for instance, which to me is too easy and often doesn’t do much to whittle down the player numbers. Though I am very impressed if you are that successful at Fruit Chute!
-at this point there are several days where the conversation is on hold-
AH: Alright, so in the time in between these, I’ve not once qualified from Fruit Chute, so there goes that brag I made – typical that, ain’t it? I think I can agree on Perfect Match being next on the list. It’s essentially just an autoscroller with zero strategy to it; just pile onto a tile people are all going to. What annoys me then, is that because it’s such a small space (especially in the later rounds) there are people who try and push you off. It’s happened more than once.
WR: OK, so with Perfect Match there, perhaps we should put the other two rounds with a similar format – staying in roughly one place and avoiding the obstacles – next. Of Block Party and Roll Out, which do you prefer? My main issue with these levels is that they aren’t that challenging; often either not many people are eliminated, or it is a while before the limit of eliminations is reached. I personally prefer Block Party, as there are many intense moments and the music is awesome.
AH: Yeah, I definitely agree Block Party is better than Roll Out. Like you said, the music is incredible, and it also does increase difficulty to make you do more than just switch between 2 sections of the Roll Out tube until they reach the other side.
WR: Also, and perhaps your opinion is different, if we are going to place Door Dash after these, then we should also consider putting Gate Crash with it, as they are quite similar; though the latter does have a bit more skill and timing to it with the moving barriers, and is in a way more rewarding as a result.
AH: Yeah, I was gonna do that.
WR: Almost all of the ones remaining are obstacle courses, aha! We’re getting close to the top and giving our own Crown to one of these levels. I’ve already mentioned Fall Mountain; or is there one you would place below that?
AH: You’re going to hate me for this, but I would honestly put Fall Mountain towards the very top of the list, because it’s pure platforming and nothing else; I’m a big fan of that. There’s no randomness like Fruit Chute, only the balls to avoid and you can track them (and alter your path) for basically the whole length of the course. Having said that, it is heavily reliant upon where you start, but I still find it one of the best Fall Guys levels.
WR: I agree it brings a challenge, but it can quickly put you way back if you get hit. We’re gonna have to find a compromise! If not that next, then I reckon either See Saw or Tip Toe. I find the former can be quite, erm… Well, it is shocking how we humans have such a tough time with those contraptions, I’ll say that.
AH: See, now we’ve got the ones that’re easy to dismiss out of the way, I’m gonna say that Tip Toe would definitely be the next worse in my opinion, because there’s literally no strategy to it other than just wait for everyone else to discover the path and hope you can cross the finish line in time. At least with See Saw there’s actual physics to throw a challenge into the level, even if you do come across people who somehow don’t seem to know how a see-saw works.
WR: I mean, I am okay with either of those two being next. Tip Toe we agree on then, you okay with See Saw following it? I guess as we get to the higher places, these disagreements are gonna get more intense, aha!
AH: I’m happy with that, yeah. It’s definitely going to be interesting to see whether or not we have the same top 3 courses or not, I’m going to vote “most likely not” already haha.
WR: 8 Remain! It’s getting very tough to pick now… There are a bunch of obstacle course levels here, how do you order them?
AH: I definitely think it’s smart to bunch a group of obstacle courses here, so from worst to best I’m gonna put: Hit Parade, Dizzying Heights, Jump Club, Jump Showdown, and then The Whirlygig. Hit Parade is one that I am genuinely indifferent on, but the reason I put it below everything else is because it’s such a short level so you don’t spend basically any time on it. Jump Showdown and The Whirlygig are basically just Jump Club and Dizzying Heights (respectively) but better and more challenging, so they have to go above their standard forms. That leaves me personally with an alphabetical final 3 of Fall Mountain, Hex-A-Gone, and Slime Climb.
WR: I’ll agree with most of that, but not Jump Showdown specifically; in comparison to Jump Club, the tension of how long Showdown – being a final round – can go on for is so fun and tense; there is genius in the simplicity of it, and blimey, that spinner gets fast. It’s definitely in my personal top three, at the expense of Fall Mountain. So, erm, we have 4 levels and a top 3 to decide…
AH: Alright, I’m gonna admit something here. The only reason I haven’t put Jump Showdown higher is because I’m absolutely awful at it haha, but I wouldn’t disagree with you putting it in your top 3, because it’s definitely one of the most tense games, especially considering it’s a final round, so you know the Crown is within touching distance.
WR: In my opinion, for the originality of the idea – it doesn’t seem to be close to many other games out there, whilst a game such as Jump Showdown is clearly similar to Total Wipeout – then in my opinion Hex-A-Gone is the best stage. After that my next pick is Slime Climb, for how refreshing it is to have a stage where surviving and making it to the end is the priority, as often the amount of people who can qualify is not reached.
AH: That your top 3 then? Hex-A-Gone, then Slime Climb, then Jump Showdown?
WR: Yeah, that’s my personal top 3. Depends how much you’re fighting for Fall Mountain though, and whether you’d change the order.
AH: That’s a solid top 3 that, I can’t lie. Although, considering we share 2 courses in our top 3, I don’t really think I can say anything other than that, can I? For me, I think that the order I would put it in is Hex-A-Gone 3rd, Fall Mountain 2nd, then Slime Climb as the best Fall Guys minigame.
WR: If we go by averages, then overall, with a 2nd and a 1st, Slime Climb emerges as our top choice. Then we have Hex-A-Gone 2nd, and a tie 3rd of Fall Mountain and Jump Showdown. To be polite, though, I’ll allow Fall Mountain 3rd. A word on the top two and why you are such a fan?
AH: Hex-A-Gone takes my 3rd place because of how fun it is to play at a glance, but also because of how technical it is, making it befitting of a final round. Not only do you have to pay attention to the level that you’re on and which of the hexagons you can move between to survive, but you also have to keep an eye on the level below to ensure that you don’t fall down into another hole and potentially into the slime if you get that low. And that’s assuming you’re playing it the “proper” way; it’s also fun to just fall down to the very bottom of the tower at the start of the round and clear as much of that floor as possible to troll the other finalists as they move down the tower. Slime Climb takes my top spot because it’s the minigame I find myself wanting to play as the level select reel spins – I’m always hoping it’ll come up. There’s so much that can go wrong in the level that’ll potentially eliminate you, and for me, knowing that I could potentially lose thanks to the rising slime at any point makes me focus more, rather than playing nonchalantly like I do with the other games. There’s also so many elements in the level, so you’re not just facing the same obstacle throughout. There’s the rising slime, the moving blocks, the rollers, the hammers, the moving poles, and then the swinging balls at the end; I think that’s the most you face in a single minigame in the whole of Fall Guys. Each section requires a different playstyle, and it just helps break up the repetitiveness, in my opinion.
WR: Yeah, there is a certain skill to each that really creates suspense. My victory on Hex-A-Gone I mentioned is an example of how tense that level can get. Slime Climb often eliminates so many; you know you have to focus. That better balance of skill and randomness has those two levels rise to the top. So our final order for the solo games… Happy with this?
1. Slime Climb
3. Fall Mountain
4. Jump Showdown
5. The Whirlygig
6. Jump Club
7. Dizzy Heights
8. Hit Parade
9. See Saw
10. Tip Toe
11. Gate Crash
12. Door Dash
13. Block Party
14. Roll Out
15. Perfect Match
16. Fruit Chute
17. Tail Tag
18. Royal Fumble
AH: On the whole, yeah, I’m happy with that list. Don’t think there’s anything there that I could complain about whatsoever.
WR: Well, then, I think we have actually managed to do it! Just in time for Season 2… I’m excited to try new levels, and depending on how it goes, perhaps we shall update this list at some point.
AH: Yeah, we’ll definitely have to revisit this for Season 2 once we’ve played enough to be able to rank them. Honestly though? Rather than levels, I’m more looking forward to the new costumes that Season 2 is gonna bring, the ones we’ve already seen look hella dope.
WR: It’s gonna be fun to have the refresh! Until the next one, Ashley; time to practice at Fall Guys…
AH: I apologise how long it’s taken to finish this article, but we’ll be back soon enough. Have a good one, Will!
There you have it, our list. You can let us know if you agree or disagree with our choices in the comments! For more Let’s Chat, you can go here.
Another week, another Let’s Chat! Once again, with Ashley busy, I have called in support; Pokémon fan Stephen Brown joins me to discuss the recent video presentation for Part 2 of the Expansion Pass for Pokémon Sword and Shield, The Crown Tundra. We got new info on the features included, as well as announcements elsewhere in the Pokémon franchise! So, let’s get into it!
William Robinson: It’s time to, yet again, say hi to a new voice! Welcome, Stephen Brown – similar to the introductions for Jordan Senior, Jed Harling, and Toby Court in the previous Let’s Chat, give us a quick summary of where you currently do your gaming, and your favourite game series!
Stephen Brown: Hello and thank you for having me; I’m Stephen, and currently do all my gaming on my Nintendo Switch. However, I do have a PlayStation 5 on pre-order, so it won’t be long until I expand my gaming experience further past Nintendo. I am very well suited to this conversation, as my favourite game series is Pokémon! The very first game I ever played was Pokémon Gold for the Game Boy Colour, and since then I have been hooked with the series. I’ve always loved the fact that there are so many different Pokémon, and that when new Pokémon are revealed they become the instant favourite for someone, perhaps such as for the long-awaited Galarian Slowking we saw in this video!
WR: Thanks for that! Without further ado, then; prior to the airing of the Expansion Pass Updates today, which content were you hoping to see?
SB: I was expecting an in-depth announcement about The Crown Tundra DLC pack, similar to the trailer we got for The Isle of Armor earlier this year, opening up with Galarian Slowking to mirror the reveal of Galarian Slowbro for the latter. Then, panning shots of the area, with a sprinkling of the returning Pokémon, followed by more details on new mechanics such as the Dynamax Adventures and Galarian Star Tournament. Furthermore, I was hoping for it to end with a closer look at the new Legendary Pokémon Calyrex, hinting to their role, and then a release date. I would say we definitely got the majority of that, and more, all within this almost 11 minute video.
WR: That covers it quite well – and then there was me, with my prediction of Candice returning from Diamond/Pearl/Platinum because we have a snowy setting and the presence of Regirock, Regice, and Registeel, reminding me of Snowpoint City! Which, actually, in a way, I actually got correct with her appearance in the music video that ended the Updates! Presented by The Pokémon Company President and CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara, we opened into a new trailer for The Crown Tundra, and immediately got those landscape shots of the Wild Area free-roam setting – I am drawn to this sort of cold, atmospheric environment, and am therefore excited to explore it. You?
SB: Well, indeed, we did get to see Candice – so you were technically right! Maybe we should add Galar and Sinnoh being connected to copious piles of Pokémon fan theories that are out there! Yes, the snowy setting and variety of ancient, mysterious buildings/temples are a big appeal. I can’t wait to explore all the new areas and find hidden TMs or a Hyper Potion tucked away in some secret corner. I wonder if we’ll see the return of finding Diglett, which was part of the Isle of Armor Pack. There could be another 150 Diglett to find!
WR: Or perhaps 150 hidden Vanillites? Find the ice creams! The more mystical vibe relative to Isle of Armor intrigues me, and ties into the clear emphasis on Legendary Pokémon for The Crown Tundra. We already knew there would be new Forms of the Kanto Legendary Birds Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, but now we know that every Legendary in the series is going to be available upon this release!
SB: Oh now that would be cruel, but also so satisfying to complete; Vanillite was designed by the Art Director for Sword and Shield, James Turner, so that would be a nice Easter Egg. Yes, it seems that with the introduction of new Legendaries, Regional Forms, and the Dynamax Adventures, The Crown Tundra is going to be focused on giving players the opportunity to catch various Legendary Pokémon. I wonder if this is the role of new character Peony; some kind of Legendary Pokémon expert? I also noticed that there is a shot where the player runs up to a cliff edge and we see Galarian Articuno in the overworld flying away into the horizon. Do you think this could hint at the return of roaming Legendaries?
WR: I’m not sure… It is possible, but could also be a one-off moment. Chasing them around the area could be a fun new twist on the roaming Legendary Pokémon though, yeah! Here I shall express my concern of whether including all these Legendary Pokémon is going to act as a distraction from a lack of content elsewhere; I am not going to judge before I play, and I hope that it is not the case. There is spectacle to the returning Legendary Pokémon, which ideally are backed up by longevity in other areas and don’t seem to be covering up deficiencies, which was an issue with Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. We haven’t seen much of the main narrative yet – it could be that they are holding quite a bit back still.
SB: True, it could be similar to Crystal, where you simply see Suicune at various points within the story and then battle at a certain point. However, with the Wild Areas and Pokémon appearing in the overworld, this could be a fresh take on roaming. No more tedious planning to enter the right area at the right time and then lock Pokémon into a battle with Mean Look! On the distribution of content, I think that’s a fair point to raise. It does seem as though including Legendaries is a shiny distraction for perhaps a shorter story; a reward for completing a 4 hour narrative that some will easily get through in one sitting, encouraging you to keep exploring the new area. Their inclusion could also be to make up for the lack of a National Pokédex, which still seems to be some peoples main hang up with these games (it’s been almost a year now people stop whining about it). The inclusion of Legendaries may be becoming a post game staple for Pokémon. We saw this in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, entering Ultra Space to catch them, and now we have Dynamax Adventures for Sword and Shield.
WR: Aha, another great segway into the next topic! It’s as if you’re doing it on purpose… So, yeah, Dynamax Adventures are a new addition to the Raid Battles of Sword and Shield. They make Raid Battles into more of a dungeon-crawling mode, where you go up against consecutive battles in a row to either get to an end goal or even try the Endless mode! This is going to be a way to meet many Legendary Pokémon; it seems really fun, adding extra intrigue to the Raid Battles and offering even more ways to team up for multiplayer. I’m glad they are expanding this side of the experience – and it should offer a challenge too, as you go in with rental Pokémon!
SB: Definitely, I’m really excited to try this out and team up with my friends for evenings of Dynamax Adventures, in the hopes to catch epic Legendary Pokémon! Additionally, I think only using rental Pokémon for these adventures is a really clever move on Game Freak’s part. At first I was a bit shocked that – unlike regular Dynamax Raids – we couldn’t battle with our own Pokémon (who, let’s face it, are all probably Lv100 and EV trained by this point). However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. With Legendaries from all previous games coming back, and the idea that at this point players will have at least completed the main story, using rented Pokémon will allow Dynamax Adventures to remain a challenge and feel even more satisfying when you get to the end and capture a Legendary Pokémon. You won’t be able to go in with a team of Eternatus’ or other Legendaries to quickly sweep through with relative ease. I think it will add a layer of strategy and longevity to the new mechanic and stop people falling off of the DLC within a week.
WR: Yeah, that’s a great point, it’ll add lasting challenge to the Raids, and hopefully make them more similar to how the recent Mewtwo Raid was a really tough battle. It reminds me of the Battle Factory from Pokémon Platinum, too! You were hoping for a glimpse of Calyrex, and we got that, though we don’t know much on them yet.
SB: I thought about the Battle Factory as well (Gen4 Remakes Confirmed haha). Yeah, compared to the Isle of Armor and its Legendary Pokémon Kubfu, it seems that Calyrex is less pivotal to the storyline of The Crown Tundra, sharing the spotlight with the Regional Legendary Birds and the new Regieleki and Regidrago. It’s still too early to tell how Calyrex will affect the story, but with their being on the official logo artwork, it may well be a big role. I’m excited to find out more on the mysteries that surround Calyrex; how they interact with the player and other characters in the story.
WR: In terms of the narrative, there isn’t much else we know; you have mentioned Peony, but we are going to have to wait to find out more on him. There is a bunch of more intrinsic mechanical introductions as well, including the new Ability Patches that bring out the Hidden Abilities of Pokémon. This further opens up training options, which is an area Sword and Shield have put a clear focus on, for example with the Mints to change Natures. Personally, I am very excited for the new fashion items and League Card customisation options!
SB: The introduction of Ability Patches is going to contribute to shaking up the competitive meta game. Like you said, Sword and Shield did a lot to help get more players involved with online competitive battles. With the addition of Mints, Ability Patches, and new terrain setting moves – to name three – it’s now easier than ever to build up a strong team full of your favourites. Shiny hunters are probably rejoicing at the fact they will be able to give their special Pokémon Hidden Abilities. It does make me wonder how we will get this item. Will it be purchasable through Battle Points (BPs); some new Ore based item similar to Armorite Ore; or will this be a limited item with only 3 or so in the game, making it more critical a decision? The little additions of new fashion items and League Card options are great for keeping the game fresh, trying out new styles that show off your personality! One thing we can see from the trailer is that Peony has a Dynamax band, and appears to have a pre-battle animation screen, so it’s more than likely we will have to battle him at some point. I wonder if he will have a Gigantamax Pokémon as well; maybe G-Max Melmetal to help tie in the upcoming connectivity between Pokémon HOME and Pokémon GO.
WR: BP in exchange for Ability Patches would be okay with me, as I have so much to spend from my time with Shield! I imagine that we will indeed be battling Peony, and I hope that he is challenging. Was there any other details from this part of the video which stood out to you, or should we go on to the Galarian Star Tournament?
SB: Same here, I have an abundance of BP from all my time on Sword. Let’s go onto the Galarian Star Tournament, another new mechanic coming with this DLC where we can pair up with Pokémon Trainers from the core game and the DLC in 2-on-2 battles. Do you think there will be a reward for competing, or is it mainly a fun way to develop the lore of the characters? Also – I can probably guess – who are you going to pair up with for the Star Tournament?
WR: I mean for me, that extra lore is the reward! The characters in Sword and Shield are wonderful; finding out more details on them is a fantastic prospect! Hopefully, there are various different combos of characters, with it taking quite a few goes to hear all the different dialogue. Personally, I am confident that there will be other prizes as well, for example perhaps items or awards for your Pokémon. Of the characters we have seen in the Galarian Star Tournament so far, Marnie is the one I am going to be prioritising teaming up with. Though, I am still hoping for appearances from other regions too… Do you know who you are going to pair up with?
SB: I couldn’t agree more! I love reading the League Cards you get from the other trainers, learning about their personality and goals. Same here, I think there shall definitely be a variety of combos, which will unlock new dialogue for already established pairings. Marnie and Piers, Melony and Gordie, Bede and Opal, Hop and Leon, Leon and Raihan, Leon and Mustard, Leon and Sonia… Leon sure does get around for someone who’s constantly late and bad with directions haha! Oh! I hadn’t thought about other regions, that’s a good point, we could have something similar to Pokémon World Tournament in Black 2 and White 2; if so, that would be pretty awesome! On the other hand, I do think because it’s called the Galarian Star Tournament and not the World Star Tournament we might just be limited to those from Sword and Shield. For me, I’m most excited about teaming up with Bede or Opal and using my all Fairy team with theirs!
WR: You reckon Professor Sonia is going to be in the pairings? It’d be great, but I doubt that. Having so many options for battling characters again is one of the endearing aspects of Sword and Shield, and this is an emphasis on that. I imagine you are correct on the characters in Galar being the only ones participating, but hey, I can dream right?
SB: You’re right, I was just pointing out how many pairings you could get with just Leon and someone else – he’s a popular guy! Maybe we shall see a return of Sordward and Shielbert, the post-game antagonists with the, um, unique hairstyles? You certainly can dream, and there isn’t anything to say trainers from other regions couldn’t join the tournament; we may have even seen a hint to this in the music video that premiered at the end of the presentation. After this, we found out that The Crown Tundra comes out on October 23rd in the UK, and the 22nd in other parts of the world. We also learned that a physical copy of Sword and Shield with the DLC included will be available on 6th November. I’m curious to see how well it does in terms of sales, and if it will be enough to help boost Sword and Shield‘s overall sales positioning. It’s currently the third best selling Pokémon game, after recently overtaking the sales of Diamond/Pearl/Platinum.
WR: I’m glad; the 22nd gives a decent amount of time to play before the many releases in November, with the new consoles and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. I can now put aside time to play The Crown Tundra! I really hope it builds upon Isle of Armor; the first DLC was very enjoyable as a base platform for them to progress with new ideas. I may be disappointed if they don’t continue to innovate with The Crown Tundra. In retrospect, how did you find Isle of Armor?
SB: Don’t forget Pikmin 3 Deluxe comes out the following week! I’m glad it’s not a new Pikmin game, otherwise I would be torn on which to play. Considering that Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra were announced together as a package, it wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t get anything too different from one to the other and the parties involved use the two to test the waters for future endeavors. However, I could be wrong; there is still so little we know about The Crown Tundra and the potential surprise features, such as how in Isle of Armor there was the return of Pokémon following you in the overworld. Isle of Armor was not only challenging at points, it was also packed with cool details and great humour to get you invested. As well as this, the story really helped me build up a bond with Kubfu. If I had been given them as a Mystery Gift, as with other Pokémon in previous games, I wouldn’t have battled with them as much or struggled over which form of Urshifu to choose. There were definitely some aspects that felt a bit tedious, mainly the fetch quests, but overall I really enjoyed Isle of Armor and I think that’s down to it being a DLC as apposed to a repackaged Sword and Shield with added content.
WR: For me, Pikmin 3 Deluxe isn’t a game I shall purchase, as I have played the Wii U original. There are so many other games to play – I am confident I shall be busy either way! After this, we got the news of the distribution of Ash’s Pikachu with 8 separate hats, the first of which can be downloaded now with the code P1KACHUGET! I’ll continue on past this soon, and onto the Pokémon HOME and Pokémon GO news, but a quick word on this? Excited?
SB: I actually found out that there are two Cap Pikachus now available; the second one is through the code 1CH00SEY0U, and both are available now until November 30th. Honestly, I’m not that excited as I already got all these Cap Pikachus when they did a similar distribution for Gen 7, with the exception of the new World Cap Pikachu that reflects the cap Ash wears in the latest anime. Either way, I will be getting them again because who can resist a unique, free Pikachu!
WR: Right, onto the next part of the video, where we got news of Pokémon HOME now being compatible to connect with Pokémon GO, allowing you to send over Pokémon from the mobile game. Yet, there are caveats. It is confirmed that after sending over Pokémon, there is then an allotted time you have to wait before being allowed to send over more, unless you pay with PokéCoins, which does seem unnecessary and monetary-minded. Is there a reason for this other than creating extra financial gain?
SB: The only reason I can think is to stop a flood of Pokémon ascending onto the HOME servers and overwhelming them. Remember GO is one of the most successful and longest-running Pokémon apps, with people having collections ranging in the thousands. If everyone tried to upload all of those in one sitting, I can see it causing a lot of technical issues. So, it could purely be from a logistics point of view, with the addition of money-making on the side. Who knows.
WR: But in that case, why allow it at all? Monetisation doesn’t need to be there. It appears really dodgy to me; do they really need another source of income? The aspect of how many Pokémon could be making the journey over from GO I get, but how they are implementing the restrictions is the side I do not agree with; it isn’t a pro-consumer move.
SB: It is really bizarre, especially with the changes they made when lockdown began, allowing players to keep playing from inside their quarantined homes. However, from what I hear, they have been making some strange decisions, turning some players off the app completely. Most notably, the Mega Evolution mechanic being overly tedious and complicated, all for a one-use battle boost. I think if sending over Pokémon was entirely monetary then I’d have a real issue with it. Again, as someone who’s not played the game in over a year, it doesn’t really affect me – but I imagine this has ruffled a few feathers for all the avid Pokémon GO players out there.
WR: Indeed, and now taking away the alterations they introduced so players could play at home seems badly timed, as it isn’t as though we’re all allowed back out… I shall say I am excited to finally get Melmetal, though, which is possible after sending Pokémon over to HOME from GO. I also have a certain friend who can send me them… I wonder who, aha! The Gigantamax form is awesome, appearing in a liquid metal style; with my favourite type being Steel, this is exciting for me. We were informed that the HOME/GO functionality is going to happen this year, too!
SB: Yeah, as of October, Pokémon GO will get rid of the changes they implemented… Let’s hope they decide to go back on that decision. Haha, I wonder who this friend is, I have a feeling they may have a few Meltans spare for you! Another Steel type for you to play with, and a new Gigantamax form as well! We were shown Gmax Melmetal earlier this year by accident in a Pokémon Showcase in Japan, but since then its appearance in the game has been a mystery. You couldn’t even transfer over a Melmetal and feed it Max Soup on the Isle of Armor to give it Gigantamax capabilities. I’ll be interested to see if they fix this with an update, or if we will have to find some new Max ingredient to allow Melmetal to Gigantamax, maybe Max Metal or Max Cake!
WR: The presentation was not over though, because we ended on my personal highlight, the “GOTCHA!” by BUMP OF CHICKEN music video that celebrated the history of Pokémon, with appearances from many different characters and a delightful art and music direction; BONES Animation Team were involved! It includes Jasmine, so yeah, it’s amazing.
SB: It was a brilliant and fun video celebrating the history of Pokémon, packed full of fan favourites from all the regions, and also celebrated the current generation of Pokémon with a big focus on Galar near the end half of the video. Previously, I mentioned that characters from other games might be returning, and we may have gotten a hint to this; at the end of the video, we see two billboards with Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra landscapes depicted on them. In addition, on the billboards closest to us, the Battle Subway Duo Ingo and Emmet appear on the left and on the right we see Nita, Evelyn, Dana and Morgan from the Battle Maison. Both of those locales have a focus on chain and double battles, so do we think we will see those characters appear in the Galarian Star Tournament?
WR: I’m not sure, that is possible, and would be really fun to see! Pokémon has such a wonderful history, and I hope they lean into that more and more. Seeing all the characters in that video was just delightful, and it is no surprise to me that the physical single is selling very well! It is tempting to get it…
SB: My opinion is that it would be great to see them – and possibly other characters – return in a Battle Tree-style way, and that could be a secret we don’t learn about until the release of The Crown Tundra. We know with the success of Pokémon Masters that players love seeing trainers from all regions come together to compete in customisable teams; it would be great to see that reflected in the main series games. The physical edition is tempting, I wonder if that will ever come with some great big poster with all the trainers from the video featured – that would be epic!
WR: Maybe with the success of “GOTCHA!”, they shall make extra merchandise around it. I really appreciate the detail and references that went into the music video. It was a fantastic way to finish this presentation – I eagerly await October 23rd! We’ve covered most of the info now, so I’ll end with this: in your opinion, is this the end of the DLC plan for Sword and Shield? I personally don’t see them doing another DLC, with focus going on to the 2021 game; perhaps you see it differently.
SB: I could see extra merchandise happening – for now, though, I’m happy about the success of the music video and all the amazing references and detailed shots that capture the heart of the Pokémon series. In my opinion, another set of DLC for Pokémon Sword and Shield isn’t out of the question. If we combine the success of this DLC set and the fact that next year is Pokémon‘s 25th Anniversary, I think we could potentially get one or two more DLC packs quite early on in 2021, around February 27th, Pokémon Day. The rest of the year could be dedicated to the Pokémon Unite rollout, a summer release of Pokémon Snap 2, and then a mainline game, remake, or something else later in the year. All I know is that next year is definitely going to be packed filled with some great Pokémon content, and I can’t wait to see it!
WR: Don’t forget Pokémon Sleep, aha! February seems a bit soon for DLC in this vein, but perhaps it is dependent on how The Crown Tundra does. Either way, yes, I am excited for future Pokémon releases! This seems a fitting place and sentiment to end on, so unless you have any other comments, we’ll close out here.
SB: Ah yes, Sleep! I’m sure we will get further info on Sleep and more unique Pokémon app ideas soon. Nope, I think we’ve covered everything; hopefully we’ll now see a steady stream of short trailers as we run up to the release date of The Crown Tundra. I’m already super excited, and can’t wait to embark on another adventure!
WR: Awesome, thanks for joining me!
SB: Thank you for having me! It’s been great discussing Pokémon with you, and I hope your readers enjoy our thoughts.
Here we are, in the end segment of a Let’s Chat article once again! For official info on the Expansion Pass for Pokémon Sword and Shield, then you can go to this link. For more Let’s Chat articles, you can go here. I hope you have an awesome day!
As is becoming regular occurrence this year, a huge bit of gaming news was announced out of the blue on 21st September, in the form of Microsoft planning to acquire ZeniMax Media Inc. for the price of $7.5 billion (wowzas); for those unaware, ZeniMax owns the renowned games publisher Bethesda Softworks, who are behind such iconic game series as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Whilst we are currently unaware of the full extent of how this might play out – it is feasible that now future Bethesda games could be Microsoft-exclusive – it is clearly a statement of intent, especially with pre-orders for Series X/S going up just one day after this news, on the 22nd September. Could this sway people away from PlayStation 5?
Now, regular Let’s Chat co-writer Ashley Harrison is busy and going to be away for the short-term, so we have multiple new voices this time around to discuss this news: friends and fellow gamers Jordan Senior, Jed Harling, and Toby Court. Read on…
William Robinson: There’s been sudden gaming news during 2020, but still, I wasn’t expecting this from Microsoft and Bethesda! Before we get more into the details of this revelation, it might be a suitable idea for each of you to concisely introduce yourselves. Let us know where you currently do most of your gaming, and your favourite game series!
Jed Harling: Thanks for asking for my input Will. I’ve basically been on the PlayStation train since I was a youngun, but I’ve dabbled on the Wii and the Switch, and recently made the big jump to getting a PC. Though, I would still describe myself as a console gamer through and through! I really couldn’t say what my absolute favourite game series was; that’s such a tough question! But let’s just say that if you wanted to avoid a deep-dive into Metal Gear Solid lore, you shouldn’t invite me to your party.
Toby Court: Hey! I am primarily an Xbox gamer but am finding myself playing more and more on the Switch. I think we can all agree (pre-COVID-19) that adult life can make it difficult to park yourself before a console for any lengthy amount of time! My favourite game series has to be The Legend of Zelda. Few games have impacted me as those have; I still vividly remember the first time that I plucked the Master Sword from its plinth in Ocarina of Time. Nothing gets the blood pumping like picking up a magic blue sword that turns you into an adult! That, and the fear that my parents could return home from the pub quiz at any moment and send me to bed.
Jordan Senior: Gaming has been a huge part of my childhood, and has taken me through to the present. Growing up, my earliest experiences have been playing my Dad’s original PlayStation, and spending countless hours of classics like Tekken and Crash Bandicoot, so Sony’s been in my blood since I was a kid. Between my Dad, brother, and I, we’ve owned every PlayStation console – although I did rebel and get an Xbox 360. So, PlayStation has been the only console I’ve considered for the most part; however, last year I bought a Switch as there’s too many games I want to play, Breath of the Wild being one on it that I love. For me it’s all about the games, so hardware doesn’t bother me as much as other gamers. Sony and Nintendo always knock it out of the park in terms of first party games. Instead of series, my favourite game of all time is a toss up between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Hitman: Blood Money!
WR: Awesome, great to get that intro from all of you, thanks for that! Now the formalities are done, it’s time to get into the Bethesda news proper. Firstly, were you at all predicting this happen? Microsoft has been purchasing many studios over recent years, but Bethesda is quite the acquisition.
JH: There’s no doubt that Xbox’s acquisition of Zenimax and Bethesda is a seismic move, but I can’t say that it was wholly surprising? If we park the discussion about teraflops and tech-specs regarding next generation hardware, I think there is a huge elephant in the room for Xbox. What games has it got? Purchasing studios is a response to that.
JS: With Microsoft buying Bethesda, this is a great move for them and will give them a slight edge on Sony. It’s hard to predict what exactly they will do from here on out, but I have a few theories: firstly, that The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Starfield will not be exclusive to Xbox and PC, but they will perform better on Xbox consoles than PlayStation consoles. Even if PS5 sales of the games are high, Microsoft will benefit greatly as they now own Bethesda. This can also put Bethesda Game Studios themselves in a better direction; they have been on a slippery slope, especially with Fallout 76 not doing as well as expected. Secondly and alternatively, I can see new Bethesda-published games being exclusive, as it will make Microsoft a formidable foe in years to come. So, games like Dishonored, Wolfenstein and Doom will become exclusive.
TC: I think, oddly enough, this news comes as both surprising and unsurprising. Had this not happened during the current height of the console war (and a day before Xbox pre-orders are made available), I don’t think this would have been as groundbreaking. I say it’s no surprise because I feel that Bethesda has always favoured Xbox over PlayStation. My one and only argument for that is how the DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released earlier on Xbox than it was PlayStation. Though, when you think about it, that doesn’t make much of an impact. Maybe I’m biased! Regardless, I go back to my initial point; as exciting as it is because of the console war hype, I don’t think we’re going to see the ramifications anytime soon. PlayStation will draw first blood and win on initial sales; they have such a brilliant library of exclusives. That being said, there is a new The Elder Scrolls on the horizon, and everyone is asking the same question: will it be an Xbox exclusive? Answer: probably not. That would be a serious hemorrhage of money, but it does leave that tiny nibbling thought in the back of your mind of what DOES this mean? I think the likelihood is that Xbox will get certain priorities and benefits. Anything from earlier releases maybe even to minor exclusive games (Fallout: New Vegas remaster anyone?). Yet, hey, nothing stays exclusive forever (we’re looking at you Cuphead) – none of it is off the table.
WR: As we have been referencing, announcing this after a very strong PlayStation 5 showing recently, and a day before Series X/S pre-orders, has to be a statement of intent right? For me, it doesn’t actually sway me that much, because I am – relative to you three – not that much of a Bethesda fan; my plan remains to get a PlayStation 5 first, as that is where most of my friends play, and it has exclusives such as Horizon Forbidden West that are system sellers in my eyes. However, with all of the pro-consumer moves and the exclusives on the way for Series X/S, I am confident that I am going to invest into that ecosystem again – I mean, Everwild, The Gunk, Fable… The future is exciting! My question is, then, whether this Bethesda news is going to alter your purchasing plans?
JS: As mentioned before, it’s all about the games. As I’m becoming time poor and not having lots of disposable income, I feel like I need to be more selective over my choices. While this news will change a lot of things, I’m still sticking to the PS5! Spider-Man, Horizon, Ratchet & Clank, as well as God of War are games I would love to play, so there is more incentive there. Getting both consoles would be quite difficult for me, but I could work around this by getting the cheaper Xbox Series S. I might strategise and get the PS5 as my main console for exclusives and third-party games, and then the cheaper Xbox purely for the first-party games. The hardware is great on both sides, so either is a worthy purchase; it is mainly considering what is a priority. Whilst exclusives are a driving force, there are also other factors such as technical performance and quality of life aspects to consider. If, for example, The Elder Scrolls VI is a better experience on the Xbox, then it is clearly going to be better to get it on that platform and vice versa.
TC: I am nothing if not a Bethesda fan. I’ve poured hours of my life away to The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and I plan to again in the future. In the unlikely event that Bethesda comes out and says that all future games would be Xbox exclusives, I would go Xbox without hesitating. I don’t plan on getting either console on day one, I need time to make my decision, and will probably get one a year or so down the line. Aside from seeing how each console performs and continues to perform after its release, it will give me opportunity to see how this new partnership will pay off.
JH: Likewise with Toby, my time in Oblivion and Fallout 3 have no doubt crafted me into the washed-up freak I am today. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m sure Xbox PR has been loving the industry-shake-up juice this announcement provides; I think this merger doesn’t technically finalise until the end of next year, though such a big move will have been planned and talked about behind closed doors for a while. Perhaps even why Xbox might have been pulling their punches a little recently, knowing their “one more thing” this year was actually one of the largest acquisitions gaming has ever seen? If things are kept multi-platform, and Microsoft try and hit me with the marketing line that “Bethesda games play best on Xbox”, the simple truth is that they won’t. The Elder Scrolls & Fallout are PC games through and through – they simply can’t try that route. So, we’re in danger of them starting to get into the realms of imposed differences instead. If an Xbox is able to get a better technical performance out of the games than a PS5, by all means, go for it and market that. I don’t think that’s enough to make me change systems. If all future Bethesda titles do turn console exclusive on Xbox, in a sense I’m entirely immune to that being damaging to me through having access to a PC. However, that would be such a heart-breaking blow to all PlayStation owners everywhere. It would also be monumentally contradictory to all the Xbox press releases and philosophies stating that bridging players wherever and however they play is now a high priority. Side note: notice how that ideology has only really come to the forefront since they were trailing behind this generation – I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
WR: I do reckon that Microsoft will try and keep that pro-consumer feeling going; it would indeed go against recent messaging to suddenly take Bethesda games away from PlayStation owners. I see more of a Minecraft situation here, where they make lots of money from it across platforms, but it doesn’t necessarily become a lead exclusive in the way Halo is. This news takes on different meaning depending on whether you play on PC or not, as for those such as Jed who have that option, they know that version is there. But for those who are focused on console, there is more uncertainty of whether future Bethesda releases are going to be on the machine they own or not. There are potential downsides, but I imagine Microsoft is going to play this very carefully. Let us go glass-half-full for a bit; in your ideal situation, where does this go? For example, could Microsoft actually help Bethesda with some of the issues they have had in recent years with glitches and problematic releases? Are we suddenly going to see other first-party Microsoft studios working on Bethesda intellectual properties – such as, y’know, having Obsidian Entertainment return to Fallout?
TC: If all this meant was Obsidian returning to Fallout, it would be a worthy partnership in my eyes! Last year The Outer Worlds showed us just exactly what Fallout 4 was missing, and reminded us what it was about New Vegas (which Obsidian developed) that we fell in love with. If we could marry those two together again in the future I would die a happy man. Microsoft bought Obsidian back in 2018 and with the likes of New Vegas being a Bethesda IP, a sequel wasn’t possible. With Microsoft now owning both parties, they’d be fools not to develop a sequel to one of the highest rated games not just in the Fallout franchise but in the genre. Overall, I’m optimistic. I think this will help Bethesda make cleaner, tighter games. But hey, let’s face it, barring the game-breaking/crashing kind, silly glitches are what gives these games character.
JS: Going forward, I would like to see Microsoft help Bethesda fix their ongoing issues and make sure that their games are of a really high quality. Prior to this deal, Bethesda were their own company and relied too much on the name of their IPs. In 2020, that is not enough, and they have to make sure that their games are fluid, seamless, and most importantly playable at launch or soon after. With Microsoft there, they will be a fresh pair of eyes, and also new ideas can be implemented as they’re not relying on the same talent as before – a shake up will be a good thing. Not saying that they should ditch their core gameplay values, but instead evolve and adapt the brand and games for this new generation. What excites me about, say, Starfield, is that it is a new IP and doesn’t have the same expectation and recognition as Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. They have a chance to be really experimental and implement mechanics that will feel distinct yet familiar. I want to feel like I’m playing a Bethesda game with Starfield, but don’t want it to just be Fallout in space. They can do something very special with this, and hopefully this will inject new life into Bethesda and make them a more trustworthy company again.
JH: If you’re thinking that the acquisition will mean the end of Bethesda glitches, I think you’re in for a bad time. It really depends on how much control (or meddling) Xbox is going to have. The fear is that they own it, so they can do what they want; they have all the control. Hypothetically, if Microsoft decides they want Bethesda to work on Kinect 2, then they will work on Kinect 2. Don’t assume that just because they’re big companies with similar values that everything with be fine. Look at Bungie/Activision: after their split, Bungie came out of the basement and spoke about how Activision was bullying them into business models they didn’t approve of, but were powerless to do anything. That’s all worst case scenario though, and I don’t see that happening. I’m getting hopeful! If we can get Obsidian to work on Fallout again, I think that’s really exciting. Not sure how Todd will feel about letting someone else show him up on stage with a better game (again), but I don’t see Bethesda coming out with anything more Fallout related for a very long time, bar those updates for Fallout 76. So, maybe they can bounce development off someone else in the interim. Going by Obsidian’s Twitter (see this post), I think there’s hope for this going forward. But again, this is going to be a long way down the line, with Avowed taking their attention. I’ve got to be honest, I struggled to get into The Outer Worlds on first try, but I’m excited to give it another go.
TC: I will say in rebuttal that the Kinect is dead, Xbox Series X/S offers no support for the camera or the games that required one, so fear of a Bethesda Kinect 2 Electric Boogaloo is RIDICULOUS Jed, what were you thinking?!
JH: Hypothetically, if Microsoft decides… That’s all worst case scenario though. I don’t see that happening.
WR: Yeah, with Avowed their focus, if we do see Obsidian on Fallout it may not be for years, but the possibility is there to keep us excited! Though, don’t give them ideas with Kinect and such, see what happened with Rare when they became owned by Microsoft… On the other hand, Rare is recovering now with their gameplay-focused creations of Sea of Thieves and the upcoming Everwild, showing that perhaps Microsoft has learned a lesson there. This also adds even more value to Game Pass going forward, as if the Day One availability on Game Pass for first-party games continues, this means games such as Starfield are going to be there immediately to play through that service. If Game Pass is the area Microsoft is pushing, the whole console-exclusivity idea may not be their priority. Even considering that I lean towards physical copies of games, it is evident how amazing Game Pass is.
JH: There’s no doubt about Game Pass’ value for money. It’s a great offering, and I’m able to play some past Xbox offerings right now on the computer.
TC: I think both Xbox Game Pass and the new features of PlayStation Plus have a lot to offer both consoles. I was having this conversation with Jed the other day; I’m slightly underwhelmed with Game Pass, but that would only be because I’m used to and aware of the games in the Xbox library – even when the games on there are impressive. When I look at the PlayStation Plus library, it looks amazing because I’ve never had access to these games, having never owned a PlayStation past the PS2. So there will no doubt be people like me on both sides that will be impressed by the other consoles’ games, and that’s nothing but a good thing.
JS: In the future, I can see streaming services such as Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Collection (a library of PS4 games available to play for Plus subscribers) be at the forefront in years to come. As concepts, I really like them, but I haven’t yet utilised the services to their full potential. What makes it enticing is the fact that you can play a bunch of games for a certain amount a month rather than individually buying games – prices will have to accommodate this though. Everything is becoming more streamlined and adopting a one size fits method, which I think is great. It won’t be a complete overhaul instantly, but I can see it becoming more commonplace than not. In all honesty, I’ve never explored Game Pass, but if I get an Xbox, I might dabble. I’m quite slow to new tech surprisingly (I still use wired headphones) but if the streaming approach is explored more, then the convenience plus quality will equal a rich and easy gaming experience!
WR: I’m right there with you Jordan on the wired headphones, aha! Your comments on how it isn’t an instant change, but is certainly going in that service direction, are apt; you can see how the industry is gradually going that way, similar to how streaming services are emerging as progressively prominent for TV and films. You could say that Microsoft are a key part of pushing that and making the rest of the industry go with them; without Game Pass, would a PlayStation Plus Collection have happened? I am not so sure, it seems a response to Game Pass – which is great for gamers as there are options on either side. Healthy competing! As mentioned previously, if Microsoft keeps adding well-known names to connect to Game Pass – be it Halo or now Bethesda – then that push is going to get stronger and stronger. We have covered quite a lot here, so I may close us out now. Has been fun getting new voices in here! Any closing comments from each of you before we go?
JS: To close off, I think it’s a great time to be a gamer in 2020, despite challenging times. New gamers will not have an alienating time getting into the medium, as it seems more accessible now then ever before. I can’t wait for the next generation of console gaming and to see its development in the future!
TC: It’s true everything seems to be going to a premium streaming service nowadays, all you see online and on TV are adverts for some new collective service. And in respect to gaming, a solely digital console being pushed more as a viable option could see the death of physical games at some point in the near future. Thank you for having me Will! Been interesting hearing everyone’s points, and I think overall the prospect of Bethesda and Microsoft’s partnership should be exciting no matter which console you play on.
JH: Yeah, just as a closing comment, it is strange to see that Will seems to be swayed so much by the prospect of Game Pass, given your dedication to physical media. I’m looking forward to being able to play more and more games that have not been accessible to me in the future, but I am aware that all of these digital libraries are, at best, temporary. I guess we just can not afford to be complacent.
WR: It is an internal debate for me; I have such a connection to collecting physical games, but I can see how much value Microsoft are putting into Game Pass – including now acquiring Bethesda – and trying to recognise it, even if I am not sure whether or not to dive in. What it may do is, similar to how you say, get me to try games that otherwise I may not have because they are there and so efficiently accessible, in which case the Series S could be a fun machine for experimenting with that library. The physical side is my priority, so my head and heart are clashing slightly here. So, I am gonna go and see if I can make a decision, aha! Thanks for joining me everyone; until next time!
These guest editions of Let’s Chat may become more frequent, especially in the immediate future with Ashley busy. He will be back, though! You can click here for previous entries in the Let’s Chat series.
Nintendo suddenly released a Direct today for the 35th Anniversary of Mario, and, well… there’s exciting announcements and confusing decisions, as is often the case with Nintendo news! Ashley Harrison and I discussed it in the immediate aftermath, so read on for our thoughts. I do mean immediate; as you’ll see, we’re literally finding out updates and getting our orders in as this goes, keeping us on our toes!
William Robinson: Okay, so Ash, I was minding my own business and then Nintendo decided to just out of the blue drop the Super Mario Bros. 35th Anniversary Direct. Where were you when it happened, haha?
Ashley Harrison: Hopefully, like everyone, I was sat on the sofa at home playing Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, completely oblivious to the bombshell Nintendo were about to drop. Thankfully I usually always have Twitter open, so as soon as I saw the Tweet from the verified Nintendo UK account, I quit out of the round instantly and started watching the Direct.
WR: I thought there would be Mario news at some point, but not this sudden or soon! Took me by surprise, so much so that I wasn’t even sure of my expectations going in.
AH: It seems like such a huge announcement to shadow-drop with zero buildup, but thinking about it logically then I guess it makes sense. Thanks to VGC leaking the info months ago about these games coming to Switch as part of a 35th Anniversary Collection, we probably should’ve guessed it’d drop today on the actual 35th Anniversary itself.
WR: It makes sense when you put it that way! Other than a collection, were there any other hopes you had beforehand? You know me, I was hoping for Captain Toad representation, and we got that!
AH: My one big hope was something that was sadly conspicuous in its absence – Super Mario Galaxy 2. Whilst obviously there was no mention of Galaxy 2 being included as part of the leaks, I was really hoping to see it there in some form because in my opinion, it’s the pinnacle of the Mario series as a whole, so I’d love to play through it again in HD.
WR: That’s a point we’re going to get to, be sure of that! As the announcement of the collection was at the end, though, let’s slow down and go through those initial announcements. The first reveal was of Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., which plays Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and a Mario version of the Game & Watch Ball game! This is a neat product, even if I reckon I won’t personally be getting it. Out on November 13th, it could be a great Christmas idea.
AH: It’s definitely something I’m going to keep my eye on and see if I can work it into my monthly budget. I’ve never owned a Game & Watch before to be straight up honest with you, so this definitely looks a great one to start with. As you say, there’s 3 games included as well as the fact it also doubles as a clock like all Game & Watch devices do, so really now it just comes down to the price point. It’s a gorgeous looking console too, the colour scheme goes so well together.
WR: I can tell the clock feature is the one swaying you to the purchase there! I have a Zelda Game & Watch, but as I say I may pass on this – depends on the price too, though. I agree the aesthetic is awesome, as a timepiece it is one I can see becoming very rare in the future. Next up was an announcement I am SO happy about; Super Mario 3D World is going to be on Switch on 21st February 2021! Which means more Captain Toad content on Switch! A great day.
AH: Can never have enough clocks that function as something else if you ask me, haha! Imagine someone asking you for the time whilst you’re stood at the bus stop, and rather than pulling out your phone like they’d expect, you pull out that bad boy. Honestly, you’re going to hate me for this, but I’m really not a fan of 3D World. The mesh between the 3D style, but 2D linearity and having a timer to complete the level really put me off both 3D Land and 3D World, so it’s a miss for me. Seeing Captain Toad is cool though!
WR: That’s fine, you’re allowed to be wrong. It isn’t Galaxy level for me, but it’s close, and the Captain Toad levels are fantastic, forming the basis for the solo spin-off Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Also the jazz soundtrack is immense! It’s nice to have it on Switch, as it felt missing from the group of games that have been crossing over from the Wii U. The added bonus of DLC is intriguing too; there wasn’t much indication about it, but with a name such as Bowser’s Fury, I’m excited! Maybe a DLC of Captain Toad facing off against Bowser? Maybe?
AH: It’s crazy to me just how obsolete of a system now Nintendo have made the Wii U, basically every single one of its top games has been ported to the Switch, and honestly I don’t blame them in the slightest. Think there’s only Xenoblade Chronicles X that needs to make the generational jump and that’s it, Wii U is a completely dead system. I’m interested in what the DLC side-story will be too, even if I’m not actually interested in the game. It seems something of a common trend now across Nintendo remasters that they have new side-stories, haha!
WR:Xenoblade Chronicles X is so great, I really hope it goes to Switch; my favourite Xenoblade game yet. Oh, also, I am hearing that there is online multiplayer for 3D World, a nice bonus!
AH:3D World has online multiplayer though? That’s actually dope that. Given how integral multiplayer is into the game, it’d be crazy not to in my opinion; genuinely surprised it wasn’t an option in the Wii U version.
WR: Next up was, well, perhaps inevitable; it’s happened, we have a Battle Royale game for Mario now in the form of Super Mario Bros. 35, which reminds me of Tetris 99 in the layout and idea. In this, you are playing Super Mario Bros. on your screen, with the other 34 players pictured around you, and the relative success of each player can impact the others. It’s out on October 1st, in a digital-only format and only for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers – and strangely is disappearing on March 31st 2021?
AH: It’s such a dumb decision that I really can’t understand. It’s such a cool concept for a game, it makes zero sense for it to be available only for like half a year. Can you honestly work your head around it?
WR: No, not really. Unless they at some time announce that it is extended? There are quite a few odd decisions in this Direct, though! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Mario has a Battle Royale… is any series safe?
AH: Honestly I’d much rather play this Battle Royale than most of the others already out there. At least Super Mario Bros. 35 doesn’t just look like a carbon copy of every other Battle Royale available already (shoutout to Fall Guys, that game is cool as hell too) and is based purely on skill more than anything else. If they’re going to extend it though, why announce a set end date? Maybe after Super Mario Bros. 35 is done with the first Mario game come March, it’ll move onto Super Mario Bros. 2?
WR: We were actually going to talk about Fall Guys before this Direct happened (that’s on the way, though)! Yeah, I am confident it is going to be well-made, even if I doubt I’ll play much of it. The following announcement was probably my least favourite of the Direct – Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, 16th October. It’s essentially Augmented Reality (AR) Mario Kart, where you buy the physical toy karts to drive around through your Switch. So, the camera on the toy picks up the environment and makes that the background, with the arches you place around the room forming the track. This got me excited about making our own tracks, but that’s an idea I’d prefer in the traditional Mario Kart framework… I imagine this is going to be clumsy in terms of driving.
-at this point in the conversation, pre-orders for Super Mario 3D All-Stars went live on the Nintendo Official UK Store and we proceed to frantically get our orders in in time-
AH: AR Mario Kart was your least favourite reveal of the Direct? Damn. Honestly it was my favourite behind only the 35th Anniversary collection. It looks genuinely incredible and whilst it’s obviously marketed towards those who have a larger room to be able to play it in properly, I’m 100% sold on the idea of being able to make my own custom tracks and the like from my house! Wonder if I can make my Axolotl tank a tunnel you have to drive through somehow?
WR: Don’t get me wrong, the concept is awesome, and replicating F1 tracks would be great fun, but the actual gameplay in AR just seems it wouldn’t feel as great as other Mario Kart games. Give me Mario Kart Maker please. Also: Ash, the Game & Watch just went up and is £44.99, thoughts on the price? You going for it?
AH: At £44.99, honestly I think I’ll pass, as cool as the device itself is. It’s a steep investment to be able to play 2 games I already own multiple times over, as do I assume most Nintendo fans.
WR: Similar for me; I don’t particularly collect Game & Watch devices, and I need to stop buying stuff… though there is just so much cool stuff in the world to buy! Ah, such a dilemma. Last on Mario Kart: have you planned a house track yet?
AH: Yeah, I need to stop buying stuff too haha, supposed to be moving out by Christmas and I’ve just ordered that, Tony Hawk comes out tomorrow, then there’s Cyberpunk 2077 and Watch Dogs Legion, and Xbox Series X in November. Jeez. As for a house track, I’m not gonna lie, I started brainstorming one as soon as it was revealed. It’s going to be a bit hard though, because the toys definitely look like something my Greyhound would chase around and try to attack for the hell of it…
WR: The next section went through upcoming Mario-themed events from now to the date of March 2021. There’s a new event on September 9th for Mario Kart Tour on mobile, and lots of tempting Mario merchandise (speaking of buying… ) from plushes to T-shirts. Also, a nostalgic course is being added to Super Mario Maker 2, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is getting a Super Mario series online tourney. Oh wait, not done yet (breathes): January 2021 has a Splatfest for inky third-person shooter Splatoon 2 with teams for Super Mushroom and Super Star (Team Mushroom!), AND there are Mario Splatfest T-shirts and keychains. Animal Crossing is going to get Super Mario furniture. Then they went through other products out there; Super Mario Monopoly, Super Mario LEGO, the Super Mario LEGO NES, Super Mario Kinder Joy. BLIMEY. I did it! Which of those stand out for you?
AH: Honestly, it’s the Animal Crossing crossover, and Monopoly for me realistically in terms of what I’d be able to afford. I’d kill for that LEGO NES, but it’s so damn expensive sadly. Honestly, the rest of the stuff I really couldn’t care about.
WR: I just thought I should at least mention it all in passing. There are some merch items I am possibly going to get – the pink T-shirt design is great! Not enough Captain Toad merchandise though. Then, before the final reveal, they informed us that Super Mario All-Stars is releasing on SNES Online today, which is a nice touch, though perhaps overshadowed by the next announcement…
AH: I never got to play the Wii re-release of Super Mario All-Stars when that got released, so I’m actually looking forward to playing it once I’m finished with this article. Honestly any excuse to play Super Mario Bros. 3 is a great one to me, and with the All-Stars version having graphical upgrades and the like over the already-available NES version, that’s as much of an excuse as I need. I do feel sorry for the placement of this within the Direct though, like you said, it was completely over-shadowed by the next collection announcement…
WR: Let’s get to it then: the not-well-kept secret of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a combination pack of the following 3D Mario games: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 – oh, wait, no, the last one is inexplicably not there. Um, what? Even so, these three games being available together in HD on 18th September is such an awesome announcement, especially given how Nintendo may have been able to make more money selling them separately (as with 3D World). This seems really pro-consumer – except from Galaxy 2 not being there.
AH: I really can’t understand the absence of Mario Galaxy 2, but either way, I’ve gotten my preorder in ready for it to release in a couple of weeks. Very much looking forward to playing through Sunshine and Galaxy again, although I’m interested to see how both actually play. Whilst Super Mario 64 is more of a traditional platformer, Sunshine relied very much upon the GameCube’s analog triggers to operate the FLUDD, and Mario Galaxy obviously has a decent amount of usage of motion controls. The Joy-Con do have gyroscopes built-in, but they’re not anywhere near as responsive as the Wii Remote was, so I’m hoping it’s possible to play the game in handheld mode, which is my preferred method of playing on my Switch. The lack of analog triggers is a huge omission from a gameplay perspective for Sunshine though, so I hope the game isn’t too affected on Switch as a result and Nintendo have found a way to work around this.
WR: I am hearing that co-op play on Galaxy requires Joy-Cons, so if you have a Switch Lite then that may be tricky. It’s a valid point about the triggers; I wonder if there is any compensation for that… I am slightly concerned about whether I have to play Galaxy on the TV for the controls to feel at their best, as flicking the Joy-Con detached in handheld may be awkward. These are concerns, but to focus on the positives, they’re amazing games being brought to HD; I am especially excited to replay Galaxy and Galaxy 2 – oh, no. Yes, I am being salty, but no, I shall not stop. Galaxy 2 exists! It exists… right?
AH: People play local co-op nowadays? That’s news to me, haha. If it requires motion controls though and you only have a Switch Lite anyway… Y I K E S. Galaxy 2 does still exist though, yeah, and it’s still the best Mario game yet. Give us Mario Galaxy 2 on Switch ASAP Nintendo, you cowards!
WR: Why do you imagine it isn’t there? Could it be future DLC? I am baffled.
AH: My only hope is that it isn’t ready to be released and Nintendo didn’t want to miss the 35th Anniversary by delaying the game, so instead it’ll be released next year, either as DLC or a solo physical release. I’ll buy it either way.
WR: Maybe COVID-19 delayed it somehow? Also, with the resolution for Sunshine and Galaxy being 1080p docked instead of 720p handheld, I guess that is going to push us towards playing docked. Ideally it’d work with the Pro Controller.
AH: I really need to get around to investing in a Pro Controller honestly, I really wish Nintendo would bundle them with the console itself. But yeah, I’m definitely thinking it’s a COVID-19 related delay, we’ve seen a lot already this year and I think we’re still gonna see more yet. I hate to be the guy who complains about resolution but I’ll mostly always take the best looking way to play a game. I mean, I bought a 4K monitor solely to play The Last of Us Part II, haha. I just really, really hope all 3 games run at 60FPS more than anything.
WR: The idea of Galaxy in 1080p HD in 60FPS, official from Nintendo, is so exciting! Of the 3, Sunshine is the one I did not finish on GameCube; I enjoyed it, but for some reason never finished the story. Time to amend that! Is Galaxy your most anticipated of the three?
AH:Galaxy is the one I’m most looking forward to playing through once again, yeah, but I don’t know if I’d call it my most anticipated one. That’d go to Sunshine because it’s the only one of the three I haven’t played before, although I have seen a ton of speed runs of the game, so I’m looking forward to being able to play through it for myself for the first time.
WR: It seems we are in a similar position then. I may not actually play much of 64, it is the other two I am most intrigued to go back to. By the way, the listings for the two separate Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit packs (Mario and Luigi) have appeared… they are £99.99 each. Ouch.
AH: A hundred quid each? Nintendo have to be joking right? I wouldn’t for a second even consider paying that much for them. Basically need to spend £200 to be able to use them, then the £200/£280 cost of a Switch. That actually takes the piss.
WR: I repeat: Ouch. Yeah, especially as a gift for younger gamers, that’s a high price barrier. So is the house track idea, well, off track now?
AH: Well, well, WELL off the track now, yeah. Stuff that, way too expensive. Or, to get a Mario joke in there, it’s so far off the track Lakitu just appeared.
WR: Aha! Nice. As a whole, this Direct was great, but I have gotta say that for me, the lack of Galaxy 2 really stings. If Galaxy 2 was included, then this’d be superb, but it just leaves a gap for me. As a presentation of Mario content, though, there’s lots there for us fans.
AH: It’s a Nintendo Direct where I actually want to play every game that was revealed; that’s crazy to me.
WR: I’d like to play them all, and another game not in the Direct…
AH: Hmm, what’s that other game? The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD? Hey, Nintendo, give us that next year, you cowards.
WR: Oh Ash, that’s a whole other debate, haha! Maybe then people can realise they are wrong when they criticise Skyward Sword. At this point, do you reckon we are going to get a non-specific Nintendo Direct this year? Going by recent evidence, it seems as though they are splitting up the announcements.
AH: Next Let’s Chat: Why Skyward Sword is the best Zelda game. Honestly, given everything that’s happened this year, I’d be surprised if we got a general Nintendo Direct in 2020 at all. I honestly think that’s not going to happen until next year, and you know what? I’m okay with that. If only because it gives me an excuse to skip Directs if I know there’s gonna be nothing that interests me.
WR: Woah, not going that far. It’s not Twilight Princess. I reckon maybe one late on, perhaps December, but I can also see the wait being until 2021. We are probably going to get those Mini ones, which are nice updates; with Super Mario 3D All-Stars, though, Nintendo has a safe seller for 2020. To reiterate: this is out on September 18th! 14 days away! As if it is so close!
AH: Honestly that’s the most surprising thing of all of the Direct to me – just how close it is to release. Is this the closest Nintendo have ever announced a major series game before its release? I’d be willing to bet that it is. Might have to take a couple of weeks off work and use up some holiday hours that I’ve been accumulating.
WR: That there sounds as though it could be an awesome plan! Get that Gusty Garden Galaxy going (woah alliteration). I had to remind myself how close it was, usually when I order Nintendo games there are months (or years) to go.
AH: MATE. Gusty Garden Galaxy’s OST. My God. It’s so good. I’m so glad there’s a music player included for all 3 games in 3D All-Stars, I’m gonna be using that feature so much.
WR: Right? I have used the one in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate so much too. The Galaxy games have such amazing music. We’ve been asking for so long, and we’re getting these games! With this and the recent release of Paper Mario: The Origami King back in July, it’s a great year for Mario. I reckon an Odyssey sequel ain’t far off either…
AH: If it isn’t that far off, please change nothing Nintendo, Odyssey was incredible. But please, for the love of all that’s holy, give us more Kingdoms with less Moons in each this time around.
WR: Were there any announcements – other than you-know-which – particularly missing for you from the Direct, or are you satisfied?
AH: I’ve got one that I know you’ll agree with because we’ve spoken about it before. Mario Strikers HD when Nintendo? I’m begging you.
WR: Oh, that’s such a great pick, why that series has been gone for so long… one day, right? Also, can I just say how much Nintendo has power over us with the use of one word: limited. The frantic pre-ordering because of how the stock is restricted for the physical edition of Super Mario 3D All-Stars is ridiculous, and yes I am aware we fell for it too.
AH: I was always going to be a day one buyer of the game, so was always going to pre-order anyway. But for Nintendo to make it purposely limited, even the digital version? It’s absolutely disgusting from Nintendo, and there’s no reason for it. If it were a small, unproven test game that was a limited retail release and left up digitally forever then I’d understand it. However, Mario games are pretty much always in the UK charts in a decent position, no matter how long it’s been since they released. I mean, look at Mario Kart DS/Wii, those were always number 1 on their respective console sales tables, and also held decent positions in the general sales chart. I’d imagine the same happens elsewhere, but I’m not gonna say for certain as I’ve never seen enough data from other regions to back that up. I’m seeing a good amount of people saying the same on social media, but imagine if like Activision or someone pulled this, and not Nintendo. There’d be WAY more uproar than there currently is. Nintendo absolutely need to be called out on this practice.
WR: It’s probably going to end up near Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Odyssey on the best-selling games list. I get the criticism, and Nintendo has done this strategy before. It creates demand, but isn’t the most consumer-friendly way to go about it and actually causes stress from trying to make sure you successfully get your order through. Fear of Missing Out right? The digital restriction is an extra step they’ve taken here that really isn’t necessary or justified.
AH: Six months is a really short time for it to be available, too. I understand why games with licensed soundtracks, etc. get pulled from stores after a while, but even those are up for a decent amount of time before being pulled!
WR: Still, we’re gonna buy and play this game, but bear in mind how we do recognise the issues around the methods of distribution Nintendo is using. As for Mario Kart, I guess we’re gonna have to go to Japan and try those ones you can drive on the road?
AH: Honestly, dream holiday that. I’ve not been go-karting since I was like 10 on holiday in Scarborough, so to do it in actual real life Mario Karts on the road in Japan? Sign me up for that, no questions asked.
WR: That seems a positive, hopeful note to end on. Unless you have any other particular thoughts, we’ll wrap it up there. I was not expecting this drop of news today!
AH: Other than repeating that I want Mario Strikers HD, I’ve nothing more to say. I think we’ve covered everything now.
WR: Then my last note shall be: this was a day of more Captain Toad. Rejoice! See ya, Ash!
AH: In a bit!
There you have it: our reaction to the Direct. You can let us know your thoughts below; do you have any concerns about the way Nintendo is handling these releases? Are you excited to play these updated games? Also, for more from Ashley and I you can go through our other Let’s Chat articles here, including a review of Super Mario Odyssey! Until next time!
Following on from our prediction article for the Xbox Games Showcase – which you can read here – this Let’s Chat is going to be Ashley Harrison and I reacting to the event. There is a lot to talk about here, and also scores from our predictions to tally up! The Ascent was in the pre-show, so I am immediately 1-0 up. Just saying.
William Robinson: Hey Ash! As we recently did predictions, it makes sense that this Let’s Chat is going to be all about reacting to the Showcase. Microsoft revealed a lot of new games, so as with the Ubisoft Forward, let’s go through it chronologically. First, though; I was impressed at the variety of different games shown, and the dedication to fixing the area of weakness that has been their first-party line-up compared to their rivals. Before we go into it, just recap your general expectations for the Showcase as a whole and whether as an initial reaction, it satisfied those? I mean, there wasn’t Minecraft 2… Haha!
Ashley Harrison: Hey again Will! Honestly, I have to say, I wasn’t really expecting much from this Xbox Games Showcase because, like I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I’ve just never been that much of an Xbox player. However, saying that, I was extremely impressed by Microsoft’s recent showing, and it’s genuinely starting to sway me towards buying an Xbox Series X as my next-generation console rather than a PlayStation 5. Although I do wish Minecraft 2 was a thing as well.
WR: Wow, that’s a significant swing and goes to show that they did a great job here. Microsoft has clearly put a lot of effort into addressing the first-party weakness that the Xbox One has suffered relative to other consoles; their flagship exclusive is Halo, and they kicked off the Showcase with a decent chunk of gameplay from Halo Infinite. That now makes it 1-1 for predictions! It was great to see it in action beyond cinematics, but whilst it ran smoothly, it didn’t blow me away as a next-generation preview. It doesn’t stand out as particularly beyond the capabilities of current consoles to me – it seemed to be Halo but with larger areas.
AH: They’ve stepped up both their first party support, and their third-party indie support for this generation so much already compared to the Xbox One, and I’m more than here for it. I’m with you on that about Halo, as I said when we were watching live, it looked impressive from a framerate standpoint (that lovely 60FPS action looks soooooo smooth) but visually I expected more. I get that it’s the very beginning of the console generation, and developers are going to take a couple of years to get to know the hardware, but for a first-party game (especially one as synonymous with Xbox as Halo is) it’s a bit of a letdown in my opinion.
WR: Especially after building up anticipation for it for around two years now; it seems as though it is going to be a bit of a reboot for the series, but aside from those larger spaces I haven’t yet seen much innovation… I’m not sure solid Halo gameplay is enough, when both Sony and Nintendo have found acclaim for taking flagship series in new directions – I was hoping for more of that here. Put it this way; as someone without a particular investment in the franchise, I didn’t see why this is an essential purchase.
AH: I’m with you there again 100%. Compared to many of Sony and Nintendo’s first-party exclusives, this Halo demo didn’t scream “God damn, this is the game to sell me on a system!” to me whatsoever. You look at the recent PS5 reveal event, and games like Ratchet & Clank and Horizon Forbidden West (even though I personally won’t be picking the latter up as I wasn’t a fan of the first game) definitely had that feeling for me.
WR: There appears to be some criticism for the Halo Infinite showing around; do you reckon there is real concern to be had? 343 has never garnered the same level of praise for their Halo games (Halo 4 onwards) that Bungie did back in the day. They’re the equivalent of the leading first-party studio at Sony, Naughty Dog (you may have heard of it?), but they just don’t have that reputation yet.
AH: Naughty Dog? Who are they? Never heard of them. I wouldn’t say there’s real cause for concern after a single 8-minute gameplay segment for what’s surely a much longer game, but at the same time though I wouldn’t hold out much hope. Like you’ve said, there’s a clear difference in quality between Bungie and 343’s Halo offerings in the view of fans of the series, and I don’t expect this one to be anything different.
WR: The Studio Head Chris Lee then segwayed into a CGI trailer, which is where the predictions become 2-1 to me after I successfully called the reveal of State of Decay 3! There was not any gameplay here, so it seems a way off, but I thought the tone of the trailer was great. My hopes for State of Decay perhaps going in a more mature direction may actually be happening… it’d be great to see the franchise evolve in that way. I will say, though, that this marked a return to a lot of CGI trailers in this Showcase, with not that much gameplay…
AH: Xbox and not showing gameplay, name a more iconic duo! It definitely sucks to see them going back to CGI trailers instead of just showing gameplay, and honestly, it does get my suspicion levels going a bit. I assume that State of Decay 3 probably isn’t all that far into development and they likely don’t have much (if any) gameplay to show. When games are so different to the CGI trailers being shown (remember the original Watch_Dogs unveiling compared to the final product?),, then I’d rather wait until developers are able to show gameplay to reveal their games.
WR: Yeah, especially with this cinematic being so different in tone to the more B-movie-style marketing for State of Decay 2, it raises suspicions. This then led into us finally seeing the one and only Head of Xbox Phil Spencer with his usual T-shirt game on show. My real question here is… is he in the future? Those pristine grey walls, a lack of exits… is he being held hostage? Perhaps being sent back in time to fix Microsoft mistakes?!
AH: I’m like 90% Phil Spencer is a robot anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “him” have any life behind the eyes, this one being shown is probably straight off the factory line, hence why the area looks so strange, top secret facility ain’t it?
WR: Oh… what if those T-shirt swaps from previous E3s are actually just different Phil Spencers rotated through the conference?! OK, so, in all seriousness, he says important stuff here. We get a glimpse of the 15 Xbox first-party studios, with Spencer noting about 9 being present, with 5 new reveals. This is where we saw Mojang and started half-predicting Minecraft 2 was actually happening haha! Crucially, though, he then informs us that EVERY game is going to be available to those with Xbox Game Pass, which is amazing. This isn’t getting as much discussion as it should; for the up-to-£10.99 a month, you get access to ALL first-party games. Halo Infinite, State of Decay, Forza, Gears of War, Fable, etc. – that value is incredible, even if my personal favour for purchasing games physically goes against it. To clarify: for £7.99 you get the base Game Pass, including access to all the games in this Showcase! For £10.99 you get the Ultimate version, which is all of that plus Xbox Live Gold, which is usually £6.99 a month separately. Oh, and your first month of Ultimate is £1 – and if you already have any remaining time on your Live subscription, it turns all of that into Ultimate for just £1 extra. Again: that is *incredible* value.
AH: Honestly, I thought we’d gone on some weird tangents in previous Let’s Chat articles, but that was definitely the weirdest one we’ve been on. Game Pass is staggering value for what you get, and it’s another of the reasons that I’m genuinely considering going to Series X for next generation. It’s ridiculous just how good value it actually is – for the price of 2 games a year at launch, you get access to all those games (assuming you’re going the base Game Pass, Ultimate works out a bit more) and those already on the service. I’m genuinely so surprised that Sony haven’t copied it already, rather than just pushing the massively inferior PlayStation Now service. I really do wonder if that will change for PS5.
WR: They may have to if Microsoft is supporting it with better games; really, the main aspect holding it back before is that whilst you got first-party games through the service, there wasn’t all that many actually available. If there is now an increased range and quality, which there appears to be, then suddenly it’s a much better proposition. Sony may be forced into adopting a similar functionality with PS Now, depending on how it plays out, and that’s great for gamers. If you only usually have money for one or two game purchases now and then, suddenly for around the same price you have this vast library available to you. Or for younger gamers with less money, too, it means they can try out more games. It’s an exciting prospect!
AH: The only fear I have with it isn’t even one that is guaranteed to happen. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, and with more games sales happening digitally than ever before, it looks like we could be set to go into an all-digital future, so if that does happen soon and buying games physically isn’t a thing any longer, it leaves the price of Game Pass up to be changed at any time, and as such it could become less value for money than it currently is.
WR: As I mentioned, I’m very much on the side of physical media, so that isn’t a future I would like to see! With all-digital consoles and the evolution of Game Pass, we’re getting more options which is great; as long as one doesn’t get a monopoly, as you say. However if PlayStation had a similar service, that would mean price competition and may keep that at bay. Right, next up is another correct prediction for me in the new Forza Motorsport (3 to 1 at this point), with Phil Spencer introducing in-engine footage of the Turn 10 game. Forza has often been a great graphical powerhouse for Xbox and it seems to be continuing in that vein.
AH: Whilst the Forza showcase was only in-engine footage, rather than actual gameplay, I have to say, it’s looking absolutely incredible. The lighting and reflections on the cars especially are insane to look at, this is definitely the graphical prowess showcase if you ask me, not Halo. In my opinion, this is what the conference should’ve opened with, and have that big “yeah, this is what we can do with Series X” moment instead of Halo.
WR: Yeah, I agree with you, Halo may actually have been more impressive if we were already convinced by Forza of the power of the Series X, and then Halo could have been more of a gameplay and framerate demonstration. It is intriguing that there is no number after Motorsport (the last one was 7). Maybe this is more of a platform game that is added to over time? That would synergise well with the subscription service being offered through Game Pass.
AH: Honestly, I can’t say I’m a fan of the “games as a service” model many developers have taken up over the past half-decade or so, so I’m really hoping that it’s not going to go along that route, especially if they sell a new “Year X Pass” every year. If it’s free updates throughout the life-span then I wouldn’t mind too much, though, having said that.
WR: Yeah, and if they’re getting funding through Game Pass, maybe they can make them free? We shall have to wait and see. OK, next up is a game that was a highlight for both of us: Everwild, the stunning new Rare game. This trailer enchanted me – it has the aesthetic of an amazing animated film. I can see this being a console-seller, and it was great to see the clear enthusiasm Executive Producer Louise O’Connor has for the project.
AH: This game is genuinely a highlight of the whole Showcase; it just looks so good! The art style for it is just absolutely gorgeous, I’d much rather developers adopt styles like this rather than try and push to make their games look hyper realistic because, in my opinion, it looks a million times better, and also means that the game won’t age anywhere near as badly visually. I love the nature theme that seems to be the core of the trailer, it definitely seems like it’s going to be one of those games where the world is just so much fun to mess around in and see what you find.
WR: See, to me, it has actually been games such as this and Kena: Bridge of the Spirits in the PS5 reveal presentation that have been the clearest graphical step forward for me. The games with this sort of art direction now seem to be visually at the level of animated films, but now we can play them! The vibe of this trailer was so my style, and the character designs are awesome. Excited to see more of this… At this stage of the Showcase I was wondering how they could keep the momentum up, as there had been major first-party reveal after first-party reveal.
AH: I definitely see where you’re coming from with the animated movie comment. I know they worked on Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch & the sequel Revenant Kingdom, so I’d LOVE to see what Studio Ghibli could do on these next generation consoles, I bet whatever they came up with would look beyond gorgeous. And yeah, as you say, this conference was just reveal after reveal after reveal of fairly big first-party games up until this point, it definitely made you question just how much they had up their sleeves to reveal if that was how the first 20 minutes or so went.
WR: Oh wow imagine a Ghibli game on next-gen… yes please. The conference started to lose a bit of momentum from here on out, but it still kept my interest. Tell Me Why from DONTNOD is one I’m not sure on; I am of course a superfan of Life is Strange, but after being affected by the glitch that deleted all my save data at the end of Life is Strange 2: Episode 2 I haven’t gone back and that sequel has been a bit of a soured experience for me as a result. Tell Me Why has got the DONTNOD traits; emotional family themes, and that art style – an art style that does at first glance appear to have been pushed on visually.
AH: Straight away it just screams “yup, this is a DONTNOD game” from the visuals and character design and there’s part of me that doesn’t think that’s all that good of a thing; it feels like they haven’t really moved on from Life is Strange. When the characters in the trailer saw the ghost things in the trailer, I was genuinely expecting it to end with a logo for Life is Strange 3. I wouldn’t want DONTNOD to go the same way as Telltale Games, making basically the same game over and over until they go under.
WR: The story did admittedly capture my attention though, so I am probably going to try it out when the first episode releases on August 27th. You? Did you ever start Life is Strange 2, for that matter?
AH: The story definitely captured my attention and it’s definitely on my list of games to play, it just depends on when. If it’s episodic, I’ll just play when all the episodes have released, but if it’s a full game, then I’ll wait for a sale honestly. To answer about Life is Strange 2, nope, still haven’t played it, and honestly I don’t ever really see it happening unless the full season drops to below a fiver or something. It’s not something I’ve ever really felt that I actually need to pick up and play through, I’m quite happy for my Life is Strange experience to be the original season and Before the Storm.
WR: Following this we saw some news about additions being made to games we know about. Gennadiy Korol, Co-founder and Director of Technology at Moon Studios, gave us details on a new version of Ori and the Will of the Wisps for Series X, giving us detailed explanation of the new 120 FPS (!) and full 4K HDR, plus new audio development options. This game was already known for visuals; that new 120 FPS is very impressive. It’s a game that is already out though, so not as much of a headline as, say, Everwild.
AH: It’s always nice to see improvements for older games, especially when it’s the fastest we’ve ever seen a game running on a console, but like you say it’s dampened a bit by the fact that it is an already released game, rather than a big-budget upcoming one. However, it’s 100% something I’d pick up if I do decide to get a Series X because of the fact that it’s running at 4K/120 FPS, that’s insane to me because you’d only ever really hear of framerates that high on PC until now.
WR: This directly led into another already-release game, The Outer Worlds by Obsidian Entertainment (now a Microsoft first-party studio). Peril of Gorgon (releasing September 9th) is the new DLC, and seems fun enough if not particularly surprising in the features we saw. Of more note to me was the rest of this Obsidian section of the Showcase, with two new games on show: Grounded, a retro, nostalgic garden RPG (July 28th) and a brand new sprawling RPG Avowed. This was, again, a CGI reveal, but the tone of Avowed is very much to my tastes – epic fantasy adventuring, yes please! How did you find the Obsidian segment?
AH: I was actually a big fan of the Grounded reveal trailer, I love the fact that it wasn’t serious whatsoever, and just poked fun at itself all the way through. Hopefully that humour carries through into the game itself as well, because it’s definitely got me interested. Also, it has a Battletoad in it, so that automatically wins points if you ask me, GOTY material right there. Honestly I wasn’t too interested in the Avowed reveal, it just didn’t capture me as much as it has done for you. And besides, if you ask me, it wasn’t even the best fantasy RPG shown during the showcase (this is where Ash put a winking emoji, the millennial).
WR: Ooh, masterful foreshadowing there Ash. Haha! I’m already noticing the amount of games you’re mentioning very positively – exclusive games, and it’s such a change from the start of last generation when that just was not the conversation around the console (there were other issues with the Xbox One, too). This is why this Showcase was very optimism-fueling for me – it is the company learning from their errors. Returning to the dystopian future, Head of Xbox Game Studios Matt Booty then told us about independent studio Interior/Night and their new game set in Southwest USA, As Dusk Falls. I’m not convinced by the static approach to the art style, but I shall wait and see.
AH: Honestly, I don’t mind the static art style whatsoever, it reminds me of the old choose-your-own-adventure style games and I’m okay with that; though I know that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It reminded me of an episode of Retro Replay where Nolan North gets stuck on the same style of game thanks to Quick Time Events (none of those please) and any game that reminds me of when that show was actually good is great in my opinion. I don’t know why it also reminded me of the game Space Age exactly, because flicking back through the episode it’s not similar at all, but whatever.
WR: “when that show was actually good”, woah, shots fired! Yeah, I am okay with a stylistic approach; let’s hope the story is of a quality where it works. See, this upcoming part of the Showcase was quite odd to me; we go to Ninja Theory, where Studio Head Dom Matthews reveals… Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is set in Iceland and you can now watch a development diary about it. Huh? There was no new footage… It still technically counts for your prediction, I guess. 3-2…
AH: It was there, I get to count it. I’ll agree though, it’s odd that there’s no new footage, but I have to admit that I quite like behind-the-scenes documentaries that explain development choices, so I definitely need to go watch this one at some point. Guess it hasn’t progressed all that much since seven months ago with the world going to shit? Which is understandable, I guess.
WR: Maybe… when we got the “Xbox Game Studios Presents” screen afterwards I thought it was going to be a new trailer for it, but instead it was Double Fine! VERY different tone, with Jack Black singing over a trailer for Psychonauts 2. I don’t have the investment of playing the original but I know there is a fanbase with nostalgia for the series, and this is an example of the new first-party variety of Xbox.
AH: Imagine if either of us had put “Jack Black to appear” on our pre-Showcase predictions, we’d be calling each other crazy for it, and yet, there he was. I also never played the original (though I’m fairly sure I own it on Steam) so I’m not too interested in this to be straight up honest, but again, I love the art style for it. With how synonymous Xbox has been in the past with being a console for shooters and sports games, and nothing else, I’m so glad to see such a variety and most of all, actual colours! If this is the future of Microsoft, I’m more than happy.
WR: It actually seems to suit your tastes for 3D platformers, no? Yeah, variety is the spice of life, and from Halo to Everwild to State of Decay to this, you can see the range of genres and art styles. I’m gonna blast past Destiny as it is a game we know about – the new info was about being able to play updated content on Series X and on Game Pass – and into the next WORLD PREMIERRRRRREEEE for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 and then again for Warhammer 40,000 Darktide, both more gritty reveals in the vein of those less colourful shooters you just mentioned. Tetris Effect Connected, a new version with multiplayer, was then after that to return the vibrancy… this section was where I felt the Showcase lost some of that front-loaded momentum. The reveals were okay, but blended into one a bit…
AH: Yeah, honestly, I can’t really say much about this section either. Nice to see Tetris slowly catching up to DOOM as the game able to run on the most devices though.
WR: Though Skyrim may have an argument about that too, haha! A game much more in our wheelhouse was the shock exclusive from Image & Form Games, The Gunk. I say shock because usually their priority has been Nintendo platforms, so to see them have such a presence in the Xbox Games Showcase was a surprise to me. They haven’t got much experience with 3D games, but they’re a fantastic, talented development team so I am confident this will be great. I really find the environment design brilliantly eccentric – it has mechanical elements so it could still be in the SteamWorld universe…
AH: Image & Form might genuinely be the best indie company around right now for my money, so I’m really hoping this serves as their big break into the mainstream that they thoroughly deserve. Whilst they might not have any experience in the 3D design world, they haven’t made a single bad game yet if you ask me, and this looks set to continue that trend. The Gunk is very heavily Super Mario Sunshine inspired from the looks of things, an under-rated Mario game if you ask me, so I’m very much looking forward to this being released. Hopefully down the line it’ll be released on other systems instead of just Series X and One, but if not, this is without a doubt the game that will get me to buy Series X more than any other. I’m that confident in Image & Form’s previous development quality that I’ll say that right now.
WR: Even more than Everwild? Yeah, Image & Form have proven their qualities time and again – I was hoping that they would be allowed to do a steampunk version of Metroid at some point – and I hope this is a success. In the trailer the movement seemed a bit clunky and unrefined, but I imagine that shall improve a lot.
AH: Even more than Everwild, yeah. This is without a doubt the highlight of the Showcase for me, I just love Image & Form’s games that much. I don’t think this is a permanent move from Nintendo (speaking of which, we still need the other console ports of SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech…) so they might well yet get the opportunity to do their own take on Metroid, and I’ll be there to buy it Day 1.
WR: With the Metroidvania elements of the two SteamWorld Dig games, it would be such a great collaboration! OK, so we’re getting to the final reveals of the show now, and after picking up with The Gunk we again switch genre into horror with The Medium. This has really stylish visuals but without really seeing the gameplay it’s hard to place where it is going to be quality-wise. Rendering two worlds at once is mighty remarkable though!
AH: Now this is a game that interests me greatly, and because of the gameplay, as impressive as rendering dual worlds is. What intrigues me is that whilst watching the reveal trailer for it, I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a trailer for Stranger Things: The Game. And since calling the official game for the show god awful is still being kind, I’m more than happy to have this as a replacement. There’s so many similarities between The Medium and Stranger Things, with the worlds being the same layout wise but the “other side” being a dangerous place, to the monster you see in the game sharing more than a passing resemblance to the Demogorgon from the show.
WR: This is where you tell me, again, to watch the show, right? Haha, it’s on the list… there is some really creepy imagery, and having the Akira Yamaoka (of Silent Hill) on music duties is awesome. Again, this fills a genre gap for Xbox – even if it is only a launch exclusive. So, er, for the next reveal, are you a Phantasy Star Online player? I feel as though New Genesis: Phantasy Star Online 2 is a really significant reveal as a launch exclusive (especially considering the track record of Xbox in Japan) but I just don’t have that investment in the series.
AH: For fuck’s sake Will, go watch Stranger Things, it’s so good. Plus, that way, you’ll see what I mean when I compare the two. I can’t believe that you haven’t already seen it. As for PSO, nah, I’m not a player. Like you said, it’s a cool get for the console in Japan especially, it’s just not for me.
WR: It has a very Xenoblade Chronicles style with the open world and real-time combat, especially Xenoblade Chronicles X considering the tech and guns. That’s a complimentary comparison, so if I get a Series X this is a huge adventure I shall have my eye on. The penultimate reveal was a single-player campaign for CrossfireX, but again it sorta blended into the gritty-shooter genre for me without really standing out?
AH: It’s definitely just another shooter in my view, does nothing to separate itself from the crowd and as such, nothing to honestly make me remember it. It’s definitely a skip for me honestly, should I choose to buy Series X. I know people will probably say that the first trailer for a game is way too early to write a game off, but when you can tell a game isn’t made for you, it doesn’t matter how far into development it is for me.
WR: It did seem a strangely generic reveal to have so close to the end of the show. We return to the future where we reunite with Matt Booty, and he reminds us about how all these games are included in Game Pass, before sending us off with one final reveal – a reveal a lot of people were predicting, Fable! Playground Games (of Forza) are switching genres and bringing back this well-know RPG IP. It was a CGI trailer, yes, but it had a great, whimsical tone and, y’know, announced Fable! It was a brilliant one-more-thing to close the show in my opinion, even if it may far away.
AH: And, from what I’m reading today, it’s going back to the single-player RPG roots rather than the online MMO style of the cancelled Fable Legends, I’m genuinely so happy. This was one of my “hopeful” predictions for the Showcase, and I’m extremely glad to see it there. A good RPG is something I’m always up for, and when it’s something the calibre of classic Fable, it’s a day one game for me. Even with it being a CGI trailer, the rendering on the frog is ridiculous, you can see how bumpy the texture of its skin for crying out loud! It’ll be interesting to see what Playground Games are able to do with the series, especially considering their only previously released games are the Forza Horizon series…
WR: Oh really? That’s great to hear, and with this and also the Obsidian games, RPGs could be an area where Microsoft really has an advantage over Sony in the coming years. We have seen Guerrilla Games go from FPS of Killzone to Action RPG of Horizon Zero Dawn successfully, so I hope there is another similarly successful story here. This was a real crowd-pleaser of an announcement, and has got me considering educating myself on Fable by getting the 360 games! Also, yeah, this makes it 3/6 predictions each, not bad!
AH: I knew I recognised the name of Playground Games but I couldn’t place where, so I had to Google it and yeah, Wikipedia says their only previous games are Forza Horizon 1–4. Also they’re a British developer, based in Leamington Spa, so always nice to see our little island get repped in such a huge conference. I like to think it’s 3/4 predictions each because, let’s be honest, we both knew beforehand that the ridiculous predictions were never going to happen, and if they did, whoever got even one right would’ve automatically taken the W between us haha! Overall, this is absolutely the strongest showing from Microsoft in a long while if you ask me, and like I said earlier, so strong that it’s genuinely making me consider picking up an Xbox Series X as my next generation console, so fair play to Microsoft for that, never thought that’d happen.
WR: There were quite a few British developers in this actually! Yeah so if we judge the whole Showcase now, how do you compare it to the Sony PS5 event? Both had a particular focus on games which is great to see. I reckon they’re quite close; they both had exciting exclusive reveals, and also considerable third-party presence. There is a reinvigorated, energetic feeling about Microsoft at the moment with all these new studios that is really drawing me towards that Series X. If you add the value of Game Pass, it’s a really attractive proposition.
AH: It’s crazy how comparing the Microsoft that started this generation by, let’s be honest, completely flopping the Xbox One reveal, and today’s Microsoft who’s done everything right with this Series X game reveal, it’s like looking at two completely different companies. Microsoft has definitely been forced to learn from its mistakes with the launch of Xbox One and in my opinion has done so. I’d have to rewatch the PS5 reveal to be able to give a definitive answer as to which is better, but I’m fairly sure this would edge it in terms of content I’m interested in that would make me buy the system, and thus be the better showcase in my opinion. Now it comes down to price as to which console I pick up.
WR: My personal feeling is to edge slightly towards the PS5 event in terms of games I am excited for – Horizon Forbidden West, Resident Evil VIII – but the Xbox Showcase was a better presentation, with more variety and an even snappier pace than Sony. The best praise we can give it is saying that we are much more inclined to get a Series X now, which we both seem to be. Price is going to be crucial, and they can’t both wait forever! One of them is going to go first, it’s going to be fascinating to see it play out. If you’re being critical, where would you say this could have been better? From our discussion, maybe moving Halo to a different point so it isn’t the graphics focus and then not having so many of those less-impressive reveals around two-thirds in?
AH: Yeah, if we’re being critical, you’ve hit the nail on the head there with how I’d improve it. Get rid of the less impressive reveals that could be a Twitter announcement or something, and have a game like Everwild showcase the Series X graphical capabilities rather than Halo Infinite. Although I do get why it opened with Halo and closed with Fable, as those were the two biggest games shown and by placing them first and last, the consumer is way more likely to remember them.
WR: Yeah, I mean, Halo was always realistically going to either start or end the show. That’s their most well-known first-party franchise. You staying with The Gunk for your favourite game of the Showcase? Everwild is mine, closely followed by Avowed and Fable.
AH: My top 3, in this order, are: 1. The Gunk; 2. Everwild; 3. Fable. Nice to see for once that we pretty much basically agree on it all, haha!
WR: Yeah, so positive! Going back to the start of our talk, then… how likely do you reckon it is you are going to get the Series X at launch, in comparison to the PS5?
AH: Honestly, if I were being forced to put a numerical percentage on it, probably at a strong 75/25 split currently, Sony really do have work to do if they’re to convince me now.
WR: I’m more around the 50/50 mark myself, price is going to be a factor. Game Pass is, as aforementioned, such an incredible offer too and a considerable advantage over PS5. When ya reckon we get price reveals?
AH: Well, considering both consoles are set to be released before the end of the year, hopefully within the next couple of weeks. It’d be stupid to leave it too much later now if you ask me.
WR: I genuinely am not sure who is going to end up on top of the two! Microsoft has delivered a fine counter-blow. Is there any final remark from you before we close out? We’ve been quite thorough already.
AH: Nah, I can’t think of anything else to say, other than I genuinely can’t wait to get my hands on a lot of the games shown. November-ish time is going to be crazy!
WR: This is certainly a unique year… Now, Nintendo, where are you at?! Thanks for joining me again, Ash!
AH: Nintendo please show up properly soon. But yeah, in a bit Will! See ya next time!
The Showcase impressed us, and the prediction scores ended up even at 3 all – what a wonderfully satisfying conclusion. If you would like to read more of our Let’s Chat articles, click here!
It’s Let’s Chat time again! This go around, we’re reacting to the Ubisoft Forward; this essentially took the place of the usual Ubisoft E3 event. With Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and more shown, there is plenty to discuss! Let’s go!
William Robinson: Hey again Ash! We’re back, back, back again… with the way the world has gone this year, game companies are finding alternative ways to showcase the games we otherwise might have seen around E3. We’ve seen a strong showing from Sony for the PS5, and there have also been presentations from EA, Limited Run Games, and Devolver Digital. The most recent was yesterday, the Ubisoft Forward – and it seems a great candidate for our newly-returned Let’s Chat series. We shall go game by game, but first, your initial reaction to the way this was presented?
Ashley Harrison: Hey again Will! Seems weird doing what’s basically an E3 chat a month after E3 should’ve taken place. This Ubisoft Forward… it was certainly… a thing. Honestly, content wise, I can’t say I was actually much of a fan of it; the lack of gameplay really turned me off from it. Pacing wise however, I don’t think it was all too bad. It gave enough time to games to showcase what they’re about, whilst also being brief enough so that each game didn’t overstay their welcome.
WR: Yeah, I really appreciated the pacing of it; there did not seem to be much that was not necessary, with each section focused on the games – this sounds obvious, maybe, but there have been multiple game showcases where this isn’t the case. I gotta say, though, it was lacking a Just Dance dance as we usually get from Ubisoft at E3… We kicked off with Watch Dogs Legion, which we already knew was on the way, but we got to see more of the story and gameplay here. Was this on your radar before, and either way, did this make you more likely to play it when it releases on October 29th? The dystopian London setting is a fascinating choice with all that is happening…
AH: You can’t do the obligatory Just Dance section without the dancers on an actual stage and the audience sat there with “what the hell am I watching?” expressions on their faces, it just doesn’t work. We’ll just have to hope there’s a section twice as big dedicated to next year’s game instead haha! It was almost certainly on my radar before this, it and Cyberpunk 2077 are my most wanted upcoming games now that The Last of Us Part II has (finally) released. Though, I’m unsure whether I’m going to get it on launch day, or just wait until I get a PS5 and buy it alongside the console. The fact that it’s set in London is the main reason I’m buying it honestly, I love our Capital City and just how distinctly atmospheric each different part of it is. I can’t wait to go round Camden (my personal favourite part of London) and just screw around. Hopefully the Electric Ballroom or The World’s End pub will be in the game!
WR: Yeah, next year, take over E3 with Just Dance haha! Get Phil Spencer involved, as he seems to be joining a lot of conferences nowadays! Right, Watch Dogs. I wasn’t aware it was up there with Cyberpunk for you! I guess that depends on when the new consoles release relative to it, then, in terms of the choice of PS4 and PS5 versions. The Watch Dogs series has been known for being quite accurate in how it portrays the cities, so I reckon you may actually be able to do that! The multiple character mechanic actually reminds me a lot of the Ubisoft Wii U launch game ZombiU, where if you died you then played as a different person. Here, though, you are recruiting people for your resistance; did any characters stand out to you?
AH: It’s definitely timing for me – it’s a game I’m looking forward to, yeah, but I don’t think it’s one I’m going to play on both consoles to be honest with you. For example, the first Watch Dogs game I played through the story once, then any other time I played afterwards was just spent messing around in the world, and I think it’d be the same situation with this if I were to play on both PS4 and PS5. MATE, shoutout to ZombiU, we didn’t deserve that game at the Wii U’s launch. It was so good, and the ‘each time you die you lose everything and have to play as a new character’ mechanic was so much fun. Anyway, ignoring that, is it not obvious which characters stood out? I’m spending my whole playthrough as a Gangster Granny, and I’m never changing. Quite interested in the Football Hooligan characters though, what are they going to bring to the gameplay?
WR: It’s hard to know whether to find the characters endearing or offensive in terms of British stereotypes haha! Yeah, it seems the elderly woman is gonna be a fan favourite for clear reasons. This, to me, is a game that could be ideal if there is a lull in the launch schedules to play it – shall wait and see on how that goes. I’m glad you’re a fan of ZombiU, that game has so many great ideas! Next up, we got an announcement for the mobile release of Brawlhalla on August 6th. The concept of this game is awesome to me, being a sort of Super Smash Bros. game for characters from independent developers (and more). However, learning it is going to be on mobile doesn’t really do much for me.
AH: It’s just so absolutely batshit insane, I love it. What other game can you play as a Granny and taser people? At the moment, Cyberpunk is scheduled to come out a little over 2 weeks after Watch Dogs Legion, and if that’s the big farewell to the PS4 and Xbox One, it’s a hell of a sendoff. Will definitely be interesting to see what PS5 and Series X launch titles they have to compete with. Yeah, mobile games are a straight skip for me, could not care less about them if I tried. However, it’s not an indie game, or a collection of indie characters, without Shovel Knight, so I look forward to his inevitable announcement.
WR: I am confident we will be having a Let’s Chat about the launch line-ups at some point near the end of the year! Soon after was the first actual new reveal, Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad; I really enjoyed the trailer for this! It’s a team-based action game incorporating characters from multiple Ubisoft franchises, and the appearance of Sam Fisher (from Splinter Cell) was an awesome moment. The art style reminds me of Overwatch and seems suitable for bringing different series together in this way – I just hoped it would be a console game, not mobile-only, which immediately dampens my enthusiasm. I enjoy some mobile games, but a crossover of Ubisoft characters? Get that idea on my console, please. It’s another reminder that we haven’t had a Splinter Cell since Splinter Cell: Blacklist…
AH: Honestly, I’m definitely going to seem like the guy who doesn’t like anything here, but it doesn’t do anything for me to be honest with you, but I’m just not the target audience for the game and that’s fine. Don’t get me wrong, it looks fun enough, and with how popular team-based shooters like Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege are currently, I’m sure it’ll do well even as a mobile game. It definitely seems weird not coming to consoles though, it just seems like it’d be an absolute no-brainer.
WR: I wouldn’t say that; it is reasonable to not be into every reveal, especially if they are not releasing on consoles you use much for gaming. It makes sense that they are making a game for that genre, I agree – and that ties into the next game, Hyper Scape, which is their take on the battle royale genre. Compared to, say, Activision or EA, Ubisoft have taken their time with their battle royale, and I wonder if that will pay off in terms of quality. The tone of it intrigued me, set in a dystopian future with these characters trying to achieve victory in the “Crown Rush” within a virtual world which seems to have more going on below the surface. If there is more of a story to this than a Fortnite or one of the other many battle royale games going around, that may get me really invested.
AH: I’m right there with you on that one. I’ve always found the concept behind battle royales quite interesting and they seem like they’d be quite fun to play, but I just can’t get into stuff without a story behind it. This definitely seems like it’s going to have some kind of story to it (re-watching the trailer now it’s giving me almost Ready Player One vibes to be honest with you) so I’m intrigued to see how Ubisoft manage to tie the story into the gameplay style.
WR: I reckon Ubisoft may have told their team to focus on making a really cohesive take on the genre instead of rushing one out. It also has vibes of The Hunger Games with how people are going for victory to escape, with reminders around of how many are left. I’m keeping my eye on this as potentially my favourite battle royale yet. So far Apex Legends is the one I have enjoyed the most, how about you?
AH: Again, honestly, I’m probably not the best person to answer that. There hasn’t really been any of the Battle Royale games to keep my interest after just a game or two, they all just feel the same to play albeit with a different skin if you ask me. Like I said, I need story to keep me captivated whilst I’m playing games, rather than just feeling like I’m doing the exact same thing all the time for no reason. Hopefully Hyper Scape is the game to break that trend (and also get me to regularly play a mobile game!).
WR: It’d be cool if we both found new enjoyment in it! Ubisoft ended the conference with two major reveals, both of which we either new about or suspected. First up was Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, the next entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. This is based on Viking times, and seeing mentions of East Anglia and other past names for places was fascinating. Of the new games shown, this is the one I am most excited for. Environments seem really varied and packed with content, and the characters and story have a distinctness that reminds me a bit of Horizon Zero Dawn. I have so far never fully got into the series, but I reckon I may end up playing a lot of this one.
AH: It’s funny to me because I’ll admit, I’ve only ever played 2 Assassin’s Creed games, those being 3 when it released on Wii U, and Black Flag on my PS4. Whilst 3 is widely regarded as probably the weakest game in the mainline series, I actually far preferred it to Black Flag, so I’m sure someone is going to say I have no right to comment on the quality of Assassin’s Creed games as a result. As for Valhalla though, honestly this one I spoiled for myself because I looked at the half an hour of gameplay that leaked in the days prior to the Ubisoft Forward, so I knew what to expect. It definitely interests me because of the time period it’s set in, but it honestly really bothers me that it’s seemingly just a reskin of Odyssey. That sounds hypocritical as hell when considering the fact that Zelda: Majora’s Mask is just reused Ocarina of Time assets and that’s one of my favourite Zelda games, but I really prefer if for brand new games if there’re new assets created instead of just putting a new skin on old ones and pretending they’re new. Also, it bugged me that Ubisoft tried to make a deal out of the fact that you can play as either a male or female Viking, then proceeded to show about 4 seconds of gameplay using the female Viking, everything else instead focusing on the male version. Also, gotta get the home area mention in there with East Anglia though huh, Will?
WR: Haha yeah, you got me, though I am writing this from London… I am actually similar, I played 3 through on Wii U, then got Black Flag and proceeded to not play much of it in comparison. For some reason it did not grip me… back to Valhalla, I disagree – a lot of it seems different, or a twist on the gameplay we have seen before instead of just an aesthetic change. How the characters move and act appears markedly different, too. Did you watch any of the extra gameplay shown after the show?
AH: Honestly, no, I can’t say I did. I’d assumed it’d just be the rest of the already leaked footage, did I miss anything interesting?
WR: I haven’t viewed the leak, myself. It just struck me as detailed and engaging, and a sign to me that I may be intrigued by different side stories – not just clearing up icons on a map, which the series has done before.
AH: Yeah, it’s a definite improvement in that regard. A lot of Ubisoft’s open-world games rely too heavily in my opinion on filling the world with collectibles to find or areas to clear rather than making an interesting world, so I’m quite looking forward to seeing how this one develops instead. I don’t need more content in games for content’s sake, give me an interesting lore and story/side stories behind areas I’m visiting, and it’s an astronomical improvement in my view.
WR: That connects back to the Let’s Chat we did in 2018 about game length, actually. I agree about seeing more of the female character, as personally I am likely going to play as her. I wonder how different the two options will be; being a woman or a man in those times would have been a different experience, and I wonder if they show that.
AH: It’ll be interesting to me to see if there’s any difference in play styles between the male and female protagonist, or if they’re simply going to be a reskin of the same model, given the fact that you can switch between the two genders at any point in the game. I really hope there’s differences, but given that fact, I’m going to be extremely surprised if there actually are.
WR: It’s releasing on November 17th… I wonder if it is a launch game for either or both new systems? If so, we may have just gotten a hint at the release dates…
AH: I can definitely see it being a launch game for the new systems, especially given that the 17th November is smack bang in the middle of when the PS4 and Xbox One consoles released back in 2013.
WR: So, we then had Ubisoft Co-Founder and CEO Yves Guillemot give a talk about the presentation, before he introduced the final reveal: Far Cry 6. This had been rumoured and hinted beforehand, though it was still a great trailer (no gameplay however). Taking place on the newly-invented Caribbean island Yara, with a design based off of Cuba, this game stars Giancarlo Esposito as Antón Castillo as well as Anthony Gonzalez as Diego, his son. Castillo is a dictator figure and in the cinematic trailer we see him using disturbing methods to try and get a message across to his son. I wonder if his son becomes the eventual leader of the villainous group? There is a lot of striking imagery in this trailer, from the use of red to images such as a statue being pulled down – there are similarities to actual real-world events happening…
AH: We’re living through a cultural revolution currently in the real world, with the likes of the Black Lives Matter and Free Hong Kong protests and it’s definitely striking to see just how closely this resembles the revolution in the fictional game world, I thoroughly agree there. I really don’t think that any of the developers could have ever imagined that happening when beginning to develop the game. Given those same circumstances though, I’m really apprehensive about the game, and how the protagonist is going to be portrayed. With such a close parallel, they definitely need to be treated with care and been shown that it is all happening for the right reasons.
WR: Yeah, I hope that they are smart in how they portray it. Far Cry 5 had a controversy around it and how it may or may not have commented on real world events; when you are putting out a piece of media though, I reckon you need to be aware of how it can be seen. We also have not seen any gameplay yet, so it is hard to judge. I hope the bold use of red in the trailer matches up to a similarly dynamic visual style in the game itself.
AH: I hope that it’s just not the stereotypical “red is for communism, and communism bad” viewpoint, because it’d be really lazy if it was. Whilst I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been originally intended, it’ll be a great opportunity to comment on the real world situation happening now too through a gaming perspective, and hopefully open people up to what really happens to bring about a revolution. Plus, there’s nothing funnier to me than people on Twitter complaining to “keep politics out of video games” when their favourite game is Call of Duty or something.
WR: That’s a whole other topic that maybe we can do a Let’s Chat about sometime! It’s hard to judge my excitement of it without seeing gameplay, though. From the whole presentation, which games were your standouts?
AH: For me, it was absolutely Watch Dogs Legion. Like I said, it was already in my top 2 most anticipated games for the rest of the year, and getting to see more of it was great. However, there’s one thing that really bugged me about it, but at the same point it’s probably something I’m reading far too much into. During the trailer, we’re introduced to a character by the name of Mary Kelley, a seeming side-protagonist who is the leader of a gang selling illegal items on the Dark Web, including human organs. Now this is where it puts me off. I’m sure you’re aware of Jack the Ripper, right? England’s most famous serial killer, who killed 5 prostitutes during the summer of 1888, and his (or possibly her) identity still remains unknown to this day. As a bit of a true crime fanatic, I’m extremely interested in this case, as it was the one that sent me down this path. Anyway, the last of The Ripper’s 5 canonical victims was a woman called Mary Kelly, who was savagely killed in her own home and had all of her organs removed and were either found spread out across her room, or (in the case of her heart) missing completely. The Ripper had also been known to remove the uterus of his second victim, Annie Chapman, and the uterus and left kidney of their fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes. In my opinion, there’s absolutely zero chance this was a coincidence of any kind, and even if I am reading way too far into it, I find it in really poor taste.
WR: Hmm, I wonder if they are going to be asked questions about that as I can see the potential for it to be a misjudgment. Have you seen any official comment about that?
AH: Nah, I’ve seen nothing like that.
WR: Perhaps it shall be a question posed in an interview one day. Was there any games you were really hoping to see that weren’t present? The game they revealed at E3 last year, Gods & Monsters, I am really excited about – it seems a response to the magnificent Breath of the Wild from the people who created Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. I am also still waiting for the next Splinter Cell game (no, Sam Fisher in Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad doesn’t count), and I also miss the UbiArts games they used to make – Child of Light and Valiant Hearts are great! Also, another Rayman at some point, yeah?
AH: I’m honestly extremely surprised that neither Rayman nor the Raving Rabbids showed up at any point during the conference, I would’ve put money on there to be a new game in that series beforehand. It seems like so long since the last game released, and we’re about due for another remake of Rayman 2, surely?
WR: Haha, it is a great game so I wouldn’t say no. Put those games on Switch, yeah? Oh man, I am having memories of Rayman 2 now and I really would like to play that game again. I was also curious about whether they would have any more team-ups with Nintendo after the success of Kingdom Battle. From the way Yves Guillemot talked, though, I got the sense that – understandably – projects had been delayed. So perhaps there is a lot of that in the background?
AH: I hope so, I actually quite enjoyed Kingdom Battle from what I played of it, so I’d love to see how Ubisoft would make, say, a Zelda version of it. You could bring it so many new mechanics with it, such as like the boomerang weapon to stun enemies for a turn or something. Plus, with the amount of weapon choice available in Breath of the Wild, it’d give multiple different play style options for just Link alone in a turn-based strategy RPG.
WR: They seemed to do great work with the Mario franchise, so maybe Nintendo would allow them Zelda. We shall see, I guess! After seeing other recent conferences online, how did you find the Ubisoft showing in terms of presentation? I really appreciated the no-nonsense way they showed the games efficiently, even if I am not into all of the games themselves.
AH: They seemed to have nailed this first go round presentation wise, unlike Sony’s first few State of Play attempts. Definitely appreciate the no-nonsense “the bigger games get about 15 minutes”, the smaller games get 5 approach, it definitely helped the conference to move forward and stop me from tuning out, even for games I didn’t care about also. Unlike for say Nintendo, remember when they’d have Directs and focus for like half an hour on just Smash Bros. alone?
WR: I mean I don’t mind half an hour on Smash Bros. myself haha! Sony did it well for their recent PS5 event, really focusing on games. We have the Xbox and – hopefully – Nintendo events to come, and I reckon we are going to be having lengthy Let’s Chats about those too! Until then, though, I guess we’ll have to go and find our copies of Rayman 2… unless you have any other thoughts in particular on the Ubisoft Forward? They seemed to imply this is not the only Ubisoft Forward they are going to do – perhaps this is going to be their Direct now? Forward is quite similar to Direct as a word, haha! With Sony and their State of Plays, more and more companies seem to be making their own versions of the Directs. Oh, and Devolver Digital, though they’re a TAD less subtle about the whole Direct comparison, haha! It all appears to have been accelerated by the COVID-19 situation, too.
AH: I hope that companies do start going down the “Direct” route and giving us smaller showcases of games throughout the year, rather than just a big blowout showing at E3. It means that you won’t see a game you really like the look of, then completely forget about it for a year until you see it again at next year’s E3 conference. I personally also like to be able to see the game progress through development each time it’s shown, rather than there be a stark contrast between the reveal and a year down the line.
WR: Or not even see it… I mean, er, where is Beyond Good and Evil?
AH: Yoooooooo I completely forgot about that! Where the hell is it? That’s a great question. We’ve seen literally nothing of it since that reveal, right?
WR: It was at more than one E3, but recently it has gone very silent… There was that E3 where they were taking fan submissions for the art in the world.
AH: Oh yeah, there was that too wasn’t there? How can a multi-million billion dollar company possibly justify sourcing assets from fans rather than their own development team?
WR: *Cough* Shenmue 3, Sony *cough*
AH: Ehh, I’m not too bothered by the Kickstarter to be honest with you. Like yeah, there really isn’t any need with how much money Sony has, but Shenmue is quite a niche game that hadn’t been seen since the Dreamcast, so I can understand funding the game through fans essentially pre-purchasing it rather than sinking the money into development then it completely flopping.
WR: OK, we seem to be off on a tangent away from Ubisoft now, so that may be a sign to end this haha! It isn’t long until the Xbox showing, which I hope is really fantastic and a counterblow to the Sony reveals. We shall be back with another Let’s Chat for that!
AH: Haha, yeah, definitely seems like it’s time to end it now! Until next time, man!
As mentioned there, our next Let’s Chat shall probably be a reaction to the Xbox Games Showcase on July 23rd – until then!
It’s the return of Ashley Harrison and I for our discussion articles, newly renamed “Let’s Chat”! The release of The Last of Us Part II means a LOT to discuss, especially knowing how invested we both are in the first game. So, what are we waiting for?
William Robinson: Hi Ash! It’s been about two years since our last of these discussion articles, and we’re starting again with our full spoilers talk of The Last of Us Part II! It is fitting in a way, as our very first was back when the game was first unveiled at PSX 2016. To me, that seems both so long ago and yet also not long ago at all; before we really get into it, Ash, perhaps you could briefly describe your opinion of the prior game and how you went into Part II?
Ashley Harrison: Yo, how’s it’s going? Really has been a while, huh? It’s crazy to think our first of these articles was 3 and a half years ago now, after that reveal. The world really has gone crazy since then. Briefly describe my opinion of The Last of Us? Man, that’s hard, you know how much that game means to me. It’s no secret that The Last of Us is my favourite game of all time, and as a result means a lot to me. So much so I have Troy Baker signed copies of the game and its vinyl soundtrack. As a result, I was probably more on the hype train that probably most people were for Part II.
WR: Wow, that long, huh? Also shows just how much time went into the making of this game – that’s only the time since the reveal! For me, The Last of Us is a masterpiece of interactive storytelling, using the medium to create a game and story that questions you as you play it. As it is such an amazing game, I was both anxious and excited at the idea of them making another game in that world. Let’s get right into it then; having played through the game, your initial reaction now?
AH: Man.. I really wish I could give the answer I want to here. If we’re looking at it from a purely gameplay perspective, it’s absolutely incredible. It’s the culmination of over a decade of work from Naughty Dog with the style of game, starting with the release of the first Uncharted. It’s so fluid and smooth, taking the base of the original game and the addition of, in my opinion, much-needed mechanics such as being able to crawl and squeeze through gaps to breathe new life into the stealth part of the game, opening up the floor to way more ways of taking down enemies. However, from a purely story perspective, the game really just leaves me wanting more, and not in a good way. I’ll explain more as suitable, but the climax to the story especially really threw me off, as well as some serious scenes really not feeling anywhere near as important as they should.
WR: We’ll really go into the story, talking about each part, in a moment; firstly, I really do want to mention more on that gameplay. Similar to how you say, it really builds upon the prior game. Going prone additionally opens up more opportunities in exploration to find hidden are as and solve puzzles, and there are new items to craft that I found altered my approach to situations – the smoke bomb, for example. There is a real variety of situations you find yourself in, which encourages trying different approaches throughout the game. Speaking of which, the environment design in this game is utterly spectacular. The scope of the areas you play through is jaw-dropping, with such attention to detail and a sense this world was really lived-in. Was this impressive to you as you went through the game, or is your opinion on this slightly different?
AH: Nah, I’m completely there with you man, the environmental design is incredible. The attention to detail for each “level” of the game is insane, and it really does help you to truly believe you’re traversing a real world. It keeps kicking up in quality somehow too, culminating in the sequence escaping from the Seraphite island. Seeing the island burning around you after seeing what it was, all as a result of human nature and their inability to keep a truce, is incredible. My only criticism of it, however, is that the environment, specifically the fungus growing into walls, does give away the kinds of enemies you’re going to come across at points, for example in the Hotel.
WR: That’s an intriguing point; there isn’t really ever a moment where they don’t signal that the next opposition is either Infected or not, is there? More experimentation with that would have been fascinating; for me, some of the most interesting combat segments were where you could play the Infected against the non-Infected tracking you down.
AH: The places where you can pit Infected against enemies tracking you down are so much fun to play, especially because it gives you a variety of options to play those specific sections. You can either go in all guns blazing, and try to take on both sets of enemies at the same time. Or, you can throw a brick or another item into the human enemies, and let the Infected take them out, then take out the Infected, which was my favourite way of playing. Finally, there’s also the option to pit the Infected and human enemies against each other, whilst you sneak by unnoticed. It’s clever design points like that that make me love the combat in the game, and it’s a massive improvement upon the first game’s combat which most of the time is gunplay-focused. I just really wish there were more points in the game where you could do it, because to me they feel too sparse.
WR: We’ve mentioned about the gameplay, but now I reckon it is time to really tackle the story of this game in full spoiler mode. To be thorough, let’s go through the game section by section, as this is a game that at times feels split into distinct parts. We open with Joel telling Tommy about the way the first game ended, in a sorta cinematic recap; I thought this was a bit of an over-explanation, but I understand that it is for players who are playing this without having played the prior game (though, I mean, if you are, what?). Then, we have an extended prologue of sorts in and around the settlement at Jackson, where we play as both Ellie and new character Abby as a routine day goes very badly wrong. We start to be introduced to new characters, particularly ones that Ellie knows, and I also found that this opening segment re-introduced how to play in a smart fashion. The playing-from-different-viewpoints idea is one that is carried through the game, and from the start I appreciated it as a change of structure from the relatively linear first game.
AH: The game opening with Joel’s recount of the first game felt off to me also; who’s really going into this without having played the first game? Honestly, at the beginning of the game, I really wasn’t a fan of the idea of the split viewpoints, especially as Neil Druckmann had said this game was about revenge and had only spoken of Ellie being playable in any way. Though, saying that, he said the same thing about playing as Joel in the first game. I just wanted to play as Ellie and see how things are going for her, and why she was going on a journey of revenge. However, I really did come to enjoy playing as Abby throughout the second half of the game.
WR: That is an element of the game I am confident we will be discussing a lot shortly; you play as Ellie for the majority of the, I’d say, roughly first half of the game? This opening is quite cryptic in terms of Joel and Tommy – and the game is quite enigmatic about Joel in particular throughout – but it seemed, at least to me, that there was signposts of Abby having a purpose at Jackson to do with Joel. Yet, it was still shocking when Abby – after Joel and Tommy help Abby out of a tight situation against Infected, no less – takes out Joel’s leg with a shotgun and proceeds to violently beat him. Then, when Ellie gets there, and Abby kills Joel with the golf club… it’s brutal. This game pivots around that moment, as it is the motivation, or even some type of twisted justification, for the many acts of violence Ellie commits as she subsequently goes after Abby. The scene is certainly intense and impactful, but does it fuel the game in that way for you? I found that there was more of a disconnect between the gameplay and story than there was in the prior game.
AH: The game definitely peaks intensity wise if you ask me at that moment, nothing else in the game really ever reaches the same point of emotion. It’s such a dark scene and happens so early into the game, which given the story makes sense I guess, that I would’ve been surprised if they’d have managed to keep up that level of intensity. I wouldn’t say there’s a disconnect at all between story and gameplay though personally, especially during Ellie’s segments.
WR: Perhaps that disconnect is more to do with how they end the game as well, when the moment of forgiveness happens relative to other events. Is that a negative for you then, if the rest of the game was never at that point of emotion? It was believable to me that Ellie would go after the person who killed Joel, same for Tommy; and Dina going with Ellie made sense for different reasons, as their relationship gradually evolved. Throughout, I found Dina really well-developed, and her dynamic with Ellie to be told in an intelligent way, all the way through to her leaving Ellie at the end.
AH: I wouldn’t say it’s a negative for me that it never reached that level of emotion again really, as it already had the build behind the whole first game to go with it that got you invested in Joel, and for it to happen so early into the game and be so brutal really added to the emotion. Am I slightly upset that the most emotive part of the game was an hour in when the whole game is 25 hours long? Yeah, I guess a bit that I am. Was I expecting that moment to be the most emotional during the game though? Absolutely. It’s absolutely believable Ellie would go after Abby for killing Joel for me, however I’m not quite sure about Tommy. Whilst obviously 5 years have passed since the events of the first game and anything could’ve happened in that time, we learned that Joel and Tommy had a very rocky relationship, with Joel in the first game saying to Ellie “I believe his [Tommy’s] last words to me were “I don’t ever wanna see your god damned face again.”” I’m speculating here obviously, but we don’t ever really learn much more than that about Joel and Tommy’s relationship through either game. As for Dina, you’re probably going to hate me for this, but I really couldn’t have cared less for her if I had tried. Personally it seemed to be that she’s only there so that Ellie could have a companion to travel with and carry on the feeling of the first game with Joel and Ellie. The game never really made me care for her, especially when her defining moment is revealing to Ellie she’s pregnant, which in itself is just such an overused trope.
WR: See, to me, Tommy is fascinating in this game. We know he is also after Abby, and probably slightly ahead of Ellie through much of the game. Yet we only briefly see him, in the confrontation at the theatre, when he visits the Farm, and in a really smart reveal as the sniper in a sequence late in the game when you are playing as Abby. He is, in a way, the most tragic character in the story, as he loses health and his marriage to his hunt for Abby after she murders his brother. I really disagree about Dina; she is a distinct character, one who won’t – and doesn’t – wait for Ellie if she won’t stop going after Abby.
AH: I wouldn’t say Tommy is the most tragic story in the game, although he does definitely rank up there alongside Ellie. Both start the game with everything they want in life, however by the end they’ve both lost it all. If they’re going to release a side-story DLC ala Left Behind for Part II, I would love for it to focus on Tommy so that we can learn more about him.
WR: The stories of Ellie and Tommy in this game have many similarities; yes, either as DLC, or if they do a third game, playing as Tommy is an idea that could make for a powerful story. He has a certain charisma to him, yet has so many flaws. Interspersed through the 3 days in Seattle as Ellie are flashbacks – these sections, playing as Ellie with Joel accompanying you, have some delightful moments that light up the game. The museum one is brilliant; it has so many wonderful back-and-forths that take me back to their dynamic in the first game, as well as a very creepy and ominous conclusion. Thoughts on these?
AH: Man, those flashbacks. They got me so emotional watching them as I played. The chemistry between Ellie and Joel is definitely the defining characteristic of the first game, so it was great to have them back together. Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker have produced insane performances once again to really make you remember why you loved those two characters. I think the reason the museum flashback especially hits so hard is it’s the first time you see Joel after his brutal death, and he’s taking Ellie to see something she’s always wanted to in the Dinosaurs exhibit. It really brings home the fact that at the end of the day, Ellie is just a kid, and you’re seeing that childhood innocence come through after seeing everything she had to go through after losing Riley to the Infected.
WR: Relative to the first game, there isn’t actually much of Troy Baker in this game; he is fantastic in his performance, but he hasn’t got that many scenes compared to Ashley Johnson. For me, there was never a moment in this game when other characters had a dynamic on the level of Ellie and Joel, not that I necessarily expected there to be. You can tell how much Joel cares for Ellie in that museum scene, and it is wonderful just to hear them talk. Oh, and, erm… ELLIE SWIMS!
AH: Can we swear? Because if so, halle-fucking-luljah! When the Instagram advert popped up on my feed a couple of days before release, and the opening part of the video showed off Ellie swimming, I genuinely can’t describe just how happy that made me feel. The definite low point of the first game was having to fetch pallets for Ellie to cross bodies of water, so that fact I never had to even touch a single pallet for that reason in this game? So much of an improvement.
WR: It’s a very different moment in tone, but in that same flashback, when you see the “I killed for them” message on the wall… for me, possibly the creepiest moment of the game because of how out of place it is there at the museum. These indirect moments of referencing the cost of the actions of Joel at the end of the first game I found much more smart than when they showed Ellie confronting Joel about it in other flashbacks. I would have preferred it being kept more subtle, with the hints at the divide between Ellie and Joel and other consequences.
AH: See, we’ve already spoken quickly about this exact scene and I’m on the complete opposite side to this. It was the single biggest secret building up to this game, and because of that it basically had to come out at some point, rather than it just being alluded to in Ellie and Joel’s interactions with one another. Saying that though, I was so disappointed in that scene itself. I really felt like it should’ve a huge, pivotal moment for the game and Ellie and Joel’s relationship, as it is basically Joel dooming the whole of humanity because of his own selfish actions, but it just falls so flat in my opinion. It’s missing the emotion I feel like should be there, and instead it just feels like a throwaway conversation between the two. What really annoys me as well is the scene at the end of the game where Ellie tells Joel that she can never forgive him for taking away the opportunity for her life to have purpose is exactly the kind of moment I was wanting, but because it’s at the very end of the game it’s hard to care as much.
WR: Isn’t that sort of the problem, though? After the first game, it was always going to be hard for that scene to live up to how you imagine it. The genius of that ending is in the way that it leaves it to your imagination, and so showing it in this game goes against that. That final flashback is beautifully told, and the idea of Ellie maybe starting to forgive Joel is heartbreaking knowing the events that come after that conversation. In a different way to the first game, it leaves it up to the imagination, but this time we know that that time was taken from them.
AH: See, for me, the ambiguity of the ending of the first game was always going to be ruined as soon as this one was announced, there was no way of getting around it in my opinion. If it had stayed as a single game, then yeah, I could imagine what happened afterwards. But again, it was too big of a secret to ignore in a sequel.
WR: I reckon there was other ways around it where you don’t have to directly show those scenes. However, I have to mention that Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker are amazing in this game. Though, and this may be a controversial opinion, Laura Bailey potentially steals the show as Abby. After Ellie has killed some of her friends, she confronts Ellie at the theatre and we are again put back in time; though this time, we are playing through events from the perspective of Abby, starting around the end of the first game. We play as Abby for a long time from this point, which is a bold move, but this dual perspective really gives a different viewpoint on the actions of Ellie and Joel.
AH: Now, I know this is the point where a lot of people say the game starts going downhill, and honestly, I don’t understand it. To me, the game actually improves in quality when you’re having to play as Abby, as you’re running into Infected more and it starts to feel more like the first game from a gameplay standpoint. However, I guess I’m also biased because I love when games and films turn the perspective and make you see the story from the “villain’s” point of view, especially with this where there isn’t any character that’s either good or evil, they’re all shades of grey and have done some really shitty things to survive in the times they’re living in. Honestly, to me, Abby is the most morally grounded character in the whole game. We find out that Abby is the daughter of the surgeon Joel murdered in the hospital at the end of the first game (he’s also the only person you do have to kill in that moment, which I thought was a great touch) so she’s gone out for her revenge as I’d assume most people would in that situation. Once she’d got that, she was quite happy to just walk away from the situation until Ellie came back and started killing her friends one by one. The viewpoint switch really does go to show that Ellie really isn’t the innocent, perfect character people see her as.
WR: In my opinion, that flip of perspective is where a lot of the new ideas this game has come from. Revisiting areas that were previously hostile but, as Abby, are areas populated by people surviving, challenges how you consider the world this game presents to you. The game seems to make a point to make you play as Abby through these events after playing through them as Ellie, really hitting you with the inevitable consequences of the people you have affected. The relationship between Abby and Owen stood out to me; it has so many layers to it that make you invested, and yet the whole time you know that Ellie kills Owen. Abby also has different attributes and items which can affect how you play, which is a nice touch. The items she can craft are more directly damaging, for example.
AH: Again, when we had our quick conversation before properly doing this, I said that the whole time with Abby and Owen, there was obvious sexual tension, to the point where I was just like “can you two just hurry up and have sex already?”, not realising that’s actually where it ended up. Given that you only see their relationship and how it develops after you’ve already killed Owen as Ellie, I’m honestly so surprised at how invested in that love affair (in both senses of the phrase) I was. Abby’s exclusive items are so good, big shoutouts to the pipebomb and flamethrower weapons, definitely saved my ass on multiple occasions against the Shamblers, Clickers, and that absolute monstrosity in the Hospital Basement which I’m sure we’re going to talk about.
WR: Okay, so, yeah. For me, they went overboard with the Infected design there; I get that there are references to the Infected underneath the Hospital being there since the Outbreak, and the design of that area is very eery. However, when we get to the boss-style Infected… it gets too arcade horror for me, with this Infected of multiple bodies. The way it quickly charges around that area just doesn’t click (no pun intended) with me, tonally feeling way off from other Infected encounters. I more envisage a slower, more imposing Infected being the result of such a long gestation period. However, I will say that the flamethrower was very useful there!
AH: I will agree it definitely seems odd that it’s so fast, as we know that as the infection progresses, the movement of the Infected slows down, with Shamblers and Bloaters being super strong but extremely slow moving as the last stages of infection. I’d disagree it gets too arcade horror though, I always saw it as a natural progression. We know that Infected can start to merge into the walls with the fungus growing, as we come across this multiple times during the game, so I don’t think it’s that hard to believe the idea of “There’s been Infected in a confined, untouched area for the last 25 years, could they possibly have merged together in some way?”
WR: It isn’t really the merging together, as that makes sense, it is more the overall presentation of that fight gameplay-wise and the design of the Rat King. At that point in the game, it felt as though I was supposed to be terrified, but it more just seemed a bit ridiculous. The Shamblers are better designs; an Infected that evolves to disperse spores in such a violent way fits the theme of it being natural and evolving over time. Overall, through the game did you prefer the Infected or non-Infected encounters?
AH: If we’re just looking at it from a straight up gameplay perspective, personally for me, the Infected fights are more enjoyable than those of the human enemies. However, the story behind the human enemy fights are a lot more engrossing than those of the Infected. I think here is where it loses the connection slightly to the first game, as the story for that was always about the fights against the Infected, and the fights versus the human enemies seems like a sub-plot. Contrastingly, for this game, the roles for that have been reversed and honestly? I’m not too sure I’m a fan.
WR: Is a possible reason for much of that is because of the war going on between two factions, the WLF and the Seraphites, throughout the game? I am not sure enough was done to make me invested in this battle; more time with characters such as Isaac (Jeffrey Wright) may have helped here to really show the motivations of the leadership on either side. Instead, it seemed more of a crossfire you are navigating through.
AH: I’m so surprised that we don’t ever really see the leaders of either side all that much within the game so that they can explain their motivations. Given it takes up over half of the story, I think I can count on one hand the number of interactions you have with Isaac, none of which are particularly that long, and I don’t think you ever run into the leader of the Seraphites, do you? I honestly can’t remember, and if you do, it shows just how little the game makes you care.
WR: It even seemed to me that Isaac was being set up as a character who would be crucial to the story later on, but then he is killed quite abruptly; it is even as though they only had limited time with Jeffrey Wright? This war is really prominent in the life Abby leads, and yet for me a lot of the time playing as her I was more anticipating her interactions with Owen and Ellie.
AH: Oh for sure, especially wanting more of her interactions with Ellie, although I guess that that’s because you’re obviously emotionally connected to Ellie, and want to see more of her, as well as knowing how the story ends up so you’re left wanting to see how Abby and Ellie interact with one another once Ellie’s killing spree of Abby’s friends has gone down. You just knew that something big was going to happen between the two of them.
WR: It makes me wonder why they ordered the sections of the game the way they did; that section playing as Abby is extensive, and there is a risk of a lot of it being overshadowed by the knowledge that there is a confrontation with Ellie on the way. Perhaps it was almost meant to be exhaustive, to really force you to find more out about the life Abby leads to that point. I reckon maybe another flashback or two, similar to the aquarium one with Owen, may have helped the pacing here, as the combat is frequent.
AH: You see, I personally don’t actually mind that the extensive amounts of combat during the Abby sections you play, without much downtime. It really hammers home the fact that this is what they have to go through in order to just survive in this world. Abby and the WLF aren’t only stuck in a war with the Infected in their day-to-day lives, they’re stuck in another against the Seraphites as a result of a broken peace treaty. As well as the fact that it helps break up the monotony of the combat by not just having you face one type of enemy constantly, it actually makes me sort of feel sorry for Abby because she never really wanted to live this life, she was quite happy as a Firefly until Joel ended all of that in the first game.
WR: The aspect that really stands out is that after they murder Joel, they make a point to not kill others, and they show that again later on in the game. Ellie, though, goes through several of the people close to Abby, and that moral difference makes you question Ellie a lot. When you play through the sequence where Abby discovers first Alice, then Mel and Owen all murdered, it hit me in the core; it’s a powerful way to show the cycle of violence these people are in.
AH: Yeah, Abby is quite content on getting revenge on Joel alone for murdering her Dad, whereas Ellie is determined to take out every person that was at the scene when Joel was killed, despite the fact that it’s Abby alone who shoots him with the shotgun and then finishes the job with the golf club. The fact that Ellie is willing to go to whatever lengths it takes to avenge Joel’s killing (we finally know who the “I’m gonna find, and I’m gonna kill, every last one of them” line from the original trailer is about!) is the main thing that makes me say that Ellie isn’t at all a good person in this game. Abby spares her life on two separate occasions, whilst Ellie only does the same at the end of the game.
WR: Is it just me who finds that Ellie becomes more and more similar to Joel as this game goes on? That determination to hunt them down, and even the way she acts during combat, reminds me of Joel in the first game. So, when you reached the theatre, and you play as Abby against Ellie, were you on the side of Abby at that point of the game? It’s fascinating that Ellie becomes the opposition in the gameplay, yet which of the two were you backing throughout that?
AH: She definitely does become more and more like Joel as the game progresses, that’s a very good observation. She definitely gets more and more selfish as time progresses, to the point where it causes her to lose everything, and everyone, around her. It’s her determination to hunt Abby down that causes her to lose Dina, probably the most important person to her besides Joel. With the theatre section, I can’t actually say that I was rooting for Abby, despite having just spent the last chunk of the game playing as her and seeing her side of the story. I think that’s the game’s intention though, to make you uncomfortable whilst fighting Ellie, because she’s obviously the person you’ve spent a game and a half getting to know and empathising with. The hatred still lingers for Abby for what she did to Joel from my point of view, what about you?
WR: Even though I question so many of her actions, there is such an emotional attachment to Ellie that she is still the one I side with. That fight is tough too, with Ellie being a formidable opponent – as you would expect. It is Abby who emerges with the advantage, and again leaves Ellie alive; at this point, I find it tragic that these two people are in this cycle of violence that is damaging their lives. If Ellie and Abby talked more, I reckon they may even discover similarities between them.
AH: I don’t think they could ever get along with each other for that exact reason personally, they’re far too alike to one another. Even their stories in this game match up perfectly – they both have lost the person that means the most to them, and all they care about is avenging that fact, no matter what lengths it is that they have to go to in order to achieve that.
WR: Is there any other points about the game to this point you would have us mention at this juncture? Otherwise, we shall go on to the first appearance of the Farm; at first I wondered if this was the end of the game, with Ellie and Dina settled outside Jackson after Dina has given birth to J.J.; there are some great quiet moments here, and seeing Ellie as a mother figure after all the events you have played through is emotional. Then, herding sheep, suddenly her trauma from the murder of Joel strikes her.
AH: If the game had have ended there, I think I would’ve been even more annoyed at the ending than I already am to be honest with you. It just seemed like such a dumb place to end it, however, like you said, it felt like that was going to be the end for whatever reason. You know what absolutely broke me in that section specifically? When you’re holding J.J. (I’m gonna assume it stands for Jesse Joel or something myself) and go outside and sit on the tractor, Ellie says to him that “she’s going to teach him how to play guitar.” To me, that was a perfect way to bring a whole full circle to that, and carries on Joel’s legacy. Joel taught Ellie how to play guitar, having promised her at the end of their journey, and now Ellie is promising at the end of her journey to teach J.J. how to do the same thing when he’s old enough.
WR: That’s a great point; I also found being able to engrave initials on the tree a touching moment, especially when you revisit the Farm and see them again. The trauma Ellie feels about Joel is done well; it suddenly hitting her as she goes about her life is an apt representation of how an experience can impact you. When Tommy arrives with a lead on Abby, and Dina is trying to make Ellie stay, which side are you on?
AH: I’m automatically on Tommy’s side trying to get Ellie to go with him after Abby, purely because I feel like that’s the ending that the game justified; Ellie has gone this far, she can’t quit now. Had the game instead ended with Ellie staying at home with Dina, I would’ve been even more disappointed in the ending than I already am with the actual ending.
WR: Okay, we’re nearly at the ending; Santa Barbara is the setting for much of the final stages of the game, first playing as Abby, then as Ellie. Abby searching for a newly regrouping Firefly movement is a positive, forward-facing act, yet we never see these Fireflies. Instead, Abby is ambushed and captured, and suddenly Ellie hunting for Abby started to have the feeling of a rescue mission to me. Can I just say; this section of the game is STUNNING. That beach area when Ellie arrives? Wow.
AH: I think this is definitely the best looking section of the game by a mile, so I’m with you, it’s absolutely stunning. You know what though? I don’t actually think Abby ever got in contact with Fireflies; it was all just a set-up. My own (purely speculative, of course) theory is that that “Firefly Base” had long been taken over by the new enemies introduced for this final portion of the game, and the radio frequencies left on the table were hoaxes left by the enemies, except the one where she gets a reply, which is a direct link to them rather than Fireflies as Abby thought. Whilst we know from the Ellie section that the enemy base isn’t all that far from the safehouse, it’d explain how the enemies got there so quick to capture Abby; they were monitoring that base.
WR: That makes a lot of sense now you say it! Especially as they ambush them straight after, immediately as they leave the house. Fighting Infected in a more sunny, bright area was quite refreshing too. Those battles were dynamic, having a really different feel to other encounters in the past. I thought the non-Infected you face weren’t developed much though; for example, the two that are killed after Ellie is captured. Her using her immunity to her advantage there is a new idea too; though, that injury against the tree seemed really severe, and she stitches herself up without us seeing. I actually, despite the game being quite long, reckon more detail around this sequence would have helped.
AH: Yeah, I would’ve loved more development for them. Do we even know what they’re called, and what their motivation for hanging people on stakes is? I genuinely can’t remember that ever being mentioned in that final section. My favourite part about that level of the game though, I have to say, is the fact that you can release the Infected from their chains and temporarily have them join your side of the battle, taking out the non-Infected enemies. It’s a neat little battle mechanic that obviously we’ve mentioned you can see glimpses of earlier in the game, but this is the first time you can manually pit the Infected against non-Infected enemies.
WR: It’s slightly different to those earlier encounters – it makes me sorta wonder why there wasn’t more of it, as there is so much combat in the game. Wouldn’t the WLF and the Seraphites use Infected in their war? It seemed there is a whole operation going on in Santa Barbara that we find not much out about. Especially, again, compared to how much of the game is spent on the WLF and the Seraphites. This final part was quite tough, but to me wasn’t as suspense-building compared to the Firefly hospital in the first game, where you could really sense that you were at the finale. Here, you save the captured people, and – to me – the game quickly shifts into finale mode, with Ellie starting to struggle more.
AH: You honestly found it tough? To me, it was too easy, there was just too much stuff to hide behind so you could get a decent angle to either shoot the enemies, or sneak up on them to stealth kill them. Definitely wasn’t as suspense building as the Firefly Hospital in the first game either, I’ll agree with you there. At that point you know that the endgame was there, and it was a race against time to save Ellie before the operation started. The search to find Abby at the end of Part II doesn’t have anywhere near the sense of urgency in my opinion.
WR: I played on Hard, how about you? Not to compete, just wondering, haha! Yeah, agreed, though with the setting and new opposition, I reckon it could have been; it was paced in a way that didn’t seem smooth to me. Okay, so here we are – the discovery of Abby tied up. Ellie cuts her down, and they move over to where the boats are. I know you have a strong opinion on the next part…
AH: I did just play on Normal difficulty using all the default sliders, though I really do wish I’d turned up the frequency of ammo drops because I think I found myself without ammo more times than I ever did in the first game. Man, oh man… This fucking ‘climax’ to the story. Genuinely this has brought down my score alone that I’d give the game. For anyone wondering, the climax of the game sees you fight Abby and attempt to drown her in the sea, and just as Abby is about to die Ellie suddenly sees Joel and decides to let Abby go free. I get why the game ends this way, Ellie is breaking the cycle of revenge that she knows would only lead to Lev coming to find Ellie and exact revenge on her. However, am I really supposed to believe that after everything Ellie has been through to get revenge on Abby, after travelling from Wyoming to Seattle (a journey Google says takes 16 hours in a car, a luxury obviously not enjoyed in the game), after murdering each of Abby’s friends one by one, that she would really let Abby leave alive at the last second, purely because she saw a vision of Joel that hasn’t bothered her in the journey up to this point? She’s killed numerous innocent people on the journey to find Abby, and yet she can’t finish the job. The game is too long and too much happens to Ellie during it that it makes it impossible to believe that Ellie would show mercy at this point, she’s too far gone mentally that letting Abby go just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
WR: There is two sides to it for me; the idea of that conversation with Joel inspiring Ellie to break the cycle is beautiful, especially with the connection to the finale of the first game. Yet, as you say, for it to happen in that way, after all the events of the game… it doesn’t quite work. Also, the 1-on-1 combat is clunky; there is a melee fight at the end of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End as well, so it seems to be a way the developer is going, and I am not much of a fan. That shot of Ellie isolated in the water, though, connects back to your point about her; she has lost so many people.
AH: And that point is rammed home even further upon returning to what was Ellie & Dina’s home after letting Abby go, only to find Dina and J.J. have left Ellie. This is, without a doubt, my favourite moment of the game and the fact it comes after the lowest point of the game for me is such a juxtaposition between the two moments. You realise in this moment just how much Ellie has lost. She’s lost her parents. She’s lost Riley. She’s lost Marlene. She’s lost Joel. And now she’s lost Dina. The ending of the journey has left her with less than she started with. If you think back to the first game, there’s a moment with Sam after the sniper point and Sam gets bitten, where Ellie and Sam are having a conversation, with the latter asking Ellie “How is it that you’re never scared? […] What are you scared of?” Ellie’s answer to that is “Being by myself. I’m scared of ending up alone.” And with everybody that she’s lost along the course of both games, that’s exactly what’s happened to her at this point. She had everything she wanted, and because she couldn’t let Joel go she’s ended up alone. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of storytelling that reminds you that when The Last of Us is good, it’s absolutely incredible. It upsets me so much that people aren’t making the connection between that scene with Sam, and this moment at the end of Part II, because it’s such a vital piece of lore behind this ending. I’ve had to explain to so many people online the significance of Ellie ending up alone.
WR: I also got a vibe that she was heading back to Jackson, though, and perhaps she has seen how much she has lost and is going to try and build relationships again, with Dina, with Tommy, with others. That is really complex and intelligent character development. That final sequence at the Farm, with the flashback, is so emotional. Finding out right at the end of the game that Ellie was really going to try and forgive Joel, despite every event, and that opportunity was lost… that really hit me. It isn’t at the end of a game that builds to the moment as well as the first game built to an ending, that’s a key difference. For me, forgiveness is perhaps the key theme of this game, and the ability to allow yourself to be open to it.
AH: Revenge and forgiveness are undoubtedly the key themes of the game, but the most significant piece of forgiveness just happens too late for it to be believable, as I’ve already said. That final cutscene with Joel that you mentioned where you find out Ellie was willing to try to forgive Joel for taking away her purpose in life, it’s absolutely beautiful. I mentioned earlier how I felt like the big scenes lacked the emotion that I felt they deserved, especially the scene of Ellie finding out Joel lied to her, but this one doesn’t suffer from that in the slightest – this is the exact kind of scene I was hoping for more of. It genuinely broke me that despite the fact Joel took away what could have been her purpose in life, and she’s obviously angry at him for it and rightly so, she’s willing to try and forgive Joel because of everything they’ve been through together and the fact that at this point, she really doesn’t know any other life.
WR: It’s the type of scene I am after; it is a consequence of the first game, but builds on it with ideas that are dependent on that game instead of repeating to the audience the events that have happened. The problem is that it takes until the ending to get a scene at this level. The first game excels at weaving gameplay and cutscenes together into an absorbing narrative, whilst this game felt a bit more as though I was playing towards story points. In your opinion, where is Ellie heading towards? Back to Jackson? Off on her own? Perhaps another way? Also, would you prefer they leave the story as is now (with the possible exception of DLC), or keep going – potentially to form a trilogy?
AH: I’m fairly sure she’ll probably head back to Jackson and reunite with Tommy, rather than set out on her own. She knows she’s safe there and time can heal most wounds, so I don’t think Ellie would risk her own life to go off on her own. As for the story, I’d love to see a Left Behind style DLC that focuses on Tommy and develops his story more. It’d be a good way to bring Joel back, and could help fill in the 5 year gap between the ending of the first game and the beginning of this one. As far as whether to make it into a trilogy or not? I’m firmly in the ‘no’ camp for this one myself. The climax to this story has turned me so far off the idea of another game, it’s such a letdown.
WR: Yeah, as aforementioned, more on Tommy please! I would be concerned that they would have an even greater scope on another game, and it would have even more of a problem with under-developed ideas than this game does. If it was a really focused story on Ellie returning to Jackson and finding Tommy, as well as maybe seeing where Abby and Lev go (to try and find Fireflies? Unless they reckon that was part of the ambush), then perhaps. A lot of my anxiousness about this game losing restraint was founded, though – I would prefer if they had not made a second game.
AH: After playing it now, knowing everything I know, I’d have preferred it without a second game honestly too. The first was perfect with the story and how it leaves such an open ending for you to imagine yourself what happens after the game. As an aside, have we mentioned just how good the sound design is? Despite the fact Gustavo Santaolalla can’t read or write music in the traditional sense, he’s composed 3 incredible soundtracks for the series. My favourite moment sound wise from the whole game is in the hospital basement. As you start exploring, it starts with a simple, slow drum beat. As you progress though and get closer to the Rat King, more and more instruments are added and the tempo increases, really adding to the drama of that moment. It’s genuinely incredible, and had my heart racing even just walking around in the basement.
WR: It seems harsh to say it, perhaps, with all the work that went into this game – and as a piece of art it is undoubtedly technically phenomenal; the performances, the visual graphics, the gameplay systems. The soundtrack to this game is amazing, as is the sound design. The unique way Santaolalla creates music is astounding to me, and creates such a sense of atmosphere that is distinct to this game. Yet, story-wise, it feels unnecessary to me, and that is at the forefront of The Last of Us as a series.
AH: Absolutely. For such a story-focused pair of games, The Last of Us Part II gets everything else so right except the story.
WR: After finishing the game, how were your emotions? In addition, how compelled are you to play through the game multiple ways in comparison to the first? I felt I was thorough, yet I have many collectibles to find!
AH: The game is such a rollercoaster of emotions, when it’s good it’s great, but when it’s bad it’s awful, and that’s personally how I felt. There are definite low-points, but absolutely more high points. However, between the combination of game length and the fact that Ellie lets Abby go free at the end of the game, I’m really not likely to do anything more than a collectible runthrough to obtain the Platinum trophy as like you, I thought I was pretty thorough but apparently I missed so many! In comparison, I’ve genuinely done nearly 20 runs of the first game.
WR: I am not sure whether I shall go for the Platinum; I often go for the Platinum on games I connect with on an exceptional level, and I don’t reckon this game is on the level of the first. Right, unless there are other elements you reckon we should mention, we’re gonna go onto our scores! We have discussed a lot about the game, but at the same time there is so much more we could talk about!
AH: I think we’ve covered everything now that I’d want to talk about! Any further discussion would just be repeating points, and I’m sure we’ve already done as such haha! How are we doing this? A score out of 10 I assume? If we’re going for that, then I think a fair review score would be a 7/10. Like I said there are such incredible moments in the game, but there are severe problems that I have that I don’t think I could justify anything more than a 7.
WR: See, this game is so tricky to score! It is stunning in many ways – as a production it is really impressive. Those key story flaws, and a lack of restraint in multiple areas, really affect the game for me, and led to moments where I was not on board with the direction the game was taking. It’s impressive, ambitious, so flawed – a 9 from me.
AH: A 9? Honestly that’s higher than I was expecting. With such critical flaws, I could never imagine giving the game that high of a score.
WR: It’s the level of detail in the world, and the improvements to parts of the gameplay, as well as how ambitious they have been with the story they have told. There is so much smart about the game, even with all the flaws. Would I have preferred no second game? Yes. However, if I am scoring this game, I have to consider just how impressive so much of it is.
AH: See, I can’t give it extra points for ambitiousness in the story when it falls completely flat on its face at its most vital point for me. I appreciate what they’ve tried to do, but yeah… It’s definitely impressive in its scale and scope, and I fully commend everyone at Naughty Dog for what they’ve achieved, but for me the most important part of The Last of Us is its story, and Part II just doesn’t do it for me.
WR: There are those shining moments, at points in the flashbacks; at the end; in the structure of the game, that show me that those ideas are there. The flipped perspective with Abby is really clever and shows a nuance a lot of games do not have. It is a game I can imagine inspiring a lot of creators in years to come to try alternative methods with their video game narratives.
AH: I definitely hope that more creators take up the idea of a dual perspective; showing multiple viewpoints definitely helped my enjoyment of the game. It also helps provide more depth to the supposed villain if you get to see things from their side of the story. In this case, it definitely helped to humanise Abby, and see her as more than just a random person who murdered Joel.
WR: Yeah, so many games have underdeveloped opposing characters; perhaps now more people shall see that there are many ways to provide another perspective on the events of a game. Keep an eye on narrative styles in the years to come, and see if there are more experiments with alternative viewpoints on the events within games. It’s been a delight doing this again. Let me know when you get that Platinum, haha! Until next time!
AH: Until next time!
I hope you enjoyed the return of this series of article! These are going to be recurring from now on; let us know if there are any particular changes you suggest. Also, leave a comment about your thoughts on The Last of Us Part II; we could discuss more!
– This article was originally published on 30th April 2018; it is being updated and archived here as part of the newly-named Let’s Chat series –
It only took about 6 months, but I did it, everyone – after weeks of fellow Let’s Chat voice Ashley Harrison telling me to, I have finished the main story of Nintendo Switch title Super Mario Odyssey. So, now, it’s time for our first joint-review of the game, which will cover our thoughts on the game, how it compares to previous 3D Mario games, the DLC, and each of us giving the game a score. I hope you enjoy!
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY
William Robinson: You thought the day would never come. But after roughly half a year, I finally got around to finishing Super Mario Odyssey (the story, at least)! I think I should take up speedrunning… Jokes aside, this Let’s Chat is going to be our first joint review, as we discuss and likely disagree on the game. To start with, then – where are you now in the game, and what were your thoughts as that awesome soundtrack played to the end credits?
Ashley Harrison: I’ve finished the game completely, with 999 Moons and every single costume unlocked, bar the new ones that they’ve added recently. Gonna go on to get those at some point, as well as trying to finally get this damn jump rope challenge Moon. When I’d gotten to the point you are now, my thoughts were that I had justified spending the £350 I spent on my Switch bundle, but felt that I wanted more because whilst there were a ton of moons to collect, I was shocked at just how few levels there were.
WR: Woah, you’ve managed to 100% it? I didn’t know that, that’s impressive. Yeah – the game is split up into Kingdoms, which are all large-ish open areas reminiscent of Super Mario 64 levels, with Moons hidden everywhere for different tasks. If you’re just blasting through the main story, though, each Kingdom is pretty brief. It took me around 10-15 hours to get to the final encounter with Bowser. Looking at the statistics afterwards, though, it’s almost unbelievable how many Moons are supposedly in each Kingdom!
AH: Yeah, it’s ridiculous how many Moons there are in each Kingdom. I just wish there were fewer Moons per Kingdom, and more Kingdoms to make up for the “loss” of Moons.
WR: I’m actually the opposite. I felt the Kingdoms felt too bite-size, and could’ve felt bigger and taken longer to get through. It all felt a little fast-paced for me. However, I was undeniably enjoying the game as I played. There is a certain magic to the design and feel of Odyssey that only 3D Mario games seem to have. The capture mechanic, where throwing companion Cappy at enemies lets Mario basically possess them, only helped that; I was surprised at just how many different forms Mario could take.
AH: It’s without a doubt my favourite Mario game of all time, and the capture mechanic is a major part of that. It’s something I wasn’t too sure on when it was first announced, but once I’d played Odyssey, I fell in love with it. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a T-Rex in a Mario game?
WR: Which were your favourite uses of the capture mechanic?
AH: I loved the T-Rex, obviously, and I thought the frog was pretty cool too. You?
WR: Come on, can it be anything but the Snow Kingdom and the Shiverians there? They’re a) incredibly adorable and b) so fun to roll around as. If the next Mario Kart doesn’t have a Shiverian track, something is amiss. Speaking of, the same question for Kingdoms; which were best designed or most surprising for you?
AH: Snow Kingdom is GOAT Kingdom, followed by the Seaside Kingdom for me. Most surprising isn’t even really a Kingdom, but more the final level of the game, just for how ridiculously hard it actually is.
WR: You don’t mean the final story sequence, but the traditional Champion’s Road ending or however this game names it?
AH: Yeah, it’s called “Darker Side” in this game and it’s ridiculous.
WR: I still rate my 100% file of Super Mario Galaxy 2 as one of my finest gaming achievements, and I’m looking forward to getting to the final level of Odyssey too. 3D Mario games always manage to make such incredibly challenging final levels that, somehow, still don’t feel cheap. Back to the game, though; how did you rate the general platforming design? Did you feel that some of the focus there was lost to the amount of play as different forms of Mario?
AH: I genuinely feel that whilst they’re not as good as the Galaxy games, the levels in Odyssey are some of the best Nintendo has ever produced for a Mario game. Everything is tightly designed so there’s always something to do or find, and the capture mechanic only adds to that, rather than feeling like anything was lost because of it.
WR: I was very rarely challenged by the platforming; it had more of a puzzle feel, figuring out which powers were needed when. That’s certainly a great side of the game that encourages intuition, but I did miss some of the platforming focus that I would have liked alongside it.
AH: See, I didn’t find myself missing the pure platforming elements at all. I loved the puzzle focus to it, and I’d be more than happy to see it make a return in future games.
WR: Did you feel that they were trying to recapture that Super Mario 64/Sunshine feel, rather than the pure platforming of Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World? If so, is that the kind of 3D Mario you prefer?
AH: Oh, without a doubt, they were trying to make it more like 64/Sunshine than Galaxy or 3D World. I wouldn’t say I exactly prefer it that way, as I’d rank both Galaxy games above either 64 or Sunshine, but I preferred it for this game.
WR: For me, Odyssey sits around the level of 3D World (which is possibly the most underrated game ever, in my books). Both Galaxy games are clearly superior to me, due to their sheer creativity and platforming prowess; Odyssey, despite the varied gameplay brought through the capture mechanic, still feels very grounded, you know? The joy of movement I have come to expect from a 3D Mario is there, but not that same freedom the Galaxy pair give. Still, being -slightly not as good as Galaxy– still puts Odyssey ahead of most games.
AH: Fun fact: 3D World is the only main series Mario game I’ve not completed, because I just didn’t like it one bit. So to even compare Odyssey to 3D World is blasphemous in my opinion.
WR: Right, before we start fighting, let’s put the spotlight back on Odyssey. In terms of the main structure and story, did you like the pacing and challenge? The Moons required to progress didn’t really require much extra grinding; I found I tended to naturally have enough a lot of the time.
AH: I think there was only one time during the whole game where I didn’t have enough Moons to progress right away, and even then I was only 2 Moons off, so I definitely feel it could’ve done with a change in pacing. You never really got to see every Kingdom properly unless you looked for Moons afterwards, so I would’ve preferred if more Moons were needed to progress so that I was forced to explore each Kingdom.
WR: I agree with that. Seeing the amount of Moons I have left to collect is almost unbelievable – I don’t know how they all fit in those Kingdoms! It’s exciting, though, that I can now slow down and enjoy exploring what Odyssey has to offer without feeling pressure to get to Bowser and see the credits. It’s similar to the modern Tomb Raider games, where you can go back to areas after the story and experience them as a relatively relaxed open world game. Considering you have all the Moons, I’m guessing you feel a similar way.
AH: Yeah, I do. It’s cool to go back after you’ve beaten the Darker Side level and restored peace to the Mario Universe, and seeing all the different animals and people you meet along the way interacting with one another in every Kingdom. It made mopping up the Moons I’d missed an absolute joy.
WR: It’s funny you say that; this game gave me a real feeling of a Marvel-like Mario Universe, in how you see different locations with different characters, such as Pauline in New Donk City. Also with how, as mentioned earlier, Odyssey references older 3D Mario games – particularly the ending with Bowser, which gave me a vibe of Bowser just wanting to be friends with Mario and Peach (but going too far with, you know, trying to force Peach to marry him, which gets into some pretty dark ideas actually).
AH: Bowser kidnapping and forcing Peach to marry him is essentially the storyline to every Mario game though, so does he really just want to be friends?
WR: I mean, sure, but right at the end he just wanted to come along. Mario didn’t need to jump on him and leave him on the Moon, after Bowser and him have just connected over Peach-rejection. Either way, the appearance of Captain Toad helps this game a lot. He’s just minding his own business, with hordes of Coins, being the real hero of the Mario Universe.
AH: Captain Toad is the MVP of the game, though how he manages to get to some of the places he does in the levels I will never know.
WR: I’m glad I’m making you see the majesty of Captain Toad. Also, yeah… he can’t jump, yet somehow he got to the cave at the end of that Wiggler section in the Lost Kingdom. How? The stickers, outfits and Photo Mode also gave Odyssey a more modern feel, with the extras we have now come to expect from big name game releases. One particular joy? No real-money purchases in sight.
AH: Photo mode is legit one of my favourite things about the game. Can we make sure every game from now on has one? Please?
WR: I’d also like to get your thoughts on the presentation of the game in general – 3D Mario titles are often so magical from a visual and musical perspective. I really enjoy how each game has a distinct vibe now; Galaxy was very orchestral, then 3D World had an awesome jazz feel, and now Odyssey has a rock undertone.
AH: I think the whole presentation is great. The game itself looks incredible, and the soundtrack is way better than it has any right to be. I genuinely would go as far as saying Mario Odyssey is the best game on the Switch right now.
WR: I’m in the Zelda: Breath of the Wild camp on that front, but I’m not going to get too into that, as I think there is a split of people who think either Zelda or Mario is the best Switch game (and best game of 2017). It’s down to personal taste, I think, as both are incredible. I played the whole of Odyssey in handheld and the visuals were pretty great – on the small screen some rough edges were occasionally evident, but overall it was slick if not revolutionary; it doesn’t stand out as a massive step from 3D World on Wii U.
AH: I also played it in handheld mode, and I agree that whilst there were some rough edges in a couple of places, overall it was spectacular. It’s made me wish Nintendo would be willing to adopt technology like Sony and Microsoft do – imagine Odyssey in 4K!
WR: Did you try any other control or display options? On the 4K topic, I’m in no huge rush. The artistic direction of Nintendo is enough in these games, but I do have to admit, a Switch 4K Edition in a few years would be amazing.
AH: Not with Odyssey, no. With the way the game is designed, it felt like the kind of game made to be played in handheld mode rather than on a TV.
WR: Yeah, for sure – with Moons everywhere, you can literally just play a few minutes at a time and still have a sense of progression. So, how many hours did it take you to get where you are? Have you played the Luigi’s Balloon World DLC?
AH: Um, I think in total I’ve put in about 40 hours? That was just for the main story, and getting all the collectibles. I haven’t tried out the Balloon World DLC yet, though. As much as I love Luigi, sadly this concept doesn’t do anything for me.
WR: That DLC seems kinda light on substance, but I haven’t given it a proper shot yet?. Kingdom DLC in the future would be great, and make a lot of sense. It would allow the developers to get really creative; imagine Kingdoms based on other Mario games like Sunshine, Galaxy or even Kart, or maybe even other Nintendo properties! A Hyrule Castle Kingdom would potentially be incredible.
AH: I would absolutely love that. As I said earlier, my only real criticism of the game is that there aren’t enough Kingdoms, and at this point, I’d even pay for an expansion pass! Which completely goes against my point in our previous Let’s Chat about microtransactions and DLC and stuff, but Odyssey is genuinely just that good that I’d happily pay for more.
WR: Nintendo have so much goodwill in not exploiting players that I think they’re an exception. You think we see DLC announcements at E3?
AH: Hopefully! But at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t, to be honest with you.
WR: How so?
AH: I just think Nintendo will see Odyssey as a finished product now, and leave it to move onto the next Mario game.
WR: I can see that, but I can see them also realising how much money that massive Odyssey install base could produce. Remember that Super Mario Odyssey has sold over 10 million now! Either way, it’s a superb game on its own, like you say. Before we close out, I’d like a final thoughts from both of us and a score out of 999 Moons. Just to be awkward.
AH: For me, Mario Odyssey is the quintessential Switch game. It ties together the Mario charm everyone knows, with brand new ideas such as the capture mechanic. Whilst it might not be as good a pure platformer as the Galaxy games, it’s without a doubt a contender for the best Mario game of all time and more than worth picking up as a Switch owner. I give it 998/999 Moons; it needs more playable Luigi.
WR: My turn, then. Despite having played it a tinyyyyy bit later than everyone else did, I can see why Super Mario Odyssey was received in such a positive way. As a fan of the 3D Mario games, they are unmatched in that sense of pure platforming feel and creativity, with new ideas around every turn that could literally have entire games based around them. The return to a more hub-world feel has advantages and disadvantages – the rewarding exploration of 64 and Sunshine is back, but at the same time the game does sacrifice some of the tightly crafted focus that Galaxy and 3D Land/World had. As well as this, there is a very fast pace to the main throughline of Odyssey, and whilst there is plenty of opportunity to go back and revel in that exploration later, I can’t shake that that I felt hurried in that 10-15 hour story. I’m going to be playing this game for a while yet, and y’know, it has Captain Toad, so it has to be a good game, right? My score is 900/999 Moons.
AH: Missing out on nearly 100 Moons? What does it need to do for you to earn those?
WR: Hey, that’s -just- over 90%. That rushed pace and the smaller spotlight on levels that feel more exactly crafted for the purpose of platforming are just less to my tastes than previous 3D Mario games. It’s still a great score, just not the 998/999 you gave. Bear in mind, I wouldn’t give Breath of the Wild too much more (I guess that would be out of Korok Seeds?).
AH: Fair enough, that’s a reasonable explanation.
WR: Y’know, I’m glad that settled pretty peacefully. We welcome differing opinions here, unless you don’t like Spyro or Captain Toad.
AH: Indeed. I’ve actually been watching a Spyro: Year of the Dragon speedrun whilst we’ve been doing this; bring on September for the remaster!
WR: Can’t wait! We may have to do one of these joint-reviews for that as well. Until next week!
AH: Until then!
Finally, then, we got to review Super Mario Odyssey. The joint-review is a fun format, and perhaps one we will use again in the future for certain releases.
For more Let’s Chat, you can see other articles here!
– This article was originally posted on 2nd April 2018. It, and other articles, are being archived and updated here for continuity and collection, which is why parts of it may seem out of date. –
The episodic Life is Strange series recently wrapped up the story arc that covered the original game and prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Bonus episode Farewell gave us a peek at a fateful day in the history of main characters Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, uncovering a new layer of their relationship whilst also giving them a final send-off (bringing back original voice actors Hannah Telle and Ashly Burch). Ash Harrison and I – both huge fans of Life is Strange – have now played the Farewell episode, so it is time to talk about our impressions!
-SPOILER WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE LIFE IS STRANGE SERIES AHEAD-
William Robinson: I took my time – though it’s nothing compared to my still not playing Super Mario Odyssey – but I finished the Farewell episode that concludes the Max Caulfield/Chloe Price story in the Life is Strange universe. There’s no way we can do this without spoilers, so let’s get that warning out of the way… We’re both pretty massive Life is Strange fans here, so this felt like the end of a long journey. It’s amazing when I think back to the first time I played Episode 1 back in 2015…
Ashley Harrison: Has it really been that long? Jesus. It feels like Life is Strange has been around forever, but only just came out at the same time!
WR: I know the feeling. So, after the main game and the prequel Before the Storm, what did you make of the Farewell epilogue?
AH: Honestly, I’m still unsure. There were parts of it that I really enjoyed, but I didn’t click with the episode as much as I did with the others.
WR: The premise is pretty simple, really; we go back to a much younger Max and Chloe and play through a particularly fateful day; Max is telling her best friend that she is leaving Arcadia Bay for Seattle, which cruelly coincides with Chloe’s father passing away in an accident. There is a balance of them being two kids playing around and also dealing with deep issues, which is very much on style for Life is Strange. The main thing that hit me was how sorrowful the ending was – I thought they might end it on a higher note, but bittersweet is perhaps the nicest way to interpret it.
AH: I was ruined by the ending. I didn’t tell Chloe that Max was leaving until the end of the episode, so Chloe sort of found out her best friend is leaving (she already knew beforehand) and that her Dad has died in a car crash in the space of 30 seconds. I should’ve seen it coming, given that’s how Life is Strange does things, but at the same time I was so unprepared and felt like a massive d**k for doing that.
WR: I tried to tell Chloe in her bedroom, but Chloe distracts you and you can’t do it until the end anyway, so don’t worry too much. Poor Chloe, she deals with the Max thing so well, but then gets the news about her father… Knowing what else happens in her life after this makes it especially heartbreaking.
AH: She does? That’s a slight relief, at least, but doesn’t change how bad I feel. But yeah, Chloe really doesn’t have a great life at all, does she? Poor woman, always gets hit with more when she’s down.
WR: Do you think part of not clicking with it is that it’s been so long since we’ve seen those two together for a significant period, and then we’ve been dropped into this 1-2 hour episode?
AH: Possibly, but I also think there’s the fact that we knew where the whole path goes before we even start the episode, unlike with Before the Storm where, although we know how it turns out, we didn’t know anything substantial about Rachel beforehand.
WR: Also, whilst they’re the same characters, these aren’t the exact versions of the characters I love so much from the original game. I’d almost prefer this being a side story that we didn’t see during the timeline of the main game… I still enjoyed this a lot, but I felt it didn’t connect with me like other episodes have.
AH: I have to agree with you there, a side-story would’ve been a better choice than this prequel.
WR: What did you make of the actual gameplay? The whole treasure hunt quest.
AH: I guess it suits the younger characters better, having something as innocent as a treasure hunt be the main objective of the episode, but ehh… I’m not sure. It feels too light-hearted for the Life is Strange series.
WR: That’s sorta what I meant with them not being at the age we see them in the main game. I did really like some of the new things they did though, like the Choose Your Own Story that made me engage with a reading item in a way games don’t normally do. In addition, there were some profound moments, like Max saying we are scared of being hurt when we’re young, and scared of hurting others when we get older. Would have liked more of that.
AH: Oh man, that comment. I genuinely don’t think I’ve resonated more with a comment during the game than I have that exact one, especially since I’m pretty much living that reality myself right now…
WR: That ability to resonate with our actual lives is a big part of the magic of Life is Strange. Despite flaws, are you satisfied with the Max and Chloe story being concluded like this?
AH: Not really, to be honest. Whilst I enjoyed playing as Max & Chloe for a final time, I feel like it was unnecessary after seeing how events unfold in Season 1 and Before the Storm.
WR: Oh, so it’s more that it felt unnecessary rather than being bad?
AH: Reflecting on it now whilst we’re talking, I feel so, yeah. There wasn’t really much story that needed telling, as everything was covered in Season 1 and Before the Storm.
WR: Maybe it’s better to view this as just another little glimpse at their history, then, rather than the final, ahem, farewell. To me, the ending of the original Life is Strange is still their final narrative moment and the proper way to think of the story being finished.
AH: Definitely. Even though it is technically the ending of the series in the game’s chronology, it’s the only one to me that feels like an actual ending.
WR: Kinda apt to think of the series in different time orders, anyhow. You could argue playing them backwards (Farewell–Before the Storm–Life is Strange) makes the most sense.
AH: It does, but at the same time, I think given the story basis of Season 1 in finding out about Rachel and Jefferson killing everyone, the only way to play them is the order in which they were actually released.
WR: With the tease of Jefferson at the end of Before the Storm, I actually think it would work, but in a different way. Speaking of, what’s your opinion on the general package of Before the Storm now it’s all out?
AH: I genuinely feel like I enjoyed Before the Storm more than I did Season 1, I have to admit! I don’t think there was a single bad episode out of all 3 of them. My only criticism is that it was a little bit too fast-paced, and would’ve benefited from a fourth episode.
WR: I think it was only the third episode that really suffered from that. It did seem to lose some of the drama at the end, which I think is because they split Rachel and Chloe up in that episode and lost their relationship, which is the best part of Before the Storm.
AH: Yeah, Chloe and Rachel’s relationship is undoubtedly the best part of Before the Storm. I dunno about you, but it felt more natural than Max and Chloe’s, even with the weird way it started.
WR: I can see why you’d think that, but I think Max and Chloe are my favourite pairing. They have so much more history and layers to their relationship over the course of the first game. I’d say they’re the main two characters of the series, but I wouldn’t say that for Rachel. I think Before the Storm, including Farewell, is a really great package that adds a lot to the world of the game. This doesn’t feel like a case of an unnecessary prequel.
AH: It’s definitely a great sequel that does well to feel fresh whilst re-stepping old territory without feeling unnecessary, and is well worth playing if you haven’t already and were a fan of Season 1.
WR: Of course, we know this is only the end of the story of these characters, not the series. We recently got official word that news of a sequel to Life is Strange isn’t far away, and given that Before the Storm was announced last E3, I’d say another E3 reveal makes sense.
AH: Yeah, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to get news of Season 2 at E3. It just makes me wonder, with the Microsoft conference giving us Before the Storm last year, will it happen again with Season 2, or will the news come during the Sony conference this time?
WR: It was genuinely the only thing I was excited for at Microsoft last year. Between this and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Square Enix has my money this year.
AH: I think this is the only money I’m giving Square Enix this year, assuming Season 2 does begin before the turn of the year, of course.
WR: Do you have faith that a completely new setting and characters can work? It’s a tough ask when we have had such an attachment to the previous story. Telltale’s The Walking Dead had a big focus on new characters in Season 3, but ultimately I only really cared about Clementine from the previous seasons.
AH: I think that’s something DONTNOD need to tread very carefully with. As we’ve said before with The Last of Us being the story of Joel and Ellie, Life is Strange is the story of Max, Chloe, and Rachel to me. I’m willing to give Season 2 a shot, but I’m going into it a lot more cautiously than I did with Before the Storm.
WR: It’s so hard to do. Especially resisting the temptation to make references to the characters we know; in a way, the best way is just to do what they seem to be doing and almost completely disconnect from it.
AH: For sure. They’ve got to get as far away from the characters we know, whilst also keeping the Life is Strange feel. It’ll be interesting to see how they pull it off.
WR: DONTNOD having been working hard on it, you’d think. They’ve got that Vampyr game coming, but Deck Nine were the developers of Before the Storm. I get the feeling they’re taking the time to do this properly.
AH: Oh, without a doubt. Let’s be honest; Life is Strange made DONTNOD a mainstream developer, so I doubt they’d want to mess the series up now.
WR: Are you happy it’s actually getting a new season? We’ve had this conversation about The Last of Us (and likely will again in a couple of months); would you rather Life is Strange was left as is?
AH: Yeah, I’m happy it’s getting a new season, but like I said, I’m cautiously optimistic about it.
WR: Until then, I’m happy to be left with the story of Max and Chloe – for me, one of the very best in gaming. I’m sure we’ll be back to speculate about the next Life is Strange!
AH: Indeed we will. Now you can go play Super Mario Odyssey, dammit.
Look. One day, I’ll play Super Mario Odyssey. Then, we will have a long-overdue discussion about the game. Until then, you can go back through our previous Let’s Chat discussions here!
– This article was originally posted on 19th March 2018 and is being updated and archived here. Whilst situations have changed, I reckon a lot of the subject matter is still very relevant! –
A mix of work and a lack of a major theme in the gaming news recently has led Ashley Harrison and I to wonder: how are we ever going to play all the good games from last year, let alone the ones coming in 2018? It’s a topic that is coming up more and more as publishers release massive games boasting of their huge scope; is it really a good thing just to be a long game? The latest Let’s Chat delves into the subject!
William Robinson: So, Ash, in a week with no particularly standout theme, I think it’s a good chance to talk about just how long games are now. Is it just me, or are these impressive 100-hour experiences no longer the great sales pitch they used to be? Last year, with Zelda, Horizon, Persona, and more, it was unrealistic for anyone to play everything.
Ashley Harrison: Length definitely isn’t a great selling point any longer. With the examples you just mentioned and more, it seems like the majority of “AAA” games recently are striving to build as big an open world as possible to expand playtime, but at the expense of the game’s overall quality and uniqueness.
WR: It also depends greatly on the situation, too – after finishing University, I had a window where playing 80 hours of Horizon was possible, but now I’m attempting to be an adult with a full-time job I struggle to see how I can keep up with EVERYTHING. What’s your situation? Do you think that it’s always been like this, and people just have their lives change?
AH: I’m not even in full time employment and I still find it hard to keep up with everything. It’s getting to a point now where if I see a game has open-world as a “selling point” it puts me off it completely. I just look at some of the games you mentioned – Zelda (I’ve beat one Divine Beast), Horizon (I’ve barely even gotten into the game), Persona I haven’t even bought. I don’t think it’s always been like this at all, I think it’s people who played a few open world games, and developers think people just want bigger and bigger open worlds nowadays, even though they’re 90% empty every single time.
WR: You’re right there, the rise in popularity of the open-world game has definitely changed things. This is why I’ve never really been an Assassin’s Creed guy; I feel there is little reason behind the things you’re collecting, and its just a waste of time. On the other hand, I find myself really enjoying shorter titles like Firewatch or Oxenfree, as I get a satisfying sense of completing something. I know I’ll probably never beat Persona 5, though.
AH: I’m with you entirely on that. Give me a linear, closed world any day of the week over an open world, at least that way everything I do relates to the storyline, and as such, means I’m closer to finishing the game every time. Whereas with open worlds, I just find they’re too big and too slow to get across, so I always end up getting sidetracked by something. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time, but I do like to feel as though I’ve made progress towards the end of the game, rather than just do a load of stuff that is likely useless by the end of the game (should I ever see it).
WR: Is that a problem with the genre though, or the design? Horizon, for example, felt less of a chore for me; while massive, the game was achievable to complete or even 100%. Some games just go way too far – being impossible to complete isn’t appealing to me. Funnily enough, Spyro did it quite well scale-wise.
AH: I think for sure it’s a problem with the genre rather than design; there’s only so much you can fit into an open world without repeating anything, so the rest is mostly just barren space that looks exactly the same no matter where you are.
WR: Or maybe one further, is it expectations? I think publishers are scared of being viewed as inferior in terms of scale, while more focused worlds – such as Yakuza, which Jim Sterling recently praised for a smaller but focused world – can actually be more interesting.
AH: Yeah, I guess it could be that developers are scared of being inferior. For me, Mario Odyssey hit the sweet spot for an open-world game, interestingly. The levels are big, but not bloated, and there’s always something happening somewhere in every world.
WR: A few games have done that – having a bunch of mini-open-worlds that stand separate from each other. Skyward Sword did it, and so did Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I think it makes those games more palatable. What are your favourite open-world games?
AH:Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is definitely up there for sure. I can’t really think of anything other than it that shouts “truly open world game I enjoyed enough to remember off the top of my head”.
WR: Would you say your taste in games has changed over time, and you look for different things now? I mean – what are you most anticipated games this year, too? There may be a theme.
AH: Yeah, I’d be lying if I said my tastes hadn’t changed, but I think that’s as a result of the games industry changing as well. As for what I’m most looking forward to, gimme a sec. [Pause as Ashley gathers his reply] Detective Pikachu, Ni No Kuni 2, Far Cry 5, Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition, Vampyr, Captain Toad, Octopath Traveller, Luigi’s Mansion, and The World Ends With You Final Remix.
WR: I mean, Ni No Kuni, Octopath and The World Ends With You are pretty extensive right?
AH:Ni No Kuni 2 and Far Cry 5 are for sure. However, not so much for Octopath (assuming it’s anything like the Bravely Default games) or The World Ends With You.
WR: Maybe we just have to accept that the way we play games will change. I find myself holding these big games back now for lengthy periods off; I’m not a big fan of playing a couple hours each night during a week. Maybe I’m getting old?
AH: Yeah, us getting old could definitely be a factor, haha. We’re losing the energy to dedicate hours upon hours into games.
WR: I joke, I joke. I still have a lot of excitement for games, especially with Captain Toad, Spyro (hopefully) and Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the way. You know, actually, I think the issue is there is just so much good stuff nowadays, from TV to films to games. There is so much quality content to consume, and the sadness comes from the possibility of missing some of it.
AH: Too much to play/do/watch, too little time to do it in. I guess for me personally, too, the fact I work Thursday to Sunday, means that if I start a game on a Monday, and haven’t finished it by Wednesday, I’m less likely to return to it after my “work break”, unlike if I had say, the weekend off, where I guess it’s more acceptable to just sit back and relax doing whatever.
WR: It does make portable gaming more appealing. The Switch has had such a positive effect on many gamers with less time to, well, game, and that’s another audience Nintendo has done a great job at tapping into. Alternatively, we’re just complaining too much and I should be spending this time playing Mario Odyssey.
AH: Yeah, you definitely should be playing Mario Odyssey rather than moaning about games with me.
WR: Hey, I feel attacked here. Why aren’t you playing, erm, one of a million great games?
AH: Because I already played a ton of I Am Setsuna on my Switch earlier. What’s your excuse for not playing Mario Odyssey yet?
WR: See, I like I Am Setsuna because it is achievable. That’s a solid 20-hour JRPG that I can finish and feel good about. Oh, and I have none. Captain Toad is in that game and I haven’t played it. What am I doing? What is the point of having a real job compared to that?
AH: Anyway, we’ve digressed a lot, let’s forget about Mario for now. Yeah, from what I’ve played so far of I Am Setsuna, I can feel it’s going to be a fairly long game given it’s an RPG, but so far it’s had a linear world, so I do feel as though I’m actually progressing through the game at an acceptable rate.
WR: Look, you know digression is just the ways of things here! In all seriousness though, we should stop before we start getting too philosophical. Should we settle on celebrating how many great games there are, rather than them being too long? Or are you firmly sticking to open world games being flawed? I’m holding out for positivity here!
AH: You should know me, Will, I don’t do positivity, so I’m sticking firmly to the latter. The power of positivity isn’t flowing through my veins right now.
WR: Look, I tried. All in all, we came to the conclusion that… it’s different for everyone, based on their lives, I suppose. We have games to fill every need now – perhaps even too many. Maybe we can even play some before next week, eh?
AH: Definitely. And who knows, we might even finish one before then?
Ashley then proceeded to talk about pancakes, which led to my sadness at not having any. Ahem, back to the topic – we have such a plethora of media in the modern day that is can feel overpowering. Do you think it is too much sometimes? You can let us know in the comments!