TOTAL WAR: ATILLA
The Total War series has become a RTS mainstay featuring various ancient epochs to video game armchair generals for the last fifteen years. Just because Total War : Attila is the 9th released game in the series, does not dismiss its consideration for the best of 2015. Attila is by far a more complete and grander game than last year’s Total War: Rome II, who’s technical issues and quirky AI lowered the experience for me.
While this game can still overload most gaming rigs with data from the thousands of virtual soldiers, bringing frames per second down to the teens, these vast battle scenarios are breath taking. As with all Total War games, there is an emphasis on army positioning and squad class in every engagement. Things can get out of hand in the blink of an eye you can go from a staunch defense the town gates, to losing a third of your command because you failed to notice enemy cavalry flanking your exposed left side. As fond as I am of the StarCraft series, Legacy of the Void pales when compared to Attila in terms of these kinds of strategic game play.
The single player campaign, as well the featured historical based skirmishes, are some of the best RTS challenges I have played in a long time. Narration brings you up to speed – in case you dosed off in Western European History 101. The campaign gives a global overview of territories, giving you the freedom to research weaponry, technologies to help city growth, or defenses. There is a more noted emphasis on political pull. These choices play out from a 4x strategic presentation, while the heart of the game is still the RTS battle view.
Once in battle view, you will notice that every soldier type has a purpose, each terrain and formation has an advantage and a disadvantage. Laying siege to a city, or preventing them from hostile Hunnic forces, requires a logical approach and a strategic mind based on the given situations. Total War: Attila is a content filled boon, offering considerable entertainment value for its price. It’s myriads of improvements demands it not be seen as “just another Total War game” but as the culmination of experience and refinement in the overall series.
PILLARS OF ETERNITY
When Obsidian Entertainment pitched its idea for an old school cRPG it was gamers, not publishers, who answered the call. Pillars of Eternity (full review here) was to be a new game in the same 90s era presentation as classics like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. It was to feature an emphasis on substance over flair, great writing over action, and serious character development over a showy cinematic. For these reasons alone this game deserves its own set of ornate ivy wreaths.
Pillars is a mature game, and complex story arcs throughout. It’s emphasis on your decisions cannot be overstated. It’s the very mantra of the game’s ending, that is, it’s your ending and no one else’s – the essence of pen and paper role playing with friends. Finishing this game felt like completing a good novel, it was wholly satisfying. Each character I came across and wove into my party mattered. Each townsfolk, or troublesome village dilemma became it’s own mini-soap opera; I added the popcorn and the sleepless nights gaming.
Despite it’s emphasis on writing and storytelling, combat and adventuring do not take a side seat. They are integral to what makes Pillars a memorable world and gaming experience. Managing direct attacks, support actions, group healing spells or buffs, and positions was a constant but exciting challenge. Experience and leveling is handled awkwardly, and when compared to Divinity Original Sin: Extended Edition, combat does leave plenty to be desired.
What I ended up loving most about this experience was just how much I miss great cRPG gaming. While most publishers will only back action RPGs that are easy to play on consoles, Obsidian thumbed at the idea, and gamers ate it up. The nostalgia was appreciated and something perhaps younger gamers can dive into and appreciate, while older generation gamers will feel as if returning to an old familiar home. For myself, it was a gaming homecoming, a strong reminder that intricate ambient occlusion and voxel global illumination techniques are not a substitute for core gaming mechanics and solid storytelling.
HAND OF FATE
Ever want to play a deck building game where the playing field is devised from drawing cards, with your character’s equipment being drawn from a random deck and combat consisted of taking your deck’s attributes onto the field to face off against enemies, also drawn from cards, but the actual combat was an arcade-like button masher more reminiscent of a good third-person brawler?Wait, you have? Then why haven’t you played Hand of Fate, the only game that does just that.
As a huge fan of board and card games, I always look forward to what offerings come my way on the pc. When it comes to card games in particular, the general focus seems to be on some a collectible card experience that is more focused on paying to win, forcing players who want to get into the game to purchase decks in their quest to build a strong hand. That idea does not appeal to me on my PC or when it comes to card games in general, which is probably why I have always been drawn to the concepts of CCG games like Magic: The Gathering, but never invested time or money playing. Now, a deckbuilding game like Dominion, that comes fully equipped with the entire range of cards needed to play and offers a large variety of strategy and options? That’s a sure sell to me, and the deck building core of Hand of Fate delivers for the same reason, albeit with a different style of play.
Hand of Fate strikes a nice balance between luck of the draw, strategy and arcade combat, and while it sounds like a strange mix, it works really well. Games will generally be the same, but the roguelike element of the game focuses on procedural map and enemy generation via card draws. Your nemesis is the Dealer, and his weapons of choice are encounters and enemies, as well as drawing from various types of decks between rounds, some of which bring penalties and others reward. Throw this into the mix with resource management, loot gathering and equipment chasing, and you have a game that keeps the pace moving on multiple levels. The weakest part of Hand of Fate is the combat. It’s not poor, but it’s also not stellar, and while it offers a nice change of pace from the other gameplay elements, it might be a turn off for those looking for a pure deckbuilding experience. Hand of Fate makes our best games of 2015 list for an original gameplay experience and concept, with an appeal that reaches to multiple types of gamers and a presentation, including excellent narration, that does quite a bit to make the sum greater than the individual parts. – Zach