My Top Five Games: New School

Instead of doing a top ten list of all my favourite video games, I’ve decided it’s more fair to rank my favourite older and newer games separately, five each. I’ve already covered the old school greats, so now it’s time to run down my top five games from the modern era.

5: Dungeon Siege III

Fighting as Anjali in Dungeon Siege 3Entry #24601 in the “things Tyler loves that everyone else hates” category is Dungeon Siege III.

It is a very big departure from the previous games in terms of game mechanics. Part of me misses the old model. But looked at on its own merits, it’s still quite a strong RPG.

Choosing a class (or character in this case) is more generic than just playing and evolving naturally, but the “class” designs are among the best I’ve seen. Lucas is just your standard warrior dude, but the others are more unique:  Reinhardt is a steampunk techno mage; Katarina is a gun-toting, curse-flinging gypsy witch; and Anjali is a divine warrior-priestess who can shapeshift into a fire elemental.

Anjali in particular is one of my all-time favourite characters/classes in any RPG. Just so much fun.

And while it was a departure in terms of gameplay, it’s a true sequel to the original Dungeon Siege in terms of story, something DS2 definitely wasn’t. In fact it improves upon the already strong lore of the original, deepening and expanding it, and it evolves into a complex, powerful story with an incredible ending.

Add some gorgeous graphics and a lovely soundtrack and you have one of the most underrated games ever.

4: Portal 2

A screenshot from Portal 2Much has already been said about the Portal games by myself and others, so I don’t see a lot of need to repeat it. If you’ve played them, you know how special they are. If you haven’t, go do that right now. I’ll wait.

Both games were good, but I think Portal 2 is the more memorable one. The first Portal was entirely too short. Portal 2 had all the same wit and creativity, and while it’s still a relatively short game, it’s not quite the “blink and you’ll miss it” affair the first was.

3: Mass Effect 3

And again another of my unpopular opinions.

While I seem to be the only one that feels this way, I found Mass Effect 3 to be the strongest entry in the trilogy by a significant margin. I’ve always been a fan of epic, apocalyptic stories, and ME3 certainly delivers on that front. In the previous games, the Reapers were a distant threat, but in ME3 their full fury is unleashed, and as the game unfolds, you get to see them tear the galaxy apart in excruciating detail.

It’s a dark, intense story, and I admire that it pulls no punches. The heroes fail many times throughout the story, and the losses are deeply felt. Not many games have the guts for that.

Keelah se'lai, Tali'ZorahLike ME2, it’s also a very big game with lots of side missions and secondary content, but unlike ME2, none of it feels irrelevant or chore-like. Everything connects to the main story. Everything feels important, and exciting.

Even the most minor side-quests can be memorable. For me one of the most gut-wrenching moments of the game is a brief side mission where you assist in the evacuation of the Elcor homeworld. It’s just the most basic kind of collection quest, but the ambassador’s reaction at the end is so powerful.

And then there’s the excellence that is the Rannoch arc, and the sheer joy of drunk Tali, and all the little conversations between the crew members between missions, and Traynor… It’s just an excellent experience all around.

2: StarCraft II

StarCraft II’s sheer scale can make it a difficult game to rate. It has had two expansions the size of standalone games plus a fair bit of DLC. Looked at as a total package, StarCraft II is now massive in scale.

And it has had its stumbles along the way. Wings of Liberty was mostly a good game but did suffer from Blizzard’s failed experiment with non-linear storytelling, and I think we can all agree Heart of the Swarm was something of a disappointment.

Hierarch Artanis and Executor Selendis rally the Golden Armada in StarCraft II: Legacy of the VoidBut when you look at the big picture, it’s clear StarCraft II’s successes easily outweigh its failures. Despite its hiccups, Wings of the Liberty still wound up being a pretty strong story, and Legacy of the Void was one of the greatest sci-fi epics I’ve seen in gaming. Hell, even Heart of the Swarm gave us Abathur and the Primal Zerg, so it was hardly a total loss.

Similarly, I’m not without complaints about its gameplay, but overall SC2 still deserves to go down as one of the great RTS games of all time. The campaigns have featured some of the most creative level design in gaming history, the co-op mode added in Legacy of the Void is infinitely replayable and incredibly fun, and its competitive play remains one of the greatest tests of skill in the gaming world.

1: The Secret World

I’ve already spent no shortage of time raving about how amazing TSW is, so I shouldn’t repeat myself too much.

A lot of my love for this game boils down to the fact that story will always be the most important part of gaming for me, and TSW has some of the best writing in video game history. Its dialogue is second to none, its characters are unforgettable, its world-building is spectacularly deep and incredibly original, and its ambiance is like nothing else.

But it’s no slouch in the gameplay department, either. I love how you can build your own “class.” I love that it’s challenging, but not cheap. I love how the enemies are powerful and intelligent rather than just HP sponges to be mowed down. I love that its progression is fair to all playstyles and offers incredible freedom to the player. I love how many awesome cosmetics there are to collect.

The Blue Mountain quarry in The Secret WorldAs with the first list’s winner, Warcraft III, The Secret World is probably as close to a perfect video game as we’re ever going to see.

Honourable mentions:

Despite some initial stumbles (and a few lingering problems), Diablo III has evolved into a really excellent game, as the hundreds of hours I’ve sunk into it can attest. It was sort of a dead heat between Diablo and Dungeon Siege for the fifth spot in this list.

Something that has been interesting about recent years in the gaming industry has been the growing push for video games as art, and it’s produced a number of titles that are truly amazing experiences despite being light on gameplay. The Park, Oxenfree, and Remember Me all come to mind as examples of this.

Obviously World of Warcraft is conspicuous in its absence from the list, but despite the countless hours I’ve spent with it, it has far too many flaws to be considered a truly great game. SW:TOR is another title that has given me some great times but has too much wrong with it to earn a spot among my all-time favourites.

It does seem a bit strange that I’ve spent the majority of my gaming time over the past ten years playing MMOs, and yet only one of them made my top five (albeit with top honours). I’m not sure what, if anything, should be read from that.

Review: Oxenfree

Some months back, I watched a friend livestream Oxenfree over the course of a couple nights. I had never heard of the game beforehand, but it intrigued me. So much so, in fact, that I resolved to buy and play through the game myself, even though I’d already seen all of it via her livestream.

The title sequence in OxenfreeThe Steam summer sale provided me the perfect opportunity to finally grab Oxenfree, and having now experienced the game both first and secondhand, I will now bring you my thoughts on it.

Oxenfree is a difficult game to define. It’s part of the new generation of highly story-driven games with little to no substantive gameplay.

The story is about a small group of sometimes troubled teenagers holding a beach party on an abandoned island. The island is famous for its mysterious radio signals that seem to come from nowhere at all, and while investigating those signals, the main character (Alex) accidentally opens a bizarre rift in space.

Shenanigans ensue.

There are definite shades of Life Is Strange here, right down to having a teenage girl with blue hair, but there’s less lesbian romance and more surreal creepiness. There’s are also very strong echoes of The Secret World, especially its Halloween mission The Broadcast. Personally I think The Broadcast is one of TSW’s best moments, so any comparison to it is a very good thing.

OLLY OXENFREEIf I had to put a label on Oxenfree, I’d call it horror, but it doesn’t fit any genre particularly well. It’s closest to horror, but it’s not a particularly scary game, really. Don’t expect to be jumping in your seat or yelping in terror. It’s more strange and creepy than genuinely frightening.

The graphics are unusual, but interesting. I’m normally not a fan of the whole 2.5D thing, but the art here has a really nice style to it, and overall Oxenfree is a nice game to look at, even if it was clearly done on a budget.

Taking a cue from The Secret World, Oxenfree also likes to mess with its own graphics, blurring, shifting, and turning things upside down, among other things. It helps sell the surrealism of the game quite well.

Something else Oxenfree shares with TSW is fantastic sound design. The soundtrack is very ambient but sells the spooky atmosphere excellently, and the sound effects and voice acting are strong.

One thing I couldn’t see from watching my friend’s livestream is that Oxenfree’s gameplay has some minor hiccups, though nothing too frustrating. Movement, for example, can be a little finicky. Alex doesn’t handle corners very well.

A photo of Jonas and Alex in OxenfreeSomewhat more troublesome is that your dialogue choices have a tendency to time out, sometimes very quickly. In a story-driven game, that can get irritating. I’m used to Bioware dialogue wheels, where you can puzzle over what to say for as long as you like.

Oxenfree offers a lot of choices to the player, but they don’t seem to matter very much. I made a lot of different choices from my friend, but the end results seemed to be almost entirely the same. You can get slightly different endings, but that’s about it.

Ultimately a game like Oxenfree lives or dies by the strength of its story, and the good news is Oxenfree’s storytelling is quite strong. It’s a very surreal experience, but it’s fascinating and compelling in its oddness, and the ambiance is, again, excellent.

It doesn’t have quite the same emotional punch of Life Is Strange, but that might be a good thing. Life Is Strange got a bit over the top after a while. To put it mildly.

The consensus seems to be that all of Oxenfree’s characters are likable except one, but not everyone agrees on who the exception is. My friend hated Clarissa, but I like her just fine. It’s Ren I can’t stand.

Anyway, the point is Oxenfree’s cast is pretty strong.

Dialogue options in OxenfreeThe one significant gripe I’d have with Oxenfree is its recently added new game plus mode (for lack of a better term). You can now replay the game for a slightly different experience with some new or modified scenes and an extended ending.

It’s a free update, which is nice, but it doesn’t really change much, so mostly you’re just playing the same stuff all over again. And while the new ending is theoretically more conclusive, I honestly liked the original ending better.

It’s hard to explain without going into major spoiler territory, but basically they solved one problem by creating a bunch of new ones and kind of invalidating the rest of the game. It feels like adding something just for the sake of being able to say they added something. I think I’m going to recommend just skipping the new game plus mode entirely.

But the base game is great.

Overall rating: 8.7/10