Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017, PC)
By FinneganHark / October 30, 2017
Please note that this review contains major spoilers of both this game and its predecessor.
Sadly, I can't recommend Wolfenstein II. This game never reaches the heights of The New Order. Remember that surprising bit in TNO when you go to the moon and discover entirely new weapon types that feel badass and futuristic, and totally change the way the game plays? There are no moments like that in TNC. I kept waiting to discover some cool new weapon, but midway through the game you have all the weapons unlocked and almost all of them are boring. They actually feel like a step backwards from TNO, especially the heavy ones. They're so slow and unweildy they're useless in most situations. You keep playing and playing expecting some "oh COOL" moment to happen, but all of the coolest moments in the game happen in cutscenes.
Stealth in this game seems like an afterthought. Most levels feature a small opening area where you can stealth around and kill a few guards, but there's very little chance of stealthing 100% through any level effectively. Granted its Wolfenstein but the game seems to try and reward you for stealthing and punish you for going in guns blazing, only to then make it nearly impossible to effectively stealth. There also doesn't seem to be a "lost 'em" mechanic, meaning once you're spotted the enemies always seem to have a general idea of where you are from then on.
Remember that moment in TNO when you have to choose between your companions, who lives and who dies? Remember how terrible a decision that was the first time? There are no moments like that in TNC. Everything feels like it's on rails and you're just running from cutscene to cutscene. Remember the almost puzzle-like complexity of the prison camp? Remember the awe-inspiring reveal of the Da'at Yichud armory? Remember the gut-wrenching sacrifice Bobby made to get BJ in for the assault on the London Nautica launch facility? TNC has so many opportunities to tell a compelling, interesting story, but instead uses almost all of its time to hit you over the head with the "WHITE PEOPLE BAD" propaganda. The cartoonish violence and hamfisted characters are never brought home with compelling and rich storytelling.
Storywise, EVERY SINGLE PLOT TWIST is telegraphed way, way in advance. You'll see everything coming, for the most part. During some cutscenes I actually found myself bored, since there was nothing interesting or surprising about what was going on. There are no jaw-dropping "Oh WHAAAAT" moments like there were in TNO. Plus things about the storyline just don't make sense. For some reason in cutscenes the Power Suit is bulletproof... yet when you're playing it doesn't seem to matter that you have it on, you take damage just like normal.
Whoever did Frau Engel's voice acting was stellar and some of her writing is superb, but she just wasn't given enough to do in the game. She is never as compelling or terrifying a villain as Deathshead.
Also... Venus? What? It's never really explained why the Nazis have a gas mining facility on Venus, unless its explained in some collectible that I haven't found yet. The moon made at least a little sense, since it's strategically important and the plot did a pretty good job of at least handwaving why they had a base there. But Venus just doesn't make any sense. Also the developers don't seem to understand just how far Venus is from Earth. Venus is 162 MILLION MILES from Earth but for some reason ALL of the Oberkommando decide to make that their permanent base of operations on a whim? They couldn't move to like, California? Or Washington? The most optimistic estimate (even given sci-fi space tech) is that it takes about 100 days to get to Venus. So for BJ to get there and back would have taken the majority of a year... but the game suggests he gets back in days. A lot of the plot just seems like the writers had a bunch of cool ideas they wanted to see in a game and they drafted a story around those ideas. Sometimes that works, but here it's clunky.
As things stand, TNC may be worth picking up if you're a huge fan. There's some good stuff here; the weapons are somewhat satisfying to use, though certain ones just completely outshine others, so you'll find yourself using two or three guns through the entire game. Also, as a quick tip: somehow tagging someone with a dieselkraftwerk DOES NOT raise an alarm if you're unseen. This is bonkers.
Lastly blocking ACTUAL CONTENT behind a pre-order bonus is a turn-off. Overall the game just doesn't feel like it's worth full whack. It's short, messy, poorly written, and while there are a few moments where you truly feel like "Terror-Billy" the badass, for the most part the game is boring and repetitive. I'd say wait for a price drop.
Divinity: Original Sin II (2017, PC)
By Saturn Missiles / October 14, 2017
Simply put, Divinity: Original Sin II expands on the best ideas from the first game while taking a complete 180 in tone to deliver a much darker and adult experience compared to the first game.
One of the most notable changes is immediately realized as character creation begins, with races, tags, origin stories, and a complete stat revamp giving a new level of depth to character creation. The origin story presets, while not customizable, deliver a unique experience for each character. All of the notable origin story characters have interactions with each other, and even if you choose not to create them yourself, they can be found and interacted with around the world. Not only this, but you can recruit these important figures of the lore. Origin stories on the surface level seem gimmicky, but allow for a whole new level of replayability, in combination with the tag system. The tag system allows you to acquire new tags that affect quests and dialogue as you progress through the game, or assign them to your custom character in character creation. Origin story characters will have these tags preset, as well as a brief synopsis of their lore.
However, the changes aren't just to the character creation. As soon as you get into combat, you'll quickly notice how much has changed. While the sequel keeps the basics of the first game intact, action points have received a complete overhaul, streamlining the process of choosing actions. While the new system (six action points total; four action points at the start of encounter; with most skills consuming 1-2 action points) may seem to cater to a more casual audience at first, the new skills that accompany this revamp allow for a level of complexity in combat never before seen in the Divinity series. New skills introduced in the second game are more ambitious, creative, and innovative than any in the first game. Even from the start of the game, you'll acquire interesting abilities that you can use to control the battlefield. The new targeting system gives a sense of clarity lacking in the first game. Height advantages and disadvantages mean that positioning matters now more than ever before. In addition to the "surfaces" system of the first game (fire, poison clouds, static clouds, electrified water, etc), most of these surfaces can now be blessed and cursed for interesting variations and choice in combat. For example, while fire is harmful to your team, if you bless it, it'll apply a heal every turn and prevent the members within from being frozen.
The campaign here is of absolutely astounding quality and length; my first full playthrough took roughly 80 hours, even without dozens of side-quests. No matter your choice of origin character or customized ones, you'll find the campaign to be deeply satisfying. However, as noted by the developers, you are meant to play with the origin story characters, and it shows. Each origin character has at least half a dozen unique encounters. While the game is still engaging if you're playing as a custom character, the origin stories really do allow for a better capacity for role-playing and interaction in the game world.
For 2017, this is my pick for the Most Astounding Game. The staggering amount of interactions in the game can be overwhelming. Divinity: Original Sin II could very well be the best CRPG yet.