This wave was a real grab bag. For fans of their respective genres, Might and Magic 6 and Vagante are hidden-ish gems. And I think everybody should play Hollow Knight and Half-Life: Alyx. (If you don’t have a headset, play Half-Life 2 again, that’ll do just fine.) Star Wars Squadrons and Total War Troy are probably great for fans of their genre, but I am not one.
The Ascent is a cyberpunk Diabo-like (“ARPG”). But it scrapes along duller by far than I expected from its glossy exterior. Every aspect of the game was missing that last 20% to make it good – by-the-second gameplay, world design, quest design, upgrade loop. All of it. Disappointing.
Star Wars Squadrons reminds me of TIE Fighter and, further afield, Wing Commander. Really a high-tech throwback to a moribund genre that I am terrible at. In VR, I actually found the between-mission chats a vital part of the game. So I love that this has a Story difficulty–that means this time, the reason I quit was the instability of daisy-chaining Windows Mixed Reality with Steam VR with Epic with EA Origin. (I still died once though, even on Story mode.)
Might and Magic 6 was desperately behind the times when it came out, but the pendulum has swung back to systems-focussed open-world games with less handholding and low-poly graphics. It does those to an extreme compared to modern games, but if you bring outside help and/or wander the world exploring all the dungeons, you’ll still eventually get all the pieces to finish the game. I thought the mix was just perfect–but I also like Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim. Dungeon design was miles better than either of those.
Half-Life: Alyx really feels like “Half-Life 2: VR” to me. Yeah, it’s a prequel, but it perfectly captures the feeling of playing Half-Life 2 for the first time. There are so many memorable little moments packed into it–new VR ones, not repeats of old ones. It is a tiny bit less polished than the original: it felt about 20% too long for me, for example, and I never completely stopped fumbling my inventory.
Turnip Boy is another funny Zelda! A Link to the Past in this case. Turnip Boy has heart, but it’s not that funny that much of the time. Most of the fun is the simple act of walking around the world looking at the cute pictures. (Harmed for me by playing on XBox One, where it ran absymally. Play on some other platform.)
Landstalker is an isometric 3D Zelda! Also A Link to the Past. I grew up in the Genesis/SNES era and this game plays exactly how I expect it would from looking at it: pretty janky. Another one of Sega’s Bad Zeldas, it’s not good! But it layers a lot of new things on the Zelda formula, like precision platforming, much more talking, multiple towns.
Untitled Goose Game is based around a single great gimmick: be a goose that steals stuff. The gimmick doesn’t lend itself to repetition, and there’s no writing to serve as a reward like in, say, Donut County, so it was about 3 times longer than I wanted it to be.
Total War gets sold as a 4X crossed with RTS, but there’s no basebuilding – it’s all 4X – and the RTS action itself is very distant and mushy. I don’t like 4X games that much, so I was disappointed. I gave up long long before I got to Troy, so maybe it gets better by then.
I played Monster Hunter Portable 3rd enough to understand the appeal of single-player Monster Hunter, but not enough to actually get good at it. And it turns out I am too unfocussed and shy to play Rise with people online. Second-to-second, Monster Hunter feels like a Dark Souls boss rush, so I’m not sure I’ll ever really be into it, but I love the idea of Monster Hunter.
Delver is a 3D first-person roguelike with exquisite Minecrafty graphics – detailed and interesting pixelwork. Everything else needs tuning. Item variety is low; rarely something amazing shows up. Enemies are easy until suddenly you’re surprised by a one-hit kill. Levels are samey and never got interesting (which is common for roguelikes, but usually the other elements carry the game.)
Vagante is a look at Spelunky that says “Can we pull this back toward a standard roguelike and end up with something good?”. Yes. You can, and it’s good. Less emphasis on jumping, but the same roguelike slightly clumsy, risky fights. I think there’s a longer difficulty curve than Spelunky because of the number of classes to unlock, though I only unlocked 2 or 3 new classes.
Hollow Knight is still amazing. After this second playthrough, I’m certain this is my favourite metroidvania. One that could only have been made after Dark Souls: it knows that it’s best to be sad, and obscure.