As a lifelong fan of all things Batman and an admirer of some of Telltale Games‘ previous series, I was more than a little excited to experience its take on the Batman universe. When Telltale’s Batman launched a few months ago I was initially enamored with its vision of Bruce Wayne and Batman and felt the series started strong.

Unfortunately as the episodes progressed some of the casting and design choices as well as some story points fell very flat and the series lagged. The fifth and final episode is now here and I can say that Batman – the Telltale Series has more lows than highs, despite ending with a fairly strong episode.

The premise of Batman – The Telltale Series is to show both sides of the character, giving equal focus to Bruce Wayne and Batman in. As the series progressed choices and actions were carried out as either Bruce or Batman; in fact in a few instances you could choose who would solve the next challenge. I like this twist. If a gentle personal touch were needed, Bruce Wayne was the choice; if a strong presence and some violence were needed, acting as Batman was the right move.

The models Telltale created for both Bruce and Batman were also pitch-perfect, reflecting a refined vision of Bruce Wayne and Batman in stylistic detail. The casting of Troy Baker as Bruce/Batman was also well executed; a talented and versatile voice actor, he added nuance to the character which brought it further to life.

Unfortunately there were more mistakes than successes in the modeling and voice casting in this series. Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Alfred Pennyworth are well represented and voiced, but James Gordon, Penguin, Two Face and Joker are all terribly voiced, and the models range from completely wrong for the character to plainly ridiculous. 

Harvey Dent/Two Face is a major part of this series. His character model is bulky and oddly represented, and his character comes off whiny most of the time. Penguin is tall and lanky and just never fit the mold of what is expected of the character, a huge shift since all the other characters more or less stuck to their archetypes. 

The Joker and to a lesser extent James Gordon suffer from terrible casting that completely pulled me away from identifying with the characters. It may sound like nitpicking, but though they were so perfect with Batman/Bruce they were so wrong elsewhere, really disrupting the flow of the game.

As to the core gameplay, once again there are highs and lows. The big issues I had came from the absolutely terrible port Telltale made for the PC. Random crashes, hitching and stuttering in the gameplay, long load times, and an odd and sporadic checkpoint system all detracted from the enjoyment of the game, especially the dynamic fight scenes.

This is a shame, because the series contains some truly interesting ideas. The detective scenes where Batman links clues to recreate what happened were fun, if not very complex. The fight scenes as well were well represented and had some of the best animation in the game, but as mentioned, hitching and stuttering took me out of the experience. I should also note that many times the animation in the non-dynamic scenes was very poor and seemed quickly slapped together.

From a story perspective it is also a mixed bag. There are some strong notes around Bruce Wayne’s journey, but these are marred by stunt-like story twists. The Penguin taking over Wayne Enterprises, and the identity of Lady Arkham as well as Thomas Wayne’s criminal past were all odd story choices at war with the series’ otherwise traditional take on Batman and Bruce Wayne. 

I am all for switching up the story and trying something new, but a lot of the key story moments felt akin to clickbait articles – look at what outlandish thing we are doing now. Add this to my sheer annoyance with Harvey Dent every time he was on screen and the story fell mostly flat with me.

I do have to say that some of the aspects revealed in the final episode are very well done, and at least partially redeemed the overall story arc for me.

In the end Batman – the Telltale Series ends up a game with huge potential that fails to achieve anything spectacular. The PC port is particularly painful to experience at times, the graphics and animation in the very old engine leaves a lot to be desired, and weak story twists and some bad casting further degrade the experience. 

There are some good ideas in the game and the representation of Bruce Wayne/Batman is one of the best that video games have to offer, but that’s not enough to make this more than an average experience at best, and that is a true shame for this Batman fan.
It is a bad problem to have, but right now I am in a bit of a pickle trying to actually find time to play any game let alone actually roll through one with some intensity.  Here are the ones I am in the progress of playing right now, some are old, same are new, all are great.

Destiny 2 - I have a review in progress for this one and I can easily say this game is absolutely amazing and a drastic improvement over the original in every way possible.  The loot, the tons of stuff to do and the sheer enjoyable nature of the game make this a game of the year for me.  I dropped dozens of hours into the original, but always grudgingly because I felt a need to, not because I really enjoyed the grind.  In the sequel I am just plain having fun.

Divinity Original Sin 2 - A stellar followup to one of the best RPG's of the last decade.  This game is huge, complex and needs way more time then I am devoting to it.  In a neat twist there are pre-canned 'Origin' characters that have a very deep backstory and side mission you can choose to play as...or create your own and have them as NPC's.  Beautiful game, amazing music and fully voiced making this one I want to carve time out for.

Prey - This is a really cool game from Arkane studios, makes me think of Bioshock, System Shock 2 and soem Half Life thrown in.  Again another complex game that I need to spend some more time with.  It is creepy, complex and has a genuinely interesting and deep storyline.

Dishonored 2 - Also from Arkane, this is  the second in the series and is very, very good but I have only scratched the surface of this game and need to invest more time in it, but that darn Destiny 2 is always in my mind.  Neat twist in this game is the ability to play as Corvo or Emily making for a fairly different experience depending on which character you pursue.

Other games I go back to frequently are FTL, Darkest Dungeon, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided....the first two are ones I just enjoy restarting and the last two are older games I never got around to finishing...So too much games, not enough time...I did manage to finish Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and my replay of The Last of Us and Left Behind, so there is that :)
I love me some RPG's and I especially love isometric RPG's.  We are in a renaissance right now with Pillars of Eternity, Divinity Original Sin 1 & 2, Wasteland 2 and of course Tyranny.

Tyranny is from Obsidian Studios and is a fairly unique experience where you play the bad guys.  It is a great experience if one that ends fairly oddly.  I really enjoyed it though and did a review as well as this Let's Play.  Enjoy checking it out to see how fun it is to be the bad guys!

The Yakuza franchise is one that has fascinated me for some time, but I never dove into it until the promising Yakuza 0was released.  This game promised to be a great introduction to the Yakuza universe – newcomer-friendly and filled to the brim with side activities as well as a detailed series of storylines. Having invested many, many hours into the serious but also often wacky universe of Yakuza 0 I can say that the game delivers all of that and more.

Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the main series of titles. It features separate storylines looking at how Goro Majima and Kazuma Kiryu rise to infamy as they navigate the perils of Tokyo on the wrong side of the Yakuza they once called family. The game alternates between the characters every couple of chapters and allows you to play as each character as you explore their very different lives and experiences.

Kiryu is an up-and-coming Yakuza who is framed for murder and forced to make hard decisions as he walks away from the only family he knew. Majima is also ex-Yakuza but is allowed to be free; he runs a cabaret called the Grand as a way to pay back his previous debts to the Yakuza. Both characters get involved in situations larger than themselves. At the heart is a real estate venture that is incredibly contested in Tokyo. Majima and Kiryu also get business interests in their regions, which puts them at odds with other underworld figures who are competing for the same resources.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Yakuza 0 is how the game effortlessly flips between the frankly deadly-serious storylines of the two main characters and the often silly side quests and mini-games. The core game is deep enough with its varied fighting mechanics (more on that later), depth of mission types, and storylines that are a joy to discover, but the extra stuff is so very good. Everywhere you go there are people with problems. Sometimes it’s a little girl who wants stuffed animals, other times a weird guy who wants to cross a bridge in a controversial jacket; in all cases they need your help.

What I liked about these side missions is that they show a softer side to the two heroes. These are men who crack necks and break bones without breaking a sweat, but when you stumble on a crying child they have the best reactions and dialogue with them. All of these missions are completely optional, but they have instant rewards and additional perks when you start your businesses, so not only are they entertaining and add depth to the characters, they confer deep bonuses too.

There are also heaps of mini-games: Disco Dancing, Darts, Pool, Bowling and Sega arcade games to name a few. They all play very differently and are uniformly incredibly entertaining. The Karaoke is by far the most hilarious, as midway through the song your imagination takes over and you end up starring in a music video. The mini-games also confer monetary bonuses and further benefits when you play locals in tournaments.

What impresses me most about these diversions is how amazingly well they are constructed. Pool feels like a true pool simulation, Disco is a fast-paced rhythm game, and Karaoke is an even faster-paced mini-game with tons of graphical flair and polish. For simple diversions these games add a whole lot of depth, as well as silliness. Just look at my video on the Dancing and Karaoke mini-games to see how crazy they get.

While there are a lot of side quests and mini-games with different mechanics, the combat in Yakuza 0 is the true star of the game, and there is a depth to it that keeps scaling as the game progresses. Both characters learn a variety of martial arts styles (sometimes in veryunconventional ways) and you can switch between the styles at will during the many fights you get involved in. The styles can be upgraded with extra moves and techniques by spending money you gather. Each style has its own ability screen and can be upgraded independently.

This results in a huge variety of options when battling your enemies. Some styles are defensive, others are fast or aggressive, depending on what is needed. The result is a very satisfying deck of options when combat is engaged, and it comes in handy as you will fight a lot. From roaming bad guys, to bullies on the street and thugs in your way on missions, all the way up to boss battles, you will need to fight with all your skill to survive. Some fights are relatively easy, others are with large groups or powerful bosses, but in all cases it will be enjoyable. Have a look at a Let’s Play I did looking at the game and its fighting system.

Yakuza 0 could have been an unmitigated disaster, with all the different game types and fighting styles, the mix of serious and silly elements, and the multiple storylines. But the developer found a way to distill all of those pieces into a cohesive and enjoyable experience.  The storylines are dark and brooding at times, but in many ways also very human and real with emotional and physical conflicts that resonated with me. The side quests and and silly stories added a surprising depth to the characters and showed the odd (at least to this westerner) cultural differences between the West and Japan. All in all Yakuza 0 is a fantastic experience featuring characters I grew to truly care about and a host of diverse but engaging experiences and systems that pulled the game together in a way that truly surprised me. This is a great entry point into the Yakuza universe and just a great game in general.
Thumper is an amazingly fun Rhythm Violence shooter from Drool studios.  I had a chance to meet some of the team at PAX East as well as try the game in VR and it is a hell of an experience.  One of the best VR games on PSVR for sure.  I take the 2D version of the game for a spin in this episode and as you can see it is terrific even without the virtual reality component.

This episode of my Let's Play channel focused on one of my favorite games of all time - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - This is by the amazingly talented studio Ninja Theory and features voice and mo-cap work by Andy Serkis.  If you have never tried it the game can be found cheaply on Steam.

Adding another of my Dad Plays Games at Lunch videos - this time it is the great Doom!  This was a truly unexpected surprise as this game is epic, violent and fun as hell.  I have played through the game twice and could do it again.  Check out my Let's Play to see it in action:

Thumper from Drool is a hard game to describe. The developer calls it a rhythm violence game, but I look at it as a psychotic merging of Rex and Audiosurf with the stylings of Tron. The game is out now for PSVR and plain old 2D on a regular screen and it is a hell of a ride in any format. Drool has announced that HTC Vive and Oculus Rift support will be coming later this year as well.

I had experienced Thumper before at PAX East where I was lucky enough to try an extended playthrough on the PSVR hardware. This time I played through the frenetic levels in 2D to see if the game is as much fun without the VR experience and I can easily say it is still very enjoyable because of how frantic and aurally strong it is.

In Thumper I controlled a sleek ship resembling a metallic bug as it zoomed and twisted through insane kaleidoscopic backgrounds trying to reach the end of each themed level where a boss awaits.  The term “a rhythm violence game” means there is music, but not music you could identify. It is a beautifully atmospheric and frenetic blend of notes drawing inspiration from Nine Inch Nails, Underworld, Daft Punk and other rattling techno-driven bands. The result is a flowing soundtrack that is dynamic without being overwhelming. 

As you play you contribute to the beats by hitting the button commands exactly right, adding a cadence to the music that becomes hypnotic and addictive. As levels progress and get faster and more violent the music keeps up, with faster and more chaotic beats pulling you along for the ride.

Gameplay is pretty basic at its core (remember they want this to be primarily played on VR). In order to progress I needed to hit a button at the right time to activate a pulse; I also needed to hold down a button while turning and when passing through gates. It is all so simple, and in theory I could get to the boss battle just by holding down that one button and moving in the right directions, then hitting said button with the correct timing to defeat the boss, but that would be missing all the nuance of the game.

Releasing and tapping the button gave me new pulses of sound, refreshed my shield and added to the chaotic cadence of the music. As I played the game became faster and more winding as the levels grew deeper and more colorful with added tactics thrown in. The boss fights are pretty much the same: Hit the button at the right time, hit turns and gate crashes perfectly, and then take out the enemy with four perfectly timed pulses. It seems simple (and at its heart it is) but it’s far more satisfying then it sounds when the lights, sounds and beats are encasing you as you play through the levels.

To illustrate the action of the game and how it ramps up I recorded a Lets Play on my channel (Dad Plays Games at Lunch) showing how the action and sound ramps up across the levels. I typically do not care about scoreboards and rankings but I relished every time I scored an A and was thrilled when I managed to nail an S ranking when I hit everything perfectly. A video is the best way to learn about the game as it perfectly shows Thumper‘s excellent sound and visual design.

Thumper as you can see if a kaleidoscope of color, sound and action that is hypnotic and thrilling on a 2D playing field, is even better in 3D, and is a game anyone getting PSVR should play as soon as they set up their system. This is a game that is just plain fun to play while being challenging and downright nefarious at times. That is a rare thing to experience in a videogame and I loved every minute of it.
In this episode I take a look at a game called Homefront: The Revolution which imagines if North Korea had invaded and conquered the United States. While there are some neat concepts in the game the execution was sloppy and the framerate struggles often.  They have patched the game majorly since launch but I am wary about diving back in.  Have a look and decide what you think of the game as I play through a slice of the title.

More PAX East coverage - there are always tons of things to see and do at a PAX show and the highlight of this days coverage was an ultraviolent game called Ruiner.  It is out later this month and I can't wait to try it again!

Enjoy the continuing coverage I put out while attending the show for

PAX East Boardgame Review Final War

One of the best things about PAX is the fact that tabletop experiences are as prominent as the videogames; this year at PAX East I had a chance to try out a Tactical Card Game called Final War.  This is from a passionate group in Australia called Games Lab and it is a complex experience that blends Magic the Gathering with Dungeons and Dragons to deliver a tabletop experience that was incredibly deep but also very fun to play.
Final War is a dense game, with a large game board reserved for each player’s forces; the game can be enjoyed by 2-3 people in the current iteration; an expansion later in the year will enable a fourth player. In the game currently there are three Warlords to choose from,  Elf, Guildmaster, and Werewolf, who have their own powers and player decks that contains forces, powers, and items.  There is also a Fate deck that controls the flow of the game, in a quicker game 12 cards would be in the Fate deck, 25 for a Quest style game and the full 50 cards for a large scale experience. 

Over the course of the game each player will grow their forces and draw each round from the Fate Deck until the Final War card is revealed, once it is shown all players will battle each other until only one is left standing.

Read the rest of the Preview on

PAX East Preview: Ruiner

Sometimes when you least expect it a game comes along that hits all of your buttons – anime inspired visuals, hard garage electronica soundtrack, gameplay that evokes the classic Crusader titles, and action that is as non-stop as it is addictive.  That game was a title at PAX East called Ruiner from developer Reikon Games, a hard cyberpunk action title that had my blood pumping from the moment the demo started.

Ruiner is a game centered around a killer that is manipulated by a control helmet; he is hacked by a secretive fugitive and sent on a mission to rescue a kidnapped brother and dismantle the HEAVEN corporation that used to control him.  Much like the Crusader series from the 90’s, Ruiner is an isometric action game where you play a supremely capable killing machine as he battles his way through the futuristic city of Rengkok. 

Ruiner is very action heavy but there are exploration and narrative segments as you travel through the city looking for leads and missions.  The city evokes the greatest aspects of Blade Runner futuristic landscapes and brought to mind environments famed Cyberpunk author William Gibson described in his novels.  The art style is truly striking and the neon soaked environments coupled with overlayed cues and graphics drew me into the game instantly.

PAX East 2017 Preview: Absolver

I had a chance to visit the Devolver Digital booth at PAX East and check out SloClap’s unique online co-op battler Absolver, a real-time martial arts action game that has incredible flexibility in its play styles and fluid action.  The game has both a striking art style and innovative combat mechanics unlike anything I have yet seen in another video game.  It is a tricky game to get the hang of, but once you do the depth of gameplay and interesting mechanics will keep you playing for hours.

The game casts you as a member of the titular group of fighters called Absolvers, in your case you are just starting the process of becoming one of these elite corps of warriors in the fallen ruins of the Adal Empire.  You awaken with a mask on given to you by the Guides, the rulers of these lands, it frees you from hunger, thirst and even death as you strive to learn all you can to join the ranks of the Absolvers.  Your quest will take you across the land battling new enemies, helping people you come across and learning more and more fighting styles as you progress towards your goal.  The game is an online co-op experience so you will encounter and fight other players as well as NPC enemies on your way to achieving your goals.

PAX East 2017 Preview: Quake Champions

Quake Champions is a simple game at its heart, take the classic Quake 3 Arena gameplay focusing on quick weapon, armor and health pickups as well as fast placed gameplay leveraging rocket jumps and twisty corridors and add some unique powers depending on the character you choose.

I am probably dating myself but back in the early 2000s I played a lot of Quake 3 Arena, I mean a metric ton of it.  I played so much I managed to convince my work at the time to invest in a few copies for the PCs in our lounge so we could play the game on our breaks.  The game had some sort of secret sauce injected into its DNA that compelled you to play over and over again in a time where there were no loot boxes, item drops or customizations.  Now in 2017, Id Software is trying to recapture the magic with Quake Champions, a game built on the speed and mayhem of the original classics but injected with some of the custom hero mechanics from games like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2.  The result is a game that felt as fluid and manic as the classic title, but with a nice layer of additional strategy thanks to the Champions featured in the game.

More PAX East coverage - there are always tons of things to see and do at a PAX show and early on I had a chance to try a fantastic small game called Ape Out and a few other games that could be big hits once released.

Enjoy the continuing coverage I put out while attending the show for

PAX East 2017 Preview: Ape Out

Sometimes a game comes out of nowhere and surprises you with it’s sheer playability, intelligent design and dynamic systems, at PAX East that game for me was Ape Out by Gabe Cuzzillo and published by Devolver Digital. I was walking through their booth looking at other games and Ape Out kept grabbing my attention. Featured a good deal of the time on their large screens it attracted constant crowds and people lining up to try it.  Ape Out is a simple game at face value but the graphical style, dynamic musical beats and striking animation made this a game I came back to multiple times despite the hundreds of other options on the show floor.

At it’s heart it is a frantic smash ‘em up about primal escape, rhythmic violence, and frenetic jazz that has you playing an Ape escaping from some sort of facility full of guards.  Each level is procedurally generated meaning you will never escape the same way and guards roam the halls trying to stop you. Thankfully you are a massive Ape and can grab, through and smash everyone you meet, take too much damage though and the level will end. The game does have numbered levels and if you fail on level 2 or 3 as an example you continue from the start of the level you died on, so at least the game does not push you right back to the start.

PAX East Preview: Elite Dangerous PlayStation 4

Elite Dangerous is not a new game; it has been around for a few years on PC and Xbox One, but the team at Frontier Developments is constantly evolving the game and their next big step is launching the title on the PlayStation 4 in line with the upcoming 2.3 update to the game.  At PAX East I had a chance to chat with the development team and find out what Elite Dangerous is all about, why update 2.3 is a big deal and what to expect when the PS4 version is launched.  What struck me most when chatting with the the team (both on the show floor and socially later at an event) is how passionate they are about their game and the community members that play it.  They have a genuine interest in delivering a better product each and every day and work with the community to tweak, change and add features with every version they release.

For those who have not experienced Elite Dangerous it is a space adventure, trading, and combat simulation video game set in an open world 1:1 scale galaxy modeled after the Milky Way and set thousands of years in the future.  You start the game with a small ship and the galaxy is yours to explore at your whim as you trade, battle, escort and try to thrive in the dynamic and complex world Frontier Developments has created.  The truly interesting thing about Elite Dangerous is how you can choose your path in a truly customized way. If all you want to do is be an intergalactic trader you can do that, if you want to be a bounty hunter that is an option as well, a space courier, feel free to go that path as well.  In Elite Dangerous there are so many options it can often feel overwhelming, but if you stay focused and work with the community resources a very compelling experience is at your disposal. Despite the game being quite complex the developer has expertly translated it to a console experience on the Xbox One (and soon PS4) as well as a hardcore Space Sim option with Joystick controls on the PC.

PAX East 2017 Preview: Dauntless

Dauntless made a big splash when it’s trailer debuted at the Video Game Awards but many were left wondering just what the game is all about.  I had a chance to visit the team and try out the game at PAX East and, while I still have some questions, I at least know that Dauntless is something fairly unique in the PC multiplayer shooter world.  At first I thought Dauntless was going to be like the ill fated Evolve (which also had huge pre-release buzz) but in fact it is more like Evolve meets Monster Hunter with a little Dark Souls mixed in. It was quite fun to play and has a visually striking look that inspired thousands of fans at the show to line up for their chance to check out the game.

Dauntless is a co-op action RPG set in a fantastical world were giant beasts called Behemoths have risen up and are terrorizing the world.  Your characters are called Slayers and you take contracts to destroy the Behemoths and save the world.  The game will be free to play, which always concerns me, but the developers were quick to assure me that the free to play mechanics will not hinder solo or non-paying players, instead they will add options and customizations to make the game more unique to your play style.  Regardless of how they go the game itself looks and plays great with a striking art style and quick gameplay.

PAX East Preview: Hob

Runic games made a huge splash in the gaming industry when it released the original Torchlight game.  This team composed of some ex-blizzard devs seemed to go places Diablo would not, and fans came in droves to experience the game and it’s sequel Torchlight 2.  These were both excellent games and the world was expecting a third title in the series, instead the team at Runic surprised us with the announcement of Hob, an adventure game set in a changing dynamic world and featuring no dialogue or exposition.  This is a bold step for the team, but after my visit with Runic at PAX East, where I had a chance to try the game out, I can say Hob is another great experience from this talented group of developers.

Hob is set in a dynamic changing world that is influenced by your actions; as mentioned the team is presenting the story as a Wordless Narrative, meaning all lore and story will be communicated by the actions and set pieces as you explore the world.  It is a bold choice, especially after the narrative heavy experiences of Torchlight, but one that is executed in a very satisfying way.  At various times as you play through Hob the camera will pan out and show vistas, transforming bits of the world or autonomous creatures going about their business.  It reminded me of scenes in Starbreeze studio’s brilliant title Brothers where they would pause for a moment and enjoy the vistas.  In this age of instant gratification and screen filling explosions, it is a nice change of pace to just experience a game and scene instead of flowing through it without a thought.

I attended PAX East once again and as always it was an amazing time, the show just never gets old for me. You can browse Triple A blockbusters like Overwatch and walk 10 feet to see a small game called Thimbleweed Park in the Indie Megabooth. There are huge Tabletop areas that you can sit and join Magic or D&D rounds (as well as dozens of other game systems), you can chill in the arcade or handheld lounges, get food, attend panels and just have a glorious time.

The fact that it is in Boston is the icing on the cake, it is such a cool chill town with hundreds of years of history, architecture and amazing seafood. I attend PAX every year to represent as a freelance writer and tend to write 8-10 articles about games and events at the show. I checked out a ton of games, panels and events, but I have to say Ape Out was one of my favorite items. Below is the first block of articles I wrote while attending the show this year. Enjoy!

PAX East 2017: What is PAX?

The Social Side of PAX East

I often get asked what exactly is the PAX East show?  Is it about videogames? Tabletop Games? Art and Culture in Videogames? The music inspired by videogames? A social mashup of videogame and pop culture fans? The answer is all of this and more.  For those who do not know the history, PAX is technically called The Penny Arcade Expo, a conference looking at all things game and nerd culture that came from the imaginations of the team behind the hugely popular online comic Penny Arcade.  The creators always wondered why there was no show/conference that really welcomed and embraced the fans of the video and table top gaming scene.  There are plenty of video game events, but they are mostly industry driven and not terribly welcoming to the everyday enthusiast.  The first PAX was held in 2007 in Seattle and since that time other venues popped up. PAX East in Boston, followed by PAX South in San Antonio and PAX Australia in Melbourne.  Over the past 10 years what started as an experiment has literally turned into a world spanning event that people plan months to attend.

PAX East is a three day event spanning Friday – Sunday in March or April and it is held at the BCEC conference centre in Boston, Massachusetts.  While the focus of PAX East is the expo hall, panels, and tabletop area, there is a very robust social scene that has sprung up around the conference.  Over the course of the event (as well as days before and after) there are a number of gatherings, parties, meetups, and industry events that all can participate in.  The highlights, for me at least, are a mix of industry sponsored and community run events that highlight the uniqueness of the gaming world. Every year I attend a Pokemon themed pub crawl called the Pokecrawl; this may sound like a way to just drink the night away, but it is a great community event that raises thousands of dollars for Child’s Play charities and brings people of all walks of life together. I often also join boardgame meetups – the biggest of which is in the Westin the night before PAX – the hotel gives up a lot of space and hundreds of gamers converge to play dozens of different titles.  During PAX there are a number of sponsored and community driven parties as well at pubs, bars, and hotels that give attendees a chance to mingle with developers and each other. This social side of PAX East is a truly great thing and something that is a big part of my personal PAX experience that I look forward to each year.

PAX East 2017 Preview: Elex

PAX East is a huge show with hundreds of developers and games to experience, one of the ones that caught my eye was Elex by Piranha Bytes due to its odd mix off science fiction and fantasy in a post apocalyptic open world.  Following the general trend of the Fallout series Elex is focused on a pivotal character who has a special background, in this case he is a former soldier called an Alb, and his emotions are muted by a component called Elex that gives him powers no human has. The protagonist crashes on a mission far from home and the Elex starts fading from his system, this triggers emotions to start forming for the first time in his life and sets him on a path to either save the world or destroy it.

The premise is pretty cut and dry despite the fantastical trappings but what grabbed my attention was the striking world design and staggering amount of choices.  Elex is a game that lets you play as you like. If you want to help everyone and be the hero you can, if you want to fight everything that moves and take everything not locked down you can do that as well.  As you explore the world of Elex you will encounter NPC’s factions, towns, cities, monsters and your former Alb companions.  Characters can be interacted with, factions can be joined or opposed and the towns/cities can be explored to enable quests and new information about you and the world.

PAX East 2017 Preview: Divinity Original Sin 2

Divinity Original Sin 2 looks initially to be a very similar game to the original but digging into the gameplay a bit and experiencing some of the story beats I can see where some major differences are coming in. First off the narrative experience has been greatly enhanced with all companions having major story arcs that you can hop into if they are your companions or take part in directly if you choose their archetype when creating your character. For the demo I chose the Red Prince template and was instantly enveloped in his story which revolves around the fact that he is a Prince of the new reptilian race featured in the game who was isolated due to his incredible tactical skills. He was locked away and only let out when he was needed and now he is captured and subdued with a Source collar blocking his powers. One of the cool but subtle things I noticed while wandering around as this character was that everyone of his race knows him and gives him incredible respect, a neat touch.  I also liked that even though I selected a template I could change the sex or appearance of the character, so while the story and skills were pre-selected (though skills could be adjusted too) the character is still unique to your preferences.

Divinity Original Sin was a huge success on Kickstarter back in 2013 when the platform was just starting to get some traction for crowd-funding games.  Not only did they far exceed their funding goal, they took that money and invested it into an incredibly deep and enjoyable experience when the game launched in 2014.  Not resting on their laurels Larian Studios revamped and tweaked the game and released an enhanced version on PC as well as expanding to consoles in 2015.  To say Divinity Original Sin was a success was an understatement.  Now the studio is back with the sequel funded by another successful Kickstarter campaign and while I am a backer of the game and want to stay away from playing until the game is finished I could not help but take it for a spin at PAX East.

Darkest Dungeon is one of my favorite go to games, I drop in and play the game frantically every few weeks trying to get further and further in the brutal world it envisions.  When the Crimson Court DLC was released I had to dive in and see what the developer Red Hook had up their sleeves, knowing it was going to be difficult and hopefully as addictive as the main game.  Having played through quite a large amount of the Crimson Court content I am further convinced the team at Red Hook are maniacal geniuses as they have added content that is even more punishing then the original material yet still oddly fun and addicting.
The developer added the Crimson Court as a layer to the Darkest Dungeon, one of the really cool things is that you can choose what bits of content you want instead of implementing the whole DLC.  Only want the expansion options for the settlement?  Or just the new Flagellant character?  Perhaps just the extra dungeons and town events? All these are options you can tick off in the main menu before you start the game. Regardless the content is in addition to the Darkest Dungeon experience, instead of a separate area you explore.
The material does not introduce itself right away, except when blood vials drop, which are essential to the additional content experience.  Instead the new Flagellant character, more on him later, is introduced randomly as you click on the wagon after each foray.  The extra dungeons also appear after you have explored a few times in the intro scenarios and that is when it truly gets interesting.  A plague of insects hit town suddenly reducing the effectiveness of stress relieving activities.  This is a big deal as the Hamlet is the only safe spot you have and now that is compromised.  A newly revealed dungeon called the Courtyard seems to hold the answers to solving the insects and it was labelled short so I headed in with low level characters and faced a challenge I could not beat.  Feel free to check out my fresh gameplay stream that shows some of the content.
The developer has since patched the game and the new area clearly states it is not a newbie mission, but I ran through it prior to that (and a few times since) and saw some of the tweaks from the new content.  First off there is no light meter, meaning torches do not raise your light and ward off bad effects, there is no light and you are always inducing stress due to the cursed area.  Torches give you a buff, but do not mitigate the dark.  There is a mechanic called Bloodlight that stresses the characters as you travel, some monsters add to the Bloodlight level if they hit you increasing the stress you gain; it is a cruel spiral that punishes you as you proceed.  There are also monsters that can infect you with the Crimson Curse which makes you need constant blood supplies.  These were tough to come by but now drop more frequently and Red Hook will be adding a new ‘Gather the Blood’ quest which will give a steady supply.
The Crimson Curse is the most brutal of the additions closely followed by the increased stress Bloodlight hands out.  The Crimson Curse cannot be cured (outside of special drops from a boss in the Crimson Court dungeon) and can be spread in the hamlet.  It is nefarious and adds a frantic dynamic to the game that further amps up the tension as well as strategy needed just to survive.  The added stress is a huge problem because until the insects are banished the tavern and abbey will not relieve as much stress as before giving you a roster of perpetually fragile characters.
The new character the Flagellant is a weird, weak yet nearly invulnerable character that adds a new way to play through these brutal dungeons.  The Flagellant has very little health, but that is actually good because he gets stronger the closer he is to death and he has an insane deaths door resistance stat so as long as he can be restored to 1 HP at least in between attacks he will typically never die and deal more and more damage. Playing him requires sacrificing yourself in favor of the other characters (hence the name) so you can stay strong as you are close to death.   A great character that takes some strategy to play but can keep your party venturing deeper and deeper into the Courtyard and other dungeons.
Other interesting additions is that the Courtyard does not start out fully mapped; you have no idea how big (and it is BIG) the map is.  As you explore more paths and rooms get revealed which was a nail biting experience as I was teetering on my last legs of health and sanity.  The DLC also adds some new building options called Districts which are end game builds due to their sheer cost. 
  They are worth exploring as they add class specific improvements as well as tweaks like more torches, gold, and other bonuses.  It is a nice addition that makes grinding to level and improve characters more worthwhile as you can take your spoils and further upgrade the Hamlet and district buildings.
The Crimson Court is a worthy addition to Darkest Dungeon as it continues the brutally hard but very satisfying ebb and flow of the gameplay and simulation with its added content and scenarios.  The new creatures, characters, environments and bosses are as lovingly (and creepily) represented on screen as the original content. The art style of this game is truly stunning and while the animation is simply the sheer beauty of everything is a sight to behold.  The Crimson Court is at a point that experienced Darkest Dungeon players will face a withering challenge as they attempt to plunge the depths of the content, but Red Hook is constantly tweaking and adding to the experience as a living project and I recommend any fans of the original game explore this new content, but take it slow and careful or you may fall as I did.
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