Kena: Bridge of Spirits – full review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been out for three weeks now, and I finally got around to finishing the game the other day. I like to take my time with a game I’m enjoying, so I didn’t blitz through it at lightning speed! I’d been looking forward to Kena: Bridge of Spirits for months, and my first impressions of the game were fantastic. I already knew that I’d found something special in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but having gone through the full experience I can now say with certainty that this is by far the best game I’ve played in all of 2021.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a rare offering: a visually beautiful game taking advantage of the best of modern graphics combined with an older style of gameplay that feels intuitive and uncomplicated. As silly as it may sound, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is unapologetically a video game – it doesn’t pretend to be an interactive movie. It also ignores many of the tropes of modern gaming: no “expansive open world,” no cluttered heads-up display with arrows pointing exactly where to go, no pop-up tips telling you precisely what combination of buttons to press to solve a puzzle. The game plays, in some respects, like a 3D action-platformer from the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation 1 era – and I’m absolutely there for that kind of classic gameplay style!

Promo artwork for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

There are three main “levels” plus a brief tutorial, and with each stage the titular heroine Kena learns a new power that helps her navigate the game world, solve puzzles, and engage in some occasionally complex platforming. Each of the three sections is dedicated to helping track down relics and memories necessary to help a wayward spirit so that Kena can ultimately make her way to the mountain shrine. The story is mostly contained within cut-scenes that are seamlessly woven into gameplay, with Kena triggering a cut-scene upon beating a major boss or discovering a memory.

At first three levels broken down into a few different parts might not seem like a lot, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t the world’s longest game by any stretch. My playthrough, in which I completed the game and found as many hidden items and unlockables as reasonably possible, clocked in at 11 hours and 43 minutes. Anywhere from 9-12 hours seems to be a good guide based on online sources. For £30-35 (approx. $40) I felt that the game offered excellent value at that length.

Kena collecting one of the Rot.

Speaking of unlockables and collectibles, Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t go overboard in the way some titles do. Collecting the Rot – Kena’s adorable little companions – didn’t only feel like a natural part of gameplay, but having more Rot on your team allowed for more attacks and more powerful attacks which gave Kena an advantage particularly during boss fights. This made looking for hidden Rot feel worthwhile, and not just like typical open-world busywork in the way collect-a-thons in many modern games can.

There were also gems to collect, which were found hidden in chests, barrels, pots, and the like across the map. Gems can be spent on Rot hats, and while these aesthetic elements don’t have a gameplay impact, it was a lot of fun to collect the various hats and give different Rot different looks. By the end of the game, my 80+ Rot had dozens of different styles, including absolutely adorable ones like a dinosaur hat, a baseball cap, and even a cowboy hat. Anyone who loves animals or cute things will have a blast with the Rot and their hats, that’s for sure!

A Rot wearing the dinosaur hat – with examples of other available hats at the hat cart.

The Rot added a lot to gameplay as well. Kena could use the Rot to heal herself in combat, and the limited number of Rot Actions meant that timing became a consideration, particularly during long boss battles. Figuring out when to use the Rot and in what way added a much-needed extra dimension to combat. Otherwise, Kena had a light and heavy melee attack, a light and heavy ranged attack, and eventually a bomb as well. Each of these could be upgraded to deal more damage or to give Kena extra ammunition, and each could also be upgraded to give a Rot-powered attack.

The choice in some combat encounters was often between using a powerful Rot attack or using the Rot to heal, and it wasn’t always an easy decision to make! My personal favourite was the Rot-upgraded ranged attack, known in-game as the Rot Arrow, as this powerful attack was effective against many different enemies.

Kena using an upgraded Rot attack.

Kena was also equipped with a shield, which could also be upgraded, and a dodge/roll ability. By the end of the game she had also learned one final power: dash. In some boss fights, keeping out of range of a powerful boss who could do a huge amount of damage meant hitting the dodge button repeatedly! As the game progressed and Kena encountered a number of different enemy types, combat encounters became more varied. There were flying enemies, ghostly enemies that needed to be made corporeal before any attacks would harm them, and a range of different melee and ranged enemies, and they would appear in different combinations during combat.

If I were to make one criticism of the combat it would be that there were a couple of random difficulty spikes. At a relatively early point in the game I encountered a boss who, even on the easiest difficulty setting, could kill Kena in three hits. After he’d struck once, Kena was sent flying through the air and before she could recover had been hit a second time. This boss fight took a few attempts to complete, and while I admit I’m by no means the world’s best gamer, I felt that this spike in difficulty was noticeable. The boss was so much more difficult to defeat than any enemy before him, yet after beating him the game seemed to return to normal. It was odd – and frustrating!

This early boss fight was particularly difficult for some reason.

Aside from those couple of particularly difficult boss encounters, combat in Kena: Bridge of Spirits was outstanding. The relative simplicity of giving Kena one weapon – her magical staff – but allowing it to be used in three very different ways was interesting and fun. It also kept things uncomplicated, and I never felt like I had “forgotten” about some powerful attack or spell! Some games which offer a huge variety of weapons in a player’s arsenal can be overwhelming, and when the majority of players only use a handful of attacks at the most, there’s something to be said for keeping the options simple.

Despite that, there was still plenty of variety. Kena had light and heavy options for both melee attacks and ranged attacks, as well as a bomb – and then there were the aforementioned Rot-upgraded attacks that dealt more damage. There were enough options that I felt I had a choice of how to take out enemies and bosses, but not so many options that I felt overwhelmed or that combat was too complicated.

Kena using her ranged attack.

Kena’s magical staff and its different abilities also played a major role in traversing the game world. Arrows could be fired at targets that pulled Kena across long distances, and bombs could be used on certain highlighted areas to create new platforms for Kena to jump across. Arrows could also be fired to rotate platforms into the correct alignment, and later in the game Kena could use her dash ability to cross through portals and even jump across gaps too wide for her standard jump or double jump. Combining different powers and abilities led to plenty of variety when it came to exploring the game’s stunningly beautiful world.

There was a lot of platforming in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and I loved that. When handled well, 3D platforming can be a huge amount of fun and offers incredibly rewarding gameplay, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits absolutely nailed that aspect of gameplay. Puzzles were complicated enough to not be incredibly obvious, yet simple enough that I never once needed to look up a solution online. I was always able to figure out what to do, where to go, and how to solve the platforming puzzles that the game presented based on what I’d learned through gameplay, and that’s a difficult balance for a game to get right!

Kena has to combine her powers and skills to traverse the game world.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits doesn’t hold your hand, though. After introducing you to a new power or attack that Kena can use, the game drops you into a new section of the map where that power can be used to its full effect. But there are no other hints pushing you in the right direction nor telling you how to solve a puzzle. It’s up to the player to use what they’ve learned and figure out how to get from point A to point B to keep the story moving, and I like that the game is bold enough not to offer too much help.

Many modern games across practically every genre hold players hands the whole time. I’ve played racing games that literally have an on-screen arrow the entire time, pointing exactly where to go, telling you when to slow down, speed up, etc. And games like Skyrim started the fad of having on-screen pointers guiding you to your precise destination. I’m a huge believer in accessibility features for disabled gamers, as I’m disabled myself, but even I consider that some of these features go too far for my personal taste. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was delightfully old-fashioned in that regard. It doesn’t drag you along the path it wants you to take, instead setting you down with all of the skills you need to walk the path alone and leaving you to do so.

Hanging from a ledge early in the game.

Fun combat and great platforming wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable, though, if Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t have an interesting and engaging story holding it all together. I was very keen during my playthrough to avoid spoilers, and the game was definitely much more enjoyable for experiencing the highs and lows of Kena’s journey first-hand.

Kena’s quest to reach the mountain shrine is motivated by the loss of her father, and this aspect of the story was quite emotional. Seeing Kena as a young child at one point really hammered home how this quest has been years in the making for her. At the same time, though, Kena was incredibly empathetic to the spirits she met along the way – even those she had to do battle with. Defeating one of the game’s three big bosses didn’t kill them – instead Kena, as a spirit guide, helped them overcome whatever was keeping them trapped in this world and make the transition to the spirit realm. She showed genuine empathy to everyone she encountered, and while she was on a mission of her own, she showed no hesitation when it came to getting side-tracked to help others.

Kena with her younger self in the spirit realm.

At the same time, going off in different directions didn’t feel like Kena was being sent on some disconnected side-mission. Helping Taro, the game’s first spirit, and Adira, the second spirit, were both presented as the next step to reaching the mountain shrine, and Kena was happy to help both of those spirits along with helping herself and moving her quest forward. The story thus flowed smoothly from point to point with nothing feeling unnecessary or like time-wasting fluff.

The third spirit Kena had to help was Toshi, and he was directly in the way of Kena’s progress to the mountain shrine, so once again this felt like a natural progression of the story.

That being said, I think the way the game was structured meant that coming to the aid of three spirits was probably the maximum the story could’ve gotten away with. Adding in any more might well have made them feel like unnecessary hurdles, and the fact that each spirit had three relics to collect before engaging in a boss fight would have risked becoming repetitive had it been repeated many more times. Three spirits was a good number, then, based on the way the game chose to handle each of them.

Kena helped several spirits while on her journey.

As well as learning of Kena’s father, the game had a number of emotional moments. Each of the spirits genuinely wanted to help their families or the people of their village, and letting go of what was anchoring them made all three cut-scenes after the big boss battles feel genuinely emotional. I may have shed a tear on more than one occasion!

Toward the end of the game, having collected many Rot (and many Rot hats) in different places and in different ways, Toshi stole all of the Rot from Kena after the first of two epic climactic battles. Seeing her lose her companions was heart-breaking – and definitely got me riled up for the next phase of the fight! After saving the Rot and defeating Toshi, allowing his spirit to achieve peace, the Rot were transformed back into their true form, a form which resembled a giant panther or cat. As a cat lover myself, this was an incredibly sweet moment; the high point of the game’s final story.

The Rot – restored to their true form.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits does seem to have left things open-ended, though. We didn’t get to see what happened after Kena achieved her goal and meditated at the mountain shrine, with the credits rolling after she settled down to meditate having saved and restored the Rot. Did she find her father, or information about him? Did she find something else that she didn’t know she was seeking?

Perhaps the game is teasing an expansion or sequel in future, and if that’s the case I’m absolutely going to be there! As it is, though, after the emotional loss of the Rot, the big battle to save them, and ultimately letting them go to restore their true form and bring balance back to the forest, for Kena to just plop down and close her eyes risks feeling like a bit of an anticlimactic ending. We saw her reach the goal she’d been working towards for the entire game, but we didn’t get to see what, if anything, that moment meant to her.

Kena made it to the mountain shrine… but what will happen next?

This could certainly be setting up a continuation of Kena’s story, and I’m okay with that. As things sit, her story doesn’t yet feel complete. I’m wondering what the future might hold for her! At the same time, developers Ember Lab did such a fantastic job on what is their debut game that I’d love to see them tackle a different project in future. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been a huge success, topping the charts here in the UK and elsewhere, so the studio has the world at its feet. Should they simply move on to a sequel right away, or might they want to turn their attention to other projects?

Overall, I had a wonderful time playing Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It’s by far the best game I’ve played all year, and I don’t think it will be surpassed in the next couple of months before 2022 rolls around! It was one of those games where I didn’t want to rush through it too quickly; I wanted to preserve this moment in time and keep enjoying it for as long as I possibly could.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a visual masterpiece, a uniquely-styled game pushing modern-day graphics to their limit. It’s also a wonderful return to a style of gameplay that has fallen out of favour in recent years. Every element has clearly been lovingly crafted and honed to near-perfection, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the copyright of Ember Lab. Some promotional artwork courtesy of Ember Lab. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits – First Impressions

Don’t worry, there aren’t going to be any big spoilers for the story of Kena: Bridge of Spirits this time. I just wanted to take a moment to share my first impressions of one of the games I’d been looking forward to all year!

Unfortunately, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an Epic Games exclusive on PC, meaning I had to finally break my year-long streak of avoiding the company. Long story short, I had a falling-out with Epic Games last year due to getting locked out of my account, and I had hoped to avoid spending money with them again. But Kena: Bridge of Spirits proved just too tempting, so I succumbed and bought the game. It had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year, so I was content to make an exception.

Promotional artwork for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the debut game from Ember Lab, a studio which originally worked on animation and CGI for film and television. Considering this is their first ever game, and that they’re a small studio, I’m absolutely blown away. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is incredible, and I’d be impressed if it had come from a major developer with the backing of a huge publisher. But knowing that the title is the culmination of years of hard work by a small, independent team working on their first ever interactive project leaves me speechless.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the debut game from Ember Lab.

In the couple of hours I’ve spent with Kena: Bridge of Spirits so far, the game plays beautifully. There aren’t any loading screens getting in the way of gameplay, platforming is intuitive and smooth, combat is fast-paced and exciting, the transitions from gameplay to cut-scenes and back again are well-integrated, and I haven’t found so much as a single bug, glitch, or visual goof.

Kena hangs from a ledge during an early platforming section.

Sticking with gameplay, Kena: Bridge of Spirits offers some incredibly fun adventuring. Kena has all the moves you would expect for this kind of game: she can run, jump, double-jump, and climb ledges. The Rot – Kena’s adorable companions – have a range of abilities, the most useful of which include being able to move objects and obstacles to clear a path or open up a new area for Kena, as well as occasionally pointing the way so she doesn’t get lost.

The Rot moving a platform for Kena to jump on.

Gameplay is all very intuitive, with the default controls and buttons doing everything you’d expect. The design of the game’s early levels shows a lot of thought and planning; it was always clear which path to take and I never felt like Kena was lost. There were some paths that led to dead-ends, but these seem to be areas that can be unlocked or expanded later in the game, so I should be able to return to them later.

Kena in the game’s opening level.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t heavy on dialogue, and while it was certainly pretty clear what to do and where to go, I didn’t feel the game was holding my hand and dragging me down a narrow path. To give one example, at an early point in the game the camera panned wordlessly over three vulnerable spots that Kena had to take out before she could defeat the main boss during a fight. It was obvious that these three spots needed to be hit first, but the game didn’t say so explicitly, it merely pointed me in the right direction then left me to fight the battle.

Kena takes damage in an early fight.

Combat feels great in Kena: Bridge of Spirits. Kena has a couple of primary attacks and one defensive shield. Using her shield at just the right moment can lead to a defensive parry, and she has a light and heavy attack. The Rot can also play a role in combat, but I won’t spoil exactly what they can do. Combat is fast-paced, but not so blindingly fast as to feel overwhelming. I also felt that the number of enemies present at each encounter was about right as well.

Kena performs a heavy attack on a monster.

The game offers three difficulty options at first, with a fourth “master” difficulty that unlocks after completion. For players who like a very tough challenge, this adds replayability. I’m categorically not a “hard mode” gamer by any stretch, so I’ve been playing on the easiest difficulty setting. I found that to be quite enough for my skill level! Difficulty settings change the recharge rate of Kena’s Rot companions, which will affect their ability to participate in combat encounters, and also ramps up the aggressiveness and damage of enemies. Increasing the difficulty doesn’t add additional enemies into the game.

Kena is hit by a monster and flies backwards!

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is without a doubt the most visually stunning game I’ve played all year. After traversing the game’s opening area, Kena climbed a staircase overlooking a mountain and valley, and I was blown away. I literally put down the control pad and said “woah” out loud! How many games – ever – have made me say “woah?”

I had to stop for a moment when I saw this incredibly beautiful vista so I could take it all in.

The animation and visual effects work are absolutely beautiful. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has a bright colour palette, with sunlit areas that are positively glowing. Shades of blue, yellow, white, and particularly green present a striking contrast with the “corrupted” areas of the map, which feel depressingly dark with faded greys and browns and flashes of an evil, glowing red. Ember Lab’s past as an animation studio absolutely shines through, and the animators’ work with the game’s colours is pitch-perfect.

The contrast between the verdant green living areas and the grey-brown corrupted areas is striking, and the game uses colour to great effect.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has an aesthetic that wouldn’t be out of place in a big budget animated film from the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks. The game doesn’t prioritise gritty realism over beauty, and what results is an astonishingly pretty animated look to both its characters and environments. Kena herself is a lovingly-crafted protagonist, and everything from her hair and outfit to her magic staff just looks fantastic.

Kena – the game’s protagonist and player character.

Other characters and Kena’s Rot companions also look visually impressive. The Rot – despite their somewhat offputting name – are utterly adorable critters. Their big eyes and cute faces make them incredibly sympathetic, which is important! Their fearful nature means they tend to scatter and hide at the beginning of combat encounters, and in another game I feel like that mechanic could become annoying. But because of just how darn cute the Rot are I actually found it spurring me on! How dare those evil monsters scare my poor little Rot!

Kena is accompanied on her adventure by the Rot. And they’re adorable!

Oh, and the Rot get to wear hats. Cute, adorable little hats. The hats can be purchased using gems that are found throughout the game world – something that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a game like this one. One thing I liked about the way Kena: Bridge of Spirits handles collecting these gems, though, is that Kena never destroys or damages property – even in abandoned houses or ruins. She carefully opens a chest or barrel, collects the gems, and then closes it again. No need to smash or break any pots!

Kena collecting gems from a chest.

There’s also a map, as you might expect. The map was easy to navigate and seems to highlight significant points and quest-relevant locations but without being overwhelmed. Some games have maps that you can barely read for all the pins and markers, but Kena: Bridge of Spirits has a well-designed map that’s legible, useable, and fits right in with the rest of the game from an aesthetic point of view.

The in-game map is useful.

When Kena puts on a spirit mask the game enters a static first-person view. This mode allows you to spot Rot, as well as certain quest-specific items. It’s a riff on the “detective mode” present in several other games, but it’s handled in such a way as to feel like a unique experience for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena putting on a spirit mask.

And that last sentence could summarise my thoughts on the game. Kena: Bridge of Spirits takes established tropes of the adventure genre but gives them its own presentation and sets them up in a brand-new world. The gameplay is fantastic, and anyone who’s played these kinds of games in the past will feel right at home. Where it truly excels is its art style and aesthetic. The designers have to get much of the credit for the unique feel of Kena and the world she inhabits.

I’m having a great time with Kena: Bridge of Spirits! The game has met all of the expectations I could’ve had going in, and at least in terms of visuals it even exceeded them. I would have been impressed if this game had been produced by an established team of developers backed up by the resources of a huge publisher, but to know that it’s the first ever game by an independent studio is truly mind-blowing. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is fantastic – and I can’t wait to jump back in!

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4/5 and PC. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the copyright of Ember Lab. Some promotional artwork courtesy of Ember Lab. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Knights of the Old Republic is being remade!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Minor spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

Remember that rumour earlier in the year about a new Knights of the Old Republic game? Well the project was officially revealed at a recent PlayStation event, and instead of being a sequel or spin-off, it’s a remake of the first title!

Unfortunately all we were treated to was a tiny CGI clip of the villainous Darth Revan. The project seems at a relatively early stage of development and likely won’t see a release for at least a year. Interestingly, the remake is being handled not by BioWare – who developed the original title – but by Aspyr, a studio known primarily for porting games to new platforms. Aspyr has previously worked on Knights of the Old Republic, bringing the game to Mac, iOS, and Android over the years. So at least they have some experience with the title!

Darth Revan was seen in silhouette in the CGI teaser.

If you’re not familiar with the plot of the original game, I encourage you to stop reading now. Not only that, but try to avoid any Knights of the Old Republic spoilers from now until release; the game is so much more enjoyable if you can experience its story unspoiled.

Speaking of story, then, while Lucasfilm Games and Aspyr have pledged to stay true to the original narrative, there is already talk of the game being “re-written” and writers are known to be attached to the project. It’s possible, then, that there will be some incidental changes along the way, even if the overall thrust of the plot remains intact.

For my two cents, I think that’s actually a positive development. Remakes should aim to be ambitious, and to adapt the stories they tell for new audiences. There’s nothing wrong with Knights of the Old Republic in its original form, but shaking up things like side-missions would be no bad thing. Remember that we’re dealing with a game from 2003 that was released on the original Xbox; there’s room to potentially expand the game beyond what it was. Levels could be redesigned to be larger and more densely-populated, for example, and characters could be given additional lines of dialogue.

The remake is being developed by Aspyr.

With the game being a full-blown remake, it seems that the dialogue will be re-recorded. This opens up possibilities for expanding the things that characters have to say, as mentioned, and it could be possible to give the game’s protagonist a voice as well. In the original game, the player could choose what to say at certain points, but the player character wasn’t fully-voiced like NPCs were. Redoing the dialogue also means that at least some characters – including fan-favourites – will be recast. However, as voice acting in video games has arguably improved since 2003, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Interestingly, Star Trek: Voyager’s Ethan Phillips (Neelix) had a voice role in the original game. I wonder if he’ll come back?

Though Knights of the Old Republic got an Oblivion-developed sequel a year after its release, the stories of Darth Revan and the Jedi Exile were left unfinished thereafter. Though it’s very early for such speculation, it seems at least plausible to think that Knights of the Old Republic II – my personal favourite of the duology – could also get the remake treatment if this project is deemed a success. From there, could the story finally get the sequel that fans have been asking for for more than fifteen years? Perhaps that’s too much to hope for right now and we should just be happy that Knights of the Old Republic is coming back at all! But I can’t help feel that there’s at least a glimmer of hope in that regard!

Is a sequel on the cards if this remake proves to be a success?

One area where Knights of the Old Republic could definitely do with an upgrade is its character creator. The original game offered players a handful of pre-designed male and female faces to choose from, and one of three starting classes. Three additional Jedi classes were available later in the game as well. This is one aspect that has huge room for improvement! Firstly, I’d love to see a non-binary gender option alongside male and female, perhaps with the character creator including a choice of pronouns. Secondly, a detailed character creator – like the kind seen in recent games such as the Saints Row series, Black Desert Online, or even Cyberpunk 2077 – would allow players to craft their own unique character, which is something I’d argue is an essential component of any role-playing game.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for when it comes to this project, and I can add it to the list of upcoming titles I’m looking forward to. Last year I had a great time playing through Jedi: Fallen Order as well as Star Wars Squadrons, so after a few years where there weren’t many Star Wars games the franchise has enjoyed some successes in the video game space. Coming after the disappointing way the sequel trilogy ended, a return to Knights of the Old Republic and a setting millennia before the films could be the palate cleanser that Star Wars fans desperately need.

The original game’s basic character creator is one element crying out for a major update!

Ironically, it was after two disappointing Star Wars films that the original Knights of the Old Republic appeared on the scene. The game (and its sequel) went a long way to rehabilitating the Star Wars franchise for me at the time, and gave me a reason to be excited for Star Wars after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left me decidedly underwhelmed. Hopefully this remake is poised to do the same.

After several recent hotly-anticipated titles have crashed and burned due to being launched too early, my advice to Aspyr and Lucasfilm is to keep working on Knights of the Old Republic until they get it right. Don’t try to push out the game before it’s ready; the “release now, fix later” business model has been a plague on the modern games industry and players shouldn’t have to put up with bug-riddled, disappointing titles. This is a remake that many Star Wars and role-playing fans have been waiting for for a long time – it’s incredibly important to absolutely nail it!

A closer look at Revan and his lightsaber in the CGI teaser.

One of my favourite memories as a gamer is sitting with the Xbox control pad in my hand, mouth open in shock as Knights of the Old Republic dropped its huge story twist. I hadn’t been expecting it as the game’s wonderful storyline unfolded, and it hit me in a way that very few moments in all of fiction ever have. It’s got to be right up there with “no, I am your father!” in The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best twists in all of Star Wars, and I can’t wait to see how the remake will approach that amazing moment. Even though I’ll know it’s coming this time, I’m still ready to be blown away all over again!

So as you can tell, I’m quite excited for Knights of the Old Republic! But I’ll do my best to avoid boarding the hype train and to keep a level head. We don’t know much more about the project at this stage, other than it’s planned as a timed PlayStation and PC exclusive, so it’ll probably be at least a year after release before it’ll come to Xbox. I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website, because if we get any significant news about the project I’ll try my best to break it down and analyse it. When the game is finally ready, I’ll almost certainly review it – and maybe do a complete playthrough too!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is being developed by Aspyr and will be published by Lucasfilm Games for PC and PlayStation 5. No release date has been announced. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Bethesda teases more information about Starfield

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Starfield.

The in-engine teaser trailer for upcoming space-themed role-playing game Starfield was a bit of a let-down at E3 back in June. There’d been a lot of hype and rumours before the event that something big was coming from Bethesda and that we’d get our first major look at the game, so to only see a highly stylised teaser that might as well have been totally “fake” wasn’t the best. But the company has recently put out three new mini-trailers showing off three of the locations in Starfield, as well as dropping some more tidbits of information about the game, so I thought we could take a look at what’s been revealed and start to get excited!

Remember, though, that too much hype can be a bad thing! Just look at the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077 as a case in point. As fun as some of these bits of Starfield news may seem, it’s worth keeping in mind that we haven’t yet had a real look at the game itself. And as much as I hate to be too negative, Bethesda doesn’t exactly have a good track record in recent years when it comes to big releases. Their overreliance on a massively out-of-date game engine is also a concern. But Starfield is still over a year away, so hopefully there’s enough time to iron out all of the issues!

With that caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about Starfield since E3 – with a healthy pinch of speculation and guesswork thrown in for good measure!

Promotional artwork for Starfield.

The United Colonies is described as “the most powerful established military and political faction in the game.” Their capital city – or capital planet, not sure how best to describe it! – looks like a futuristic Dubai or New York City; a wealthy, clean megacity. This is the city of New Atlantis, and it’s described as being a “melting pot” of different peoples.

The “melting pot” reference is clearly meant to give the city and the faction an American vibe; the United States often likes to see itself as a mixture of cultures. But it could also mean that the United Colonies is akin to something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets – semi-independent cultures and worlds co-existing, perhaps under some looser federal form of government.

Concept art of New Atlantis (with a starship in the foreground).

I could be way off base with this, but it seems like the United Colonies isn’t going to be an evil or villainous faction. I didn’t get the sense that this was something like Star Wars’ Empire or First Order, but the fact that it’s described as being powerful – and with a strong military to boot – could mean that the player character is operating outside of the law, or that large parts of the game take place in areas beyond the United Colonies’ jurisdiction.

There were trees on New Atlantis, so the United Colonies clearly have some respect for greenery and the environment – even if just for aesthetic reasons. This is also something I think we can assume to be positive, as at least New Atlantis doesn’t have that overly industrialised, dystopian feel of some sci-fi megacities.

Concept art of New Atlantis showing a couple of trees!

If I were to hazard a guess I’d say that only parts of New Atlantis will be able to be explored and visited. The teaser image depicted a huge building complex with more buildings and lights in the distance, but it seems like making all of that part of the map might be too difficult to pull off; the last thing any of us want is a bland, mostly empty map that’s superficially large but has nothing going on or no one to interact with (looking at you, Fallout 76). New Atlantis was specifically mentioned in the context of a spaceport, so perhaps the spaceport and surrounding area will be able to be visited.

Going all the way back to 1994’s Arena, Bethesda has created contiguous open worlds – that is, game worlds that are one large, single space. There have been examples where smaller areas branched off from the larger game world – such as Morrowind’s expansion pack Tribunal, for example. But by and large we’re talking about single open worlds. Starfield, with different planets to visit and a spaceship being used to travel between them, seems like it will be a game where the game world is broken into smaller chunks. Some of these planets may be quite large, but the concept represents a change from the way Bethesda has worked in the past.

Large open worlds have been a Bethesda hallmark since 1994’s Arena.

Moving away from the United Colonies brings us to Neon, a watery planet with a facility run by the Xenofresh Corporation. This floating city resembles a large oil rig, and although the upper levels look well-lit and probably quite wealthy, I wonder if the lower levels of the platform might be home to the kind of sci-fi dystopia that didn’t seem to be present on New Atlantis!

The backstory of Neon was interesting – and perhaps the closest we’ve got so far to any “lore” of Starfield. The Xenofresh Corporation established Neon as a fishing platform, but soon stumbled upon a drug called “aurora” that they used to turn Neon into a pleasure city. Neon clearly operates outside of the jurisdiction of the United Colonies, and is the only place where this drug is legal.

Concept art of the floating city of Neon.

Previous Bethesda games allowed players to take drugs and drink alcohol, complete with screen-wobbling consequences! I can’t imagine that the developers would mention this aurora drug at this stage if players weren’t going to be able to try it for themselves in-game, so I think we can be pretty confident that aurora will play some role in the game’s story. Perhaps smuggling it from Neon to planets where it’s illegal will be an option for players to make some extra cash! Neon also gave me vibes of Star Trek: Picard’s Freecloud – a similarly independent, pleasure-centric world.

The final location shown off was Akila. The Freestar Collective, of which Akila is the capital, is described as “a loose confederation of three distinct star systems.” Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but singling out the word “confederation” could indicate that this faction is villainous or adversarial. The Confederacy or Confederate States was the official name for the pro-slavery southern states that seceded in 1860-61, instigating the American Civil War. We’ve also seen the name “Confederacy” used in Star Wars, where the Confederacy of Independent Systems was the antagonist faction in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Concept art of Akila, a city in the mountains.

Perhaps I have recent news reports on the brain, but something about the concept art for Akila reminded me of Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. The mountainous terrain, smaller buildings, and hooded or cloaked figures all gave me the impression of that kind of settlement. Perhaps a better analogy, though, would be a Wild West frontier town, and this is reinforced by the narrator saying that all of the people in the Freestar Collective place a strong emphasis on personal freedom and liberty. The whole faction seems very libertarian, then!

Akila was definitely the most Star Wars-seeming settlement, and there are several locales from the Star Wars franchise that Bethesda may have used for inspiration here. It was on this planet that we learned about the first confirmed alien enemy – the ashta, described as being a mix between “a wolf and a velociraptor.” Yikes! As above, there’s no way this critter would be mentioned at this stage if it wasn’t going to be something players could interact with, and like other iconic Bethesda open-world monsters like Fallout’s deathclaw or The Elder Scrolls’ slaughterfish, I think this is something we’re going to do battle with!

A closer look at some of the people and buildings in Akila.

So we know of three locations, each of which is controlled by a different faction. Presumably the Freestar Collective has at least two other planets under its control, as the narration specifically mentioned that the faction controls three star systems. Whether all three will be able to be visited or not is not clear, so I guess watch this space!

The Xenofresh Corporation could easily be in control of more worlds or settlements; I got the impression that it was the kind of mega-corporation that we often see in sci-fi, and thus it seems plausible that it controls holdings on other planets as well as its settlement of Neon.

The United Colonies would seem to be the most widespread and populous faction, but if players are potentially operating outside of its jurisdiction we may not get to visit all of the worlds that make up the United Colonies.

Is the United Colonies going to be similar to Star Trek’s Federation?

Then there’s the player’s faction or group – the organisation called Constellation, described as “the last group of space explorers.” The ship shown in the E3 teaser appears to belong to this group, so it’s assumed that the player will have some kind of relationship with them as well. If this faction is interested in exploration, they may not have a large settlement or permanent colony – but that’s pure speculation!

So that’s it for now. Starfield is still on course for a November ’22 release, but it goes without saying that that’s subject to change at any point between now and then. I’m tentatively looking forward to it, and nothing we’ve seen or heard so far has been offputting. If anything, these little teases are intriguing and make me want to learn more about the game, its backstory, and its factions and locales. I’m a little surprised that Bethesda didn’t include some of these details at E3; it would’ve been more impressive to give players a bit more information about the game rather than just sharing that stylised teaser trailer, and none of what’s recently been revealed seems like it couldn’t have been included a couple of months ago. This is all just backstory and concept art – things Bethesda certainly had at the time. But regardless, we’ve got another little tease of Starfield to pore over!

Starfield will be released on the 11th of November 2022 for PC and Xbox Series S/X. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Concept art featured above courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

EA Play joins Game Pass

EA Play is bringing a huge library of new games to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service! Because it’s been overshadowed by Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Bethesda, and the arrival of those games to Game Pass in recent weeks, this news seems to have flown under the radar. I almost missed this altogether, and it was only when I saw it on Twitter (of all places) that I realised what a monumental win this is for Microsoft, Game Pass, and quite frankly for subscribers as well.

I initially signed up for Game Pass for PC last year in order to play Forza Horizon 4, and it was well worth it! I’ve since played a few other games on there, and it’s easily value for money at £7.99 ($9.99 in the US) per month, in my opinion. One thing is clear, though, and that’s the fact that Microsoft has continued to invest heavily in the service. The addition of Bethesda’s lineup of titles brought the likes of Fallout 4, Skyrim, and Doom Eternal to Game Pass. And now EA Play has brought games like FIFA 21, Titanfall 2, The Sims 4, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and many others to the service, too. It seems all but certain that the upcoming Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will be available there as well – so maybe I’ll play it after all!

EA Play and Game Pass have struck a deal.

Game Pass has expanded rapidly, and continues to go from strength to strength. Right now, there’s no question that it’s the best way to get into current-gen gaming, and picking up a preowned Xbox One or – when availability improves – an Xbox Series S will mean that a huge library of games is available to even players on a limited budget. For less than the price of a Netflix subscription there are more games than I could play in an entire year, including some absolutely fabulous ones!

The only pang of regret I feel is because I’d bought a few of these games over on Steam! Of course if you’re worried about permanence it’s better to buy than subscribe, because it’s possible that EA Play and/or any of its games will be removed from the service in future. But just like we’ve seen happen with television and films thanks to the rise of streaming, many people are quite okay with that concept. Sure, losing access to a title is disappointing, and when Netflix removes a big name there’s often a minor backlash. But people have generally come to accept the impermanence of films and television shows on streaming platforms – so I daresay that will happen with games as well.

A few of the titles now available.

In the worst case, if a game you adore is removed from Game Pass, you can always buy it elsewhere. It doesn’t have to be the huge drawback that some folks insist it is. We increasingly live in a society of renting: we rent our homes, vehicles, and sometimes even our furnishings. We rent our films, television shows, and music via services like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and Spotify. And now, Microsoft is pushing hard to convince people to rent their game libraries too.

Having built up a Steam library over the better part of a decade I’m not willing to part with it, and I still don’t see Game Pass as a full-time substitute for buying games in a general sense. But you know what? I could be in the minority on that very soon. As mentioned, Game Pass now offers a colossal library of titles, and not only Xbox-exclusive games like Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Sea of Thieves. The FIFA series of football (soccer) games are literally the most popular titles around the world, and now the most recent entries are on Game Pass, with this year’s entry almost certain to follow. And huge multiplayer titles like Apex Legends are as well. Heck, you can even play Anthem… though goodness only knows why you’d want to.

Very specific there, EA.

For a player on a limited budget, Game Pass is now my number one recommendation. Whether it’s on PC or console, I honestly can’t recommend anything else. There’s simply no alternative that offers such a variety of major titles for the cost, and even speaking as someone who doesn’t use it as often as I could, it’s 100% worth it. This new addition of EA titles has taken what was already an enticing offer and made it even better.

There are still some issues with the Xbox app on Windows 10, and it doesn’t always work perfectly. But the games it launches do, and whether you’re interested in a strategy title like Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition or a racer like Forza Horizon 4, there are so many games now that it’s worth a try for almost anyone interested in gaming.

The Xbox Series S with a Game Pass subscription is the most affordable route into this generation – or at least it will be when availability improves!

Microsoft took a risk with Game Pass, banking on players turning away from the model of buying and owning individual titles to rent them via a Netflix-style subscription. As the service continues to grow and expand, both in terms of its library and its playerbase, I think it’s fair to say that the risk is paying off.

So what am I going to play first? That’s a good question! I was tempted by the Mass Effect trilogy, which I otherwise only own on Xbox 360. But with Legendary Edition coming soon I think I’ll wait to see if it comes to Game Pass, which hopefully it will. Titanfall 2 is calling out to me, and despite being a big fan of fantasy I’ve never played the Dragon Age games, so maybe I’ll finally give those a shot. Or maybe I’ll go back and replay Sim City 2000 – there’s nothing like a hit of nostalgia, after all. I feel spoilt for choice!

I might sit down to play some Titanfall 2.

This move makes a lot of sense for both companies. EA’s Origin platform and EA Play have both struggled to bring in huge numbers of players since they launched, and with EA diversifying and bringing many of its titles to Steam, joining in with Game Pass feels like a no-brainer. And from Microsoft’s point of view, anything they can do to increase the appeal of Game Pass shores up the service, and that can only have the effect of bringing in new subscribers as well as convincing existing ones to stick around.

When taken alongside the recent Bethesda acquisition and the launch of the weaker but cheaper Xbox Series S, I have to say that Microsoft is off to a very strong start in this new console generation – far better than I had expected even six months ago.

Xbox Game Pass is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Prices were correct at time of writing (March 2021). This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fall Guys – First impressions

I’m not usually an online multiplayer guy, and Fall Guys – also known as Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout – is the kind of massively-multiplayer game that I’d ordinarily overlook. The last online games that I played with strangers were Mario Kart 8 and Rocket League, and it’s been a while since I played those. But after hearing great things about its fun, silly gameplay I decided to take a look for myself, and for £16 on Steam it wasn’t a huge risk despite Fall Guys being a new title.

To be up front, Fall Guys currently has some issues with its server capacity; this is something that’s being worked on. High demand for the game seems to have caught developer Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital a little wrong-footed, but I’m confident that, with the game reviewing well and being popular, those problems will be fixed before too long. It is, however, understandably frustrating to get disconnected or to have to wait a long time to join a game. But part of the fun of Fall Guys is that its levels are very short – a couple of minutes or so at a time – so it’s easy enough to jump back in, and losing or getting disconnected doesn’t end up causing a huge amount of lost progress. If you’re on the fence about buying the game, though, it’s worth being aware of this server problem. It may be prudent to wait a couple of weeks to see how quickly it can be fixed if you’re really worried about it.

A couple of server error messages.

The first time I tried to play Fall Guys after installing it, I was hit with this server problem. Despite waiting almost half an hour I wasn’t able to join a game. It was only when I came back to try again several hours later that I was actually able to successfully play. Although the server problems made for a poor first impression, Fall Guys is a ton of fun!

The game is a cross between a competitive “battle royale” and television game shows like It’s A Knockout and Total Wipeout. For some reason, it also reminds me of late-90s kids’ show 50/50. Fall Guys’ levels are designed to look like they’re taken from such shows, deliberately using the aesthetic of soft foam rubber obstacles. In fact, many of the levels are designed like obstacle courses! An indoor children’s play area would be another good comparison when considering the look of the levels.

One of the levels, showing off the “soft foam rubber” look.

The other side of Fall Guys’ aesthetic is the incredibly cute character design. It’s hard to say exactly what these little guys look like – personally I feel like they’re somewhere between Oompa-Loompas and marshmallows – but they’re absolutely adorable. There are customisation options, some of which can be unlocked simply by playing enough rounds of the game. Other character customisation options are, however, paid for with in-game microtransactions. Because Fall Guys has a very child-friendly atmosphere, it’s worth making sure your parental controls are up-to-date if you plan to get the game for your little ones to play. Obviously I’d prefer a game that had no microtransactions at all, but this is the realm of online multiplayer – and these days, in-game monetisation comes with the territory. If Fall Guys were charging more than its £16 asking price I’d be annoyed at their inclusion, but considering that there are some cosmetic items that can be acquired in-game, and taking into account the relatively low up front cost, I think the microtransactions are okay. They’re easily avoided for those who don’t want to participate.

Microtransactions.

So Fall Guys is a battle royale/game show? How the heck does that work? Glad you asked! 60 players compete in a variety of events, including races, challenges, and some team events, to be the last one standing. Though it’s possible to play the game in such a way as to sabotage someone else’s chances of progressing, for the most part – at least in the early rounds – it’s easier to focus on one’s own character or team. Navigating the obstacles – like see-saws, spinning platforms, and windmills – to win a race or to make it to the next stage is great fun. And the team challenges borrow from the likes of Rocket League – there’s even a football-themed one!

I’m not great at games in general, let alone competitive multiplayer titles. Yet despite my limitations, I had a lot fun. I was able to progress to the latter rounds on several occasions, and the times where I lost in round one or two it usually only took a few seconds to load up a new game and try again. Fall Guys isn’t something you can be great at on your first attempt, even if you’re a regular online gamer. However, with each round lasting only a couple of minutes or so, losing doesn’t feel so bad.

Losing at Fall Guys is no big deal. Just try again!

Each round whittles down the number of players until only a few remain. The first round is supposed to begin with 60 players (though I’ve seen anywhere from 49-60 in practice), and of those, perhaps 40 will qualify for the second round. The game continues in this way until it reaches a final round, with the survivor crowned champion. Though I haven’t won (yet?) I’d reckon playing a full session from the preliminary round to the finale is only going to take maybe quarter of an hour at most. And as I keep saying, any time you’re eliminated, getting into a new game doesn’t take all that long.

There’s a “roadmap” of updates planned for Fall Guys, promising more content, more cosmetic items, and new levels. Though I’m generally sceptical of this kind of business model, the current version of the game has a lot to offer and doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything major. If you play for a while you do start to see the same levels repeat – there are 24 levels at time of writing, including three “final rounds” – but again, each one only takes a couple of minutes, and they’re chosen at random. If you discover a burning hatred for a specific one, I guess it might be annoying to keep encountering it, but Fall Guys is the type of game where even something like that doesn’t have to be a big deal.

An example of a character in the game.

It’s been a while since I played through a game that’s as apologetically fun as Fall Guys. There’s no story, there’s no background or explanation given for why these weird little characters are taking part in a game show, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s just simple, casual, pick-up-and-play fun. I had a smile on my face practically the whole time, and making it to the end of a challenging level when it looked like I wasn’t going to manage in time has been legitimately thrilling.

A lot of care and effort has gone into crafting what could be one of the sleeper hits of 2020. Though the server issue is definitely frustrating, it’s something that will hopefully be resolved in the coming days, and aside from that I encountered no bugs or glitches during my time playing. I’m looking forward to jumping back in!

A race begins!

So this has been my initial first impression of the game after spending a couple of hours with it today. I may write another piece in the coming weeks if I find that I have more to say after spending longer with Fall Guys. But for now, what I’d say to anyone on the fence is that Fall Guys is great fun, and the kind of game that practically anyone could pick up easily. The server issues are a problem, but when I got into the game on my second attempt I didn’t experience too many disconnections and was able to load up a new game every time without having to wait too long. However, it may be worth checking back in a few days or a couple of weeks to see if that’s still an issue if you’re concerned. For £16, though, I can’t really fault the game for the way it plays. If you’re a subscriber to PlayStation Plus, you’ll get Fall Guys for free this month – and if you’re in that category you have no excuse for not trying it out immediately!

Fall Guys is available now for PC and PlayStation 4. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic and Devolver Digital. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some great Steam Summer Sale deals for PC gamers

Update: The Steam Summer Sale has now ended. All prices listed below will no longer be accurate. Check back in December for a rundown of some of the best Holiday Sale deals.

It’s that wonderful time of year again! No, not Christmas – though we are halfway there, as yesterday marked half-Christmas – it’s Steam Summer Sale time, which means there are going to be some spectacular deals for PC gamers. Sales like these make PC as a platform much more competitive compared to consoles. It’s true that there are sales on console games too, and of course console games on disc are much more easily traded in and resold, but no sale on other platforms can match the sheer number of deals available on PC.

Some titles can be reduced by as much as 90% – and from time to time there are full games available for free too. Even though getting started with a gaming PC – especially a higher-end one – can be more expensive than a console, these sales go a long way to making up for it.

Let’s do some quick maths! If a games console costs £400, and on average each game costs £40 (newer games will cost £55, older ones might be reduced so let’s average it out at £40) then by the time you’ve bought ten games you’ve spent £800 in total. But you could buy a decent gaming PC for £700, and with the deals available in sales you could easily pick up ten games – or more – with your leftover cash. And your investment will only get better over time. A console player with a library of 50 games will have spent £2,000 on games alone at an average cost of £40 each. A Steam library with 50 titles almost certainly won’t cost you anywhere close to that!

Okay, enough maths. Let’s get into the list!

These are titles I personally like and would recommend; this is not a comprehensive list of everything on sale. Some titles may have been mentioned on my previous PC gaming sale list in December (but don’t read that one, it’s out of date now and the prices will be wrong). The list is in no particular order.

Spoiler Warning: I’ve tried not to include major spoilers for any of these games, but minor spoilers may still be present.

All prices are correct in the UK at time of publication. Prices and discounts may vary by location and are subject to change. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July at 6pm UK time.

Number 1: Max Payne (65% off, £2.09)

Max Payne, which was a game I first played on the original Xbox circa 2001-02, is a phenomenal game. Bringing The Matrix’s “bullet time” to video gaming for the first time, its third-person shooter gameplay was unique and innovative. Even though the features which I was blown away by at the time have been reused many times since, at its core Max Payne is still an engrossing crime/noir story that’s absolutely worth experiencing.

The blend of gameplay with graphic novel-style cutscenes adds to the dark, true-crime feel of Max Payne’s world.

Number 2: Vampyr (70% off, £13.49)

A game set in the midst of a pandemic seems particularly timely at the moment! Vampyr uses the 1918-19 Spanish flu as its backdrop, focusing on a doctor in a great rendition of early-20th Century London. Praise was heaped on Vampyr for its soundtrack and the main thrust of its gameplay.

The team behind the amazing Life is Strange put the title together, and Vampyr gives players a lot of choice about how to proceed through the game.

Number 3: Assassin’s Creed Origins (80% off, £9.99) & Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (67% off, £16.49)

The Assassin’s Creed franchise, which kicked off in 2007, almost burnt itself out by the mid-2010s. Publisher Ubisoft pushed for more and more titles to be released – more than one a year at one point, and the result was that the quality dropped and the franchise almost died. Origins rebooted Assassin’s Creed and introduced a number of customisation options and roleplaying game elements, something Odyssey refined a couple of years later. The result was two of the best games in the whole series.

Both games have a free “Discovery Tour” DLC, which is a non-violent walk through some of the real-world history of the games’ ancient Egypt and ancient Greece settings.

Number 4: Doom (2016) (70% off, £4.49) & Doom Eternal (50% off, £24.99)

Considering Doom Eternal only released three months ago, and is arguably a contender for game of the year, its 50% discount is huge! In 2016, Doom rebooted the long-running franchise, returning the series to its action roots and away from the horror vibe of Doom 3. This worked phenomenally well, and Doom Eternal honed that formula still further.

Both games also have great soundtracks that perfectly fit the tone and setting. Above all, Doom and Doom Eternal are just good solid fun.

Number 5: Terraria (50% off, £3.49)

Terraria is 2D Minecraft. That’s basically its selling point, yet the game is so much more than that. Earlier this year, Terraria received what was billed as its final update, as the team behind it are moving onto other projects. In the nine years since it was released it’s been updated a number of times, bringing new elements to the game. There are some great boss battles which are difficult and require a lot of strategy and skill. And it’s a great game to play with a friend.

I had a lot of fun playing Terraria in co-op, and though it’s designed to play great as a single-player title, that was where I had the most fun.

Number 6: Sid Meier’s Civilization VI (75% off, £12.49)

I’ve sunk countless hours into Civilization VI since its 2016 launch, and this digital board game has never been dull. While I’m not wild about its business model, as there are now a large number of DLC packs, the base game is still really enjoyable for fans of turn-based strategy.

I picked Civilization VI as one of my top ten games of the last decade, and for good reason!

Number 7: Shenmue I & II (75% off, £6.24)

I’ll probably be recommending the first two Shenmue games to everyone I meet for as long as I live! The first entry in the series was the first game I played that really showed me what gaming as a medium was truly capable of. Telling a slow-burning story of revenge that would be at home as a big-budget series or film, Shenmue created a genuinely realistic world, pioneering the “open-world” concept before anyone else. It was unlike anything I’d ever played before, and its story holds up today.

Some aspects of these games haven’t aged well, particularly the controls used for fighting. But if you get lost in the story, as I did, you won’t care.

Number 8: Plague Inc: Evolved (60% off, £4.79)

I first played Plague Inc. on iOS, and it’s rare that a mobile game like this can be successfully ported to PC. There are a few examples, of course, but it’s an uncommon success story. Plague Inc: Evolved is very similar in terms of gameplay to the original mobile title: you play as a disease trying to wipe out humanity. Timely, I know. The graphics got a boost and there are a wider variety of options in the current PC version.

Plague Inc. was on my tongue-in-cheek list of inappropriate things to watch and play while self-isolating a few weeks ago.

Number 9: No Man’s Sky (50% off, £19.99)

No Man’s Sky is an interesting title. Widely criticised on its 2016 release for failing to deliver on a number of promised gameplay elements, in the years since Hello Games have put in a lot of hard graft to rehabilitate its image. In 2020, after a number of free updates and patches, No Man’s Sky finally delivers on those initial promises, and I had a lot of fun with its sci-fi setting and exploration gameplay.

Some people have been put off ever buying No Man’s Sky because of the controversy. If you feel strongly about it that’s absolutely fair enough – but you will be missing out on a fun experience.

Number 10: Ori and the Blind Forest (75% off, £3.74) & Ori and the Will of the Wisps (20% off, £19.99)

I’ve been partway through an article on these two amazing games for a while, but I keep getting sidetracked. Hopefully I’ll finish it before too long! Both Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps are beautiful games – both visually and in terms of their stories. The games both 2D platformers in that niche genre often referred to as “metroidvania”.

Both titles are considered masterpieces, and I honestly can’t recommend them highly enough.

Number 11: Jade Empire: Special Edition (75% off, £3.74)

Bioware is better-known today for games like Mass Effect and Anthem, but in 2005 they released Jade Empire, a role-playing game set in a fictional world based on ancient China. Hot off the heels of their success with Knights of the Old Republic, the game uses a very similar format as players build up a party of characters and go off on an adventure. I had a great time with Jade Empire back on the original Xbox – where it was a console exclusive – and recently replayed it on PC.

I’ve long considered Jade Empire an underrated gem, and if you like Bioware’s older titles from the 2000s, you’ll definitely have a great time here.

Number 12: Grand Theft Auto V (50% off, £12.49)

Grand Theft Auto V is a juggernaut – having premiered on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it’s set to be ported once again to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Not many games have such longevity, and the amazing thing is that in the seven years since its release, it’s hardly ever dropped out of sales charts across all platforms. The reason for this success is of course its multiplayer mode, but there’s a great single-player campaign too. If you’ve somehow avoided it until now, it could be a great time to pick it up!

The familiar open-world Grand Theft Auto gameplay is still present, but the open world of Los Santos feels like a genuinely lived-in city. There are also some great voice acting performances from the trio of main characters.

Number 13: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (70% off, £3.89) & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (70% off, £3.89)

I remember reading about Morrowind in a gaming magazine (remember those?) in 2002. I thought it sounded absolutely fantastic, and when I picked it up for the original Xbox I wasn’t disappointed. Morrowind is such a full game – even now, almost two decades on, there are quests I’ve never completed and factions I’ve never joined. Oblivion is a half-step between Morrowind and Skyrim, and while it’s been a while since I played it – and I’ve only played it once – it was definitely a fun experience at the time.

Oblivion also features Sir Patrick Stewart in a voice role, and though his character isn’t present through the whole game, having his voice definitely adds to the experience!

Number 14: The Deus Ex Collection (88% off, £7.79)

2003’s Deus Ex Invisible War was my first foray into the series. I went back and played the first game in this first-person action/adventure series afterwards, as I fell in love with its dystopian future setting. Human Revolution came in 2011 and dragged me right back into that world, and Mankind Divided – which is a direct sequel to Human Revolution – rounds out this bundle of four games.

Even if you skip the older titles, definitely give the two most recent ones a try. They’re great first-person stealth/action games, and there’s a surprising amount of customisation.

Number 15: Murdered: Soul Suspect (90% off, £1.59)

I like games with a novel or interesting premise, and Murdered: Soul Suspect definitely has that to offer! A police detective is murdered – don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler, it’s practically the first thing that happens in the game! The twist is that this is the playable character, who returns as a ghost to solve his own murder! As a mystery game, once you’ve solved the case there isn’t much replayability, but for this price it’s definitely worth one go around.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is underrated, at least in my opinion. It isn’t particularly long, which is one reason why it may have underperformed when it was released in 2014.

Number 16: Planet Coaster (75% off, £7.49)

I loved games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Park back in the day. After a number of years where the theme park management sim didn’t really receive any new titles to speak of, Planet Coaster reinvigorated the genre. There are a wealth of options for your theme park – which can be almost overwhelming at first – resulting in a game with limitless customisation potential.

Even without any of the game’s DLC packs, there’s still a heck of a lot to have fun with here.

Number 17: Mirror’s Edge (90% off, £1.79)

Mirror’s Edge is one of those titles that has been heavily discounted for several years now. I don’t really understand why – it’s a great-looking game that plays really well, and its parkour-based running and jumping gameplay is uncommon if not wholly unique. From that point of view, I bet it’s something you won’t have experienced before – reason enough to pick it up for less than the price of a pint!

EA’s recent deal with Valve to bring their games back to Steam means the sequel, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, is also available.

Number 18: Titanfall 2 (67% off, £8.24)

Big caveat here: I haven’t played Titanfall 2 yet. However, it’s widely regarded as a phenomenal game, but was released in a very competitive window for first-person shooters, with EA pitting it against two big annual releases from Battlefield and Call of Duty. As a result it underperformed in the sales department. Titanfall 2 is another game which benefits from EA’s recent move to bring their back catalogue to Steam.

This is a game I’ve had on my wishlist for a while, and I was pleased to be able to pick it up at the discounted price!

Number 19: Sonic Mania (66% off, £5.09)

Originally a fan project, Sonic Mania is a beautiful old-school 2D Sonic game that you would think had been lifted straight from the Sega Mega Drive! The story behind the game’s development is sweet – a group of dedicated fans put together a rough cut which they showed off to Sega, who snapped it up and commissioned them to expand and polish it for the mass market.

Sonic Mania is a labour of love by genuine fans of the series. Too few games nowadays can say that.

Number 20: Garfield Kart: Furious Racing (60% off, £5.19)

I love funny, silly racing games like Garfield Kart or Meow Motors. If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch but are missing being able to play Mario Kart, this could be a fun alternative! It’s a comparable experience to Nintendo’s kart-racer: a fun, arcade racing game that’s easy to get started with.

Additionally, if you’re a fan of the Garfield comic strop (I was only dimly aware of it) you’ll find many familiar faces.

Number 21: Total War: Medieval II (75% off, £4.99)

The first game in the Total War series I played was its first entry, Shogun: Total War. The follow-up to that game was Medieval: Total War, and I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours I lost playing that game in the early/mid-2000s! Medieval II updates the game using a more modern engine, and brings a lot to the table. A title that mixes grand strategy with real-time battles is, for many strategy fans, the best of both worlds.

While a lot of people will recommend the Total War: Warhammer games, I think the franchise works best with real history, and the medieval period is just perfect for this kind of game.

Number 22: Banished (66% off, £5.09)

I’ve talked about this great city-builder a few times here on the website. It’s absolutely fantastic, and the fact that this complicated game was developed by just one individual is still shocking to me! Banished is in that sweet spot when it comes to open-ended games: easy to pick up but hard to master.

The game starts with a small number of settlers, and players must build up a town, gathering and storing enough resources for everyone. Getting the right balance is what the game is all about!

Number 23: Red Faction (75% off, £1.24)

2001’s Red Faction pioneered destructible environments in games. Using rockets and other explosives, it was possible to blow holes in walls or floors, create foxholes and craters, and generally use the levels themselves to gain the upper hand. I didn’t own the game at the time, but a friend did and we spent hours in multiplayer trying to outsmart each other with traps and hidey-holes! If you can think of any modern game that allows for such environmental mayhem, chances are it owes a lot to the trail blazed by Red Faction.

For me, this one’s on the list as a nostalgia trip and a bit of a guilty pleasure. But Red Faction does have a fun campaign, and if you can look past the outdated visuals I think you’ll have a fun time.

Number 24: Fallout 4: Game of the Year Edition (70% off, £11.99)

My first experience with the Fallout franchise was 2008’s Fallout 3. Fallout 4 is more of the same, as Bethesda brought development back in-house after outsourcing Fallout: New Vegas. There are a range of ways to play and plenty of customisation options, and the base-building element which was new to Fallout 4 is a ton of fun and could be a whole game by itself. It’s kind of a post-apocalyptic version of the house-building seen in The Sims!

The Game of the Year edition includes both main DLC packs, each of which expand the story and provide new areas to explore.

Number 25: Portal 2 (80% off, £1.43)

There really isn’t anything quite like the Portal series on the market. A mix of puzzle game, 3D platformer, and first-person action game, Portal 2 builds on its predecessor and gives players a truly unique experience that can be difficult to put into words. There’s a horror element to the game too – nothing scary, but definitely unsettling, especially if you pay attention to the dialogue!

Setting aside the “can’t count to three” jokes, it would be great if Valve could revisit this series one day. It’s been almost ten years since Portal 2 was released, and while it still holds up today, I’d love to see a new game using this formula.

So that’s it. Some great deals in the Steam Summer Sale.

If you were to buy every single entry on this list, it would cost you £228.20 – for 33 games (including the Deus Ex bundle). That averages out at £6.92 per game or thereabouts. Considering some of the titles were only released in the last few months, I think that represents outstanding value. To reiterate what I said at the beginning, these sales give PC an edge over consoles, despite consoles being cheaper initially. Something to consider as we await the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, eh?

I hope this was interesting and informative, and may have given you some inspiration for titles to take a look at as we enter the summer season. At a time where some form of lockdown or quarantine is still in place in a lot of areas around the world, having something to do to kill time is more important than ever. Gaming can be great for that.

All of the games on this list are available for purchase on Steam at time of writing (26th June 2020). Prices were correct at time of writing. The Steam Summer Sale ends on the 9th of July 2020. Prices may vary by region and are subject to change at any time. All of the games on this list are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. All screenshots and artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.