We're only just entering April, but with the arrival of Bloodborne and the impending release of Mortal Kombat X, it feels like the game year has just started. Chalk it up to some truly lackluster showings from Evolve, The Order 1886, and Codename STEAM, maybe; 2015 has a lot of legroom to stretch out and wash the taste of 2014 away. Last year, we were plagued by a backwash of bullshit--games like AC Unity, Watchdogs, and Destiny completely disappointed me.
The big white whale of this spring was always going to be one singular name: Bloodborne, heir to the throne of the harder-than-hell-on-horseback Dark Souls series. However, on the road to the Mega Summer of Splatoon, Arkham Knight, and Witcher 3, we've still been gifted with some other great titles.
1) Darkest Dungeon: I've never bothered to buy a game on Steam in Early Access til Darkest Dungeon, which has more than enough polished content as of April to count as well worth the $15 or so for admission as the game is continuously updated (it will be in its final state around June.) A dungeon crawler RPG, Darkest Dungeon mixes roguelike mechanics of permadeath with the added permanence of town and character recruitment functions, ensuring you'll always have a fresh slew of characters to use even when your entire roster dies. It's a good thing too, because the name of the game is madness--one of the selling points of Darkest Dungeon. As your characters receive stress from crits, poor lighting, or horrid visuals, they'll begin to crack and receive a number of negative traits. A Fearful hunter may refuse his turn, while a Masochistic healer may instead hurt herself. On the flipside, the stress may lead an antisocial Leper to become Virtuous, taking charge and striking down enemies in single cleaves of his greatsword.
Besides the Stress mechanic and the fun cast of character classes, the overall missions of exploring each dungeon will throw some truly grotesque monstrosities at you. Crippled mutant pigs that vomit on you and zombified Aztec warriors are just some of the horrids that you'll fight, along with some truly fantastic boss battles. You'll need to constantly navigate the map's rooms while contending with traps, a dimming light level only alleviated through burning torches, and your own sanity.
Periodically, you'll be in town quelling stress through use of brothels, sanitariums, and cloisters. Characters gain Quirks, both positive and negative, throughout their explorations--and this sometimes has an effect not only in battle, but on the places you may or may not be able to visit for stress relief.
Darkest Dungeon is one of the most fun RPGs I've played in years, and the constant morphing of battles, locations, and character states makes for a very engaging dungeon crawler. The overall presentation is top notch with a truly excellent narration that stays with you all the time, weaving a story with every action that you take in and out of battle. More characters, monsters, and balancing are still to come, and I cannot wait to see how the developers improve upon what is cautiuously becoming the first great game of 2015.
2) Helldivers: What if Destiny was a topdown shooter with better multiplayer, more chaos, and giant ED-209 mechs? Helldivers was the PS4's first great exclusive this year, taking the tired genre of topdown shooting and breathing new life, strategy, and fun into it. Defending SUper Earth from armies of Starship Trooper buglings, cyborgs, and Protoss-esque psionic beings, you'll be hopping from planet to planet utilizing around 20 or so unique guns and accomplishing various tiny mission objectives. Oddly enough, there's a degree of stealth to be found here; you want to either take out patrols that alarm the huge reinforcements, or sneak past them while on the way to your objectives. The big caveat here is in the Stratagems, though: 4 abilities you select before a mission, which can be called in via drop pods once you frantically enter a control pad combination. Nothing's crazier than rushing to input a Stratagem command in the midst of a huge firefight, especially since there's always friendly fire. One of the constants in engaging the enemy will be trying your best not to shoot your teammates instead, or even get killed via your own turret's line of fire.
The Stratagems themselves are varied enough, ranging from simple UAV drones and turrets, to mechs, APCs, one-use heavy weapons, and mines. You can also call down a variety of airstrikes, rail gun assaults, bombing runs, and nukes--all of which can kill you as well. Much of the toolset will be earned through progressing in the planets, though quite a few will also be unlocked once you level up your character. Multiplayer is incredible and hilarious, as even the drop pod for your reinforcement can squash and kill others. It is pure entropy, and it's all part of a larger metagame set up by the developers: a global tracker that pushes out events for the community to eventually puch back invasions and gain control of sectors. Though it's still early for how this will pan out, Helldivers definitely still has enough content to just muck around in with others. It's indubitably one of the best co-op experiences right now, and long-term support could help it really become something masterful by year's end.
3) Bloodborne: I can't help but imagine that if Castlevania had followed the logical step towards survival-action horror instead of God Of War clone #384, it would have evolved into Bloodborne. As someone who has never played a Souls game in his life, I actually became quite comfortable with the gameplay mechanics at work in Bloodborne; it's all about positioning, caution, and timing. It's also about exploring and surviving a nightmarish world where you feel less the hunter and more the hunted, something I have a hard time shaking off as I slowly make progress inch by inch. The story being told is as much quagmired in mystery as the road to dawn seems to be; you're left to your own devices to unlock essential shortcuts, elevators, and key items. Retsore lanterns are conservatively placed and there's no easy way to accumulate these treasured shortcuts. Instead, you'll wallow through fetid ranks, trying your best to engage large monsters or entire ambush parties of challenging foes. Even as much as 2 enemies at once can push your stress, depending on how lethal they are. However, Bloodborne gives you the tools to fight back; you can Regain some health lost by immediately striking back, or you can riposte the blow with a stunning shot from your sidearm. Bloodborne is about mastery over how enemies behave, even if it takes your death to gain enlightenment.
Truth be told, in the first areas of the game, I died about thrice while exploring and unlocking the first major shortcut--my deaths outside a boss battle were not so common unless I carelessly pursued enemies. There are occasional moments of frustration--mainly with load times right now--but I've been pissed off more at other games for now. Granted, I'm still not very far into the game, only conquering the Cleric Beast this far (and beating it on the first try that I randomly found him) but I am enjoying the rush and genuinely think it's probably going to be one of the premier PS4 exclusives for the lifespan of the console. Bloodborne is fast-paced, aggressive, and it rewards said aggression. There's little place for complacency or shields, which I greatly appreciate; having tried Dark Souls once, I disliked the slower function of parrying with the board.
Although not for the faint of heart or the wilting action game player, Bloodborne is shaping up to be an excellent journey into toiling darkness and remarkable triumphs.
Other games I'd recommend would be Dying Light and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse; one being the zenith of zombie games and parkour-based first person traversal, and the other being a spiritual sequel to a wonderful DS game with unique stylus gameplay. Check them out if you can. Games I would not recommend include Evolve and The Order 1886, for reasons I'm sure people can divine by now. I've not tried the latter, but have owned the former at full price and greatly regretted buying such a repetitive and surprisingly boorish game.)
April will play host to MKX, which I'm looking forward to reviewing in full this week. It's about to get extremely bloody in here--but bloodier still are my initial 2015 predictions for Top Ten Games Of The Year. Keep in mind that I wrote this down at 2015's start:
2) Mortal Kombat X
4) Xenoblade Chronicles X
5) No Man's Sky
6) Codename STEAM
8) Batman: Arkham Knight
9) The Witcher 3
10 MGS 5: the Phantom Pain
Thus far, we can take Zelda WiiU off the list due to its unfortunate delay to 2016. Gone too, is Codename STEAM due to trying the gameplay and not being impressed at all. Note that I was clairvoyant enough not to put down Uncharted 4, which was officially put down as a Spring 2016 release. What's next to be knocked off my preliminary list? I'm guessing--with bated breath--that No Man's Sky gets some kind of delay.
And finally, just for laughs, here was my Best Of 2014 in no particular order:
1) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
2) Rusty's Real Deal Baseball
3) Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Morder
4) Bayonetta 2
5) Mario Kart 8
6) Dragon Age: Inquisition
7) Shovel Knight
8) Far Cry 4
9) Super Smash Bros WiiU
Honorable Mention: D3: Ultimate Evil Edition
Amazing and topical!