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Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows

batman e1 cover
via PlayStation 4 You

Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games

Developer: Telltale Games, WB Games


Batman has been made great again.  Recently, Batman games have been hitting it out of the park, but it wasn’t until Rocksteady Studio’s Arkham series that the series found its stride.  They portrayed a grittier side of Batman, a vigilante willing to do anything to serve and protect the grungy city that is Gotham.  What about Bruce Wayne?  Everyone knows that Batman’s identity is the rich bachelor Bruce Wayne, but we’ve only had glimpses of him in the video games.  With the mission of exploring both sides of the caped crusader, Batman: The Telltale Series comes to us with the first addition to its episodic series, “Realm of Shadows.”  The episode finally lets us take the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne as one fights crime in the night and the other navigates the tricky landscape that is politics.  It’s a fascinating start that occasionally gets bogged down in a lot of unnecessary backstory.

batman e1 1
via Press A Key

Characteristic to most Telltale games, Batman’s strongest suit is its story which is more multi-faceted than any of the studio’s games.  In the first episode alone we are introduced to a multitude of different subplots.  The game does a good job at splitting up the amount of time you play as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.  As Batman you patrol the city streets at night, keeping the city of Gotham safe from goons and other evils.  On the other side, players navigate Bruce Wayne around the sphere of Gotham’s elite socialites.  Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is campaigning to take spot of mayor from the corrupt Hamilton Hill and it’s up to Wayne to support him and get him to that spot.  Unfortunately, your forced to support Dent, whether you want to or not, but the extent of Wayne’s support is determined by the player.  The Batman segments are about what you would expect but making choices as Bruce Wayne is really unique and sometimes stressful.  Every single little detail, down to a simple handshake, can change Gotham’s opinion on Wayne, which makes every decision you make pretty important.  As it turns out, entertaining a schmoozy dinner party is a lot harder than you would think.

Hamilton Hill isn’t the only form of conflict that players will have to deal with.  As Batman you stumble across the sneaky Catwoman who has her eyes on some sensitive files that she needs to obtain for her employer.  In attempt to put a stop to her shady dealings you let her get away, but she comes back in a rather unexpected way, one that will bring some deeper and unwanted trouble.  There’s also the powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone who has his hands in many of Gotham’s webs.  His criminal dealings have been driving the city into a hole and his many connections could put a wrench in Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s political campaign.  Finally, we’re also introduced to Bruce’s childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot, who could be an alley or a nuisance depending on how you approach things in Gotham.

batman e1 2
via MMoga

The story, which also includes series favorites like Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon, is pretty fascinating and has the possibility of going in many different directions, hopefully.  There’s one facet of the story that falters however, and that is the insanely unnecessary amount of backstory that is apparently crammed into every nook and cranny.  Anyone familiar with Batman’s story knows that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in a theater alley and that the city of Gotham is pretty ugly and corrupt.  Unfortunately, Batman feels the need to belabor these points way too hard.  Your constantly reminded of these facts over and over again.  This backstory is probably necessary in some sort of fashion for those unfamiliar with the caped crusader’s story, but do we really have to talk about the death of Bruce’s parents every five minutes?  Hey!  Hey!  Remember when your parents died!?  Yeah that must suck huh.  There’s even a couple at Bruce’s dinner party that describes the death of Bruce’s parents in brutal detail.  These examples of bashing the player over the head with repetitive backstory is a sign of weak writing, which is a shame since the rest of the story is really well-written.  I’m willing to bet that this type of backstory is going to stop after the first episode, but the inclusion of all this repetition is pretty bad.

There’s three gameplay modes that players will become familiar with over the course of the episode and the rest of the series.  Firstly, the traditional style of Telltale’s adventure games is the main slice of interaction that players will take part in.  You choose your dialog options, which in turn helps shape the story that you want to see play out.  Then there’s the quick-time events, which come into play primarily during Batman’s segments.  Quick-time combat isn’t new to the Telltale games, but Batman’s combat feels a lot faster and requires a lot more focus.  There’s a meter at the bottom corner that fills up with each successful button press during a combat sequence.  When the meter fills up, you have the ability to perform a finisher, a move that involves two button presses instead of one, something new to the Telltale games.  Obviously the combat doesn’t rival Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, but Batman’s combat is fast and fluid, and a lot of fun.  Lastly, we the first episode contains a detective sequence that involves scoping out an environment examining various areas and objects, connecting them together to piece together what took place at the scene.  It isn’t too challenging to play detective, but the first episode’s segment was a fresh change of pace and pretty unique.  There’s also a segment that involves planning out a plan of attack using Batman’s investigative abilities.  I hope we get a lot more of these types of play styles over the course of the series as they were some of the best parts of the episode.

batman e1 3
via VG24/7

Again, the game’s presentation style is similar to Telltale’s previous games, but with an improved engine to boot.  The improvements aren’t drastic, but the game’s art style and lighting do the series a ton of favors.  The game feels like a comic book brought to life, which is the best case scenario for a game like Batman.  The voices for both Batman and Bruce Wayne (voiced by well-known voice actor Troy Baker) are fine, but they could be better.  Troy Baker fits into the role of rich bachelor pretty well, but it’s Batman’s voice that could use some work.  The vigilante alters his voice, giving a bass-boosted voice to the character.  The voice just sounds way too heavy for my liking.  Turning down the voice’s bass levels would do the character wonders.

I am heavily anticipating future episodes from the series, which should all release by the end of the year if things go according to plan.  The first episode closes its doors with a bunch of open sub-plots that leave us with a lot of questions and excitement.  There’s also a massive wrench thrown into the story at the very end that could spell a lot of problems for Bruce and his family’s name.  It comes out of left field, but provides a unique angle, one that hasn’t really been explored in Batman media.  With the absence of a need for backstory, the future episodes could be something special and fun for fans of the caped hero.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and help change the face of Gotham City.

batman e1 score

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Pokemon Go Impressions

Maybe you haven’t checked Twitter recently, but you’ve probably noticed an influx of new Pokemon trainers taking to the streets, all with the mission of catching them all.  After only a couple of days since the app’s release, Pokemon Go has literally taken the world by storm.  The game is developed by Niantic Labs, the minds behind the augmented-reality game Ingress, which was essentially a game about territory wars. Just like its predecessor, Pokemon Go used augmented-reality technology to allow people to catch Pokemon in “real-life.”  Players wonder around their streets finding Pokemon along the way.  It’s a cool concept, but just like any other big app that hits the marketplaces, the level of staying power comes into question.  Is this game going to be around for a while?  Probably.  However, there’s some aspects of the game that need to be fixed in order to cement its longevity.

Let’s start with what the game gets right, because there’s a lot of potential to be had.  Perhaps the biggest reason the app is resonating with so many people is the fact that “Pokemon” is in the name.  Who doesn’t love Pokemon?  But…seriously, who doesn’t love them?  If you were a kid growing up in the 90’s, there’s a strong chance that you watched a Pokemon episode or two.  Not to mention the popularity of the trading card game as well as the video games that went along with it.  Pokemon was an integral part of a lot of our childhood’s, which explains why so many people have become instantly attached to the app.  Currently, the only Pokemon available to catch in the wild are the original 151, which might also explain the number of teens and adults playing the game, rather than younger kids who are probably more familiar with the newer types.  I’m sure there’s a bunch of kids playing the game, but in my experience I have noticed a surplus of older folks running around.

pokemon go 1
via Maktech Blog

Pokemon Go’s social aspect is something I haven’t seen in a while.  The game encourages you to leave the house and go out into the world.  The game uses the equivalent of Google Maps to tag locations of interest as either Poke Stops or Pokemon Gyms.  Checking in at Poke Stops grants you items like Poke Balls, Potions, and Revives.  There’s also the chance for rarer items like Eggs, Incubators (used to hatch the eggs), and Incense.  As you walk around, you will eventually find Pokemon hanging out in your area.  When you click on them in the app’s map-like interface, it brings up an AR interface with the Pokemon.  You can catch these Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them, which can prove tough if they are more aggravated.  It’s a pretty simple premise that becomes second-nature as you find more Pokemon.  When you catch a Pokemon, it gets added to the Pokedex (if you haven’t caught one of its type) and you get to see it’s stats.  You can name your Pokemon, to give them a more personal touch, as well as level up their CP (Combat Power) by giving them Stardust and Pokemon-specific candy (items you obtain when you catch these Pokemon).  Like I’ve said before, that’s pretty much all there is to it, but there’s some deeper strategy that you can employ as you level up and evolve your Pokemon.  Finally, once you level up your trainer level to five, you can participate in Gym battles around your area.  First, you pick a team to side with.  You can choose between either Team Valor, Mystic, or Instinct.  The main goal with Gym fights is to capture them for your team.  If you take down a Gym’s prestige level, you can then claim that Gym for your team.  If your team has already laid claim to the Gym, you can offer up your Pokemon to bolster its defense.  This seems to be Pokemon Go’s endgame.  Trainer vs. trainer battles are expected in the future, but right now Gyms seem to be the main goal for your stronger Pokemon.

pokemon go 2
via gamepur.com

Never have I seen more people get into a game like they have Pokemon Go.  Alright, that’s probably a bold statement considering games like Clash of Clans exist in this world, but there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the game.  My Twitter feed has literally been taken over by Pokemon Go posts.  I have literally had conversations with friends and random strangers in the street who were also playing Pokemon Go.  Maybe it’s just a phenomenon that’s going to blow by in the coming days, but the game’s social meta game is what makes it so special.  It’s inspiring people to get out and have social interactions with completely random people.  People are literally treating their teams like their gangs, hassling people who aren’t apart of their team’s ranks.  (If you’re not Team Mystic, I don’t know what you’re doing.)  It’s these aspects of the game that convince me this game’s going to be around for a while, especially as more social features get added to the game.

Finally, the game gets you an excuse to get off your butt an exercise.  These Pokemon aren’t going to catch themselves.  Sure, you can use Insence to attract Pokemon to your location for a span of thirty minutes, but the real fun comes when you get out and take a walk.  Your almost guaranteed to find more Pokemon that way and you’ll burn some calories at the same time.  You can also hatch eggs as you walk, given that they are in incubators.  Eggs either take two, five, or ten kilometers to hatch, so you better start grinding away. Over the course of the past couple of days I have walked a total of seven miles.  I got lost in my neighborhood trying to find a rare Machop, but I didn’t mind.  It’s an excuse to get in shape, which is perfect for the coming Summer months.

pokemon go 3
via iDigital Times

Now at this point I have rattled off a lot about what makes this game great, but there are some fundamental features of the game that either need fixed or added.  It’s in no means a perfect game.  It’s still young which means there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Let’s first talk about the actual game…because there isn’t much too it.  Catching Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them yields some strategy, but at the end of the day it just amounts to swiping a Poke Ball in the Pokemon’s direction.  The battles?  Well, there not so hot.  Each Pokemon has a total of two moves that they can use when you fight other Pokemon.  The combat consists of tapping the opposing Pokemon to attack and swiping left or right to dodge incoming attacks.  That’s all there is to it.  Remember that turn-based battle system that you were probably used to in the original Pokemon games?  Now it’s been relegated to an inaccurate touch-and-swipe minigame that essentially comes down to which Pokemon has the higher CP level.  You’re not battling human players when you are fighting at Gyms, which means a turn-based system would be tricky to implement when the opposing Pokemon isn’t being controlled by its trainer.  However, some sort of change needs to be made in order to make the battles more enticing.  It might not be the app’s biggest problem, but I would love to see a more strategic focus in the battle systems.

Right now, the biggest problem plaguing the app is its technical issues.  Oh boy there’s a lot of them.  Whether it’s server troubles or hard crashes, you are going to run into a fair share of issues as you walk around.  The game is fairly new and it’s received an overload of players pinging the servers, so this is a problem that should be expected.  I don’t think the guys and girls at Niantic Labs were expecting such a response to the app.  However, the amount of server issues and crashes indicate that the problem might be a bit tougher to fix.  Either that or the game will need some time to work itself out.  I’m fairly confident that these issues will be worked out over time, but their presence makes the game a touchy experience in the present.

pokemon go 4
via Pokemon Blog

Battery life is the other technical aspect that needs to be fixed.  The game will shred even the finest of phone batteries.  This stems from the fact that you have to keep the app open in order to register distance and catch Pokemon.  You can have it open in the background, but that’s not going to do you any good.  If you want to interact with the game, it has to be open at all times, which is bad news for your battery.  Pro tip: you can make your battery last longer by lowering your brightness.  It’s not much but it will help you, especially if you plan on going on a long endeavor through the wild.  Maybe even pack a portable battery to charge up your phone in times of need.  This problem can be fixed by allowing for background processes.  As I’m walking around, I would love to receive notifications if there is a Pokemon nearby or a Poke Stop to take advantage of.  Simple push notifications don’t seem like they would be tough to implement, but who knows.  Tracking your distance walked should also be handled in the background.  I shouldn’t have to have the app open in order to register that I’m walking.  If these aspects of the game could be handled in the background, it could go a long way to improving the app’s battery usage.

Pokemon Go is currently in beta, so there’s a good chance that the game’s going to improve in the coming weeks and months.  As it stands, the game is a lot of fun, partly because the fact that it’s Pokemon.  Right now the gameplay isn’t much, but it’s the thrill of catching them all that is going to keep players grinding away.  Is the app going to have staying power?  Probably, but only if Niantic bolsters the gameplay and improves the technical experience.  The fixes I mentioned above could go a long way in ensuring players stick around for the long run.  More Pokemon are presumably going to be added in the future, so the fun has only just begun.  Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wild Rhydon somewhere in my neighborhood.  Good luck out there fellow Pokemon trainers.

pokemon go 5
via Concrete Playground

Review: Fallout 4

fallout 4 cover
via Giant Bomb

Fallout 4 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

RPG / Shooter

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios


It’s been almost seven years since Fallout 3, one of my favorite games of all time, was released by Bethesda.  The game included massive amounts of exploration in a rich world with stories and adventures around almost every single corner.  It was impossible not to get lost in the Capitol Wasteland.  The novelty of seeing familiar historic landmarks with a post-apocalyptic lather over them was also unique, especially for an RPG of Fallout’s size.  It was only this past summer when Fallout 4 was introduced to the masses and it took gaming fandom by storm.  It’s pretty rare these days to have a game announced the same year that it comes out.  Excitement and speculation were everywhere leading up to last month’s release.  However, what’s the one downside of massive amounts of hype?  Overhype.  Luckily, Fallout 4 met most of its expectations and delivered one of the year’s best experiences in gaming.

fallout 4 1
via Inquisitr

One of the most unique and different aspects of this iteration in the series is the game’s introductory sequence.  In past Fallout games, you only saw what life before the war was like through billboards or posters that could be found around the wasteland.  In Fallout 4, you finally get a glimpse into what life looked like before the bombs dropped.  You play as a married military veteran (man or woman) with a kid named Shaun.  It’s just a normal day in Sanctuary Hills when things start to go south really quickly.  Your personal Mr. Handy, Codsworth, alerts you to the television where news of nuclear fallout starts to rear its head.  It’s then a full on sprint with your newborn child in hand to nearby Vault 111 where you will wait out the Great War.  Unfortunately, things are not so happy and cozy in the vault, as you emerge from the vault 200 years later as the sole survivor.  I’m not going to sit here and spoil what goes on in the vault, but it’s pretty easy to draw conclusions.

After you gain the knowledge that your child Shaun was taken from the vault, your mission to find your son begins as you take your first steps out of the vault into the harsh wasteland, courtesy of a couple of nuclear bombs.  (Sound familiar to the plot of Fallout 3?  Well, just switch out “your son” with “your father” and bam, you have the same exact plot.)  As you explore the wasteland, you’ll find settlements and factions that will help you with your quest to find your son.  There are four factions in the game, including the Minutemen, the Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel (which should be familiar to anyone who has played Fallout), and the mysterious Institute.  Each have their own motivations and enemies and it’s up to you to decide which faction you want to carry on with to the end.  This promises four different endings, with minimal differences between them, aside from the Institute ending.  The story is not the strongest aspect of the game, but’s its serviceable and it acts as a device to get you exploring the world, which is in my opinion the best part of any Fallout game.

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Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are the home of Fallout 4.  Its immediately apparent that the nuclear bombs did not do a number on the city like they did Washington D.C.  Boston still lays in ruin, but the scenery is much more colorful and there’s an abundance of buildings that are largely intact, including some tall skyscrapers.  For one, it makes the world a lot more enjoyable to explore.  The boring drab atmosphere of Fallout 3 got old after a while, but Fallout 4 changes it up a bunch with locations ranging from metropolitan sprawls to swampy marshes to coastal beaches to rural farmland to suburban neighborhoods.  The map is also massive with tons of locations and points of interest.  The best part?  None of it seemed to be filler.  Almost every nook and cranny had a story to tell.  Bethesda has managed to create a living and breathing world where NPC’s do their own thing and random events happen all around you.  My story exploring Boston will most likely be totally different from another player’s experience, which is a good indication that you have done something right.

Fallout 4’s gameplay and combat mechanics have also gotten a massive overhaul.  Combat is actually more fun this time around.  In previous games you had to rely on V.A.T.S. (Vault Assisted Targeting System) to take out your enemies because aiming with your gun was a joke.  Although the game does not compare to your modern FPS, Fallout 4 manages to make it easier to aim you gun and play the game like you would a normal shooter.  A more updated, and now dynamic, V.A.T.S. system is in place (and still highly recommended), but you can use your sights again.

fallout 4 3
via Softpedia News

Dialog options have received an overhaul as well.  Gone are the days of scrolling through a menu of dialog options during a conversation.  Instead, you have four options which are paraphrases of what you are going to say.  You now have options like “Sarcasm” or “Threaten,” but without the exact words that you would utter.  This dynamic system also allows you to leave a conversation at any time you want by just walking away mid conversation.  This dynamic system seemed cool at first, but it had its troubles.  I often found it hard to determine if I was in a conversation with someone because the classic conversation camera zoom from the previous games is gone.  I often found myself walking away from characters who would then get annoyed that I was ignoring them.  It’s too bad there wasn’t an “Apologize for Being Rude” option, because I would have used that one a lot.

The level up system has also changed, giving you a chart of all the perks in the game right up front.  Depending on your initial stats that you set in the beginning of the game, you can place your points that you receive from leveling up into the different perks, ranking them up to get more advanced versions of those perks.  This allows for more customization based on the way you want to play.  Some people have been put off by this new approach, but I found it more enjoyable.  Finally, there are a lot more options for modding your weapons and armor.  Now, all the junk that you find in the world has a purpose beyond just populating the world.  You can use the junk and materials that you find to develop more advanced versions of your weapons and armor, giving you the advantage in battle.  There was a surprising amount of customization options for your guns, armor, and power suit.

fallout 4 4
via US Gamer

This leads me to one of the craziest parts of the game which is settlement building.  Fallout 4 gives you the tools to create your own settlements from the ground up using all of the junk that you find throughout the world.  You construct buildings with beds and then defenses and power.  You also have to make sure you provide your settlers with water and crops as well, keeping them happy.  The mechanics can get pretty deep, especially when you start talking about trading between your settlements.  You can create trade lines between your settlements, which in turn give you more supplies and resources.  Although some of the mechanics and systems are a little janky and hard to use, I spent way more time then I originally imagined I would in this mode.  There’s no real point to creating big settlements, but it was still fun anyway.  It’s something that you can show off to your friends.

My only real complaint with Fallout 4 are the bugs and jank that are scattered throughout the game.  It’s hard to fault a game as large as Fallout for technical glitches and hiccups, but it’s still frustrating.  I imagine the QA process for a game like this is a nightmare but I still think it’s inexcusable for a game to be so buggy in this day and age.  Look at a game like The Witcher 3.  That game rivals Fallout 4 in size and scope and still manages to look better and run better as well.  It leaves Bethesda with no excuse for why their game is technically less superior.  Fortunately for them, the game’s other aspects more than make up for these problems.  However, future Fallout games need to clean up their act.

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I have put a borderline unhealthy amount of hours into Fallout 4 because the game basically combines the best parts of the previous Fallout games with more updated and modern mechanics.  Anyone who has played the previous games will feel right at home while new players will find the game to be a nice springboard into the rich and engrossing world that Fallout 4 has to offer.  In a year that has been full of great games, Fallout 4 caps off the year just like a bottle cap on an ice cold Nuka Cola.  Okay, that was a bad Fallout joke…

fallout 4 score

Also available on PC and Xbox One

Review: Dust: An Elysian Tail

dust cover artDust: An Elysian Tail (2012)

PS4

Action / RPG / Brawler

Developer: Humble Hearts

Publisher: Humble Hearts


 

There is a lot to like about Dust: An Elysian Tail.  The game was originally released back in 2012 and it was regarded as a great game when it came out.  It offered awe-inspiring visuals and a very fluid combat system along with some light rpg elements.  Recently, the game was remastered for the PS4.  Now, the game looks even better.

The story follows a character named Dust who wakes up in a field dust 6which no memory as to who he is and how he got there.   He discovers a mysterious talking sword named The Blade of Ahrah.  He also stumbles upon this “bat-squirrel” looking thing named Fidget who also decides to help Dust figure out who he is and what he was doing prior to his memory loss.

The first thing you notice is the amazing art-style that accompanies the game.  The game takes place in a heavily inspired world full of furry creatures.  The game features a hand drawn art style, which makes the levels that you traverse look amazing.  I often found myself getting lost in the beautiful environments.

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There are also some very spiffy looking animated cut scenes that appeared later in the game as the story started to get more serious.  These looked really nice, and it was a shame that they were only present for the latter parts of the game.  I wanted to see them throughout the whole entire story.

The voice acting is also really great.  All of the voice performances were spot on and they offered humor to the characters, as well as charm.  Fidget’s character was the comic relief in the story, but she started to get a little annoying after a while.  It was probably here high-pitched squeal voice that she used throughout the game.

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The game can probably be related to a “Metroidvania”.  The levels are all 2D and they have a heavy emphasis on exploration and backtracking, much like the Metroid style.

This brings me to the combat, which was probably the best part of the game for me.  It’s simple to learn but it gets more complex as you go.  The combat consists of button combos, as well as button mashing.  You can lay waste to all of the characters on the screen with ease and you can pummel them into the air with elegance.  You can also use Fidget to throw projectiles which you can then manipulate with your sword.  You end up all over the place when you are fighting hordes of enemies.  The best part about all of it is that it feels great and fluid.

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The boss battles were probably the most disappointing aspect of the game.  The game is short in length, which means there are not that much opportunities for boss battles.  This is why I expected them to be cinematic and intense encounters.  However, they were actually pretty easy to defeat and they all offered little to no challenge to defeat. They also weren’t as climatic as I would have hoped, since most of them were the same size as Dust.

As you go along in the game, you also unlock more abilities and powers, which enable you to do more in combat and explore more areas.  These abilities add more depth to the gameplay, making it more satisfying as you continue to level up.  The leveling system is where the rpg elements come in.  When you level up by gaining experience from defeating enemies, you can add skill points to your various skills like health, attack, defense, and Fidget abilities.  You can also upgrade your armor with stronger items.  You can also craft items using some materials that you can collect from the different enemies.  This system offered some more depth that the game really benefited from.

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You can also collect items, as well as friends (which offer nods to other indie games), throughout the levels.  These collectibles encourage exploration, and some of them even warrant you to use your abilities and ways you haven’t thought before.   The game also offers challenge areas around the map that really test your abilities that you have learned and perfected throughout the game.  These areas probably offered the most challenge, as they were a race against the clock to get through an obstacle course of sorts.

dust 1

Dust: An Elysian Tail was probably the most charming game I have played all year.  The story is dramatic and engaging and the combat is even more engaging.  Not to mention the exploration and sense of discovery was high in this game.  Plus, the game just looks damn great.  Despite some of it’s minor problems, the game is probably one of the more unique games I have played this year.