Sunday, February 5

Winter game roundup: Three to try, one to pass by

Elden Ring, Gran Turismo 7, Elex II, and Destiny: The Witch Queen: tried, tested, and scored by PostArcade’s game critic

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Winter 2022 has been a busy time in the world of video games as delayed fall releases continue to jockey for position with regularly scheduled fare. Post Arcade already provided an in-depth take on one of those delayed games, Horizon Forbidden West — you can read the review here — but we’ve put together some quick impressions on four other notable games released over the last month: Elden Ring, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, Elex II, and Gran Turismo 7. Three are well worth your time and money, but one fits safely within the skip zone (we sampled the suck so you won’t have to — you’re welcome). Read on to see which one!

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Elden Ring
Elden Ring Photo by Bandai Namco

Elden Ring

Score: 9/10
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5 and Windows PC (also available for Xbox One/Series S/X, PlayStation 4)
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco

 TL;DR: An open world game for FromSoftware fans rather than a FromSoftware game for open world fans.

Elden Ring is indisputably top notch fantasy role-playing. However, like most FromSoftware games, it requires players to heavily indulge their masochistic tendencies — assuming they have some.

For those late to the party, Tokyo-based FromSoftware has become synonymous with truly punishing interactive entertainment, thanks to its Dead Souls series, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. We’re talking loss of progress upon death, bosses that may take you days to figure out how to beat, and enigmatic items and upgrade systems that require plenty of noodling and experimentation to properly understand and exploit.

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Elden Ring bears all these hallmarks and is built around a sword and sorcery combat engine that demands precision and rewards tactical thinking.

It also has FromSoftware’s signature multiplayer elements, including the ability to summon other players for help against bosses (this isn’t cheating — it’s sanity preservation), invade or be invaded by other players, and leave and view text messages within the world that may help or trick those who read them.

Add in the developer’s typically nebulous style of storytelling — they allegedly teamed up with fantasy author George R. R. Martin for the narrative, but I found none of the star scribe’s distinctive fingerprints in the writing or world-crafting — and you have a pretty familiar-feeling action RPG.

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Where it deviates from the FromSoftware formula is its absolutely enormous, free-to-explore world. Most of the Japanese game maker’s romps are set in much smaller, intricately crafted, wondrously labyrinthine environments that have players tiptoeing around, fearing enemy encounters around every corner while looking for hidden paths and shortcuts. Elden Ring‘s world is gigantic by comparison and even allows for spectral horse riding to shorten the trudge between distant locations.

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The good news is that the designers looked at the open world concept from a fresh perspective. This is not a game of fetch quests and go-here-and-kill-this-many-goblins style tasks. It instead embraces the notion of true exploration, providing a world full of mysterious ruins, artifacts and magical manifestations that are rarely less than enthralling to discover and investigate.

And yet, if I’m to pick a nit, I found my time spent in the open world ranked second to venturing into the game’s many keeps and dungeons. These areas are much more like a traditional FromSoftware game, where every step forward is filled with tension and dread and slowly forging a path through maze-like corridors creates its own special kind of satisfaction.

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Elden Ring is neither a step forward nor backward for the famed developer, but rather a shift to the side. It’s a different kind of FromSoftware game, one that mixes stampeding mounted combat in a vast world with more intimate, terrifying moments in dark caves and cramped castles. I’m having a grand time with it, make no mistake, but it’s not my favourite FromSoftware game to date.

Gran Turismo 7
Gran Turismo 7 Photo by SIE

Gran Turismo 7

Score: 8/10
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5 (Also available for PlayStation 4)
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: SIE

TL;DR: An old-school racer with modern trim.

I’m old enough to have adult memories of playing the original Gran Turismo on PlayStation One (back then we just called it PlayStation), and this latest entry honours the esteemed racer’s quarter-century heritage.

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Its collection of hundreds of beautifully detailed real-world rides is once again the star of the show. These cars behave with exceptional authenticity, giving geeky gearheads the ability to fine tune every little thing about each machine’s engine and performance characteristics. And we’re taught to handle our automobiles through a series of increasingly difficult driving licence tests that teach us everything from how to take a hairpin turn to stopping on a dime.

And unlike many modern racing games set in free-to-roam worlds, Gran Turismo 7 is perfectly confident in providing us with a limited set of closed circuit tracks cribbed from real-world locales. These courses are gradually unlocked as we work our way through a series of events designed to help build out our car collections — cutely spurred on via tasks presented on restaurant-style menus, where we learn about each auto in a manner akin to reading the details of a delicious dish.

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There are a couple of notable bumps in the road, though.

As with previous Gran Turismo games, it’s oddly easy to upgrade a ride to make it so overpowered that you’ll likely be able to breeze through most races in its class, which greatly reduces the challenge. I recommend adjusting difficulty parameters — especially driver AI — to higher levels than you normally would for a racing game.

Plus, while the cars are photorealistic in presentation, some of the background environments and architecture pale in comparison to what we’ve seen in Microsoft’s rival Forza Motorsport series — though, to be fair, you’ll likely have your eyes on your car and the road rather than the scenery most of the time.

Long story short, Gran Turismo 7 is a bit of a throwback to the genre’s early days — and includes some of the series’ old shortcomings — but when it comes to accurate driving physics and sheer, unadulterated love of cars, it’s something close to peerless.

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Elex II
Elex II Photo by THQ Nordiq

Elex II

Score: 4/10
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X (Also available for Xbox One/Series S, PlayStation 4/5, Windows PC)
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: THQ Nordic

TL;DR: Come for the jetpacking fun, leave because of everything else.

Boy, did THQ Nordic pick the wrong time to release a deeply mediocre open world game.

The sequel to 2017’s equally middling Elex, this sci-fi RPG once again stars Jax, the unlikely focal point around which a whole lot of crises seem to be taking place. The biggest of these is the alien invasion of Magalan, a once advanced planet now existing in apocalyptic stupor following a century-old meteor strike.

It has all the pieces of an enticing adventure, including a big and often beautiful world to freely explore (once you sufficiently upgrade your belt-mounted jetpack, vertical traversal becomes the game’s main draw), loads of tasks and quests to complete, and expansive character and equipment upgrade and crafting systems. There’s dozens of hours of content here, potentially providing plenty of bang for your gaming buck.

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Alas, it’s all fraying at the edges.

The story is clunky and disorienting thanks to a mix of uneven writing, wooden acting and overlapping quests that break narrative continuity. Ugly character models are made even worse by combat and conversation animations that are at times laughably awkward by modern standards. Melee battle is often a button-mashing mess, filled with floaty physics and attacks that seem to land or miss at random (ranged combat is marginally better). And the menu system is so plain it feels as though the art department had virtually no input — and yet it somehow still manages to be weirdly difficult to navigate with any efficiency.

This may have stood a minor chance in the bone dry days of summer, but with so many truly remarkable open world experiences currently on offer at the moment, it’s tough to see why anyone would opt for Elex II.

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Destiny 2: The Witch Queen
Destiny 2: The Witch Queen Photo by Bungie

Destiny: The Witch Queen

Score: 8.0/10
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5 (Also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One/Series S/X, Windows PC)
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Bungie

TL;DR: The best Destiny campaign in a long while. Plus: Glaives!

Just when I thought I was out, Bungie pulls me back in.

Despite having what I consider to be the best first-person shooter mechanics going, Destiny 2‘s muddled and multifarious sci-fi lore and convoluted-to-the-point-of-being-off-putting loot and growth systems have gradually made me lose interest. I skipped the last expansion (Beyond Light) completely. It’s the first one I missed.

But I reluctantly decided to give The Witch Queen a go, and darned if Bungie’s game hasn’t gotten its hooks back into me.

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First off, the new campaign is great. Set primarily inside a colourful realm called the Throne World, it has real drama thanks to a fantastic antagonist in the form of the titular villain whose motives are at least understandable, if not necessarily relatable. She’s managed to get a sect of ghosts — those little balls that follow the players’ avatars around and revive them when they die — to take up with her, meaning some of the more powerful foes you encounter will respawn shortly after you kill them unless you crush their little metal helpers in your gauntleted hand first. I was invested in seeing this story through.

Second, we’ve been given some fun new things to do in the player hubs, including the ability to build glaives — a gratifyingly powerful new category of weapon that straddles ranged and melee combat— and then go on to craft custom weapons. These elements successfully reignited my interest in upgrading my Titan’s arsenal.

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I’m admittedly still a bit lost when it comes to how all of the upgrade systems, subclasses, and secondary objectives and tasks work. And I’m sad that — as usual — I’ll miss out on the new raid mission for lack of being able to schedule a big team of friends to get together for multi-hour play sessions. But perhaps this is just the cost of doing business as a casual Destiny player.

All I know is that I’ve been given ample reason to head out and shoot robots and aliens big and small with a wonderful array of satisfying weapons. And that’s enough to get me to put another couple dozen hours into Bungie’s addictive looter shooter.



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