Get a PS4 With Bloodborne, The Last of Us, $20 Gift Card for $400

The reviews are in, and it looks like Bloodborne is a great excuse to get a PlayStation 4 if you don’t have one already.

If the PlayStation 4-exclusive has finally convinced you to get the console, Amazon has a great deal. For $400, you’ll get a PlayStation 4, a copy of Bloodborne, a $20 Amazon gift card, and copy of The Last of Us Remastered. You can find the deal on Amazon here.

GameSpot’s review gave Bloodborne a rare 9/10 for its agile, precise combat, fantastic artistry, and interconnected world.

If you’re looking for more great offers, check out GameSpot’s regular gaming deals posts, which round up the best discounts of the day.

Get a PS4 With Bloodborne, The Last of Us, $20 Gift Card for $400

The reviews are in, and it looks like Bloodborne is a great excuse to get a PlayStation 4 if you don’t have one already.

If the PlayStation 4-exclusive has finally convinced you to get the console, Amazon has a great deal. For $400, you’ll get a PlayStation 4, a copy of Bloodborne, a $20 Amazon gift card, and copy of The Last of Us Remastered. You can find the deal on Amazon here.

GameSpot’s review gave Bloodborne a rare 9/10 for its agile, precise combat, fantastic artistry, and interconnected world.

If you’re looking for more great offers, check out GameSpot’s regular gaming deals posts, which round up the best discounts of the day.

Resogun Defenders Review

Housemarque’s voxel-packed side-scrolling shooter Resogun is easy to love for it’s stimulating visuals and soundtrack, but once your newfound fascination with voxels and dance music finally cools, it’s the challenge to survive and the call of the high score that draws you back. This tradition is upheld in the new Defenders DLC, which contains two new modes: Protector and Commando. Protector mode is a more punishing and exciting variation of the standard game–you earn powerful upgrades at a rapid pace but typically die in one hit–while the Commando mode has you defend the last house on the planet as either Arnold Schwarzenegger or an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator, sans spaceship.

OK. It’s obviously not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but while defending humanity’s last home from incoming enemy spacecraft and environmental hazards, you do randomly spout some famous lines in his voice. It’s a fun touch, but don’t let the comedic side of Protector get in the way of what’s most important: defending that house. You run along the ground, firing into the sky as enemies nosedive into frame. Although the house you’re defending can withstand some damage, similar to structures in the classic game Missile Command, all it takes is one hit for you to die in Commando mode, and there are no continues. You do have a few of the same abilities as your spaceship, including bombs and speed boosts, and you can jump, which is useful when ground-based enemies eventually appear. Because you can fire in more than two directions with the right analog stick, Commando mode feels like it has more in common with twin-stick shooters than it does with Resogun.

Blasting through increasingly difficult waves of enemies in Commando mode is challenging and the Schwarzenegger impersonations are humorous, but fighting on foot isn’t as thrilling as zipping around in a ship. You don’t move particularly fast, and your gun is underpowered for what feels like too long relative to how fast the number of targets increases on screen. This new style of gameplay is intriguing because it’s different, but it lacks the sense of speed and excitement that’s typical of Resogun. That’s not to imply that it’s bad or even not fun–you still experience the wonder of voxels and the drive to earn higher and higher scores, and likely a bit of laughter–but Commando mode just doesn’t compare to the rest of Resogun.

If you’re looking for something more fast-paced and exciting, focus on Protector mode. It plays very similar to Resogun proper, where you zoom around a ring-shaped level, shooting down enemy ships and rescuing vulnerable humans on the ground, but you earn weapons and armor upgrades at a much faster rate than usual. The trade-off is that enemy swarms grow equally fast and you don’t start with any extra lives; the only second chances you get are in the form of expendable shields that occasionally come as bonuses for saving humans.

Piloting a fully-upgraded ship is a treat rarely afforded in other modes, where extended boosts and more destructive overdrive cannons are reserved for the best players, so Protector mode is a great way to experience a side of the game that may have been out of reach before. It’s oh-so-sweet to have a massively upgraded ship, and because the difficulty also scales fast, you still feel like you’re being challenged, even with all of the added firepower.

If Resogun has already run its course in your mind, there’s nothing in Defenders that’s going to lure you back in for the long haul. Of course, it’s hard to imagine how someone could ever get enough Resogun, being that it’s one of the best arcade-game experiences in years. In that sense, Defenders is a worthy addition to an already great game that will no doubt please anyone with a fondness for fighting within an inch of their life while also blowing up everything in sight into tiny, beautiful pieces.

Resogun Defenders Review

Housemarque’s voxel-packed side-scrolling shooter Resogun is easy to love for it’s stimulating visuals and soundtrack, but once your newfound fascination with voxels and dance music finally cools, it’s the challenge to survive and the call of the high score that draws you back. This tradition is upheld in the new Defenders DLC, which contains two new modes: Protector and Commando. Protector mode is a more punishing and exciting variation of the standard game–you earn powerful upgrades at a rapid pace but typically die in one hit–while the Commando mode has you defend the last house on the planet as either Arnold Schwarzenegger or an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator, sans spaceship.

OK. It’s obviously not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but while defending humanity’s last home from incoming enemy spacecraft and environmental hazards, you do randomly spout some famous lines in his voice. It’s a fun touch, but don’t let the comedic side of Protector get in the way of what’s most important: defending that house. You run along the ground, firing into the sky as enemies nosedive into frame. Although the house you’re defending can withstand some damage, similar to structures in the classic game Missile Command, all it takes is one hit for you to die in Commando mode, and there are no continues. You do have a few of the same abilities as your spaceship, including bombs and speed boosts, and you can jump, which is useful when ground-based enemies eventually appear. Because you can fire in more than two directions with the right analog stick, Commando mode feels like it has more in common with twin-stick shooters than it does with Resogun.

Blasting through increasingly difficult waves of enemies in Commando mode is challenging and the Schwarzenegger impersonations are humorous, but fighting on foot isn’t as thrilling as zipping around in a ship. You don’t move particularly fast, and your gun is underpowered for what feels like too long relative to how fast the number of targets increases on screen. This new style of gameplay is intriguing because it’s different, but it lacks the sense of speed and excitement that’s typical of Resogun. That’s not to imply that it’s bad or even not fun–you still experience the wonder of voxels and the drive to earn higher and higher scores, and likely a bit of laughter–but Commando mode just doesn’t compare to the rest of Resogun.

If you’re looking for something more fast-paced and exciting, focus on Protector mode. It plays very similar to Resogun proper, where you zoom around a ring-shaped level, shooting down enemy ships and rescuing vulnerable humans on the ground, but you earn weapons and armor upgrades at a much faster rate than usual. The trade-off is that enemy swarms grow equally fast and you don’t start with any extra lives; the only second chances you get are in the form of expendable shields that occasionally come as bonuses for saving humans.

Piloting a fully-upgraded ship is a treat rarely afforded in other modes, where extended boosts and more destructive overdrive cannons are reserved for the best players, so Protector mode is a great way to experience a side of the game that may have been out of reach before. It’s oh-so-sweet to have a massively upgraded ship, and because the difficulty also scales fast, you still feel like you’re being challenged, even with all of the added firepower.

If Resogun has already run its course in your mind, there’s nothing in Defenders that’s going to lure you back in for the long haul. Of course, it’s hard to imagine how someone could ever get enough Resogun, being that it’s one of the best arcade-game experiences in years. In that sense, Defenders is a worthy addition to an already great game that will no doubt please anyone with a fondness for fighting within an inch of their life while also blowing up everything in sight into tiny, beautiful pieces.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – Jaws of Hakkon Review

It’s been about four months since I’ve spent quality time in the world of Thedas–nearly 70 hours’ worth of it. This week’s content release for Dragon Age: Inquisition, Jaws of Hakkon, may have jump started my engine, reminding me what I love most about the core game: the sense of wonder, the thematic richness, a fantastic sense of place and personality. The new adventure becomes available in the second act of the game, taking your Inquisitor to the Frostback Basin, the foothills and valley near the mountain range at the southern end of Thedas. You’ve been called in to provide support for an archaeological survey of the region that is searching for the final resting place of the world’s last Inquisitor, Ameridan. While piecing together the mystery of Ameridan, you’ll have to navigate the region’s complex geography and even more complex sociopolitical relationships.

The Frostback Basin is a deceptively big zone. What seems easily conquerable on the map screen is actually a sizable and intricate mix of environments. Foothills open up into plateaus, which feature deep, dangerous pits. A lakeshore runs into the bubbling, muddy shallows of the basin, and those turn into misty swamplands and damp jungles. It’s all brought to life with vibrant color and fresh ambient sounds. The Frostback Basin feels distinct from the game’s other zones, and it’s mostly a joy to explore.

The environments in Jaws of Hakkon really show off Inquisition’s lighting engine.

I say “mostly,” because sometimes it feels like BioWare is trying to stretch out the available content in Jaws of Hakkon. Over the course of eight hours in the Frostback Basin, five different missions make you “follow the trail” across territory you’ve already explored thoroughly in the course of doing other missions. Most egregious is a mission that sends you around to flip a number of switches scattered across the northern half of the zone. For the previous six hours of play, these switches had been visible but inactive, and I knew that they’d send me back eventually. They did. This decision is particularly strange because Hakkon doesn’t need to be stretched in any way. The Frostback Basin is packed with all of the elements that made me love Inquisition to begin with: smart characterization, interesting combat encounters, and carefully written lore.

The Frostback Basin is home to two rival tribes of the Avvar, a human society that briefly pops up early on in Inquisition. The development of these groups (and of the region’s history in general) is the high point of Hakkon, and you’ll get the most out of this DLC if you dig into the lore about these people and their culture and religion. Dragon Age has always been at its best when the stories it tells are multifaceted and mysterious, and the same is true here: Religious iconography blurs together; magical traditions are at once remarkably similar and fundamentally different; and the final, “true” history is often left unknown.

What’s better than hanging out on a moonlit beach with some buds?

Best of all, the Avvar work to break apart the classic binaries that show up throughout the Dragon Age series. They share the Elven relationship to nature, but are human. They’re human, but don’t belong to any of the major political powers. They’re deeply spiritual, but also incredibly practical. They have a strict system to govern the use of magic, but use terms and concepts to explain the magical world that are entirely different than those used by the Templars and Circle of Mages. All of this works to complicate the world of Thedas by providing yet another potential perspective to consider.

This makes it extra frustrating that so little of Jaws of Hakkon shares the cinematic sheen of the rest of Inquisition. Most other zones in the world of Thedas have a mix of two different sorts of quests. Firstly, there are the little, MMOG-style missions you complete for this or that character: kill ten bears, or recover a missing satchel, or perform some other small task. Secondly, there are the major story missions that take you out of the third-person perspective and into a cutscene view, where dramatic music supports characters who emote and animate as the plot unfolds. In Hakkon, only the very beginning and very end of the main questline offer this second sort of storytelling. Throughout the rest of my eight hours, I watched as world-shaking information was delivered without any pomp or luster.

Learning about the Avvar culture is a highlight.

If you told me last week that this would bother me, I’d tell you that you’d be absolutely wrong. But here I am, missing the intimate close-ups and the sweeping vistas. (Maybe this shouldn’t be be surprising: Imagine an episode of Game of Thrones that never shows the detail of a character’s face.) Over the course of the previous 70 hours, Dragon Age: Inquisition had quietly taught me to expect a certain rhythm: I’d meander around a zone until I was ready to commit to one of the many “big” story events. There was a sort of storytelling grammar at work, and by reducing the use of that grammar, Hakkon rarely feels as substantial as it should. Thankfully, the final hour or so of Hakkon does utilize those storytelling tools to great effect, and it joins them with some new, unique mechanics in a series of major combat encounters that build momentum and velocity until an explosive climax.

Though I wish that Jaws of Hakkon was less bloated, and though I miss the cinematic flair of the rest of Dragon Age: Inquisition, I know that in a month I’ll have forgotten these quibbles. Instead, I’ll remember my time spent in Frostback Basin fondly. I’ll remember the sharp wit of Svarah Sun-Hair, the leader of the local Avvar clan. I’ll remember the holy symbols that blur the line between competing faiths. I’ll remember the mist and the mountains and the sun’s light through the trees. I’ll remember confronting legendary foes, and the time I got to spend with some of my favorite characters in video games.

Life is Strange, Episode Two Review

Life is Strange is at its best when it’s letting you talk to people. Some of the best moments are between Max, the hero of this story, and Chloe, her new/old best friend. Others involve Max delicately navigating a verbal encounter with little to wield other than words…and if need be, her time-bending superpower. Life is Strange’s first episode was a great setup for the world of Blackwell, where young adults struggle to find meaning and purpose in their lives, but was ultimately a little too bogged down by its time-rewinding mechanic. The mechanic still gets in the way of some poignant moments in Episode Two, Out of Time, but it is here that the game slowly begins introducing the limitations to Max’s power. This not only makes for some interesting encounters but drives the episode to an emotional high point that left me feeling raw, empty, and very impatient for the next installment.

Max’s story is getting darker. Chloe has warmed up to Max, and the episode opens with our young heroine on her way to meet her old friend for breakfast. She’s still dealing with the fallout of her run-in with Nathan Prescott in the previous episode, and–depending on choices you made in the previous episode and a few ones you’ll make early in this one–has becoming a looming, omnipresent threat to Max’s existence. She’s doing her best to balance this danger with being a good friend; not just to Chloe, but to Kate Marsh, another troubled girl. On top of all that, Max is getting wrapped up in Chloe’s problems, which turn out to be more sinister than having a militant stepfather. And as before, the adults in Life is Strange act like frightened children, completely inept at being helpful to these angsty teens and behaving in ways that no sensible real-world adult would.

In Episode One, I was bothered by the throwaway mentions of Rachel Amber, the girl who took Max’s place as Chloe’s bestie after she moved away, and who has since gone missing. Episode Two drops large hints that maybe we’re looking at the wrong people; this might not be Max’s story after all, but the story of an even greater mystery. There may only be just enough room for Max in Chloe’s and her friends’ world to solve these horrible problems. A missing girl. An approaching tornado. The one person with the power to stop it all may be the least important in the equation.

Every encounter counts.

Adding to the uptick in narrative intrigue is the gradual introduction of the limitations of Max’s power. Red splotches crowd the sides of the screen every time you rewind, indicating that Max is physically harming herself with her abilities. Out of Time slaps Max, and you, with the realization that these powers come with a price. This fragility, the knowledge that these powers don’t make Max some infallible entity that can perpetually change her choices, gives the choices you do make more weight. Max is no longer balancing teenage problems with unlimited power; she’s balancing teenage problems with a dangerous tool that can harm as well as help.

The tone of Episode Two is confusing to place, largely because of lengthy sequences that come across as too “gamey” and thus detract from the story. There are two instances in this episode where Life is Strange aggressively reminds you that it is a video game; the heartfelt narrative of a young girl’s struggle to be a force of good takes a backseat to fetch quests and memory puzzles. These moments weaken the tension of Life is Strange and I felt frustrated, as these sequences seem to take up time for the sake of adding some kind of game element. However, I learned to tamp down my impatience, as these moments give limitless breathing room to explore. I learned more about Chloe’s relationship with Rachel by scouring a junkyard and more about Kate Marsh’s home life by lingering in her dorm room. It doesn’t become apparent until the end of the episode that these tedious stretches have huge story impact. This is why I say the tone is confusing; Life is Strange wants you to stay tense and pay attention, yet simultaneously encourages you to stop and smell the roses, without much warning of when you’re supposed to do either. The solution is to keep on your toes, look at everything, and talk to everyone, because you genuinely never know when something will be important later.

Adults who behave like children, children who are trying to be adults.

This is never more evident than at the episode’s end, when “make or break” becomes too light a description for what Max has to do. Every choice you’ve made in the first two episodes, every decision you made connected to someone around Max, comes to a head here. This is where it ends, and where Life is Strange becomes more than an episodic video game. It becomes a window into the world of the young, where it’s either your oyster or it’s ending, when you’re too naive to think of the future. Bullying, drugs, wanting to be liked, feeling misunderstood, channeling emptiness into lashing out at others–this is why life is strange as a young adult. It’s a rare person that doesn’t wish she they could go back and get just one more chance with someone, with something.

Out of Time gives real meaning to the choices you’ve made. And by its conclusion, you’ll know whether or not Max, your version of Max, is a bad confidante. The episode’s turning point depends on how well you’ve paid attention to your classmates, how flakey or how helpful you’ve been for a certain friend. It requires you to have scoured every nook and cranny, poked into every room and fed your curiosity by examining everything. Because if you haven’t, the outcome can’t be undone under any circumstances. Life is Strange is actively testing how much you, the player, care. It’s a subtle way to imbue a lot of power into the choice mechanic, and it sneaks up on you without warning.

Is this the relationship that matters most?

Despite the great way Out of Time handles emotional payoff, it suffers from problematic dialogue. Characters will display conflicting emotions over the course of a conversation that ping pong between extremely positive and extremely negative, without cause. In one instance, a character warms up to you and comments how you’ve been missed, and when you respond positively she suddenly, nastily, ask if you’re making up for something you did wrong in Episode One. Another instance has someone admit she knows you care about her, and when you say that yes, you do care, she suddenly shouts that nobody cares about her. It makes no sense and makes many of these conversations feel like uphill battles in the dark. It’s harder to placate someone or do what you think is right when there’s a good chance that no matter what you say his or her response is completely out of your control.

Life is Strange still has problems with its dialogue and pacing, but Episode Two reaches emotional heights that are worth the journey. Your choices as Max are finally beginning to take on meaning, and the trajectory of her role in this messy story is more unclear than ever. But that’s a good thing; stories about people with infallible power are boring. Max is no superhero; she’s just a girl trying to be just and do right by everybody. But like in the real world, trying to please everyone has consequences, and Life is Strange lets you know that with a shot right to the heart.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D Review

Just as watching a film at the cinema offers a different experience from that of watching at home, playing on a handheld is a different proposition than playing on a television. The fact is, certain approaches fit one form of play better than another. It may sound obvious, but this is a reality of consumption often overlooked by those with power over game design.

Screen size is the primary factor dictating which features do and don’t work across handhelds and console-based games. It’s this, amid all of its splendid and eventual intrigue that the classic RPG Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has either failed to understand or simply not tackled for fear of altering what made its original incarnation so great. While it remains the remarkable game that it was when it was first released on the Wii in 2011, the reduced screen size Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has been squeezed on to does sour the experience.

The sense of scale generated by the game’s imposingly large environments has been retained, as has the wider visual flair and depth of battles. Similarly, character models when viewed up close are surprisingly expressive given the limited colors and lines used to draw them. However, it’s the little details that have suffered from the transition from the large to small screen.

Icons indicating the availability of a new quest or the presence of a shopkeeper, for instance, alongside the directional area pointing you to your next objective are far from clear and easy to miss amongst the extensive buffet of other imagery typically filling the screen. The latter can be especially confusing at times, forcing you to slow down your exploration efforts in order to perform constant references of the full map.

Everything feels a little cramped and, as a result, messy. Simple visual cues that should be easily digestible at a glance take too long to figure out, reducing the simplicity of interaction that allowed the Wii original to stretch its wings and present its more complex nuances with precision and clarity.

The New 3DS’ 3D effect doesn’t help either, further complicating the issue of space by overloading the visual impact. It’s most noticeable when trying to identify enemies at a distant that are painted a similar shade to their environment. While the 3D is gorgeous during cut-scenes and moments not requiring much (or any) interaction, it gets in the way when the action picks up. Having to constantly turn it on and off is a minor problem given the New 3DS’ positioning of the 3D slider, but it remains a nuisance.

That’s New 3DS with a capital ‘n’ by design, because Xenoblade Chronicles 3DS only works on Nintendo’s latest handheld iteration. Yes, if you have an older model you will have to pull out your wallet and part with your cash. It’s the first game to require the new model by default and, as such, much is riding on its success–particularly the overriding consumer view of the hardware.

It’s a shame, then, that more care hasn’t been given to the macro details; if it wasn’t for those it would be tempting to award this experience something approaching top marks. In all other areas this is an RPG that delivers the same extraordinary experience it did four years ago. Such was the originality of its ideas back then that today it makes the majority of its younger genre peers look positively archaic by comparison.

The real-time combat system shines especially bright, offering a deceptively easy to learn set of rules that are continually enriched and diversified as you’re drawn further into the plot and up the character levels. For instance, attacking from behind can cause extra damage, while attacking from the side can lower physical defense. Later you can chain character-specific moves between all three characters, adding more depth to already intricate combat. By opening the door to new tactical avenues so frequently, and providing a wide range of enemies to test them against, there’s rarely an area or period of play in which battles feel stale or repetitive.

Considering the length of the game, some 70 hours or more, this should be considered a towering achievement. It’s a shame that the visual restrictions do inhibit some of the combat’s appeal in comparison to the Wii edition, but it’s worth sticking with it to explore and appreciate the varied action during skirmishes. It’s also worth checking out Xenoblade’s many side quests, which–thanks to some deep subplots and character exploration–are far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill fetch quests you’d find in lesser RPGs.

Similar time and effort has gone into the narrative, a tale of giant titans and warring colonies that’s rich and energetically presented thanks to a skilfully orchestrated English-language localization effort. While the voiceover work is most certainly pointed towards the sillier and more childlike end of the acting spectrum, the charm with which it has been carried out makes it difficult not to enjoy.

The style of acting provides an accurate barometer for the wider experience as whole; Xenoblade Chronicles is so unlike what most other Japanese RPGs have attempted over the past decade or so. Dialogue and character reactions rarely fall foul of the stifling conventional cliches that can plague even the most revered games in this genre, mirroring the degree to which you’re pleasantly surprised by the scale of the world and the combat. Xenoblade might have been crammed into a smaller space, but that has certainly not diminished the well-rounded and varied characterization of its cast.

While it’s an inferior proposition to its initial release in 2011, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D remains superior to the majority of RPGs. The move to 3DS has harmed the act of playing, but if you can look past the clunky signage and questionable 3D then you’ll find a game that remains an amazing high point for the genre, one that’ll absorb you right up to its glorious finale.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D Review

Just as watching a film at the cinema offers a different experience from that of watching at home, playing on a handheld is a different proposition than playing on a television. The fact is, certain approaches fit one form of play better than another. It may sound obvious, but this is a reality of consumption often overlooked by those with power over game design.

Screen size is the primary factor dictating which features do and don’t work across handhelds and console-based games. It’s this, amid all of its splendid and eventual intrigue that the classic RPG Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has either failed to understand or simply not tackled for fear of altering what made its original incarnation so great. While it remains the remarkable game that it was when it was first released on the Wii in 2011, the reduced screen size Xenoblade Chronicles 3D has been squeezed on to does sour the experience.

The sense of scale generated by the game’s imposingly large environments has been retained, as has the wider visual flair and depth of battles. Similarly, character models when viewed up close are surprisingly expressive given the limited colors and lines used to draw them. However, it’s the little details that have suffered from the transition from the large to small screen.

Icons indicating the availability of a new quest or the presence of a shopkeeper, for instance, alongside the directional area pointing you to your next objective are far from clear and easy to miss amongst the extensive buffet of other imagery typically filling the screen. The latter can be especially confusing at times, forcing you to slow down your exploration efforts in order to perform constant references of the full map.

Everything feels a little cramped and, as a result, messy. Simple visual cues that should be easily digestible at a glance take too long to figure out, reducing the simplicity of interaction that allowed the Wii original to stretch its wings and present its more complex nuances with precision and clarity.

The New 3DS’ 3D effect doesn’t help either, further complicating the issue of space by overloading the visual impact. It’s most noticeable when trying to identify enemies at a distant that are painted a similar shade to their environment. While the 3D is gorgeous during cut-scenes and moments not requiring much (or any) interaction, it gets in the way when the action picks up. Having to constantly turn it on and off is a minor problem given the New 3DS’ positioning of the 3D slider, but it remains a nuisance.

That’s New 3DS with a capital ‘n’ by design, because Xenoblade Chronicles 3DS only works on Nintendo’s latest handheld iteration. Yes, if you have an older model you will have to pull out your wallet and part with your cash. It’s the first game to require the new model by default and, as such, much is riding on its success–particularly the overriding consumer view of the hardware.

It’s a shame, then, that more care hasn’t been given to the macro details; if it wasn’t for those it would be tempting to award this experience something approaching top marks. In all other areas this is an RPG that delivers the same extraordinary experience it did four years ago. Such was the originality of its ideas back then that today it makes the majority of its younger genre peers look positively archaic by comparison.

The real-time combat system shines especially bright, offering a deceptively easy to learn set of rules that are continually enriched and diversified as you’re drawn further into the plot and up the character levels. For instance, attacking from behind can cause extra damage, while attacking from the side can lower physical defense. Later you can chain character-specific moves between all three characters, adding more depth to already intricate combat. By opening the door to new tactical avenues so frequently, and providing a wide range of enemies to test them against, there’s rarely an area or period of play in which battles feel stale or repetitive.

Considering the length of the game, some 70 hours or more, this should be considered a towering achievement. It’s a shame that the visual restrictions do inhibit some of the combat’s appeal in comparison to the Wii edition, but it’s worth sticking with it to explore and appreciate the varied action during skirmishes. It’s also worth checking out Xenoblade’s many side quests, which–thanks to some deep subplots and character exploration–are far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill fetch quests you’d find in lesser RPGs.

Similar time and effort has gone into the narrative, a tale of giant titans and warring colonies that’s rich and energetically presented thanks to a skilfully orchestrated English-language localization effort. While the voiceover work is most certainly pointed towards the sillier and more childlike end of the acting spectrum, the charm with which it has been carried out makes it difficult not to enjoy.

The style of acting provides an accurate barometer for the wider experience as whole; Xenoblade Chronicles is so unlike what most other Japanese RPGs have attempted over the past decade or so. Dialogue and character reactions rarely fall foul of the stifling conventional cliches that can plague even the most revered games in this genre, mirroring the degree to which you’re pleasantly surprised by the scale of the world and the combat. Xenoblade might have been crammed into a smaller space, but that has certainly not diminished the well-rounded and varied characterization of its cast.

While it’s an inferior proposition to its initial release in 2011, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D remains superior to the majority of RPGs. The move to 3DS has harmed the act of playing, but if you can look past the clunky signage and questionable 3D then you’ll find a game that remains an amazing high point for the genre, one that’ll absorb you right up to its glorious finale.

Game of Thrones: Episode Three – The Sword in the Darkness Review

Everything you’ve been fighting for up to this point is finally in front of you. The third episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones will decide whether or not you get what you want, and whether or not you need to stop thinking and just start running.

The Sword in the Darkness does an excellent job of mirroring the Game of Thrones HBO series’ tendency to place a high-tension, high-energy episode smack in the middle of a season. Episode Three never lets you catch your breath; each scene features major choices with consequences that ripple out to this chapter’s credits–characters will continue to harp on decisions made early in the episode–and hint at larger problems to come in following episodes.

Episode Three upset me in ways the first two episodes haven’t. It made me physically anxious. As someone who has read all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire and generally knows what’s coming in the television series, it’s fabulously disturbing to see Telltale’s characters get kicked around and have no idea how their story ends.

You will let a lot of people down in The Sword in the Darkness. Every plot-hinging choice leaves someone you love out in the cold, debating how much they can trust you. You must choose between family and best friends, mothers and sisters, the lady you’ve sworn to serve and the lord you’ve made a dubious pact with. Friendships and alliances are made at the expense of breaking others. Game of Thrones nails the sentiment that author George R. R. Martin hammers home across A Song of Ice and Fire: you can’t please everyone, and the second you displease someone, you better watch your back.

You know what they say about live dragons…

The Sword in the Darkness brings plot threads that were left free-floating in Episode Two to their high points. Rodrick struggles to stand his ground against the cruel Whitehills while still treading carefully because the youngest Forrester, Ryon, remains the Whitehills’ captive. Half a world away, Asher and Beskha, joined by Malcolm, chase Daenerys Targaryen across the desert, searching for an army of sellswords to bring home to Ironrath. In King’s Landing, on the eve of the royal wedding, Mira must choose between waiting for Margaery Tyrell to have time to help her and seeking out her own, less favorable alliances. Gared, just as he’s settling into life with the Night’s Watch, is thrown a curve ball that proves he can’t escape his past.

It is in this episode that you finally see the fruits of your labor bloom; every big choice you’ve made in Episode One and Two catches up with you. Situations you tried to clean up, like the strange incidents with Mira and the coal boy or negotiating alliances with other northern houses, are proven to be un-cleanable. Everything you’ve worked for can be destroyed in seconds or made worse, depending on the people you side with.

Decisions available to you, as members of House Forrester, always revolve around what is best for the family. But some family members and their allies differ in what they feel is the right course of action. Episode Three brings to the forefront the struggle to keep your family placated and safe, either by listening to them, making empty promises, or acting on your own when you don’t have time to consult them. There’s a moment where Rodrick has to choose between standing up to the Whitehills to defend his little sister Talia, or biting his tongue and taking the abuse because his mother worries what repercussions his actions will have on Ryon’s safety. It’s a powerful moment, being forced to choose between your mother and your sister, showing weakness and allowing your enemy to walk all over you in hopes the danger subsides, or standing tall and showing strength because your baby sister is counting on you. The outcome is awful no matter what, because you’ve let someone down either way, and you always feel horrible.

DISAPPOINTED.

There aren’t many combat sections in The Sword in the Darkness, as most of the episode is focused on verbally navigating situations and choosing the heinousness of the lies you tell. There is also not much time given to exploring environments, and in each segment when you get to poke around, you’re looking for something within a time limit. Twice I had to search for things–like a piece of paper or an escape route–while enemies were on the approach, leaving little room to look around. It’s a bit disappointing, as it takes away from the world feeling lived-in, with objectives in straight lines rather than allowing some wiggle room.

Once again, the Forresters continue to be the most interesting characters on screen, and their plight is much more interesting than what’s going on with Jon Snow or Margaery. But the way Game of Thrones’ canon characters come into play in Episode Three is great. Their presence seamlessly weaves into and out of the plot, with small things like a brief comment from Cersei Lannister making Margaery question your loyalty. Tyrion, Cersei, Margaery, they’re not just dangerous people to placate with conversation anymore; they are now completely in charge of your fate.

Most of this is witnessed through Mira’s storyline, as she has the most direct contact with them. As of Episode Three, Mira’s story is by far the most intriguing, as she’s playing with fire on a level a little higher than her siblings. Her plot started off slow in the first two episodes, but her struggle is the center of Episode Three, and she’s playing a game as intricate as those currently struggling for Westeros’ crown.

Asher and Beshka’s tale continues to delight, as the two of them play beautifully off each other with their bantering and sibling-like bond. The Ironrath plot, however, is starting to get dull; Rodrick and those left behind in the North continue to beat their heads against the Whitehills to no avail. The events are repetitive: Rodrick or another Forrester stands up to the Whitehill member in charge, the Forresters get slapped around, and the Whitehill in charge is replaced with another Whitehill a little meaner than the last. Each Whitehill makes the same promise to destroy the Forresters if they don’t submit to authority, but so far there’s only been some light kicking and punching. As of now, the Whitehills don’t feel like a threat as devastating as Ramsay Snow, but I’m unwilling to discount them just yet.

And finally, Gared and his secret about the North Grove have been given more attention and care within the narrative. What was tossed around briefly in the last two episodes is finally in the spotlight and becomes a matter of grave importance very quickly. Just like the series it’s based on, Game of Thrones has taken something small and seemingly minor and ripped off the curtain to reveal it as the most important thing you know.

Standoff at Ironrath.

Game of Thrones’ third episode succeeds in making you feel like the rest of the season is hinging on the decisions you make. It marks the narrative apex so far, the highest dramatic climax, with its barrage of tough choices in rapid succession. You can’t help but feel bad for these characters; it looks like there’s no way for them to win. If you’ve been playing it safe up to this point, deferring to answers that keep the characters safe and relatively benign, you’re in for a rude awakening. Episode Three marks the beginning of the end for neutrality. There are tough decisions to make and no way around them, making this episode true to the Game of Thrones atmosphere at its core.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection Review

As famed gun merchant and narrator Marcus Kincaid would say, Borderlands is about stories: tales of villains and antiheroes, of weapons and treasure, and of course, of mysterious vaults safeguarding fantastic riches…or unspeakable horror. So the legends go, at least. But one tale in particular has stood among the rest. It is about a man named Jack, who rose from the position of programmer in a weapons manufacturer, to self-declared dictator of a hostile arid planet known as Pandora. It is his story that is the focus of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, a console-only package including the series’ most recent cooperative first-person releases, complete with updated graphics and enough additional content to sink Wam Bam Island.

It’s a convincing package, as The Handsome Collection consists of both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The upgrade is warranted if you own a current system and only played the originals, or if you have yet to delve into the massive amount of add-ons for either game. It’s too bad however, that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel comes up short, in both mission design and presentation.

Though I find it unfortunate that the original Borderlands isn’t included, it’s not like The Handsome Collection is wanting for content. There is a ton to see and do here, with Borderlands 2 encompassing the lion’s share of what’s stamped on the disk. Together with The Pre-Sequel, the games come paired with numerous add-on packs that include side campaigns, challenge arenas, character skins, upgraded level caps, and four additional vault hunters–two for each game. The amount of extras is incredible, especially considering that both games are lengthy on their own, coming in at several dozen hours each. And that’s not even counting true vault hunter mode, which allows you to replay the campaigns at a higher difficulty for a chance at rarer loot. The included season pass for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel means that not only do you have access to content currently available, but also future add-ons, including Claptastic Voyage, the first campaign add-on for The Pre-Sequel which launches the same day as The Handsome Collection.

If you have yet to experience the side missions in either game, it’s imperative to note that some of the DLC takes place canonically after the events of their main campaigns. So keep that in mind if you want to avoid any unnecessary spoilers. In addition, if you have already played either of the two games, The Handsome Collections allows you to transfer your save files from the older consoles within the same console family (Xbox 360 to Xbox One, PS3 to PS4).

Borderlands 2 does little to change the classic Borderlands formula of shooting and looting, bringing more evolution than revolution. The game reintroduces Pandora as a more engaging world, bringing in nastier enemies as well as a host of lovable characters, most of them sane enough to lend some help or provide small quests, but eccentric enough to make you wonder if their harsh lifestyles warped their minds. The writing is given a fresh kick, bringing vigor to the vault hunters and Pandora’s citizens with fantastic and often hilarious dialogue, which effortlessly has you swaying from grins to belly laughs and back again. Though the characters are chattier, there is a downside: Conversations tend to bleed into each other, and you often miss what’s being said. However, you usually get the gist of what’s going on from updates to your mission status. The blistering combat is the one thing that remains mostly the same, and it is still tight and satisfying, with multiple enemy variants and imposing, memorable boss battles.

Other than the allure of gathering the best loot around, Borderlands 2 also keeps your interest high as you’re challenged to create the most powerful vault hunter possible. Experience points are doled out following kills and completed missions, and with each level gained you are given a skill point to develop new or existing abilities in your vault hunter’s skill tree. Some of these skills favor supporting solo or cooperative play, while others passively enhance base stats such as critical hit damage or health recharge rate. You also have several skills that improve your vault hunter’s action skill, his or her signature move. Completing challenges as you move through the game awards you with badass tokens, which you spend on giving your characters–all of them at once–small attribute boosts.

More importantly, not only to the plot of Borderlands 2 but to the collection in general, the game is the first to introduce the violent and sarcastic villain–and Hyperion CEO–Handsome Jack. It’s clear from the game’s explosive onset: Jack is one seriously bad guy. But he also commands one of the game’s most memorable roles. His mockery of the vault hunters, though incredibly amusing, is tinged with darkness. Yes, you will chuckle at his antics–one in particular related to a diamond horse he lovingly names Butt Stallion still gets me. Yet that laughter becomes a nervous chuckle as Jack details a time he pulled out a man’s eyeballs with a spoon as his family watched in horror. Jack is all too obliged to flex the military arm of Hyperion, sending waves of robot attackers to take you and your fellow vault hunters down for good.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’s story takes place between the first two games, but builds itself on top of the groundwork laid out by Borderlands 2, yet with a fresh, gravity-defying twist. The game takes you on a brief tour of the ominous Hyperion space station before sending you to Pandora’s cold, fractured moon of Elpis. The oxygen-free environments provide a different challenge to overcome. Your survival relies on Oz Kits, which provide not only a supply of precious oxygen, but act as a jet booster to lift you high into the air and allow you to return to the ground in a thunderous butt slam. The decreased gravity completely changes how you approach combat, allowing both you and your enemies to battle from both the ground and floating through the air. It requires you to remain cognizant of not only what’s in front of you, but also on dangers above and below. The updated combat is enthralling; It’s familiar enough to naturally dive into, while the high-flying escapades prevent it from growing stale.

With The Handsome Collection, I looked forward to the chance of experiencing The Pre-Sequel’s campaign once more. After all, the game weaves the humorous tale of Jack’s rise from a Hyperion programmer to its nefarious head honcho. But even though I once more savored the feeling of lazily swimming through vacuum, popping the heads of enemy scavs, I realized I wasn’t enjoying my return visit to Elpis. When I reviewed The Pre-Sequel late last year, one of my critiques involved mission pacing, and how some quests became tiresome ventures. Indeed, several missions are either overly lengthy, or feature moments of too little inactivity. When compounded by a drop in speed due to the weaker gravity, the sense of urgency is damaged.

I hesitate calling the The Handsome Collection “remastered,” regardless of how often the word is printed on the game box. (That number is three.) It hasn’t received the sort of intense graphical overhaul as, say, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, and it’s not as if the games required it. Borderlands 2, the older of the two games, was released in 2012, hardly long enough ago to cultivate even a modest patina to be scrubbed clean. Instead, it’s far more honest to say that the games have been unshackled, released from the technological restraints of the aged Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. In other words, what The Handsome Collection offers is nothing that hasn’t been seen on a high-end PC.

But that doesn’t mean the visuals are not deserving of your attention. The aesthetics for both games, The Pre-Sequel in particular, are marvelous in The Handsome Collection. Borderlands’ traditional cel-shaded design is crisp, with bright colors that burst with life. You can almost feel the heat rising from one of Pandora’s many deserts, and my return to the lovely tropical-flavored Wam Bam Island was made even more spectacular thanks to the sharper graphics. And I dare you not to stand in awe of Elpis’ twinkling, starry canopy, or the multi-colored mists slowly rising from its ocean of ice-cold methane.

Sadly, those gorgeous lunar vistas do come with a cost. The Handsome Collection boasts a video output of 1080p running at 60 frames per second, and that holds mainly true for Borderlands 2, which mostly performs at a buttery smooth pace. But if Borderlands 2 is analogous to creamy butter, then The Pre-Sequel is more akin to the peanut variety—the chunky kind. You won’t notice the frame drops so long as you’re within smaller, enclosed spaces. Walking outside grants you a far clearer understanding, as if the game is softly applying brakes. In larger, detailed areas, as well as during intense battles, performance hits are common enough to become distracting, able to pull you out of the mood time and time again. The problem is exacerbated when running The Pre-Sequel in split-screen multiplayer, with slowdown occurring at nearly every interval. Normally, the game is set to run at 30 FPS for up to four screens, but I was lucky to get that on most occasions. I only ran it with the game split between two players; I’d hate to see what happens when it’s doubled.

In the spirit of fairness, Borderlands 2 isn’t completely in the clear, itself. Frame rate noticeably drops during moments of heavy combat; however, it isn’t comparable to the turbulence found in The Pre-Sequel. It’s a fleeting, almost unexpected thing, sticking around only long enough to make you think “Oh?” before vanishing completely. In my first 10 hours into Borderlands 2, the frames dipped only a few times, which did not harm my overall enjoyment to the extent that The Pre-Sequel could muster.

The Handsome Collection is still a great compilation, allowing you to witness not only Jack’s tale, but play a major role in shaping the history of Pandora itself, along with its lonely moon.

The audio remains the same quality, though it’s hardly lacking by any definition. Both games star extravagant weaponry, all of which can be easily distinguished by your ears alone: sniper rifles and shotguns shatter the calm Pandoran air, while laser guns pop and sizzle over Elpis’ cragged lunar surface. Most of the voiceover work is fantastic, with a special nod going toward Dameon Clarke as the sassy Handsome Jack himself. The Western-inspired soundtrack of Borderlands 2, with music composed of wind flutes and the soft plucks of acoustic guitars, is as delightful as I remember. Sitting on the opposite end of the spectrum is The Pre-Sequel’s album of synthesized digital tunes, which doesn’t quite stand out as readily, but keeps well to the game’s overall futuristic tone.

Let’s be clear: You don’t have to be Handsome Jack’s number-one fan to appreciate Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. But even if you’re not, you will still find an impressive archive, chock full of dozens upon dozens of hours of laughter and exciting combat. Even considering issues presented by Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, The Handsome Collection is still a great compilation, allowing you to witness not only Jack’s tale, but play a major role in shaping the history of Pandora itself, along with its lonely moon. And that is a story that Marcus may gladly tell again someday.