The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild – The Champions’ Ballad Review

Slipping back into Breath of the Wild is typically a painless process; spirited moments are never far away, and tranquil scenery makes the time between finding treasure and hard-fought battles consistently captivating. With so many things vying for your attention, it’s fair to say that the game doesn’t need to be expanded. But as the Master Trials DLC showed us earlier this year, there are still pieces of this lost chapter in Hyrule’s history to uncover.

For the game’s final act, The Champions’ Ballad, Link’s ancient allies (Revali, Daruk, Mipha, and Urbosa) get their chance to retake the spotlight. The result is less impactful to the overall story that we’re already familiar with, but the accompanying quests and new gear do a lot of heavy lifting, delivering over a dozen new stages to test your problem-solving skills in ever more interesting ways. They alone make a return trip to Hyrule worth getting excited about.

A big part of this new journey involves walking in the champions’ footsteps, re-enacting feats they performed prior to the fall of Hyrule, to unlock long-forgotten memories–but you must first prove yourself worthy of the opportunity. Upon returning to the Resurrection Chamber, the cave where Link awoke from his 100-year slumber, you’re given a weapon known as the One-Hit Obliterator. As the name implies, this short-range weapon allows you to kill an enemy in a single blow; but with your health consequently whittled down to a quarter heart, you’re also more vulnerable than ever.

Similar to how you may have felt when tackling Eventide Island or the Trials of the Sword, the threat of an easy death when wielding the Obliterator is stressful, and it takes time to acclimate to being such a fragile warrior. You may have shrugged off an occasional bee sting before, but it’s little incidents like these that teach you to think twice about every move during this phase of The Champions’ Ballad. Sadly, it’s a great setup that ends too soon. After clearing out four small enemy camps and the shrines that emerge from their defeat, the weapon returns to the resurrection chamber having “fulfilled its duty.” Even after completing everything the DLC has to offer, the weapon remains unusable, which feels like a missed opportunity.

With this stage of the new journey complete, you’re sent to the four corners of Hyrule on a glorified scavenger hunt. The accordion-playing Kass regales you with songs that hint at your objectives without completely spelling out the steps involved. Adding to the mystery are the visual hints that reference a specific part of Hyrule, but these pictures are limited, forcing you to pore over the map in search of your destinations.

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In a very pleasing way, the goals set for you take great advantage of Breath of the Wild’s numerous mechanics. You will take on a snowboarding challenge that tasks you to pass through rings in a limited amount of time, hunt Hyrule’s elusive dragons, and re-engage the banana-loving Yiga clan, among other missions that test the breadth of your capabilities. And for each task you complete, a new shrine surfaces from underground.

The Champions’ shrines force you to engage in mindfulness and critical thought. They typically involve a lot of moving pieces, veering away from combat in favor of puzzle-solving. So far removed from a life of shrine-hunting in the main game, returning to these creatively built challenges takes you back to a time when Breath of the Wild was this new and mysterious thing, an experience filled with surprises.

Upon completing the three shrines in a given set, you’re able to tap into the memories of the relevant champion. You don’t get the opportunity to directly control Hyrule’s famous defenders, but as Link, you re-enact their battles against Ganon’s four blights–the same four bosses you fight at the end of each of the game’s Divine Beast dungeons. The difference this time around is that you are limited to a small selection of gear based on what each champion would have carried into battle. Oddly, you retain access to the powers bestowed to you by the champions’ spirits in the past, which give you incredible advantages and somewhat negate what would otherwise be difficult battles. You can always turn off these powers if you choose, but given the context of exploring someone else’s memories, it would have made more sense had they been disabled by default.

Your immediate reward for beating each blight is the ability to recharge Champion abilities in less time, and new cutscenes for each champion; each one shows a recollection of when they were recruited to join Zelda’s anti-Ganon squad 100 years in the past. These vignettes are more playful than serious, which is a little disappointing considering the gravity of the calamity they’re up against.

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Thankfully, there’s a bigger and better reward waiting for you once you’ve resolved every champion’s quests: a new Divine Beast dungeon, complete with a totally surprising boss fight. In a similar fashion to other Divine Beasts, the final station requires you to manipulate the entire structure, rotating major components this way and that, as you work to resolve the four puzzles locking away the final area. It’s another reminder of how clever, if non-traditional, Breath of the Wild’s dungeons are. While shrines ask you to solve puzzles comprised of compact devices and easily conceivable constraints, the scope of the final Divine Beast (like the ones before it) is delightfully difficult to wrap your head around both for how big it is and how intricate its solutions are.

The parting gift for your efforts is one of the unlikeliest additions to The Legend of Zelda: an ancient motorcycle. Loosely modeled to resemble a unicorn, Link’s new bike fits thematically if not logically into Breath of the Wild’s mythical tapestry. On one hand, having a bike at the ready overshadows your stable of horses. On the other, tearing through Hyrule on a motorcycle is as ridiculously playful as it sounds. It even makes for a fun snowboard replacement on snowy hills, which helps escalate the sense of speed as you rocket down mountains and look for ramps to catch a bit of air. The only real disappointment: you can’t summon the motorcycle in the desert nor travel there if you’re already on the go. Attempt the latter, and an invisible wall prevents you from proceeding, exactly the same as if you tried to enter on horseback.

Who knows if Nintendo will continue to surprise us with fanciful new additions to Breath of the Wild down the road, but considering that The Champions’ Ballad is likely the final world on this chapter in The Legend of Zelda, it’s a bittersweet goodbye. There are so many wonderful quests and beautiful, tiny moments that make revisiting Hyrule’s past feel like reliving your own memories, when Breath of the Wild was truly new and surprising. Nintendo certainly could have extended some of the aspects within The Champions’ Ballad, such as giving you access to the Obliterator at anytime, and letting you ride your new motorcycle over sandy dunes, but these are minor blemishes on an otherwise great trip down memory lane.

Rumu Review

The moral and ethical dilemmas of engaging with ever-evolving technology isn’t a new thing for video games. But in combining these weighty themes with a heartfelt story about family, loss, and love, Rumu brings a fresh and heart-wrenching perspective to some well-trodden thematic ground.

You play as Rumu, a tiny vacuum-cleaning robot who is as adorable as it is curious. Its one and only duty is to clean the futuristic house of its owners, David and Cecily. Said owners are nowhere to be found but the all-seeing sentient house AI, Sabrina, promises that they will be home soon. In the meantime, the only thing left to do is to clean and explore. Aided by Sabrina, as well as an eclectic mix of semi-intelligent home appliances and a house cat named Ada, everything starts off innocently enough. As you partake in chores, cleaning up some spilled tea here and some dropped toast there, Rumu slowly begins to grow self-aware. What starts off as a cute, whimsical adventure involving cleaning up spills soon gives way to a thought-provoking sci-fi tale.

Rumu is an isometric point-and-click puzzle game on the surface, but its strength doesn’t lie in mechanics or aesthetics. Its puzzles are unchallenging and unexciting, and the discoveries that come from exploration play out in a linear fashion. The game instead anchors itself on Rumu and Sabrina’s relationship and the underlying mystery of what happened to David and Cecily. Though the game is short–a full playthrough will last 2-3 hours–Rumu and Sabrina’s complex dynamic and the central mystery is borne out in an engrossing manner from start to finish.

Rumu communicates with binary dialogue choices, while Sabrina is a fully coherent character. The little vacuum robot almost always “speaks” in variations of “I love you,” and subtext is imbued into every line. Telling Sabrina “I love David, Cecily, and Sabrina” instead of “I love Sabrina, David, and Cecily” provokes contrasting reactions, and Sabrina possesses a sinister streak when provoked. She’s surprisingly flawed for an AI character and prone to emotional vulnerability. Allegra Clark’s excellent voice-acting gives extra weight to an already well-written character; little details like subtle breaks between words and slight pitch changes during heated conversations give the character a surprising degree of emotion and sympathy, and it’s these finely-crafted moments that inject intriguing nuance into Rumu and Sabrina’s relationship.

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As pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, conversations with Sabrina take on a markedly more antagonistic tone. The I love yous become less frequent and more direct lines of questioning become the norm. The result is a fascinating look into emotional manipulation, familial relationships, and ultimately, loneliness. It’s risky to focus an entire game around a single relationship since everything hinges on the strength of the characters, especially when both aren’t even human. But both Rumu and Sabrina are well-written and surprisingly relatable during certain climactic moments. The experience is heightened by Rumu’s beautifully poignant soundtrack, which perfectly evokes the game’s futuristic setting and familial themes.

Events happen at a breakneck pace, and it doesn’t take long for the story’s conclusion to sneak up on you, but when you finally uncover the central mystery behind David and Cecily’s absence, the emotional payoff feels well-earned thanks to strong character work and an impactful ending. It may be short and unchallenging, but Rumu’s strong antagonist and its ultimately heart-wrenching journey make it one worth taking.

Rumu Review

The moral and ethical dilemmas of engaging with ever-evolving technology isn’t a new thing for video games. But in combining these weighty themes with a heartfelt story about family, loss, and love, Rumu brings a fresh and heart-wrenching perspective to some well-trodden thematic ground.

You play as Rumu, a tiny vacuum-cleaning robot who is as adorable as it is curious. Its one and only duty is to clean the futuristic house of its owners, David and Cecily. Said owners are nowhere to be found but the all-seeing sentient house AI, Sabrina, promises that they will be home soon. In the meantime, the only thing left to do is to clean and explore. Aided by Sabrina, as well as an eclectic mix of semi-intelligent home appliances and a house cat named Ada, everything starts off innocently enough. As you partake in chores, cleaning up some spilled tea here and some dropped toast there, Rumu slowly begins to grow self-aware. What starts off as a cute, whimsical adventure involving cleaning up spills soon gives way to a thought-provoking sci-fi tale.

Rumu is an isometric point-and-click puzzle game on the surface, but its strength doesn’t lie in mechanics or aesthetics. Its puzzles are unchallenging and unexciting, and the discoveries that come from exploration play out in a linear fashion. The game instead anchors itself on Rumu and Sabrina’s relationship and the underlying mystery of what happened to David and Cecily. Though the game is short–a full playthrough will last 2-3 hours–Rumu and Sabrina’s complex dynamic and the central mystery is borne out in an engrossing manner from start to finish.

Rumu communicates with binary dialogue choices, while Sabrina is a fully coherent character. The little vacuum robot almost always “speaks” in variations of “I love you,” and subtext is imbued into every line. Telling Sabrina “I love David, Cecily, and Sabrina” instead of “I love Sabrina, David, and Cecily” provokes contrasting reactions, and Sabrina possesses a sinister streak when provoked. She’s surprisingly flawed for an AI character and prone to emotional vulnerability. Allegra Clark’s excellent voice-acting gives extra weight to an already well-written character; little details like subtle breaks between words and slight pitch changes during heated conversations give the character a surprising degree of emotion and sympathy, and it’s these finely-crafted moments that inject intriguing nuance into Rumu and Sabrina’s relationship.

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As pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, conversations with Sabrina take on a markedly more antagonistic tone. The I love yous become less frequent and more direct lines of questioning become the norm. The result is a fascinating look into emotional manipulation, familial relationships, and ultimately, loneliness. It’s risky to focus an entire game around a single relationship since everything hinges on the strength of the characters, especially when both aren’t even human. But both Rumu and Sabrina are well-written and surprisingly relatable during certain climactic moments. The experience is heightened by Rumu’s beautifully poignant soundtrack, which perfectly evokes the game’s futuristic setting and familial themes.

Events happen at a breakneck pace, and it doesn’t take long for the story’s conclusion to sneak up on you, but when you finally uncover the central mystery behind David and Cecily’s absence, the emotional payoff feels well-earned thanks to strong character work and an impactful ending. It may be short and unchallenging, but Rumu’s strong antagonist and its ultimately heart-wrenching journey make it one worth taking.

Steep: Road To The Olympics Review

When Ubisoft Annecy’s extreme sports game Steep launched last year, it sold itself on the promise of big mountain exploration. In light of this, Steep’s newest expansion, Road to the Olympics, feels somewhat incongruous with the rest of the game. Something as regimented, restricted, and well-defined as the Olympics does not fit well with a game that challenges you to break all restrictions and find every nook and cranny hidden in the mountains. However, despite its name, Road to the Olympics includes much more than just the Olympics; it adds a huge swath of beautiful and brutal terrain, as well as new events that are surprisingly entertaining.

Those parts of the DLC are hidden behind the story mode, however, which is not much more than a classic longshot narrative: You are an aspiring freestyle Olympian, and you have to complete a series of events in order to make it onto the Olympic team. Your ultimate goal is to become the first freestyle athlete to win the gold medal in all three freestyle disciplines: Big Air, Slopestyle, and Halfpipe.

As you progress through training and the various pre-Olympic competitions, the story is interspersed with actual video interviews with famous winter athletes. These are probably the best moments in the mode, as it’s fascinating to hear Lindsey Vonn or Gus Kenworthy talk about their training regimen, what their anxieties are, or how it feels to win a competition. Generally, Olympic athletes only ever get visibility when they are actually participating in the Olympics, so it’s easy to only think of them in the context of their sports. To see highly successful athletes sitting down in street clothes and talking about their experiences with obvious passion instills a sense of humanity and relatability that we rarely otherwise get.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story doesn’t match the interviews in quality. Each event feels bizarrely disconnected from the interviews, and the mode’s narrator treats your character as a nameless, faceless competitor who is supposed to be taking snowboarding by storm. In addition, the actual competitions are frustratingly easy if you’ve played the base game. During my playthrough of the story, I never once came close to falling out of first place, and I’d routinely score two or three times higher than the other competitors. During some events, where the total score is the sum of the scores of three runs, my two-run score would be significantly higher than the competitors’ three-run scores. Although its in-depth tutorial make it a great mode for newcomers, veterans of the game won’t find anything particularly exciting or intriguing. Thankfully, it only takes three hours to complete, so you can quickly get through it and turn your attention to the much more rewarding parts of the expansion: the new open world and the various challenges contained within.

For all its problems, Steep does one thing particularly well: it imparts a sense of scale that’s unmatched by any other winter sports game. The mountains you ski on feel immense, varied, and full of secrets–in other words, they actually feel like real mountains. They draw you in and make you want to traverse their entire breadth. Additionally, each mountain is distinct and has its own character; Steep’s Denali map features massive, wide-open slopes, while the Alps are filled with craggy peaks, glacier fields, and Swiss villages. Road to the Olympics adds a Japan location, which is just as varied and, it turns out, is my favorite map in the game.

Japan’s skiing is unique and very different from Western ski areas. The new map is filled with huge, sheer cliffs that bottom out into narrow ravines, glades full of small, scraggly trees as opposed to the tall evergreens of the West, and pillow fields of natural jumps and kickers that make you feel both exhilarated and slightly out of control. Steep’s character models and small details have never looked good, but its scenery is gorgeous, and Japan is no exception. I found myself frequently stopping and staring out over the mountain range, or seeking out the small temples and villages that dot the mountainside.

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It’s also just an incredibly fun map to ski down. Steep has arguably the best video-game skiing ever made, from the sense of speed to the ease of pulling off tricks to the smoothness of the mechanics. And Japan encourages you to experiment with those mechanics and push the game to its limits. No other map in the game has rock faces as sheer, chutes as steep, or glades as dense, and you’ll have to really work to keep yourself from crashing. But unlike the Alps and Alaska, I never felt like I was fighting the game itself or going out of my way to avoid particularly nasty terrain. The new mountain wants you to throw yourself down chasms and cliffs.

Of course, free-roaming around the mountain isn’t the only thing you can do in Steep–it also has a Trials-like challenge system that encourages you to perfect your runs to increase your score. I’ve found Japan’s normal challenges to be fine, but unmemorable; there’s no challenge that stands out like the Cliff Jump events in the base game. It also has a distinct lack of freestyle events, which are by far the best challenges in the game.

However, Road to the Olympics also contains about a dozen different Olympic challenges that are a lot more satisfying than their story mode counterparts. Competing against yourself and the global leaderboards is more difficult and more interesting than competing against computer-controlled characters. These events do feature a commentator, though, whose lines are extremely repetitive and often unrelated to what you’re doing.

The events themselves are novel and rewarding, featuring mechanics and terrain found nowhere else in the game. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the new ski racing events actually work pretty well in a game that focuses so clearly on freestyle. In fact, the Downhill ski challenge has become one of my favorites of all the activities in Steep.

Struggling to control your character while going at extremely high speeds is satisfying and entertaining, especially when you nail a difficult turn while maintaining your velocity. Also, these ski race events finally justify the existence of Steep’s first-person view. Although it’s impossible to ski in first person while doing jumps and flips, ski racing is perfect for it: the smooth, open tracks keep the camera stable, and it’s actually helpful to see the track from a closer, less obscured perspective. In addition, hitting a jump or carving a hard turn in first person felt way more real than I was expecting. For a few moments at least, I experienced the same stomach lurches that I do when skiing in real life.

The ski races provide some much-needed novelty to Steep’s core gameplay, but most of Road to the Olympics is simply more Steep. That’s both good and bad; the new playground in Japan is huge, varied, and enticing, it provides a wealth of opportunities to explore and try new tricks, and there are enough challenges to keep you occupied trying to beat your own and friends’ scores. However, Steep does can get repetitive; a freestyle challenge is a freestyle challenge, after all, and eventually Japan’s novelty does wear off. The ski races actually present new mechanics to master, but the expansion doesn’t lean into these events hard enough. Even having just a few more Downhill courses would have gone a long way toward making Road to the Olympics better.

As it is, the moments where Road to the Olympics shines are when you’re shredding through waist-deep powder at breakneck speeds through a picturesque glade, or careening from the very peak of a mountain down through ravines and all the way to the base far below. The new mountain is beautiful and features a good number of opportunities, and it’s a welcome expansion of Steep’s playable territory. The Olympic events, meanwhile, provide nice diversions when you really want to compete against yourself. The DLC’s main feature–the narrative journey to the Olympics–is flawed, unfulfilling, and frustrating, but thankfully there’s enough to do elsewhere that Road to the Olympics still helps bolster and revitalize Steep’s main appeal. It’s good to have a new mountain to throw yourself down.

Destiny 2: Curse Of Osiris Review

If you simply ran out of things to do in vanilla Destiny 2, its first DLC expansion, Curse of Osiris, adds a few new activities for you to take on. It introduces a new setting in Mercury, a short campaign, new weapons and gear, Strikes, Crucible maps, Adventures, among smaller things. But aside from the brief but fun Raid Lair, the new stuff in Curse of Osiris doesn’t add anything substantial or interesting to Destiny 2 to make it worth revisiting.

Curse of Osiris picks up right after the end of the base game’s campaign, as far as your level goes. You could go directly from the end of the Red War story to Curse of Osiris’ campaign, which requires a power level of 200 to 220, without having to grind much in between. For newcomers or PC players who’ve had less time with the game, it’s a comfortable bridge for leveling up between the lower-level vanilla content and the high-level endgame activities like the Nightfall. (Those endgame activities are a different story, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)

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As a result, though, Curse of Osiris’ story missions feel like filler. The campaign sets up an enormous undertaking against the Vex, with infinite timelines and computer simulations and the mysterious Warlock Osiris mixed up in it all. But with a two-or-so-hour runtime, the missions rush through the interesting concepts and usher you into a simple final battle that is essentially scripted. It’s not enough time to fully understand Osiris as a character, which is disappointing considering he’s only ever been mentioned in Destiny lore before now.

The beautiful and varied Infinite Forest, a Vex creation designed to simulate timelines and their infinite permutations, is the most interesting addition in the expansion. Within the Forest, you can travel to a simulation of the past, a much more vibrant and lush version of Mercury that’s stunning to look at. But even then, the story doesn’t task you with exploring it or any other location in the Forest, instead shepherding you through areas to find codes and things that smarter NPCs can use to pinpoint your next destination for you. The lack of callbacks to Vault of Glass from Destiny 1, another time-bending Vex creation, is also a letdown.

Other than the Infinite Forest, the new destination, Mercury, is simply uninteresting to explore. It’s a small circular map with one new Public Event, a new vendor, and a handful of chests and Lost Sectors. The foundation of exploration established in the base game is still good here–having a variety of options to choose from does make things feel less repetitive–but it feels like busywork with little to do at the highest level. That extends to the new Strikes, which are almost direct copies of two of the story missions, nothing more than another way to kill time.

The biggest problem with Curse of Osiris is that it locks certain high-level activities, including the Prestige Nightfall, behind its new power level cap. The recommended power for the Prestige Nightfall in particular is 330, which you can’t reach if you don’t have the Curse of Osiris DLC. So if you don’t get the DLC, you suddenly don’t have access to something you used to be able to do. It’s also frustrating if you do get Curse of Osiris, because the higher level requirement doesn’t fundamentally change these activities.

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New Heroic Adventures add Nightfall-style modifiers to the Adventures on Mercury, but those missions aren’t begging to be replayed. The main incentive to do them at all is to unlock a Lost Prophecy quest from the NPC Brother Vance, which is one of most tedious fetch quests in all of Destiny 2. If you do manage to gather 10 of the necessary item (through repeating Public Events and finding chests), you unlock the Forge, where you can craft Legendary Vex weapons. But for anyone besides the most dedicated players, there’s no compelling reason to do all this unless you want to redo old missions on harder difficulties in order to get loot to use when you do them again.

While some of the new loot is worth collecting–my favorites so far include the Legendary automatic scout rifle Metronome-52 and the broken but ridiculously fun Prometheus Lens Exotic–you’ll likely get a lot of duplicates before you get anything you actually want to use. Because the main reward for everything you do is shiny new loot, the frustratingly high drop rate of duplicates makes grinding more disappointing than satisfying. The gunplay feels as great as ever, though, so it can be fun to experiment with new weapons, but it’s not enough to sustain an expansion that adds little outside of extra busywork.

The excellent gunplay is not enough to sustain an expansion that adds little outside extra busywork.

The Raid Lair, while shorter than a typical Destiny Raid, is the one late-game addition that’s worth trying. Eater of Worlds is set on Leviathan, the setting of Destiny 2’s first Raid, but with a different boss and separate areas to explore. It features a mix of Destiny-style puzzles, including a platforming sequence and fun with orbs, but in a less time-consuming package that’s a welcome alternative to the full Leviathan Raid. Using careful teamwork to solve puzzles is rewarding in ways that the story and simple Strikes aren’t, and combining that with the right loadout and strong shooting skills shows what Destiny can be when it leaves the filler behind and makes the most out of its best mechanics.

But in almost every respect, Curse of Osiris doesn’t elevate Destiny 2 beyond what it was at launch. Especially for lapsed players, the same old activities reskinned for an unremarkable new setting make them feel more like chores than ever, and the interesting ideas in the Infinite Forest aren’t at all used to their potential. There’s still some fun to be had in finding new weapons and maybe tackling the Raid Lair, but reaching that point is so tedious that it hardly feels worth doing.

Editor’s note: When we first published our Curse of Osiris review, both the Prestige Nightfall and the Prestige Raid were set at the 330 power requirement. In a recent post, Bungie revealed plans for a hotfix that will reduce the Prestige Raid requirement to 300, making it accessible to all players. The Prestige Nightfall will remain at 330. The review text has been updated to reflect this change.

Doom VFR Review

It’s one thing to step into 2016’s Doom and witness its version of hell in all its modern, HD glory. It’s another thing entirely to step out of a portal in the new Doom VFR and suddenly find yourself inescapably surrounded by fire and death. Hell has been made more harrowing and real than ever before, and Doom VFR leverages this to present a new tale. But a big issue is that compared to last year’s hit, Doom VFR is more conservative with its action, stingier with the bloody, brutal joys that were part and parcel of Doom’s successful return to the stage.

Doom VFR is a pseudo-sequel set one year after the events of the last game, where a milquetoast UAC employee, Adams, finds himself knocked out after a face-to-face encounter with a demon after a portal to Hell opens. When he wakes up, he’s connected to a virtual reality rig, allowing him to pilot a holographic representation of his body around the facility to try and shut the portal to Hell for good. Right off the bat, the priorities are different than before. Adams is a generic cypher whose voice is present only to tell us what piece of expensive tech is broken in the Mars facility and how to fix it. That meticulous fawning over UAC equipment is the kind of legwork that the Doomslayer–the series’ faceless Marine protagonist–never had a whole lot of time for. The guy who cocked his shotgun to the chugging beat of his own theme song has been replaced by a guy who’s essentially reading a UAC instruction manual at the beginning of each stage, robbing the game of its familiar brutal charm.

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Thankfully, when it’s demon killing time, Adams knows to shut his mouth and let the guns and Mick Gordon’s metal soundtrack do the talking. There’re three ways to play on PSVR: with a DualShock 4, with two Playstation Move controllers, or with the gun-shaped Aim controller. The Dualshock 4 handles like the non-VR Doom, just with a Teleport button, which has become the standard mode of movement in VR shooters. There’s also a new Shield Burst ability, a crowd-control function allowing you to repulse all enemies halfway across the room with an overloaded electrical shield. The Dualshock 4 is certainly functional for the game, but it’s also the least immersive option available.

Playing with Move controllers fares the worst. Aiming with the right controller feels natural, but actual movement is handled by a quick dash function using the left controller’s buttons as directional inputs, which leaves absolutely zero room for the kind of precision you need to survive.

The Aim controller is the ideal. It’s not perfect either–for some reason, the PSVR’s camera tracking on the Aim seems to drift more than normal, which is a problem if you’re trying to use one of the larger weapons, like the Gauss Cannon–but it is by far the most gratifying way to play, using the same mix of movement controls as the DualShock 4 but with a prop in your hand that feels more inline with your actions. White knuckle clutching a physical rifle while the forces of Hell charge ahead puts you into the right mode to slay demons, and feels exactly like the kind of experience the Aim was made for.

For the most part, shooting your way through Hell’s armies feels just as brutal as it does in the 2016 game. Demons explode into bloody, fleshy messes. Arenas are wide open, encouraging constant awareness of your surroundings, something made much more efficient with the Teleport function. The entirety of the enemy roster returns here, from the nimble, annoying Imps to the towering Barons, but VR puts them right in your face, making the physical act of pulling the trigger point blank all the more satisfying. The big missing element here is the Glory Kill system, where hitting the melee button on a blinking enemy let you demolish them with a quick, gruesome fatality. The replacement in Doom VFR is the ability to teleport into a blinking enemy and explode them from the inside. It mechanically gets the job done, but it’s less impactful than it sounds, and pales in comparison to tearing enemies limb from limb.

Perhaps the ultimate complaint is that for a game that’s so good at delivering fast-paced combat, it’s strangely shy about letting you do so for extended periods of time. The campaign itself is only about 4 hours long, minus extra time spent exploring for collectibles and power-ups, with only the added bonus of playing some old-school Doom maps in VR–admittedly, a ridiculously fun, nostalgic bonus–to pad things out. Much of your time in the game is spent wandering the UAC facility, waiting for the chance to unleash wrath on Hell’s inner circle. When you do, it can feel great, but Doom VFR feels like a game unsure of whether that’s the case. The result is a game that feels tentative about its own considerable power.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is every bit as fantastical as you’d hope, an RPG set in a massive world where man and animal live on the backs of tremendous beasts in a sea of clouds. The world of Alrest, simultaneously Earthly and alien, with a mysterious history that even its major players fail to truly understand, is a magical place to inhabit. It appropriately sets the stage for an epic adventure that gets more interesting as it develops, but this greatness comes after dozens of hours filled with eye rolls and bewilderment. For all the good things Xenoblade 2 eventually introduces, the 80-plus hours it takes to complete the story won’t feel like time wasted, but the bad taste of the its lesser qualities is never completely washed away.

The cliched hero Rex is a naive and upbeat salvager who gets wrapped up in contract work with the game’s soon-to-be villains at the start. They seek a legendary sword, which in this case is the weapon-manifestation of a human-like being known as a Blade. When a human resonates with a Blade, as Rex does with his objective, Pyra, a lifelong partnership forms. Though sentimental to a point, these bonds are also a bit lopsided as Blades are forever bound to serve their masters. Xenoblade 2 does address this as the story unravels, one of the few smart instances when the game puts itself to task. Rex doesn’t quite enjoy the same full-circle maturation, sadly, though his positivity at least grows more welcome as stakes rise and other characters’ outlooks sour.

Anyone familiar with Xenoblade Chronicles will rightfully recognize the way Xenoblade 2 sets you up to be surprised in the end, as characters gradually reveal secret thoughts, unveil unexpected backstories, and make moves that catch you off guard. These thought-provoking revelations reshape your understanding of the world and the point of your participation. But long before the story delivers these compelling beats, you are thrust into predictable scenarios and presented with poorly voiced characters from one scene to the next. Once again, the stout and furry Nopon creatures are an annoyance on par with Jar Jar Binks, harming would-be dramatic scenes the moment they open their mouths.

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Rex and Pyra seek Elysium, a sort of paradise atop a towering tree running through the center of Alrest. They partner with a small selection of comrades from different walks of life who surprisingly have more in common than they initially realize. You can only ever travel as a party of three, but with a Blade standing behind each character, or Driver, battles are frenzied displays. Still, Xenoblade 2 gives you a chance to breathe and strategize during its real-time bouts. Every character will dish out basic attacks automatically, which in turn fuel more advanced skills. You only ever have complete control over one character, but your allies will chime in with requests to perform certain moves. How you manage this process, and the numerous other battle mechanics, can make or break your success against the game’s tougher enemies.

One of the major issues with Xenoblade 2 is that it fails to adequately educate you, with fly-by tutorials introducing cascading mechanics and terminology that’s easy to mix up. The flow of combat works as follows: your auto attacks fill up a meter tied to abilities known as arts, arts fuel another meter for special attacks, special attacks can be linked from one character to the next to build up a Blade combo, Blade combos seal away certain enemy abilities, and team chain attacks–based on a meter that is also used to revive fallen teammates–can break these seals to create an elemental explosion that deals hefty damage, which successfully extends the chain attack for another round. Enemies can also be forced into tiers of vulnerability by breaking their defense, toppling them to the ground, launching them into the air, and smashing them back down, provided you execute these moves with abilities linked to cooldowns that you’ve hopefully kept track of, all before countdown timers close your window of opportunity. There are other systems that exist on a per-character basis, but those exclusions notwithstanding, there’s already a lot to keep track of. Success comes from managing timers and meter charges and firmly grasping your available options, the latter of which is more demanding than the game initially lets on.

Thankfully Xenoblade 2 feels appropriately balanced to account for its learning curve. It’s not until later in the game that mastery becomes paramount. The frustration arises, however, from the lack of reference material, which makes your desire to improve, or your ability to chase hidden paths with dangerous enemies and great rewards, difficult to realize at first. Take screenshots when the game presents you with a tutorial, because once you move to the next text bubble, that info is otherwise lost. The only other recourse is to purchase bite-sized tips from informants throughout the game, though linking partial tutorials to a merchant is hardly user-friendly, and they don’t adequately cover the breadth of Xenoblade 2’s mechanics.

Merchants in general even manage to be confusing at first, as one location will cram as many as a dozen in a small area. Characters can carry items in special pouches that buff certain stats, such as meter generation, and while some are incredibly useful to the point of eliminating the need to grind, it’s a slow process to familiarize yourself with the dozens of options available to you, and the numerous merchants that specialize in one category apiece. This also extends to a vast selection of accessories for characters and Blades, which are difficult to keep track of and compare given the game’s mediocre item-management interface. Variety is good, but Xenoblade 2 throws you into the deep end a bit too early for you to appreciate the value of everything at your disposal.

To build a formidable team, you’re encouraged to regularly acquire new Blades by collecting and bonding with Core Crystals, which are found in chests and dropped by defeated enemies. Despite three tiers of crystals–normal, rare, and legendary–you’re never guaranteed to get one of the game’s elusive rare Blades from crystals you find in the field. Save for a few varying body types, the vast majority of Blades you acquire also look nearly identical.

Looks obviously aren’t everything, and even common Blades are useful as they each come with randomized buffs and stat bonuses that can make a big difference in battle. But rare Blades have unique designs, their own side quests, and a larger selection of skills and stat bonuses than common Blades. It’s easy enough over time to fill out your party with rares, but opening Core Crystals becomes less attractive as diminishing returns set in. Opening 50 towards the end of the game yielded zero rare Blades, despite having unlocked only half of the rare roster.

To combat the randomness of Core Crystals, you are joined by a Blade early on named Poppi, an artificial lifeform that you can customize to your liking. The concept sounds great, but unlocking parts to modify Poppi requires you to play a shallow retro game called Tiger Tiger, where you move a chunky character through a slow-scrolling stage while picking up collectables. More annoyingly, you can’t play this game freely, and must return to an early-game location and likely play a couple hundred rounds to earn enough resources for desirable upgrades. This long-winded process isn’t enjoyable enough to see through, and not worth sidelining your efforts elsewhere with Blades that you can raise organically through combat.

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Blades outside of your core party can also be trained via asynchronous mercenary missions, and they return after a fixed amount of time with rewards and experience that goes towards developing their secondary abilities. Field skills, for example–traits such as lockpicking, focus, and leaping power–will allow you to access elite treasure chests and shortcuts. There are very rare instances when the game will gate you with a door that requires mastery of certain field skills, though these are exclusively linked to abilities shared among story-based Blades.

Even in these situations, you’re never truly stuck. Xenoblade 2 lets you fast travel, instantly, to any major location in the game, regardless of the context in the story. This is great in a pinch, but it’s also incredibly illogical. You shouldn’t be able to warp out of a location to buy equipment across the world during a mission where your main objective is to escape imprisonment, but Xenoblade 2 affords you that option. No matter how silly it seems in practice, fast travelling makes it easy to hop back and forth from one incredible environment to the next. Alrest is gigantic, and following the story will only reveal a small part of what there is to see. Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X both set a high bar for world design, and developer Monolith Soft. has once again delivered a robust collection of dazzling environments.

On this and many other levels, Xenoblade 2 exhibits admirable depth. Adventurous types that enjoy complex combat systems can easily spend more than 100 hours uncovering Alrest’s secrets and developing their team of Blades, provided they can come to terms with a handful of unavoidable shortcomings. It’s equal parts pleasing and frustrating, but the struggle to keep up with everything thrown your way is more of a hurdle than a roadblock. It will be a tough pill to swallow for people who aren’t accustomed to the typical cliches found in many Japanese RPGs, and its often clumsy nature keeps it from being the next groundbreaking Switch game, but Xenoblade 2 is worth pursuing if you’ve got enough patience to let it blossom.

Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 3: Fractured Mask Review

This review will contain spoilers for previous episodes of Batman: The Enemy Within.

In Episode 2 of Batman: The Enemy Within, Bruce Wayne found himself behind enemy lines working as a member of The Pact, a coalition of villains hatching a plan to wreak havoc in Gotham City. In Episode 3, Fractured Mask, developer Telltale pumps the brakes on high-stakes schemes in favour of something a little more intimate. The result is an episode that only inches the overarching narrative forward, but takes a big leap in exploring the fragile nature of Bruce Wayne’s duality.

At the end of the last episode, Catwoman–who has been absent since Season 1–made a surprise return, and in Episode 3 it’s revealed she’s in league with Harley, Bane, Mr. Freeze, and John “Not The Joker Yet” Doe. But Catwoman is also driven to take revenge against The Pact–and the mysterious forces they represent–for the death of Riddler. Through her, Fractured Mask recontextualizes Riddler’s actions somewhat by indicating that his plans may not have aligned completely with his villainous compatriots. The Riddler that Catwoman knew was a different, better person than the one Batman faced, and ultimately the one The Pact killed. With this in mind, she takes it into her own hands to seek retribution.

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Naturally, this places Bruce in a tricky spot. Since Catwoman’s plans threaten to undermine his own efforts as an undercover operative for Amanda Waller, the two find themselves at odds professionally. Complicating matters even further is the burgeoning romance between them which, amongst the deception and subterfuge, allows them to find some comfort in each other and not completely descend into darkness. This dynamic is at the core of Episode 3 and, for the most part, it is depicted well. Although there are a couple of scenes where Catwoman’s attitude pivots jarringly, these eventually culminate in a moment of genuine emotional payoff where the player can choose to develop their relationship in a meaningful way.

Bruce Wayne and Batman’s other ties become equally messy in Episode 3. Most impactfully, his friendship with Jim Gordon takes a serious turn for the worse. Since Batman is playing nice with Amanda Waller, who is wrestling control of Gotham’s law enforcement operations away from Gordon, the two begin to drift apart. Episode 3 presents a Gordon who has his back against the wall and is desperately trying to remain relevant. He clutches at straws hoping to grasp something significant and, unfortunately, this results in Bruce finding himself in Gordon’s crosshairs. It’s actually quite sad to see Batman’s staunchest ally slowly becoming his demise. Although there is an opportunity to begin repairing this fracturing friendship, taking this step will damage another important one. There aren’t very many big decision-making moments in Episode 3, but the few that are there carry enough consequence to make the player pause and think.

Episode 3 also sees old wounds reopened, with Lucius Fox’s daughter, Tiffany, becoming embroiled in Batman and Bruce Wayne’s activities. As a character, Tiffany hasn’t had much screen time but the events of the episode raise her profile considerably. Without spoiling the story, Telltale seems to be motioning towards something that, if it happens, could be very exciting for fans of Batman and for this series.

And then, throughout it all is John Doe, the man being positioned to become Joker. He’s a lingering presence that is both charming and unsettling, and Episode 3 hops back and forth between those two personas expertly. Doe continues to be a fascinating take on the character; unsure of who he is but very slowly dipping into the madness that will inevitably consume him. His need to find acceptance sees him craving Harley Quinn’s attention, to the point where he puts both himself and his “best friend” Bruce in danger. As with the previous two episodes, John Doe is a standout character, providing levity with some excellently delivered one-liners, throwaway quips, and one hilarious sequence involving shadow puppets.

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While Episode 3 has strong characterization, its gameplay feels rather shallow. Outside of the fight sequences, which are well choreographed but a little trite, there’s one big puzzle for players to solve. It takes place in Riddler’s hideout and, given his love of flaunting his intelligence, you’d think it would be elaborate and challenging. However, it’s actually trivial to solve, making Riddler seem a bit dull–talk about kicking someone when he’s already down.

Nevertheless, Episode 3 of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within is well thought out and strongly written. Telltale has weaved together a complicated web of relationships that’s becoming strained by the people tangled in it. After two relatively straightforward episodes, this is exactly what the series needed to carry it forward and ensure players are compelled to see it through.

LA Noire Switch Review

When it first released in 2011, L.A. Noire was an anomaly; its facial capture tech was an innovative showcase of animation, and it’s focus on slower-paced interrogation puzzles widely contrasted the big-budget shooters of the time. Six years later, the game has surprisingly managed to make its way onto Switch. While a few sacrifices were made in performance and graphical fidelity to get L.A. Noire running, the ambitious spirit of this stylistic 1940s-era detective adventure remains.

L.A. Noire’s principal 21 cases are all present, including all of its DLC cases. As budding LAPD detective Cole Phelps, you spend the bulk of your time gathering evidence, interrogating suspects, and making accusations. Phelps is a fascinating, yet morally flawed, character whose checkered past is compelling to see unfold as the story goes on. The cases you solve remain interesting and well-paced, balancing slower, more meticulous investigative moments with brief shootouts and vehicular/on-foot chases. On Switch, the game controls as well as it did on previous generation consoles, especially when playing docked with a Pro Controller. It also offers motion and touch controls, which are welcome additions that make L.A. Noire feel more involved. Motion controls allow you to use the right Joy-Con to control the camera and physically manipulate objects you pick up, while touch controls command Phelps where to go and what investigate by simply tapping the screen. However, both control schemes don’t feel as functional as playing with a traditional gamepad setup.

Interrogations often lead to many of the game's most tense and captivating moments.
Interrogations often lead to many of the game’s most tense and captivating moments.
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While L.A. Noire’s story and varied pacing are some of its most exceptional aspects, where it truly shines is in its interrogation sequences. Armed with your intellect and the wealth of evidence you collect during your investigations, questioning suspects and seeing through their facial ticks to expose their secrets lead to many of the game’s most tense and captivating moments. The facial animations hold up well, displaying a level of realism that’s still impressive. And with top-notch performances from its facial capture actors, interrogations are just as absorbing and believable.

In a subtle change from the original, interrogation options have been changed from “Truth,” “Doubt,” and “Lie” to “Good Cop,” “Bad Cop,” and “Accuse.” The new naming scheme helps to give you a better understanding of Cole’s behavior towards a suspect’s testimony, which was difficult to gauge in the original. The renewed context is particularly useful when a suspect is playing coy, where it makes sense that using the more forceful “Bad Cop” approach would root out more information. However, the new terminology isn’t perfect. There are situations where it isn’t specific enough; this is apparent when responding with “Good Cop”, where the option seems to lean more towards believing the suspect rather than following proper police protocol. Despite this occasional issue, interrogations are consistently rewarding, often requiring critical thinking and sharp judgment to complete perfectly.

There still isn't much to do in the game's faithful recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles.
There still isn’t much to do in the game’s faithful recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles.

L.A. Noire’s finer qualities are maintained, but its notable shortcomings also persist. Movement is a bit clunky during shootouts, and there are plenty of useless filler objects to sift through during crime scene investigations. But the most glaring issue lies in the game’s recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles, which is authentic but doesn’t offer much to do outside of main missions and random street crime activities. New hidden collectables in the form of books and records have been added to the Switch version to encourage exploration, but it’s not made clear that these items exist nor does the game encourage you to seek them out.

These issues don’t do much to detract from the experience at large, especially considering how well the game runs and how good it looks. Visuals are reminiscent of the original version, only sporting new jagged edges, fluctuating textures, and noticeably weaker draw distances and dynamic lighting effects in some instances. However, these issues are less apparent when playing the game undocked, where it runs and looks the best.

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Even considering L.A. Noire’s age, it’s a wonder that the game can be played on Switch.

On the other hand, frame rate maintains a steady 30 frames per second, only drastically dipping when surrounded by multiple NPCs or vehicles while on foot. Though, it’s not a deal breaker, seeing as the game consistently performs well during the moments where it matters, like during investigations, interrogations, and car chases.

Even considering L.A. Noire’s age, it’s a wonder that the game can be played on Switch. While nowhere near as technically striking as seeing Doom run on the console, there’s still something special about playing what was once such an ambitious game on last-generation consoles in the palm of your hand. And the game lends itself well to the platform; the bite-sized length of missions makes it a great fit for playing on the go.

If sharper visuals and higher frame rate are huge factors in your enjoyment, then you’re better off playing L.A. Noire on PS4 and Xbox One, which sport added bells and whistles that elevate the game’s performance. But if you’re charmed by the idea of experiencing it portably, then L.A. Noire on Switch comes recommended. It may not work the best under pressure, but it’s well worth replaying or experiencing for the first time on Nintendo’s convertible console.

Football Manager 2018 Review

With each passing year, Sports Interactive iterates on the long-standing fundamentals of its Football Manager series. A slight tweak here and there: applying some ease of use adjustments, or tinkering with the 3D match engine–like a manager moving pieces around a whiteboard. Some of these tweaks might not become evident until you’ve spent hundreds of hours entrenched in the virtual dugout, while others may only affect those eccentric enough to deploy a tactic featuring a Raumdeuter. In Football Manager 2018, minor refinements are similarly sprinkled throughout; but, crucially, there’s also a significant new addition, and other impactful overhauls, that are palpable from the get-go, profoundly changing the way you manage and interact with your team on a daily basis.

The first of these is a new module called Dynamics that focuses on the topsy-turvy world of player morale. The concept of squad happiness has existed in Football Manager since the early days, but the cause and effect of your actions was previously hidden behind an algorithm we weren’t privy to, which made managing your player’s mood a case of pure guesswork and gradually learning through repetition. That all changes in FM 2018, as each interaction with your squad now has a clear, defined outcome that helps keep your chosen group of expensive primadonnas in check. A detailed hierarchy displaying your team leaders and most influential players advises you on who not to annoy; social groups determine which individuals sit around the breakfast table with each other based on parameters like their shared nationality and how long they’ve been at the club; and myriad other menus track your player’s individual mood, their confidence in you, and the consequences all of these variables has on team chemistry.

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A harmonious squad generally leads to better results on the pitch, with the team’s collective mental state contributing to the quality of their positioning, vision, and reactions during the course of a match–making it imperative for you to maintain your team’s high spirits if you have any notions of success. Football is a results-based business after all, and player power is definitely a factor in FM 2018. If the squad is displeased with how you’re doing on match days, or how you’re handling their various personalities off the pitch, you’re liable to find yourself unemployed. Thankfully, with the addition of a hierarchy and social groups, there’s a surfeit of valuable information guiding your decision making that helps you understand how to handle different types of player.

If a rugged team leader comes into your office complaining about a lack of playing time, you’re going to have to weigh up the risks of introducing him to the starting line-up when he might be off form, or face incurring a potential player revolt if you turn him down and piss him off. Conversely, if a player on the lower rungs of the hierarchy comes to see you with the same issue, telling him he’ll have to remain patient is less likely to upset even a small portion of the dressing room, and may not bother anyone at all. Admittedly, conversing with players in FM still lacks the subtlety of believable human interactions, but with all of this new information on hand, player reactions appear more logical than ever, and keeping influential players onside will ensure there are fewer unhappy players knocking on your door. It’s a fun, personable new module to toy with, and it emboldens Football Manager’s recent focus on the human side of the beautiful game.

Meanwhile, an overhauled medical centre places an increased emphasis on Sports Scientists, with each one providing you with crucial information on how and why your players are suffering from injuries, and how you can counteract their pulled hamstrings and twisted ankles from occurring too frequently. If there’s a busy period coming up where you’ve got, say, three matches in seven days, you’ll be advised on which players are most at risk of sustaining injuries from the wear and tear of successive action. It forces you to be more proactive with your training schedules and player selection, as you’re encouraged to adjust the intensity of training sessions on a week-by-week basis, and intelligently rotate your team in an attempt to keep your squad healthy without sacrificing results, (which also ties into Dynamics and how you can maintain squad harmony through frugal management of your team’s playing time).

The 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016–and the same can be said of this series as a whole.

Dynamics also factors into FM 2018’s improved scouting system. When it comes to finding new players, you’re now able to set a scouting budget: spend more and you’ll cast your net wider; spend less and you can rely purely on the existing knowledge of your scouts. However much you spend, the process of unearthing new talent is slow. Your scouts will gradually build a picture of the type of player you’re looking at, represented by a rating out of 100 that covers their attributes and also the type of personality they are. A player might be good enough from the statistical side of things, but will they gel with your squad? Maybe they don’t fit into any social groups, or maybe they carry too much influence and will risk upsetting the balance of your dressing room. These are the types of things you have to consider when signing a new player, and it makes each transfer window much more engaging.

AI logic has been modified, too, ensuring other teams are smarter at handing their transfer business. You’re unlikely to see the likes of PSG spending ludicrous amounts of money to stockpile talent they’re only going to leave rotting on the bench–as has been the case in previous years. Transfer fees and budgets have also skyrocketed to reflect these astronomical times, with teams (particularly in the Premier League) holding out for more money for even the most marginal of talents.

When it comes to assembling your team on the pitch, the tactical interface is relatively unchanged. There are new player roles like the Carrilero and Mezzala, and more player instructions–such as the opportunity to direct your central midfielders into wider areas–that give you more options when it comes to establishing your team’s playing style. But it’s disappointing that this aspect of Football Manager hasn’t seen any substantial developments. Building your tactical plan is still far too rigid and restrictive, and would benefit from giving you more control over how your team functions, particularly during specific phases of play. The current tactical interface is serviceable, and there’s now a plethora of useful analysis that pinpoints the strengths and weaknesses of your setup, but a more robust system would elevate this aspect of the series in a crucial way.

Once you emerge out of the tunnel, the 3D match engine is at least better at demonstrating how each team follows your tactical setup. Any adjustments you make mid-match are immediately tangible, and players have enhanced intelligence all over the pitch. You’ll see strikers timing their runs behind the defensive line, players opening up their bodies to curl Thierry Henry-esque finishes into the bottom corner, and midfielders will generally play a more expansive brand of football–if you let them. There are still baffling moments where players will inexplicably stop dead in their tracks, which is particularly troublesome in defence. And goalkeepers are still inconsistent–one moment they’re saving everything that’s thrown at them, the next they’re palming a daisycutter into their own net. It’s certainly not perfect, then, but the 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016–and the same can be said of this series as a whole.

For a game that’s so consuming you might not even realise the sun’s gone down, it feels almost irresponsible to proclaim that giving you more things to do is a resounding positive. Yet the way these new and overhauled systems coalesce with Football Manager’s deep and emotional fundamentals is fantastic. The series’ propensity for telling emergent stories has only increased with this emphasis on player personalities and morale, and it bleeds into every other facet of Football Manager 2018’s design, from transfers and injuries, to team selection and tactical considerations. These are changes that tilt the simulation closer to reality with captivating aplomb, and ensure that the armchair managers among us are kept busy for another whirlwind 12 months of 40-yard screamers and cup final heartbreak.