Xbox One, PC
From Software’s success with the combat-oriented Souls-like subgenre takes a new shape in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While the game is still all about big bosses and precise conflict like the studio’s previous high-profile titles, Sekiro plays differently than previous works. In addition to mastering a new style of fierce and unforgiving combat, you also have to start thinking like a ninja, using every tool in your arsenal to tip the scales against opponents with tricky movesets and multiple phases. Despite having no traditional level-ups, you have many ways to advance your character by finding items in the world, acquiring new skills, and discovering vendors.
Using Sekiro’s ninja arsenal is a joy. Grappling around the environment to find secret areas or set up a deathblow from above feels wonderful and snappy. Sekiro has access to a host of Shinobi prosthetics tailored to a variety of situations, including firecrackers to stun and scare beasts and an umbrella to deflect incoming attacks. You also obtain a wide variety of combat arts and ninjutsu that allows for special deathblow effects, giving you a plethora of combinations and skills to approach each encounter with. These abilities can often have both story and combat functionality, utilizing them in interesting ways to complete quest objectives or open up windows of opportunity during bosses – but to say more about this aspect would spoil some serious surprises. And you need all the awesome combinations and applications, because Sekiro is a fascinating, frenetic dance of death at its best, and a frustrating exercise in futility at its worst.
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Sekiro’s intense boss battles are the absolute crux of the game. You must know your opponent’s every move, plan your timing, and practice it to perfection, because a single error can mean instant death. Many opponents can annihilate you in seconds, even with the resurrection mechanic to give you extra chances should you fall to an enemy blow or blade. The moment your mind snaps under pressure is the moment the fight ends, leaving you to exhale and wonder what went wrong. When things sync up, you amaze yourself by the sheer wonder of it all as you counter your opponents’ every move and hammer them down, flowing like a waterfall of masterfully timed excellence. In those moments, you become the ninja. It’s a hell of a rush when it happens, but be prepared to spend hours on fights perfecting your rhythm and craft. The feeling when you get so close and make a critical mistake at the very end is soul-crushing. The death penalty adds to this, slicing off resources upon your demise and crippling friendly characters you meet along the way with a malignant illness. While it is psychologically damaging to see your friends waste away, the disease has gameplay consequences as well; characters afflicted with the rot may not have their questlines available until healed through the use of rare items.
Outside of boss battles, Sekiro’s ninja skills are a lot of fun in the world, which opens up around midway through the game. Sekiro has plenty of zone and enemy variety, so you won’t be confined to taking on soldiers and samurai in the castle for long. You can select multiple directions to travel, a great boon that lets you explore other zones if you get stuck on a boss. While your traversal abilities and speed make zipping through areas a breeze, you must stop to carefully explore to avoid missing critical items. Skills acquired late in the game allow for you to explore earlier spaces in different ways, accessing locations that were previously unavailable. Dozens of mini-bosses help increase your character’s survivability, and you can use your guile to make those clashes much easier, whether it’s with a special prosthetic to exploit their weaknesses or using the environment to set up a stealth deathstrike to begin the fight.
Sekiro’s story moves in strange and compelling ways that defy the initial adherence to the trappings of feudal Japan, and allows the player to discover multiple endings and confrontations depending on choices and secrets. It’s a challenging journey through a weird and wondrous world that forces you to learn and master its punishing combat to succeed. However, the sweet thrill of victory keeps you pushing forward despite myriad disheartening deaths. Sekiro is one of the most difficult games I have ever played, but for those seeking adventure, exploration, and a truly realized ninja fantasy, the trek is worth the high demands.
Summary: An intense, challenging realization of the ninja fantasy comes to life in From Software’s latest offering.
Concept: Command a powerful ninja through a bloody tour of Sengoku-period Japan, using deception, cunning, and rigorous combat to take your enemies down
Graphics: A healthy variety of environments keeps things interesting as you proceed, with especially larger-than-life boss encounters
Sound: An excellent score highlights the intensity and tension during battle and adds additional life to each of the major zones
Playability: This is an extremely difficult game for those looking for a serious challenge. Not everyone will be able to complete or enjoy this title
Entertainment: Sekiro is a wild ride through narrative twists and shocking boss battles, and an amazing triumph or crushing defeat is only ever seconds away
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is like a breath of fresh air in a world of behemoth smartphones with enormous displays. To be honest, we didn’t expect Samsung or any other manufacturer for that matter to release a compact flagship. Especially since even Sony… 繼續閱讀
Xbox One, PC
Ubisoft learned a lot of lessons during the evolution of its first looter-shooter, The Division, which steadily blossomed into a game that maximized its potential and earned an adulating fan base. But transitioning from of a fully fleshed-out live service to a sequel is a harrowing road filled with many pitfalls, as Bungie experienced with the bungled Destiny 2 launch. I’m happy to report that The Division 2 heeds those warnings and skillfully sticks its landing, offering a wealth of engaging content that should keep players invested long after they finish the campaign.
The original Division earned detractors for its spongy combat. The cognitive dissonance of needing to unload a full clip into the head of a garbageman was hard for some to shake. This problem is largely diverted in the sequel; the time-to-kill is much shorter for basic enemies, the crazed rushers are often hopped up on some stimulant when they charge at you with wild abandon, and the biggest baddies are covered in armor you need to pick away at before revealing their meaty centers. The enemy A.I. doesn’t always make smart decisions, but when they coordinate and flank, the combat comes alive in a way that rivals the best shooters available today. The large variety of enemies creates a strategic layer that keeps engagements exciting well into the endgame. Intense satisfaction comes from a well-placed turret mowing down a legion of enemies or landing a shot on a suicide bomber that takes out other baddies in the vicinity. The main shortcomings that persist from the first game are the weak melee attacks, overly complex grenade-throwing, and a finicky cover system. Sometimes leaning out the side of cover unintentionally slides you into an exposed position, and the stickiness can mistakenly pull you into cover when performing evasive rolls.
The combat also shines thanks to Ubisoft’s fantastic mission designs. The star character of The Division 2 is Washington, D.C. itself. The game takes you to so many historical landmarks, museums, and other popular destinations, the only thing missing is the sightseeing bus route. I battled through the U.S. Capitol, depleted enemy ranks around the Washington Monument, and ventured so many museums I started to think of the game as tourism with guns. It even has a photo mode for good measure. Many of these extended fights are memorable thanks to their surroundings; a planetarium firefight and the jungle skirmish in a Vietnam exhibit stand out in particular. These battles are best experienced with a coordinated group of four agents, but a solo run is also viable provided you move and act deliberately.
Ubisoft’s ramshackle version of Washington, D.C. is packed with rich environmental storytelling about a nation undone, but if you look too closely, the story falls apart like a house of cards. We know the Green Poison ravaged D.C. just like New York City before it, and multiple nefarious factions are vying for power in the subsequent leadership vacuum. But Ubisoft never adequately explores how the country went from a shining beacon of democracy to a dystopian wasteland in just seven months. What little backstory the game offers about the world and its characters is largely relegated to the found-footage menus rather than worked into the plot in a cohesive manner.
The Division 2’s plot may not keep you invested, but the well-designed loops should. The game doles out improved skills, weaponry, and armor at steady clip no matter what activity you are performing, and you have several ways to improve the situation in the capital. Completing story missions upgrades the base of operations, which is the White House. Civilians caught in the crossfire cloister in settlements you can improve as well; watching these survivors come together and rebuild is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game.
Piecing together the perfect array of gear with powerful bonuses stays compelling well beyond the campaign. Even managing your overflow is made more interesting thanks to the new projects system. Donating your extra gear to improve settlements nets you important blueprints for key weapon attachments, new bounties, and a load of experience. The unused gear you don’t donate can be deconstructed for parts or sold off. The stores don’t offer much of value beyond a slightly better piece of gear, but you also need to spend credits to craft or recalibrate, so the currency still plays a vital role.
When you reach level cap and wrap the story missions, Ubisoft throws you a major curveball by introducing a dangerous new faction. The Black Tusk undo much of your hard work and retake critical buildings, which initially feels like a bummer after you worked so hard to capture all the control points. Thankfully, Ubisoft smartly changes up the mission replays with new objectives, and the fearsome new foes provide the most challenging and interesting fights in the game. You have plenty to do during this endgame loop, including three new specialization weapon progression paths, new projects, side missions, clan rewards, and daily/weekly assignments – all of which merge gracefully with your main objective of maximizing your gear score. After playing 60 hours, I still have two full specialization tracks to develop while I piece together my ideal loadouts.
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Endgame is the perfect time to explore the Dark Zone, the dangerous region where enemies are more formidable, gear is better, and players can turn the weapons on each other. In a bid to incentivize more agents to venture into these contaminated zones, Ubisoft normalized the weapon stats so everyone is on an even playing field and split the Dark Zone into three smaller spaces. The normalization goes a long way toward evening the odds, which I appreciate, but encounters with opposing players are rare. Ubisoft also includes a couple competitive versus modes, but these feel more like experiments than full experiences.
Complex, shared open worlds have a lot of moving parts, so technical problems are inevitable. While The Division 2 is mostly stable, it has issues that need to be resolved. The scaling when pairing players of different levels needs recalibration; while the lower-level players deliver damage at a comparable rate, their armor isn’t adequately scaled, so they are often downed in one shot. Skills like turrets or drones sometimes reset when deployed, which can be a killer during frantic fights. I also encountered several crashes during the long stronghold missions, but the servers at least save your place and you reboot right back into the mission.
Story failings and technical hiccups aside, Ubisoft has a winner on its hands with The Division 2. The strong combat, interesting missions, and compelling loot loop kept me invested through the endgame, and I don’t plan to stop playing anytime soon. For a live-service game just getting out of the gate, that’s quite an achievement.
Summary: Thrilling combat, a great loot loop, and a strong endgame elevate this Tom Clancy shooter to new heights.
Concept: Restore order in the nation’s capital by taking out thuggish factions and collecting newer, better weapons
Graphics: Ubioft’s remarkable attention to detail fills Washington, D.C. with interesting environmental stories, and the dynamic weather creates evolving combat situations
Sound: The laughable enemy barks and meek-sounding weaponry make sound design a weak point of an otherwise stellar game
Playability: The classless skill system allows you to customize your play experience to your liking and swap on the fly. Gunplay is more satisfying than the first game, but the sticky cover system can leave you unintentionally exposed when moving to new positions
Entertainment: The story falls short, but The Division 2 is filled with loops to keep you invested in upgrading your agent well beyond the endgame, including gear score optimization, Dark Zone ventures, and daily challenges
Once a showcase of Oppo’s selfie-centric tech, now the F-series has evolved into a fully-fledged mid-range lineup. And the new Oppo F11 Pro has a lot to show off starting with a notch-less edge-to-edge screen and a 48MP main camera, as well as a pop-u… 繼續閱讀
The 10 Plus, along with the smaller 10, are the first two phones that will attempt to sell you on a 21:9 screen – Sony may want you to think the flagship Xperia 1 is the true ambassador of the crazy-tall aspect, but that one is months away and the 10s… 繼續閱讀
PlayStation 4, PC
Over the past 18 years, the anime/manga One Piece has received myriad video games across numerous genres. Among all those adaptations, World Seeker represents what is easily its most ambitious attempt to emulate what it might be like to be Luffy and be part of his Straw Hat crew. World Seeker may lack the detail and technical prowess of its open-world peers, but it delivers fun combat and exploration in an open environment with an enjoyable story to pull you along through the whole journey.
It all starts when Luffy and his crew, in their ongoing mission to acquire treasure, end up on an island that is home to multiple large pirate prisons. When it turns out the rumored treasure was just a ploy to get the Straw Hat crew to come to the island, Luffy escapes capture and decides to help the citizens get their homes back. This means getting in the middle of a decade-long conflict between those who appreciate the overbearing presence of the Marines on the island, and those who detest it. The prison island setting also serves as an excuse for some of Luffy’s familiar opponents to appear as bosses or fun cameos. The story feels like One Piece all the way, which is a compliment. Luffy and his crew are familiar with standing up for those in need regardless of the conflicted histories that plague the islands they visit. Whether or not World Seeker is canon to the larger One Piece story (which is never explicitly made clear), this tale feels like it could be.
The thrill of moving through the world is World Seeker’s biggest highlight. Whether Luffy’s grabbing the sides of buildings or the tops of trees, his rubber arms propel you through the environments at high speed. It feels great, and after acquiring some upgrades, zipping from point to point lets you cover tons of ground quickly. Plus, it looks awesome. I enjoyed it so much, I often chose moving around that way instead of using the fast-travel system.
The open world looks nice and features diverse settings like a full city, forests, and a crystal mine embedded in a mountain, but it doesn’t feel particularly alive. Despite the size of the city, the population is small, and most citizens stand still to offer up bits of dialogue. It gives you a chance to get to know everyone at least a little bit, which pays off well in the finale, but it’s at the expense of the world not feeling particularly lived in.
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Outside of talking to citizens and delivering requested materials found in the world or just generally exploring, the main way Luffy completes missions is by beating up bad guys. The combat is simple without any complicated combos, but you can switch between a powerful one-on-one focused stance or one with a wider range for big groups of weak enemies and use super attacks pulled directly from the source material. You can also mark enemies from a distance and stealth your way through encounters, which is especially satisfying on higher difficulties. The combat animations are great, which is good because you do see the same attacks often, but the speed of fighting is brisk enough that I didn’t get bored.
A skill tree offers a collection of worthwhile upgrades, like being able to fly further when you launch yourself or spin your feet around like a helicopter to float, but a handful of duds mar the selection, like one that lets you open chests faster. Overall, the good upgrades and additional special attacks feel substantial, but not every skill is worth your experience points.
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You can also focus on material collection to create items and new costumes, or send your crew off on missions to collect additional materials while you attend to the main quests. Your interactions with the main cast of characters is tracked with the Karma system, which doesn’t offer a ton of in-game rewards, but I liked having a visual chart detailing my relationship with many of the characters I had come across in the adventure.
In terms of open-world game design, World Seeker isn’t an innovator, but it borrows and re-imagines familiar mechanics well (from the Batman: Arkham games, in particular) and proves why they are perfect for the One Piece universe. I had a good time flinging myself around the open environment while using stretch abilities to beat up bad guys and enjoyed the story. I was eager to upgrade Luffy’s best abilities, grow my Karma, and learn more about the island by completing as much of the side content as possible.
Summary: In terms of open-world game design, World Seeker isn’t an innovator, but it borrows and re-imagines familiar mechanics well (from the Batman: Arkham games, in particular) and proves why they are perfect for the One Piece universe.
Concept: Play as One Piece’s super-powered protagonist in an open world. The adventure sees Luffy and his crew helping the citizens of an oppressed island take back their home
Graphics: High-quality cel-shading makes all the characters look like their manga/anime counterparts, and the environments look great. Luffy’s movement and combat animation are particular highlights
Sound: The anime’s fun soundtrack is present and well-emulated when it comes to new tracks. The sound of the wind whipping by as you launch through the world really sells the speed of Luffy’s movement
Playability: Controlling Luffy’s movement feels great, and throwing punches and activating special attacks is simple and satisfying
Entertainment: World Seeker lacks the detail of contemporary open-world games, but moving around and getting into fights is fun. The story and characters (new and old alike) are engaging all the way to the explosive finale
Replay: Moderately high
High-end features in a relatively affordable package. That’s the vivo V15 Pro in a few words. Or you can say that this phone is vivo’s attempt to bring everything we love about the first vivo NEX to the masses. And thanks to the fast developing tech, … 繼續閱讀
We used the Sony Xperia XZ3 as our main smartphone for an extended period of time, trying to evaluate whether it might serve most people well in day to day use, away from benchmarks, sales numbers, and objective tests. So join us over the next few pag… 繼續閱讀
PlayStation 4, Switch
R.B.I. Baseball 19 is yet another swing and miss for a series that hasn’t hit a home run (or even found a way to get on base) in the six years since it was revived by Major League Baseball. The fundamentals of the sport are apparently as difficult to nail down as proving a Roger Clemens drug test, and continue to haunt this series to the point that the outcomes of games are frequently dictated by glitches and bizarre A.I. decisions.
In a situation with runners on first and second, I threw a slider that resulted in a weakly hit grounder to short, but the game gave me control of the third baseman for whatever reason, and the ball ended up rolling into the outfield untouched. In another nail-biting situation, the game messed up and applied the flyball indicator to pitches and removed it from actual flyballs. On the next pitch, the batter lofted the ball into short right field, but I couldn’t figure out exactly where it was going since the indicator was gone. The ball touched down in the grass and a run scored. Major League Baseball also didn’t create fielding outcomes for some situations, like a shortstop inducing a double-play by stepping on second and then tossing the ball to first. The shortstop stops dead in his tracks on the bag and then the ball magically erupts from his body and flies to first. I also witnessed errant throws sailing past the first baseman, but an out was recorded and the ball just disappeared. All too often, if a fielder gets the ball, but takes an awkward angle to it, he will perform an odd sidearm throw that rockets across the diamond at 100 mph. This is a matter of trying to deliver realistic outcomes, but not having animations that fit those scenarios.
On the bright side, the faulty A.I. sometimes works in your favor, as baserunners can be fooled into easy outs. When stealing, the A.I. may pull up short of the base, freeze in its tracks, and then foolishly try to go back to the previous base. The same strange faulty logic is at play for balls hit into the outfield. Odds are you may net a few outs a game this way, but the computer still has the upper-hand with glitches.
As spotty as the performance on the field is, R.B.I Baseball is making a little progress in its presentation. Over 350 player likenesses and animations have been added to this year’s game, and they aren’t trivial little additions. When a new waggle or stance is added for a batter, care was taken to make them look just right. I also liked just how deep MLB went with the legends in this game, bringing back over 165 players of yesteryear, which you can add to your franchise team’s roster.
The 10-year franchise mode hasn’t evolved much, and the A.I. logic still lets trades along the lines of the Cubs landing Mike Trout for Alec Mills and Victor Caratini go through. Sorting through free agents and the extended roster is still a bit of a pain as well.
The best part of the R.B.I. ends up being the new soundtrack that you listen to while scrolling through menus. OneRepublic, Greta Van Fleet, and Chvrches deliver catchy tunes that will make you rock in your chair in the moments leading up to eventual disaster unfolding on the field. I know that’s a sad thing to highlight, but there’s little else to rave about. I also enjoyed the home-run derby, but the swinging timing seemed rather unpredictable, and I found most of my tower shots were on swings that were intentionally made early.
As much as we want a fun baseball game on Xbox One and Switch, R.B.I. Baseball 19 is once again not the answer. The problems with the series have reached legacy status, and although it’s clear Major League Baseball tried to make a better game, the efforts were not enough. The focus should be shoring up the gameplay first and foremost, not making sure some of the star players shake the bat the right way. For six years we’ve been saying “maybe this is the year,” and the result is once again “maybe next year.”
Summary: The series continues to struggle on the field
Concept: The annualized series is once again plagued by glitches and A.I. problems
Graphics: Stadiums are rich in detail, and many of the star players now have nicely designed signature looks and animations. The same cannot be said of the out-of-focus crowd or the robotic way the fielders move
Sound: The licensed soundtrack is good, but you may want to mute your TV when the game starts, as the umpire who calls the game couldn’t be more annoying
Playability: Pitching and batting retain their arcade qualities, but haven’t changed much since the series started. Even if you are throwing a great game, bug outcomes can lead to disaster
Entertainment: Games are quick but messy, to the point that you may try smashing your controller over your leg