Tag Archives: Game Review

Review: Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Edmonton’s BioWare has created some great series and characters, but none became so close to my heart as the Mass Effect line of games with its roster of heroes and villains. The newly released Mass Effect Legendary Edition brings the original trilogy to a new generation of gamers in a remastered package that lets the games shine far brighter than they ever have before.

Though this is a remaster, not a full-on remake, of the three games, there are are number of quality of life changes – most sizable in the series’ first game. Mass Effect sees an overhaul of the leveling system that makes the game much more enjoyable thanks to the revamped power curve.

Prior to this remaster’s release I was playing through the original game – available on the Xbox consoles via backwards compatibility – on Insanity difficulty and the game-stopping difficulty spikes have been leveled out. The games also run better, even while outputting at 4K, which helps with the action-oriented combat. The result is a game that feels both easier and yet also far more rewarding.

This release also includes almost all the downloadable content (DLC) available for the games, over 40 bits of content in all, except for the Pinnacle Station DLC, due to the source code having been lost over the years. The game also takes a pass on the multiplayer from Mass Effect 3, though if there’s enough demand for it that may yet be added back in.

Wrex. Shepard.

The trilogy lets gamers, who can take the ‘stock’ Shepard in male or female variants or create their own, through an epic space-faring tale of betrayal with some revenge and a dash of ‘saving the universe’ thrown in for good measure. As the Shepard of their choice, players will make decisions with long-lasting consequences – to an extent not often found in games, including character deaths that leave you wish you’d done things differently.

The ability to go Paragon or Renegade – which often don’t really translate to good vs evil, but more doing the right thing vs doing the righteous thing – extends the replay value here. With three games in the package, clocking in at around 55 hours combined for just the main storylines, plus all that DLC, you’ve got a whole lot of gaming ahead of you.

The console experience offers two settings: Performance and Quality. The PS4 is 1080p/60fps in Performance, 1080p/30fps in Quality. PS4 Pro and PS5 both offer up to 1440p/60fps in Performance and up to 4K/30fps (PS4 Pro) and 60fps (PS5) on Quality.

Xbox One consoles offer up to 1080p/60fps in Performance or Quality, while Xbox One X and Series S both offer up to 1440p/60fps in Performance and 4K/30fps in Quality. The Series X is up to 4K/120fps in Performance and 4K/60fps on Quality.

The game also includes an all-new photo mode that allows you to rotate the camera, hide player/non-player characters, and other goodies. It’s a great addition to a franchise that has some gorgeous environments and character models.

What I Loved:

  • Great work on bringing the visuals up to modern standards
  • Top-notch performance transforms the feel of the earlier games
  • Quality of life changes to the first game
  • The “Wrex.” “Shepard.” exchanges are still great
  • Voice acting is still top-tier after all these years
  • The new photo mode!

What I Liked:

  • Character creator changes allow you to carry ‘your’ Shepard over all three games
  • Load time improvements allow for skipping elevator sequences
  • Forgot how much I loved the music
  • Three games + almost all DLC means at least a hundred hours of gaming
  • Better Mako controls

What I Disliked:

  • Mako still a bit frustrating to handle
  • DLC integration feels haphazard

What I Hated:

  • Reminds me there’s no Mass Effect movie…

The Final Word: Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a must-buy for sci-fi lovers who missed out on the original games, but also offers a lot for fans who were around the first time through as well. Incredible value for your dollar.

Available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Playable via backwards compatibility on PS5 and Xbox Series S|X. Series X version reviewed using code provided by the publisher.

Review: Days Gone (PC)

Days Gone hit PS4 in 2019, and makes the leap to PC this week, part of Sony’s expansion to PC.

The game pits the player against a harsh post-zombie apocalypse world…think The Walking Dead, but almost everyone, including the main character, is Daryl Dixon from the first season – the leather-wearing, motorcycle riding, don’t-need-nobody antihero version.

There are no zombies here though, with gamers – as Deacon St. John – putting down hordes of ‘Freakers’ while exploring the open world. There’s also not much of a supporting cast, with the game relying heavily on players identifying with Deacon, who is basically as unlikable of a character as he can possibly be for the first 20-odd hours of the game, or his friend Boozer who doesn’t fare much better.

The opening 10-odd hours of the game are heavy on stealth. At that point Deacon only has the tools and knowledge to take on a few Freakers at a time. Once you unlock traps it’s not quite so necessary to sneak in and one-hit-kill as many as possible before going loud, but you’re still best to stick to 10-15 Freakers at a time and avoid the massive hordes with a few hundred zombies in them.

Alert a large horde and you’d think a terrifying run for your life would commence, but that’s not the case. Instead, it’s a bumbling run through the environment being chased by things that can’t quite catch you. Leading Freakers over ledges that slow them down or cause pathing problems can be entertaining, but not really stressful. Later, with more weapons and traps, these fights distract from the main game but they’re still filler.

The PS4 launch had serious performance issues, with my review advising people to hold off until it was patched. That’s not the case here. The game runs well on a half-decent GPU. I’ve even seen video of it on a 1030, though it was a bit rough. If you’re running a 1060/1070 (or equivalent) or better, however, it’s smooth sailing with only minor visual bugs. I also had one crash during my playtime, but nothing repeatable.

While the PC version doesn’t fix the so-so story or the empty open world, it does include every PS4 update. This includes higher difficulty settings and challenges, so PC players are getting the absolute best version of the game.

What I Loved:

  • Great visuals
  • Huge zombie hordes look intimidating

What I Liked:

  • Good variety of weapons and traps
  • On-the-fly crafting system
  • Solid performance on lower-end systems
  • Screenshot resolution boost to allow for 4k/8k/12k screenshots

What I Disliked:

  • Horde chases felt more like slapstick than horror
  • So-so plot, driven by busywork
  • Doesn’t make use of features like raytracing or DLSS
  • Some minor visual glitches still

What I Hated:

  • Gorgeous open world, devoid of anything interesting, feels wasted

The Final Word: The performance boost PC offers does little for the story issues, but think of this as a summer action movie. It looks good enough and is fun enough that you don’t want to examine the plot all that closely.

Days Gone is available now on PC via Steam. Reviewed using code provided by the publisher.

Review – Disjunction

Disjunction is set in 2048, but it feels like a throwback to the 90’s with a pixel art style, enemy ‘vision cones’, and old-school difficulty that’s straight out of the SEGA Genesis days.

Jumping into three characters over the course of the game, starting with Frank, then the hulking Joe, then finally the SMG-wielding Spider, players will explore a cyberpunk version of New York to unravel their individual stories that – as fate would have it – happen to intertwine. Each character has unique abilities that they bring to the streets of the Big Apple, along with an RPG-lite skill tree that can augment those abilities.

Frank, for example, can fire shock projectiles, provide cover for himself with a smoke grenade, and – if it’s all gone wrong – can even heal himself. The downside to that last ability is that he must stand still to do it, but a quick skill upgrade later and players can heal Frank’s wounds while on the move. It might not seem like much, but in a game that’s so dependent on keeping out of camera and enemy vision cones, movement is critical.

Levels have a checkpoint somewhere within them, but they can save your progress only once. I occasionally found it better to kill myself off to restart the run through the level or from the last checkpoint instead of saving hard-fought progress that would have left me in a bad spot moving forward because I had, for example, burned through all my ammo. In true Metal Gear Solid fashion, moving the corpses (or, theoretically, the unconscious bodies) of enemies out of the line of sight of other enemies, sentry drones, or constantly scanning cameras is essential – but easily forgotten.

Mission difficulty starts low but ramps up quickly. As a result, it can be tempting to say to hell with stealth and shoot your way through the last few guards in the way of your objective – but this is reflected in your post-mission conversations. Kill a few guards and you’ll hear complaints about the bloodbath you left behind and it does change some aspects of the game, but it’s up to you whether that criticism bothers you, much less changes your behaviour.

I swear those guys were dead when I got here…

I had fun sneaking and blasting my way through the story despite it being a bit cliched, and a lot of that is down to the excellent conversations. Frank dealing with Sybil at the game’s outset, for example, has a great back-and-forth, especially if you leave a few bodies behind, that feels very authentic. Jumping over to Joe for the next set of levels brings a totally different conversation style – including the option to be the strong silent type if you’d like.

All too often different characters in a game with multiple protagonists are written with all of them using the same sense of humour, the same slang, and responding with the same emotional tone – but there’s none of that here and I really appreciated that.

What I Loved:

  • Great art style
  • Unforgiving stealth mechanics yield incredibly tense moments
  • Loved the writing, especially the dialogue

What I Liked:

  • Each character brings new playstyle potential
  • Single-use checkpoints add some strategy to your saves
  • Solid soundtrack

What I Disliked:

  • Some cheap ‘oh you’re spotted’ moments
  • Minor technical issues – day one patch should sort them out

What I Hated:

  • Nothing

The Final Word: Disjunction is surprisingly deep, with enough gameplay evolution to keep things interesting and great writing to drive the desire to see more of the story. Well worth a look.

Disjunction is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Reviewed on Xbox Series X using code provided by the publisher.

Review – Godfall

As I’m still stuck without a PS5 I passed along review code for Godfall, a melee-centric loot game, over to Brock McLaughlin to see what he thought of it. Here’s what he had to say about Gearbox’s latest game:

Upon googling the game Godfall you will see the first question people ask is “How bad is Godfall?”. Well I am here to answer that question for you.

It is bad but not that bad. I’m more confused than anything playing it. If this had come out on the PS2 in 2003 people would hail it the best action game since Legacy of Kain. Unfortunately, it came out in 2020 and has all the workings of a game you haven’t played in years.

I’ll admit right out the gate I liked what I saw. The game looked gorgeous on the PS5 and there is some really cool level design. Each level or realm as they are called here are incredibly interesting to look at. I really felt like the world was alive, and no matter how repetitive the game got the level design was still a league of its own.

On the surface I should love looter mechanics. I like collecting cool armour and feeling like a badass. Unfortunately the grind here for good armour is incredibly lackluster. At first I dug the combat and the enemies, but then quickly realized this was the game was. Kill respawning enemies. Walk 5 feet. Kill some more. Do a puzzle, which is simply opening a chest and then fight more enemies. If you like mundane tasks then this game is for you. It’s actually the ultimate game for listening to podcasts since you can ignore what’s on the screen and just smash your fingers on the controller.

Besides the graphics something I did quite like is the skill tree. You purchase one skill and the ones adjacent to it open up more skills. Each skill did actually make the game a bit better. You can always reset the tree as you like as well so you can find your best playstyle.

You also have the choice of weapons. You can choose from a longsword which is very balanced and good for all types of players to a war hammer that is slow but powerful. Each of the different weapons does feel different and takes some getting used to. Is this groundbreaking no, but I’m trying to find some good here.

When I play games, I like to have a story. Even if it’s barebones at least it gives the game purpose. There is no story here. I mean there are some random cut scenes with dialogue and characters but it does not amount to anything. This is just a game that exists to waste your time.

When this game inevitably becomes a free game for PS Plus users then I ‘d say it’s worth an hour or two of your time. It’s got wicked graphics, a few hours of fun, a good skill tree and neat costumes to help you fill the void. If however you have to pay for it, well then I’d say move right along because there’s plenty of other offerings out there.

What I Loved:

  • Easy to download and uninstall
  • The graphics
  • Great level art

What I Liked:

  • Good variety in weapons
  • Skill tree

What I Disliked:

  • How much it felt like a PS2 game
  • The level design
  • The grind
  • The repetition
  • The campaign

What I Hated:

  • Pretty much everything else

The Final Word: I see why they called it Godfall and not Goodfall.

Played on the PS5 using code provided by the publisher. Godfall  is rated M for Mature and not recommended for younger players.

Review – Chronos: Before the Ashes

The low-detail style of Chronos: Before the Ashes, likely a holdover of its origins on VR platforms, gives it a charming look akin to Absolver or Ashen, but can make the environments a nightmare to navigate.

Chronos: Before the Ashes started life as a virtual reality (VR) title back in 2016 and has now been retooled and re-released as a third-person perspective action title on Playstation and Xbox platforms. A VR game translated into a console title doesn’t sound like an ideal marriage of ideas, but what caught my interest here was that Chronos ties into one of my favourite games from last year – Remnant: From the Ashes.

Chronos fits as a prequel of sorts to Remnant, and though fans will recognize objects and enemies that tie the two together there’s no need to have played one to enjoy the other. Where Remnant was a shooter, this is a melee-focused action adventure with a unique progression system.

As the name indicates, Chronos is all about the passage of time. One day a year you can challenge the Labyrinth to try and puzzle out its layout and take down the enemies within it. When you fail – and you will, several times – you age a year and try again. During your gameplay you’ll level up in a very traditional manner, earning experience to plug into one of four key stats: Agility, Arcane, Strength, and Vitality, and every decade you earn a new permanent perk. Additionally, like with real life, it’s easier to gain Agility and Strength early on, but harder as you get older – so those stats cost more…unless you have the ‘agility of someone half your age’ perk.

There are elements of Souls-style games here, as well as Resident Evil-style ‘combine items to unlock new areas’ but – in keeping with the VR origins of the game – the areas you can explore are fairly small and bland, making navigating a nightmare at times. As a Souls-like, with a world that connects back to itself as you open more routes, this is a sizable negative. There are some interesting areas though, with one standout being an exploration of a bookshelf as a miniature version of yourself (shrunk using a magic mirror) to find a key you can use when you return to normal size.

Fortunately, this isn’t the hardest Souls-like out there. The combat is – again perhaps due to starting its life in VR – pretty forgiving. You have light/heavy attacks, dodge, block, and parry in your arsenal, though parrying didn’t seem as helpful as dodging, which allows your next attack to do more damage if you pull off a perfect evade.

You’ll need to master the combat for some of the boss fights, but as with a lot of Souls-like games it’s not the end boss that is the hardest for most people, but one somewhere in the middle. For me it was the Reina Pan fight, as I was still working on patience and placement. By the time I hit the end boss, I more or less knew exactly what I was doing and took it down with in one attempt.

Chronos: Before the Ashes is an interesting addition to the library for fans of Remnant, and the aging mechanic is unique. I don’t think this will satisfy Dark Souls fans looking for a challenge, but it’s a great intro to the systems and mechanics of those games for people who don’t want that level of frustration in their life.

What I Loved:

  • Aging a year every run, and the negatives that brings with it
  • Interesting lore

What I Liked:

  • Some inventive mission design
  • Satisfying combat that doesn’t get frustrating
  • A few interesting puzzles to solve
  • Visuals remind me of Absolver or Ashen, low detail but still charming

What I Disliked:

  • Fighting with the camera to see targets
  • A lot of too-simple puzzles

What I Hated:

  • Low-detail environments make for poor navigation

Chronos: Before the Ashes is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC for $29.99 Canadian. Backwards compatible on PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. Reviewed on Xbox Series X using code provided by the publisher.

Review – Suzerain

After the politics-and-pandemic-filled 2020 that we’ve all gone through, I wasn’t sure I was going to like Suzerain – a text-based political adventure game, set in fictional country Sordland, where you take on the role of newly elected President Rayne.

And while yes, this IS another dip into politics to end out 2020, Suzerain wound up winning me over with a combination of a ridiculously deep well of lore and solid writing that not only fleshed out the country and people, but also humanized the difficult decisions that needed to be made.

It’s easy enough to give a player options and tell them to decide. In Suzerain, those options are given life not by a wealth of information – though that’s also available to the players via in-game briefings, news clippings, and the codex that collates them all for later perusal – but by actual interaction. In one encounter I visited a school for a ceremony and, after seeing how they were being taught, had to make decisions about the education system. It’s one thing to have made election promises on a stage, it’s another to have to follow through – or not – with those promises after seeing the actual conditions and meeting those involved.

You’ll have to make tough and sometimes uncomfortable decisions in Suzerain, and it’s interesting to see how quickly turning your back on election promises can seem justified for a ‘bigger purpose’ goal. You’ll have to make – or deny – backroom deals if you want to accomplish change for Sordland, and exactly what kind of President you’ll be gets tested quickly and often. How many of your promises are you willing to break to keep others? Will you put country above all else, or do you support your wife and family when they need you?

Pulling Sordland out of an economic recession and recover from an oppressive government that still has its supporters – both civilian and elected – isn’t an easy task, and there are many routes to what you could call victory. The strategic side of Suzerain isn’t played out on a battlefield, but in backroom deals and public speeches as you play sides against one another long enough to enact real change.

Suzerain allows you to play the way you want, though going extreme in any political direction is going to make things harder on yourself. In one playthrough I fixed the economy but wound up murdered in a military coup that I probably should have seen coming. In another, I had the economy recovering nicely and had pushed through the bulk of my campaign promises to reform the country into a true democracy with a top-flight education system…and then didn’t get re-elected.

Maybe they went with the former reality star instead…

If you want action, look elsewhere, but if you want a heavy helping of Machiavellian political dealings, Suzerain is exactly what you’re looking for.

What I Loved:

  • Stellar background lore cements Sordland as a real place
  • Great supporting cast of characters
  • Forced me to make some tough decisions
  • Top-notch storytelling

What I Liked:

  • Moves along quickly – a ton of text, but doesn’t overstay its welcome
  • Replayability is high thanks to sheer number of decisions needed

What I Disliked:

  • Hit by progress-stopping bugs (no new missions showed up) twice – the issue has now patched

What I Hated:

  • Sleazy backroom politics. It’s so much like real life…

Suzerain is available now on PC and Mac for $13.99 CAD. Reviewed on PC using code provided for review.

Observer: System Redux Review

The decrepit setting of Observer’s futuristic cyberpunk ghetto was already strong, but
better textures and lighting in Observer: System Redux really take it to a new level.

Bloober Team, a Polish game developer, has been around for 12 years and put out several games in a variety of genres, but it wasn’t until they switched to horror that they really found their groove. Layers of Fear was a creepy delight, followed up by strong releases in Observer – read that review here – then Layers of Fear 2, and finally their interpretation of Blair Witch.

The team is currently working on The Medium, planned to launch with the Xbox Series line of consoles but now delayed into early 2021, so they tapped Anshar Studios to remaster Observer for next-gen consoles as Observer: System Redux. Anshar provided art remastering and gameplay improvements, along with some new content for the port to PS5 and Xbox Series consoles, along with a PC version.

The timing on this release seems almost too on point, as the plot features a KPD detective – voiced by the late Rutger Hauer – who is in the opening stages of investigating his son’s call for help when the building is locked down by a plague called Nanophage. The remaster offers up new side cases that flesh out the plot a bit, helping show a bit more of the backstory of the world and what it’s like to be one of Poland’s ‘Class C’ citizens.

While the original nailed the aesthetic of a cyberpunk future’s ghetto, the next-gen version also offers raytracing, animation improvements, and some tweaks to the somewhat underwhelming stealth sections that really help make them more playable and fun.

What I Loved:

  • A strong visual upgrade on an already great looking game
  • Top-notch voice acting
  • Great audio overall
  • Great world building and lore background

What I Liked:

  • Some great tension builds towards the ‘scare’ moments
  • New animations and side story content!

What I Disliked:

  • A little too reliant on jump scares for my taste

What I Hated:

  • Nothing

Observer: System Redux is available now on PS5, Xbox Series consoles, and PC. Reviewed on Xbox Series X using code provided by the publisher.

Review – The Falconeer

The Falconeer continually reminds me of Sea Of Thieves, and it’s not just the stylized graphics or environments dominated by water – it’s something about the pace of the game.

This is a game I can fire up when I’m stressed after a bad day and just soar around the skies taking it all in. The game’s art style, like Sea of Thieves, just has something in it that works for me. The bright colours, the rolling waves, the gorgeous skies – it’s soothing to turn the HUD off and just take a low flight over the ocean, seeing whales jump out of the water and other random events, and not worry about anything for a bit.

When you’re decompressed and ready for more, the game offers up a combat system that’s reminiscent of Crimson Skies – only on the back of a giant falcon. Whatever bird you’re riding – the game offers up a few with different stats – has an energy bar that can be used to gain altitude, fly faster, do tight turns, or pull off evasive barrel rolls. When depleted that bar can be refilled by diving, which creates a balancing act between using it for gaining height and having enough left to use for your defensive moves.

There are also some environmental objects to keep an eye out for, including waterspouts that will give your bird a free ride to the upper atmosphere, lightning storms to recharge your guns, and jet streams that help you transit the long distances between settlements faster.

The story – a sprawling tale that will have you questioning what’s really going on in this world – is told over several chapters, and there are some difficulty spikes that will necessitate grinding out some side missions for money to upgrade both your bird, using potions that add abilities like more health or faster regeneration, or your weaponry. Early on there’s some skill check battles that will make sure you know how to dodge incoming fire or keep a lock on your enemy as you battle in a WWII style furball of tightly-circling combatants, but for the most part it’s simply a matter of ‘my guns are doing enough damage, I need new guns’ damage checks.

Falconeer’s story throws you through several factions as you switch falconeers at key points to give you some perspective on the other cultures at play in the world. It’s an interesting approach that allows for some of the twists and betrayals to really hit home for those who are paying attention and not simply waiting until they can go fly again.

For as fun as combat is, and I didn’t namecheck the legendary Crimson Skies without good reason, I had just as much fun in The Falconeer simply roaming the skies taking it all in. This is a world with personality, and I still want to see what else it has to offer.

I played on both the Xbox One X and Xbox Series X, and while the new console has a decided edge in load times it was a great experience on both. The game offers up 4K resolution at 60 fps on the Series X, and upscaled 4K at 60 fps on the One X. The Series X also offers up an upscaled 4K at 120 fps mode that is incredibly smooth if you have the monitor or TV to take advantage of it.

What I Loved:

  • Great dogfights
  • Gorgeous environments
  • Super relaxing feel to the non-combat moments
  • Rock-solid performance
  • Great photo mode

What I liked:

  • ‘play at your own pace’ style allows players to explore when they want, for as long as they want
  • Bird/weapon upgrades are kept simple – no need to read pages of stats to figure things out
  • A game you can jump back into just to explore
  • Story beats that really work thanks to seeing every side of the conflict

What I Disliked:

  • Difficulty spikes that force you to grind out cash
  • Could have used more mission variety

What I Hated:

  • Nothing

The Falconeer is available now on Xbox consoles and PC for $38.99 Canadian. Reviewed on Xbox One X and Xbox Series X using code provided for review.

Review – EA Sports NHL 21

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins heads up ice against the Calgary Flames.

I’m not sure if EA is finally getting the message or if this is just some kind of trap 2020 is laying for fans of the EA Sports NHL franchise, but NHL 21 finally gets the kind of improvements players have wanted for years.

The skating, revamped last year with RPM Tech 2.0 to allow ‘on the fly’ puck pickups, gets subtler tweaks this year with the addition of chip and slip dekes to avoid contact either in open ice or along the boards. There must be a Crosby fan of the development team, as they’ve added the back-of-the-net bank self-pass that he uses so effectively to create room, as well as the Mohawk turn he’s been known to use to open up for cross-ice passing. In addition, Svechnikov’s lacrosse-style goal is in the game and technically possible to pull off, though I haven’t managed it yet, as is Kucherov’s ‘no move’ shootout deke.

Changes are also found on the defensive side of the puck, with AI that makes much smarter decisions about gap control, do more to challenge and limit zone entries, and there’s more dogged pursuit of the puck by opposing forwards. Goaltenders are also improved, even after the overhaul last year that saw them get over 400 new animations, with better reads on developing plays allowing them to get in position and give up less cheap goals.

There were two key things listed in my NHL 20 review that I wanted to see in NHL 21: distinctive skating strides and an overhaul of the Be A Pro mode to make it more of an RPG.

Let’s see how they did.

Distinctive skating strides? Not only did that make it in, but your created players can have their own custom-made stride thanks to a toolset that includes the ability to change your body angle, your stride style, your arm movement – the whole nine years. Expect to see some truly horrific skating styles come out of that tool.

What about overhauling Be A Pro into a ‘live the life of an NHL player’ mode with RPG-like choices and repercussions? It’s all that and more. Not only does Be A Pro now feature conversational dialogue choices with your ownership, coaches, teammates, and media, but there are also luxury items you can buy using your salary to give yourself permanent or temporary stat boosts.

Connor McDavid versus three Calgary Flames defenders doesn’t seem like a fair fight thanks to improvements to the RPM Tech 2.0 animations that allows for chip and slip dekes this year.

After years of the mode largely being ignored, it feels like Be A Pro finally got the overhaul players wanted for EA Sports NHL 21. From the menus to the content, everything feels new and exciting at long last. I’m loving the off-ice conversations I have with my agent and teammates, and getting called over to the bench by my coach during a game ramps up the tension and pressure. Do I promise to keep the opposing team from scoring, or do I want to call my shot and promise I’ll get a goal instead?

While Be A Pro was clearly the center of attention this time around, Franchise mode also got some great upgrades. The trade deadline is now a race against the clock, simulating the real world’s tension for GM’s who must either find a deal or risk being left out in the cold. Trade AI is improved, and behind the scenes there’s a new system of valuing players and draft picks in trades that feels a lot closer to reality than in past years.

For all the improvements, there are still some things that need to be addressed though. Legacy AI issues, for example, continue to haunt the game – particularly in the offensive zone, where teammates can’t seem to figure out how to run the systems I’ve called. They do a better job of filling open space on the rush than in past years, but if you settle down into a puck cycle it quickly goes all to hell and looks like a bunch of 8-year-old players chasing the puck. I’d love to see that fixed for next year’s release.

Another thing for next year, and the game’s first appearance on next-gen systems, would be revamps to player faces. The body types are generally good, but the faces could use some work. Understandable, given the restrictions COVID-19 placed people under, but it seems like there were no new player faces scanned for this year’s outing. I’m one of the biggest Oilers fans out there, for example, but I couldn’t pick fully half of the team’s NHL 21 player faces out of a lineup and that probably includes Leon Draisaitl…who won the Hart, Ted Lindsay, and Art Ross this year.

EA Sports NHL 21 is one of the best NHL games EA has ever put out. The focus on Be A Pro really stands out, and the upgrade to RPM 2.0 Tech last season continues to pay dividends as well. I can’t wait to see what the team can do next year with all the power of next-gen systems to play with.

EA Sports NHL 21 is available now on PS4 and Xbox One. Xbox One version reviewed using code provided by the publisher.

Review – Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers was pegged as a Destiny-like loot game ahead of its release, a notion supported by all the pre-release marketing, but that sells the game criminally short.

Don’t get me wrong, there is that whole Games As A Service aspect to Avengers and when you hit the ‘endgame’ here, you’ll jump into the many missions available to you to grind out levels and loot to improve your character. Before that though, there’s a great campaign that deserved a lot more focus than their marketing gave it.

As Kamala Khan – Ms. Marvel if we’re using our made-up names, a character I was aware of but not familiar with going into the game, players will help pull the Avengers back together and you’ll play as Black Widow, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man during the game’s 15-ish hour story mode as she tracks them down and recruits them back into the team.

Khan, played perfectly by Sandra Saad, is a delight as she transforms from squealing fangirl who is awestruck by the Avengers into a hero in her own right. The transformation is handled better than other ‘ordinary person to hero’ evolutions, if only because there’s no ‘flip the switch’ moment where she goes from normal to perfection.

Khan doubts herself through most of the game. She makes mistakes, and she gains experience and understanding. She never totally loses her fangirl adoration of the Avengers roster, but it becomes tempered by understanding they’re regular people who make mistakes, disagree, and even fight. I won’t spoil the ups and downs of the plot, but for comic fans it’s worth playing and probably justifies the price of admission on its own.

Get done with the story, though – or jump in early if you don’t mind some late-game spoilers, and the rest of the game expands into the endgame form via the Avengers Initiative. Jump into any of the dozen-plus missions available – with more added regularly and changes made to the modifiers on existing missions to keep them fresh – and take on enemies to gather loot and accessories to increase your character’s power.

Playing with up to three friends or allowing the AI to fill those roles, gamers can choose to be Black Widow, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, or Ms. Marvel with the caveat that there can be only one of each hero in the game. The combat is quick and frantic, with a mix of melee and ranged combat that’s a ton of fun for both button mashers and combo artists. There’s a full selection of stuns, knockbacks, shield breakers, launchers, air juggles, and other beat-em-up staples that players can take advantage of but mashing on the buttons can work for the lower challenge levels.

Each character comes with a ‘battle pass’ to fill by completing daily and weekly challenges, unlocking new emotes, takedowns, outfits, and the game’s currency. All six of the starter characters receive their battle pass for free, allowing gamers to pile up currency in advance of the addition of new characters as downloadable content (DLC).

All DLC for the game will be free – new regions, new adventures, new enemies, and even new characters. The new characters will have a battle pass associated with them, costing 1,000 of the game’s currency to unlock. Completing the battle pass returns that 1,000 plus another 400 more, so there should be no need to spend money on future battle pass additions. The game also has skins to purchase, but I haven’t seen one that tempted me to spend any of the currency I’ve gathered – if they hope to finance future development with outfit sales, they need to do a better job on that front.

Marvel’s Avengers is a must-buy for comic fans, and has a real shot at being one of the most complete beat-em-ups released this year – even if nobody thought that’s what kind of game it was going to be. The endgame needs some fleshing out, but it’s more than enough to keep you busy until it’s been rounded into shape. The game is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. PS4 and Xbox One versions offer free upgrades to the next-gen, though it’s not yet known if game progress will carry over.