The Accidental Attraction of Kingdom Hearts

When you tell most stories surrounding an attraction, usually they contain many of the similar tropes; one of which is the unexpectedness of the feeling. When I look back on many of my fondest gaming memories, I can see why I fell in love with those specific games. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the first time I experienced a deep narrative experience in gaming, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the first time I truly felt that the gaming medium had matched the presentation level of big budget cinema coupled with great gameplay, and the Halo series was the first time I was truly able to attach fierce competitiveness in gaming. Yet, there’s one series that somehow sticks out, that even after all these years, I can’t truly put my finger on why it has stayed so endearing to me: Kingdom Hearts.

Maybe it’s because my early years of gaming rooted me into Nintendo’s ecosystem of games. When I first received my Nintendo 64 at the age of 5 in 1998, Final Fantasy had started to become a relic of years past on Nintendo’s hardware. With the success of Final Fantasy VII (and VIII to follow in the upcoming year), the Sony PlayStation had all but cemented itself as the new home of the series, and while I did go onto own multiple PlayStation systems, the series always appeared to me as a grittier and grown up version of what The Legend of Zelda had to offer (see, the marketing campaigns for the PlayStation did work on feeble minds like mine). Seeing that cover of Final Fantasy VII, with Cloud Strife standing heroically showing off his large Buster Sword to fans, made me think “Woah, this guy is cool. I want to play as him”. Yet, I never had the chance to play Final Fantasy VII until years later, due largely because of the Teen rating (yes, my parents were those kind of parents up until I was about 10), so when the next generation of gaming rolled around, I HAD to make sure I got a PlayStation 2. “I can’t miss out on Final Fantasy” I remember thinking constantly (clearly oblivious to the fact that the series was multi-platform due to me being an unknowing 8 or 9 year old kid). Final Fantasy was always the series that was the untouchable for me. Everything I saw about it attracted me to it, but it was always on the system I didn’t have growing up or it was rated too mature for my age. That was, until I saw the trailer for Kingdom Hearts.

Remember how popular Disney Stores used to be? In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed as though they were in a staple in every mall across America. Clear as day, I remember going into our local mall with my mother and sister, who was around the age of three at the time, so the Disney Store was always a given stop when we’d venture to the mall. Remembering they had sections of Disney-based games, I hurried to the back where the wall of TVs were found to scope out the selection (if it had something to do with gaming, I’d always be up for it). While digging through the piles of Donald Duck: Goin’ Quackers and Extremely Goofy Skateboarding, something caught my eye; it was Cloud Strife on one of the TVs on the store display. ‘What’s he doing in the Disney Store? This must be a mixup’ I thought. Then, I saw Goofy and Donald in the background, in what looked to be a level surrounding Hercules. Eyes glued to the glass screen, I began to get lost in this complex idea of meshing the vibe and characters of Final Fantasy with so many beloved characters of my childhood from Disney. To be honest, I’m still not sure if I truly understood what I was watching. So many thoughts went through my head. Confusion? Sure. Unique? Definitely. Interested? Absolutely. Kingdom Hearts flashed across the screen. Instantly, the name was ingrained in my brain, and I began plotting on how to get the game. Christmas was too far off, so I did every chore under the sun that a 9 year old kid could think off. Doing the dishes, cleaning the house, taking the dog for a walk around the block, helping my dad cut some fire wood; anything to help stuff my piggy bank with my weekly $5 allowance. After weeks of saving (and a lucky price drop), I strolled into EB Games (yes, they were still a things in the US in 2002), and picked up the game. I’ll never forget that holographic cover. The way the shades of deep blue made the florescent heart shaped moon pop on the cover was unfathomable at the time. It still holds a special place in my heart in terms of video game covers. Popping that disc in my PS2’s disc tray for the first time was quite magical. From the first time I stepped onto Destiny Islands, I was hooked. Back when memory cards were still a thing, I remember needing to leave my PS2 running because I didn’t have one yet to save my game. This resulted in one long weekend of getting little outdoor exercise, and playing through the adventure without turning my system off over the span of three days. Surprisingly, my PS2 is still working to this day.

Maybe it was the idea of including such a known property in Disney to Final Fantasy‘s fantastical world that attracted me. Disney has never been one to shy away from the gaming industry, releasing video games with various characters of theirs dating back to 1981; yet, the company has always remained quite guarded when allowing outside entities handle their own intellectual property. With the success of the Kingdom Hearts series being so well known, it seems hard to imagine that the now storied chance meeting between series creator and Square Enix employee Tetsuya Nomura and a Disney executive in their shared office complex elevator was a major key (get it?) to making this series a reality, but it was quite different during the sixth console generation. While other developers had handled Disney IP in the past, Kingdom Hearts was the first time I truly remembered seeing Disney characters sharing the stage with other entities in gaming.

Maybe it was the way the series grew with me, as it moved into its sequels. Square Enix and Disney Interactive’s first entry in the collaborative series was very much designed to be warm and welcome, using its art direction and simplistic (comparative to later entries, that is) storyline to target a younger demographic. While I loved my time with the original entry, I saw myself leaning towards a new experiences in gaming. Halo and Xbox Live became a pillar in time spent gaming, and my Xbox began to take more precedence over my PlayStation 2. Yet, when Kingdom Hearts II was first revealed at E3 2004 I found myself intrinsically drawn back into the zany yet loving mashup. Retrospectively looking at the footage shown in 2004, much more of the game’s JRPG innards were on display, showing a much more engaging, deep, and even mature narrative this time around. Death was real. The idea of actuality was real. Themes that took a deep approach to the once simplistic storyline were largely present in the sequel; much of which I found myself attracted to as I began to grow. As the series began to transpire and grow, so did I. Sure, as the series has continued to produce side entry after side entry the more convoluted the narrative became, but it balanced the perfect balance of tropes its original entry was known for and the integrated JRPG elements.

Maybe I’ll never know exactly what draws me to Kingdom Hearts. Hell, I still find it hard to believe that Kingdom Hearts III is actually releasing today. Since the credits rolled on the second mainline entry in 2006, many fans have been waiting patiently to see the conclusion of this storyline in the overarching Kingdom Hearts universe, including myself. Since we’re delving into the past, it’s fascinating to see how often this series has been attached to larger moments in my life, to an extent. Getting through those awkward preteen years, to junior high heartbreaks, to playing through the original entries leading into my college graduation, to my fiancée preordering the game as a gift for me when I graduated from grad school in 2016; somehow this unique, and quite frankly odd, offshoot of a gaming series has somehow remained close to me. Life is a funny thing.

Cheers to everyone who, like this author, have waited almost 13 years to see the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Hopefully, the wait is worth it to you.

It’s weird how some of the best memories and moments happen accidentally.

Indie Games From the Kinda Funny Games Showcase We’re Excited For

In years past, the weekend following Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards is home to one of the biggest PlayStation-centered fan events of the year, PlayStation Experience. Fans from around the globe will gather together with members from Sony’s gaming ecosystem to celebrate all things PlayStation, and get a look at games ranging from large AAA publishers/developers, to small independent experiences. This past September however, Sony decided to take a year off from hosting PlayStation Experience, due to a lack of new content justifiable enough to host a major press event. With many small studios and development teams relying on the Sony event to showcase their upcoming projects, it looked as if there would be no metaphoric podium to spread the word.

Enter Kinda Funny. For those who aren’t familiar with the San Francisco based content creators, Kinda Funny is composed of multiple former IGN hosts and producers, including Greg Miller, Tim Gettys, and Nick Scarpino. Being so rooted with the PlayStation brand from his days as one of IGN’s PlayStation leads, Miller knew how important the fan event was to so many teams, big and small. This led him and his team to pick up the ball and run with it, creating their own showcase called the ‘Kinda Funny Games Showcase’ in hopes that smaller teams get the exposure they hoped to get from the annual PSX event.

The Kinda Funny Games Showcase aired yesterday, December 8th, advertising just under 70 games, from studios of all sizes. No restrictions were made on showcasing specific console exclusive games, resulting in a wide array of install bases being represented. With that being said, here are five games from the showcase that tickled our fancy and can’t wait to try out:

 

Operencia: The Stolen Sun

Developed by Zen Studios, known for their successful and quite popular Pinball FX series, comes Operencia: the Stolen Sun; a modern take on classic first-person dungeon-crawlers. With sprawling environments, and a vibrant art style, players will explore the mystical land of Operencia, solving puzzles and fighting their way through creatures and enemies of all shapes and sizes. Players will have the ability to grow their party of characters, with a multitude of specializations for each one. Turn-based combat gives players an element of strategy through various spells and skills, while also being paired with tile-based movement that encourages players to thoroughly explore each area. Operencia: The Stolen Sun is scheduled for a 2019 release date on Steam, with users being able to wishlist the game now. For more information, visit the game’s official site.

 

 

Falcon Age

From OuterLoop Games, comes Falcon Age; a first-person single-player action adventure title for PlayStation VR. Players will experiences Ara’s story, who is wrongfully thrown in jail for a minor offense during an invasion of machines. While serving her sentence, she befriends a young hawk, and together they find a way to escape imprisonment, and set off on a journey to reclaim humanity’s freedom from the machine overlords. You will learn to hunt, gather, and fight using the lost art of falcon hunting, using the PlayStation’s Move controllers. The game is built from the ground up with PlayStation VR technology in mind, but also offers a traditional playstyle on the PlayStation 4 with FPS controls. Falcon Age is set for a 2019 release window. For more information, check out their official website and official PlayStation page for updates on the upcoming release.

 

 

The Church in the Darkness

Can you find the truth behind the Collective Justice Mission? The Church in the Darkness, developed by Paranoid Productions, takes top-tier storytelling and combines it with the stealth, top-down combat from games such as Metal Gear Solid, and gives players complete control of almost every outcome. You play as Vic, a former police officer, who travels to South Africa to find his nephew Alex, who as joined the cult that is now stationed in Freedom Town. Your mission? Break into the compound and uncover what the Collective Justice Mission is truly up to. Players are granted complete control on how to handle encounters. Should you stealthy take out each guard, or intimidate your way through the village? The choice is yours; but remember, you must live with the consequences. The Church in the Darkness is scheduled for a 2019 release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC/Mac (Steam). For more information, visit Paranoid Production’s official page.

 

 

It Lurks Below

From David Brevik, the creator of the iconic Diablo series, comes It Lurks Below; a retro-styled, 2D, action-oriented, survival RPG. Think Terraria meets Diablo. Players will have the ability to create custom characters with a plethora of class choices to fit anyone’s playstyle. Whether you enjoy slashing your way through hordes of enemies, to summoning magic to fend off fiend, to long ranged attacks; there’s a character for you. The procedurally generated dungeons, multitude of seasons and depth below provide players hours upon hours of content, with randomized weapons and enemies to keep even the most grizzled of players on their toes. It Lurks Below is now available in an Early Access build on Steam. For more information, check out the game’s official page.

 

 

The Wild Eight

The Wild Eight, from HypeTrain Digital, provides a unique twist on the survival genre, giving players a compelling plot with a reliance on cooperating together. Pitting players in a top-down perspective in the frigid temperature of the Alaskan wilderness pushes players to work together to survive the night, along with uncover the mysterious plane crash that threw you into this predicament. The wilderness and wildlife aren’t your only worry; abandoned government labs and military bunkers sprinkle the environment, filled with fatal surprises. With traces and clues of experiments gone wrong, maybe the plane crash doesn’t seem so accidental. Can you uncover the secrets while trying to survive? The Wild Eight is available now in an Early Access build on Steam, with a full release set for March 2019, along with a console release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in August 2019. For more information, visit the game’s official site.

 

These are only a handful of the unique and interesting titles announced/updated in yesterday’s showcase that we are excited for. From surprise showings such titles as Sega’s Judgement coming to the west for the first time this summer and Skybound Game’s completion of Telltale’s the Walking Dead: the Final Season being updated, the Kinda Funny Games Showcase was one that truly is a major milestone for not only indie developers, but for content creators and their impact on the industry. To watch the showcase in its entirety, head over to Kinda Funny Games’s YouTube page to get filled in on all of the awesome projects shown yesterday.

For updates and coverage on the game’s announced this week, at both the Kinda Funny Games Showcase and the Game Awards 2018 , follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and keep it locked in at Bonus Accessory.

Bonus Accessory’s Official Game Awards 2018 Predictions

2018 has been filled with so many memorable moments in gaming; from the releases of heavy narrative experiences like God of War and Red Dead Redemption to seeing a single mode of a game take over the pop culture landscape like Fortnite has, it is a year we will not soon forget.

The Game Awards 2018 are set to air tonight, December 6th, at 9 PM EST/6 PM PST and it is set to be a night of celebrations towards gaming’s achievements this year, and also gives fans a peak into what is in store for the future. With over 30 awards set to be presented this year, more games than ever will be receiving the recognition they deserve for developing an experience that has greatly affected the medium we all love.

With that said, here are Bonus Accessory’s official predictions for the Game Awards 2018:

Game of the Year

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Celeste, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Monster Hunter World, Red Dead Redemption 2

This might be the most difficult Game of the Year debate yet since the show has become an annual event. Normally, you will have two games that stand head and shoulders above the rest that are nominated (not that the remaining games aren’t good), and it becomes a two dog fight. This year, every single game on this list has the caliber to take home the crown. Red Dead Redemption 2’s success of balancing an open world with a deep narrative is the standard moving forward. Monster Hunt World’s deep hunting and crafting systems are unique and continuously fun for new and old players. MArvel’s Spider-Man checks every box a game should have when deciding if it’s “fun”, with excellent traversal mechanics and fluid combat. Celeste’s tight platforming and touching narrative story of overcoming self-doubt have set a new precedent for independent games. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey evolves the series in ways that outclass all previous entries for miles. Yet, the more I think about it, God of War checks every single one of the themes that are present in the other nominees (to an extent). It’s the most complete package on this list. From the stunning, single-shot presentation, to the gut-wrenching narrative, to the depth and complexity found in the cast of characters (specifically Kratos), everything is done in a fashion that is at theatrical level that we had not witnessed in gaming until its release. Sony Santa Monica hit a massive grand slam with their reintroduction of Kratos and the God of War mythos, and it’s an experience that will not just be remember in 2018, but for years (even decades) to come.

Best Ongoing Game

Destiny 2: Forsaken, Fortnite, No Man’s Sky, Overwatch, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege

There is absolutely no question about it: Fortnite is the biggest story of 2018, not just in terms of gaming, but possibly pop culture. You want to talk about a game that has transcended mediums, and brought gaming into the family’s ecosystems? This is it. We haven’t seen a craze like this since really Guitar Hero, where everyone wants in on the action. What Fortnite does best is make itself approachable at all angles. From its bright, vibrant cartoonish art style, to the quick turnaround of getting into the next game, everything in the game makes you feel like you can pick it up can play it. You died? Oh well, good try! Just hit A/X/Click twice to get back into the next game. That’s it. With the constant updates, ever evolving modes of play including multiple licensed inclusions (i.e. Thanos mode in April), rotating inventory of cosmetic-only items, to listening to player feedback unlike most ‘games as a service projects’, Fortnite continues to make waves and grow its popularity, and it doesn’t look like its stopping anytime soon.

Best Game Direction

A Way Out, Detroit: Become Human, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2

This is another category where a multitude of titles could easily win, but I think this is where we see Red Dead Redemption 2 get its recognition. The award is presented to a game studio for outstanding creative vision and innovation in game direction and design, and I can’t think of another studio that promised and delivered that exact experience more than Rockstar with Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar set out to create a vast, opening and breathing world, full of life and originality, through telling the story of the dying wild West. Every point they set out to hit on, didn’t miss, and it truly did change the landscape of open world gaming.

Best Narrative

Detroit: Become Human, God of War, Life is Strange 2: Episode 1, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2

It’s crazy to think all of these projects that were nominated released in 2018. All of them, each in their own right, fits the mold with the strength of their narrative and story telling; but God of War is the narrative I couldn’t stop thinking about. Cory Barlog and his staff of writers crafted a story that was so touching and heartbreaking at times, that your connection with the characters almost feel authentic. A few times I had to put the controller down and walk away due to the heaviness of the narrative. It’s an aspect of gaming I’ve continued to grow closer to as I continue my growth through adulthood, and the story Sony Santa Monica might be the best telling I’ve experienced yet in the medium (and might be the best for quite some time).

Best Art Direction

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, God of War, Octopath Traveler, Red Dead Redemption 2, Return of the Obra Dinn

Octopath Traveler is one of the unique games to release this generation, specifically in its art style. Admittedly, I’m not a huge turn-based RPG fan. I dabble with the Pokémon series still from time to time, but I feel that approach to combat is dated. Still, I picked up Octopath Traveler, knowing it might not speak to me; and while those aspects still didn’t completely hook me, what did is the art style. The environments are around you are crafted as if you had entered a living and breathing pop-up book, sprinkled with elements of a model aimed for a science project. Even the dullest of colors in the world popped, shined and glimmered within the fast landscapes. The uniqueness factor is what pushes me to believe that Octopath’s art is in another category comparatively than the other nominees.

Best Score

Celeste, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, Octopath Traveler, Red Dead Redemption 2

Ghostly chants, nordic bellows, and ominous melodies fill the room when you start your adventure with Kratos and Atreus. God of War’s soundtrack is like a puzzle piece you didn’t realize you needed until you see it missing from the board. Do me a favor, pop open God of War and try to leave the music off for a few minutes, then turn in back on. The difference is quite polarizing. While the other nominees in this category do have stellar musical scores and soundtracks, none fit better than God of War’s does.

Best Audio Design

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Forza Horizon 4, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2

Marvel’s Spider-Man is a game that you don’t realize the amount of intricacies are taken into account until you focus in on them, and that rings true specially for the audio design in the game. The specific moment that takes the cake for me is when you realize that each line of dialogue for Peter Parker that Yuri Lowenthal recorded has two versions: one for when he’s normally talking, and one for when he’s exerting energy (web swinging, fighting, etc). You may not notice it at first, and that’s because it is so natural. That’s what anyone would sound like in those moments if you’re having a conversation. Personally, this is a first time experience for me in the medium when it comes to a title’s audio.

Best Performance

Bryan Dechart as Connor; Detroit: Become Human, Christopher Judge as Kratos; God of War, Melissanthi Mahut as Kassandra; Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Roger Clark as Arthur Morgan; Red Dead Redemption 2, Yuri Lowenthal as Peter Parker; Marvel’s Spider-Man

Piggybacking off of the last category, I think no one aligned better with their character than Yuri Lowenthal did with Peter Parker. Lowenthal provided fans with a performance that was purely authentic to what fans of the Marvel character would find in any medium, only he may have set the bar for it. What I think he did best is making the portions in which the character plays as Peter, and not Spider-Man, interesting. Normally moments like that in super hero video games may causing pacing issues with the overall story arch, but Lowenthal provides a compelling performance that charges the character with an emotional authenticity that is hard to find in a game in a similar genre.

Games for Impact

11-11 Memories Retold, Celeste, Florence, Life is Strange 2: Episode 1, The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories

While I expected to get a great platforming experience out of Celeste, what I didn’t expect was to feel such a connection with the story. Self-doubt, anxiety and depression attack a lot of people, including myself, and overcoming the inner-doubts that encompass us at times can be very difficult, but watching the growth of Madeline in Celeste really inspires me to keep pushing when some days get harder than others. Matt Makes Games not only designed a beautiful platformer, but one of the most impactful games this generation.

Best Independent Game

Celeste, Dead Cells, Into the Breach, Return of the Obra Dinn, the Messenger

Celeste has set a new bar for independent games, both from a gameplay standpoint and narrative approach. The experience Matt Makes Games crafted in early 2018 has still left a lasting impression on me, months later, and even after completing the game the thought of my first experience playing it pushes me to come back. Plus, the depth fo post game content with the B-Side tapes and tracking down all of the difficult strawberries gives players a whole new palette of experiences that most indie games usually don’t provide. While it may not win the title of overall game of the year, Celeste has proved to the industry that indie gaming isn’t just a fad or a small sect of gaming; it’s the real deal and will have its moment in the sun very, very soon.

Best Mobile Game

Donut County, Florence, Fortnite, PUBG Mobile, Reigns: Game of Thrones

Mobile gaming really has seen a jump in quality over the last two years, and Fortnite has embodied what the next phase of mobile gaming can be: working coherently with console gaming. The Fortnite experience is the same on your iPhone or Android, as it is on your Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC; and the best part, it’s completely seamless. Is it the most ideal way to play the game? No, not at all, but it works and provides every feature in-game that the other iterations of the game do. No matter how you feel about the game, Epic Games has crafted an experience that is just about perfect from what is advertised and what the player receives. How many other mobile games can say that? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Best VR Title

Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Beat Saber, Firewall: Zero Hour, Moss, Tetris Effect

I’ll be honest, I’ve owned a PlayStation VR set for almost a year now (got my set as a Christmas gift last year), and I’ve probably played it for a total of 10 or 11 times. That’s not to say that VR isn’t great, it’s the exact opposite; I just haven’t found a game that spoke to me yet. I never get motion sickness, but with the VR headset I do get a bit light headed at times, so while experiences like Resident Evil 7 are technologically amazing and work brilliantly, it gets hard to play, so it has taken awhile for me to truly pinpoint what I want out of VR. Enter Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. Imagine the platforming elements of a 3D Mario title mixed with a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ puzzle element; then add VR to it. Peaking around walls, looking into nooks and crannies, all make the platforming elements so much more enjoyable and it truly has made me found what I want out of VR. Plus, take a look at the VR titles up for Game of the Year. Notice anything about them, in terms of what they have in common? All of them are available on PlayStation VR, which means developers and publishers are seeing how the VR market is growing and becoming more affordable at a casual consumer level, and is in turn driving these experiences to get into more hands. Exciting times are on the horizon for VR, especially for the iteration Sony offers for its PlayStation family of hardware.

Best Action Game

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Dead Cells, Destiny 2: Forsaken, Far Cry 5, Megan Man 11

Dead Cells was an experience I was expecting to dislike. I traditionally don’t play many rogue-lites, nor do I approach many Souls-like experiences (though I do want to give the Dark Souls remaster on Switch a go in the near future), so Dead Cells didn’t seem to check many boxes for me; that is, until I tried it out. I try to support as many indie developers and publishers as possible. Having as many options in the gaming industry only provides for better content, and too often do I see experiences that deserve to see the light of day fall simply based on financing; so I pulled the trigger on Dead Cells, and man, does this game get addictive. Once you get a rhythm of how you want to approach the game, it becomes an experience that is completely tailored around your play style. You like to speed run and avoid as many enemies? Cool, doing that will open up more secret cells for you to upgrade. You like focusing on ranged attacks? Cool, buy this ability when upgrading to start with a bow. Don’t get me wrong, this game is a bear at times, with some of its steeper difficulty spikes, but the silky smooth combat and gameplay loop keep me coming back for more.

Best Action Adventure Game

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, God of War, Marvel’s Spider- Man, Red Dead Redemption 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Personally, this is where I think Marvel’s Spider-Man gets shown its love. I’ve touched on it before, but Spider-Man gave me the most enjoyable experience in gaming this year, from a ‘fun’ factor alone. Swinging through Manhattan, diving between buildings, fighting off waves of enemies while using unique and intricate gadgets gives you the experience of being bit by a radioactive spider, somehow not dying and gaining super human abilities (who would’ve thought!). Yet, I’m drawn to the narrative most overall. Outside of the early reviews for the upcoming Into the Spiderverse movie, this is hands-down the best Spider-Man story I’ve experienced yet. Insomniac Games has set up a universe that full to the brim in terms of possibilities and potential. If this is their ‘Iron Man’ of the MCU for Marvel’s new gaming universe, then are we truly in for a treat.

Best RPG

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, Monster Hunter: World, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, Octopath Traveler, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

While I didn’t sink the same amount of time into it as many of the other games I played this year, Monster Hunter: World still felt like one of the most approachable, yet complex RPGs to release yet. Giving players the freedom to explore a vastly beautiful new world, Monster Hunter: World gave an experience that both returning fans and new fans found welcoming. Tracking down huge beasts with a variety of customizable weapons and amor sets made the game deep and intriguing to me, who hasn’t touched a Monster Hunter game since one of its earlier PSP entries. With continuous free content updates and a PC port that launched a few months ago, it looks like World will be around for quite sometime.

Best Sports/Racing Game

FIFA 19, Forza Horizon 4, Mario Tennis Aces, NBA 2K19, Pro Evolution Soccer 2019

I’m not a simulation racing guy, plain and simple. Cart racers? Hell yes, give me more; but racing sims just usually don’t tickle my fancy. While the concept of car sims are cool, I’m just can’t get hooked on the experience of tuning cars; that is, until Forza Horizon 4. To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have originally tried, but thanks to Xbox Game Pass receiving console exclusive titles day & date of launch, I said why not. Let me tell you, I’m quite glad I did. Maybe it’s the light hearted, stunt driver aspect of the game I feel when I play it; or maybe the breathtaking views of the United Kingdom I see through the revolving season, I’m not quite sure, but man, is it addictive. Having the freedom to roam the countrysides, then fly through quiet neighborhoods to then seamlessly transfer into a race makes this racing sim quiet approachable and the funnest ‘sports’ game I’ve played this year.

Best Multiplayer Game

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Destiny 2: Forsaken, Fortnite, Monster Hunter: World, and Sea of Thieves

I mean, what else is there left to say on Fortnite? It defined multiplayer gaming in 2018. What’s even better, outside of the points I’ve already mentioned on the game, is that Epic Games is putting so much money back into the game for players to win via their robust tournament system. Earlier this year, Epic announced they would be providing a $100 million prize pool for their first year of competitive play. $100 million. Like, with a ‘M’ and nine zeroes. Previously, the highest money pool in gaming was for Dota 2, when Valve paid out $38 million in total prize money last year.

Best Debut Indie Game

Donut County, Florence, Moss, The Messenger, Yoku’s Island Express

Before Astro Bot Rescue Mission came along and brought a whole new set of eyes to what VR could do using a non-traditional VR game, Moss owned the spotlight. The puzzler with small platforming elements is told from the perspective of a classic children’s adventure book, transporting the player into the world where they control a young mouse named Quill. This was the game that you gave to family members or friends who were afraid to use VR, and show them that VR isn’t just flying space ships and jump scares; there are actual heartfelt experiences available on VR, and for awhile I would even consider Quill to the ‘mascot’ of PlayStation VR due to the game’s exclusivity on the system at release.

Best Esports Game

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO), DOTA 2, Fortnite, League of Legends, OverWatch

As a huge CSGO fan, it hurts me to say this: Overwatch was the best eSports of 2018. This isn’t a skill issue, or anything like that; more or less, one thing seals this award and that’s the Overwatch League and its attempt at transition eSports into a traditional professional sports team format. CSGO’s diversity is something that almost cannot be rivaled, but Overwatch’s professional league has translated to audiences so well, with the emphasis on cities having team like traditional pro sports franchises is a model that is finding success in the States. I’m curious to if it transfers to long to term success, but early indications look great, in my opinion. For 2018, Overwatch made the first major step that needed to be taken by a major eSports title to truly be viewed in the same rights as other professional sports leagues.

Content Creator

Dr. Lupo, Myth, Ninja, Pokimane, Willyrex

In 2018, when you think Twitch, you think Ninja and Fortnite; when you think of Fortnite, you think of Ninja and probably Twitch; no one has had the success and connect with a fan base as Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins has in a single year. Period. Now, I’ve known Tyler since his days in the Halo scene with Halo: Reach specifically, when friends would show me these incredible montages by him. Yet, after leaving the Halo scene a few years ago, I don’t want to say he struggled to find his niche per say, but he didn’t necessarily have a game he associated so closely with. Primarily it was H1Z1 for awhile, then eventually to PUBG, until he started playing Fornite towards the latter half of 2017. Everything changed after that. The growth he encountered was completely unheard of. Not only was he great at the game, he was entertaining. Soon enough, his stream fell on various celebrities’ radars who were fans of the massively popular game. On March 14th, he set a Twitch concurrent viewing record with over 635,000 viewers watching him play Fortnite with rappers Drake, Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers wide-receiver JuJu Smith Schuster. Since then, Ninja has set a multitude of Twitch records, including in followers and subs. He has been featured on the cover of ESPN the magazine, making him the first eSports player to do so, along with signing an exclusive deal with Red Bull.

 

While we didn’t completely touch on every category, I only wanted to predict the ones I felt completely comfortable with discussing. 2018 has been an incredible years for not only single-player experiences, but for online multiplayer projects, and couch co-op games. Thank you 2018, for providing us with a plethora of amazing experiences, and the future gaming in 2019 is beginning to look oh so bright.

Also, Super Smash Bros Ultimate drops tomorrow, so go buy that. Small title, not sure if you’ve heard of it?

For live updates on the Game Awards 2018, follow us on Twitter, and keep it locked in at Bonus Accessory.

 

 

In Defense of (Game of the Year): Marvel’s Spider-Man

With the award season right around the corner, Bonus Accessory will be taking a look at some of the top games of the past year, and examine why each game deserves the title of Game of the Year at the Game Awards 2018. This is part four of our five part series entitled ‘In Defense of’, and in this edition we check on why our Spidey Sense tingles so much for Marvel’s Spider-Man.

Great gaming experiences surrounding super heroes and comic-inspired characters have been popping up over the better part of the last decade. With the flag bearer in this revitalization of the genre being Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series, fans have been treated to worlds with deep lore, fluid combat and compelling storytelling that really started to be felt towards the end of last console generation. While those experiences left fans wanting to see more from the sect of pop culture, many of the characters faced uphill battles to find their return to form in the gaming landscape; one of which was the successful Spider-Man IP from Marvel. Marvel’s Spider-Man, from Insomniac Games for the PlayStation 4, rights the ship for the long time popular Marvel hero. Peter Parker and his wall crawling alter-ego have been portrayed in a multitude of media forms, ranging from his creation in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15 to his successful run of films including the upcoming animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse; and while the web head has had his fair share of video games, it’s the one form of media he has had the least consistency with. While various sects of his fanbase will argue otherwise for some titles, the overall consensus shows that Spidey has had a few rocky years in terms of his gaming representation.

Enter Insomniac Games. The studio, known for such series as Ratchet & Clank, the original Spyro trilogy and Sunset Overdrive. When first approached by Sony to adapt a Marvel franchise to a game format, the staff made it seem the decision was all but unanimous for what property they wanted to tackle: Spider-Man. Using a modified version of the engine found in 2014’s Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac had a good foundation for how they wanted to handle the game. The fluidity of Sunset Overdrive‘s traversal, combat and acrobatics seem almost isometric at times to what Marvel’s Spider-Man became by release. The buttery smoothness of hitting a perfectly timed reversal while in combat is only rivaled by the ability to capture enemies with a multitude of different gadgets and equipment. But crafting a game around a licensed idea isn’t always as easy as one would think it would be. It’s already established? How hard could it be? And while there may be some truth to that, the team at Insomniac Games, lead by creative director Brian Intihar, didn’t want to retread old ground. The Spider-Man IP is one that’s had is stories told for over 50 years, giving the studio much to play with when dissecting how they wanted to handle the game; but ultimately, what they decided on was something that both ended up complimenting past Spidey stories while also adding new twists to the wall crawler.

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Spider-Man? A guess would be him swinging through the streets of New York City. For years, this has been one of the toughest nuts to crack when developing a Spider-Man game: traversal. Many fans point to the Spider-Man 2 licensed game of Playstation 2, Xbox, GameCube and PC as being the best example in terms of nailing the way the players moves throughout the city. While for its time, it truly was a revolutionary take on how you would expect the genetically mutated teen to move throughout the city as his alter-ego, using a pendulum based system for momentum. Insomniac, coming hot off the heels of its successful new IP Sunset Overdrive in 2014, saw this as a chance to take the successes they found with traversal throughout their newly crafted world and combined it with the web swing action of Marvel’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. To no surprise, it has become my new favorite way to get around in a game this generation. Adopting the same pendulum-based momentum system for swinging, the team focused on how something as crazy as swing from buildings in real life would work. First and foremost, every web has to attach to something. Whether it be a building, ledge, tree branch or pole, every swing has to be attached to something. Doing so gave players the ability to gain momentum to then push themselves forward and in various directions based on the architecture of the buildings around them. Plain and simple, it’s just so fun and rewarding to travel Manhattan by web swinging. Fast travel is available, but why bother (even though you are given a cool cut scene with Spider-Man on the subway)? any game that provides you with a mode of transportation that is greater than the easier option is something that should be held in the highest regard in terms of gam design.

While playing as Spider-Man is the main pull to the game for many, what you find is a multifold story that not only sees you become heavily invested in the narrative of Spidey himself, but of the man behind the mask: Peter Parker. Now, I’ll be quite honest, like most games found in the super hero genre, I was expecting the moments that players control Peter Parker to become pacing issues for the overarching narrative; going from 100 to 0, as the kids say these days. Yet, I didn’t expect myself to find a bond with Parker the way I did. A big part of that goes to the superb voice acting of Yuri Lowenthal. The delivery of expression through his voice is so spot on, it leaves you baffled at how Insomniac could’ve at one point chose to go another route with voice acting for Peter’s character. Lowenthal’s performance helps the player connect with the everyday Peter Parker that is behind the mask. Like him, I am a early to mid 20s young adult, just blossoming into the fully grown person I eventually will become. He faces everyday issues; from finding balance between his family of Aunt May, to his job as a research assistant with Dr. Otto Octavius, to trying to fight to restore his loving relationship with ex-girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, it gives the players a way to relate with and care for the man behind the mask. As someone who has grown through the “cell phone and dating” revolution, there is a particular scene that almost any 15 to 30 year old male can relate to when pursuing a love interest via text messaging. I vividly remember reassuring Peter out loud when playing, saying “Ah, I know that feel.” Presenting Peter as a sort of an “every man’s man”, gives the player a deeper connection to him, that when playing through the story beats while at the F.E.A.S.T. homeless shelter or in Dr. Octavius’s lab are still engaging and fun.

In a large open world narrative game such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, support characters need to be given a greater emphasis during the crafting phase of the game, and I think Insomniac Games’s writing staff has done that better than any game this year and even in quite some time. The craftsmanship writers Jon Paquette, Benjamin Arfmann, Kelsey Beachum, Christos Gage, and Dan Slott penned during the development of the characters surrounding Peter is something most development teams should take notes on. Every character that plays a role in the story is engaging and has a level of depth to them, from their expressions, to the approach they take to interacting with the player; especially with the dynamic they have with Peter. Many a time have I found myself chuckling at a witty, smart aleck remark Spider-Man/Peter would make towards his police contact, Yuri Watanabe, including the now famous ‘Spider-Cop’ persona (don’t worry, the cringe is on purpose and it’s played up just the perfect amount). You would find remorse and compassion from Peter’s loving Aunt May, even as she struggles to support herself at times, putting your needs first. You meet a young man by the name of Miles Morales, who is struggling to find his way in life in some of his most impressionable years and turns to the heroic Spider-Man for guidance. Yet, what might be the best example of the care put into the character dynamics, is the one between Peter and Mary Jane. The way they interact with each other is so authentic and grounded that you feel you’re experiencing the emotional rollercoaster between them through their own eyes. Instantly you can feel the chemistry the two have, gaining the sense that you’ve known each other for years and that there’s an extra layer of care and love for each other. Chemistry like this is a perfect example of how close the gaming world is becoming almost completely intertwined to the level of theatrical quality.

While the supporting cast may be the lights that sprinkle the metaphoric Christmas tree, the star that shines brightest on top of the tree is the breathing metropolis of Manhattan. When comparing the two comic publishing titans, DC’s characters were set in fictitious environment (Gotham City, Metropolis, etc), whereas Marvel’s characters have always been rooted in realism, living in the world around us for the most part; so when crafting the project, Insomniac had the issue of crafting a world that is already established, but also finding ways to make it unique. While the city isn’t completely to scale, it sure as hell feels to be the case. As someone who has been to New York City once in his 25 years of life, swinging through what looked almost never ending streets of Manhattan felt surreal at times. The level of detail taken into account when exploring the world is a marvel in itself. Little touches, like being able to looking various windows of the thousands of buildings that lined the street and having each of them have a unique look and style to them, adds a level of photo-realism to the concrete jungle surrounding the player. Plus, all of the small easter egg touches made me love digging through each brick and beam to find any Marvel reference I could possibly screenshot. The best part is, they don’t stick out. Everything feels connected, and purposeful, as if it naturally meant to be there. I don’t want to ruin any of the fun surprises hidden throughout the city, but trust me when I say as a long time fan of Marvel’s IPs, the smile on my face when I found some of the bigger nods was astronomical.

With many open world games using similar formulas for the way they are presented, Marvel’s Spider-Man find a way  to completely stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Not many games drive me to completely tear apart every nook and cranny of its package, but the world that Insomniac Games developed is one that I can’t get enough of. Its the first game that made me want to go out of my way to get the platinum trophy. The best part? There’s more content available after launch, and it’s not just short filler DLC that you will find in most big budget games, it’s intriguing and narrative driven in a way I wasn’t expecting. Players will get to experience story beats that were presented at the end of the game that you may not have expected to see until the game’s inevitable sequel, which isn’t the norm for games of this budget and caliber; but everything about Marvel’s Spider-Man is felt as if it was made holding itself to a higher standard. The tagline for the project is ‘Be Greater’, and I’ll be quite honest, I don’t know how much greater you can get in terms of gaming experience this year. When it comes to the possibility of being names Game of the Year for 2018, there is no need to aim to ‘be greater’, when there is no greater experience available this year than the one Insomniac Games has crafted.

For more coverage on the Game Awards 2018, including who takes home the title of ‘Game of the Year’, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and keep it locked in at Bonus Accessory.

In Defense of (Game of the Year) – Celeste

With the award season right around the corner, Bonus Accessory will be taking a look at some of the top games of the past year, and examine why each game deserves the title of Game of the Year at the Game Awards 2018. This is part three of our five part series entitled ‘In Defense of’, and this time we are jumping and climbing to Matt Makes Games’s Celeste.

Approaching metal health in any light can be a touchy subject, let alone in video games. Few games have successfully pulled off appropriately touching on the subject while still having great gameplay and a compelling story. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice from Ninja Theory, which released in August 2017, comes to mind on how approaching metal health issues appropriately through gaming can lead to some of the best experiences in the medium, and I would honestly say that game would be the flag-bearer for expressing that message; that is, until the release of Celeste.

Celeste, which released on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in January this year from independent developer Matt Makes Games, is both simple and yet quite complex, in terms of how to describe the game. Let me explain.The Canadian developer brings one of the tightest and polished platforming experiences in years, with players jumping, climbing and using mystical powers to scale the perilous mountain. Levels are sprinkled with obstacles that require the player to make pinpoint movements to successfully navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint. While the difficulty is high, its presented in a way to players that isn’t a scare tactic, but one that is motivational. Director Matt Thorson and his staff designed the game to be approachable. Sure, there’s an ‘assist mode’ for players who truly don’t feel comfortable facing the uphill battle the fictional mountain provides, but Thorson clearly states when choosing the option that it is not the intend way to experience the game. Celeste is designed to push players, to make them feel uncomfortable and having them face frustration head on.

Plain and simple, you will die, and I mean a lot. By the time I rolled credits on my initial playthrough of Celeste‘s main story, I I tallied over 2,000 deaths. Yes, you read that correctly, there are three zeros in that number. Am I the best at platformers? Obviously not considering I perished over 2,000 times; but each time I died, I got a bit better. I began seeing the errors I was making. Mentally, I would find myself breaking down my game plan on how I would approach each portion of the level; remembering the mistakes I would make along the way and adjust said plan. The pacing of the game plays well into its difficulty/fun mixture, with respawns being almost instantaneously. Specifically with the Nintendo Switch version of the game, the style compliments the pickup and play mentality of the system. I’d find myself being able to pop through portions of the current level I was on my lunch break, or waiting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, and easily being able to get that full experience on a strict time schedule. Like many of the games nominated this year, no time is wasted in the game, which makes it an especially rewarding experience to those on a tight schedule.

Celeste‘s narrative is where the complexity begins to set in, in one of the most rewarding ways possible. Players take control of a young girl named Madeline who intends to scale the mystical Celeste Mountain, located in the snowcapped Canadian wilderness. Along her way, she meets a cast of characters who range from support systems, such as Theo, to the wise cracking Granny, who simply doesn’t feel as though Madeline has the wherewithal to complete her journey to the mountain’s peak; yet, the biggest critic Madeline faces is herself. During the trek to Celeste‘s summit, Madeline experiences what is best described as an ‘out of body’ event, where she encounters an embodiment of her anxiety and self-doubts. While she continues to run from the self-doubt she keeps stowed away, she begins to face more and more instances that force her to confront the fears she keeps within her mind. For what appears to be a pretty cut and dry platformer on the surface, Celeste uses the its gameplay to translate a bigger message on facing our fears and anxiety. The mountain is truly a metaphor in its simplest form; an obstacle that one must learn to adapt to and eventually overcome. As I stated before, messaging on mental health is often something that is difficult to properly contextualize through media. Many forms of entertainment will encourage those who are struggling with aspects of their mental health to speak up, and that is absolutely a great message and starting point; but many don’t offer ways to combat these emotions due to its complexity. Celeste, on the other hand, finds a way to encourage those suffering to find the will and remove the self-doubt in a way that doesn’t take away from the excellent gameplay.

One of the most underrated aspects of Celeste is its artwork. With a blend of pixelated in-game assets along with hand-drawn ‘cinematic’ pieces, artists Amora Bettany, Pedro Medeiros, and Gabby DaRienzo craft a world of sheer wonder and beauty while basing the game in simplicity. Vibrant colors pop off the screen, while the sharp pixel-based environmental objects fit perfectly, as if they were apart of an elaborate puzzle. Growing up, I never found myself overly attracted to the 16 bit generation of gaming. My first main console was the Nintendo 64, which I got in 1998 at five years old, and while I did also have an NES in my home at that time, I was neck deep in the 64-bit CPU generation of gaming with the likes of the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I began to bolster my artistic palette and truly start to appreciate the beauty of the 8 and 16 bit generations of game. Moving to the era of high definition, and now 4K, no art style has seen more of a revitalization as the retro-style that games such as Celeste dons, and I truly see Celeste as the new standard for how games of this style should aim to be. Even the animation is so fluent and smooth, with the way the sharpness and definition remain with the excessive amount of movement going on during the more intricate platforming portions of the experience.

At the end of the day, no matter who takes home the title of ‘Game of the Year’, what Celeste has done for independent game development is something that will be felt for years to come. While independent games have continued to receive more and more attention, including with the likes of Playdead’s Inside receiving a Game of the Year nomination at the 2016 show and Studio MDHR’s Cuphead winning Best Art Direction last year, you get the sense that the scale may finally be tipping this year. Seeing what the team at Matt Makes Games accomplished with the staff size they have is the true embodiment of the phrase “quality over quantity”. Game development as a skill has become so easily accessible over the past decade that anyone with an interest in gaming can easily have the information readily available to learn at almost any point, and having a game with the budget and size of Celeste win ‘Game of the Year’ could be a jumping point for many small development studios in the future. While many independent experiences only last a few hours, Celeste‘s package oozes with replay-ability depth, not to mention a plethora of post-game content with the B-Side variations of levels, giving players the feeling to that similar of a AAA developed experience in a sense. For the first time since Geoff Keighley’s inception of the event, I truly feel this is the year a true independent project can potentially claim the crown of ‘Game of the Year’, and deservedly so. From a touching and moving narrative, to the master-class polish of platforming gameplay, Celeste may easily reach the top of the mountain to be crowned at 2018’s ‘Game of the Year’.

For updates surrounding the Game Awards 2018, including who takes home the prized Game of the Year award, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and keep it locked in at Bonus Accessory.

In Defense of (Game of the Year): Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

With the award season right around the corner, Bonus Accessory will be taking a look at some of the top games of the past year, and examine why each game deserves the title of Game of the Year. This is part two of our five part series entitled ‘In Defense of’, and this time we are detailing Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has truly been one that has been fascinating to watch change over the years. From its hot start out of the gate with the first entry’s release in 2007 and its initial peak with its sequel two years later, to its steady decline in both popularity and quality over the next decade; it’s been a wild ride for one of Ubisoft’s most recognized IPs.

When Ubisoft first announced they would be taking a year off from their annual Assassin’s Creed installments after 2015’s Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate released, fans collectively took a sigh of relief. Long-time fans of the series couldn’t deny the state the franchise was in. Experience-ruining bugs, glitches and issues were scattered through the files of Syndicate, but it many of these were found in their infancy through previous entries, growing year after year. Fans felt the story was becoming more convoluted and over-complicated, and most importantly, they began to feel a staleness in gameplay, as if it were a potato chip bag left open for days. Needless to say, the series needed a nap, or a Snickers (sorry for the poor pun/analogy…).

Enter Ubisoft Montreal with 2017’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins; a fresh take on a familiar face. Gone were the days of linear, closed world experience, and in their place was bright and vibrant Egyptian sandbox, in which every crack and iota was explorable. RPG-based mechanics were introduced, along with a fun lite looting system that fans of games such as Destiny and Diablo would find interesting. Met with critical and consumer acclaim, Origins gave what fans of the series want: freedom. Most importantly, what Assassin’s Creed: Origins did was lay the foundation for what the series could become; 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey built the estate with that potential.

Everything that fans loved about Origins, remained in Odyssey; and everything thy didn’t was improved on. Sure, that sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised at how often that doesn’t happen when a new entry in a game series is created. Yet, I don’t see Odyssey as a sequel to Origins. There is a narrative that connects the outside world of Layla Hassan and the Animus, but in all honesty, that could’ve been foregone. The meat and potatoes of this game is with our hero/heroine, the sibling mercenaries Alexios & Kassandra, and their story to unravel the mystery surround their family and connect to King Leonidas; just as Origin‘s story surrounded Bayek and his tale.

Giving the player an option to choose their gender in 2018 isn’t a crazy concept, but the way that Odyssey integrates it into its narrative feels so natural. Personally, I chose Alexios during my playthrough, but know how the story is affected by using each character, it makes me want to go back and experience Kassandra’s tale. Getting an open world to gel correctly with a narrative that very little studios end up finding success with, due to the overwhelming size and undertaking that is required to pull it off; but Ubisoft Montreal found a way to let players feel as though the world around them is a living and breathing experience. Players will find their typical NPCs (non-playable characters) scattered throughout each of the islands on the map, providing you with your typical side quests, but the interaction with those characters makes the quests feel unique and different comparative to many open world games. Say your character wants to emotionally pursue a character you are interacting with for a quest, you have the ability to do that; not in the Mass Effect-simplistic style, but actually have the ability to frame your specific dialog to NPCs and have it truly affect your overall experience. Side quests don’t feel like simple side quests; they have true depth and narrative detail. The characters who wander the various islands in Greece all feel connected and unique to the world around you, in ways not many other games provide you with.

Origins offered players the ability to sail the rivers and wetlands of Egypt, a feature that was present in 2013’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag; and that experience is continues into Odyssey. Ship customization provides players a level of depth many simulation-based experiences rarely do. Upgradable aspects range from various arrow types, to the implementation of fire and javelins, giving players the ability to tweak each portion of their primary mode of traveling from island to island. One of the best features with this aspect of the game is the ability to recruit new members of the crew, such as lieutenants. During side quests, and even raids of enemy encampments, you can use dialog options to convince NPCs to join your crew, which will improve various statistical elements of your ship.

One of the best additions to Odyssey is the implementation of bounty hunters and mercenary quest lines. Taking a page out of Bethesda and Rockstar’s book, Ubisoft added the ability to take on contracted hits throughout each of the various areas Alexios or Kassandra will visit. I always found it a fun way to grind for various loot and experience when I would need to increase my level to continue the journey. Personally, at this point in my gaming career, I need to find progression. Between life, writing, and working, my gaming, like many, isn’t as often as I wish it could be, so I normally don’t have the time or patience to waste on grinding levels just reach a certain portion of the map or have the ability to use a certain weapon. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey changes that. Similar to Sony Santa Monica’s God of War, every moment I’m doing something in game doesn’t feel like its wasting my time, specifically the grinding. I enjoy it, and dare I say, look forward to it; and the combat plays a heavy hand in doing that. Fluidity is the name of the game. With every swing of a sword, stab of a knife, and every perfectly timed parry or dodge, the reward of defeating an enemy continues to get greater with each one you defeat. The RPG elements that Odyssey evolves upon add such a level of ownership in how the player develops his character, but is just enough to not make that same player feel overwhelmed. You continuously feel like it all works in perfect fluidity. Everything I do feels like I’m progressing towards something. As I mentioned before, the Destiny/Diablo-style looting system scratches that itch of continuously getting better and better gear, which then drives me to grind more. Players feel compelled to venture off the beaten path to get stronger and upgrade your abilities.

The real treasure of this game is its world. Towns are filled with a plethora of inhabitants who have detailed backgrounds and personalities. Terrains are painted with picturesque mountain ranges, that players can traverse in smooth and fluid fashion. With aquatic traversal having such a heavy emphasis on this entry, the detail provided in the water is so jaw-droppingly beautiful, it makes you do a double take at times. Normally, I don’t find myself to be overly compelled by how visually stunning a game is, but Odyssey is an exception. If you have the ability to play this game in 4K on either an Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, or PC, do it. My Sony Bravia X900E 4K television, specially with the HDR enabled, gets pushed to its full potential with this game. Being a third party AAA game, Odyssey was designed to run on various levels of hardware. Normally with games in this situation, some edges are cut to make the game perform as close to identical as possible across multiple platforms; but the level of detail provided out of the box with this game is something to marvel at.

If you ask long-term, hardcore Assassin’s Creed fans, they will say “this isn’t Assassin’s Creed anymore”, or some variation to insinuate that the series has drifted too far from its roots; but if you ask this writer, I think it only brings it closer to its roots. The series has always been about creativity in completing an objective, and in most cases that usually results in assassinating someone or multiple people (shocker, right?). Odyssey doesn’t only provide players with an even greater ability to do this, but encourages uniqueness in completing these objectives. Numerous times have I been in a situation where I will look at an enemy base and see the easiest way to eliminate soldiers, but only to have the game then hint at other various ways to complete that objective; especially if you complete all the sub-objectives in the base to get great loot. Nothing screams “Assassin’s Creed” more than uniqueness, and Odyssey provides it by the barrel load.

Not many open world games can pull off checking boxes for almost any type of gamer, but Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey does. From looting, to assassinations, to the buttery-smoothness of the combat, to the depth of dialog and role playing options, what Ubisoft has done to the franchise is something most AAA publishers/developers should focus on doing: evolving a franchise. Ubisoft has already confirmed that fans won’t be seeing another entry in the franchise next year, and that’s a great thing. Continued support for this game is what players want, and if the extra year of development time for the next entry is any indication what could be next for the franchise, it looks as if the series could be a front runner for Game of the Year for even more years to come.

For more coverage on Game of the Year heading in the Game Awards 2018, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and keep it locked in on Bonus Accessory.

In Defense of (Game of the Year): God of War

With the award season right around the corner, Bonus Accessory will be taking a look at some of the top games of the past year, and examine why each game deserves the title of Game of the Year. This is part one of our five part series entitled ‘In Defense of’, and we are starting off with Sony Santa Monica’s God of War.

Sony Santa Monica Studio’s God of War is what every narrative driven game should aim to be; thought-provoking, emotional, light-hearted when appropriate, atmospheric, cinematic, and the list goes on and on. What Cory Barlog and his incredibly talented team did with a franchise that in most instances was (metaphorically) more icing than cake at times, in terms of narrative depth, should be considered an achievement in modern storytelling in general, and is only a portion of what made this game the critical and commercial success it is.

The mainline God of War series has never suffered from gameplay issues. Every entry in the series has been mechanically tight, responsive and most importantly, fun; but in the current era of gaming, where games are slowly becoming viewed more as experiences, gameplay does have a finite end. Now, that’s not saying that a game doesn’t need to have responsive controls, but when games such as Uncharted 4, the Last of Us, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Red Dead Redemption 2 are finding huge critical and commercial success, it’s easy to see how important narrative depth is to gamers this generation. Take Red Dead Redemption 2 for example; for all of the accolades it has received since its launch, every major criticism the game receives revolves around its controls. Clunky, out-dated, unresponsive at time; all adjectives that could be applied to Rockstar’s tragic tale depicting the deterioration of the wild west in the late 19th century. Yet, ask anyone who has either played the game and more time than not, they will shower the game with unanimous praise, with some even go as far to say it is a genre defining experience. By no means am I saying their assessment of the game is wrong, but how can a game that seems so abrasive in the way it plays, be regarded so highly by so many? Simple: it’s narrative is too compelling to make you care about how the game plays.

In terms of God of War though, the best part is, there is no compromising either end. What you get out of the box is something that blends a complex, beautiful and at time poignant narrative with addictive gameplay that is rewarding, deep but very approachable. From the moment you begin your quest of closure with Kratos to the moment the credits begin to roll, you are completely incapsulated by the story Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Matt Sophos, and Cory Barlog have penned for the player. With so much emphasis put on player immersion in gaming, Sony Santa Monica molded an experience that never truly broke that immersion. The player is shown everything that Kratos and his son Atreus experience from the moment you begin their emotional journey, by never breaking a single camera shot. Everything you experience in God of War is one continuous camera shot. Rarely in film is this feat achievable, let alone done in a way that audiences usually find positive. Finding a way to make the narrative of Kratos’s adventure flow comfortably for the player and feel natural always seemed to be the biggest hurdle the game had against it, when word started spreading that Sony Santa Monica chose to go this route; but without a doubt, they were able to completely knock it out of the park. Loading screen are invisible to the naked eye, and never break the plot or gameplay up for the player.

Optimization of the game provides players on all generations of PlayStation 4 hardware to experience the beauty of the game, without compromising anything for those with older variations of the system. PlayStation 4 Pro owners are presented with an even greater amount of performance options, including the ability to favor resolution for 4K gaming and greater detail at 30 fps (frames per second), along with a performance mode that focuses on giving the player a buttery-smooth 60 fps experience. No corner ever feels cut when playing through God of War. Every detail, ever nook and cranny, every iota of this game feels like it has been personally attended to and given exclusive attention.

The creation of this world and those who inhabit it, is that of a master craft gift to the medium. Lead by Rafael Grassetti, the art department at Sony Santa Monica grasped the feel of a mythological world, using a diverse mixture of colors and styles to give players the feeling of traveling across a vast universe. From beautifully painted pastel skies, to the deepest hues of blue and grey while deep within the world’s crust, every inch of the game aesthetically screams beauty. Musically, the game wraps your in melodies that metaphorically range from a heroic conquest against evil, to the downfall of all hope in the world. Bear McCreary, who composed the game’s soundtrack, takes the player on an epic journey filled with emotional highs and lows told through the largely orchestral track list with choir chanting and ominous drums. Normally, I don’t find myself going out of my way to listen to soundtracks to most movies, shows or games; but God of War‘s is so impactful, that I have it saved on my Spotify account and play it in a pretty regular fashion. So many artistic aspects of this game provide players a blueprint of the narrative without actually telling them, which even with the emphasis set on narrative strength in single player experiences today, is rare.

But what I think is the most rewarding for players is the complete transformation of Kratos’s character from the original trilogy of God of War titles to 2018’s entry. Kratos was a character that I rarely connected with in previous titles; he was brash, bullheaded and to be quite honest, not overly complex in terms of his ideology. Sometimes, simplicity in storytelling is great (look at 2018’s A Quiet Place). There’s no need to overcomplicate a character or plot if it is not a valid reason to, but Kratos didn’t fall into that spectrum. He was, for all intents and purposes, bland (to me, at least). Fast forward to 2018, and the Kratos that first emerges from his secluded lifestyle is one that carries a burden on his back; not of his current life, but of his past. Since relocating to the heard of ancient Norway, in the realm of Midgard, he has grown as a character. He remarried to a ‘Norse’ woman names Faye, and donned the cowl of fatherhood again, by providing life to a son named Atreus. He tries to become a man that no longer needs regret and anger to control his being, but as he tries to escape his past, he begins to be pulled back into the very pits of rage he has tried to leave. Sure, he still dons his familiar tattoos and ‘ash grey’ completion, but beneath the flesh and bone lays a soul that yearns for closure and acceptance. The narrative may surrounds Kratos and Atreus’s journey to spread his since deceased wife’s ashes at the highest peak in all the realms, but it truly cuts deeper than what’s at the surface; it’s the story of Kratos truly shedding his past demons, and evolving into the man he wants to be for his son. Depth, is truly the greatest reward the player will find in terms of the characters who inhabit this game, and specifically with its main protagonist.

God of War has cemented its place as one of, if not the, premiere titles in the PlayStation 4’s expansive library of games. No other games offers a package as complete as the epic tale Sony Santa Monica produced in 2018. From story, to gameplay, to the fluidity of presentation, God of War is a game that not only will stand tall during award season in 2018, but will continue to be the standard-bearer for narratively driven experience for years to come.

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