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Before I move on with the review, I first want to thank @DC for providing me with a free copy of this game through Bid for Rewards... several days after I already started playing the game through Xbox Gamepass, but it's much appreciated anyway and do consider this a review for a Bid for Rewards game, so thank you @DC for all of this. Disclaimer I will do my best to avoid spoilers here, but will allow spoiler talk in the comments. To give an accurate summery of how this story is set up and describe it's mood and themes, I will likely have to include some spoilers of A Plague Tale: Innocence, so if you haven't played that game, I'd recommend doing so first. You have been warned. The Game is rated as a PEGI 18, so the review will be written as appropriate for people of the same age group. @The Blackangel, I do not know of any environments or objects within the game that I would say are likely to trigger your trypophobia. Even so, I'd advise you to have somebody look into the game first. I'll make sure to avoid screenshots that might be troublesome in this review. And obviously, I do my best to avoid typos and mistakes, but some might slip the cracks, so I beg you patience. Onto the review. Technical and Visual It's 2019, and somebody at Focus interactive either really knew what they were doing, or got rather lucky with the timing. With a world hungry for The Last of Us Part II that's still a year away and around 6 months after Shadow of the Tomb Raider being a slight disappointment, they come out with Asobo's studios A Plague Tale: Innocence. This small French game developer was best known for adapting Disney franchises and other movie and TV licences to video games until the mid-2010's when they got involved with bigger projects like The Crew and ReCore. So an up and coming French developer working with a up and coming French publisher coming out with a story driven stealth/action based liner adventure set in medieval France at just the right time. As much as we all love an underdog, let's face it, the chances of success grow with all right pieces coming together, and that was very much the case here. Not that this game had everything going for it, they was far less of a budget here that than other games of a similar type at the time, so they needed to make the most of their talents, and they did. A Plague Tale: Innocence was truly a diamond in the rough with a dark, but beautiful ambiance and a complex, heat wrenching story to match. As one could imagine, it was phenomenal success. So now we have a sequel, A Plague Tale: Requiem. New game, new budget, new exceptions. And I'd like to think Asobo and Focus Interactive have timed this right again, just like in 2019 because 2022 hasn't exactly been a golden year for gaming. This game not only has the pressure of it's predecessor riding it, but the hopes of a gaming community too used to let down by games this year. This is one of our last hopes to have an experience worth remembering. And does it deliver? Yes, it does, but keep reading because this wasn't quite the game that I expected as a fan of the original and not all of it I liked. What we have is a more complex and varied, but also more frustrating game than it's predecessor. The first thing I want to talk about is the platform I played this on, PC through Xbox Gamepass because something happened with this that I've never seen before. This has nothing to do with the game itself and won't affect my score, but I feel it's worth mentioning anyway. I pre-installed the game and all seemed like it would be ready to go at midnight on lunch day. I tried to play the game, but then there was a download that showed to be the size of the entire game. I didn't think much of this at the time as the download went by insanely quick like it was just a day one patch, so assumed it was problem with how the Xbox app on Windows displayed it. 10 minutes later, I was playing the game, no issues. After playing the first few hours, I called it a day, then I woke up to play some more, and the same thing happened again with what looked like another patch. However, this time the game did have to download in it's entirety before I could start playing again. This has never happened to me before with Xbox Gamepass, but I looked up the problem and apparently this has happened to a fair amount of other people playing games on Gamepass on PC. So, watch out for this if you play games day one on Gamepass. Thankfully, this never happened again. I'll link a Microsoft Community feedback page on this problem here just in case somebody else encounters this issue. One of the good things about Gamepass is that whilst DRM authentication is necessary (and understandable) for such a service, it doesn't run in the background of the game itself, so PC games do run well on this service. And for a game with these requirements: Running on my hardware: That's a good thing as this is truly a next gen game. Not a bad thing as we end up with a game that looks like this: Suffice to say, this game is stunning. It's not just the graphical fidelity, although it's superb, it also runs well with only the occasional frame rate jitter. Yes, to ensure a smooth experience I did have to turn a few settings down, but only from ultra to high. It still looks incredible. Everything from the environments and the lighting to the character models on both main characters and NPC's are sharply detailed with everything having this hand built feel. There's also a lot of mood and feel to the wide variety of environments. From bight, hopeful and fun, to dark, brooding and daunting. The one thing that never changes is that aforementioned detail, the game is sharp, beautiful and consistent. One of the most impressive things I felt was the draw distance, things always look detailed no matter how far away and I don't recall seeing a single pop-in at all. The art style is spot on. This isn't really the most creatively imaginative game in the world, but it's not meant to be. It's a representation of 14nth century France and it that is how it's suppose to look. I don't claim to expert of the architecture, technology, clothing and armour of the period, but to my lame eyes everything looks how it's supposed to look. Asobo have not taken the creative liberty too far, and that helps this game feel more real and believable. It's not just the graphics, the world itself is rich and feels alive with lots of environmental sounds, NPC's interacting with both the main characters and each other in a very natural feeling way. Whether it be merchants crying for business, guys arm wrestling, people tending to their livestock and crops or whatever, it all helps make this world come to life. This is somewhat of a change form the first game everything and everywhere was dark and grim and under the impact of either war, the plague or both. You never really got to see life as life rather than a world in the pits barley trying to survive. I know that this is based upon a France during the plague, but it's still a bold and positive move to show this world in this more optimistic way as well as at it's most grim and desperate. Don't worry though, if you are the kind of person who sit's alone in a dark room contemplating the bleakness of existence, like a French philosopher, there's is still plenty brooding doom to be had in this game. It's still A Plague Tale. Animations are almost faultless, everything moves in a way that you would expect. Lip-syncing with voices is done well with it looking out sync on only rare occasions. The animations are in fact so well done that when something is a bit off it really stands out. For example, what is with Amicia's walk cycle when moving down descending terrain or down stairs? She looks like she's side saddling a horse that isn't there, it's bizarre. Voice/Acting, Music and Sound Design The sound design is something I have mixed feelings on. Like the animations it's something you don't really notice unless it's a bit off. I love the music, it has that classical, pre-renaissance feel, but is also kind of unstable, tense and psychotic. It's even like this in the brighter area's of the game, it helps helps the game's clear intention to never let you fully relax or feel at ease. Sounds in combat are accurate and informative with a feel real change in feel between effective and ineffective use of ammunition types. The problems I have with the sound stem mostly from stealth. There's is almost no feedback on how much noise you make and how far the enemies can sense it. For example, the sling is audible to enemies, so you have to choose between using the sling or throwing something by hand which is silent but lacks range. Makes sense as a game mechanic, but the sling actually makes almost no noise at all, so it's takes time to gauge now close you can be to enemies before they hear it. And, that's annoying. The voice acting is also something a mixed bag. The first game, like this one, was set in France during a plague, but also during a war with England. You dealt with both English and French soldiers and the accents were defined as such. In this new game for some reason I don't get just about everybody sounds English despite everyone being French. Suffice to say, this is weird. Some of the cast are played by different actors now, but even Amicia's (voiced by Charlotte McBurney) and Hugo's (Logan Hannan) accents feel a little watered down despite being played by the same actors. Not that this changes the quality of the voice acting itself, if anything it's even better than in the first game, especially from the two main stars. This may even be my favourite part of the game, there's just such a natural yet impassioned performance with the expression of emotion hitting perfect accuracy to suit every moment. There's authority and clarity to be found in the performances, spoken with a clear understanding of the characters and thier motives. I will official declare the world mad if Charlotte doesn't win award after award for her performance here with her co-star Logan being the only realistic challenger. The supporting roles and minor roles, despite the slightly odd accent placements, are also very believable and and very well performed even if some of the voices and phrases repeat sometimes, especially amongst the guards. Gameplay Like the previous game, A Plague Tail: Requiem is a 3rd person action adventure with a heavy focus on stealth. Your primary weapon is a sling that fires various types on ammunition with various effects. It is in these ammunition types and the effects the have that the game has seen it's most significant changes. Because a lot has changed, I'm going to break down the difference by looking at each ammo type in the new game, then discuss how and if it's different in the new game. Some things are new, some things return the same, some are different than before and others are dropped completely. I'll also explain whether or not I like any changes and why. The changes have happened I believe because Asobo wanted to make the challenging, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Rocks: Standard sling ammo and pretty self explanatory. You fire them with your sling to kill enemies who aren't wearing helmets, kill others buy knocking bombs out of their hand and break locks and other things in the environment to open paths and release objects, such as carcasses to attract rats and weak links in chains. They are also used to make noise to distract enemies but hitting metal objects, but as aforementioned this isn't always ideal as this itself is noisy and forces you out of cover. The only real change between this and in the first game is that rocks are now an infinite resource instead of having a limited supply you had to pick up, a convenient touch and good idea as it encourages you to try and use rocks to save the resources spent on other ammo types. Rocks can also be hand thrown, that is a silent way to utilise them, but has limited range. Making rocks an infinite resource you don't have to pick up was great choice and helps the a lot, especially in combat. So this is a good change. Pots: In the first game these were single use items used to generate noise and distract enemies. As well as being a finite resource, the other difference between pots and rocks is that pots would make a noise no matter ware you throw them. Pots still do this, but that is where the similarities between the two games end as pots are now much more as they can be filled with other ammunition types, tuning pots into a kind of short range, area of effect projectile. The effect obviously depends on what ammo it's filled with, and I'll detail each one as we go. You can carry up two (or three with a perk) pots at once, something of a necessity given how the new mechanics work. Definitely a good change, it's much more creative and versatile use of pots than we had before that opens up new uses and options, especially in combat. Ignifer: Makes a return from the first game. Fire is very important in both A Plague Tale games as fire, or more specifically light, wards off rats, so ignifer plays into the mechanics in a variety of ways. Fired from a sling or thrown from the hand it can light torches, braziers, piles of hay and pools of tar to start fires. Thanks to new mechanics involving the pots, it can now also b loading into a pot to start a fire anywhere in range of the projectile for a short time. This new mechanic with the pot pretty much replaces the luminosa ammo type, which has now been dropped completely from the game. When thrown either hand o from the sling, it sets an enemy on fire, but it doesn't do damage, they pat out flames and sparks as a short term distraction. Unless, of course, their covered in tar, but we'll get to that. I'm OK with this change because even though what was the luminosa ammo type is now replaced by some much more scare, the availability of the pots as well as the level design is made to work with it. It is little frustrating to not be able to use luminosa whenever you want, but suppose it does enough you as the player to think about the solutions to problems a bit more. Crossbow and Bolts: A new edition and fairly self explanatory. Standerd bolts are a one hit kill on an un-armoured or lightly armoured enemy even if they are wearing a helmet. Combined with ignifer to start a fire on flat, wooden objects to basically make a wall torch. It can be combined with the other ammo types as well, but the effects are same a with the other deployment methods, so there's little point going into it. The ammo is very scarce and often not available at all, so you only really get to use this when the game wants you to. You also use it at times to fire ropes into objects to then pull on the ropes as part of the environment puzzles in the game. It would be nice if one was able to use this more often than game allows, but understand the game is more about stealth, so fair enough. It's worth pointing out hat you can actually unlock skins for this weapon upon game completion and completion on New Game Plus plus one more as a pre-order bonus. Extinguis: Puts out fires and can create a cloud of smoke to temporarily blind and disorientate enemies. The blinding cloud is a new feature, but other than that there is not much more to say, it's pretty much the same as it was in the previous game. Odaris: It's basically rat bait to help you move rats out of your way and send them to a specific point. I know what you're thinking, can this be used to sic rats on enemies? Honestly, I never tried to because if rats could reach enemy guards to kill them they would do even without odaris. Besides, there's another mechanic that allows direct control of rats to do that very thing, so with those two things present in the game it would be pretty pointless even if would work, but I don't think it would even if it should. I'm not as big a fan of this because I feel like the game could have made more use of this. I actually barley used odaris as there was usually a better option to clear rats out of you way available. Tar: When added to an existing fire, it makes that fire burn more brightly for a period of time pushing rats further away and stunning nearby enemies. Added to a pot tar can cover enemies with it's area of effect in tar and once set alight can kill so long as they're no fully armoured. You cannot, however, cover a single enemy in tar with a thrown projectile or with the sling, this has no effect. And that is what infuriated me about the tar. Allowing the player to throw tar to make an enemy susceptible to fire I think would have been cool, but no. I was in such disbelief over this that I actually kept trying this certain I was missing something, but it never worked. So like the odris, I felt there was more they could have with this but never did. I was playing on a controller, and switching between both the delivery method and ammo type was a bit awkward and it's easy to make a mistake, but it's functional and one can get used to it in time. Honestly, this is no Horizon Zero Dawn/Forbidden west and I actually found this weapon wheal a little more awkward to use even though there is less to it. Fans of the first game will notice that, along with the luminosa, Devorantis that would force an enemy to remove their helmet and Somnum that you could hold one of at a time and expensive to craft, but would kill an enemy in one hit are also dropped from the game. I feel they did this to make the game more challenging, and it does, so fair enough, but the devorantis in particular I really missed. The somnum was always meant to be a kind of last resort sort of weapon, so it has been given something resembling a replacement in the form of knives. You know the shivs from the Last of Us? Then you know knives from A Plague Tale: Requiem, except they make less sense. They're single use and can be used as a counter kill or a stealth kill. They can also be used (and broken) to unlock bonus chests with extra crafting resources, just like the shivs in The Last of Us. I know it's annoying to keeping bringing up The Last of Us here, but this really does feel like a rip-off mechanic to me. So no, I'm not a fan of this. I would actually be OK with this if it wasn't for the fact the knives are ridiculously scarce in the game. In my 28 hour play-through, I think I found maybe five or six of them in total, almost all of them in the first half of the game. Honestly, they should have stayed with the somnum, it was a better fit for this game and the purpose it served. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I expected to be able to engage in combat like this was Duke Nukem or something, it's not that kind of game, but when this stealth heavy game dose include what, at least to me, felt like more combat than it's predecessor but with combat less options, it's a little frustrating. It's good that the game is more challenging than before because, honestly, that was something of weakness of the first game, but this game has achieved this in a way that feels a little cheap. The AI is pretty much same as it was in the first game, but you are offered less tools to deal with them. The right thing to do would have been to improve the enemy AI and let you have more fun and more strategic options. There is at least a greater variety of enemy types this time around with a variety of strengths, vulnerabilities and strategies. There are now alchemists fighting against you with flame bombs you need to knock out of their hands at the right time, bowmen and spearmen that can attack at a distance, but at are vulnerable form your sling attacks as they don't wear helmets and heavily armoured brutes you have to strip the armour off before they become vulnerable. So, I may not like how they've done it, but they have done it, this a better, more challenging game to play. You're gonna die, a lot. It's not there there has been no legitimate improvements to the gameplay. The levels are less liner and more open than they were before throughout much of the game. Auto aim has been improved and is more subtle offing the player more control. There are new ways to take down enemies unoaked through the games levelling system like being able to stealth kill armoured enemies (as you can see in the image); And also upgrade the ignifier pot to be able to kill enemies (as seen in this image); And those just two examples of how the upgrades and levelling enhance the game. Theses systems are a bit basic, but there's no useless or wasted part of them. It's all useful. However, I do believe you have to find every tool and ounce of crafting material to upgrade everything in the upgrades on a single playthrough and levelling system has an even bigger problem. It's automatic, these skill trees upgrade as you utilize the assigned strategy. So you can't actually choose how to upgrade your character. Not only does this severely limit how far you can progress on each tree as you have divide your use of these strategies to the right situations, for the same reason it's all but impossible to balance how you upgrade you abilities. I know it's a bit safe, I would much prefer a more traditional XP and skill points based system, it's more free and versatile. Stealth is the star of the show, but it doesn't do anything particularly new or radical with it. You move through tall grass, distract enemies, hop over obstacles and through windows to move to new cover and so on. Stranded stuff, but the level designs help make it work with multiple paths and a high population of enemies to navigate through. The companions that pair with you though the journey all add their own new tactic to employ from creating smoke from burning nearby grass to distract enemies or targeting them to attack enemies blocking your path. It's not complex, it's just done well and it works. As I said earlier, the AI isn't really any better than it was in the first game, but they make it work better in greater numbers and good placement in the improved level designs. Then there is, the rats, what truly defines this game. It's simple enough, if you share the same area of dark, they devour you. You need to use the alchemist recipes, fire and other objects in the environment to manipulate them and move them out your way. The game does a great job and really defines itself by how it integrates the rats into the existing stealth mechanics turning them into both an obstacle and tool to be used all at once. Between starting and extinguishing fires, odaris to bait rats out of your pathand even direct control of the rats and that's the identity of this franchise. Combine with the mechanics of them with the highly unsettling and creepy way they work in the story and it really what sets A Plague's Tale apart. They're creepy, disgusting and morbid and the game wouldn't be the same without them. There are problems. Even though some of the levels feel open and with options to get through them, there are some levels that play like a corridor with only solution and any deviation from that solution inevitably fails. Check the clip below for an example of what I mean. Near the beginning of the video, you see I use the odaris to move the rats out of my path and take not of how many of them moved and from how far away. Later, I use the odaris again to open a path in front of me, but the rats stayed put and didn't move even through the rats from earlier moved from a much further distance. You see, it turns out the game didn't want me to go that way, it wanted me to do something else. The game at times is just not as open as it appears. Another cool new mechanic is an unlockable ability to push unsuspecting enemies into rats or fires for a kill, but this isn't much use if by doing so Amicia just falls strait into the same pile of rats behind him: I actually tried this several times at this same spot just to experiment and it happens this way every time. On another attempt I tried pushing the guard into the rats from his left side rather than his right and that worked, so I don't know if this here was a bug or the if, for some reason, the game just didn't want to me push the guy into the rats from that spot. Either way, it's messed up. Story I think that you can guess that this game is a roller coater ride of emotions. I remember a point where Hugo said, “Why can't things stay nice?”, and that pretty much sums it up. The game is not perfect, but I don't really care because it's not about the dynamics and complexities in the gameplay, it's the storytelling experience. Because this review is spoiler free, there's only so much I can say, but the quality of this storytelling experience is undeniable. It's beautifully paced and wonderfully presented, but the true magic is how alive and real this world and the characters made the story feel. It's not he typical cutscene-gameplay-cutscene rota, the tells so much of it's story and builds so much of it's world in game that it always feels like you moving on and learning more at every moment. Six months after escaping from The Inquisition, Amicia, Hugo, their mother Beatrice, and friend Lucas flee Guyenne to escape the war and the plague, known as the bite. They find their to Provence, where a representative, a Magister, of an ancient and secretive organization of alchemists called the Order awaits them promising refuge to the de Rune family and aid to tread Hugo's genetic blood disease, the Prima Macula, which also grants a carrier of this illness a mysterious kinship to the rats. This magister, Vaudin, unfortunately offers a grim conclusion about Hugo's disease to the family, igniting a new determination in Amicia to find a cure. Hugo has his own idea's wear to start, a mysterious island in his dreams where he is lead to a pool of healing water by a strange bird. The order along with Beatrice opt to send Hugo to the French city of Marseilles to The Order's Head Quarters, but a mistrustful Amicia has her own idea's about what's best for Hugo. However, before their ready to move, the past, and the bite, catch up with them. I've mentioned the voice acting and the world building already, and those are huge parts of this, but it's about how much this game makes you want for and care for these characters and admire how the handle their situations in such a courageous, yet relatable way. The hero's make their mistakes, the villains can be understood and even sympathised with to some extent, the motivations of he side characters and how they intertwine with the story reflect themselves and tell a lot about them. The writing is as good as any game I've played. Everything the characters say feels like something they themselves wrote, it's that natural and correct. Hugo in particular I absolutely fell in love with in this story. From the bright, fun, innocent moments to how this character grows and self reflects as the story goes on is so refreshing from a media of our time that all to often struggles to find a balance between a child that's overly vulnerable and sweet to one too mature and shaped buy the moment rather than his upbringing and how they've been raised. Hugo has a curiosity and a hunger for the world around that that is so accurate to how a child behaves, but is also prone to fright and cuddles to his big sister. Again, it's a balance so few games, movies and TV shows get right, but this game absolutely nails it. For him, this journey is very much a discovery of self and as we learn with him we can relate to him so easily despite the somewhat alien circumstances he's going through. Amicia may be the main protagonist, and it's not like she doesn't go through a story of her own, but this is Hugo's story. This is about how he grows and reflects and how Amicia nurtures and protects him not just from the forces acting against them, but from his own despair and fear of who he is. This works so well in the storytelling environment of a video game because you play as Amicia, you are that guardian and protector. This may not be an RPG technically, but you role play very much as Amicia and absorb the world from her perspective and it is the perfect place from which to observe this story. I really fed off Amicia' unyielding determination and love for her young brother and that help me feel determined to push through this challenging and sometimes frustrating game. And that's when you know a story has got you in a game, when a part of you wants to stop, but you can't. The first game was good, but this was even better. Interestingly, I actually feel like some of the game's shortcomings in the gameplay aspect actually helped tell this story. The first game was too easy, at least up until the final boss, that was a certifiable nightmare. But never mind that, the point is that this sequels raised difficulty I'm convinced was done because they needed to, but also to better tell the story, and that's a brave thing to do. I makes me not really care about it's faults, because I cared about these characters so much more. Conclusion
PC Game Review At long last, after well over 70 hours, I'm ready to publish my thoughts on Tales of Arise, the game that somehow manages to be longer than even the very series it's part off, or at least it felt that way at times. Not that this game was a waste of my time, far from it, but the first thing you need to know if you're interseted in this is you're in for the long haul; And that's with a great many side activities and challenges still to do, so the game certainly isn't lacking in content. But I'm getting well ahead of myself. Now my reviews are also knows be being similarly... em.. "detailed", but I'll do my best to keep it reigned in, but as you can imagine there is rather a lot to get into. So, get ready boys and girls, daddy has spoken and it's time to tell the tale of my experiance with Tales of Arise. Disclaimer Just a couple of things: Whilst I will not spoil the story, this review may contain some minor spoilers when the characters are described and the review will go into the initial set up for the story and the world of the game. Also be aware that there my be spoilers in the discussion through the thread responses as well. The game is rated "teen" with the ESRB, so the images, video and language used in this review will reflect that rating. I don't foresee any of the imagery nor video I'll be using triggering phobia's nor medical problems, but if you are prone to such conditions, please have somebody check before reading on. Performance and Graphics This being a PC game, it is important to get a sense of how well it runs so you can gauge how suitable your set up will be. Now, one of things that one has to understand about Japan is that Japanese gamers don't embrace new consoles as quickly as you might think. The previous Tales game, Tales of Berseria, did release on PS4 and PC, but technically those were ports of the PS3 version of the game as the game was actually only made for that console, and that's a game that came out as late as 2017. So really, it's no surprise to see Bandai Namco release this game that's barely meant to test a PS4 in 2021. So don't expect this game to push you GTX 3090 to the limit or anything, but in at least one way that's a good thing because you don't a powerhouse to run this thing. And on my hardware; The results were... actually not good as I expected. At max settings at 1080p,I was hovering between 50fps-70fps, but there were times in certain area's I was dipping below 40fps. But there were times I was running at over 90fps, it certainly wasn't stable throughout the experience. Yes, at least 95% of the 70+ hours I was playing this the FPS never really dipped to a point that I actually would have noticed if I wasn't looking for it, but it did happen occasionally. All this in a game that doesn't really justify this kind of hardware struggling like this given the overall graphical fidelity. This may be a 2021 game, but like I said this is NOT the equivalent of a PS5 game. This is a PS4 game. There was also some minor clipping issues and the hair looked it it was lifted out of a PS2 era Final Fantasy game, although to be fair that could be looked at as a stylistic choice as, like any Tales game, it's meant to look like an anime. Many of the lines and textures, especially on clothing, just looked that little bit fuzzy close up. The biggest issue though was the pop-ins. Every time I entered an area things in the environment such as trees and textures on buildings as cliffs would pop in within a period of about ten seconds or so after entering a new area. The things is, the load times for me were actually very short, so it looked like you're being thrown back into the game before the textures have had a chance to load into the environments properly. It's not enough to ruin the game, but is enough to notice. Despite these performance issues, this still manages to be a beautiful game. It's rich, colourful environments are marvellous and varied. I loved the animations, especially in combat, and world has this hand built feel. In terms of the art style and palate, it's gorgeous. I just wish some of these performance issues weren't there. The main character models look good as well with plenty of options to customise thier appearance. Many of these items are obtained through quests or finding owl mascots hidden throughout the game. You can even equip the current weapons and armour with skins of your old equipment which is a nice touch. Overall, it is technically a bit last week and at least for me on PC is marred by one or two technical issues, but it's still a real treat for the eyes. Important for a game you're going to have to stare at for over 60 hours to complete and probably closer to 100 hours to 100%. Combat and Exploration This is the point where everyone who writes reviews or guides on these types of games really earn thier money because the key to every good JRPG is having a combat system that is far easier to use then it is to explain. So by reading this section and necessitating it being here, I just want you to know that I hate you. I have played a little bit of Tales of Zestira and Tales of Symphonia, but the only other Tales game I've played extensively is Tales of Berseria, and as whilst Tales games have thier subtle differences, the philosophy of combat is very similar each time. That philosophy being two fold; The characters run around in combat saying the names of the moves thier using for... reasons. It's about a combination strategy and skill based processes. Here is clip of the combat I captured. Check it out, then we'll break it down. First, the battle screen itself; I was using a controller, so I'm building what I say off of that. Firstly, there are three choices on how to control this game; Manual where you move the party leader and control thier actions (That's the way I played). Semi-auto where you control the actions of the party leader, but not thier movement. Full auto where you only control the boost attacks and QTE based attacks, effectively turning Tales of Arise into a full-on strategy game. The right shoulder button is used to attack normally, where as the right trigger is used to dodge. Normal attacks have standard power and no special effects or elements, but also don't use up souls to be performed (check the image for the "Souls Gauge"). Artes are special attacks that do additional damage and/or carry special effects, such as elemental damage. Depending on thier power, they can cost from one to three souls to perform. If your character runs out of souls, they are unable to use any more arts for a time and have thier regular attacks more easily interrupted, so avoid that at all costs. Souls will recharge over time, but can also be charged with certain good combat practices like dodges and counters if that character has the right perks. That little souls gauge may not look very conspicuous, but it is at the heart of everything you do in combat. I mainly played as Alphen (The iron Mask) in the game. He has an additional aspect to his combat that consists of charge attacks with the burning sword. By holding down the assigned control, he unleashes powerful fire based attacks at the cost of said attacks hurting himself in the process. Friend or foe alike can be strong or weak against certain attacks, so select what artes you want to use wisely for the combat environment. In regular combat, there basically two types. Astral Artes. Basically, this worlds equivalent of magic. These are elemental attacks that need charged before they are used then strike at a distance. Martial Artes. These are the physical special attacks, but can be elemental as well. Over time, and accelerated by stinging combos together, a character can charge up a boost attack (see the picture tor the boost attack indicators on the bottom left of the screen). You can still use a a character's boost attack even if they aren't in the main party by holding down the left trigger. This is also how you access your alternate set of artes for the character you're currently controlling. You can use these powerful attacks simply to do damage or help string combos together, but they can also be used tactically as each characters boost attack has a unique effect on certain types of enemies or enemy actions: Alphen unlashes a high damage attack with the burning sword that can stop an enemies' action and down them with enough charge (drains own health). Shionne can shoot flying enemies out of the air to ground them and make then vulnerable for a short time. Rinwell can interrupt enemy astral artes and absorb thier power, allowing for an immediate counter attack. Law's devastating punch can "break" enemy armour, lowering defence. Dohalim can tie swift, agile enemies down, making them easier to hit. Kisara's can use her shield to stop dangerous enemy charges that can't other wise be blocked. This knocks the enemy down and leaves an opening for an attack. The player has to make a choice to use boost attracts or save them for then they can be at thier most useful, but by being too sparing with them one runs the risk of missing a chance to use them when a more opportune time only comes around when the attack would have had enough time to recharge anyway, effectively wasting it. They can't be treated as too precious. Near death (and at a certain point in health for some larger enemies), the cursor in the middle of the screen will charge up blue by combos against that enemy. When full, you hit any of the Boost Attack controls for any party member you have selected as if it were a boost attack. That party member will team up another member of the party to unleash a boost strike, a devastating finishing move where the developers really get to show off thier animation skills! These are one of my favourite things in the game. They are so satisfying and fun to watch. Even after seeing them dozens of times, they just don't get old. There is one last thing to talk about in combat within Tales of Arise. For each character it's slightly different, but by satisfying certain combat conditions, the character can enter overdrive mode. In overdrive mode, the character no longer has a souls gauge, but instead a timer that ticks down. During this time, the character has effectively an infinite amount of souls, so the can string as many arts together as they want. At any point during overdrive, but obviously best saved right to the end of it, the character can perform a mystic arte, the most devastating arte any character has that deals massive damage. It's not all good news though, enemies can enter overdrive mode as well, so watch out. Healing is a different matter. Only Shionne and Dohalim can use healing arts and they cost cure points (indicated on the middle right of the screen). Each time one of them heals someone, the CP goes down and does not recharge. There are perks that help CP recharge later in the game, but only by very small amounts. The only ways to recharge CP is through specific consumable items or by resting. Trust me, you DO NOT want to be in a situation where you are out in the middle of a combat area when your CP has run out because healing items aren't a common drop and are expensive to buy from merchants. This is particularly annoying when Alphen is in party (and for much of the game, he HAS to be there) because his best attacks cost him health, so he gets healed frequently whether you try to avoid it or not. Cure point are also used to perform certain actions while exploring the world like healing injured NPC's and and opening up new paths. Sometimes this worth it, sometimes it not. It's very frustrating when it's not. Despite some frustration with how healing works and also how the lock-on system feels next to useless at times, the combat in Tales of Arise works very well. It really does mix demands for strategy and skill very well and is very satisfying. The game is also challenging as JRPGs go and that's good because I have found that to be a problem with some games of this type in the past. Combat is supported by a simplistic, but none the less varied and easy to use levelling system. You earn both EXP that levels your characters and Skill Points to spend on a skills board for each character. Each "ring" unlocks either at certain points in the story, by doing specific side missions or meeting certain other conditions within the game. Each new ring grants you one of it's mixture of skills, perks or passive abilities, you then use SP to purchase the others. Each ring you complete grants an additional perk or stat boost. Now, there is nothing at at all wrong with this system, it's fine, but there's something that really bugs me about it. In most RPGs, higher level enemies are worth more experience, and the same is true here. In most RPG's where the amount of EXP or whatever the equivalent of SP is that is earned in each fight remains the same, but the demands for EXP and SP for the player also go up, meaning takes more amd mre experinace cach time to level up and earn new perks and abilities. You get to a point where it's just not worth fighting enemies at that level anymore, but if the players are willing to sacrifice enough time to grinding, it can be beneficial. However, this is not the case in Tales of Arise. When you get to be 2-3 levels higher than the enemies your fighting in a certain area, the amount of EXP and SP they give off starts to drop rapidly, making grinding pretty much pointless. This means the only way to level more effectively is to boost EXP and SP earning somehow. You can do that through cooking certain food recipes and.... that's about it. This can only get you so far. This is annoying for three reasons: If players want to grind, they should be allowed to, it's thier right. This will make endgame levelling for the very toughest of challenges very difficult. It's possible that BANDAI NAMCO did this simply to give players the incentive to move to the next part of the story by nerfing grinding, and maybe that's the right thing to do. However, one look at the DLC and it's immediately clear they're doing the right thing for the wrong reason. That is some supreme bullshit. You can't grind, but you can do that. Exploration is what it is in the game. You can find chests with new equipment in them, money, crafting materials and so on. It is a nice game to explore with good level design in the various open hub sort of style with mytiple paths and of area's off the min path. So yeah, that works. Like I touched on earlier, characters perform thier own unique "Map Actions" at the cost of CP to open up new paths that are sometimes necessary to get to the next area or to open optional paths to find chests or crafting resources. Speaking of the crafting, this is minimalistic, but deep enough to matter in Tales of Arise. You take your resources to blacksmiths and other tradesman and merchants to make new weapons and accessories for your party. Likes I said, there isn't that much to say, but it's a fairly easy thing to say on top of, so I like the system. The crafting of accessories is quite fun as you can make items significantly more powerful than what you would ever find. You can even dismantle old gear to further customise new items. I don't know what it is about Tales games, but food is always a prominent thing in them. This game isn't quite as obsessed with it as Berseria was, but it is there. You cook a variety of recipes to gain temporary augments to your party that include the likes of small EXP boosts, higher item drop rates, boosts to defence and so on. Each character who cooks said dish will add thier own effect to it to boost it the effect or increase the length of time it lasts. A small, but useful feature none the less. You'll be wanting to rest at campsites and inns as frequently as possible to recharge your CP anyway, so you may as well take advantage of this feature. There even comes a point where you can fish or run your own ranch in the game to gather ingredients or stock to sell. With so much to the game and so much variety, these was always gonna be good and bad tings in the core gameplay, but overall these things are handled pretty well by what you can tell is a team further developing what they had previously from other games trying to make it just a little bit better than last time. I say they succeed, but it is not without flaw. It's a fun, satisfying game saturated with content and things to do where each new mechanic is drip fed over long period and with great tutorials, so you never feel overwhelmed. Story I'm not gonna go too deep into this because I don't want to spoil it, but this is what the game is all about. Arise takes place in a setting divided between the medieval world of Dahna and the advanced world of Rena. Three centuries ago, the Renans based on Rena's artificial moon Lenegis invaded and conquered Dahna, subsequently enslaving the population and dividing the land into five isolated realms, each ruled by a Lord: The barren and scorching Calaglia, dark and cold Cyslodia, the fertile plains of Elde Menancia, the windy mountains of Mahag Saar and the rainforests of Ganath Haros. Periodically, the "Crown Contest" is held to decide which among the five Lords is chosen to become the next Renan Sovereign, based on the amount of astral energy extracted from Dahna's population and environment stored on the Master Cores in each Lord's possession. Each Lord has his or her own way to harvest astral energy from the enslaved Dahnan population, but ultimately it all revolves around controlling them to manipulate natures elements to draw astral energy from the life of the slaves, the natural world or from Dahna itself. One Dahnan slave, known as "The Iron Mask", meets, by a chance a mysterious Renan woman named Shionne, who enlists the Iron masks help and works with a local resistance movement against thier oppressors. Her motive may be unclear, but what is knows is that "The Iron Mask" is uniquely gifted to help her. She has been cursed since birth with what she calls her "Thorns", a strange magic that causes pain to anyone she touches, except the Iron Mask who feels no pain at all. This gives Shionne the opportunity to let the Iron Mask use some of het astral abilities to combat the Renan. Thus they are now set on a path to end to rule of the Renen Lords and liberate the Dahnans from three centuries of oppression. Any more than that and we would be getting into spoiler territory. On the face of this, this story sounds simplistic, especially compared to the very dark and complex morals of Tales of Berzeria, but as it goes on the story does grow into something deeper and more complex. I still wouldn't say its as good as Berseria, but it has great characters and memorable moments throughout. It's also beautifully paced with some superb voice acting from a veteran cast of performers and a epic sound track that even reminded me of Back to the Future at one point. It's not as mature as Berseria, that doesn't mean it's childish. Each time time you go a new place, you go there with excitement as you genuinely have little to no idea what to expect. What we have is by no means the most dynamic story you'll see in a video game, but it's never dull or strung out, which is impressive for such a long game. And you could play it again if you wanted to, especially with new game plus available, you will get your moneys worth out of this. The story is told through a mixture of cut scenes, skits and dialogue in the open gameplay, which is nice rather than just having is done one way and like I said, it's well paced and relatively easy to digest. Whether you like the story itself or not, and I can understand either view, what can't be denied is the way the story is told. It's clear, the emotions are clear without being over the top and things aren't as "over explained" as I find anime and JRPG's often are. All good stories, no matter how outlandish the worlds they are set in, have undertones to connect them to our reality and this is no different. The theme of freedom and control over over people offers lessons to be learned. I admit it's not as morally complex and Tales of Berseria nor a game meant only for only for older audiences like The Last of Us, but Tales of Arise is more subtle with it's message and that works in it's favour. For a games bearing the word "Tales" in it's title, it needed to be strong here, and it is, it just could have been a little more "grown up" for possibly. Conclusion
Disclaimer Welcome VGR to the second Shagger says review I ever wrote. As I stated in the Rise of the Tomb Raider review, this goes back to a time before VGR ad I just wanted to have all of these reviews up on this site. It is just a repost here exactly as it was only with some new banners So, enjoy! Review The last time I did one of these big, written reviews was on what is considered to be one of this games biggest rivals, Rise of the Tomb Raider, but having now played this game, I find it actually has at least as much in common with something else... ...Given that these two games were made buy the same people, I shouldn't really be surprised, nor should anyone be pessimistic because a blend of Rise of The Tomb Raider and The Last of Us sounds great right! Aaahhhhhhh..... this is the part I'm gonna piss someone off. Better get ready... Oh, that's snug! It doesn't matter whether you compare this to The Last of Us or Rise of the Tomb Raider, this is NOT as good as either of those games! I'm sorry, it just isn't! Now don't get wrong, Uncharted 4 is a great game and I enjoyed it immensely, no game than can glue me to the sofa for 18 hours over two days isn't great, but as much as I like liked this game, it lacks in certain important areas that I think a lot of people either don't notice or ignore. Still, to calm down the people already sharpening their pitchforks, lets start with the good stuff. When I reviewed Rise of the Tomb Raider I thought that game was stunning, and it is, but this next gen effort from Naughty Dog make Rise' look it's being played on a broken ass 70's TV smeared with KY jelly! This is by a country mile the best looking game I've ever played. I barely even know where to start. It's like every single pixel in this game had someone spend several minutes contemplating whether that was the right placement and color for it. It's actually a little disappointing that the game isn't as open as some other games so you can check out more of the amazing environments and locations you see. The game is rightfully proud of the environments and setting, they're gorgeous, enhanced by great draw distances with very sharp textures from both far away and close up. There's also a great deal of life and non-player related actions going on with little animals scurrying about in the corner of your eye, the grass and leaves and other aspects of the world moving around naturally. The best part is the fantastic photo mode is back from The Last of Us: Remastered so one can capture these amazing places in a fun and creative way. The character models and animations are so realistic and natural looking, no doubt due to the same kind of capture animation work we saw in The Last of Us. It's not overly cinematic though, this still feels like a game throughout, it's just and incredibly detailed, almost photo-realistic one. Allot is borrowed from The Last Of Us in other ways too with basically the same dynamic, usually hidden UI and a natural view of documents and Drake's Journal. This is important in what is a very story-focused game to break tandem as little as humanly possible and Naughty Dog have proven yet again they are the kings. The game also runs like a dream. No FPS problems, crashes or glitches to report, it's just beautifully crafted. I mean fuck it! in this regard, this game deserves the Spinal Tap treatment! 11/10 Now, I'm not gonna spend to much time on this for two reasons. One, it'll be very hard to go into any detail at all without leaving spoilers and two, being from the same people that brought you The Last of Us, you know what to expect. Think National Treasure except longer, better, not stupid and without Nicolas Cage (Although I have to admit that I'm not sure if that last one is a positive or a negative.) and that's basically the idea. The good thing is that one doesn't need to know anything about the previous Uncharted games to follow this story, but there is plenty of fan service for those that have played them. Nathan Drake now retired from, well, being Nathan Drake, is drawn back into seeking a long lost pirate treasure to pay off a dept left buy his brother Sam... and that's about all I can say without spoiling anything, so I'll just move on. The story isn't that groundbreaking, but like in The Last of Us it's told in such a believable way with very character driven, natural writing and superb voice acting is what makes the game so addicting, you simply don't want to put it down and wait 'till tomorrow to see what happens next. I don't find the lure in this as interesting as The Last of Us, and I wouldn't say the story is actually better than Rise of the Tomb Raider either, just better told with more focus and better developed characters, it's just an undeniably engrossing storytelling experience that rivals just about any game, movie or TV show I've seen and is actually my favorite part of the game. This is what you're paying for with this game and it's where most of the value comes from. 9/10 Wait, let check something first... Yep, still fits. You know how I said this game isn't as good as Rise of the Tomb Raider? Yes, of course you do, you're still sharpening your pitchfork. Well, I say that because despite Uncharted 4 being better in looks and story, it is inferior where it's most important, the actual gameplay. Now, this is a good game to play, don't get me wrong, but my problems are not so much with what's here and more with what isn't. Think about it; Levelling Mechanics The Last of Us: Use herbs in the world as a kind of currency to upgrade stat's and abilities. Rise of the Tomb Raider: Earn XP from story missions, side activities, collectibles and enemy kills to acquire skill points to purchase new skills from 3 different skill trees. Between Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Last of Us, this is the superior system. Uncharted 4: Nothing. Upgrade/Crafting Mechanics The Last of Us: Gather parts and salvage from the world to improve your weapons in a number ways. One can also create other items that share common ingredients and given resources are limited, so you have to decide what upgrades matter most. Objects found in the world can be actively modified and used as weapons. Rise of the Tomb Raider: Hunt and scavenge to find materials, components, salvage, animal pelts another resources that, like in The Last of Us, share common purposes so you have to choose what weapons and craft items are the most valuable to you. Again like The Last of Us you can make weapons out of objects lying around. There is more variety to the crafting and upgrade mechanics overall in Rise of the Tomb Raider compared to The Last of Us, so this is again the superior system. Uncharted 4: Nothing I'm not saying that every game has to have these kinds of mechanics, I'm just making a point that when The Last of Us, a game that clearly provides allot of the DNA for Uncharted 4 has these ideas and it's big (timed) exclusive rival on Xbox, Rise of the Tomb Raider also has such mechanics and takes them even further improving on it's predecessor significantly, it really bugs me that there is actually so little here. Uncharted 4 is way more linear than Rise' so offers way less room to explore it's undeniably beautiful world, so it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity. I know some of you may be thinking "Why does it have to be like Tomb Raider anyway? You don't to explore in every game of this type" and you know, I'd agree with you, if it wasn't for this; Why does it have a crappier version of the same treasure collection and inspection mechanic as Tomb Raider? Besides, none of these objects are interesting. There's no good description of what they are or where they came from, they don't tie into the game story nor the environment in which you find them and whilst you can roll them around and look at them you can't learn anything additional about them like you can with some of the relics in Tomb Raider. Worst of all, because there's no levelling mechanic for this system to tie into, there's no meaningful incentive to even bother collecting them in the first place. This is a half-assed, tacked on, copy-cat mechanic that serves no purpose. Do yourselves a favour, if you play Uncharted 4 and see something blinking on the ground, ignore it, it's just there to waste your time. Both Tomb Raider and Uncharted 4 use similar 3rd person platforming and climbing mechanics and whilst these are superb in both games, Uncharted I just don't find as fun because the controls are slower and feel more fussy and there is less options for movement. In Rise', one can use climbing axes on walls and ice, swing and climb on ropes, rope slide, use climbing arrows along with the usual normal run, climb and jump stuff. In Uncharted, there's a rope you can hook onto things to climb and swing from and a spike you push into a wall that's basically a slower, more cumbersome version of the climbing axes from Tomb Raider, and that's about it. You can't even sprint for God sake! That's becoming a pet peeve of mine. Why do so many games not have this? Even The Last of Us had a sprint button! Why use The Last of Us engine as backbone for this when you take out so much of the good stuff? You drive a car and a boat at times in the game, but there isn't much to say other than an acknowledgement that they are well executed. The car especially is allot of fun being a 4x4 and you can winch things and I wish there was more of that. Combat is a similar story. Again, there's nothing really wrong with it in Uncharted 4, it's fantastic in fact, but there's just less to it. You can hold two weapons at a time and swap them for guns you pick up, so in this regard it plays like a typical modern 3rd or 1st person shooter. The shooting mechanics are great, the guns have punch and you can feel the variety in them thanks partly to some superb sound design and realistic visual recoil. The enemy AI is well programmed and even on the stranded difficulty the game is decent challenge, so a point there against Rise' where you have to play "Seasoned Raider" for it to be the same level. Despite that, I prefer Rise' because there's a better variety of enemies, especially if you count the hunting mechanics, a choice of four class of weapons you can switch to at any time including stealth weapons, something Uncharted 4 doesn't have outside of multiplayer. Speaking of stealth, everything is perfectly fine in Uncharted. Nothing we haven't seen before in other games so I'm not gonna go to far into it, but compare to The Last of Us it's a downgrade as stealth was such a huge part in that game and compared to Rise' there's less incentive to use it as you so often sneak past a group of enemies, find you target zone is choke point where it's impossible not to be spotted, so you have to battle all the enemies you just snuck past from a corner. No, that happened to me all time, so it can't be a coincidence. Another thing that happened to me at least 3 or 4 times is enemies spawning behind me at checkpoints. Like most games, the sections of the game have automatic checkpoints you go back to when you die to replay that section. The combat and platforming sections in Uncharted 4 are pretty long, and that's fine, and thus have checkpoints within them. The thing is though during some of the combat sections I start a checkpoint somewhere in the middle of the combat section and I find the enemies that I killed to get there have re-spawned behind me! One point in particular after dying I found myself under attack from RPG's and Assault rifles ahead of me with 3 guys behind attracting with guns in a pincer! So, because I died the first time trying to take on the RPG group that was hard enough, I then have to fight that group plus the group I took out to get their in the first place while unfairly out flanked. So as you my have guessed, I had to re-play this section over and over in haze of frustration. I was really impressed by the melee combat at first with all the double take downs I was pulling off in the prison fight and all that but my joy was short lived as I began to realize the games superb animations are cover for how scripted the melee combat really is. The Last of Us, again, was better in this regard in my opinion, it's just felt more real. Rise of the Tomb Raider's melee combat isn't great, in fact it's worse, but at least I felt I had control over it and that game doesn't focus on melee that much. The combat is broken up buy a number of puzzle sections. Now, there isn't much to say here either, they're relatively easy and aside from story tie-ins, not that memorable. The Tombs In Tomb Raider I prefer because it's a similar level of problem solving along with a dynamic test of reflexes and ability to negotiate platforms as well. The game does claw back points with the multiplayer. Here, the game feels faster and more fluent with good verticality and movement. The games fine gun combat serves well here to and employs a kind of MOBA style in match purchasing mechanic to obtain more powerful weapons and abilities for a short time. This looks very promising to me at the moment, but I've not played that much of it yet, so I'll have to play a bit with it and update this part of the review. If anyone want's to give their input on the multiplayer let me know because I think having others input is helpful to cover the bases. It is better the Rise of The Tomb Raider here given the fact Rise of the Tomb Raiser has no multiplayer... so yeah. Multiplayer aside, my thoughts on the gameplay are this. They did what was adequate and said, "That'll do". It's a very enjoyable game, but I was just expecting so much more for a hyped, modern, big budget adventure from a developer that I know can do much better than this. Good gameplay mechanics, but half in quantity of what you'd want from a game like this, really only one way to score the game in this regard. 5/10 Final Verdict
DISCLAIMER Hi VGR! I present to you the very first Shagger Says review I ever wrote. I'm also publishing the follow up on Uncharted 4 as well. I said in a post recently that the only place to see all of the reviews I had written was here on VGR. I later remembered that wasn't the case and both this and the Uncharted 4 review were still up on another forum I used to grace, but hadn't been put up here. So mostly just to neaten things up, I decided to put both of these reviews on here so we know that the collection is complete and to give you guys an insight into my early efforts to see how you thinks it's changed, if at all. That's why I've put them up exactly as they were with no changes. with the exception of new banners and artwork as some of those seem to have been lost. Now, when I wrote this review Rise of The Tomb Raider was still an XBox Exclusive that would eventually come to PC and PS4 as well. Just putting that out there just in case something written with regard to it's exclusivity comes up and doesn't make sense now in 2021. Anyway, thank you in advance for indulging in a little of my nostalgic past. Enjoy both this and the Uncharted 4 review! Review To say this game will change your life would probably not be true, but just couple of years after Crystal Dynamics created the critically acclaimed reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise to see it perfected is very satisfying. The best way to sum this is up is to say that this is the first game from 2013 with almost every little bit done a little bit better, and with the first game being as good as was, to make it that much better is not easy. Despite the first game being well received, this games timed exclusivity and microinstructions announced before the launch has contributed to this games difficult launch. The biggest problem is a very bad launch time right in a crowed of other games, including coming out the same day Fallout 4 on the Xbox One and the aforementioned timed exclusivity that is understandably frustrating for PlayStation 4 and PC owners. However, the benefit here is others can give you their insights on this XB1 version before you guys have to take an unsure plunge into this game. Not that this is necessary, because I would recommend this game utterly to anyone who loves action adventure games. If that's all you need to know, then go ahead and get this game now on Xbox or later on PC or PS4. For the rest, lets get to it. Obviously I want to keep this spoiler free, and this is my own interpretation of the story. You, of course, play as Lara Croft set about a year after the events of the 2013 game on the trail of a relic or power her father, Lord Richard Croft, was pursuing before he died in 2003. His former partner, Ana, tries to warn Lara that perusing this relic known as The Divine Source, said to grant immortality, ruined her father's reputation and her looking for it would only drag her family name further through the mud, but Lara is convinced her father was right about the relic's existence and want's to restore his reputation. Her hunt leads her to Siberia and the descendants of the followers of an ancient prophet who have guarded The Divine Source for generations. Lara is not the only one seeks The Divine Source. An ancient and secretive religious order called Trinity are after the relic and have been after it for centuries. This particular group from Trinity are lead by a man named Konstantin, a mysterious stigmata sufferer with a more personal agenda for taking on this quest. Trinity have enough knowledge and far better resources than the native population and will succeed in obtaining The Divine Source unless Lara get there first. Lara will have to battle the harsh environments of Siberia, the elite mercenaries of Trinity and win the trust of the local people lead buy a man named Jacob to stop Trinity obtaining The Divine Source and the power to take over the world. Granted, this plot-line a bit cliché , has been seen before and is not as unique and interesting as the previous game, but is told with writing voice acting that is of good enough quality that it will keep you interested. Camilla Luddington returns as Lara Croft and delivers on of the best voice performances of the year in a video game. There is enough interesting back-story, twists and turns and exposition that I don't want to spoil that you won't necessarily see it coming and you will want to see where it goes. What I do miss are the characters from the previous game. Jonah is the only one that returns and most of the new characters (which, in total, is much smaller cast) aren't as interesting as the others from the previous game. I also miss that sense of vulnerability that Lara had in the previous game, but I can't blame the game for that given that this is a sequel and she's already been through that stuff, so it makes sense she's a more hardened Lara this time. It's also appropriate that what Lara faced before is more than a straight forward battle to survive and escape against savaged islanders, but this time it's something more potent and personal, so it's a good set up even the story around it isn't that unique. The ending is also very sequel bait, and that's annoying. Also the first part of the final boss fight is cool, but the second part is not. The set up for it, the gameplay idea, is cool, but's over to fast. Overall, I didn't enjoy the story quite as much as the last game, but not by much. There are games considered good in terms of story that are worse than this one. Let me put it this way, if the Tomb Raider movies were as good as this, they would probably receive high praise. Score for Story 7/10 Like any game, this is the most important part and will carry the most weight in my final score. The game is very similar to the previous one, so if you've played that you kinda get the idea and so what I'm gonna do is talk about how the game has changed and improved. If you haven't played the previous game, check out The Angry Joe Show's review of it below to give you the basic idea. Now you should know the basics, here's what's new. There is a number of new mechanics to the way you control Lara including a rope swing, a wire tied to your climbing axe to grab ledges and also swing between platforms. There also a swimming mechanic that allows Lara to explore both under and on top of the water and dive into the water from higher ledges. You can't really control how deep Lara swims, so it's kinda scripted that way, but the underwater sections are designed so that this didn't bother me and nothing was locked out. There's also a sprint mechanic, a nice new feature, and broad-head climbing arrows you can fire into wooden walls and panels to reach certain areas. The UI for in-game movement has been improved and shows clearly what your rope arrows and other special items are gonna do when you use the control. This is all good as, even though this isn't a fully open world game, it does play more like one with more open exploration than we had before. This is something you'll want to do as collectibles like documents, murals and other objects don't just give you XP to level Lara for new perks but can also improve your profanity in languages that allow to read carvings and obelisks to find out about other secrets. One of the new things this can lead to is special coins that can be traded in for advanced weapons and accessories that can't be obtained any other way. The tombs and 3rd person platforming sections are back and are for the most part much improved and more numerous. Basically, they're more challenging with less QTE (In fact, there's almost none of it this time) throughout the game and problem solving that tests you mind a little more. The multitude of new movement mechanics gives more room to create multiple paths to complete a section and even though the game is still quite liner there has been improvement in this regard. All this ties into the survival instincts that offers hints to solving these sections just like the previous game. One of the biggest changes is to the crafting system to improve your weapons and craft special ammunition like poison arrows, hollow point bullets and grenades. These all require specific components obtained by hunting and scavenging and are also way more dynamic and critical as you know longer obtain simple "salvage" from everything. If you want one tip, do allot of hunting and do not wait to begin gathering as much of this stuff as you can. Some "exotic" animals have to be hunted to obtain the rarer stuff, but these are often also the more dangerous creatures as well, so be prepared for them. Combat mechanics are more or less the same as the previous game. It's basically a 3PS with a natural cover mechanic with weapons consisting of a bow, rifle, shotgun and pistol to choose from. There is now various types of these weapons that you collect through the game. For example, your rifles include an SMG, assault rifle, bolt action rifle and military spec' carbine that can be purchased using the aforementioned coins. None of these variations of these weapons are really better that the other, they just have different traits and they can all be improved with crafting, so you have to decide what one you want to improve when you have the chance at base camps. The one thing I find annoying about this is that you can't switch between different types of each weapon class in game, it can only be done at camps, but there's more camps than before and you can fast travel between all of them now, so this didn't bother me to much. Using the weapons in combat is very similar to before, but combat has improved because of much improved enemy AI and more interaction with the environment that even allows you to craft smoke grenades, Molotov cocktails and proximity bombs out of cans, fuel canisters, bottles and radios you find lying around. Like I said, the AI has improved dramatically from the first game making better use of cover, using communication and tactics to out flank and over power you and even learning from your past behavior. The patterns on melee attacks and grenade throws feel less predictable as well and being an elite private army, the enemies are better armored and have better weapons adding more difficulty to the combat. This helps address one of my biggest complaints about the previous game in that it was a bit on the easy side, although Lara is still unrealistically tough and can even bandage herself up in combat now. Frankly, if they wanted to include that, they should have removed or at least slowed the regenerating health. As a result, I'll still call the combat a bit easy, but more enjoyable. So, if you want a challenge, don't play on normal. Now, time for the elephant in the room, the microtransactions. This is attached to cards that can be used in the expeditions, a kind of challenge mode, outside of the main story. Basically, you can use the card to boost the amount of points you can score at the cost of making the game harder in some way, make the game easier at the cost of points of just activity silly, fun stuff like Big Head mode. You can earn these card packs with credits earned in game buy completing Challenges and Tombs and from doing the expeditions themselves, or you can buy them with real money. Now, the microtransactions in this game don't actually bug me. Why? Because they didn't bug me. If it wasn't for internet rage about them I wouldn't have known they were there. The meat of the game is the campaign, and because the cards aren't used there, I can't complain. This makes it different to Halo 5, for example, because the microtransactions in that game cheapen the effort people put into earning them instead of buying them. This doesn't. If people really want to get this content more quickly and are willing to pay for it that doesn't hurt you. The rest of us are smart enough to avoid them and it's another excuse to do more play-throughs to earn the credits instead, that's assuming one even has a big interest in the expeditions in the first place. The game is actually has more value to it if you don't buy them, These in-game purchases are not only better to ignore, but easy to ignore, so do that, ignore them. Trust me, they won't bug you. Basically, this is the old game but better and it's up to a level where it's damn near faultless. The only thing that really got to with gameplay is the lack of a control to use the glow-sticks to light up dark areas. It's supposed to be automatic, but it's triggered by reaching specific locations, not by how dark it is, so I still found myself stuck in the dark struggling to find my way out on a few occasions. Just put in a control to activate the glow-sticks manually as well as the automatic system! This didn't bother me enough to detract from the experience that much, the gameplay is just brilliant here and improved on what was already a truly fantastic game to play. Score for Gameplay 9.5/10 Now, anyone who knows me on these threads know I don't consider frame rates and resolutions to be all that critical, those are just numbers, they are meaningless in themselves. I like to keep it simple and I honestly don't know or even care what this runs at on XBox One, so anyone wants to know, google will surely inform you, but trust me, it doesn't matter. You cannot boil you sense of gaming down to numbers. Great looking games come from great design, especially in a fantasy. Yes, this is set mostly in Siberia, a real place, but it's the art team's interpretation of Siberia, I don't know how accurate it really is, but what's important is this game is a joy to look at. I was in absolute awe both at the environments and the attention to detail that went into this. The tracks Lara leaves the snow that change direction as you walk, the water and splash mechanics, the facial animations, I could go on, but this is one of the best looking games I have played, and I can only imagine how it might look when someone get's it on PC and runs it on it's highest settings. Long draw distances, great character models, although I will say there's not as much variety to the environments as the last game, I was surprised at how much better this looks than even the definitive edition of that game. It's all about the little things like the way the trees move in the wind, the weather, the superb sound design just make this game feel alive and immersive. There were a couple of graphical hic-ups here and there and the game did crash on me once, but my XBox was acting weird in general at the time so it might have been that. Otherwise, the game runs well with no serious frame rate dips I noticed nor problematic bugs. This bodes well for the PC and PS4 versions as well. Also, whether this is a problem or not comes down to opinion, but the Lara death shots that were almost a Mortal Kombat level of brutal before, have been toned down quite a bit. Whether Crystal Dynamics wanted people to focus on other area's of the game or if they just wussed out and removed them I'm not sure, but it's worth noting. Overall, it's Gorgeous, 10/10 Finial Verdict