Best Games Played 2019: Most Reverent

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2019 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Super Smash Bros. is video games’ holy scripture. There is no other series in the medium’s history that treats games — and their avatars — with such veneration.

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Best Games Played 2018: Greatest Redemption

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2018 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2018, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

God of War opens with a Kratos in mourning.

Abandoning Sparta, Greece, and the gods they served, Kratos travels to Midgard, the Norse realm of men, and raises a new family to love and care for.

But, like any good Greek tragedy, it wasn’t meant to be.

Kratos’ second wife, Fey, has just passed at the start of God of War, with Kratos lumbering trees to build her funeral pyre. Their young son, Atreus, tries to help, but is constantly rebuffed by his Spartan father, who carries a multitude of burdens on his back: the death of his first wife and daughter, the murder of the Greek pantheon by his hands, the death of his second wife, and the fact that he has kept his – and by extension, Atreus’ – godhood a secret from his son.

Their time of mourning is short lived, however, when they decide to fulfill Fey’s final wish: to have her ashes spread on the highest peak in all the realms. This leads Kratos and Atreus on an adventure across Midgard, facing gods, killing beasts, and struggling to connect as father and son. Atreus works so hard to prove himself to his father, and constantly, he is rebuffed by Kratos, who is conflicted between comforting his child and knowing that they live in a cruel and uncaring world.

God of War is a redemption on many fronts. It partially serves as a redemption of Kratos, who, by the end of the game, has learned to no longer be immobilized by the burdens he wishes to carry. He’s told Atreus of his godly stature, choosing to guide him instead of letting him struggle with his identity. He’s also told him of Kratos’ genocide of the Olympian pantheon, stating that as gods themselves they must do better than simply sew death and chaos. He even stops Baldur’s attempted parricide, something he couldn’t even stop himself from doing to Zeus.

God of War is also a redemption for the franchise itself. Historically, God of War traded itself on simply being a testosterone-laced, meatheaded murder spree, where Kratos’ lust for godblood fueled him through three games, slowed ever so slightly by tasteless minigames like sleeping with a harem of characterless women. However, as the series matured, it realized it needed to have meaning behind the violence and sex. In God of War III, we began to see that Kratos’ actions had worldly consequences: with each Greek god slain, their corresponding aspect of reality is thrown into imbalance: Hermes’ death unleashes a plague, Helios’ death plunges Greece into eternal night, and Poseidon’s death causes the seas to boil and rage.

It isn’t until Kratos’ bloodlust is sated with the death of Zeus atop Mount Olympus does he turn to face the calamity he caused, a world in ruin. It’s here, in the game’s final moments, where we see an inkling of regret in Kratos. It’s a feeling that he carries to Midgard and through the events of the new God of War.

Many notes of the original series’ story are seeded throughout this new entry. Kratos and boy meet a peculiar god early on in their travels, and he’s dispatched similarly to Helios in God of War III, but where Helios is defeated with unflinching blood and viscera, this norse god is dealt with in a soft, respectable way, panning the camera away from any gore. Even more references to Kratos’ former life surface – visions of Athena and old wounds left by the Blades of Chaos – and it all shows how he tries to forget the past and escape a cycle which seems bent on repeating itself with the Norse pantheon.

God of War succeeds at redeeming and recontextualizing a series that many saw as irredeemable. It breathes new life into a franchise while also lifting up the best parts of its former self. The game, while great, still struggles with its characterization of women, featuring only two female characters in its plot – one who is dead and one who seeks to die – continuing an issue of women and mothers’ places in a series that has historically cast them chiefly as plot devices, villains, and eye candy.

It’s a very real problem in an entry that has been so good at addressing the other issues of its past self. This is seemingly the first part of a larger story, so it should strive to achieve better representation. Because if God of War has proven anything, it’s that it is capable of evolving into forward-looking themes without succumbing to its baser impulses.

Hidden Gems Returns to PAX South with Folks from Vlambeer, Finji, and Kickstarter!

We’re starting out 2019 with the return of the Hidden Gems panel to PAX South! Hidden Gems is where we uncover all of the unique and overlooked games and experiences on the show floor that you need to check out.

We’ll be joined by Ward Games co-founder Dylan Ilvento, 50% of Vlambeer Rami Ismail, Finji community manager Harris Foster, and Kickstarter senior games outreach Anya Combs on Friday, January 18th, at 5:30 pm in the Cactus Theatre.

And be sure to check out what we’ve highlighted at previous shows with our recordings from PAX East 2017, PAX South 2018, PAX East 2018, and PAX West 2018.

Hidden Gems Returns for the First Time Again at PAX West!

We’re proud to announce that our PAX panel series, Hidden Gems, will make its return at PAX West! This will be the first time our panel will be at the proverbial prime PAX, and we’re excited to see what offerings the expo has in store for us in its hometown of Seattle.

If you’re unfamiliar with Hidden Gems, this is how it works: we scour the show floor, looking for unique and undiscovered games and experiences to highlight and discuss for you, the PAX attendee. If you’d like to hear our previous Hidden Gems panels, you can check out our recordings from PAX East 2017, PAX South 2018, and PAX East 2018.

So if you plan on being at PAX West, please join Ward co-founder Dylan Ilvento, Polytron producer Felix Kramer, Spawn On Me host Kahlief Adams, and Waypoint editor-in-chief Austin Walker on Friday, August 31st, at 5:00 pm in the Cat Theatre as we explore our hidden gems of PAX West.

Hidden Gems Rides Again at PAX East!

We’re pleased to announce that our panel series, Hidden Gems, will be returning for the second time at PAX East this April!

What is Hidden Gems, you may ask? Why, it’s where we highlight all the cool games and experiences on the showfloor that you don’t want to miss!

Our panelists for this PAX East include Ward Games co-founders Dylan Ilvento and Mason Brown as well as our colleagues Mike Futter, author of the GameDev Business Handbook, and Felix Kramer, producer at Polytron!

Hidden Gems: Discovering the Undiscovered at PAX East will take place on Friday, April 6th, at 4:00 pm EST in the Bumblebee Theatre. If you’d like to see what we’ve discovered in PAXes past, check out our recordings from PAX South 2018 and PAX East 2017. We hope to see you there!

Best Games Played 2017: Freshest Ideas

These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2017 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2017, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

From the ex-Hitman developers at Ultra Ultra comes a unique and fascinating game that seems to have gotten overlooked in an overwhelmingly fantastic year for releases.

Echo follows En, a woman that travels to a planet in search for a technology to save someone she lost. She descends into a palace beneath the sterile surface to look for it, but is met with a twisted surprise: the seemingly endless palace, with its polished marble halls, is filled with robotic copies of En.

To reach her goal, En must defeat her doppelgängers. Using her suite of abilities in refined stealth action gameplay segments, En has the ability to eliminate or simply sneak around her clones. With each fallen clone, future ones will use their adaptive artificial intelligence to learn, mirror, and counter the patterns the player been using, forcing them to adapt their playstyle to stay one step ahead of the copies. These sections further allow you to hone your strategic mind with opportunities to chain your assaults together that, if pulled off right, allows the player the chance to take out a group of enemies in one fell swoop.

In between these combat encounters are quiet walk-and-talk sections where En attempts at conversing with her ship’s AI, London. While London seems more interested in actively antagonizing En about her quest, she’s still able to maintain a conversation with him. In these dialogs, they discuss topics from En’s past to the history of the planet. These slow, quiet talks between moments make the world richer and fuller.

So much of Echo feels completely unique, from its aesthetic – which could be described as cyberpunk neo-baroque in early parts of the palace – to its combat, which takes a refined stealth action foundation and adds an adaptive enemy AI on top of it. Echo is a brilliantly made and expertly paced first entry from Ultra Ultra, and we can’t wait for more.

Hidden Gems Returns for PAX South!

We’re excited to announce that our panel series — Hidden Gems — returns for PAX South this upcoming January!

What is Hidden Gems? It’s where we bring to you all of the unique games and events on the show floor that you don’t want to miss out on. PAX is an amazing show, but it can overwhelm you. Hidden Gems is our way to help point attendees towards overlooked treasures.

Our panelists for our PAX South panel include Ward co-founder Dylan Ilvento as well as our friends and hosts of Instant Replay Live: Nick Nundahl and Joe Wetmore! We’re really excited to have these guys on the panel, and we can’t wait to hear what special and unique experiences they find at the con.

So if you want to find out what secrets PAX South has to offer, join us at the show January 13th, at 1:30 pm in the Armadillo Theatre.

And if you’d like to find out more about our Hidden Gems panel, check out our recording from PAX East 2017.

Best Games Played 2016: Best Personal Interactions

These games and awards were decided during the Ward Podcast’s Best Games Played 2016 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Ward Podcast in 2016, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Oxenfree wins the award for Best Personal Interactions, both creatively and mechanically. Creatively, it tells the tale of teens lost on an island, fighting an evil presence, and trying to use their pubescent communication skills to save and connect to one another. At the same time, Alex, the protagonist, tries to grapple with the past loss of her brother and to connect with her newly-minted half brother, Jonas.

Mechanically, the narrative system, of being able to move and talk as humans do, evokes the now-trademark Grand Theft Auto series’ use of dialog during driving sequences, as well as the use of walk and talk shots in television and film. It’s a story perpetually in motion, best exemplified by the fact that Alex is constantly moving.

The dialog options appear as speech balloons above Alex’s head, invoking the idea that these are all the things she wants to say, but what it’s up to the player to decide the best course of action. Alex – like Geralt of Rivia, Henry, and Maxine Caulfield – speaks for herself, you’re the angel (or devil) on their shoulder. Sometimes, she interjects when something important is on her mind. Other times, she waits for there to be a lull in the conversation. At all times, you and her are trying to help make the situation better. Rarely does it work out.

Night School Studio has created a ghost story as a way to deal with personal loss, and because you have the somewhat shy, teenage Alex as your vessel, you must work together to say what’s on your mind.

Best Games Played 2016: Most Empowering

These games and awards were decided during the Ward Podcast’s Best Games Played 2016 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Ward Podcast in 2016, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

Life is Strange captures the feeling of being in high school again, of the start of a new school year with crisp fall days, imbued with the Lynchian tones of the Pacific Northwest, contrasted with overly sterile hallways and sanitized relationships with the high school staff.

Life is Strange is one of the most exquisite experiences out there, and it’s not because of its time rewinding mechanic. The supernatural elements are mostly a backdrop for the main character, Maxine, trying to rekindle a lost friendship after returning from an unceremonious move to another city.

The game captures what makes it so stressful and difficult and scary to be a teenager, and then the game adds real, physical threats to the existing pile of existential ones, from town-destroying storms and kidnappings to addressing issues of child abuse, mental illness, suicide, bullying, and personal growth. It’s a stunning blend of Twin Peaks, Juno, Superbad, with a touch of Donnie Darko.

There are some cracks in the veneer of the game, such as the somewhat stilted dialog caused by a French team trying to write about an American town in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a flawed, beautiful thing, much like the life of its characters that it’s trying to portray.

Best Games Played 2016: Best Open World

These games and awards were decided during the Ward Podcast’s Best Games Played 2016 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Ward Podcast in 2016, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.

In what might be our most traditional game award, Fallout 4 excels at making you want to explore every nook and cranny in post-apocalyptic Boston.

Moreso than any other other Bethesda game that came before, everything in the game, from the addition of voice acting to the player character to the settlement building, is made to feel as if this is your world. Sometimes that comes with a price, such as the sacrifice of previous Bethesda games’ amazingly creative dialog options. In Fallout 4, dialog options are more of a leap of faith, that you’re able to interpret what the abbreviated options on the screen are what you meant to say.

But with that in mind, the possibilities of the world are amazingly impressive. Maybe you want to save your son from the hands of the Institute, maybe you don’t, but what’s important is that it offers you the choice to do so. And maybe it breaks down after a while, after you become the king of everything and you’re one-shotting deathclaws, but most contemporary Bethesda games do.

Fallout 4 still gives you meaningful choices concerning the main forces in the Commonwealth, similar to those found in its predecessor, Fallout: New Vegas. Even after you’ve finished the main quest and completed all the side stories and downloadable content, there’s always another rock to turn over, another corner of the world to explore, another little story told through environmental clues and terminal entries. Even after playing for scores of hours, you may find another companion to join you on your journey, making your story in this place all the more real.