Best Games Played 2018: Deepest Dive

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.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to roguelikes. Mainstays like FTL, Spelunky, and Darkest Dungeon just don’t do it for me. The unforgiving permadeath mixed with sticky, clunky gameplay ensured that I could never engage with them for more than one or two play sessions.

Despite being put-off by the most popular entries in the genre, I’m always on the lookout for one that aligns with my predilections, and every once in a while, I find one that sucks me in.

This happened previously with Rogue Legacy – a game that professed itself as a rogue lite, where the punishment of death was lessened by adding persistent progression. I spent hours churning through Rogue Legacy: building out the skill tree, upgrading character classes, unlocking armor sets, and stomping my way through the game’s castle in an attempt to defeat its five bosses. That never happened, mind you, but the journey is what made it fun. That’s important. A lot of rougelikes make the entirety of the experience solely about what comes at the end, about trying to pull off the single, perfect run that gets you over the game’s stated finish line, and I played a lot of PUBG last year, so I know the rush.

But Enter the Gungeon, like other rogue lites, improves on this formula by staying jam-packed with stuff to do and see on your way to the endgame, attempting to kill the Elder Dragun. After all, if you never see the end, you may as well enjoy the middle. The game plays in the style of top-down bullet hell roguelikes like Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne. Clear a room, move on. What keeps the game fresh is its progression, its exploration, and – most importantly – its weapons.

The Gungeon is where every firearm from history and fiction comes to call home. Glancing through the Ammonomicon, you find amazing armaments like a NES Zapper, a poisonous t-shirt cannon, a shreddin’ guitar, and a lowercase letter R that shoots out the letters B-U-L-L-E-T. You start out with only a fraction of the game’s 200-plus weapons unlocked, and you’ll only ever see, at most, a dozen or so guns in any single run through the Gungeon. You’ll find guns that you’ll naturally gravitate towards and inevitably lose when you die, only to start over and have to acclimate yourself with a new firearm. This is what makes Gungeon so addicting: there’s always some new trick or objective or mechanic to sink your teeth into.

What starts out as a straightlaced roguelike with a seemingly clear objective – kill the final boss – turns into an intricately laced adventure that’s as deep as it is wide. Soon after the game starts, you learn about the Bullet That Can Kill The Past, a rare artifact that the player characters are hunting for, seemingly because they wish to escape some horror from their former life. Building the Bullet requires four components that are scattered about the Gungeon, and each one you retrieve has to be brought down to the final floor, the Forge, and given to the Blacksmith – creating the second persistent objective that the game has to offer.

But there’s more.

You’ll also discover NPCs locked in cells throughout the Gungeon, and once you find the corresponding key and free them, they return to the entryway of the Gungeon, known as the Breach, and offer you aid in the form of purchasable unlocks, hunting objectives, and also elevator repair from the Tinker. The Tinker adds a unique wrinkle to a traditionally linear rougelike structure. Want to hunt for a specific reagent for the Bullet That Can Kill The Past on the third floor, but don’t want to risk dying on the first or second floor? Easy, give the Tinker the required number of resources found in the Gungeon – keys, shell casings, and bullet blanks – and he’ll build you an express elevator that takes you straight to the third floor. But to unlock it, you have to give all the resources all in one go – there’s no persistence here.

And I haven’t even gotten to synergies.

Base Gungeon had passive items that modified your weapons to great effect. Say you have a gun like the H4mmer, an average but reliable weapon, which fires a good amount of bullets quickly and effectively, with the last shot in the clip being a literal hammer. Now, say you also have the Stout Bullets item, which makes your bullets bigger and slower. Now you have a gun that shoots a quick spray of difficult to dodge ordinance. While you have to accept what the Gungeon doles out, you can mix and match your resources to deadly effect. Freezing bullets, healing bullets, electrified bullets, wings that grant flight, homing shots, and more add another layer to an already enormous cake.

But with Gungeon’s 2.0 update, Advanced Gungeons and Draguns, we were introduced to synergies, which are specific weapon and item combos that create completely new enhancements. An example: if you have the Mega Douser – a play on Super Soaker – and the Snowballer ice gun, the Mega Douser now leaves a trail of ice in its wake and has a chance of freezing enemies.

Most games have difficulty with having a single engrossing system, let alone two, let alone five, but Gungeon synergizes all its gameplay together into a symphony of systems within systems within systems, making it a more engaging roguelike than any I’ve seen.

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: Coolest Gadgets

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.

What’s out there in the void of space? Justice? Revenge? Riches? In Heat Signature, the answer is all of the above and more.

What more could space offer, you may ask? Trouble. Heat Signature is bringing trouble. A lot of it.

Every mission sees you boarding a ship with claustrophobic corridors filled with various space folks using an assortment of weaponry to eject you from their ship into the cold vacuum of space. Your mission – should you choose to accept it – can run the gamut from kidnapping or rescuing to searching and destroying, and any mistake you make can lead to things spiraling out of control.

At first glance, these systems are fun but rote. After an hour or so of playing I could feel my interest waning, but that’s when you start to experiment with the gadgets you pick up on you adventures.

I’d be introduced to items like the Glitch Trap, letting you teleport enemies around the map, so I’d bring it with me on my next mission. I’d round a corner where there are three guards with gear that my puny gun can’t touch, so I take a pop shot to attract them and make a run for it. The guards would follow my position, and as they turn the corner, they step into the Glitch Trap I set and one by one get shot out into space.

There’s also the Visitor. Say you’re trying to steal some treasure from a locked room that’s full of guards. You use the Visitor to warp into the room, shoot one guard, cut another down with a sword, throw your gun at the third to knock him out, loot the treasure, and warp back out in the span of two seconds.

Each one of these new tools keeps the game fresh and exciting, and everytime I’d start to feel tired of playing missions with the same loadout, the game would show me the latest gizmo, and it would feel like new again.

Heat Signature is a fun foundation of top-down run-and-gun gameplay made great by a cavalcade of wacky contraptions that help keep your playstyle constantly evolving. If you’re looking for a creative and thrilling game that makes you think on your feet, this is it.

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 a 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.

Best Games Played 2017: Greatest Feat

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.

Genre fusions are difficult to do, but Sloclap, developers of Absolver, has pulled it off. They’ve combined the mechanics of the 3D fighting genre – à la Tekken or Soul Calibur – with the persistence of a massively multiplayer online game, within a massive open world.

What Absolver establishes is an incredible groundwork for a future potential genre, but this proof-of-concept stands on its own – both in the innovation of its premise as well as the polish of its presentation.

Playing as warriors in the land of Adal, you are tasked with collecting new moves and armor from other enemy combatants by defeating them in martial arts. The action is like graceful dancing, where refined combat fuses the 3D fighter mechanics with the animation prioritization and unforgiveness popularized by the likes of Dark Souls.

You assign moves from your collection to a combat deck, which allows you to determine the order with which you use specific attacks. This customization of the flow of your strikes creates a deep metagame of trade-offs. You can chain moves seamlessly together and create an endless barrage for an enemy, putting you at risk of being predictable and easily-countered, or you can create several shorter combos to promote mix-ups at the cost of a sharper learning curve for your thumbs. Some moves can even break an opponent’s block, and each character can learn to use dodges, armor, and spawn weapons to keep this system unique and full of surprises for you and your enemies.

After a duel, the social features of the game help promote sportsmanship and encourage friendliness. Warriors can communicate only in premade emotes, preventing hateful language from ruining the experience and turning off players. During player versus player duels, it has become traditional for players to bow before beginning the fight. It’s even been reported that players have taken their character’s own lives in a duel if they’ve achieved a win through dishonorable means. Players who have beaten the game – an achievement marked with a unique piece of gear – often hang out in the starting areas of the game to pick up new players as disciples. Where learning a move in Absolver would normally require defeating an antagonistic opponent who already possesses it, playing with a teacher allows you to acquire those techniques faster while also honing your skills.

These tenets of respectability and cooperation, combined with a steady stream of new content, has kept the world of Absolver fresh and fun. Sloclap has captured lightning in a bottle with this game, and we can’t wait to see more.

Best Games Played 2017: Coolest Experience

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.

Titanfall 2 is a game built on, out of, and all about the rule of cool. Juiced to perfection in every direction from punchy sound, hyper animations, dazzling effects, and mechanically slick movement, Titanfall 2 delivers an experience that rises above and beyond what you see in so many action first person shooter games today. Titanfall 2 is capital-V Video Games. Fun above all else.

Its campaign is in a class of its own, readily offering new mechanics at every level and just as quickly taking them away before they get boring. Time travel, switch flipping, moving platforms, and wind tunnels all play a part for some truly fantastic moments that test your movement and reflexes. Set pieces are both a gauntlet for free-running and gunning as well as a sandbox for massive battles with the Titan mechs.

While the campaign’s story may seem unremarkable at a glance, don’t let that fool you. It delivers staggering emotional beats by establishing the bond between a pilot and his Titan. Even when seperated, your Titan is providing support through either dynamic conversation or by activating sonar pulses to highlight enemies or even dropping ordinance in the midst of battle. Showing the bond between these characters through gameplay rather than cutscenes is a subtle but ingenious design choice. In fact, Titanfall 2 has no cutscenes – every scripted moment plays out in first person with stellar animation. Even though Titanfall 2 is written like a Saturday morning cartoon, this only plays to its strengths, and smartly toys with your expectations.

In the singleplayer as well as the multiplayer, Titanfall 2 ensures that you always feel powerful. Even if you’re feeling like a god in your Titan, you’ll still feel nimble and quick as a pilot on the ground. There’s no loss of control in any situation. Whether it’s wall running into battle or launching out of a mech while it explodes, digging into a pack of grunts on the ground or trying to take on a Titan as a pilot in your own personal parable of David and Goliath, Titanfall 2 is all about ensuring you have fun and feel incredible doing it.

The simplest examples of this philosophy are in the multiplayer loadouts – you are allowed the option of your standard FPS frag grenades, but how about ninja stars that explode into flames, or gravity wells that let you trap other players and curve rockets and bullets? You can pick the Titan that slowly lumbers across the map firing 40,000 rounds per second, or the one carrying a sword the size of a school bus. Neither is inherently better than the other, but thematically you get to play the exact kind of super space-soldier you want to be.

We could go on about primary loadout abilities, which strike a perfect balance between being capable of both offensive and defensive maneuvers, or how every weapon – no matter how simple or complex – feels satisfying to use, or how dense the mind-games can get when two enemy Titans meet in an open field. There’s so much to love about this game. It can be hard to talk about it without its small install base, but we’ll encourage where we can: play Titanfall 2. Become a pilot. Meet your Titan.

Best Games Played 2017: Best Philosophy

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.

Everything is the latest game from Mountain developer David O’Reilly. Playing as, literally, everything, you possess animals and objects to explore the landscape. From subatomic particles to celestial bodies, you control a plethora of actors within this world to simply wander.

At indeterminate points, recorded lectures of Alan Watts, the British philosopher that studied and lectured on numerous philosophies and religious beliefs – including Zen Buddhism, start to play. He expounds upon topics such as the problems with objectifying your life, or the purpose – or lack thereof – of life itself. In this, Everything instead becomes not an idle distraction as you listen to Watts’ lectures, but a representation of his teachings in interactive form.

There’s no true objective to Everything. There’s an encyclopedia that fills with each being you encounter, but even that provides only the smallest of milestones for you to accomplish. You could easily ignore that mechanic and instead roam the world, absorbing Watts’ zen-like ideals through play.

The game doesn’t even need you to play it. Left idle, the current object starts moving on its own, jumping from vessel to vessel, rolling around the landscape, playing out like a modern, tranquil screensaver. All this is to impart to the player some small glimpse of nirvana, becoming a part of everything and nothing.

Best Games Played 2017: Most Treacherous

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.

Well, it finally happened. Our rule about considering any game irrespective of release year finally bagged us a relatively older game.

1001 Spikes, originally released in 2014, is a deceptively difficult game about venturing through a temple to plunder it for gold, jewels, and treasured idols. You play as adventurer Aban, braving the hidden temple’s many perilous traps. At the outset, you’re given 1001 lives, which act as your life pool for the entire game. Once you’ve spent your allotment, that’s it, the game is done.

The game is a practice in patience. Where a platformer like Super Meat Boy is a dead-eyed sprint, 1001 Spikes is a marathon. Upon each loss, you’re improving your strategic mind, learning about how the game operates and what its next move is going to be. Each death is an opportunity to learn. Spike and dart trap timings are taught through repetition, since every level in the game is handmade.

Where a game like Spelunky is built upon procedurally generated levels, each level in 1001 Spikes drips with authorial intent. With each trap, gap, and jump, you can feel the hand of semi-mysterious development studio 8bits Fanatics at work. Every time you attempt a level, you’re taking one step forward at understanding 1001 Spikes and its creators.

1001 Spikes is the kind of game where simply finishing a level fills you with a giant sense of achievement, as long as you don’t put it down in frustration before then. This game isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s for true adventurers willing to brave the pitfalls of the temple to uncover its secrets.

Best Games Played 2017: Grandest Adventure

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.

Super Mario Odyssey brings about the first return of a superlative, and it’s an apt one. Odyssey returns Mario to the throes of adventure. After the Wii U’s more structurally confined Super Mario 3D World, Mario is allowed to breathe again.

In classic Mario format, the titular plumber must once again save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. But instead of the purposelessness that Bowser’s usual kidnappings bring, the Koopa King’s latest attempt comes with a devilish new intent. Similar to Super Mario Sunshine, where Bowser Jr. kidnaps Peach believing she is his mother and wishing to make the family whole again, in Odyssey Bowser kidnaps Peach to force her to become his lawfully wedded wife.

Some may see this unseemly setup as only adding extra color to the same old Mario motifs, but it creates a framework for one of Mario’s greatest adventures. In Bowser’s quest to collect all the assortments needed for a perfect wedding – a dress, a ring, a cake, some soup for the reception, a bouquet of flowers for the bride – he drags Mario in a chase across the globe.

You visit exotic locales from sunny deserts to frozen tundras to landscapes made entirely out of food. While there, you’ll use your toolkit of running, jumping, and hat possession to bound across the map and collect as many power moons as you can before chasing Bowser to the next kingdom. Each world is a dense puzzle box that you poke and prod with your abilities until all the moons come spilling out. Even when you feel like you’ve seen everything a kingdom has to offer, you’ll find that there are still some moons that you’ve overlooked.

The vast kingdoms breathe new life into the Mario series while also remixing classic designs and characters from games past. There’s Pauline, who’s gone from Mario’s original damsel in distress to the prestigious mayor of the Metro Kingdom’s New Donk City. Fans of Super Mario 64 will be happy to hear that numerous references to that entry make their way into the game in heartwarming fashion. Even the water pack mechanics from Sunshine make a brief appearance in the Seaside Kingdom.

All of these set pieces pulled from the franchise’s legacy make this game feel like ur-Mario, the entry that all future Marios will be compared too. There’s a case to be made for that. Instead of making it feel like a bunch of mechanical levels strung together with a threadbare plot, Odyssey’s numerous worlds feel like they’re teeming with life, where Mario can soar through blue skies, swim through vast oceans, and meet new friends. It’s an amazingly charming, breathtaking, feel-good experience.