As September is upon us and the great rush of big fall releases starts, I figured it would be a good time to sit down and talk about what I’ve been playing during the month of August. I think I’ll start doing this as a monthly effort at the beginning of each new month in order to talk about games I’ve been playing that I haven’t had a chance to do a full review for. It’ll allow me to talk about more games instead of having to dedicate a full review to every game.
So what have I been playing in August? Well after rebuilding my PC and upgrading it so it can handle more recent games I’ve booted up XCOM 2 and started messing around with mods for it – including the official Long War 2 mod. I’ve also been playing Into the Breach and I dipped my toes into the PC Overwatch pool – having been playing strictly on the PS4 for the last two years. On my Switch I’ve been occupied with the new roguelike Dead Cells, and on my 3DS I’ve been played the rerelease of the JRPG Radiant Historia. Finally on PS4 I’ve finally started playing Life in Strange after swearing I’d get around to it for a while.
That’s the summary – so now let’s go into a bit more detail!
XCOM 2: Long War 2 Mod (PC)
XCOM 2 has earned its place on my all-time favorite games list several times over and the Long War 2 mod is no exception. It’s an interesting twist on the game that came out before the War of Chosen expansion by Firaxis – it is an official mod, but the people behind it are not going to be updating it for War of the Chosen, so you have to choose to use one or the other to modify the base game. Since I’ve already completed War of the Chosen on PS4, I thought I would start a new playthrough with Long War 2 mods (among many others, including Overwatch, Marvel, and other assorted characters & voice packs) and see how it compared.
Long War 2, as is sort of obvious by its namesake, makes the XCOM 2 game much, much longer. Supposedly one single playthrough of the Long War 2 campaign can take upwards of 100 hours. I haven’t put nearly that much time into it but I can definitely see why it would take that long. Unlike the base games, missions are thrown at you left and right and you have to pick and choose which ones to actually take on. In the base game (and War of the Chosen) if you don’t do a mission you’re going to be penalized heavily and you’re incentivized to always have people ready to go for anything that comes up. In this game, you’ll very quickly run out of squad members if you take on every mission – so it’s better to be discerning.
Another modification that crops up is that each mission has an infiltration timer – depending on the size and equipment of your squad, it could take 4-5 days for you to prepare infiltration. But if the mission timer expires before your infiltration is complete, there will be a higher amount of enemies and the mission will be harder. Sometimes, even if a mission is important, you don’t want to risk sending in a squad because they’ll be horribly outnumbered. And since your hit/miss percentages in combat are even more unforgiving than the base game, getting surrounded and outnumbered will almost always end in death for your squad.
It’s been pretty fun to play as all the new features add another level of strategy to the overall game. Equipment weight will decrease your characters’ movement, for example, and there are eight soldier classes with three skill trees each instead of four classes with only two skill trees each. Your squads really start to get specialized after a while which makes the tactical aspect of which squad to send on what mission shine even more. While I don’t foresee myself putting all 100 hours into completing a full campaign, the Long War 2 mod definitely adds enough variety to rekindle my love for XCOM 2 yet again.
There’s not much I can say about Overwatch on PC that’s different from PS4. It’s a little easier to play certain DPS with a mouse/keyboard over a controller but in general it just felt like a slight graphical switch now that I’m playing on a slightly more powerful computer. I’ve yet to get into the competitive mode since I’ve only been able to play Quick Play and have only put a few hours into the game on PC so far, but Quick Play is essentially just as bad as on PS4. Just with the inclusion of people throwing out racist language through text chat.
As much as I love Overwatch and Overwatch League, it’s getting harder and harder to motivate myself to play it. I only barely completed my competitive placements for the last season on PS4. It stopped being fun once I got into Overwatch League and am able to see how people play the game at a high level. The strategy and playstyle of the game that I enjoy so much is just completely missing in general play and it’s starting to turn into a game I enjoy watching way more than playing. I’ll likely tough it out to see where I end up in competitive ranking on PC (just for curiosity’s sake) but I think my days of playing Overwatch regularly are coming to a close.
Into The Breach (PC)
This is a lovely tactical game that I’ve been wanting to play for a while but didn’t want to get until I’d upgraded my computer. While not graphically taxing at all, I’d used the excuse of upgrading my computer to keep myself from buying anything on Steam or in Steam sales so this was basically the first purchase I made after getting all new PC components. It’s by the makers of FTL which is another fun roguelike strategy game – but this game scratches my strategy itch much stronger.
Each battle takes place on a small square grid. You are in control of a squad of three mechs and each mech has a different ability. Some do direct damage, some do damage and also move the target, some just move the target. You’re fighting an invading alien bug menace (akin to Starship Troopers) and you have to protect buildings that are under assault – if too many buildings go down, the power grid is destroyed and the bugs will overrun humanity. It’s a very simple strategy game that doesn’t take too long for a single run and is quite addictive as it becomes a puzzle on how to keep the aliens from destroying buildings and your mechs.
I get into problems because this game requires you to think several moves ahead and you only get one turn reset per battle – which means if you make a bad decision you can’t just reload your save and fix your mistake. I’ve often accidentally put my mech into a disadvantageous position early in the battle because of not thinking things through and having to weigh the risks of using my only restart versus saving it for an even greater mistake.
It’s fun because as you unlock achievements and progress through the game you can buy new squads of mechs that have different abilities. Each squad synergizes well with each other, but you can also mix and match mechs to create your own custom squad if you want. Finding a mech squad that fits with your play style is important, but it’s also fun to use a completely different squad which will change your approach to every battle in the future. It’s one of the better indie games I’ve played this year and just released on Switch as well – I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys tactics and strategy games.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology (3DS)
Radiant Historia is a JRPG that was released for the DS in 2010. It did moderately well but kind of flew under the mainstream radar. I got it for the DS but only managed to get a little way into the game before being distracted by who knows what else and never coming back to it. Perfect Chronology, a rerelease with some added content, came out for the 3DS this year and I decided to pick it up again and try playing it a second time since it’s always gotten good critical and user reviews.
It’s a very interesting game that plays with alternate timelines. Early on a magical book is handed to Stocke (the main character) and it allows him to travel back and forth in time and also between two separate timelines based on a decision you make early in the game. Each timeline affects the other and Stocke can learn skills and abilities in one timeline that help him in the other. He’s the only one (apart from a few other guide characters) that knows multiple timelines exist, so even though you have the same characters in your party in both timelines, the character arcs they go through in each timeline are much different. It’s a unique premise that occasionally gets hard to follow if you aren’t keeping track of which timeline you’re currently in.
The combat and battles are fun as well – when you fight enemies they are present on a 3×3 grid. You and your party members’ attacks can move the enemies around the battlefield and that plays into the strategy of each fight. For example, you can knock all the enemies into a single square and then unleash a powerful attack to kill all of them. Moving enemies closer to you on the grid allows you to do more damage with attacks but the closer enemies also do more damage to you on their turn. So you want to also move them back to the back of the grid before they get a turn. It adds an engaging tactical layer to every battle – so even the normal enemy encounters have some weight as opposed to feeling like a typical JRPG grindquest.
In my first playthrough of the game I barely made it past the Prologue into the Chapter 1s of both timelines. In this playthrough I’ve made it to Chapter 3 of both and am much more invested in seeing the game through to the end. The dialogue is often simplistic but the overarcing story is fascinating enough to keep my attention this second time around. I’m plugging along with it and will hopefully finish it before I get too distracted by the big fall games – I’d definitely recommend this to any person who enjoys classic JRPGs but likes the battle system to be more updated.
Dead Cells (Switch)
I almost didn’t get Dead Cells because I was working on so many other games in my backlog (as you can see) but I eventually broke down and purchased it due to the high amount of praise it was receiving. I watched a streamer I enjoy play it while it was in Early Access in 2017 and didn’t really find it a fun game to watch – however once I actually started playing it myself I found it very hard to put it down.
Dead Cells is a roguelike platformer where you slowly progress through different areas of a prison island filled with all different kinds of enemies. You start out with a meager selection of weapons and tools to use against your foes, but as you progress further through the game you can unlock blueprints of a wide variety of weapons and items that provide different benefits and ways of killing your enemies. There’s a Heavy Crossbow that fires five bolts at once, an Ice Grenade that freezes all the enemies it hits, or a sword that does critical damage if you’re under half health. After unlocking a weapon, there’s a random chance it’ll start showing up in any run you do in the future.
Eventually you unlock enough weapons that you start getting weird combinations and you have to rethink how you’re going to approach combat for this run. For instance I barely use shields when I play, but in the last run I got a very powerful legendary shield as a drop very early into the game, so I chose to use it and learned how to parry attacks and have actually started to see how useful a shield can be in the right loadout. Since there are three types of weapons – Brutal (straightforward high power damage like swords and grenades), Tactical (more strategical like bear traps and turrets), and Survival (shields that boost your defense and whips that involve a longer range) – and you gain scrolls that give you the option of boosting one of the three traits, one run can be fast-paced and entirely focused on up-close Brutal damage but the next run can be a more slow, thoughtful Tactical run where you let traps and turrets kill enemies for you while you watch from afar.
Dead Cells succeeds on multiple levels – partly because the combat has great feedback and just feels solid as you play. But it also adds plenty of variety so each run feels different despite exploring the same areas multiple times. And that’s very important for a roguelike to keep my attention. I feel like I’m progressing even if I die because I’m learning new tactics with each death and each run is different enough that I don’t get the impression that I’m repeating the same actions over and over. The last roguelike to give me this much satisfaction was Enter the Gungeon (another game I will praise eternally) and the bite-sized nature of each run usually lasting no more than 30 minutes allows me to enjoy it in small chunks (although good runs can take up to an hour). It was a very good match for the Switch and I’m glad I picked it up.
Life is Strange (PS4)
Life is Strange has been talked about a lot in the last few years since it came out in 2015. It’s been lauded for having a great story and incorporating decisions that actually have an effect on the game as you play. I’ve had it for a while and am finally getting around to playing it myself. So far I’m through Chapter 3 (it is presented in an episodic format of five total chapters) and as far as I’m concerned it’s lived up to the praise.
You play as Max, a teenager who discovers she has the power to rewind time. She first uses it to save a girl from being killed in the bathroom of her school, only to later find out the girl she saved is an old friend Chloe who she hasn’t seen in many years. This starts a long chain of intertwined events as Max and Chloe rekindle their relationship while also dealing with different problems within the school and town of Arcadia Bay.
What’s interesting about the game is that the choices you’re given aren’t black and white/good and bad choices. There is never a “right” or “wrong” answer as your decisions always have consequences regardless. For example, at one point in the first chapter you see a security guard bullying a student at school. If you choose to hang back and take a picture of the event, you’re not noticed by the guard and have proof of the incident, but the student gets upset with you. On the other hand, if you rewind time and step in to defend the student, the guard gets angry with you but the student is appreciative of your act of friendship. However you lose the proof of the photo and the incident becomes a he-said, she-said back and forth to anyone you report it to.
It adds a more thoughtful dynamic to every decision you make, unlike the pure good and evil choices that a game like Mass Effect puts in front of you. The overall story itself deals with some very heavy and difficult issues such as bullying and physical abuse, but doesn’t do so in an exploitative game-like way. I’m thoroughly enjoying my experience with the game (a few years later than everyone else) and can see why people were excited about this when it initially came out. The sequel’s first episode is arriving later this September so I’m looking forward to finishing the first game and seeing if the sequel ends up being just as good.
So that’s my round-up of games I’ve played this month. This coming Friday Spider-Man arrives and I have a feeling it’s going to be the main game I end up playing for September, so next month’s summary might be a little shorter. But who knows what else I’ll end up playing this month! We’ll see, I guess.