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FORTNITE REVIEW

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For the first 10 hours of Fortnite, I didn’t have to build a fort to succeed. We shot down every zombie husk within seconds of them spawning, eliminating the need for any of the traps that Fortnite lets you craft and place on its maps. Instead, everyone would wander the map on their lonesome, completing quests that few—if any—shared in an effort to expedite the time until our next reward and crawl through the story missions towards something resembling a challenge.

When a hulking bruiser enemy busted through our walls for the first time, I felt relieved. Finally, I needed to build a decent fort, and finally, I would have to work with my team to plan and overcome a genuine threat. But we quickly killed the monster, repaired the walls, set out new traps, and coasted through the rest of the match. It would be another five hours of coasting and building useless monuments to the sky before I felt threatened again. And when it does start to get difficult, success is gated through a constant squeeze on your persistent resources required to build forts and traps, a frustrating byproduct of the messy, time-wasting progression systems.

Fortnite uses a cute, albeit shallow narrative backdrop as its excuse for building big towers of wood and stone and steel. Some recurring characters including a jokester robot and a longhaired rocksmith (whose van you weather-balloon into the sky every other mission) mark your progress with commentary on the state of humanity against the big purple clouds in the sky. They can be genuinely funny, but, like all the best parts of Fortnite, the dialogue feels like a low priority, often playing over the menu’s distracting visual noise and the post-match ritual of watching chests spill out, pinatas explode, and XP meters fill themselves several times over to accompanying carnival ambience.

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Cuphead Review

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Everything you’ve heard about Cuphead is true. It is a difficult side-scrolling shooter with relentless boss battles that demand rapid-fire actions and reactions. Think for too long, and you won’t stand a chance against the game’s toughest enemies. Battles may only last three minutes at most, but they feel far longer when you know that you can only absorb three hits before you have to start from scratch. When you are navigating your way around bullets, smaller enemies, and pitfalls, while simultaneously trying to damage your primary target, toppling Cuphead’s imposing bosses is both a monumental and rewarding task.

But difficult battles only tell half of the story. Cuphead’s 1930s cartoon aesthetic is endlessly charming, popping with color and expression unlike anything seen at this scale in a video game before. The sheer variety of characters and settings yields consistent delight as you go from one stage to the next, with everything bearing the telltale signs of grainy ’30s film and rudimentary production techniques. Cel-shading means something to a lot of people, but Cuphead truly re-creates the look of hand-drawn cel animation.

A world map sets the stage for your adventure. As a Cup-thing who gambled with the devil, you now must go around collecting debts from the devil’s other acquaintances–the game’s bosses. Outside of one-on-one fights, you also have a few opportunities to run and gun through less-imposing platforming stages. These help break up the action and give you a chance to collect coins that can be cashed in for “weapons” and passive buffs. Coins are in short supply and can only be collected once, so farming to gain an advantage is out of the question. These stages don’t compare to Cuphead’s main attractions, but they add valuable substance nonetheless.

The mix of ammunition for your hand gun–character fire from their fingers–includes the likes of a spread shot, a charge blast, and a boomerang round. There are six in all, and each comes with a secondary attack that’s tied to a meter that fills when you successfully land shots on enemies. You can also earn meter by parrying pink projectiles and enemies, a task that requires you to jump towards an enemy and then tap jump again at just the right moment before impact. These range from a fireball and a ring of damaging gems to a burst of bulky, short-range arrows. Finally, you have a super art, which can only be fired when your entire meter is full, as opposed to spending one section of that meter to fire your weapon’s secondary attack. The one catch here is that when your meter is full, you can’t perform a secondary attack–you are inconveniently forced to unleash your super art, which isn’t always desirable.

Given that you are able to equip two weapons at once, the variety of loadouts you can equip before a fight allows for flexibility on your part. While you may benefit by bringing a specific set of arms into some boss battles–say, using tracer rounds to pick off minor enemies swarming overhead–you can still carry whatever you wish into battle so long as you have the confidence and knowledge meet the challenge ahead.

Learning the bosses’ attack pattern is oftentimes half the battle, and it’s typical to run through a fight multiple times until you see everything that might get thrown your way. Every boss fight consists of multiple stages or forms. Bosses will change shape, position, and behavior with each new phase. And within an individual phase, you may see as many as four different attacks, though you aren’t always guaranteed to see them all during subsequent fights. When bosses begin to mix multiple attacks at once, the potential for various deadly combos keeps you on your toes no matter how familiar you are with the fight in question.

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TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER II REVIEW

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THE RITE STUFF.

As a series, Total War tends to give its best when building on an already established foundation. Napoleon surpassed Empire, Attila surpassed Rome 2. And so, in faithful fashion, has Total War: Warhammer 2 pushed beyond the original Total War Warhammer, creating the most fleshed-out and engrossing campaign this veteran strategy and tactics series has offered to date.

The standard trappings are all present in top form. A sprawling campaign map that’s possibly the best-looking one Creative Assembly’s artists have ever put together. Real-time battles with reasonably competent AI (not always a given for Total War) who seem to know how to play to each army’s strengths and weaknesses – if only in a pre-set, somewhat predictable way. You build cities and research tech to unlock new units and improve your economy and fighting capacity, with each of the new factions having a fairly innovative way of doing so.

It’s Good To Be Bad

High Elves don’t have much of a stomach for blood, though, and fight the hardest at the beginning of a battle before they’ve started to take casualties and get blood on their expensive cuirasses. Dark Elves, in stark contrast, become more deadly the more viscera has been spilled. They have a focus on wicked, frenzied units that evoke the sinister, un-Disneyfied versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In keeping with that cruel theme, they have a habit of taking slaves after each victory, who can either be put to work to improve your economy or sacrificed to gain bonuses – including the ability to summon floating cities called Black Arks that can move around the seas and recruit units.

New World, New Rules

When attempting to take full advantage of all these new faction mechanics, combined with the ability to explore ruins and shipwrecks, powerful rites that can be activated for strong temporary bonuses, and the overarching battle for control of the Vortex that determines victory, the amount of micromanagement can start to feel overwhelming. The theme of Warhammer 2’s campaign seems to be that you’ll never sit around hitting End Turn while waiting for buildings and armies to finish, which is an improvement from the lulls in the first game. But there was definitely an adjustment period where I had to learn that prioritizing a few things was a better idea than to try to play with all the shiny new toys at once.

The interface has also seen some major improvements, notably in the ability to zoom directly from the 3D campaign map to the strategic overview without having to open a separate menu. There’s still a lot of room for growth here, though. You still can’t initiate diplomacy by clicking on a faction’s cities or units, for instance. And diplomacy itself remains decidedly behind most other modern strategy games in its versatility: wars are still all-or-nothing affairs, an end to which can only be negotiated with an exchange of cash and each side keeping what they’ve captured. But Creative Assembly is on the right track, taking baby steps toward a decent diplomacy system.

THE VERDICT

I feel like a broken record saying this is the best Total War game so far, since I’ve felt that way about each major release since Attila. But it really is true: Creative Assembly’s designers are honing their campaign and faction design consistently from game to game, and that progression is clearly on display in Total War Warhammer 2. There’s not as much progress as I’d have liked to see in the politics and diplomacy systems, which show only modest improvements. But each of the four factions is a distinct and fun-to-play addition to the growing roster. The story and objective-driven campaign is a league above anything we’ve seen in the entire Total War series before in both design and presentation. I’m anxious to see how it all fits together when the combined Moral Empires campaign is released to owners of both games later this year.

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