The Legend of Zelda, A Breath of Fresh Air.

Well, it finally happened. A few weeks back, I succumbed to Nintendo’s charm by purchasing the obsolete console, the Wii U. There was only one main reason for it though, and that was to play Breath of the Wild. The 18th game in the Legend of Zelda franchise, Breath of the Wild promised players a brand new way of play, with a strong focus on surviving in a harsh open-world environment.

My reasoning for purchasing the Wii U was a total surprise, considering how the Wii had affected my opinion of Nintendo as a whole. A Nintendo fanboy through and through in my younger years, I felt let down by Nintendo’s move to the more casual gamer. Having drifted away for some time, was Breath of the Wild the game to pull me back in?

As most people are aware, Nintendo’s Wii U didn’t have the most successful run as a console. It arrived hot off the heels from Nintendo’s biggest selling home console to date; the Wii, and unfortunately, the Wii U failed to make anywhere near the same impact of its predecessor.

Why is that though? There were a lot of factors, but the Wii U seemed to miss the mark in appealing to the casual and core gamers. During its short lifespan, the console saw an upsettingly small amount of exclusives. Sure, some of the first-party games they produced were superb, but with other developers quickly cutting their support, it just wasn’t enough.

There were plenty of other reasons to factor in, such as the insufficient hard drive, the strong competition it faced and the cost of the machine. There’s a whole host of explanations as to why the Wii U struggled, but it at least went out with a bang this year thanks to the innovative adventure game; Breath of the Wild.

The game was announced way back in 2013, and during its development, Nintendo attempted a number of crazy designs that the franchise had never seen before. Concept art revealed earlier this year showed Link playing the guitar, and Hyrule even being invaded by aliens.

Upon its release, Breath of the Wild acted as a major launch title for Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. It also represented itself as the final first-party release for the Wii U. Unsurprisingly, the game was met with enormous praise, with some critics even naming it the best Zelda yet.

The game follows the standard storytelling structure from the franchise that most gamers should be familiar with; our main protagonist, Link the Hylian, attempts to save Hyrule and Zelda from the evil Ganon. It’s a straightforward plot that appears in most of the games, but each entry in the series has been tweaked in slightly different ways.

In Breath of the Wild, Link wakes up from a century long sleep. Riddled with amnesia, he finds himself in the vast landscape of Hyrule, which is being ravaged by the malevolent Calamity Ganon. Princess Zelda has attempted to contain Ganon in Hyrule Castle, but now she requires the aid of her appointed knight before the kingdom is destroyed forever.

When starting the game, players are thrown into the unknown. Guided by a mysterious figure, Link learns that he needs to reclaim the four Divine Beasts from Ganon. These hulking, ancient machines were once used to fight evil before they were turned against the very people that needed them.

After discovering his destiny, players will begin to get a sense of just how huge the map is in Breath of the Wild. Almost twelve times the size of Twilight Princess, the entirety of Hyrule can be reached by becoming a brave adventurer. Whilst the sheer size of Hyrule seems rather daunting at first, gamers will soon realise there are plenty of ways to explore the vast kingdom.

However, Link can’t just explore without taking the proper precautions. Dangers await Link throughout the land, as he must stay equipped for the right situation. Gamers have to find a way to survive harsh conditions, from the freezing cold and to the scorching heat.

Whereas previous games allowed Link to somehow find heart pieces stuffed into plants and vases, Breath of the Wild now forces the gamer to rely on cooking to keep their health and stamina full. Yes, Link can now be his very own master chef. Expect Link’s own brand of ready-meals in stores soon.

source – @TristanACooper

Thankfully, cooking in Breath of the Wild is relatively simple. All players require is a cooking pot, a fire and some tasty ingredients. Those ingredients can range from fresh fruit and vegetables to raw meat and fish. Some recipes can even be discovered in homes and stables, and fairies can even boost the stats of some meals.

The wildlife is rather diverse in the game, but then certain players may feel a bit weird about randomly killing some of the animals in the game, such as the cute foxes. For example, my Link survived brilliantly on a diet of mushrooms, fruits and nuts. He eventually became one with nature. He couldn’t even eat one of those cool frogs.

Cooking isn’t the only new thing that’s introduced to the franchise, as Link’s weapons now have added durability to them! Hooray! Durability is a sore subject with some gamers, as now Link has to carefully use and forage for his own weapons. These can range from swords to spears, bows and even shields.

It’s a mechanic that has been utilised in various games before, such as Dark Souls and Oblivion, but in Breath of the Wild, it’s a brand new concept that may frustrate some Zelda fans that aren’t particularly fond of the idea.

It’s understandable really, but then enemies tend to drop their weapons quite often. Players just have to be careful with the stats of their weapons, so they’re not wasting strong items on unnecessary battles. Shields can also be destroyed instantaneously by some of the stronger enemies if the proper precautions aren’t taken.

This added durability, unfortunately, involves some of the series’ most iconic weapons though, such as the Master Sword and Hylian Shield. Once Link has received the treasured sword, gamers will soon realise that its energy will run out if it’s constantly equipped for unintended use (however, if the sword is equipped for the final part of the game it’s true purpose prevents this).

It can be a frustrating mechanic in some parts of the game, but it wasn’t necessarily a game-breaker here. Weapons were just used correctly, and other methods were utilised to combat enemies and complete puzzles. Having said that though, it is totally reasonable to see where some gamers are coming from, as breakability can become a bit of a chore when you’re struggling.

Whilst exploring the dangerous terrain, it quickly became apparent that Link needs a certain level of stamina to get around. Providing Link with a stamina wheel was first introduced in Skyward Sword, but in Breath of the Wild players really need to keep an eye on their stamina, as it can make the difference between life and death. Just don’t find yourself in the middle of a lake with little to no stamina. You’ll get Sonic the Hedgehog flashbacks.

Due to the inventive weather system that Breath of the Wild employs, players will come to absolutely despise the sight of rain whilst they’re trekking. Cliffside’s become much harder to climb when water is involved, and let’s not even mention the worrying appearance of thunder and lightning. If any metallic weapons are equipped in a thunderstorm, then Link’s in for a nice shock.

The weather constantly changes in Hyrule, and the stark contrast between a sunny day and a thunderous evening is a sight to behold. It’s hard to think of any other game that manages to implement a weather system so brilliantly, and it allows for some truly atmospheric moments. Paragliding across the lands during thunder is always a pleasing experience.

To acquire extra hearts or stamina in Breath of the Wild, Link now has to collect four ‘spirit orbs’, which can be found in shrines that are hidden throughout the domain. Each one has a completely different puzzle or a tough challenger, where players have to overcome the trial to gain one orb.

In total, there are a grand number of 120 shrines which are totally optional to complete. Some quests are also tied to shrines, where players will have to decipher some of the hidden messages and riddles provided by some of the NPCs in the game. There are all sorts of interesting ways to find hidden shrines.

The addition of these mini-dungeons is a neat idea, but patience is essential if players want to complete all the shrines. After a while, it became slightly infuriating to stock up on plenty of hearts and stamina boosts. For instance, some shrines relied on motion controls and it completely sucked the fun out of the game at one point. There is a time and place for motion controls Nintendo, and Zelda is not it.

Some of these shrines rely on an understanding of physics and the new abilities given to Link. New talents are available through Zelda’s very first ‘smartphone’, the ancient and powerful Sheikah Slate. These new skills consist of a variety of ways to help Link survive in the game, which adds a fresh dynamic to the way people play Zelda.

Remote bombs can be created, ‘Magnesis’ can be used to magnetise, ‘Cryonis’ allows the formation of ice blocks over liquid and ‘Stasis’ temporarily stops objects, which can be manipulated with kinetic energy.

As well as being essential in completing some shrines, these functions can also be lifesavers for Link when he’s facing some of Hyrule’s evil inhabitants. An upgraded stasis can completely render some foes immobile for a temporary amount of time, which can change the tide of a fight.

The ancient slate also allows players to explore the map, allowing Link to pinpoint certain locations. Fast travel can also be unlocked via the map once shrines and towers have been accessed. It’s a ridiculously helpful tool, and it’s topped off with the use of a camera (that’s some fascinating ancient tech for you). Using the camera is great fun, but it would be much nicer to export Link’s photos with ease.

Despite being new/old technology, the Sheikah Slate never really feels out of place. It looks great, and it really provides the series with a refreshing change. Most of the skills can even be upgraded during Link’s journey, providing neat bonuses to those who bother to collect the necessary materials.

Even though the game boasts 120 mini-dungeons, Breath of the Wild appears to have done away with some of the huge intimidating dungeons that the franchise is known for. The four Divine Beasts are all accessible and have their own bosses and puzzles, but they never truly feel substantial enough.

The Divine Beasts slightly resemble the goliaths that appear in Shadow of the Colossus, but unfortunately, they’re just not as impressive or imposing. The chambers inside these machinations would feel a little more exciting and perilous if there was more to explore. The lack of diverse enemies inside of them and the easily solvable puzzles result in a bit of a disappointing experience, especially after the exciting series of events that always lead to entering the Beasts.

Bokoblins, Moblins and Lizalfos all make their return to the series, and Lizalfo’s in Breath of the Wild are almost just as annoying as their Ocarina of Time counterparts. As is tradition though, the night often reveals skeletons that will stop at nothing to kill you. They’re amusing to combat though, as Link can easily decapitate them and throw their skulls off high ledges, which was a tactic used regularly for comedic effect.

Some enemies vary based on location, such as the flying Keese, the blobs of goo known as Chuchus, and the inherently annoying Wizzrobes and the Octorocks. Players will discover that Octorocks like to ruin people’s fun by pretending to be tempting treasure chests. They are the worst.

One of the deadliest enemies in the game are the Guardians, ancient beings that were once programmed to protect Hyrule. Now used for evil, players must be more than prepared to face them. They are relentless killing machines, armed with a powerful laser that can destroy shields if Link doesn’t deflect their lasers properly.

At first, they’re simply terrifying to approach. The background music changes whenever a Guardian locks onto Link, and then the heart rate ramps up. They’re really challenging at first, and loads of fun to combat on horseback. When armed with the Master Sword though, they’re a breeze, particularly once stasis has been applied. Just don’t attempt two at a time.

There’s one opponent in Hyrule though that strikes fear into some of the braver adventurers out there, and that’s the Lynel. These centaur-like creatures are the toughest beings in the entire game. Players must maintain a certain safe distance, as these intimidating foes are equipped with a sword, shield, spear and bow.

Lynels come in different forms and they take an awful lot of practice to kill. Still, the Guardians and Lynels are some of the best opponents to encounter in entire library of Zelda games! They have a certain presence about them, and it’s simply exhilarating to face them once Link is properly geared up. If players are feeling bold enough, a well-timed paraglide jump can even help Link mount a Lynel.

There really isn’t a set of rules for completing the game and rescuing Zelda, but it must be noted that Hyrule Castle can be easily accessed and finished if players take specific shortcuts. It’s a bit of a shame really because some skills can stop players from really exploring the castle. Bearing in mind the fact that Hyrule Castle is treated as the most dangerous place on the map, it can be a bit of a disappointment.

Of course, it’s entirely up to the gamer to decide on how they tackle the final quest, and in previous games, Ganon has been a complete pushover with the right tools. If players really want a proper challenge, they can fight Lynels and a huge selection of Guardians on the way. Perhaps the castle should have been a bit more linear? It’s just too easy for some people to skip a majority of it.

There are plenty of references to other parts of Hyrule’s history located throughout the game, and it’s rewarding to seek out some of the hidden secrets of the map. The Lost Woods makes a triumphant return, and it’s home to some of the cutest character designs in the game; the Koroks. Link will discover that the giant Korok Hestu is unarguably one of the greatest musicians of our generation.

Gamers will realise, this is where the game really shines. Breath of the Wild has an outstanding art direction, and it’s one of the most beautiful games of this generation. Zora’s Domain has never looked so outstanding before. The vibrant colours almost burst out at you, and the shrines and Guardians are clear examples of that.

It has a simply sublime art style, and it feels ever so slightly similar to a Studio Ghibli film. When Link manages to climb one of the towers in Breath of the Wild, it’s compulsory to stop and admire the view. If players are lucky enough, they can even witness a beautiful sunset from one of the tall towers. On one occasion, I found myself listening to a Rito playing the accordion as thunder bellowed around us. It was something else.

There are few games that can be considered art. There’s only a small selection that can attest to video games being art, and titles such as The Witcher 3, Bioshock Infinite and Uncharted 4 help prove that. Breath of the Wild though, should be entered as one of the strongest examples of videogame art. It is simply breath-taking in parts, and I’ve often found myself pausing several times to take it all in.

It’s clear that the game borrows elements of previous games, such as Wind Waker. The colourful palette is there, and the cartoonish stylisation slightly resembles it. It’s just been upgraded to keep a level of realism to it.

Breath of the Wild’s map is full of serendipitous moments that help solidify the game’s position as one of the best entries into the franchise. Interactions with all sorts of humans and creatures often results in some simply charming moments, and the finer touches help make this world feel alive. Let’s not talk about how we can’t pet dogs yet though, Nintendo.

The sheer scope of Breath of the Wild cannot be played down, and thankfully it’s not completely style over substance. There are plenty of things to do, and it stands with Nintendo’s modus operandi. It’s essentially pure fun. Sure, there were times where my frustration almost reached peak levels, but then the game provided me with so many mesmerising and unforgettable moments.

If Nintendo does decide to keep the same formula for whatever Zelda game is next, then they may need to do some work on dungeon building. The thought of having to stock up and complete mini-quests before going on dangerous excursions is too good an idea to pass up. The Divine Beasts themselves are superb ideas, but they just need a little expansion.

The survival aspect of Breath of the Wild has some solid foundations for any following Zelda games. Exploring the harsh wilderness was challenging but ultimately rewarding, and cooking was a fun skill. Even the little cooking tune is pleasant. Fans will also be happy to know that a selection of songs featured in the game are simply slowed down versions of old favourites!

My experience with Breath of the Wild resulted in the most fun I’ve spent with a video game in ages. The gameplay was a refreshing change of pace, and unsurprisingly there were hardly any issues or bugs with the game. Unfortunately, there are some slight frame rate problems on the Wii U, but considering the sheer size of the game and the level of physics, it comes as no surprise. Still, there wasn’t a single sign of any glitches throughout my play-through and reportedly, the Switch version works perfectly.

It’s safe to assume that Nintendo won me back with Breath of the Wild. For a while now, first-party releases from other consoles have been brilliantly polished and fun to play, but they didn’t reach the levels of adventure and enjoyment that Breath of the Wild boasted. Uncharted 4 was almost there, but too many scripted events got in the way.

How does it rank though, in the long list of Zelda games? It’s certainly up there with some of the greatest. Personally, Ocarina of Time has never been bested. This might be due to a sense of nostalgia for a game that was replayed countless times in my youth, but then Ocarina of Time still feels like a magical experience that stands up to the test of the time.

Breath of the Wild might be a very strong contender for game of the year though. It reminds us that Nintendo can deliver some of the finest video games ever produced, with a certain polish that most games seem to be without nowadays (here’s looking at you, Mass Effect: Andromeda).

If you haven’t had a chance to play Breath of the Wild yet, then it must be rectified immediately. There’s a reason as to why it’s one of the best-reviewed games on Metacritic. Sure, some players may find some aspects of the game a little unrefined, but personally it’s an experience that I have been without for a long time. Go out there and play Breath of the Wild. Just don’t harm the Cuccos.

Mass Effect Andromeda and how The Witcher has ruined me

Since its release, Mass Effect: Andromeda has received a very mixed response from gamers, who just aren’t happy with Bioware’s latest offering. Based on the original hit trilogy, Andromeda is the fourth instalment in the science fiction video game franchise.

Taking place in an entirely different galaxy, Mass Effect: Andromeda introduces two new protagonists to the mix, Sara and Scott Ryder. Their aim is to establish new worlds for mankind, as they leave the Milky Way to discover new technology and new opportunities.

As they explore this uncharted galaxy, the Ryder family discovers something that threatens the very existence of life in Andromeda. To examine and combat this deadly threat, players will have to discover new worlds with the aid of their very own squad.

After completing the main story along with a huge selection of side-quests, is it fair to say that Andromeda deserves some of its unfavourable reviews? With an average 4.7 on Metacritic, it almost seems like this is Bioware’s worst Mass Effect yet.

But does Andromeda even stack up to the previous three games? Is it a complete trainwreck? It’s hard to say, but here’s my verdict, based on a playthrough with Sara Ryder.

Andromeda begins its expansive journey by literally throwing the player onto a new planet, as Sara follows her father to discover a strange abnormality. An N7 Pathfinder, Sara’s father Alex is voiced by Clancy Brown, and he provides an example of just how cool N7 recruits are. Just like fellow N7 Commander Shepard, Alec simply kicks alien ass.

When players begin the game, there’s a clear sense of mystery and adventure. Set with intrigue, players will be enveloped by the terrific atmosphere that the game presents. Ryder is quickly paired up with fellow human Liam Kosta, a response specialist who later becomes a valuable teammate.

At first, Bioware nails that all too familiar feeling that the franchise is renowned for. Harking back to when Shepard first encountered Saren, or when the Collector’s attacked in ME2, Ryder’s brief incursion on this new planet feels new and exciting.

But then, you notice something the second you pull a gun on the enemy. Where’s the detailed combat wheel that every Mass Effect game has featured? Suddenly, the ability to control my teammate has been removed entirely.

Yes, for some inane reason Bioware have done away with that truly solid system that enabled players to coordinate a plan of attack. Instead, they’ve replaced it with a poorly designed and ultimately forgettable system for equipping abilities just for Ryder. It seems like a huge step back.

Whereas Mass Effect previously allowed players to construct their characters’ story around whatever class they begin with, Andromeda allows the player to swap their profiles on the switch. This may make for some interesting combos, but it sort of feels a bit cheap.

Thanks to this weird decision, players now have way too many powers to select or boost. Excluding specific enhancements, there are roughly 24 different powers that can be equipped. Having previously played as a biotic god before, it did seem wise to select throw, singularity and overload for good measure, but there are just too many options to choose from.

However, Ryder is much more mobile than Commander Shepard has ever been, thanks to the inclusion of a new snazzy jetpack. Allowing the player to boost forwards or upwards, it does get you into those hard to reach areas, and it adds a quick getaway solution when facing enemies. It also makes a nice sound, so there’s that.

Along with the departure of controllable teammates, Bioware also decided to rid the player of customisation options for the entire team. ME2 didn’t necessarily have an amazing variety of options, but the ability to equip different weapons for different characters allowed for further freedom.

Oddly enough, this just isn’t an issue for Ryder. If anything, you’ll notice there are just too many options for the main character. There are four sets of armour for Ryder to wear, including the helmet, chest, arms and the legs. You can research and develop these armour pieces, but there’s a countless range of different designs.

Remember how annoying the inventory system was for the first Mass Effect? Well, buckle up, because congratulations should be awarded to the development team for somehow managing to create an even worse system than ever before. With long lists of options and modifications for weaponry and armour, players will just end up getting lost in the midst of the menus.

There really is just too much, and it doesn’t help that most armour pieces can be upgraded at least ten times, as long as players have the ridiculous amounts of resources. Those resources are acquired soon after you leave the first planet, and brace yourselves – as you have to probe for them!

If players thought ME2’s system was monotonous, they’ve seen nothing yet. This time, you have to travel long distances on various planets until a mining area is unlocked. Once it’s unlocked, gamers will still have to drive around until a rich source is discovered! Whoever thought this was a good idea, needs to rethink their positioning in the industry.

Players will notice that when evaluating planets, they’ll spend most of their time in this new six-wheeled vehicle. Thankfully, it can traverse planets with ease, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the exploration is done in the damn vehicle.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of using the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight will know that it was an unnecessary addition that took over a majority of the gameplay, and in Andromeda players will be using it for around two-thirds of the game. Oh, it doesn’t have guns by the way. You have to awkwardly exit to engage in combat.

Some planets are lush with wildlife, but there’s no need for Ryder to travel across empty desert dunes to get to a certain point on the map. In some cases, most areas feel just as empty as some of the lifeless planets from the first Mass Effect! You know, the entry to the franchise which was released in 2007.

Players will soon realise that they’ll encounter the same enemies on different planets as well and that the galaxy severely lacks a diverse ecosystem. There is a reason for this which is explained much later in the story, but it feels like a bit of a cop out to save the designers a bit of time.

Still, one of the most important questions remains unanswered. How is the new ensemble that helps out our main protagonist throughout their journey? Well, they’re surprisingly okay. As is tradition with Bioware, they have managed to include a mind-numbingly boring human character into the mix, but it’s not a terrible effort.

If players are playing Mass Effect properly, they won’t be focusing on the humans in their squad anyway. Everybody remembers just how painfully dull James Vega was, and now the biotic Cora can now join his ranks as an ultimately forgettable, one-note character. Instead, players should shift their focus to the new Asari and Krogan for example.

During the playthrough, two members never left my side; Peebee and Jaal. An Asari with an interest in ancient technology, Peebee seemed like the perfect choice. She’s certainly different compared to my top-tier wife Liara, but her impetuous attitude is a welcome change of pace. Obviously, she became my romance, because she’s Asari. Duh.

Jaal belongs to a new species in Andromeda, the Angara. His personal story in Andromeda has the most weight and taking him along for missions felt essential. Having Jaal and Peebee travel hostile worlds with Ryder also provided some pretty entertaining conversations between all three characters.

Considering that these new teammates will constantly be compared to the original trilogy’s characters, Bioware has done an alright job. It was a mighty task to introduce a new squad that follows in the footsteps of Garrus, Wrex or Tali, but they made a commendable effort. If anything, Jaal may become a favourite for some and heck, even Liam has his moments.

What some players will immediately realise is the significant lack of well-known voice actors. The main VAs in the game are perfectly fine, but the original trilogy with rife with big names; Keith David, Martin Sheen, Carrie-Ann Moss and Seth Green. Hell, Seth Green was in every game and Yvonne Strahovski voiced a teammate.

There’s only one recurring character who has a recognisable voice, and that’s doctor Lexi. Voiced by Natalie Dormer, she makes a few appearances during cutscenes and is often found in the medical bay. Considering the franchise has been known for boasting such big names though, it feels like a bit of a disappointment. If anything, it used to add a certain gravitas to the series.

Specific quests need to be chosen carefully, as there are just too many fetch quests dotted around the numerous planets. It is unfortunately slightly reminiscent of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and often completing various quests can feel like a massive drag.

However, what is utterly baffling is Bioware’s decision to incorporate a major plot point in one of the tedious collectable quests. Something that can be entirely missed throughout the game, adds an extra layer to Andromeda’s story, which should’ve been prominently featured at some point of the game. For fans, it’s almost essential viewing.

It cannot be stressed enough that all of the allies’ quests should be tackled because they result in some of the better writing witnessed in Andromeda. Funnily enough, the two humans aboard Ryder’s ship have some of the more entertaining loyalty quests, with Liam’s having some funny, sharp dialogue throughout.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the final quest. The main villain that has plagued Ryder during the game, the Archon, is a terrible attempt at creating an interesting character. For a franchise that has given us Saren, the Collectors and most importantly the Reapers (here’s looking at you Harbinger), the Archon completely fails to deliver.

Bioware appeared to have missed the memo for creating villains in Andromeda, as the Archon is hardly intimidating or even remarkable. The writers have supplied no interesting backstory and no sympathetic reasoning for his cause. He simply hates other species because Bioware forgot to come up with a valid reason.

Some may deem it unfair to constantly compare Andromeda to the previous trilogy, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Andromeda has been in development for years, and the last entry was released in 2012. The first entry is almost ten years old now and it even that does a better job with the animation!

Shepard will always be the greatest of all time, but at least Ryder is somewhat serviceable. She’s inexperienced, and that is reflected during the game. She’s burdened with a mighty task, and her development is somewhat entertaining to watch. Hopefully, later games will fully expand on her story as well.

It is rather difficult to recommend Mass Effect: Andromeda to gamers, let alone fans of the franchise. It might not deserve some of the sheer hate that it’s currently receiving, but then it’s part of a genre that has been almost perfected with the original trilogy and games like The Witcher 3.

Perhaps we have been spoiled in the past, but thanks to games like The Witcher 3, a new standard has been set in the RPG genre. Developed in less time than Andromeda, CD Projekt delivered something that was rich with great storytelling, solid animation and superb attention to detail.

Yes, it’s all Geralt’s fault. After having spent numerous amounts of time on the game, taking in the beautiful landscapes and defeating monsters whilst romancing a hot sorceress, I realised that I had experienced a game like none other.

It’s funny because at first, I hadn’t appreciated The Witcher 3 for it’s worth when I started the game. With time though, it soon became clear that this was a game developed with a clear love for the material and its characters. Both of the downloadable content offered even stood up against full video game releases.

CD Projekt ruined my gaming experiences with the RPG genre because it completely set a new standard. Perhaps not every game developer should aspire to be like CD Projekt, but it wouldn’t hurt. When you get a franchise like Mass Effect which is adored by thousands, it should be treated with care.

Bioware reportedly handed down the fourth game to a different development team, whose previous work on the franchise was Mass Effect 3’s unnecessary multiplayer, along with some of the downloadable content. Of course, most of the team behind the previous games are no longer with the company, but it just seems utterly bizarre to see it handed down the development line.

Maybe to some, it came as no surprise to see the mixed response for the game. Dragon Age: Inquisition ruffled some feathers, but here it feels like Bioware completely dropped the ball on one of their biggest franchises.

For fans of the series like myself, it’s a massive disappointment to see that Andromeda failed to deliver. Bear in mind, it isn’t the worst game in the world and I didn’t particularly hate the experience. It just felt very lacklustre, especially for a Mass Effect game.

So, does Andromeda actually deserve the criticism? Yes and no. Some might find some elements of the game enjoyable, so check it out when it’s cheaper. Also, Bioware has responded to the criticism and they’re apparently listening. So there’s that. That does not condone some of the abuse that the developers have received, however.

Anyway, I’m going to talk Saren out of working for the Reapers again to be reminded of how great science fiction games can be. Shepard.

Tomb Raider, a brief review and insight into character development within videogames.

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The Tomb Raider series has always been an expansive one, with countless videogames, comics, two appalling movies and a selection of merchandise. Since her first appearance on the Playstation and Sega Saturn in 1996, she was suddenly everywhere. She became world famous, as her pixelated scantily clad body adorned many posters, magazines and newspapers.

For over a decade, she was embodied as a ‘sexy’ British adventurer, on the search for relics in the most dangerous of places. Armed with big breasts, an impractical outfit and two dual-wielded pistols, she took down anyone that stood in her way. She was a feminist’s nightmare; an over sexualised icon for the male ‘chauvinistic’ gaming masses.

Since 1996, it can be fair to say that the gaming industry has changed. It’s matured. Lara’s popularity waned towards the later sequels, and the original developers Core Design soon disbanded after the sixth instalment. It was then up to Crystal Dynamics to create a brave and bold new rebooted Tomb Raider for a much different audience.

4 years in development, Crystal Dynamics revealed their new reboot at E3 in 2011. It appeared that they still retained the base elements of Lara, such as her adventuring spark and her quintessential ‘Britishness’, but with it came some unique traits, rarely seen in games nowadays; vulnerability, depth and an apparent personality. Crystal Dynamics desired to go back to the roots of Lara Croft, by throwing her in the deep end, as she was set to be reborn. 

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Gameplay footage revealed a young Lara showing off her talents, as she hunted, explored and for the first time, killed. With each moment, it appeared that Lara was struggling both physically and emotionally. A new first for the franchise, this Lara Croft felt effectively human. The gameplay showed fans and critics that this was a lead character that was young, scared and inexperienced. A strong female protagonist was born, in the form of a big bosomed character that was admittedly a little one-dimensional.

There’ll always be a soft spot for strong female characters in modern culture, such as Ripley (Alien), Veronica Mars and Lisbeth Salander (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but the videogame industry severely lacks any recognisable faces. Female protagonists struggle to make an impression in an industry which is rife with manly space marines and beardy, antagonistic Russians.

It can be argued that the industry does include characters such as Chell (Portal) and Samus Aran (Metroid), but they lack a certain complexity to them. Samus has barely voiced any emotions in the past two decades, and Chell’s character has little to no development in the series whatsoever. Crystal Dynamics redesign of Lara Croft retains elements that makes characters so interesting; personality, depth and vulnerability.

Such mannerisms are hardly explored in the gaming industry, which is a sad fact. Whilst Halo 4 recently touched upon Master Chief’s weaknesses, he was still a bulking, unstoppable Spartan warrior who could take down an entire alien armada alone. It appears in all of the Call of Duty games, and it’s also apparent in Assassin’s Creed. They all have strong male leads, without any significant weaknesses to them.

The only example of recent character development that has been used in a clever manner is in Dead Space. Deeply troubled and affected by the events which transpired on the UMG Ishimura, Isaac Clarke reigns in interest by having tragedy attached to his personality. He faces some truly horrifying moments throughout his dismal ‘engineering’ career, and it makes you emphasise with the character, and that’s what a good story should warrant; feelings towards an individual.

Developers Naughty Dog borrowed many elements from Tomb Raider to include into their highly successful series, Uncharted. They mixed up the action-adventure formula though, by creating their uniquely brilliant character; Nathan Drake.

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Voiced by the infamous Nolan North, Nathan Drake was new territory for most gamers. He was a quick-witted adventurer on the search for forgotten treasure, but for the first time ever he was a protagonist who was surprisingly susceptible to his surroundings. It’s a great trait for a videogame character to embody, as Drake stumbled over rocks, struggled traversing great heights and was deeply affected by some the events that transpire throughout his adventures.

Drake wasn’t defined by his weaknesses, but adding the vulnerability made for a much more interesting character. A sense of realism and complexity were included, which strengthened the story. The threats felt convincing throughout, and the loss of Drake’s friends would actually mean something. A player could actually have an emotional response to the game, which is a remarkable achievement.

Coincidentally, Uncharted’s impact with its stellar storytelling and captivating gameplay appears to have influenced Crystal Dynamics rebooted Tomb Raider. It’s a wonderful little circle, with elements that have finally been mixed together to create a perfect action-adventure game.

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The new Tomb Raider has been jokingly marketed as Uncharted ‘with breasts’, but it’s naïve to label it in such a manner. Crystal Dynamics bring their own original ideas to the table, with greatly revised gaming mechanics. Utilising a bow and arrow, a trusty pick-ace and a vast array of weaponry, Lara Croft is a force to be reckoned with. Of course, she doesn’t just pick up these immediately, as a selection of skills sets have to be purchased later into the story.

The story is delightfully simple, but it’s rich with some fantastic script work. A search for the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai results in a frightful set of events, as a particular crewmember is kidnapped for supernatural purposes. As players progress through the story they’ll notice that there’s a severe lack of romantic subplot. As a result of this, this Tomb Raider passes the ‘Bechdel test’.

Known by many feminists, the particular test is used to identify gender bias in fiction, to discover whether or not a woman discusses something other than an interest in men. Hardly any works of fiction in popular culture pass the test, but Tomb Raider thankfully succeeds in avoiding any sappy dialogue.

The single-player campaign has a decent length, coming in at around 12-15 hours, depending on whether or not the player desires to complete the collectibles and challenges. The story isn’t bogged down by the length, as it’s just the right amount of time spent to get to know Lara, and to watch her evolve into something else entirely.

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Level design is also something worth congratulating Crystal Dynamics on. Throughout the game the scenery changes, from the dangerous snow-capped mountains, straight to the bloody depths where most of the enemies reside. The tombs that Lara can access optionally are not necessarily puzzling and can be completed rather swiftly, but they’re fun nonetheless.

All in all, Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider is as astonishing success. Not only does it provide the player with an entertaining story and engaging gameplay, it also proves that a game can be carried by a vulnerable female protagonist. Not only must the game’s story be awarded for its feat, but the graphics come into play here. Lara’s emotions may not be so apparent, if it wasn’t for the phenomenal graphics that are on display (especially on the PC version). Her face conveys pain remarkably well, as she grimaces and writhes throughout her journey.

It has been too long for the industry to receive a strong female figure amongst the masses, which is a damn shame. However, the videogame industry has finally received their own icon that has been perfectly reborn for a more mature audience.

Do videogames require strong character development and a deep story? No, of course they don’t. Nonetheless, some of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had have had deep stories with interesting characters. Tomb Raider joins the ranks of Uncharted 2, and the first Mass Effect. Games I hold in high regard. Is this the game of 2013? It’s too early to tell, but any other releases this year are going to have hard time to better such a fantastic and enjoyable experience.