Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out tomorrow and it will become the primary focus of my gaming free time for the foreseeable future. Which means R.I.P. to any games I was trying to finish before then. There’s quite a few games I’ve started and put several hours of time into but I haven’t completed. Is there a chance I’ll eventually finish them? Sure. But I haven’t done a full review in a while so I thought I’d combine the games I’ve played but not completed within the last month or so into one big review.
The games in question offer a wide variety of genres – I’ll be talking about The Witcher 3 (about 8-10 hours of play on PS4), Sid Meier’s Civilization 6 (about 10 hours of play on the Switch), Darksiders 3 (about 10 hours of play on PS4) and Valkyria Chronicles 4 (about 20 hours of play on the Switch). An Action RPG, Strategy, Action, and Strategy RPG. Got just about all my bases covered.
I’m going to try and take a slightly different format with this review as I’ll talk about my experiences overall with them – what I enjoyed about them and why I found myself not finishing them or eager to return to them. Most of the reviews I posted last year were games that I really enjoyed and wanted to gush over, while games that I only played for a little bit and didn’t like I ended up not talking about that much. I also fell away from my mini-reviews of what I’d played each month after I got busy during the holiday season – I’ll likely be returning to them in February but I’m not going to bother with January because this mostly covers everything I played (except for one other game which I will also make a review for and will talk about later this week).
Okay, with all that out of the way, let’s talk about games.
I guess the starting point will be The Witcher 3 since one of my goals for January was to finally dive in and see if I would be blown away by this game as much as everyone else. It started off very strong for me as I talked about earlier. However after moving on to the first big open area after the intro area I started to feel overwhelmed and also just plain frustrated. All the things I liked about the intro – the way you had big quests and preparation for the monster fights was important in a unique way that other action RPGs tended to miss out on – fell off once I entered the first main area.
I was inundated with possible quests after running through a few towns. The interesting ones – Witcher Contracts where you go after monsters – were all much higher than my current level. (For reference, I’m currently at level 7, but one of the first Contracts I picked up was for Level 35.) The other story quests would then throw groups of monsters at you willy-nilly without warning, completely axing the idea of preparation for big fights in favor of the typical ARPG hack and slash at mobs until they die. And like Assassin’s Creed, Witcher 3’s combat is not very well suited for fighting multiple enemies at a time. The best quest was one where I had to clear out a haunted island and figure out the mysterious circumstances behind its haunting. At its climax I fought a single spirit that occasionally summoned other things, but I was able to use strategy, preparation, and knowledge from my Witcherpedia to fight the boss successfully. I had fun!
What killed me was the Bloody Baron sidequest. A lot of people have marked this as the high benchmark of The Witcher 3’s storytelling, but I honestly didn’t find it terribly different than any other RPG quest. Of course, I’m only 2/3 done with it because the Bloody Baron quest takes bloody forever to do. Just when I think I’m at the end of the questline, something else comes up and I have two more places to visit and they’re both in different places across the map, and then if I do that I have to run all the way back to report to the baron for a few more words of dialogue and then I’m back out again.
Did I mention that I’m level 7? Yeah, it’s also a very grindy game and it feels like there’s a lot of cool stuff in the game but it’ll take forever to get to the point where I can use all my options. Each skill tree requires you to put 8 points into it before you unlock the next level of the tree (and there are four different trees), but you can only have a few abilities in use at a time – until you get to a high enough level to have more abilities, but even then you get a maximum of 18 abilities with a total of 100 to choose from? I like options as much as the next guy, but it’s just overwhelming. Let’s not forget the generous amount of recipes and crafting I can do, except I can’t do because I don’t have the materials and you don’t get a lot of gold, unless you do Contracts but most are beyond my level.
While we’re on the subject of overwhelming, let’s breach Civilization 6. I finally bit the bullet and got the game for Switch. My plan is to take advantage of the handheld option of Civ 6 until all the expansions come out for PC and then get the complete game there during a big discount sale (which you know will happen). I’ve started a few games and just like in my 4X review I’m pretty overwhelmed with everything and am not sure exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
By the time I got to the 1600s in the first game I played, most of the AI were outclassing me in technology, army, and everything else. I felt like I had a grasp on what I was supposed to be doing, but at the same time I was clearly being outpaced. And this was on the standard starting difficulty. The menu is also fairly hard to navigate on the Switch – you’d think having a touchscreen would help but most of the touch controls aren’t particularly useful and it’s just easier to press buttons. And since I’m primarily playing it on handheld the screen is often filled with data and makes trying to read everything a little awkward.
There’s also the annoying factor that no matter how many civilizations you start with, one will always start nearly on top of you. I tried to start a new game with a large map and fewer other civs, just to give myself plenty of time and space to expand and maybe have an easier time to get used to the game, but ended up running into Teddy Roosevelt on my 5th turn and before we reached AD he had declared war on me. And this was on the second easiest setting. It seems like some of the minutiae are streamlined, but so far the overall game is rubbing me the wrong way.
Let’s switch over (pun not intended) to Valkyria Chronicles 4 for a minute. Everything I’ve complained about so far regarding Civilization 6 and Witcher 3 isn’t present in VC4. You start off with a slow intro mission that gives you a good tutorial on what you’re supposed to be doing, general tactics, and what kinds of soldiers are going to be in your arsenal. From there your personal squad grows until you’re fighting crazy battles that you think you should lose but if you manage to out-strategize your enemies you can take out larger numbers with a very small force.
VC4 is very fun and engaging and drops all the different strategies you can use in bite-size pieces. There’s no overwhelming feeling – you slowly unlock upgrades as you progress through each mission and when you get the upgrades you understand what everything does. The actual strategy in-mission is also fairly straightforward and variety in how these missions play out actually keeps everything fresh and makes you think on your toes.
The characters in VC4 are also great – each soldier has their own personality quirks and skills, so while you may have 8 different scouts, one scout might get bonuses for working alone but has their stats lowered if an enemy sees them while another scout gets bonuses if he’s next to other units but gets a disadvantage when he attacks out of stealth. It allows you to pick and choose which soldiers reflect your personal play style and attaches you to the characters, while also adds another layer to strategy because you have to remember which characters have which traits.
I stalled out on the game, though, as the game threw away the big strategy aspect for a small mission where you have to be stealthy, not be seen at all, and only kill specific targets. And while the game is great, it is not a good stealth game and I got frustrated trying to complete the mission. Insta-fails in long strategical games are a nightmare and this one bad mission killed the momentum the game had up until that point. Sometimes, though, that’s all it takes to have a game be dropped from my radar.
Let’s talk about Darksiders 3. Darksiders is a franchise that I hold near and dear to my heart because I’ve always had interest in the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and any genre fiction that tackles them (Good Omens TV show let’s hear it in the back!). At first I kind of turned my nose up at them (who replaces Famine and Conquest/Pestilence with Fury and Strife?!) but the first Darksiders was a charming gothic Zelda clone that was actually really fun. Darksiders 2 tried to expand on the first and made it more loot-heavy while keeping some of the Zelda elements, and while I didn’t like it as much as the first it was still enjoyable and I finished it.
Darksiders 3 gets rid of the Zelda notion entirely in favor of a slightly more linear experience and leans more heavily into Dark Souls as an inspiration. And while I appreciate the effect that Souls games have had on the action genre, the Darksiders series is not better for aping the Souls style of combat and upgrading. The Zelda format was much more fun and unique (how many games actually utilize that sort of progression outside Zelda, really?) while if you want to be successful at a Soulslike your combat has to be on point.
Darksiders has always been more about hack and slash and less about precise dodging and attacks. Unfortunately, this shows in trying to control Fury in combat because the lock-on is terrible, mobs can easily overwhelm you and chain lock into taking a lot of damage, and the dodging is sometimes unreliable due to the way some enemies track movement mid-attack. This game series, to me, has never been about slow, tactical, methodical progress and that’s what the Souls games are about. Darksiders 3 tries to toe a middle ground line of hack-and-slash AND Souls combat and it just doesn’t work.
That being said, I keep coming back to the game after some time off because I enjoy the franchise so much and want to see the story to completion. No specific thing has turned me off completely to the game – I just end up getting tired of the combat after a while of playing and need to go to something else as a palette cleanser. Check back with me in another three months, maybe I’ll have finished it?
Looking back on my own writing, it’s interesting to see what can drive me off a game. Either a particularly frustrating mission, too many complexities, not feeling like I’m progressing after hours and hours of play, or inadequate combat and game design. A lot goes into game development and as a player I have to admit sometimes I don’t really how hard it is to get it exactly right. That “chef’s kiss” type of game like XCOM 2 or God of War or Spider-Man where every piece falls into place and you can play for hours and not care.
So that’s my review of Sid Meier’s Witchersiders Chronicles 3-4-6. If I had to guess, I’m most likely to fully complete Darksiders 3. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a 50/50 shot, but I’m much more likely to play something like Dead Cells or Smash Bros for short bursts on Switch – especially since I really don’t want to try that stealth mission over again. I think I prefer Civ V to Civ VI but I’ll continue to mess around in it for a bit, probably. I may return to Witcher 3 down the line but it’s not looking good – it just seems like too much grinding doing the things I don’t like doing just to get to a point where I get to the stuff I actually want to do in the game. We’ll see.
Here’s my final recommendations:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a PASS.
Sid Meier’s Civilization 6 is a PASS.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a PLAY.
Darksiders 3 is a PASS (unless you’re a huge fan of the series or really jonesing for a Soulslike game, then I’d say maybe roll the dice when it’s on discount).