Hades 2 Review - Witching Hours

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Just like the first game, Hades 2 has launched first in early access, allowing developer Supergiant Games to delicately tweak and balance gameplay, as well as add new content before its full launch. Hades 2, however, feels like a complete product right now. With satisfying combat that has far more depth than its predecessor ever managed, it raises the question: what’s left to refine? It's significantly larger than the first game too, with more areas to explore, different routes to take, and a much bigger story to tell. If it wasn't for its (currently) missing ending and a few placeholders here or there, Hades 2 could already emphatically be declared as a brilliant successor to one of the greatest rougelites out there. Hades 2 improves upon its predecessor in every way, making it a masterfully crafted sequel.

Instead of playing as Zagreus again, you play as his sister Melinoe, who was born after the events of the first game. Her family has been lost to the underworld, after the titan Chronos usurps the throne and takes over Hades' domain. Melinoe, saved from the unknown fate of her family, has been raised to realize one simple goal: Death to Chronos. With the help of her mentor, fellow titan Hecate, and a cast of new and returning gods, shades, and all those in between, Hades 2 sets out strongly from the get go with a story that is gripping to watch unfold between runs.

For all of its improvements, Hades 2 doesn't initially look or feel that different. Melinoe moves with the same speed and grace as her brother, albeit with some slight changes. Unlike Zagreus, Melinoe is far less dash happy, with a longer cooldown between each of her evasive bursts of speed that's initially awkward to get used to. This is offset by a greater emphasis on maintaining speed through sprinting, which you engage by holding down the dash button right after executing it. This sprint provides the same degree of damage-avoidance, but feeds into additional offensive options too. And some enemies are designed specifically to punish a reliance on just dashing to encourage a shift in mindset. This sprint can also be upgraded with boons in a similar fashion to your standard attacks, letting your sprint shock foes with Zeus' lighting, or knock back entire groups of them with the powerful waves of Poseidon. This tangible change is a taste of how Hades 2 approaches evolving a strong, established formula by making small, sometimes experimentative, changes that have a profound effect on the way you approach gameplay.

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XDefiant - Before You Buy

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XDefiant - Before You BuyXDefiant (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S) is Ubisoft's new competitive FPS centered around iconic Ubisoft titles. How is it? Let's talk. Subscribe for more: http://youtube.com/gameranxtv ▼ Watch more 'Before You Buy': https://bit.ly/2kfdxI6

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review - Step Inside, The Plumber RPG's Back

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Let's get straight to the (unsurprising) statement: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for Nintendo Switch is an incredible turn-based RPG that is every bit as charming, witty, and joyful today as it was two decades ago. Much like 2023's Super Mario RPG, Nintendo didn't mess with the formula so this is the game you know and love, only it's prettier, sounds better, and includes several meaningful quality-of-life updates. But whereas Super Mario RPG was quite obviously an old game reborn for a new generation, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door stands toe-to-toe with the best turn-based RPGs of the current console generation.

Considering Paper Mario's bizarre history over the past two decades, newcomers would be forgiven for not knowing what the heck to expect in The Thousand-Year Door. To be blunt, Paper Mario's original identity and soul disappeared in the wake of The Thousand-Year Door. Today, Paper Mario is perhaps best-known as the Mario series that can't seem to pick a genre. But The Thousand-Year Door, much like its N64 predecessor, follows the tradition of Super Mario RPG and is more aligned with the Mario & Luigi series--the now-defunct series that pushed Paper Mario out of the genre--than any of the Paper Mario games that came after it, including The Origami King. And The Thousand-Year Door's Switch version further solidifies its spot at the top of the Mario RPG tier list.

The visual upgrade is more of a fresh coat of paint than a total overhaul. Its storybook aesthetic with pop-up characters and environmental trappings had a timeless quality to it already, but the new widescreen presentation, with its vivid colors and crisp textures, brings memorable locations up to modern standards. The lush flowers and white-petaled trees of Boggly Woods are stunning, Twilight Town's and Creepy Steeple's gloominess is heightened (especially on Switch OLED), and better lighting and shadows make the waters around Keelhaul Key really pop. Environments aren't as richly layered as you'd find in The Origami King, but The Thousand-Year Door is still a beautiful game that could pass for a native Switch title.

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Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Hell And High Water

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When Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice was released in 2017 it quickly became one of my favorite games of all time. I beat it in one sitting and remember feeling thankful that I had played it in a room dark enough to conceal how much I wept as the credits rolled. As a young woman who had endured abuse and was desperately wrangling with her own mental health and attachment issues, Senua's journey resonated and comforted me in a way no other game ever had. So it might surprise you then, that when I heard Ninja Theory was working on a sequel, I was extremely hesitant.

My biggest concern--particularly after Microsoft purchased Ninja Theory--was that the next entry in the Hellblade series would aim to be one of the massive, AAA experiences that are taking over the games industry, complete with a cluttered mini-map, crafting, side quests, and more. That's not to say these features are inherently bad of course--they do have their place--but to me, this felt at odds with what Hellblade did so well. I didn't want breadth, I wanted the series to maintain its depth; I wanted emotion, art, storytelling, introspection, mythos, terror, and magic. In fact, I was so concerned that the studio would trade in its depth for breadth, I didn't foresee what actually happened.

Rather than expanding its systems and scope, or weaving a story equal parts intimate and mystical, Senua's Sage: Hellblade 2 focuses on vastly improving what its predecessor already did so well: visuals and sound. Hellblade 2 is a marvel to look at. It's gorgeous, cinematic, and hyper-realistic, yet still eerie and ethereal. Its music remains extraordinary, and its sound design is primed to make your skin crawl. And yet, I cannot help but be disappointed by how pared down and shallow its story and gameplay are. While Hellblade 2 might be a sight to behold, its minimal gameplay and muddled narrative prevent it from being a game that has any meaningful impact on me.

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