Pankapu (PC)

Dust: An Elysian Tale is one of those games I sometimes look back on and wonder if I was too aggressive towards. I'm not bringing it up because Pankapu was an atrocity it made me yell "All is forgiven, Dust, come back!" it just reminded me strongly of it; they're both hack-and-slash platformers with pretty hand-painted artwork where you unlock skills as you go on, the hero is assisted by a flying yellow creature normally seen as a Halloween decoration (a bat in Dust, a spider in Pankapu), and part of the game even takes place in underground caverns lit with bioluminescent fungus.

At the start the gameplay is a bit bland, then becomes irritating when you get to the aforementioned fungus cave because you can only see a small area around you and I kept running into enemies. But things pick up when you unlock the ability to turn into an archer, and later a mage, and the levels become more energetic as you cycle between forms and use their skills to get through more complex hazards. I was actually impressed by a boss fight against a giant wolf where you have to constantly cycle among the three forms, each one needed to counter different mechanics.

Another boss is fought as you run around a sphere, hearkening back to Raphael the Raven in Yoshi's Island only in Pankapu the sphere remains fixed in place while you run around it. I can see how the screen rotating around a stationary Yoshi would be disorienting to some people, but at least it was always clear which button to press to make Yoshi go in a given direction. In the Pankapu fight, most of my damage was because I kept pressing the wrong direction while on the lower half of the sphere. Yes it's always right to go clockwise and left for counter, but try making that split second action while he's blasting you with lasers. Although the archer's toolset completely wrecks his mechanics, so maybe they balance out?

But okay, I was still hyped to see how the story wrapped up, even if its obsession with "power of friendship" rhetoric was a little sickening. Turns out, the sphere boss is the final boss of the game... when I first saw the credits roll I actually went to the Steam forums to ask about it because I legitimately wasn't sure if that was the end of episode one or two. But no, that was the finale (episode one ends before you get the mage), to be continued in the sequel. Huh, seems to be a trend right now of me playing pretty games with bad endings. Granted, Pankapu just ends on an unsatisfying cliffhanger, while Secrets of Raetikon's ending was so vile it made me want to hold one of the developers down and vomit in their face.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi (PG-13)

If The Force Awakens was a retelling of A New Hope, Last Jedi is half retelling of Empire Strikes Back and half stalling.

Last Jedi lifts the plot about a core group of the cast fleeing Imperial ships and being unable to escape with warpspeed while our Jedi in training finds a master living in exile on a remote planet. Finn, Po, and a new girl concoct a plan to board the Star Destroyer (I don't care what the new trilogy calls them) and shut down the tracking device so the Rebels can can escape, but first they have to go to some casino planet (without the rest of the Rebels noticing, I guess?) and find a hacker. Then when the big moment of truth comes, everything goes horribly wrong. Yeah, the first ninety minutes of the film were totally pointless, sorry! Enjoy this recreation of the Battle of Hoth, but on a planet covered in salt!

After the movie finished I asked myself, what was actually accomplished? A total non-character from Force Awakens was anticlimactically axed, another character from the original trilogy ate it... um, some characters made a mess of a casino? Yeah, Empire Strikes Back didn't advance the story all that much either which is probably why it's the one I remember the least (on top of not having watched it as many times as the other two), but at least it gave us the Battle of Hoth, Yoda, Cloud City, and a plot twist that made 1980 audiences shit their pants. Maybe Last Jedi is supposed to be about how things don't always go right and you need to learn from your mistakes, but watching people fumble around for two and a half hours doesn't exactly make for riveting viewing and ultimately I was too bored to care.


World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (PC)

Maybe it would be smarter to hold off on reviewing this until later into the expansion when more content gets released and hotfixes go out, but fucking hell, if it wasn't for the friends I've made in this game I'd have quit by now. World of Warcraft has always been a grind, but at least there was forseeable payoff for it. Now it's becoming an unrewarding slog and not just because I'm running out of mounts to farm.

As I've played BfA over the months, everything I was hyped for before launch has dribbled away. The Arathi Highlands warfront plays like a particularly clusterfuckish PVP battleground with bots on one side. The Island Expeditions were hyped as replayble minidungeons that net you all kinds of cool prizes but in practice are about as entertaining as running coarse-grit sandpaper between your toes, and in order to get any worthwhile rewards from them you have to penetrate a wall of RNG, then do tasks that are not conducive to throwing three random people who can barely communicate into a group. And the bosses in the Uldir raid are both mechanically and aesthetically boring. Granted, I only got into raiding around the third raid of Legion so maybe it's normal for the first raid of an expansion to be a bit plain. But it's still disappointing to go from the Legion bosses that had you hijacking command pods to turn the Legion's technology against it and racing to kill a giant demon that's smashing out the bridge you're on before you run out of room, to "Wail on boss, dodge their attacks, kill adds, take bombs out of the group" with only the orb running in G'huun and maybe MOTHER's defense barrier deviating from that template.

Also, I think Blizzard's art department needs a refresher course in visual design. Legion had problems with visual vomit (hello, Highlord Kruul, I don't miss you at all), but Battle for Azeroth cranks it up to 11. If things aren't hard to read through all the particle effects, the bombardment of visual noise just causes your brain to overload and shut down. One boss in Uldir is this giant bipedal lobster-like thing covered in pointy bits and extra limbs fought in a pit, and at certain points in the fight he'll move into the middle of the room, call forth some helpers, and start periodically firing a huge beam out to one side. But the boss is so large and overly detailed and the walls restrict the camera so much (when it's not being straight-up blocked by clumps of mold) and there's so many smaller enemies and other objects around that it's a total pain in the ass to tell which way he's firing. And when the raid first opened, the boss would turn completely black when he did this. Because who needs to be able to tell what the fuck is going on in a boss fight, right? Oh, and before anyone asks, that "bait the way he fires" trick mentioned in the video was hotfixed and doesn't work anymore.

This might not make sense to people who don't play WoW, but I'm going to try to explain how fucked crafting in BfA is: Legion had at item called Blood of Sargeras which was needed in every high-level recipe, and was obtained from quests and random enemies if you used a certain item on your shoulders. There was also an item called Obliterum, which was obtained by chucking crafted items into a furnace and used to upgrade crafted items. Makes sense, if you craft an item that had the wrong stats, chuck that one into the furnace to get Obliterum, and when you craft an item with the stats you need, use the Obliterum to power it up. Battle for Azeroth combines the two into an item called Expulsom; you need it in all high-level recipes, but the only way to get it is by destroying equipment (though Expulsom can be obtained from looted equipment as well as crafted ones, just not from purchased equipment). But burning an item in Legion guaranteed you some Obliterum Ash each time, and higher quality items gave you more of it. Except for Trinkets which always net you a single Expulsom, you only have a chance at Expulsom from each item, and Epic quality items, contrary to logic, have the exact same chance for giving Expulsom as Uncommon quality. So my Paladin is stuck at something like 130 Engineering because he needs six Expulsom to go up a single skill point, and after shredding two entire bags of the cheapest item my Death Knight Blacksmith could make and not getting a single bit of it, I gave up and starting selling my unwanted gear. I'll just take my time and get my skill points from work orders if the game wants to pull that shit.

Yes, Alchemists can transmute Expulsom but (A) Expulsom is not tradeable, and (B) that ability requires an herb that's even harder to obtain than the fucking Expulsom, and is needed to create stat potions for raiding. Call all of this petty, but for me it really illustrates how poorly thought out BfA's design choices are.

And finally, Battle for Azeroth has more bugs than an entomologist's picnic basket. Most are "just" annoying, like the game constantly forgetting to take me out of combat when everything around me is dead and preventing me from mounting and eating, or nodes of metals and herbs spawning inside a wall where they can't be collected, or those nodes disappearing as I'm harvesting them, or having to challenge some trolls by ringing a gong only for the enemy to disappear when they jump into the arena and the gong become unusable, or chunks of ice in the ground that are supposed to block an enemy's big blizzard spell not working, or the pirate dungeon randomly teleporting me off a ledge and into the middle of a group of enemies I then aggro before it teleports me back to where I was with the enemies I pulled in hot pursuit, or an enemy in the basement of the haunted mansion dungeon attacking somebody through the floor. Some are fucking game breaking, like that notorious one when Mythic Uldir first opened and MOTHER's laser grids were one-shotting people when they appeared instead of when they actually swept through the room. Another dungeon has a room where you have to place two orbs into the eyes of a giant snake skull, and there's an entire topic on the Blizzard forums of people whose runs got fucked over by one of the orbs disappearing and yes, it has happened to me.

Tidbit: I didn't actually pay money for this expansion. I'd managed to amass enough gold in Legion that I was able to pay for BfA with WoW tokens.

Rating: ???