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Conan Exiles

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In 1932 writer Robert E. Howard created the character of Conan The Barbarian for the pages of Weird Tales magazine. Conan wasn’t just a scantily-clad barbarian bloke who liked to chop shit up though, he inhabited an entire detailed world with warring factions, religions and ideologies; a Hyborian Age of mythic adventure, blood and magic. Over the years Howard’s legacy has included good movies (1982’s Conan The Barbarian), bad movies (2011’s Conan the Barbarian), comic books and video games, which brings us nicely to Conan Exiles.

Conan Exiles is set in Howard’s Hyborian Age, and a fairly unpleasant bloody time it is too. You begin the game as a user created male or female character, left to die in the desert naked and alone. It’s a pretty great opening for an online RPG, and gives an immediate sense of the stakes. You’ll literally need to craft clothes to cover your dangling tockley or heaving bosom (both of which come in many colours and flavours, thanks to the prolific and slightly pervy character customisation options) and your first steps will be all about finding food, shelter and a weapon.

Conan Exiles isn’t here to fuck spiders, it’s a game that really wants to make you feel as if every poor decision you make will lead to your death at the hands of deadly fauna, starvation, the elements or other players. If you happen to die? Well you can respawn at your most recent sleeping spot, otherwise it’s back to the nude desert for you – sans food, gear and pants. That sense of grim consequence is appealing in a masochistic sort of way, however at time of writing the servers are a little wonky and losing hours of progress because of technical difficulties may have you cursing the name of Crom.

Another negative is the fact that without a friend some of Exiles can feel like a slog. The combat is unwieldy, acceptable but hardly Dark Souls, and the endless crafting, eating, sleeping and building grind can be tedious without someone to swap sarcastic comments with. That said, if you do buddy up trawling through dungeons and building more and more elaborate shelters is a lot of fun, and will help you look past the wonky combat and fairly frequent technical hitches.

Conan Exiles is far from perfect, it’s only recently out of early access and showcases a number of alarming bugs and technical shortcomings. However, if you’re willing to look past the lack of polish, and embrace this vicious, uncaring landscape, Conan Exiles may scratch a very specific itch. Conan Exiles is certainly not what is best in life, but it’s an intriguing and fairly original take on the survival genre and worth a gander for armchair barbarians.

 
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Deadpool 2

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Sequels to surprise comedic hits are always a risky undertaking. Repeating what worked in the scrappy underdog original can seem like unimaginative pandering in the sequel. Similarly, if the second chapter forges a path that’s completely different, it can be accused of forgetting what made the first film so good. This volatile paradox has clearly been on the minds of the folks behind Deadpool 2, a sequel that switched up directors (David Leitch for Tim Miller) and changed directions at least a couple of times during its tumultuous development. Happily these behind-the-scenes shenanigans have had little effect on the end product, as Deadpool 2 swaggers confidently onto screens, with a smirk on its face and a dick joke spewing out of its sassy, pretty mouth.

Deadpool 2 sees Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) at something of a loose end in life. Due to events that occur before the opening credits (which we won’t spoil, so calm your tits) he’s unsure of what to do next. Happily a visit from Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) sets Wade on a path to become… a trainee X-Man! It does not go well. One scene of fairly hilarious ultra-violence later, Wade finds himself in the pokey with the unfortunately named teen mutant, Firefist (Julian Dennison), and that’s when cybernetic future soldier, Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives and shit kicks off in earnest.

If the above sounds a little overstuffed, you’re not wrong. Deadpool 2 seems to have taken the criticism of the original being a little plot-light and piled on the narrative strands. Happily, Wade and crew manage to juggle these balls for the most part, although some characters like Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) are sidelined to introduce the new cast. Of the newbies Brolin excels in yet another Marvel property as the grizzled, no-nonsense soldier with a metal arm and a dark past (in our future), but it’s Zazie Beetz as Domino who is best in show, bringing a physicality and wry wit to a role that could have been a goofy misstep.

However, this is Deadpool’s show and Reynolds has lost none of his smarmy, smirking charm as the merc with a mouth. Expect endless rapid fire gags, puns, in-jokes, fourth wall breaks, pop culture references and winking nods to camera at about the same success rate as the original. Sure, a lot of the gags fall flat, but there’ll be another half dozen that work just around the corner, so just relax and enjoy the ride.

Ultimately, Deadpool 2 is a fast-moving gag machine, with an overstuffed plot and a surprising amount of pathos. The humour and heart can both be a little hit or miss, but Reynolds’ performance as Wade Wilson holds the whole caper together, delivering a joyous, violent, profane and occasionally quite sweet cinema experience worthy of the original.

 
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God of War

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By the time the credits rolled on 2010’s God of War III, Kratos – the shouty, chain-wielding, revenge-taking protagonist – was really starting to get on my tits. He’d become a one-note bore, a hyper-masculine, invincible douche bro who couldn’t stop blaming everyone else for the problems his own violent dipshittery had exacerbated over the previous couple of games. Worse still, he’d become predictable and just not that much fun to play. This feeling persisted in sorta-prequel, 2013’s God of War: Ascension, an otherwise excellent hack-and-slash adventure that felt inessential due to a protagonist who didn’t have anything new to bring to the table. “Reckon I’m about done with the God of War series,” I mused, and gave it no further thought.

Cut to: 2018 and the much anticipated release of God of War – a new entry in the series that acts as a sequel, reboot and reimagining all in one.

An indeterminate amount of time has passed for Kratos, who now sports a hefty lumberjack beard, and his chains are nowhere to be seen. When we first meet him he’s preparing his significant other’s funeral pyre, assisted by his son, Atreus.

Wait, what, son?! Kratos has children???

Yes, it seems our bald-bonced deity-slapper sprogged up and the experience has caused the former “Ghost of Sparta” to calm down a bit, and reflect on his past misdeeds. Although having children has caused your real-life friends to become unutterably tedious, the experience has improved Kratos no end. Instead of posting basically the same photo of Atreus over and over and over again (we get it, Charmaine, your kid’s wearing a hat! Sew adorbs, you guyz), Kratos is trying to be a good father, a positive example, and bring up a decent being in the world of Norse mythology.

A fresh pantheon of Gods and a brand new outlook aren’t the only big changes in GoW, we also have a perspective shift to behind Kratos’ shoulder, similar to the POV from The Last of Us. Essentially the game appears to take place in one long, uninterrupted take, which gives a sense of immediacy and grittiness absent from the other titles. The tradeoff here is that you won’t get the series’ signature zoom-out-to-showcase-the-size-of-the-environment/monster but it’s a conceit that really works. The story starts off with very low stakes, Kratos and sonny boy explore the strange lands to scatter some ashes from atop a mountain, and things build from there. Of course the plot twists and turns like a massive serpent, but I won’t reveal any of the specifics here. Needless to say, Norse mythology is a great belief system to tackle and by the end of the game’s 30ish hours you’ll have executed feats of daring and strength that are some of the most memorable in the series.

The biggest surprise in God of War is not how much fun the new Thor-like, boomeranging, Leviathan Axe is to use, because the series has always had excellent combat. Nor is it a huge stretch that Atreus is such a compelling character, because The Last of Us pretty much set the standard for non-annoying buddy characters and is clearly a significant influence here. No, the biggest surprise about this year’s GoW is how much you’ll care about Kratos. Christopher Judge turns in a fantastically nuanced voice and motion performance, with significant range. Combined with a clever, layered script and a story that goes to some genuinely emotional places, old bald-man-punch-a-lot has transformed into a fascinating character reminiscent of William Munny, Clint Eastwood’s broken old gunslinger from Unforgiven (1992).

In 2010 Kratos became a bore. In 2018 he is reborn and headlines what is probably the year’s best game so far. Put simply: if you own a PS4 of PS4 Pro this is a day one, must-buy title. Epic, exciting, visually splendid, violent and emotionally resonant – God of War is more than just an excellent, action-adventure reboot, it’s a Gods-damned masterpiece.

 
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Super Troopers 2

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Sequels to comedy cult hits are always a risky proposition. After all, surprise is key for those out-of-nowhere laughs, and the giddy genius of a strangely subversive flick about Vermont state troopers pissfarting about seems a trick destined to work only once. Still, thanks to an enormously successful crowdfunding campaign and much fan anticipation, Super Troopers 2 is here, seventeen years after the original. So, was it worth the wait? Mostly.

Super Troopers 2 rejoins the lives of Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Farva (Kevin Heffernan), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske), Foster (Paul Soter) and Mac (Steve Lemme) some years after the original. They’ve all been shitcanned down to civilian status, something that lasts all of seven minutes, when Captain O’Hagen (Brian Cox) appears with a tempting offer. A small Quebec town is transitioning from Canadian to American sovereignty (it doesn’t matter why, just go with it) and our “boys” must provide their special brand of law enforcement, for a shot at redemption and also because it will hopefully be piss funny.

Super Troopers 2’s plot, like the original’s, is basically a thin premise to provide context for the chaps of Broken Lizard to indulge in lengthy, often very funny, sketches that riff on the absurdity of Mounties, the joy of drugs and how much of a wanker Farva is. Sometimes they really work, Mayor Guy Le Franc (Rob Lowe) pointing out how uptight and sexually repressed Americans are by means of gently pummelling a male prostitute’s dangling penis is weirdly endearing. Sometimes they’re less successful, Thorny’s addiction to female libido booster, Flova Scotia, is promising but doesn’t go anywhere more interesting than a few lazy “women, AMIRITE?” style gags. Then again, there are whole sections of the original Super Troopers that fall flat, such is the nature of the Lizard’s throw-everything-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks, improvisation-heavy comedy shenanigans. It’s the kind of caper where you know what you’re in for and your enjoyment depends on, a) that being your thing and, b) you’re with like-minded friends and have necked a sufficient amount of friendly intoxicants (it’s not for nothing that the release date of this flick in the US is 4/20).

For those new to the Super Troopers vibe this will likely be a baffling 99 minutes. For those who have watched and re-watched the original and in fact quote it on the reg, this will be a warm bit of nostalgia, with the expected callbacks and fan service, but also enough fresh gags to keep the laughs coming pretty consistently. So if you’re in the latter group, it’s probably time you jump down to your local cinema, all nimbly-bimbly, and ask to see this film right meow. Just remember how fast you’re going.

 
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Truth or Dare

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Truth or Dare is the latest horror flick from the fine people at Blumhouse Productions who brought us the M. Night Shyamalan comeback vehicle Split, agreeably goofy slasher-with-a-twist Happy Death Day, and stone cold genre masterpiece Get Out. So does Truth or Dare belong in that pantheon of modern classics? Oof, no! Not even close, actually.

Truth or Dare’s plot focuses on a group of American students who have lobbed down to Mexico for spring break, where they both drink and check their phones prolifically. Handsome stranger Cole (Landon Liboiron) convinces good-hearted Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her friends to join him in an abandoned church for a game of, you guessed it, truth or dare. Naturally the game doesn’t go as planned and when the ghastly young people return to their home… [cue: sinister musical sting] the game has followed them [cue: LOUD NOISE to distract from the lack of genuine on-screen scares]!

The rather convoluted curse means that they need to answer truth or dare when prompted and if they lie, or don’t perform the dare, they’ll cark it in short order. Look, it’s not the silliest premise for a horror movie out there (It Follows was, after all, about a demonic sexually transmitted disease and there are seven fucking Leprechaun flicks with another due in 2019) but the film never knows whether to lean into the idiocy and have fun with the silly concept or attempt to wring genuine pathos out the proceedings. The result is an overlong, uneven, occasionally unintentionally funny, weirdly toothless horror flick with minimal scares and some outrageously awful dialogue. When the lead character describes the physical manifestation of the evil game looking like “some kind of messed up Snapchat filter” the audience of the preview screening – comprising a diverse range of ages – groaned as one, united in their weary, eye-rolling scorn.

Ultimately Truth or Dare just isn’t very good. The directing is unimaginative, the performances are at best adequate and the horror moments are either silly or ineffective. If the film does make decent bank, and there’s a chance it will, expect see the party game extended horror universe, featuring a terrifying Spin the Bottle movie, Catch and Kiss flick and Beware The Hokey Pokey. Proposed tagline: “Death’s what it’s all about!” Maybe those (hypothetical) movies will stumble onto being vaguely decent, but Truth or Dare, unfortunately, is a bit of a dud.

 
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Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom

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No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is the sequel to 2013’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Like its predecessor, Ni No 2 presents a fantasy world with the dreamy aesthetic of a Studio Ghibli film (although with no actual involvement from the studio this time around) and the result is as charming and whimsical as that would suggest. However all is not perfect in the playful realms presented, as Ni No 2 seems to want to ask: what if whimsical… but too much?

The story of Revenant Kingdom begins in the land of Ding Dong Dell where the evil-but-cute-looking Mausinger (a giant mouse) is in the middle of a coup to oust animal-eared little boy and heir to the throne, Evan Pettiwhisker. Roland Crane, a mysterious man from another world, saves Evan and the pair escape the kingdom, striving to create one of their own. The game then introduces you to an impressively large semi-open world you can explore and start to build your party and new kingdom where everyone will be happy and no one fights.

If that all sounds a bit saccharine, you don’t know the half of it. Ni No 2 comes off like a wide-eyed idealist or an earnest mate who necked one pinger too many, and although that can be charming it does grate after a while. This almost cloying sense of lightness also creeps into the gameplay, which while well-honed in terms of combat mechanics is also ludicrously easy, without a hard mode available at time of writing. Again, not every game needs to be Dark Souls but it’s hard to get excited about exploring optional dungeons for better loot when your bog standard gear is more than enough to take on even the toughest foe.

That said, there’s a solid little adventure here and while there aren’t quite enough fully animated cutscenes or fully voiced sections (which is weird when you consider how important the art style is to the title), you’ll likely find yourself diverted by this colourful, albeit slight, ephemeral journey. Taken as a fluffy jaunt through a child-like world of wonder and whimsy, Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is an appealing experience, just don’t expect much in the way of challenge or narrative depth, otherwise you might be unable to see the goods through the twee.

 
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Far Cry 5

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Why do people join cults? Is it a love of Kool-Aid and other easily poisonable beverages? The promise of sex with dozens of vacant-eyed acolytes? Or is it based on a genuine belief system wherein you – the cult leader – are literally in contact with God (or Gods) and have the answer to that whole pesky ‘meaning of life’ thing? Sadly Far Cry 5 does essentially nothing to answer any of these questions. Happily Far Cry 5 features a mechanic where you can rain down hellfire on a camp of cultists and then have a cougar sneak in and eat anyone still left alive.

Yes, Far Cry is back and this time it’s Murica! Far Cry 5 puts you in the boots of a sheriff’s deputy (appearance and gender lightly customisable) and the result is a great deal of absurdist, explosive – albeit narratively shallow – fun.

The game is set in the fictional town of Hope County, Montana, where an inexplicably popular preached named Joseph Seed has convinced whole sections of the community it’s the end of days, and everyone should follow his word to the letter. Joseph – who looks sort of like a sweaty, man-bunned Jared Leto – has brought other Seeds with him, including John, Jacob and Faith, all of whom are the bad kind of Seed. In your role as Rook (or Rookie) you’ll need to dismantle the operations of these siblings, amass a legion of followers keen on fighting these coiffed God-botherers and finally take on the big man himself. But will you be able to survive decimated Hope County? And, more importantly will you blow lots of shit up along the way?

The answer to that latter question is an emphatic yes. Far Cry 5 doubles down on the exploration/explosion conceit of Far Cries 3 and 4 and ups the ante even further, adding planes, helicopters and all manner of companion characters, human and otherwise. You’ll fight, shoot, hunt, explore and craft increasingly potent weapons as you battle the sinister death cult with the power of guns, guns, guns. Yee-hah!

You might think a game released in 2018, set in America, and featuring such savage bloodlust might actually take an ideological position on the story shenanigans, but you’d be wrong. Far Cry 5 is a “shoot first, think never” experience, which – while totally valid for disposable escapism – does rather stop the antagonists from resonating as anything other than names on your shit list.

A more relevant disappointment is the enemy AI, which seems to have not improved since previous Far Cry entries. Yeah, it’s fun to blast away at idiotic, directionally-challenged rednecks, but as Metal Gear: The Phantom Pain showed us, a smart enemy is far more satisfying to outwit.

That said, Far Cry 5 is a massive, gorgeous game and another step along the Ubisoft course correction path that (arguably) started with Watch Dogs 2, then Assassin’s Creed: Origins and continues with Far Cry 5.

It’s not deep, it lacks layers, but burning a scorching path through Hope County, particularly with a co-op buddy, is an undeniable hoot. Ultimately Far Cry 5 won’t answer the question ‘why do people join cults’, but boy howdy does it ever deliver a fun experience while burning them to the ground.

Check out just under 40 minutes of co-op gameplay footage captured by the mighty Grizwords:

 
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A Way Out

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What’s a better proposition in a game: a slick rehash of something you’ve seen dozens of times before, or an original but wonky experiment and a not-entirely-successful attempt at something fresh? That’s the question that is central to your enjoyment, or lack thereof, regarding A Way Out: a brand spanking new game released by Electronic Arts that is unlike any prior EA title.

A Way Out is a two player, co-op only, experience that puts you in the dirty shoes of prison inmates, Vincent Moretti (Eri Krogh) and/or Leo Caruso (Fares Fares). Vincent is the straight man, severe, serious and efficient while Leo is an absolute mad bastard with a nose for trouble and, indeed, a troubling nose.

Damn thing is huge. Like Cyrano de Bergerac-sized.

These two protagonists aren’t exactly the best of friends, but they need one another to escape from their prison and exact revenge on a mutual enemy. They will need to work together or rot in jail, a decision neither man finds particularly difficult to make. What’s unique about A Way Out is that you’ll be playing co-op with your partner for the entire 4-6 hour adventure. You’ll band together to escape from the prison (which should honestly have been called Endless Shawshank Redemption References Jailhouse), survive on the land and enter a final act that I won’t reveal, but is clever, engaging and unexpected.

That’s all the good news about A Way Out. Less successful are elements like the gameplay, which offers many options but most of them are a little clunky and half-baked. You most likely won’t care that a lot of your progress is essentially quicktime events and mini-games, because the story is genuinely compelling, but it’s worth noting that your fond memories won’t be regarding the driving mechanics or precision shooting. Because they’re workmanlike and functional at best. Like Telltale Games titles, A Way Out is all about the narrative and your interaction with you co-op partner, and when it works it shines. Hell, even when it doesn’t work it’s still pretty fun to riff on it with your mate.

Ultimately A Way Out is a bold experiment that doesn’t always work, but should be admired and appreciated nonetheless. It also sells for $39 bucks and only requires one player to own the game. The price is great, the game is good and the story is legitimately engaging. If you’re into trying new things, then buddy up and have a good time. Because in 2018 any game that isn’t a microtransaction-riddled mess with grindy, tedious busywork is something of a victory.

 
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Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

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The rain-slicked streets of Onomichi Jingaicho glisten in the sporadic neon light. I’m walking down a dangerous looking alley, past some very dodgy customers, to get to my objective. They follow, muttering darkly to one another. It soon becomes clear they’re about to have a go at me. I politely ask a nearby pedestrian to hold my baby and then turn to face them. I’m ready to unleash a volley of kicks and punches on these mongrels that will leave them crawling along the bloody ground, sick with agony and regret. I crack my knuckles and get to work, taking care of the six strong crew swiftly and without mercy. After all, I have a hungry baby to feed.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the latest entry in the long running, critically lauded Yakuza series. The entire franchise is rather unique in the realm of video games. It tells complex, adult-orientated stories that are voice acted in the original Japanese and require subtitles, rather than the usual english language dubs. The stories told are often convoluted, dense and very slow burn, with few if any concessions given to short attention spans and yet it’s precisely because of this originality, this unique flavour, that makes the series so damn engaging.

Yakuza 6: Song of Life is the first entry made specifically for PS4 (as opposed to a PS3 remaster) and graphically the upgrade is immediately noticeable. From lifelike character animations, to sprawling brawls that run from one location to another, to landscapes that are vividly painted and feel alive – Yakuza has never been this pretty before. The story too focuses mainly on the mission of Kazuma Kiryu – rather than splitting the tale between multiple POV characters – and the result is a more disciplined, engaging tale. Certainly Yakuza 6 has many of the series’ bells and whistles: endless side quests, mini-games for days and mildly titillating optional pursuits – but the real star here is the story, which manages to be surprising and unexpectedly emotional at times, with some great twists.

Of course combat is frequent and here too the game excels, featuring meaty, satisfying fighting mechanics that are customisable and, on occasion, hilarious. There may come a time when knocking down half a dozen blokes with a well-swung bike gets old, but that time has not yet occured.

On the downside some of the side content can become a little wearying. Some of the side, and even main, missions get a little fetch questy at times and the new Clan Creator mode feels like an unnecessary complication in a game that’s already chockers with extra content.

Then again that’s another example of the series’ commitment to being its own entity. Is it a brawler, an RPG or a interactive movie? It’s kind of all of those things and more. It’s the type of game that rewards slow, meticulous play so don’t burn yourself out on it. Play for an hour or two a night, and drink in the atmosphere, the tension and the occasionally baffling moments of tonal whiplash.

Yakuza 6: Song of Life is a fascinating, original and engaging experience. Gleefully weird yet utterly compelling, it’s well worth a bash for those seeking something a little bit different and a great jumping on point for Yakuza newbies.

 
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Kingdom Come: Deliverance

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After putting a significant amount of time into Kingdom Come: Deliverance one thing has been made painfully clear: being a peasant sucks. Sucks. Powerfully, prolifically and with great alacrity it is just the worst. It probably sucked in every historical period of note over the ages, but it very specifically sucks in the Kingdom of Bohemia, in the year of our Lord 1403. Said location and time period is the setting for Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which thrusts you into the somewhat gormless shoes of Henry, who – within twenty or so minutes of gameplay – has lost his parents, his home, his girlfriend and all hope, thanks to the violent whims of Hungarian king Sigismund, who has sacked the village of his birth.

In an ordinary video game this would be the jumping off point for young Henry to brew up some healing potions, craft himself a big fuck off sword, don some shiny armour and head out into town and get medieval on everyone’s arses. However Kingdom Come is no ordinary video game, for better and for worse.

Funded through a rather excellent kickstarter, Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s mission statement is to give the player as realistic and historically accurate an experience as possible. That means you can easily be killed by any foe, you get hungry and thirsty, you can get sick and die from the ailments if you don’t treat them, and due to your social status things frequently, well, suck.

So before you embark on this game you should be aware that the difficulty level is punishing, saves are limited and extremely rare and the game’s story won’t take you on any wild flights of magical fancy or indulge your desire to feel powerful. It might be played from a first person perspective like Skyrim but this is a very different beast, and about as niche a proposition as can be imagined.

For those of you with a historical bent this may just be just the antidote to the more whimsical, fantastic narratives in The Witcher 3 and the like, however even taking into account the pragmatism of the tale, KC:D has problems. At the time of writing the game is still beset by a galling number of bugs. It’s one thing to be killed in combat due to mismanaging weapons or attack timing, it’s quite another when the game decides your blow didn’t count. Plus floating mid air for no reason or characters morphing into walls, stools and – rather alarming – your own body is a deadset immersion breaker.

That being said, there’s something so fresh and weird about Kingdom Come: Deliverance it’s impossible to dismiss out of hand. In an era where games are often becoming dull, homogenized, beige experiences KC:D stands out as the oddball in the pack. It’s messy and rough around the edges – and good lord it needs some more patching – but there’s an ambition and originality at play here that gives the experience a likable freshness. That said, you’re essentially playing Revolting Peasant Simulator here so proceed accordingly. If rigorous attention to detail isn’t your jam, stay well away. However if a grounded tale sounds like you – then serf’s up, baby!