Gaming like it’s 2016

I love XBox Game Pass, particularly it’s ‘day one release’ strategy, where many brand new AAA titles become available to download and play as soon as they’re out.

That said, there are very few brand new AAA titles this year that I have been excited to play. Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War is an exception, though that is down to it meeting my daily need to shoot things in a fictionalised version of the 1980s.

Destiny 2 and Elder Scrolls Online (both with all the latest updates and expansions) are on my playlist too, but as service games that came out several years ago, they don’t really count as new.

And neither do the three games that are on my current ‘A list’ …

Greatest Hits

The games I’m playing and enjoying most right now were released between 2014 and 2016.

Now, at least five years later, there are three distinct advantages to returning to them.

  1. Their DLC cycles have stopped, meaning each of the games are ‘complete’ in terms of expansions, extra content and patches
  2. As I’ve not just shelled out sixty quid on them, I don’t feel as compelled to complete every single side activity or get every single collectible in order to get ‘value for money’ out of them
  3. I played each game at the time and loved them, but didn’t complete any of them. Now, with a bit more time and less focus on getting 100% completion/achievements from each one, I’m already further through them after a fortnight than I managed to reach when they were the latest shiny new game

So, what are they, and why are they grabbing me?

Dragon Age Inquisition

I absolutely love RPGs in all their various forms and sub-genres. But my favourite kinds are those where I can create a character, then lose myself in a lore-rich world with well-written quests and NPCs.

Dragon Age Inquisition ticks all those boxes, then goes back and ticks them all again.

Bioware are an astonishingly good creator of this type of RPG, and in my view, Dragon Age Inquisition is the pinnacle of their craft to date (the Mass Effect trilogy is on my ‘to play next’ list, so this view may change after I’ve played ME2).

Returning to its richly detailed world and its fondly-remembered characters is a delight, especially as I’m now less obsessive about completing every single fetch quest and requisition (of which there are hundreds).

Its story and characters still captivate, and its graphics have stood the test of time very well. Plus, I have the apparently excellent Trespasser DLC to provide the tale of the Inquisitor with a fitting end to look forward to, and this time I can actually see me getting that far.

I’m invested in the story, characters and world in the same way as I become invested in a TV series (hello Legends of Tomorrow), and I’m playing it for about an hour a day in a very similar episodic form of binge consumption.

And unless Dragon Age 4 surprises everyone and comes out early, I’m pretty confident I’ll actually see the closing credits of this one.

Civilization VI

I think I’ve played every version of Civ since it was first released.

As a huge history buff, I love its concept – taking a fledgling civilisation from the stone age to the stars. And, as the years have passed in the real world, so the complexity and depth of Civ have advanced to keep pace.

I only recently discovered Civ VI was available on the XBox. I’d played a previous incarnation of Civ on console, but it was very much a watered-down, simplified version of the PC experience and not for me. I managed to squeeze Civ VI onto my Mac when it first came out in 2016, but it caused the fan on my machine to go into overdrive, so I didn’t progress with it much.

Now, I am the proud owner of the Civ VI Anthology version on the XBox. Not only does it have all the expansions (Gathering Storm is awesome) and extra DLC (fifty-four different civs and extra game modes that appeal to me like Secret Societies and Heroes of Myth & Legend), but it’s the full-fat Civ experience. On a console. That doesn’t get hotter than the sun when I try to play it.

I sometimes feel that Civ was a game written specifically for me. In depth, detailed strategy set on a real world stage where the very act of playing creates alternative histories (my industrial-era Robert the Bruce is currently leading the world in Culture, and has Beowulf helping him clear out the last remaining barbarians).

And the fact I can play it sat back in an armchair is something that I only recently realised was possible.

Robert the Bruce – if at first I don’t succeed, I will try and try again and take you to the stars on one playrhrough, I promise ..

Arkham Knight

This is a bit of a palette cleanser compared to the other two. A game I can dip into, beat up a few thugs, uncover a few hidden secrets, then jump out of again.

A Game Pass download with £4 dropped on it to unlock absolutely everything, Arkham Knight gives me the whole of Gotham City to play in, with a rogues gallery of everyone from the Caped Crusader to Harley Quinn. I can race round a fiendish track designed by the Joker in a 1960s version of the Batmobile, or try to break into Gotham City Police Dept as a whip-cracking Catwoman.

I can drop-kick goons, zip between skyscrapers, take out mooks at a distance with my batarang, and tear up the Gotham streets in a Batmobile so tripped-out it can do everything other than play the game for me.

The story missions are suitably gothic and compelling; the Season of Infamy DLC adds even more iconic foes for the Bat to grapple with; and all the AR challenges are perfect for that 15-minute Bat-fix.

I doubt it will stay on my play list for that long, but for now it’s letting me be the Batman (and the psychotic baseball bat-wielding Harley Quinn), and that’s exactly what I need right now.

Back to the future

Looking at the new games release schedule, I’m not sure how long these games will stay on my A list.

Edinburgh in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Flight Simulator’s out next week, and I’m already clearing space on my hard drive for that. Then there’s Hades, Rainbow Six Siege and Back 4 Blood all coming out in the next few months. I anticipate at least one of those will usurp one of my current playlist above.

But for now, I’m more than happy in the diverse lands of Thedas, a rain-soaked version of Gotham City, and an alt-history version of the Earth where Robert the Bruce has his eyes firmly set on the stars …

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