Happy Friday everyone!
This week will be a bumper edition of The Casual Gamer’s View. If you read this and think “wait a minute, how does one person who claims to be a casual have so much time to play games?” then you’d be spot on, as we now have two writers for the newsletter! We’re really excited about this project, and before we get started, it would be a huge help to us if you could like and subscribe to this substack, as well as our socials that will be listed below. More than anything though, please share this with your friends, family, cats, annoying neighbour and anyone you think might be interested, it would really help us grow our readership. We also welcome any ideas, so get in touch if there’s something you’d like to read about in the future.
Overwatch 2 Beta
In typical 24 hour news cycle fashion, the announcement of the Overwatch 2 beta reached us mere hours after the publish button on Issue #1 was pressed. There were genuine fears at one point that OW2 was in development hell, so on the face of it this is great news for fans of the series. Those fears have been confirmed to some degree, with the PvE section of the game now reportedly coming at a later date to the PvP, which is a huge shame. I was looking forward to promising my mates that we’d have a game night on the PvE campaign soon, even if everyday life gets in the way of that promise for another 1-24 months
Hero shooters might be a little bit dead in the water these days, but there is something to be said for playing OW1 in the Arcade and Quick Play modes. You can (usually) avoid the toxicity of Competitive and the cycle of game types in Arcade help keep things fresh. A couple of new characters, maps and game modes will really kick some life back into the series, and the format change from 6v6 to 5v5 has potential to completely change the meta. I’m genuinely excited to try the sequel, even if Activision Blizzard have had more than their fair share of problems, both as a company and from a development point of view.
Just typing that kind of understates the situation at the company over the last year or two and by no means would we like to downplay the seriousness of some of the accusations. However, unless you’ve been living in a bandit’s cave from Skyrim since January, you will have heard about the planned Microsoft takeover that will surely help clean up Activision and revive some of the beleaguered franchises that they own. It’ll be really interesting to see how all of this plays out. There are deeper conversations to be had about the nature of this deal and the impact it will have on the industry as a whole, but that is for someone more knowledgeable on industry monopolies than us. For us casual gamers, there is now a slither of hope games like Overwatch and Diablo will actually be, well, finished. Hopefully with a bit of polish too. This PvP beta might not be the full package we wanted, but it will hopefully be a step in the right direction.
If this week you rose as a tarnished, stormed (or fumbled) through Limgrave and The Lands Between - then you are far from alone. Already amassing a global sale of 12 million units, FromSoftware’s latest entry to the souls franchise ‘Elden Ring’ has taken the soulslike genre to record breaking heights, smashing total sales of its predecessors in just its first weeks.
A culmination of a new open-world format, additional or honed game mechanics, and a monstrous hype-train (two ‘most anticipated game’ awards dating back to 2020) part fuelled by the writing influence from novelist George R.R. Martin have propelled Elden Ring to a much wider audience.
Renowned for its difficulty and steep learning curve, the soulslike genre for many has been one best observed from the outside rather than experienced first-hand. I being no exception however this time around encouraged by a £35 PSN gift card that had been nursed since Christmas, succumbed to the giant gothic Japanese hype train.
Standard practice with the series allows you to spend as much time as you’d like crafting your own protagonist, with pre-set class types buffed with the skill properties of your preferred combat style. I went with the samurai, admittedly because the starting weapon is a katana, however for the more experienced players you can choose to go in as a cold, naked, level 1 ‘wretch’.
A brief linear section familiarises you with the mechanics and plot, then casts you into the region of Limgrave to pursue your quest of becoming the Elden Lord. From here on out the direction you go is pretty much down to you. ‘Sites of Grace’ replace the respawn checkpoints from previous titles and act as a very loose guideway along the multitude of pathways.
Following a single path for too long in the early game usually lands you in a region which you are far too under-levelled or equipped to survive in for long but the vast world means that getting mutilated by giant crabs, crushed by cat-headed statues (repeatedly) or gored by scythe wielding gnome-men, is only a temporary frustration. Despite many ways to approach a combat situation, the option to simply explore somewhere else keeps frustration at bay and makes the experience of playing far more ‘flowy’.
The world you traverse is beautiful and rich with exploration and the combat, although sometimes still ruthless in difficulty, is more approachable and forgiving than the series has seen before. Remembering a certain cat-headed statue which killed you tens of times as a newcomer, and returning as a buffed sword-master to flex your new skills (this still meant rolling around frequently and spamming the samurai’s ‘unsheathe’ special attack for me) is a very gratifying experience.
FromSoftware have done what they do best with Elden Ring, but by planting their thoughtful level design, dark brooding world building and combat system into a gritty Zelda Breath of the wild-esque world has proven to be a great recipe for an incredible gaming experience. Although the elite have already sped-run their way through The Lands Between in just around 30 minutes, I myself and certainly many others continue to discover new regions to explore and new foes to be killed multiple times by.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
Today will see the release of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, a name as confusing as the game itself. The original trailer has been the source of many, many memes, yet that actually made the game more appealing to us, like a sort of morbid curiosity into just how bizarre this game could really be. Luckily, a demo was released ahead of the full game which I managed to check out and the gameplay was actually surprisingly fun. However, the story and dialogue were a bit of a mess and it will most definitely depend on your tastes as to whether it will be your cup of tea.
We guess there is really only one way to describe what the short demo experience was like, and it involves a bit of nostalgia. Just imagine back to 2002. You’re sat at home with your dialup internet, listening to System of a Down through the awful speakers that came with your Gateway PC, while wearing an Airwalk T-shirt. You’re frantically searching random gaming message boards looking for any information you can find about an imaginary new Final Fantasy game that could release on PS2, and out of nowhere you stumble upon some really confusing fan fiction about the origins of Garland, the main boss from Final Fantasy I. You kind of enjoy it because it’s 2002 and you’re starved of FF content, but it’s not really something you would tell your mates about. That’s what the story in this game feels like.
This is by no means a masterpiece of a game, and it has already completely divided the community before it’s even properly released, but you need to at least give the demo a try before making your mind up. I actually found the combat to be really engaging, and the job system looks as though it is going to be pretty deep. I’m intrigued, and honestly the mad story actually adds to it all. This game screams “purchase when the price drops”, or even better get it when it is free on PS+/Xbox Game Pass, but if nothing else it’s nice to see a studio lean into some of the more cheesy side of video games.
Square Enix Music Channel
Speaking of Square Enix, last week the company released a ton of music onto their newly established “Square Enix Music” YouTube channel. This channel includes entire soundtracks from established serieses like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger/Cross, NieR and Mana, as well as rare tracks, orchestral performances and interviews with composers/musicians. There’s even a new Lo-Fi and upbeat set of remixes that take a new spin on classic Square Enix tracks. I particularly love the Lo-Fi mix, as they became a work from home staple during the first couple of lockdowns, so it’s nice to see them embrace this genre officially.
It really is a huge library and assortment of songs, and the company should really be praised for being so open with their music. YouTube has always been the go to platform for video game music and it’s ace that all of this is available, free of charge, to pretty much anyone. There’s also the added bonus of the actual artists getting ad revenue, instead of people uploading the tracks ripped from the game. While I’m not against people doing this sort of thing, these videos usually get pulled and require some time to find replacements. I love video game music, more than a lot of “real” music, so hopefully more companies follow suit. For now, I’ll be listening to the FFVIIR soundtrack on repeat during my walk to work.
Returning to Returnal
In last week’s issue (shameless plug here) we mentioned the imminent release of Returnal: Ascension, and that inspired us to go back and revisit the game. On a personal level, Returnal came at a bit of a weird time between a job move, a house move and amongst other timing related issues, there was also an element of roguelite burnout after spending hours smashing the amazing Hades. To top it off the game was also released with no mid-cycle save function (a cycle is how the game refers to a run before you die and start over), and with runs that have potential to last three hours it would be almost impossible for us casual gamers to make any significant progress.
So Returnal got left by the wayside while I waited for the chance to actually be able to play it at the usual, casual snailesque pace. Fast forward almost a year and saving is now possible, and man this game is quality. There's a fantastic balance to the way it is implemented, allowing you to temporarily “suspend” your gameplay rather than full blown save it. Don’t get me wrong, I really admire the design idea for not allowing the save feature from an artistic point of view, but most of us have to maintain a healthy work/game balance, and I certainly rely on modern games allowing me to consume them in smaller chunks.
At any rate, Returnal is one hell of a game. The gameplay is challenging, particularly when you’ve forgotten the mechanics but don’t want to start a totally fresh save, but I’m finally getting to grips with them. Much like the aforementioned Hades the game is randomised on each run, but there are patterns and beats to everything; each room you enter, every enemy and their attacks, the increase in difficulty and how rooms evolve. This adaptive, yet familiar environment allows for fresh gameplay every time, and it’s as frustrating as it is fun when you get stuck in a room with a randomly occurring mini-boss. From the minor spoilers that we have read over the past year it seems like there is a lot more to come, and it will be exciting to uncover more details about the lore, especially when I can do so in the upcoming co-op and tower modes.
Now & Next
What we’re playing now
Outside of Returnal and Elden Ring, we’ve also picked up a few titles over the last week. It seems to be a week for demos with Strangers of Paradise and Kirby and the Forgotten Land both providing a look into what those titles will be like. I had a ton of fun playing the Kirby demo with my girlfriend, and that one might end up being a day one purchase for the couch co-op alone. I’ve also been playing with Team Sonic Racing, a nice addition to the PS+ library. It’s a different take on the mascot karting genre, and being a slight Sonic fanboy it’s great to play these levels inspired by the Dreamcast era of the series.
We’ve got our eyes on a few games that are coming out soon, and every week we’ll talk a little about anything that interest us.
This week saw the reveal of a number of new indie games at the iD@Xbox show case. Two titles that stood out were Tunic, an isometric, Zelda inspired dungeon crawler that looks stunning, which was also a Game Pass day one release that I’ve got downloaded ready to play this week. The other title was WrestleQuest, a retro-styled turn based RPG where you get to play as Macho Man, Andre the Giant and Jake the Snake. It looks as mental as it sounds, and I can’t wait for it to come out. Lastly there’s Vampire Survivors a game that has been in early access, but neither of us have been able to test yet. It’s a roguelite pixel survival game that pits you against hordes of monsters, which looks good fun.