EconomyEditor's PickA game any true wrestling fan can enjoy

September 1, 2022

Video Game ReviewWWE 2K22Sony PlayStation 5

CrystarNintendo Switch

Labyrinth LegendSwitch

MAKING a good wrestling game seems pretty simple conceptually. If you channel the best parts of World Wrestling Entertainment live shows and add interactivity to them, it doesn’t seem possible to create a bad wrestling game. After all, any wrestling fan worth his or her salt knows that the sport has always been more about presentation and spectacle, and that’s one thing video games can really pull off well. The live fights, when viewed in all their ridiculous glory, are a joy to watch when you combine each wrestler’s over-the-top personas with the complexity and weight of the stunts shown. Translate that spectacle into a video game, and you have what should be the best parts of wrestling on full blast, with your favorites duking it out on the ring with not a shred of restraint in sight. WWE 2K22 embraces this ridiculousness and tightens up the mechanics and visuals in order to give the best experience it can. While WWE 2K20 was a disaster, WWE 2K22 shows that 2K Sports understood what went wrong, and, in the process, delivers a finely crafted experience that any true wrestling fan can enjoy.

The biggest of changes comes with the overhauled combat mechanics. WWE 2K22’s fighting mechanics have been made simpler, and while it does remove some of the earlier titles’ complexity, this overhaul has made the experience flow much smoother. Wrestlers feel much more responsive, and the various moves you can do feel weighty and impactful. The combos also feel pretty satisfying when you’re able to land them, and your ability to reverse these on your opponents gives you a flexible amount of options on how to take them down. You do have to watch your special meter during gameplay, though. Taking inspiration from more modern fighting games, proper use of this bar helps immensely in turning the tide, allowing you to perform signature wrestling moves or getting out of hairy situations before things get worse.

That’s only scratching the surface of WWE 2K22 as well. Wrestling is more than just brawling on-stage, and whether you’re in the ring or backstage, it’s important to keep an eye on your surroundings to see if you can make use of them. You can toss your opponents off ledges, hit them with chairs, slam them on tables, and do all sorts of fun wrestling antics that really help seal the idea of a wrestling match come to life.

This is all sold with the game’s very good-looking engine. Of course, not everything with WWE 2K22 looks perfect, and some areas are visually worse — make that considerably worse — than others. Some textures can look pretty plasticky, the hair of some characters, for example. However, barring some of the outliers, there’s been a great amount of detail put to work to make each wrestler come to life onscreen. This really speaks to the amount of time and quality put into making this game come to life.

You’re not limited for choice with how you can enjoy WWE 2K22, either. If you feel like making your own wrestler, you’re welcome to customize to your heart’s content in the game’s MyRise mode. Here, you’re free to choose and play your wrestler as you see fit, choosing what brand to sponsor, making friends and enemies of whoever you desire, and generally living as the sport’s new and upcoming talent. Progression is smooth, and your ability to frame and shape your character to your liking adds a hell of a lot of charm. It’s basically your wrestler’s own story mode, and it’s as dramatic and as silly as what you’d expect from it.

If that’s not what you’re looking for in WWE 2K22, you can always just go with Showcase mode. Follow the exploits of Rey Mysterio and the key fights he fought that cemented his career as a wrestling legend. Don’t feel like getting your hands dirty? Go with MyGM mode instead, and schedule the matches instead of playing in them. There’s just plenty of options to enjoy the game as you see fit, and it is a breath of fresh air to see these options all laid bare, no strings attached. There are no microtransactions; you don’t need to pay to enjoy them, and the plentiful modes you have on offer ensure dozens of hours of content.

Granted, WWE 2K22 is far from perfect. As with its predecessors, it runs into issues that may detract from the experience. Most of them are minor, thankfully, with the worst usually being things like shaky audio quality or texture bugs — and these can easily be forgiven, especially with how much they fixed compared to their earlier titles. If anything, the real issue with WWE 2K22 is that some of the downscaled features might be missed by longtime followers of the game. Things like the combat being faster might be more desirable, yes, but some might enjoy the more methodical pacing of, say, that of 2K19. While the upgrades have mostly been a net positive, fans who already have a set idea of how the series should play out may not be on board with them.

That said, WWE 2K22 is a surprisingly fun game to enjoy. If nothing else, it restores the faith of straddlers to the franchise. It is not only an overhaul of the series’ worst mechanics; it’s also a push for more accessibility and more fun, while keeping the spirit of the series alive. It still runs into some problems, but WWE 2K22 lays terrific groundwork that can be expanded on in future titles, especially if they channel the sports’ best moments like this game has.

THE GOOD:

• Easy, accessible, and intuitive, with a frantic, fast-paced approach to combat

• Has all the bells and whistles of a good wrestling match, combined with a solid visual design that makes it look and feel immersive

• Plenty of content to enjoy, with lots of replay value to be had

THE BAD:

• Still has some quality issues that can be a bit jarring when they pop up

• Removal of some mechanics might put off longtime fans

RATING: 8.5/10

POSTSCRIPT: Most people think of Japanese role-playing games as lighthearted, ridiculous adventures often filled with silly main characters. Their goals have them setting out to battle deities and overthrow kingdoms, and ultimately restoring peace to a troubled land. These motifs are often followed by themes of friendship, of unbreakable bonds and positive outlooks, and, when coupled with their cute art-style and cool designs, often have people thinking JRPG stories dwell on the happy side.

However, that has not always been so, and more recently, the recent trend has been the reverse. JPRGs of late have been unafraid to tackle more adult-oriented topics, and despite retaining a lot of the genre’s original preferences with regards to art style, their themes are unafraid to dip into far darker territory. Crystar is one such title. As an action JRPG that basks in the darker tones of regret and loss, its story seems tragic and gloomy. Underneath all of that are themes of hope mixed with a well-made dash of solid JRPG action.

In Crystar, you play as Rei Hatada, set to travel to Purgatory in search of a way to bring her sister back to life. Meeting with Purgatory’s managers has her willingly make a pact with them, promising to delve into its various levels, battle its many denizens, and cleanse each area in return for having her wish granted. With each level Rei traverses, she encounters new burdens to face, battling their physical forms and putting them to rest, and even taking some of their burdens as her own. It’s a heavy plot to get through, and the backdrop of the story creates a somber atmosphere that gives it a melancholic tone. The enemies you face are often tormented souls reliving their past mistakes. When purifying them, you’re not only putting them to rest; you’re also treated to small snippets of their memories, giving each encounter their own individual personality.

This carries on into Crystar’s actual gameplay mechanics, as the enemies you face drop them as debuffs. Called “torments,” they must be purified before they can be used. However, once they are, they give Rei access to much-needed stat boosts, allowing her to press on into harder stages and face off against stronger enemies. Each stage you go in for these torments feels unique because of this, as you’re not so much “farming” as internalizing each stage’s personality. While the environments are not too detailed, they do feel unique because of this, as the lighting, art style, and narrative context carry each stage you go through. It’s a good showing that while a game’s graphical fidelity might not be high, its art style and writing can carry the day.

This atmosphere is probably the best part of Crystar. Its gloomy setting combines with its different motifs to give itself its own style. There’s just enough mystery and misdirection to make you think about what’s going on. With each level you finish, you learn more about the creatures you face, about the characters you’ve met, and about the companions you’ll talk to. You’ll reflect on what you’re doing, question the motives you’ve set out on, and press on with no guarantee in sight save for more suffering to encounter. This bleak outlook on what’s happening, topped off by the game’s good music and attention to story detail, creates a strong atmosphere that’s hard to forget, and doesn’t feel cheesy or forced at all.

The actual gameplay in Crystar also does fine, and translates the story’s motifs well enough that it feels connected to what you’re doing. The various items you get and the companions you’ll meet are all unique and give some variety to the combat because of this. Rei and her friends can use a bevy of light attacks and heavy attacks, and these serve as your bread and butter in the dungeon segments. There’s a dash to reposition yourself, and a special Tear Gauge that eventually allows you to summon your guardian, powering yourself up and giving your attacks a strong steroid. It’s not a particularly hard system to get used to, and even those unfamiliar with button mashers will find it easy to master.

However, this action gameplay doesn’t remain enjoyable nearly as long as Crystar’s story does. While the context of Rei’s journey continually evolves, the pacing of its button mashing gameplay doesn’t. Compared to its contemporaries, Crystar lacks a lot of punch that makes these action games remain fun for long periods of time. It doesn’t have the quick, satisfying pacing that something like Samurai Warriors has. Nor does it have the intricate combo strings of Devil May Cry, or even flashy, charming animations found in the likes of Kingdom Hearts. It feels like a pretty low-budget button masher, with the combat feeling very restrained, especially when compared to its story which took lots of risks to get its messages across. As a result, the parts that aren’t story segments can feel lacking after a while. To its credit, though, Crystar (even in portable mode) at least runs these segments well, and while other games on the Nintendo Switch suffer from framerate dips and slowdown issues, Crystar has none of those. It’s smooth from start to finish, and while some of it may feel like filler, especially if you want to grind, none of it is the hardware’s fault.

All told, Crystar’s certainly worth looking at. Games like Crystar highlight developers’ ambition. Moreover, its original release on the PS4 has translated to the Switch very well. Its story still holds up and its combat is sufficient even if it’s not groundbreaking. The overall content it has to give still feels satisfying enough to really dig into, especially if you like more adult-oriented themes in your JRPGs.

What Crystar lacks is polish, but even so, it’s a sufficiently enjoyable action JRPG. If nothing else, it boasts a strong story that is well worth reading, even if you’re not fully into its combat. It’s far from a perfect game, but when it does its narrative parts so well, it’s hard not to stay engaged. It won’t disappoint in that regard, and the story honestly makes up for whatever it lacks.

THE GOOD:

• Very good atmosphere to enjoy

• Very strong writing, with adult themes and plenty of depth to be had

• Enjoyable characters to learn and love

THE BAD:

• Mediocre action that requires very little thought

• Somewhat repetitive in some parts of the game

• Can drag a little in its story segments, especially if you’re not used to reading visual novels

RATING: 7.5/10

Dungeon crawler games are a dime a dozen, but each of them has its own unique interpretation of how the genre goes. From the action-packed action RPGs of Diablo and Titan Quest, to the more restrained turn-based styles of such notables as Class of Heroes, Ultima, and Darkspire. Dungeon crawling can likewise range from hardcore loot grinding to tough monster encounters that require quick thinking and strategy. Labyrinth Legend, however, opts for none of these. Instead, it goes for a simpler approach, combining the simplistic combat of a casual button masher with the mechanics of a loot-based RPG system. It is enjoyable and actually entertaining enough to hold your attention before you move to something else.

Labyrinth Legend’s story is simple. In Kanata Village rests a treasure lying deep within a monster filled labyrinth. You are one of the adventurers hoping to try their luck and their skill to acquire it. While hordes of enemies bar your path, they can’t stop you from your quest for riches and glory. With that begins your rampage.

Admittedly, there’s not much story to keep you entertained in Labyrinth Legend. There’s just enough of a plotline to give you motivation before you’re thrust into the action. Kanata Village isn’t really a place you can explore, and while you do have some options in how to customize your characters, the biggest differences come in the form of your character’s class, and whatever weapons and items you scavenge during your run.

While this setup is barebones, the actual adventure in Labyrinth Legend is not. The moment you set foot in the labyrinth, all bets are off, and it’s up to you, using your own skill and equipment, to carry the day. Each level you run through is randomized and plays like a top-down hack-and-slash game where you smash your enemies to pieces. It’s a simplistic design, sure, but it’s done in a way that leaves it easy to approach. Each weapon you own has its own attack styles and patterns, and you can equip up to four different ones at any one time. From spells and weapons that launch projectiles, to swords and spears with different ranges and attack styles, it’s the equipment that changes how you attack, and that in turn dictates how you face each mob encounter. For instance, having a strong projectile weapon means you have range on your foes, giving you time to whittle them down before they get up close. However, once they get in, a melee weapon’s superior area of effect swings might be more beneficial to you, especially once your enemies start surrounding you.

It’s an intuitive little system to pick up, and it allows you to cater your playstyle to your favorite weapons as they come. While your older gear might eventually get phased out by stronger, newer equipment, you can always upgrade it to keep it relevant. Or you can spend all your upgrade materials on a different type of weapon and lean on that for most of your run. Either option works, really, and with the loot being the lifeblood of Labyrinth Legend, it is really up to you what you keep and what you sell for those all-important upgrades.

While you can’t explore much around the village, the store owners there do have some benefits they can give you. From the ability to carry more potions during each dungeon dive, to having more inventory space so you can find and sell more items for profit, these upgrades can give you some long-term help when doing your runs. When things start looking tough, it’s probably time to start upgrading your items, and while you may be doing some grinding, the randomized levels and enemies you encounter in Labyrinth Legend do keep it from going completely stale.

There’s a main story mode to be played, as well as an extra game mode to enjoy once you’ve had your fill of the main campaign, although this is more of a player-handicapped version of the main story mode than anything else. Much of your time, really, will be spent on your first playthrough, beating enemies, collecting their loot, and doing it all over again.

Is it simple? Very much so. Labyrinth Legend’s design was made to be simple, and it shows. The combat, while interesting, doesn’t allow for too much depth. The gear variance could’ve been good, especially with how equipment functions, but it never changes how you interact with your game like something a Diablo armor set would. Occasionally, a boss does come in, but these often prove to be more damage sponges than actual threats. The few times you’ll be low on health, all you need to do is dash away from your enemies and kite them with ranged weapons until they die. It’s not a challenging game, but it’s fine for what it offers. It’s not meant to be challenging. It simply aims to be casual and fun.

Labyrinth Legend feels like a game you’re made to run through and play a little each day. It won’t captivate you like other hardcore RPGs would, but it does just enough good to keep you entertained to finish a stage or two, hammer out a few upgrades, and rinse and repeat. Its long-term staying power is derived from how approachable it is, and while other games might test your patience or wear down on you with their complex mechanics, Labyrinth Legend just asks you to go ham on monsters and watch their shiny loot drop. It’s simple, effective, and enjoyable, and perfect for a Switch title enjoyed on the go.

THE GOOD:

• Fun combat with enough of a reward cycle to keep you playing

• Casual, enjoyable button mashing mechanics combined with a decent RPG grind

• Short-and-sweet stages meant to be breezed through for some light entertainment

THE BAD:

• Repetitive at its core, with quite a bit of grinding if you want to level up all your items

• Not very challenging, with simplistic mechanics in place to keep things from getting overly complicated

RATING: 7.5/10

The Last Word: Bethesda has just released Elder Scrolls Online’s latest downloadable content. The Elder Scrolls Online: Lost Depths is already available for all players on Windows and Mac, and will launch on Xbox Series XS, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PS5, and PS4 on Sept. 6.

As part of 2022’s Legacy of the Bretons year-long adventure, the dungeon DLC pack brings two new four-player dungeons to challenge you and your allies that build upon and expand the saga. Both dungeons feature their own unique stories and rewards, including item sets, achievements, and collectibles not found anywhere else in Tamriel.

Launching in tandem with Elder Scrolls Online: Lost Depths is Update 35, a new base-game patch that all ESO players can enjoy, no purchase required. This update includes balance changes, fixes, and new features, including changes to the combat system, the introduction of bonus “mini-events” for Battlegrounds (for example, a weekend that grants bonus Alliance Points), and broad improvements to experience point gains in player versus player in general.

Players can purchase the Lost Depths game pack through the in-game Crown Store. It’s likewise included for all who subscribe to ESO Plus.

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