Indie Title Eldest Souls – Beware Of The Gods

Happy New Year everyone.

The gods have dealt their hand and the message is understood, they don’t want humanity to succeed any more. Such a futile and archaic notion that the gods think they can prosper without humanity. Who would be there to serve them? Who would be there to pray to them? It is man that gives them power in exchange for hope; now they give us disparity. What the god’s fail to understand is, that man together provides hope, man together provides power. Fear not gods, it will be the hands of a man that will end your tyranny.

Jack Boyles discusses Eldest Souls…

The Souls-like genre (I know, I hate the name too) has been a genre that has exploded the past few years due to the success of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. As such, we’ve seen games like ‘Salt and Sanctuary’, ‘The Surge’ and ‘Elex’ arrive with challenging yet rewarding gameplay; Souls games are slower paced, there’s more strategy and more thinking required than your typical action adventure game. Though it’s not just the gameplay that make the Souls games great, it’s the world building, lore and atmosphere; some of the examples above have these elements within their games yet they never feel a cohesive whole.

Eldest Souls is an independent game made by Italian Studio ‘Fallen Flag’. Pitched as a Pixel-art Souls-like RPG, as you can tell from the title, it proudly wears its influence on its sleeve.

Humanity has been thriving with kingdoms blossoming on the once forsaken temples which imprison the old god. In retaliation, the old gods have unleashed a great desolation on the world as crops turn to barren wastelands. It’s your job as a lone warrior to slay the old gods ending the great desolation.

Firstly, the pixel art is nothing but outstanding. It manages to evoke so much atmosphere and it really captures the true art of using pixels. Little details of vines hanging from a tree, swords sticking into the ground from fallen warriors all elicit this sense of deprivation using limited visual fidelity.

Then you have the enemy designs, these giant creatures visually show their experience of battle, standing there panting and looking haggard. Everything looks aged and windswept as you travel through the forsaken land. It’s an impressive feat to achieve that sense of foreboding using pixel art, yet it’s that restriction in quality that enhances the atmosphere.

To my surprise the sound design didn’t follow suit with the retro aesthetic, instead, choosing to go with more grounded and realistic sounds. However, it works and works very well. If anything, it supplements the art direction and atmosphere using realistic sounds to strength the sense of danger. It reminds you this world matters and doesn’t care about you.

Sounds are an indicator to the player, as certain roars of enemies let the player know what attack is coming; here that is more important as enemies can’t really indicate attacks by animation as clearly. Furthermore, we have the soundtrack, like Dark Souls, it is very silent allowing the ambience to lure you into this world but when the time comes erupts to heighten your senses; it keeps you alert and to add gravitas to boss battles.

There is no need to worry though, Eldest Souls is a satisfying game to play. Never did I once feel like the character was doing something I didn’t want him to do nor was there any latency. He dashed when I wanted him to dash and he swung his sword when I wanted him to, which is precisely what you want with an game such as Eldest Souls; you would forget the demo I played is still in Alpha.

The introduction of Eldest Souls is surprisingly slow. You wander through the land looking at what has failed before you. Along the way, there are hazards like a strong wind gushing parts of a rickety bridge apart and a spike trap you must avoid. Though these are minor, it does create a small amount of tension and lets the player know that they shouldn’t get comfortable. But most of all it really establishes the sense of isolation; a long hollow walk into an unknown land.

It’s here the game acts as a tutorial, setting up various situations to get to know the controls like smashing down a wooden wall or dashing through the spike traps. Stamina works slightly different to other Souls games, as you have three little bars. A dash will use one bar, upon using all three bars you’ll only be able to dash once a bar is fully filled.

Arriving at the boss you quickly grasp that the combat is more offensive like Bloodborne. As a first boss, I’ll admit it I got slapped about a few times. Unlike those games where you can use what stamina you have as soon as it builds, Eldest Souls lets you wait until the bar fills, meaning any wrong movement has a detrimental effect on you. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to spend with the game, albeit what I played I enjoyed.

Eldest Souls captures the spirit of its obvious inspiration. It may not do much to change the formula but what it does offer is a refined gaming experience. With From Software leaving the Souls brand, as well as the stamina bar in Sekiro; this may be the right game for that core Souls audience.

As polished as Eldest Souls is already, my only concern for the game is the amount of Souls-Borne games we’ve seen; will this game stand up to the already saturated market?

Only time will tell.

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Life Is Strange 2 - Episode 1: Roads Review

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 1: ‘Roads’ Review [PS4] – We’re Going On An Adventure!

It’s been 3 years since the very first season of Life is Strange came out – and it gave us so much in terms of storytelling, where they explored how to deal with sensitive issues through the eyes of a teenager.

In the meantime, we were served Life is Strange: Before The Storm and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. In my opinion, they’ve only gotten better at it.

If you played the approximately 2 hour long adventures of young Chris Eriksen and his alter ego Captain Spirit (which is 100% worth your time by the way), then the decisions you made there will somehow carry over in Life Is Strange 2. I probably should have made a review on Captain Spirit, because that was truly an unforgettable experience. As usual, my final verdict for the series will be given at the very last episode.

Now, Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix are back with Life Is Strange 2 – with brand new characters, location, and storyline. We meet Sean and Daniel Diaz from Seattle in Washington, age 16 and 9 respectively. They are seemingly normal boys – Sean has a crush on a girl which he plans to hit on at an upcoming party, and Daniel is a boy who loves candy and to play with his toys.

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Playful big brother Sean.

That is, of course, before everything is destined to go down the drain in a fashionable Life is Strange-style. A supernatural occurrence takes place in their home, forcing the two brothers to escape, and wandering on the United States’ roads on their way to Puerto Lobos, a place in Mexico their father once called paradise. The boys live in a community where their background sadly plays a factor – which is evidently why they are on the run. The news reports them missing, and the cops are looking for them.

Based on the small amount of money they carry – it is not going to take long before they run out. This, eventually, leads to them having to beg other people for food.

Gameplay has improved, and the game looks much smoother now than it has before. As always, the soundtrack of the game is an experience in itself. You can always expect the Life Is Strange-series to contain excellent music that adds to the widely immersive world.

A theme that turns out to become an important aspect of the game is racial discrimination. Even though they have, from their father, clear roots in Mexico, they still identify themselves as Americans. However, when they start to feel exiled from the States, they cling to their Mexican roots. One thing is witnessing it on a general basis – another is witnessing it happening to these young boys. Defenceless and innocent, they become the victims of violence, both verbally and physically.

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Brotherly love.

To put it mildly, these incidents are hard to watch. It’s a bold move from the developers, but at the same time, I feel like they are doing the right thing. As a consequence of the tragic event, Sean has to take on a parenting role for Daniel. As a 16-year old, he is still too young to be Daniel’s substitute parent, but it’s what they have.

Taking on this parenting role is of course not fitting for Sean. He has to keep his mask on for Daniel all the way until they finally meet a kind soul who sees them for what they are; kids just trying to survive. This stranger briefly becomes a guardian for the two boys, giving them what they need to keep on going. We, as adults, take on the role of a child in crisis. It’s an unfair and difficult situation, but I think it is an important subject to discuss. A 16-year old is never supposed to be set in that position. Sadly, that is the reality of many.

Life is Strange 2 takes on a more serious note than the other seasons. I’m predicting that this season will be an adventure like no other. We watch them as they grow up, joining them on their ups and downs. Because there will be plenty of them. As usual, Life is Strange creates a moving story about these two boys that I felt an instant connection to. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going.

Life Is Strange 2 is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

A Way Out

A Way Out Review [PS4] – A Criminally Good Co-Op Adventure

As they say, there’s no “I” in “team.” From the man who has believed in this mantra since his previous game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Josef Fares is the director of the co-op exclusive A Way Out. Made by Hazelight Studios and published by Electronic Arts, this is a game I have been looking forward to ever since it was announced on E3 in 2017.

A Way Out is a textbook action-adventure game, but it’s unique in so many ways. As mentioned, there is no single-player option. You can play either local co-op, with a traditional split-screen style, or you can play online with another player. I chose to play the game in local co-op, so I can’t comment on how the game works online. From my experience with Fares’ previous game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, I knew local co-op would not be a problem, as Brothers offered an amazing co-op experience.

A Way Out Review

At the beginning of the game, each player has to assign a character, which can be described in these short terms:

  • Meet Vincent Moretti. Smart and strategic, Vincent prefers the stealthy route when it comes to handling situations and is not one to be underestimated. Vincent is convicted of murder, and the game opens with him being lead into prison. Outside the prison, Vincent is in a somewhat rocky place with his very pregnant wife.
  • Meet Leo Caruso. Tough, honest, and never afraid to do things the hard way, Leo is a stubborn man who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Leo is already an inmate when Vincent entered the prison and was convicted of grand theft. Outside the bars, Leo’s faithful girlfriend and their beloved son are waiting for him.

While the two men have each taken a very different path in life up until this very moment, Leo and Vincent’s unique stories are connected into one fantastic storyline. As they slowly get to know each other, they find out about a common enemy, a con man named Harvey – the sole reason for them being in prison in the first place. Queue revenge-plot!

Prison is a dangerous place to be and escaping it isn’t easy. Leo and Vincent are determined to get out. How else are they going to get their revenge? So, walk around the prison, do your chores, and make discreet conversation with the other inmates to gather information on security, how the prison is built, its weaknesses, etc. Do everything you can to make the prison break more manageable, without letting anyone else know what you’re planning.

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Take a break from the “escaped convict” life, and play a round or two of tic-tac-toe with your partner!

There are bound to be some fights in prison and this is no different. The fighting scenes are well-made, and in the very first one Leo and Vincent must work together in a ‘fighting circle’. The fights are badass, smoothly shifting from Leo’s perspective to Vincent’s – and it works really well. The quick-time events are terrific and so much fun. Three words: slow-motion scenes. However, there are also stealth-missions while inside the prison; one is the distraction, the other does the dirty work. The reliance on both of you to do your job is exciting and serves for some very refreshing gameplay.

The question on everyone’s mind is; how did they get there in the first place? The storyline moves back and forth between past and present, giving the player a right amount of story both before and after their escape from prison. And yeah, that is not a spoiler, by the way. The majority of the game does not actually surround itself with after prison; it surrounds itself with what happens after their escape. Leo and Vincent’s reunion with the world is not necessarily easy, as they finally must encounter the problems that have been waiting for them outside the bars.

What I really like is how A Way Out integrates the co-op factor into every single aspect of the game – with masterful success. Upon completing a task, such as opening heavy doors and climbing certain obstacles, you are dependent on your partner to help you. That’s just the minor things. The game is extremely interesting in how it presents a variety of different ways of getting through multiple situations.

The two escaped convicts have their own methods: while Leo prefers brute force, Vincent wants more stealth. Most importantly, the players actually have to agree on the choice. And let me tell you, that can definitely create some tension on each side of the couch. This also creates some great replay value – I would like to find out if the story unfolded differently if I had made other choices.

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The nice pacing of the game makes each moment all the more engaging.

When it comes to dialogue and script, there is an excellent synergy between Leo and Vincent and it is well-written, intriguing and thrilling. The voice-acting was good, and the synergy between the voice-actors was just as good as the characters in-game. The emotions change quickly from witty commentary that made both me and my partner laugh out loud, to severe conversations that created a pit in our stomach.

Visually, A Way Out is a stunning action-game with perfect pacing. Like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the game knows that it has beautiful scenery, and gives the player plenty of chances to slow down and observe, before throwing out a fast-paced challenge. As Leo and Vincent naturally must spend a lot of time outside, the game really gets a chance to show off incredible lighting and with perfect corresponding ambience.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the different nuances implemented within. In different instances of the game, the perspective changes. Some parts use the classic GTA top-down style, others it’s a Tekken/Street Fighter style. Josef Fares has made some bold decisions by adding a lot of variety, but somehow it just works perfectly and feels refreshing.

There is also a distinct change in audio when each character has separate conversations. If the players are exploring on different sides of a scenario, then the one who started to speak first will have the highest audio or the ‘focus‘ of the conversations. When one of the characters encounters a critical discussion, the game will automatically focus more on that. It’s an excellent way to focus on the essential things, and even though it was a bit confusing at first, it worked surprisingly well.

It wasn’t until I played A Way Out that I realized how much I’ve missed classic split-screen co-op. Nothing beats it. Where have all the good ones gone anyway? Because if I had to find a flaw in this game, I would say that I wished it was just a little bit longer… I wanted more, and though I know that wishes like that are often a double-edged sword, A Way Out is so much more than a get-out-of-prison game.

[There’s a huge twist at the end, a true turning point of the story; if you’re playing with someone in the same room, there might or might not be a problem. And that’s all I am going to say about that].

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review [PS4 Pro] – A Fine Piece of Ancient History

The Assassin’s Creed series has covered a broad array of historical time periods, numerous revolutionizing civilizations and provided fans with plenty of towering platforms plunging you headfirst into shallow haystacks. Year after year, Ubisoft released the next entry in the series for the past decade, only acquiring a small number of stand out titles from the Assassin’s franchise. After a year off from the constant barrage of AC titles, Assassin’s Creed Origins relieves fans from the drought with a massive world to explore, set in the earliest days of the brotherhood.

Discover ancient Egypt through the eyes of a Medjay

Our newest (or shall I say earliest) assassin goes by the name of Bayek and dons the presence of a Medjay – a sort of royal officer serving the majority of the populace found in Egypt. Acting as protectors not only of the people but of Pharaohs as well – often looked upon as hired mercenaries – Medjay listen to the people and help bring peace and safety to the lands of ancient Egypt. Soon, the death of his son enrages Bayek to chase down the masked ones responsible, in turn learning more about the ancient lands then he may have anticipated.

The world of ancient Egypt is sprawling with enemy hideouts, dozens of viewpoints and tons of sidequests.

The arid scenery of the desert landscape is stunning, and the vastness of the map is daunting, to say the least. The open lands run through countless villages, ancient prospering cities and boundless desert climates reach as far as one can see. It’s no secret the team from Ubisoft took their time on Origins, but the sheer level of detail put into the living and breathing world is far greater than anything we’ve seen from the series. To say the vibrant world of ancient Egypt looks astonishing is nothing short of an understatement. Origins lives and breathes with the ebb and flow of life surrounding the civilization it so graciously clings to and does so brilliantly.

As you run through Egypt and its many territories found in Origins, many new features will begin to surface. The parkour technique has been simplified to one button, while the “marionette” style of character control scheme AC had so faithfully made claim to a decade ago has been completely abandoned altogether. But the true difference from the series doesn’t sit at the controls of Bayek outside of combat but is found in the overhauled mechanics during combat.

Big steps forward in revamping the combat system

To say the Assassin’s Creed new and improved combat system may have been influenced by outside sources beyond Ubisoft headquarters may become evident to most who have played other titles with similar combat experiences. Ditching the relentless style of attack where assassins would bounce between a dozen or so enemies, parrying each attack one after another in a flashy, ultra-bloody finish. Instead, Origins has the player focusing more on one enemy at a time with combat similar to that of The Witcher 3, or perhaps the Dark Souls series.

The revamped combat system brings a brand new approach to brawling with enemies.

Striking with either a light attack or heavy attack, blocking with your shield, using ranged attacks from a variety of different bows and, of course, pulling off stealth assassinations with the elusive hidden blade; the weapon to which made the assassin brotherhood so deadly. The combat in Origins will have you dodging around your enemy blows while counterattacking with one of many melee weapons to choose from. Be it mace, club, sword or spear, tons of thrilling weapons can be found in the massive world of Egypt.

While older systems and battle mechanics had players swinging their weapons at the perfect time to execute precise and deadly counterattacks, the combat would become stale quickly. Over and over we saw the same enemies, with the same predictable attacks, timing our counterattacks just right to squeeze off as many finishers as possible. Though the system saw tweaks here and there throughout the series, this is the first time it has actually been completely overhauled. And, while it takes away from one of the few aspects that separated the Assassin’s series from other titles in the dense genre, it fits well with the new mould the franchise has taken.

A hint of RPG elements

Skills that Bayek can learn throughout Origins are divided into a three-part skill tree. After each level up through gaining experience points, Bayek is granted one ability point to spend on one of the many enhanced skills and abilities. Becoming a stronger warrior with fierce, new attacks, discovering new skills for the helpful companion, Senu or acquiring various bombs equipped from Bayek’s tool belt are just a few examples of useful skills found from the skill tree in Origins.

A dash of other useful RPG elements have been added to the game’s weapons system, now with tons of options from heavy, blunt weapons to ferocious attacking swords. No longer must players discard favourite weapons simply because they’re out-levelled and weaker compared to newer finds with the help of the weapon upgrading system. Upgrading your weapons at local blacksmith shops, be it melee or bows, will bring the weapon to Bayek’s current level, for a fee of course. In some cases where players may discover a particular weapon, they’re comfortable using, instead of replacing it down the road, the upgrading system allows them to continue using it effectively at higher levels.

Tons of weapons, upgrades, unique skills and abilities are discovered, rewarded or learned in the massive world of Origins.

Though, in many instances, it may be wise to switch to newer weapons. Coming in three different colours of rarity (similar to the colour coding found in other RPGs, i.e. Borderlands, Diablo, etc.) weapons will be labelled blue if they’re common, purple if rare and gold if legendary. There are tons of different weapons, each with various stat boosts, and all may be dismantled for precious crafting supplies.

While crafting, Bayek is able to enhance various pieces of equipment, which in turn upgrade important stats permanently. There are a total of six different items to enhance through crafting, including the bracer for stronger melee attacks, the breast-plate which raises Bayek’s health or the quiver which increases the number of arrows one can hold. Other pieces raise range attacks, the amount of bombs or other tools held and the power of Bayek’s hidden blade. Each piece of equipment requires a certain amount of crafting materials, typically found through hunting wildlife, or grabbing loot off of enemies. Finding the loot would be rather difficult if Bayek did not have the help of the scouting eagle, Senu.

Scout the endless skies with Senu

Using Senu is another big change in the series, replacing the eagle vision from previous AC games. Additionally, while flying with Senu, the map icons appear, as well as icons for any nearby crafting supplies, within a certain proximity of your soaring eagle’s sight. Senu has an unlimited distance to scout, and the more viewpoints synchronized, Senu’s sight range is slightly expanded. Aside from pointing out various activities, loot, side quests and crafting materials, Senu is also helpful to provide the player with guard activity and numbers when raiding enemy hideouts.

Explore the skies as Senu and scout for additional quests, important events and necessary items like crafting materials.

Throughout the enormous map that makes up Origins, plenty of side tasks and extra content lay at the feet of Bayek. With the addition of actual side quests, and tossing out the unoriginal and repetitive objective challenges from all of the other releases in the series, Origins stands as the most unique and rewarding Assassin’s title to date. Each sidequest – and there are tons – has a different and interesting storyline, which most are based on real-life instances, legends or myths from the ancient Egyptian era. Many may have players performing simple, and sometimes similar tasks, but all have unique backstories, and plenty of surprises to help ease the gameplay from becoming the same, worn-out cycle of events.

Overview

The massive lands of ancient Egypt sprawl past any other Assassin’s Creed title that has graced the gaming community since its debut in 2007. With a storyline that includes yet another rage-driven protagonist fueled by vengeance and hatred towards Templar forces, the start of the Brotherhood of Assassins is an impressive one. Gorgeous visuals compliment the astounding world of the mysterious Egyptian civilization.

With tiresome gameplay mechanics stripped away and replaced with new and exciting features that show Ubisoft is paying attention to what fans of the series want, Origins gives a lot more than it takes away. The all-new combat system is a delight to master, and gives players a true sense of accomplishment. The crafting and hunting system is an excellent way to continue to strengthen Bayek, on top of the expansive skill tree rewarded through experience points.

Figment Review – A Beautiful Exploration Of The Mind [PC]

A music action-adventure set in the recesses of the human mind.

This is how Bedtime Digital Games describe their new game Figment: if you are familiar with Back to Bed, an adorable puzzle game about guiding a sleepwalking man safely back to his bed, you will quickly see the resemblance. (If the title of the game sounded familiar, you probably remember Chris’ preview here).

The first thing that hits you when entering the game is its gorgeous hand-drawn art style, which was one of the most prominent qualities of its predecessor as well. Starting with a pretty little house, we meet our protagonist Dusty, a careless and pessimistic character, who doesn’t care much for anybody or anything. His companion, the bird Piper, works as great opposition to him – cheery, optimistic, and creating bad puns all day long. Well, perhaps some of them are clever, I guess.

Dusty’s scrapbook is stolen by a dark, sullen creature – and we learn later it’s a manifestation of a nightmare. Dusty’s mind is set on getting it back, no matter the cost, and Piper chirps that “something is wrong with the mind,” and that we need to fix it; as a kind of foreboding to what this whole ordeal is about. And so the story begins, as we venture into the imaginations of the mind.

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The puzzles are interesting, and luckily for me, not too hard.

The game uses some interesting terminology; some of which might seem familiar, but on a very different subject than video games; neurology. Collect endorphins so that the “brain will turn back into yourself again in no time,” pulling you out of whatever it is that’s holding you down. Killing nightmares are a way to release these endorphins – which makes perfect sense since endorphins are basically the stuff that makes you happy. One can also collect endurance neurons, which is basically health points. The game also creates new words such as the “remembrane” – which is a ball of light that represents forgotten memories. They can be collected throughout the game and are also a part of restoring your mind.

The terminology is there for a reason; as the game world itself is a manifestation of the brain, Dusty and Piper has to traverse through the different parts of the brain in order to fight the different nightmares. The right side of the brain is the creative side, and the scenery adjusts accordingly, with instruments decorated as flowers, creating an absurd yet playful atmosphere. The logical part of the brain, on the other hand, is filled with cogs and clocks, with darker colours. There are really interesting concepts concerning the brain that make it into the game, such as the “train of thoughts” which is an object used to solve some of the puzzles in the logical part of the brain. Very well done by the developers – very clever indeed!

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This specific puzzle… I was stuck on it for quite some time. *sigh*

The puzzles get more extensive as you proceed in the game, meaning you need to look around everywhere, backtracking and so on. Some of the puzzles that look dimensional like this remind me of the indie game Monument Valley. However, the puzzles are not too hard, which I liked. I am a fan of progress in games and appreciate not having to be stuck on a puzzle for a longer period of time.

The majority of the game is about solving puzzles, but there’s also a bit about battling enemies or so-called nightmares. In terms of gameplay, Figment shows how the hack ‘n’ slash element can be implemented into a relaxing game successfully. It is simple and straightforward – and patience is key when it comes to defeating your enemies. The nightmares come in the form of human fears, such as disease, spiders, etc, which is interesting, because they are both rational and irrational fears – applying to both parts of the brain!

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The loading screen is a map of your progress, which is pretty handy. And it is gorgeous-looking too. The universe actually reminds me of the painter Salvador Dali and his painting “The Persistence of Memory.”
Do you see the resemblance?

It is clear that Figment is a game that focuses on its musical prowess. And with good reason, too. I loved the sound design in this title. The music changes depending on where you are in the brain and which nightmare you are fighting. The instruments that play in the soundtrack are blended into the scenery in a very beautiful way, and one can clearly see how essential music is to the ethos of this game. It gets better: during the boss encounters they sing songs to you – about what they are, and why they are frightening. The songs are catchy and fun – I really enjoyed them for this reason alone.

Figment offers a unique soundtrack, with specially designed songs – if there ever exists a vinyl of the music, be sure to send it my way, okay? Just sayin’.

Though the game doesn’t contain that much action, it sure is a fantastic adventure game. The levels are imaginative, and gorgeous in an absurd kind of way. Moreover, the way Figment chooses to deal with the distress of the mind is fascinating, and very well done.

As of this moment, the game is only available on Mac, PC, and Linux. Hopefully, it will be available on Xbox, PS4 and Switch soon, because more people definitely need to play this.