Five Game Challenge 2020: my picks

At the time of writing, 8,181 games have been released on Steam during 2020 so far. That’s an average of 27 new titles every day and an awful lot of choice. But which ones would you choose if you were made to pick only five to last you an entire year?

This is the question posed by Naithin from Time to Loot. The first part of the Five Game Challenge community event involves writing a blog post about your choices, and those who were brave enough could test their selection by playing only those titles during November and writing about their experience for part two. I opted out of the latter as I had a bunch of half-finished games I really needed to complete this month – but I’ve been looking forward to joining in with the former and thinking about what my picks would be.

It’s a similar question to one asked by Kayleigh from Strange Girl Gaming all the way back in April 2018: you can only play one video game for the rest of your life, so which one is it? I found this pretty tough to answer because there’s so much choice available to us, but I eventually managed to narrow it down to two titles. It will be interesting to see whether these make an appearance in my selection this time around and what the other choices will be.

Coloring Pixels

I first tried Coloring Pixels towards the end of last year after it popped up in my Steam suggestions and two things happened after that initial session. First, I was surprised to find a game without a story had held my attention for as long as it did (I completed ten levels without being the slightest bit bored or even realising I’d done so many). And second, it turned out to be a great way to wind down after work because an hour or so of colourful clicking proved to be wonderfully therapeutic.

With 25 DLC packs now available and providing even more pixelated images to colour in, I think this could be a great choice for the Five Game Challenge. It’s perfect for those evenings when you want to do something but don’t have the energy to play an intense game, and there’s no risk of frustration because you aren’t penalised for filling in a pixel with the wrong colour. You can just zone out, click away, and eventually your masterpiece will appear in front of you.

Horizon Zero Dawn

One of the two games I chose for Kayleigh’s question in 2018 was Horizon Zero Dawn and there are a few reasons why it made the cut. If you’re going to spend an entire lifetime with a single protagonist, you’d better make sure it’s one you get along with – it’s incredibly difficult to hate Aloy. She tells men that her ‘eyes are up here’, questions the right of the matriarchs to take power simply because they’ve had children, and pulls apart any traditions that don’t make sense. You go girl.

With the main storyline, side-quests, errands, hunting grounds, Tallnecks and DLC, there’s plenty here to keep you going for quite some time. And you can always go exploring for the best scenic spots to make use of the Photo Mode when you need a break from fighting mechanical beasts and saving the world. I recently started playing this game again after being reminded of how much I enjoyed it three years ago so let’s see how many photographs I come away with this time.

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

I’ve had an on-off affair with ESO since first playing it at Christmas in 2015 and found myself returning to it during the COVID-19 lockdown. The absence of a steep learning curve makes it so easy to get back into and there’s always something new to see: a villager who’ll reveal some local gossip, a hunter chasing a fox, a clifftop with a beautiful view. All simple things and events that don’t have any direct impact on your journey but ones which add more depth to this online land.

There’s plenty of exploring and action to get stuck into, but it’s not all about fighting long-dead draugers and killing giant spiders. This is a great game for simply hanging out online with friends. Some of the most memorable moments for me have been the evenings where we’ve left the dungeons behind and done something completely different – such as viewing everyone’s mansions in an ESO-version of MTV Cribs or seeing how many other players we can convince to dance with us. Good times.

The Long Dark

I became a Kickstarter backer for The Long Dark over seven years ago in September 2013 but haven’t yet tried it. At first, I was waiting for it to come out of early-access as I prefer to play titles once they’ve been fully released; and after that happened in August 2017, I’ve been delaying until all episodes of the first season of the story mode have been published. But if I’ve got to pick just five games to last me an entire year, I think this could be a very good choice because it contains a lot of content and looks beautiful.

Entries in the survival genre don’t usually appeal to me but the supernatural edge to the plot here made me pay attention. After mysterious lights are seen in the sky, the world is plunged into darkness and all our technology is knocked out in an instant. I think I’d end up getting wrapped up in getting to the bottom of what’s going on – but there is also a survival mode and standalone challenges alongside the story episodes. In fact, I think I might get this one installed and give it a go over the winter.

The Witness

The Witness is a title which frustrated me immensely when I played it in 2016. It was hard to accept that I’d sunk so many hours into completing hundreds of puzzles – some of which I’d had to bash my head against for hours – for so little pay-off in terms of a story, when all along it felt as though a mysterious secret was going to be revealed at the end. I think I would have gotten so much more out of it if I’d gone into it treating it as a pure puzzle game rather than a narrative one.

But this is knowledge gained with hindsight and the reason why it would be a really good entry for my selection. It’s similar to Coloring Pixels above in a sense because it provides a mental break: after a long day at work when I don’t have the energy to save the world, I can spend the evening mulling over a challenge or two and forgetting about everything else. There are also plenty of locations to take lovely-looking screenshots so my library won’t be full of Horizon Zero Dawn photographs only.

There you have it: the titles I’d choose to spend a year with as part of the Five Game Challenge. Would any of them make your list too? Thank you to Naithin for hosting the event, and good luck to everyone participating in part two this month!

Gamers’ Guide to Isolation: inside but outside

After the government’s address to the nation at the end of March, people all over the UK have been confined to their homes with the instruction to leave as little as possible. We’ve now been inside for over three weeks and I bet more than a few of us are climbing the walls.

Fear not though: with the help of my lovely blogger-friends, I’ll be bringing you the Gamers’ Guide to Isolation this week. This is going to be split into three sections over the next few days and will feature a range of video games to help you handle different factors of the quarantine. From titles to play while you’re pretending to work from home to releases that will make you feel as though you’re not going through this alone, hopefully you’ll find something here to pass the time.

Today we’re going to start with games to make you feel as you’re outdoors even though you’re inside. The Prime Minister may have told us that we’re allowed out for exercise once a day, but most of us would love to spend far longer out in the fresh air. So why not check out the following titles suggested by some awesome bloggers to make you feel as though you’re hiking through the mountains, walking through the forest or going for a bike-ride?

Cities: Skylines

Suggested by Luke from Hundstrasse

“On the face of it Cities: Skylines doesn’t have the characteristics of a game that should make you feel as though you’re outdoors, but sitting here trying to think of first-person titles set in vast sprawling countryside or third-person adventures in beautiful sun-drenched vistas, my mind kept coming back to Cities: Skylines. A rather well executed SimCity-type game, it’s all about zoning, managing financial incentives, and building a good public transport system, but it’s also a game that sits the player floating in the air above their own beautifully detailed metropolis. Zoomed out, at high altitudes, you can hear the wind rushing past you, but with a spin of the scroll-wheel you can be at ground level watching cars go by on a busy street, or jump over to a leafy suburb away from the traffic noise to watch citizens meander through a manicured park. For me, this ‘model village’ of a world gives me the the outdoor experience as a floating entity above my creation, breathing that virtual air vicariously through my digital citizens.”

Eastshade

Suggested by Kim from Later Levels

“Give Eastshade a try if you’re looking for something relaxing to play. You can grab your bike and go for a ride through the pink trees of the Blushwood Forest; take a stroll across the sunny Tifmoor Bluffs; or hitch a ride in a balloon to the peaks of the Restless Reach. And if you spot a view you’d like to capture, pull out your canvas and paint a picture. This is one of my favourite games because it’s such a beautiful take on the RPG genre, accompanied by lovely artwork and soundtrack.”

Firewatch

Suggested by Quietschisto from RNG

“When I think about the great outdoors, mountains instantly spring to my mind. What better game to pick than the hiking simulator – Firewatch. In this game, you play as Henry, who tries to run away from his problems by taking an isolated job in the Yellowstone National Park. Beautiful, cel-shaded environments, excellent voice-acting, and you always keep the mandatory distance of 1km between people. What’s not to love about it?

“If you want a bit more gameplay than just walking around, you could also try The Witness. The landscapes are not quite as impressive (still, their minimalistic design is beautiful in its own) and there’s no story to speak of, but the puzzles will more than make up for all of that. Remember to pause whenever your brain starts smoking!”

Grand Theft Auto V

Suggested by Alex Sigsworth

“The environments of Grand Theft Auto V are amongst the most realistic ever. The cities are full of NPCs who have their own unique dialogue that builds the impression of a whole world beyond the player. Even the sound of the player character’s steps changes with the slightest difference in surface. Just taking a walk to the pier is an impressive experience. Everywhere I go reminds of me real places I’ve been. Exploring with no objective can pass hours on its own. There’s no place I wish were more real than Southern San Andreas. Apparently, it has a narrative too.”

Horizon Zero Dawn

Suggested by Solarayo from Ace Asunder

“People can be so damn cruel… She may be hated by her people, but I know I instantly fell in love with Aloy the starring shero of Horizon Zero Dawn. Let’s just say I connected a little too closely with her bullied outcast problems. Social distancing is even worse when it’s the kind forced on you buy a bunch of jerks who refuse to accept you for being you. Ahem. Anyway, who doesn’t love forests and nature in all of its pristine glory? The beautiful wilds of this game are simply lovely to explore, while you figure out why the heck wild robot dinosaurs are running amok in a primitive human world.”

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Suggested by Dale from UnCapt

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a game that infuses itself within nature. With its beautiful aesthetics and soundtrack, one can’t help but feel envious for Ori who gets to run through the forest. Especially whilst you are locked inside! Whilst maybe not making you feel outside, it does give you an appreciation for the forest and all who dwell there. Plus the sounds and visuals of the game help to draw you closer to nature, in a way that brings the outside to your home.”

theHunter: Call of the Wild

Suggested by Dan from nowisgames.com

“The escapism available with this game is incredible; the environments, the freakin’ sound of the wind, the overall serenity. This is like nothing I’ve experienced before. Tracking animals through the wilderness becomes a tense game of cat-and-mouse, culminating in a single shot, in some cases after an hour of tracking. Sounds incredibly dull, but when you’re slowly creeping through the forest tracking that deer, something primal happens and you’re transported away from the real world around you, even just for a little while.”

Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection

Suggested by The Gaming Diaries

“One of the games that I have spent the most time in recently is Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection. I may be inside but in this I can run around a zoo, see animals from all parts of the world, drive through the zoo in a buggy that you can call and just comes flying towards you… and all this with other people milling about, taking in the sights and sounds. No matter how dull the day is outside the window, in this game you have a bright zoo and sunny skies to keep your spirits up. It makes you feel as though you are outside in a place which in this game brings many joyful moments. I’ve had baby animals born, released animals into the wild, taken photos of chimps that are desperate to avoid the camera. Despite the fact I am playing alone in my home, I feel like I’m out in the world trying to do something and I’m learning some things as I go. It’s a bright world at the zoo and it’s brilliant to be outside in it.”

Hopefully these suggestions will give you some inspiration for video games to check out while you’re in isolation. If you have any further recommendations, please do leave them in the comments below – and come back on Wednesday for titles you can sneakily play while you’re working from home. Look after yourselves, everybody!

Video Game Literary Classics 101

Imagine it’s 2050 and you’re helping design a course for high-school students called Video Game Literary Classics. You’ve been asked to suggest culturally-significant video games for them to academically analyse and discuss. Which titles would you choose for literary study and why?

It’s a good question, and one posed to the community by Angie over at Backlog Crusader at the end of last month. The aim here is to look at releases which say something significant about humanity; interesting philosophies, ethics or social commentary that’s worth in-depth discussion. The number of responses will determine how long the course will be and, although it’s been a very long time since I was in education, I’m stepping up to the challenge. Here are five games I’d suggest and the reasons why.

From 1993: Mortal Kombat

My brother had a Game Gear when we were kids, and we played the original Mortal Kombat together while news reports appeared on television and in papers to declare it as being a source of corruption. Back then it was considered to be a horribly-graphic release and both parents and politicians were worried about the affect it was having on children. I can remember my sibling and I thinking this was kind of stupid: how would playing a game on a screen make anyone to want to be violent in real life?

It was an interesting time. Society was a mix of excitement for new technology, fear of the impact of digital violence, and mass hysteria about ‘keeping our children safe’. Almost three decades later and the title in the spotlight may have changed but the moral panic hasn’t: we’re still having the same conversations about whether playing video games is harmful or addictive. Fortunately there’s plenty of research now to show the benefits too, so at least we’re able to have a more balanced discussion.

From 2012: Journey

In a complete contrast from the earlier release suggested above, Journey is about a quest to reach a mountain in the distance that contains no violence whatsoever. You’ll meet other players in-game with whom you can only communicate through musical noises made my your character; but far from being an obstacle, it in no way stops you from wanting to them on their way. Does this say something about human nature, that we’re all built with an intrinsic desire to be ‘good’ and do the right thing?

It’s something to ponder over, but one thing we can be sure Journey highlights is that gaming experiences can be beautiful, scary and exciting all at the same time. It ignited the debate about whether the medium should be considered as art and has a lovely philosophy at its core. My stepson summed it up nicely in a comment he came out with after completing the title: “So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.”

From 2013: Gone Home

Games like Journey and Dear Esther sparked a trend for narrative titles in the early 2010s which were sadly looked down on by some members of the community. They ended up becoming known as ‘walking simulators’, a derogatory term meant to imply that their lack of traditional gameplay made them less worthy than other action-heavy releases. Could something where the player did nothing but move forward and where there was no need for skill still be considered a video game?

Game, story, art: however you want to define it, the genre is perfect for telling a story and helping the player to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Gone Home in an amazing example as it wonderfully captures 1990s culture and what it was like growing up in the decade. More importantly, it also discusses views on homosexuality at the time and the stigma attached to being anything other than straight. We’ve still got a long way to go but it’s interesting to see how things have changed over the past 40 years.

From 2017: Horizon Zero Dawn

There are so many questions about society which can be explored through the narrative of Horizon Zero Dawn. Where will the relationship between humans and robots ultimately lead, and is artificial intelligence (AI) something to be feared? Will the way we’re treating the planet eventually lead to our downfall? And how does Aloy rappel down mountains, slide into patches of tall grass, go head-to-head with all sorts of dangerous machines and everything else Mother’s Heart throws at her – and still look absolutely perfect?

Jokes aside, this girl is far from being a one-dimensional character who only exists as an object to be rescued or for the gratification of men; and she actually wears something practical rather than being scantily-clad. There have been many discussions in recent years about the portrayal of digital women and just as much abuse thrown at the females who make them. Are protagonists such as Aloy, who we can be proud of and look up to, evidence that both the industry and gaming community are finally starting to grow up?

From 2017: Fortnite

Love it or hate it, Fortnite interestingly highlight several current trends in the gaming industry. The title itself is a copy of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and now other creators are starting to replicate Epic Games’ baby in return. Its free-to-play and cross-platform basis has been a reason for its huge popularity. But there have also been recent reports of the company’s employees being placed under extreme pressure to work gruelling hours too, revealing a darker side to maintaining the success.

It seems as though there’s not a week that goes by during which this game doesn’t make an appearance in the news. There’s a fear about how addictive it is and how it’s going to be the downfall of our children – but not so much talk about good parenting, and how it’s important to know what your youngsters are playing and whether it’s suitable for them. Whose responsibility is it to moderate: parents or publishers? And what impact is this going to have on society in the long-run?

Thank you to Angie for coming up with this collaboration, and for letting me participate! There’s still time to join in: take a look at her post before 23 June 2019 for all the details, and get involved.

Real Neat Blogger award: a personal adventure

Last month, Bandicoot Warrior nominated Later Levels for a Real Neat Blogger award. Head over to his site so you can stay up-to-date on his progress towards convincing me to finally play Fallout! He himself was nominated in December by Hailey from A Dame’s Gotta Game, and she came up with some great video-game-related questions which put us in the centre of the adventure as the main character.

Bandicoot Warrior opted to stick with Hailey’s questions so here’s how our story begins: “You awake in a strange house, surrounded by things that seem familiar, yet new in their own way. Your head hurts and you can’t remember who you are or anything about your past, but the memories soon begin to flood back and you begin to be able to piece together qualities about yourself and your life by looking at the objects around you.” It looks as though we have a big adventure ahead so let’s find out where this journey takes us…

Question one:

After getting out of the bed you just woke up in, you begin looking around the room and notice a framed family portrait on the mantle. You glance in a mirror on the wall and back at the family portrait. The person in the middle of the photograph is clearly you, but the people on either side of you look familiar, but you can’t remember much about them and who they are. You assume that they must be your parents and you suddenly remember them from a game. Who are your gaming character parents?

Night in the Woods, video game, kitchen, cats, conversation, Kandy, Mom, Mae

Dad would be the Hero from Fable, because he’s a master of Strength, Skill and Will; plus everyone would want to be your friend after seeing him turn up at the school gates in his armour and wielding Avo’s Tear. And mum would be Candy Borowski from Night in the Woods, because the random stuff she comes out with reminds me of the stuff that my real-life mum says. I might need to rethink this combination however, considering the Hero has a dog and Candy herself is clearly a cat-person… hmm.

Question two:

After figuring out and remembering a bit about who your parents are, you hear a loud growl from your stomach. You are starving! After a quick trip to the kitchen, you open the fridge and your eyes widen at the assortment of foods on the shelves before you! Everything looks delicious, but you notice your favourite video game food and it just looks too tempting not to eat first! Which video game food do you choose to eat first and what makes it such a delicious treat?

The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild, video game, Link, fire, cooking pot, recipe, hut, trees

This question is similar to one posed as part of 2017’s Creative Christmas collaboration. For day eight we had to come up with a menu made entirely from video game food and, although there were a number of tasty options, the one I’d be most likely to eat in real-life would be the Hearty Salmon Meunière from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If I was still peckish afterwards I’m sure I could make some room for a slice or two of Butterscotch-Cinnamon Pie courtesy of Undertale, because it sounds as though it would be amazing.

Question three:

Now that your stomach is satisfied, you realise that you are so thirsty! You head back to the fridge and peer inside once again. You spot your favourite video game drink on the shelf, ice cold and looking delicious! You grab one, pop it open, and take a big drink. Which video game drink did you choose to satisfy your thirst?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, video game, sweetroll, cake, lizard, plate

Following on from the menu above, I also included a couple of beverages within my Creative Christmas post but neither are what I’d want to drink. Both grog or root beer are horrid so instead, I’d go for something different but still alcoholic: Honningbrew Mead from The Elder Scrolls series. I had the opportunity to try mead for the first time as a Christmas market a few years ago and really enjoyed it; plus the alcohol in it would provide some much-needed Dutch courage for the rest of this adventure.

Question four:

Now that your thirst has been quenched, you decide to look around the house a bit more and see what you can remember about yourself and the world around you. As you step into the hallway, you hear a loud crash and many other terrifying noises. Fearing for your safety, you step into the nearest room and close the door quietly. As you turn and place your back against the closed door, you glance up and see a terrifying creature standing before you. You immediately recognise the monster from a video game and begin trying to remember it’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities to help you survive! Which creature and from which game stands before you?

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, video game, zombie, face

Which creature appears in so many video games, even those where you’re least expecting them? Zombies. Even quieter non-action titles such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter have their fair share of the shuffling corpses. Fear not though because I’ve done an awful lot of research on the zombie apocalypse and evidence shows that gamers are well-equipped to survive the undead horde. All we need to do is stay out of the cities, aim for the head and blame the pharmaceutical conglomerates for all of this mess.

Question five:

The creature growls and positions itself to attack! You glance to your right and see a formidable weapon. You recognise it immediately from a game and quickly grab it before attacking the monster and ultimately winning the battle. Which weapon did you see and what makes it your main choice?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, ghost, pirates, LeChuck, Guybrush Threepwood, root beer, grog machine, Stan's Previously Owned Vessels, boatyard

Root beer has long been known among voodoo practitioners to be a powerful weapon; and with that well-stocked fridge mentioned in question three above, there’s bound to be crates of the stuff in this place. LeChuck exploded into a firework display when sprayed with the stuff at the end of The Secret of Monkey Island – but perhaps that was less to do with this beverage’s anti-zombie properties, and more to do with the fact that it tastes simply disgusting. Who knows?

Question six:

After cleaning yourself up from the battle with the creature, you decide that it’s time to get out of this house and to find someplace safer! You find the door to the garage and upon opening the door, you find a variety of vehicles, mounts, and transports, all of which are vaguely familiar. You only have time to choose one, so choose wisely! Which video game method of transport do you choose and what makes it the most reliable for ensuring a safe getaway?

The Last Guardian, video game, Trico, animal, beast, phoenix, griffin, boy

This one is easy: it would have to be Trico from The Last Guardian. He can provide transport over long or high distances as well as support; he’s loyal and strong; and all that fur would be great for keeping both of us warm if we have to venture into colder climates on this adventure. When you’re trapped on the other side of a canyon, he’ll mewl at you to give you the confidence to make the jump and catch you just before you plummet. Now that’s a relationship built on trust.

Question seven:

As you speed away from the house on your chosen method of transport, you notice the scenery around you is also familiar and you spot a familiar person. You are unsure if this person is a friend or a foe, but currently, you can’t worry about that. You need help! Which video game character do you see first and what makes them a friend or a foe on your journey to the unknown?

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, woman, warrior, Aloy, mountains, sky, photo mode, clouds

Aloy has plenty of qualities to make her an amazing friend and she’s someone you can’t help but admire. She laughs at anyone who doubts her skill; tells men her ‘eyes are up here’; questions the rights of the matriarchs to take power; and pulls apart any stupid traditions that don’t make sense. Plus she always looks perfect regardless of the situation so maybe she could give me some tips and do my hair. She loves a bit of technology too so maybe she’d be up for some co-op gaming on the sofa after battle.

That’s it: we’ve completed our adventure and arrived safely in a new world! Thank you to Bandicoot Warrior for the nomination, and to Hailey from A Dame’s Gotta Game for a set of awesome questions. How would your own adventure pan out?

On the fifth day of Blogmas

Our choir of gaming Christmas carollers is back again for the second day of Blogmas, where creative conductor Athena from AmbiGaming is leading us in a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas – but with a video game twist. Check out her blog to see what she’s written for her fifth answer, and keep your eyes peeled for all of the other bloggers out there taking part.

Yesterday we looked at nine games on our to-play lists. With the choir clearing their throats and warming up in the background, let’s see what the subject of today’s verse is:

On the fifth day of Blogmas, the gamers said to me:
What are your 12 favourite gaming memories?
Tell us 11 games you love!
What are ten reasons you’d play a game?
Give us nine games on your to-play list!
Who are eight characters you love?

1. Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, female, woman, character, warrior, mountain, viewI should hate her for her ability to come out of any scenario looking immaculate. But I just can’t; Aloy’s attitude and independence make her one of the most likeable characters I’ve had the pleasure of playing as. Her physical beauty isn’t something she nurtures and she pulls up anyone who doubts her skill due to her age or gender. She tells men that her ‘eyes are up here’, questions the right of the matriarchs to take power simply because they’ve had children, and pulls apart any traditions that don’t make sense. She’s simply awesome.

2. Candy Borowski from Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods, video game, kitchen, cats, conversation, Kandy, Mom, MaeIt may not have been completely what I was expecting and the ending might have felt slightly disconnected, but there were three things I loved about Night in the Woods. The humour was excellent and the artwork was lovely but most of all: Mae’s mom is a legend. She reminds me of my own parent in a few ways (except she’s not a cat). The random comments said by Candy are exactly the kind of thing my mum comes out with, and I could totally see her telling me useless facts about eels. Eeeeels, honey.

3. Erica Reed from Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

Cognition, An Erica Reed Thriller, Erica Reed, FBI, face, gunThis character may be a kickass FBI Agent who’s searching for the evil Cain Killer, her brother’s murderer, and her ‘psion’ powers might give her an advantage by enabling her to see into the past. But Erica is by no means a superhero and her weaknesses are exactly the reason why I love her. Raleigh Holmes does an amazing job of portraying her as a real person who’s struggling with a stressful job, tragic past and powerful secret. It’s her wonderful voice-acting and some great writing which bring Agent Reed to life.

4. Murray from The Secret of Monkey Island series

Tales from Monkey Island, video game, skull, MurrayMurray may have had his skeletal-body blown to pieces by a cannon but did he let that hold him back? No. Many would have been crushed by this tragic accident but my favourite skull turned it into the opportunity he’d been waiting for: to become a demonic overlord and conquer the land of the living. Despite his reduced state, he still considered himself to be an object of pure evil and dreamed of spreading chaos throughout the Caribbean – showing that sometimes all you need to get you places is a positive mental attitude.

5. Samantha Greenbriar from Gone Home

Gone Home, video game, photograph, dark room, handsAnother superb voice-acting performance in this entry on my list: full marks go to Sarah Grayson for her portrayal of Sam. The teenager comes across as smart and snarky yet insecure and relatable, and you can’t help but feel for her. While unravelling her coming-of-age story and relationship with Lonnie, she reveals herself with a lot of honesty through her journal entries; and by the time you’ve spent the three hours needed to complete the title both she and her story will have left a lasting mark on you.

6. Theresa from the Fable series

Fable II, video game, Theresa, babyIt’s difficult to reveal much about Theresa’s history as her backstory is so detailed. But the most intriguing thing about her is the fact you’re never quite sure whether she’s on the side of good or evil: is she telling you all she knows, or has she seen the future and is now trying to guide you down a certain path? Zoë Wanamaker does such a great job at portraying the Seeress, with a perfect balance of mysticism and threat in her voice; now whenever I see a television advert voiced by this actress it feels as if Theresa is trying to sell me something.

7. Trico from The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian, video game, Trico, animal, beast, phoenix, griffin, boyI love the way the relationship between Trico and the boy strengthens over the course of their game together. When the creature can’t move because he’s scared of the stained-glass eyes dotted around the environment, it paints a picture of the traumatic conditioning he’s been subjected to and it’s up to you to smash the artifacts to pieces. When you’re trapped on the other side of a canyon, Trico mewls at you to give you the confidence to make the jump and catches you just before you plummet. Now that’s trust.

8. Zoë Castillo from the Dreamfall series

Dreamfall Chapters, video game, Storytime, female, Zoe CastilloAfter becoming disillusioned with the path her life is taking, Zoë drops out of university and gives her journalist ex-boyfriend a hand with a story he’s working. Little does she know that this will set in motion an epic series of events that will see her caught in an epic adventure. She’s a likeable, realistic character with a big heart. And unlike some other video game characters who simply go along with the story, she always questions what happens to her and doesn’t just accept the unbelievable events she’s involved in.

It’s time for the choir to take a short break so we’ll be back for the sixth day of Blogmas tomorrow, with our favourite posts. In the meantime, why not tell us about the characters you love in the comments below?

UK Blog Awards, UKBA19, logo, voteHello there! If you like what you see in this post, why not take a moment to vote for Later Levels in the UK Blog Awards 2019?
Doing so will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


All I want for Christmas

Christmas is less than a month away and we can’t wait for copious helpings of turkey and roast potatoes. There’s still some preparation to do first however and some of you may still have presents to purchase. Never fear however because you’ve come to the right place: the following gifts are sure to bring a smile to the face of the gamer in your life.

Before we launch into the list however, I feel I must make a confession. I did try to bring you a varied gift guide that would cater to a whole range of gamers’ tastes, and completed plenty of research online in order to make it as comprehensive as possible. I can’t help feeling that it’s just ended up being a wishlist for myself however so I probably owe you all an apology – but on the flipside, hopefully my other-half and stepson are reading this post and will get a few ideas. Hint hint.

Under £10

Luck potion, candle, Gametee, dish, peaches I’m a big fan of Gametee and have bought plenty of their products including t-shirts, bags and tin signs. The one thing I don’t yet have though is the Luck Potion candle to go with the Health and Mana versions I already own so it would make a nice addition to the collection.

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, mug Pete and Ethan both have their own special mugs but when I want some tea, I’m stuck with one with a picture of a cartoon cow on it. Yes, a cartoon cow. I think it’s time I got a new one and seeing as Aloy is still my girl, I think this Horizon Zero Dawn version would be perfect for a cuppa.

Blue Shell, Mario Kart, badge, pin, Etsy, Fuck You, PinMeRightRound I know it’s a little rude but I think this Mario Kart pin by PinMeRightRound on Etsy is awesome. I’m starting to get a bit of a collection and it would make a great addition to the Sensitive Badass badge I picked up through Kickstarter – my denim jacket is going to look great next summer.



Under £20

Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us (about life, philosophy and everything), book I saw the book Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us (about life, philosophy and everything) when my other-half and I visited the Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition at the V&A recently. I’ve had it on my reading list since and it could be great for whiling away a few hours during the holidays.

The Secret of Monkey Island, glass, grog, Etsy I’m sure everyone’s aware by now of how big a fan I am of The Secret of Monkey Island. So what better way to serve your mulled cider this Christmas than in a personalised pint glass from LittleGiftstudioGB on Etsy, which even comes with groggy gift box.

Myst, video game, t-shirt, falling, Fangamer I’ve been playing through the Myst series after receiving my rewards from the Kickstarter campaign for the 25th Anniversary Collection. I may not have had much luck with Myst V: End of Ages last month but it doesn’t stop me from wanting this excellent t-shirt by Ian Wilding on the Fangamer website.



Under £40

Duck Hunt, video game, artwork, Etsy My other-half would tell you we already have too many pictures up around our house, but can you ever have too much video game artwork? I love this Duck-Hunt-inspired altered painting by jamesBit on Etsy because it’s the perfect blend of kitsch and pixels.

The Elder Scrolls Online, ESO, book After buying a PlayStation 4 Pro in October and deciding to keep the previous console, Pete and I are planning to set-up a second television in our living room so we can play The Elder Scrolls Online while we have some time off. Volumes I and II of these books are sure to help us on our adventures.

Humble Bundle, Humble Monthly, video games, website If you’re not sure what to get the gamer in your life then how about the best possible thing: more video games. You can grab a three-month Humble Monthly subscription to whet their appetites for a longer subscription, giving them access to around nine titles each month.



Blow the budget

I’ve already got my tickets sorted for next year’s Rezzed event but if you haven’t yet picked up yours, you can grab a Super Pass for under £40. That’ll get you access to all three days, hundreds of games, developer sessions and project creators – the chance to bump into me.

Xbox, Adaptive Controller, XAC I got the chance to try out the Xbox Adaptive Controller when I volunteered for SpecialEffect earlier this year, and it blew me away. It’s great to see companies such as Microsoft starting to consider accessibility in gaming and thinking of ways to ensure everybody can play.

Tetris, video game, earrings, gold Got several hundred pounds to spare? Then why not consider this range of Tetris-inspired 18k gold earrings by OctaHedronJewelrySF on Etsy that really will blow the budget. You’ll no longer have to long for that straight piece ever again when you’ll have one attached to your ears.



Disclaimer: the list above consists of items which caught my eye but I’m unable to comment on their quality or the performance of their sellers. Later Levels isn’t affiliated with the sites mentioned and I won’t receive any money as a result of clicking on the links in this post – although if the sellers read it and would like to send me these items, I’m not going to complain and would accept them gratefully. Thank you.

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