Every Friday, several A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I’ll be bouncing between a lot of things this weekend, but at the top of my list is finishing a game called The Fidelio Incident. It’s another one of those narrative-heavy first-person exploratory games in the vein of Gone Home or Firewatch. You play as an Irish man who’s searching for his wife after the two of you crash-land on an island near the coast of Iceland. There’s something very strange about the whole scenario from the start, and as you trudge toward the billowing smoke that marks your love’s location, a backstory begins to unfurl through dream sequences and pages of your wife’s journal that you find along the way.
Structurally, it’s pretty contrived, especially the puzzles that constantly block your way forward. They’re frequent and easily failed enough to be annoying—especially in the game’s early stages, where you’re constantly running from heat source to heat source in an attempt to not freeze to death—but nowhere near complex enough to be satisfying. At least the island is a frequently interesting-looking place, with snowy peaks and surreal gnarled trees. More impressive is the game’s mastery of lighting and composition, as it uses your limited perspective and meticulously crafted sets to create some very attractive shots.
And while the writing can get a little purple for my taste, the fractured narrative that The Fidelio Incident tells is what’s really holding my attention. Set against the backdrop of Irish Republican Army violence in the mid-’80s and inspired by Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera, it’s one of fathers and sons, love and devotion, choice and trauma. I’m not quite finished with it yet, so I don’t have a bigger take on how it all comes together, but it’s hooked me enough to keep me plugging away at the laborious puzzles, which is an endorsement in itself.
Freed at last from the self-created prison held deep within the Velvet Room, I have returned to my one true love: picking apples and shit in Hyrule. The beauties of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild have already been extolled at length, here and everywhere else on the internet, by birds alighting from trees and rays of sun beaming from the heavens, but I have discovered, in returning to it, at least one new reason to love it: that is, returning. We start lots of games and then, at some point, lose them in the shuffle as some newer, shinier world becomes available. Over time, without ever really thinking about it, you decide you’re done with it or you make an old college try to reengage and find a convoluted set of systems and markers and waypoints and plotlines that you have no real interest in parsing. But Breath Of The Wild, with its blissfully straightforward combat and almost completely player-authored plot, unfolds as easily after three months away as if I had just stopped the previous night. Link was standing by a mountain somewhere, sword in hand. I briefly looked at the reams of side quests and portions of the map still unexplored, and then, heeding the call in my heart instead, started climbing that mountain. I got to the top, too. It was lovely up there.
When I play choice-heavy games—your Mass Effects, your Witchers, etc.—I do what I imagine most people do and pick the decisions I think I’d myself make in that situation. (“Well, of course we’re going to talk to the troll; compromise is one of my core values!”) The freeing thing about Obsidian Entertainment’s Tyranny is that it doesn’t bother presenting those milquetoast, regular-person choices. Why would it, when I’m a servant of Kyros, the supreme overlord, whose “compromises” come in the form of magical edicts that can tear whole regions to shreds?
Rather than the cartoonish evil of something like the Overlord games, though, most of the choices I end up making in Tyranny are about the political and personal consequences of my various cruelties. (This is, after all, the studio that made Alpha Protocol, one of the best social manipulation games of all time.) The highlight of my most recent play session came when a defeated (and very irritating) enemy offered himself up for surrender. In any other game of this ilk, I’d have swallowed my distaste and given him a second chance. But a Fatebinder of Kyros can’t show weakness, and so I barely hesitated as I consigned the poor obnoxious bastard to his death. How’s that for “core values”?