The Roundup: Starfield’s Truth Is Out There, SAG-AFTRA, Flame Con, Baldur’s Gate 3, The Expanse, Lenovo Legion Go, Mythical Games, More!

By Ronald Gordon

Hello and welcome back to the Roundup! It’s the Critics Circle’s way of gathering up the stories that have been published in the past couple of weeks! Summer is winding down to a close and schools are starting back up. But that doesn’t mean that games are stopping anytime soon. Not only have FromSoftware’s Armored Core VI (which has taken up more of my time than needed) and Bethesda’s Starfield been released, but there’s lots of news revolving around the WGA strikes as of recently. Alongside that, this time around we’ve got intern reviews of Baldur’s Gate 3, Pikmin 4 and The Expanse, news on Lenovo’s handheld console, a once-lauded Web3 games company on a sharp decline, and so much more!

Harold Goldberg took to the cosmos to explore the galaxy within Starfield, which Todd Howard, president of Bethesda, recounts will give you a journey reminiscent to that of Han Solo’s. A departure from Bethesda’s classic franchises of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series, Starfield sends its players further than they could imagine into the known universe. Harold says, “Entering the futuristic environment and noticing what appear to be new arrivals, I spent time talking with them, each with a completely different personality. One person’s a jerk. Another tells a factual story about an archly religious society that worships a serpent. And a middle schooler is precocious, funny and amazed at the world around him.” While quite a lot of gripes have been said about Bethesda’s handling of dialogue (or the various bugs their games can have at times), a lot of Harold critique points to to not only his enjoyment of the game the time he’ll lose because of it: “So I went slowly, taking it all in, the loneliness and the wonder, knowing that it would take a year to finish Starfield at my slug-like pace. That’s fine by me. I’m in no hurry. It’s not the finale that I care about. It’s the journey to the end.” 

Next, we have Jade Entien, who attended Flame Con which made them feel at home. Not only was Flame Con a place for Geeks, Nerds, and all other types of enthusiasts to gather, it was also one of the few major events hosted for people within the Queer community, much like Jade. From mingling with other fans of franchises they personally enjoy, to interviewing interesting-looking cosplayers and those at the NYC Gayming Lounge, Jade’s story gives an insight unseen before. The Queer Community is doing a lot, not only in gaming but in various industries, to create a tightly woven net of understanding and camaraderie between like minded people. Says Jade, “I had a great time over at Flame Con and met a lot of amazing incredible people. I would 100% recommend grabbing tickets for the next year. Flame Con was hosted in an accessible building and has a COVID-19 policy still in place to protect the attendees, which was important since a new variant is on the rise. As a bonus for young people, they also have an annual Youth Day where anyone 21 years of age or under can attend Flame Con for free!” 

Kimari Rennis got the full Dungeons & Dragons Experience in Baldur’s Gate 3, a game that has everyone rolling Dice, for better or for worse. Walking into Baldur’s Gate 3 with no prior knowledge of playing D&D itself, Kimari was pleasantly surprised at how in-depth and dynamic the game could be. Writes Kimari, “This game has a mind-blowing amount of depth when it comes to the characters you meet, the world that you explore, and every combat scenario you encounter. I’m fascinated by how fleshed out each character is, especially the playable ones you can add to your party. Everyone has a background story that shapes who they are. Obviously, each character has an Illuthid slug in their head that they want to remove above all else. But away from that, they have dreams, desires, and feelings.” Interacting with the characters of BG3 is one of the core aspects that makes the game feel real to its many fans. The characters feel as fleshed out as any other Player would make them. The at home feeling of the NPCs couldn’t help Kimari when it came to feeling lost inside D&D territory. “But one thing I will say is that the game is wildly inaccessible to those unfamiliar with how Dungeons & Dragons work and all of its nuances. There is clearly lore that runs deep for this game, whether it be from the previous games or from the Dungeons & Dragons universe in general. There is a lot I don’t know.” 

The Expanse may have been a popular TV series, but with the return of Telltale Games and their amazing stories, Karoline Castillo-Troncoso believes it can be a popular game series as well! Functioning as a prequel to the renowned show, Telltale Games’ The Expanse features everything that fans might want; space, drama, and tough decisions. Says Karoline, “The Expanse: A Telltale Series, co-developed by Deck Nine, is a single-player, episodic adventure game. It is a prequel to the television series The Expanse and undertakes a new perspective with inspiration from the novels. With the ability to make impactful decisions throughout the course of this game, audiences are left with a sense of control, but also of suspense. Additionally, players are able to save slots and therefore, go back and explore different outcomes of decisions previously made as one awaits the release of more episodes.” After a long period of silence from the developer, Telltale Games is back once again to deliver an enthralling narrative, one that further heightens this newfound lust for the final frontier in the zeitgeist of gaming as it takes place majorly in the cold darkness of space. “Its detail is quite literally, astronomical and will most likely leave you without words, for various reasons (including that of floating heads). Telltale is making a comeback, and I can’t wait for future episodes!” 

Last but not least on our list of writers comes Makeda Byfield, who was sucked into the world of Pikmin 4, despite never being a fan of the prior games. Featuring a lovely piece of art from Serenity Cruz, one of our newest interns, Makeda’s review of Pikmin 4 changed her mind on a lot of things. Writes Makeda, “Confession time: I’m usually not a fan of games that are part of a series. That usually stems from the fact that I don’t game enough, and am therefore, am usually unfamiliar with the background and lore. So imagine my surprise when I enjoyed Pikmin 4! The fourth game in the series seemed to have enough callbacks for old players, and exciting adventures and explanations for new players. This, in my opinion, is a sequel done right.” Pikmin 4 has a lot to offer anyone who wants to play it, fan or not. From its cute Pikmin creatures to its comprehensible gameplay, it’s no wonder such an adorable game pulled Makeda in. “Pikmin is simply too adorable, too silly, and too fun for me to put down. As summer winds down, I can see myself spending these last few weeks of break escaping away into the whimsical, wonderful world of Pikmin 4.” 

Michelle Ehrhardt brings news of Lenovo making a handheld gaming console, adding onto the myriad tech companies trying to muscle in on the handheld gaming spectrum. Priced at $699, the Lenovo Legion Go isn’t your ordinary handheld console; however, it’s got all the specs it needs to compete with what’s out there nowadays. Michelle says, “Lenovo’s added on a larger, 1600p screen and a keyboard-and-mouse mode to make the Legion Go truly its own device, and help it stand out in an increasingly crowded market. Specifically, its screen is 8.8 inches across diagonally, which gives the picture far more real estate than the 7-inch Steam Deck screen or the 6.2-inch screen on the base Nintendo Switch.” From a larger screen to keyboard-and-mouse capabilities, the Legion Go is more of a mobile computer than it is a Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch clone. Yet while it boasts versatility against its opponents, there’s still no telling if it can truly compete with the likes of Nintendo or Valve as it’s still being tested for battery and cooling performance, which hopefully won’t be its biggest pitfalls. 

Not only have the Writer’s Guild Association Strikes encapsulated Writers and Actors from Hollywood, but Stephen Totilo brings news that SAG-AFTRA is urging Video Game Actors to join the fight. With the rising fears of AI-generated content taking over certain creative careers and the shrinking paychecks that actors and writers are receiving, it’s no wonder that all aspects of entertainment are banding together in this way. Stephen points out that “While actors who contribute to video games seldom appear as themselves, on camera in a game, they regularly lend their voices to game characters. Many also have their facial and body movements captured to animate the roles they portray. Actors have been sounding alarms about the potential for generative AI to clone their voices and speak lines for them, without them getting paid.” Video games are an ever expanding medium, but they can also suffer from the same issues that Movies or TV can as well. Without the Voice Actors and Writers we know and love, games such as Rockstar Game’s Red Dead Redemption 2 or Starfield would never have come to pass, and it’s important that individuals who feel slighted should fight for their proper pay and protection. 

Communication can be strange sometimes, and Giovanni Colantonio may have found a game that captures this weird nuance of communication and language. Chants of Sennaar is a linguistic puzzle game that focuses on the stranger aspects of how language is used, which scratched an itch in Giovanni’s brain he didn’t know could be scratched. Says Giovanni, “When I was first dropped into Chants of Sennaar, I was a stranger in a strange land. Without a word of English to guide me, I was left wandering around a desert village perched on a tower, struggling to understand locals who only speak in foreign symbols. No more than an hour later, I was a budding anthropologist.” It may have taken a minute to truly understand the game’s mechanics without a common language, but words aren’t required to be understood. Context comes in many forms and Giovanni found himself engrained in the clues he could gleam during gameplay. “I’m not always right, but that’s part of the game. Sometimes I see my rough translations pop up in another context and realize I’m off, like an embarrassed tourist using the wrong words with a local…To ascend, I need to become fluent in those grammatical nuances too.” 

Beyond The Circle

While I may not be too knowledgeable about Web3 games as a whole, I’m still shocked to learn that Web3 game companies such as Mythical Games staff have been quite decimated! In the Pitchbook article “Playing games: How Mythical became a cautionary tale of the Web3 gaming gold rush” by Jacob Robbins, I learned about the downward spiral that Mythical Games underwent in their search for ways to incorporate NFTs and Cryptocurrency into the gaming industry. Writes Robbins, “In an all-hands meeting coinciding with the funding announcement, CEO John Linden informed employees that the first close of the round had fallen short and was about half of what Mythical had aimed to raise. Moreover, it was a down round, cutting the company’s valuation by 20% and putting its pre-money valuation at $965 million, according to PitchBook data. The company was about to go through its third round of layoffs in less than nine months. It was yet another sign that the Web3 gaming gold rush has come to a halt.” A part of me understands the push for wanting NFTs and Crypto integrated into games. But with loot boxes and gambling being some of gaming’s biggest controversies, I don’t think it’s the right move. It was a lot more than just a Crypto craving that drove Mythical Games under. From company heads jumping ship to impending lawsuits, I highly suggest reading Jacob’s article to hear about the chaos that this studio underwent.  

Ronald Gordon is a New York Videogame Critics Circle Member & Mentor. He was the first of our writers – or any intern anywhere – to complete an internship at Rockstar Games.

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