Hello there, Level1 Community! Recently, we released a video chock full of great freeware games to check when you're looking to get away from the lootbox infested, designed-by-committee world of AAA video games. However, a lot of these games hew a little older, so for those of you looking for a more modern experience, here are 5 great recent games to play when you want to wash away the AAA blues.
NieR: Automata, on the surface, is the definition of cliché. An alien race with a mechanical army has driven what remains of humanity into exile on the moon. The humans, seeking to reclaim their lost home, send a group of humanoid androids back to Earth to fight the machines. However, what follows is about as far from a video game story as you can get. Exploring themes like the cyclical nature of history, humanity's place in the universe, religion, and the functions of civilization, NieR: Automata both transcends video game storytelling and is enhanced by it in some pretty profound ways (whatever you do, keep playing after the credits!).
The combat is similar to something like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but with less depth than either. Still, it's responsive, functional, and fun. The side missions can be a little drab (there are quite a few fetch quests), but offer plenty of insight into the game's world and its inhabitants.
Small complaints like the blandness of the open world and the relative simplicity of the combat aside, NieR: Automata is well worth taking a look at if you're looking for an extremely engaging narrative.
After almost a decade away from the spotlight, Metroidvanias (sidescrolling action adventures with one big interconnected map and an upgrade system that encourages backtracking) are back in a big way. However, out of all the Metroidvanias I've played, none have impressed me quite like Hollow Knight.
Set in a world of sentient insects, you play a nameless knight, who sets out to plumb the depths of an abandoned kingdom. Hollow Knight's atmosphere is striking; picture a group massive buildings constructed from chitin looming in the distance, buffeted by the falling rain as an eerie aria drifts through the air. I don't get immersed in games especially easily, but Hollow Knight sucked me in and refused to let go.
Adding to the sense of immersion is the map system. Unlike typical Metroidvanias, Hollow Knight first requires you to purchase mapping supplies, then requires you to rest at a bench after exploring to map where you've been. This weans you away from staring at the map the whole time and encourages more blind exploration, which I like.
If you're interested in exploring an unconventionally beautiful world, definitely give Hollow Knight a look.
A bizarre cross between Children of Men, Earthbound, and Fist of the North Star, LISA follows a martial artist named Brad as he seeks his missing foster daughter (the only remaining girl in the world) in post apocalyptic Kansas.
More than anything, LISA is a story of sacrifice. Throughout the game, Brad will be asked to make difficult choices, the outcomes of which drastically affect not only the story of the game, but the way the game is played. Combat is turned based, with each character putting together a set of attacks using the arrow keys, similar to obscure PS1 RPG Legend of Legaia. There are a ton of party members to recruit, each with a more heart-wrenching backstory than the last.
Be forewarned; LISA deals with extremely heavy emotional themes. Addiction, suicide, rape, and parental neglect all play major roles in the plot, so if you're bothered by those sorts of things, you probably won't like LISA very much. For better or worse, there's nothing out there quite like LISA. If nothing else, give the demo a try if you like Japanese style RPGs and crushing depression.
A somewhat unorthodox fusion of stealth and turn-based strategy, Invisible, Inc keeps the margin for error low and the stress levels high. Set in a typical Cyberpunk future, the game has players controlling a small team of agents as they commit corporate espionage, rescue hostages, hack servers, and do other sneaky things to prepare for the final mission.
Better be quick though, because security gets tighter every turn, and if you slip up and let an agent get captured, they're gone (but you can rescue them down the line if you play your cards right). In addition, the game itself is timed, giving players only three in-game days to prepare for the final mission. Balancing time spent on missions, upgrades, and funding are essential.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools to make things easier, like cloaking devices, wireless hacking implants, holograms, and various other vaguely-futuristic spy tech. Just make sure your characters have the stats to use them. Invisible, Inc has roguelike elements as well. All of the missions are randomly generated, as are the rewards you receive. However, once you unlock a character, they stay unlocked, allowing players to progress a little bit at a time, even if they're terrible (like me!).
If you're a fan of games like Metal Gear or XCOM and don't mind occasionally getting screwed by RNG, give Invisible, Inc a shot.
Hey, you! Do you like loot? Do you like clicking on monsters and making them explode? Did you like Diablo before Blizzard stripped almost all semblance of build customization out of it? Well, my friend, Grim Dawn is the game for you!
What sets Grim Dawn apart from a typical ARPG is the degree of customization it offers players. As you level up, you select 2 classes, and mix and match skills from each. Want to be a thief that raises the dead? You got it. A heavily armored knight that summons lightning totems? Easy enough. A trap-wielding gunslinger who curses his opponents? Say no more. Add to this the expansive perk system, and no two players' characters are quite the same.
Combat is similar to other games in the genre, but gratuitous gore and some really satisfying ragdoll effects keep it entertaining. As for the plot, who cares? I'm just here to bust up a bunch of skeletons and find a neat helmet. The game, like most ARPGs, also has a hardcore mode, meaning when you die, you start all over.
Having followed Grim Dawn ever since its initial Kickstarter, I can confidently say that it's one of the best ARPGs on the market. If you love the loot treadmill, but don't want to put up with the negative aspects of the big AAA loot games, give Grim Dawn a shot.
So, there you have it. 5 games to chase away the AAA blues. There are so many fantastic games out there that it was difficult narrowing the list down. In the future, I may have to do a follow-up article, but for now, let me know what you think of my list in the comments below.