For many games, the main way you interact with the world is your weapon. But rare is the weapon that comes along and offers a brand new way of playing the games we love. Things like the Gravity Gun, the Hookshot, or the Shark-O-Matic.
With a lack of new IPs in the triple-A space this year, we mostly looked to smaller games for innovative, game-changing weapons. But 2018’s God of War was all about bucking franchise norms, and Kratos would start this game without his storied Blades of Chaos. His new weapon filled those big shoes marvellously, and we’re not talking about the Leviathan Axe.
Atreus – God of War
While Atreus is a character, mechanically he functions as an attack — albeit one from a separate body. It was the illusion of two separate fighters — while the boy would attack on his own, pressing the “Atreus button” made it clear that you fought as one entity.
His light arrows would build up an enemy’s stun bar so Kratos could instantly rip them apart. His shock arrows provided crowd control in an area. Kratos and Atreus could also combine for combo attacks, and elemental arrows were needed to access certain areas.
Atreus was essential for beating enemies like the Revenant, and if anyone tried to ignore the boy god, they found out early on that Kratos needed him. With smart, context-sensitive controls, Sony Santa Monica did a great job of making us feel like we were controlling two characters, when in reality we controlled Kratos and his roaming adolescent turret.
Critics were right to compare the game, and the Kratos/Atreus dynamic, to The Last of Us. Not enough games explore this idea, and we feel there’s a lot more to be discovered here. If our characters combine with impeccable teamwork, it becomes believable to bind their synergies to the buttons of a single controller. It’s worked for sports games for years, and we’ll see more and more of it in action games to come.
Push/Pull Weapons – Into the Breach
What a wonderfully designed game. Into the Breach is one of those gems that keeps revealing its genius after several playthroughs. The more we play it, the more it’s our Indie Game of the Year.
The majority of weapons in this tactics title have a positional element. It’s more common to displace the enemy than actually damage them. With three mechs under your control and four-to-five aliens threatening your cities, the question becomes how to use one move to solve more than one problem.
You’ll push and pull enemies into their own lines of fire, you’ll nudge them onto hazardous tiles, and you’ll even shove your own units into harm’s way if it means saving the civilians of the past.
It works so well it makes us ask, why hasn’t the idea been used more in the past? But in hindsight, so many brilliant ideas seem obvious. Masquerading as a turn-based tactics game about combat, Into the Breach ends up more like a puzzle game — one that has random elements, yet there always seems to be a solution if you think hard enough.
Gunpowder Barrel – Sea of Thieves
High-speed naval warfare involved cannons and snipers, but not all battles were on the open sea. Catching galleons and sloops while they were parked for a quest or a hand-in opened up new possibilities. If you could run a barrel of gunpowder into the bowels of their ride, you’d give them a brand new wooden coffin.
It was always a suicide run though, until players figured out they could grab a keg, swim underneath an enemy ship, and let it float up to the hull, where it would automatically explode.
Barrels of gunpowder were somewhat rare, scattered around islands for you to stumble on during quests. In a virtual world where you make your own fun, they’d usually alter the course of your evening. “Whoa — what should we do with this?” would be heard upon discovering a barrel, as a carefully planned questing route crumbles away.
The Mortar – Valkyria Chronicles 4
While VC4 called this class the “Grenadier”, it’s a mortar so we’ll call it that. This was a big addition to the franchise because Valkyria Chronicles has an odd rule that if you’re crouched at a sandbag wall, you get a defensive bonus — regardless if the shooter is flanking you. Kill the sandbag wall with explosives, and you’ll finally negate that bonus.
In the early game (before rifle grenades), this meant you had to put a character at bodily risk to get rid of those sandbags. The defensive bonus wasn’t trivial. Now that mortars exist, you can bomb yourself a path through a whole section of the map, regardless of whether they’re in cover.
Often you’d see an enemy with the eyes of another unit, but not the actual mortar. You could see them on the map, but when it came time to actually bombard them, you’d have to guess where to put your firing reticle. This was a refreshingly skill-based shot to make, in a game that otherwise lets you take your time putting iron sights over the ideal section of the enemy’s head. Valkyria Chronicles games are mostly designed so players are outnumbered but can easily complete most combo moves, so the “blind mortar shot” allowed players to get great value out of a skill-based hail mary.
In fact, the Grenadier was SO effective that we found it outclassed the Lancer in almost every situation. You’d only prefer the latter for sneaking behind tanks. In that way, the mortar was more than just the introduction of a class, it was the obsolescence of another.
Faith and Order – Frostpunk
Here’s the thing about the most advanced abilities in Frostpunk — you don’t want to use them. In this grim city management game, your real enemy is the cold. To keep grumbling citizens in line, a few amputations and public executions do the trick.
Frostpunk has a second technology tree which is an ever-deepening rabbit hole of either nationalism or zealotry. Order, and Faith.
Unlike a normal tech tree, both these paths get worse – not better – the further you go. Despite this, it’s hard not to be tempted by its short-term benefits. Ideally, you’d never get to a situation where amputations are necessary, but… Snowstorm’s gunna snowstorm.
Frostpunk ties gameplay consequences to your morality, so these choices around executions and public floggings actually do matter. It all makes for a strange, fresh twist on the RTS tech tree in which the sign of an excellent mayor is a technology path that’s mostly untouched.