Culture Category RSS Feed | Culture RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Gunfire Reborn Early Access Review: The Start of Something New Mon, 15 Jun 2020 16:34:36 -0400 Daniel Hollis

A quote from High School Musical isn't exactly how you'd expect a review to start, especially one for a game called Gunfire Reborn. But yet, much like High School MusicalGunfire Reborn surprised me in ways I never thought it could.

Roguelites are saturated across gaming these days. It's hard not to stumble a few pages into a storefront and come across another iteration. The genre isn't something that's particularly grabbed me before, yet Gunfire Reborn, which is currently in Steam Early Access, has sunk its claws into me.

Much like my 13-year-old self, whose friends forced him to watch Zac Efron sing from the tops of his lungs about life's problems, Gunfire Reborn wasn't something that initially appealed to me. Yet, after dozens of hours spent in its addictive gameplay loop, Gunfire Reborn has pulled me in with its desirable charm and punchy combat.

Gunfire Reborn Early Access Review: The Start of Something New

The basic premise of Gunfire Reborn is simple. Get as far as you can, collect as much experience as you can, and kill as many minions as you can. When you inevitably die, you upgrade your character and start again. 

Initially, you play as a cat hero (though you can also unlock a dog later on). The cat is completely cutesy but tooled up with badass weaponry and abilities, both of which you collect throughout each run. 

Enemy types are also presented in varied art styles, ranging from staggering goliaths that can melt you to tiny scarabs that can quickly overwhelm you. Enemy diversity makes every run different, exciting, and surprising, which is one of Gunfire Reborn's best qualities. 

Enemies frequently drop different weapons, procedurally generated arenas often present new challenges each time through, and unique environmental hazards regularly frustrate your tactics in exciting and engaging ways. 

Purple cracks found in some walls can be shot to open secret portals, which pit you against difficult enemies and challenges for extra loot. These add a risk-reward factor to each playthrough. Do you venture into the portals for the promise of more loot and better guns? Or do you save your precious health for harder encounters to come? It's a constant dilemma, but both choices have their distinctive benefits. 

The game is set up in five stages and multiple smaller sub-stages, each increasing in difficulty until they culminate in climactic boss battles that demand skill and perseverance, as well as a tiny bit of luck.

In short, these boss battles are quite hard in their current forms. Even after multiple runs and upgrades to my team's characters, these battles were strenuous to the point of grueling. Hopefully, this is something the developer can tweak in future updates to create a more balanced, yet still challenging loop.

I've Got The Power

Your feline protagonist has a fair few different abilities to utilize while powering through each area. Though you'll start each playthrough with a simple pistol, you also have grenades at your disposal, as well as a freezing ability.

As you progress, you'll find yourself scrounging the immediate areas for new weapons and perks, the latter of which may increase the power of your grenades or multiply the number of times you can freeze enemies. Guns run the gamut from devastating snipers to powerful rocket launchers that can break through crowds of enemies.

Having three combat options at your disposal proves extremely useful, especially in later stages when different enemy types, such as ranged combatants and close-quarter skirmishers, dial up the difficulty. Being in the heat of battle and juggling between the multiple options is exhilarating and pulse-pounding.

Combat feels particularly punchy, delivering satisfying hits with each bullet, rocket, and grenade. Guns are weighty and powerful, with each part of your arsenal having its own unique style. Some weapons also have a secondary ability, which can be as simple as zooming in or as unique as a corrosive attack. 

Pushing through the stages rewards you with upgrade points, and when you finally do die (which you will), you can slowly upgrade your character attributes such as health, weapon damage, and more.

A Whole New World

The world of Gunfire Reborn is stunning. The cel-shaded art style is a sight to behold, with colorful vistas straight out of a graphic novel. Part of what makes Gunfire Reborn so inviting is how charming the world looks. 

The game begins in the depths of a mystic crypt, but stages later expand into vast outdoor landscapes. These range from closed-in environments to expansive outdoor combat arenas, each with a striking visual style.

Venturing through the game with friends in online co-op is recommended. Communication and using varied weapon sets can mean the difference between life and death. Strangely, every player has the same character model with seemingly no way customize them  at least right now. Customization is something that could really give Gunfire Reborn more identity down the road.

Gunfire Reborn Early Access Review  The Bottom Line

  • Wonderful visual art-style
  • Exhilarating combat
  • Great sense of progression
  • Varied assortment of guns to play with
  • Boss battles are overly challenging and unbalanced
  • Lack of character customization

Despite my reservations about Gunfire Reborn, it immediately displayed its strengths, showcasing the strength of its gameplay loop. Through fast-paced combat and beautiful world design, it's a game that's a pure joy to play.

As it stands, Gunfire Reborn has the framework to be something truly special. In its Early Access stage, gameplay remains fairly barebones, but the core concept is simple and engaging, forcing you to come back for more.

As future updates land and more content comes alongside balancing options, Gunfire Reborn truly has the skill set to become something special.

[Note: A copy of Gunfire Reborn was provided by Duoyi Interactive Entertainment for the purpose of this review.]

Watch the PlayStation 5 Games Reveal Stream Here Thu, 11 Jun 2020 15:21:34 -0400 GS_Staff

If you're wondering where to watch the PlayStation 5 games reveal, you've come to the right place. We've embedded the video below. All you have to do is leave this page up/bookmark it and hit play. 

The video is scheduled to go live later today, June 11, at 4 p.m. EST/1 p.m. PST. According to the PlayStation Blog, this isn't technically a live stream. Instead, it's a "pre-recorded video" that will be streamed, showcasing upcoming PS5 games. 

Sid Shuman, Senior Director, SIE Content Communications said in a PlayStation Blog post that "it's also best if you watch while wearing headphones if you can — there's some cool audio work in the show, and it might be harder to appreciate if it's pumped through your phone or laptop speakers."

This could be about Sony's focus on sound throughout the PS5's development. During The Road to PlayStation 5 event held earlier this year, Mark Cerny said that higher-fidelity 3D audio immersion has been a primary theme and goal for the team. It's something Sony hopes to use in concert with the haptic feedback of the DualSense to enhance the gaming experience. 

Though we don't know what games will be shown during the event, we do know that PS5 launch games will be revealed, presumably a mixture of Sony-developed and third-party games. 

Some have predicted that a new Resistance or Ratchet & Clank will be unveiled during the event. The rumor has been helped along by a few tweets from Insomniac along the way. Some think that a remaster/remake of Demon's Souls will make an appearance. Still, others have suggested that Horizon Zero Dawn 2 will see its first reveal. We'll just have to wait and see. 

Be sure to check back with us after the event for a roundup of all the announced games, including their release dates and release windows. The PlayStation 5 is set to release in Holiday 2020. We currently do not know an exact released date or how much it will cost. 

One Size Does Not Fit All: An Accessibility Conversation with Schell Games Fri, 05 Jun 2020 15:33:44 -0400 Mark Delaney

What's the buzziest buzzword of the modern gaming generation? Some may say 4K. Others would tell you it's ray tracing, subscription service, or maybe even photogrammetry. 

But what about "accessibility"? We see the word used a lot and it can mean different things depending on the project. Sometimes it's something as ubiquitous as subtitles, other times it means a total rethinking of what a video game controller can be and do.

With Until You Fall, Schell Games set out to make a more accessible virtual reality title. That's no small feat, and the endeavor sparked my curiosity. How does one make such a demanding and often bulky platform like VR more accessible?

I spoke to Schell Games' VP of design Harley Baldwin and Director of Product Management Alexis Miller on what accessibility means not just to the team's sword-fighting VR game but what it means to the whole industry, and what it could — and should mean in the future.

Their responses made for some of the most thoughtful perspectives on the subject that I've ever read and I was thrilled to be a small part of the conversation. I hope you appreciate it as I did.

GameSkinnyUntil You Fall’s recent patch adds several accessibility features that help people suffering from photosensitivity, those who need more of a guided hand in the levels, and even lefties like me. Were these a result of player requests or your own team’s desire to make a more accessible VR game?

Alexis: I’d say both. Our understanding of the problems, especially the photosensitivity and handedness, came from player feedback.

The culture at Schell Games around accessibility helped to raise the priority of these issues into features that were actually implemented. We’re working to create accessibility tools so we can be more proactive in finding solutions to accessibility needs, but recognize that many of these features are a natural fit for our game to be enjoyable and comfortable for more players.

Harley: I think it was a mix. Certainly there have been people on the team and in the company advocating for us to think about accessibility generally, and there have also been people within the company sharing how accessibility changes could help them as gamers.

Seeing what the community’s requests are is always an important piece of how we decide what features to implement, and we’ve been fortunate to have an active community with lots of feedback. 

GS: The patch also addresses in-game text, allowing for color coding. From a development standpoint, why do you think many games struggle at launch to offer adequate text options? It seems to be a regular bullet point in patch notes for games of all sorts.

Alexis: I know that all development teams are faced with a list of features that everyone would love to do, but it just doesn’t fit the scope or schedule. These are the toughest decisions.

With the approach we’re starting to take, we hope that if accessibility goals are considered in the pre-production phase, then the solutions are more likely to be baked into those initial features instead of being an afterthought that requires rework or a patch release later. It’s not always possible though.

Harley: First, for VR development, it’s easy to forget that many people find reading and comprehension difficult in VR. There are a lot of reasons for this issue, from ill-adjusted headsets exacerbating minor eye alignment issues to lack of room for glasses to a common hyper-situational-awareness that leads to guests' brains being halfway to fight or flight mode.

Even when teams are aware that reading is a challenge in VR, they can be surprised at the level at which their initial attempts to overcome fall flat. That is to say, VR is a profoundly different space, one that can magnify our differences, and the challenge of meeting a basic usability bar for something like reading is deeper and more complex than ever before. 

It’s also true that for me, as a designer, VR, especially in early access, is a place where design process and accessibility thinking really compliment each other. We focus first on ensuring that people understand their options moment-to-moment, and most early playtesting is trying to illuminate how we can better serve players in that very tight time loop.

Then we pop up in time, looking at the 5 minute loop, then the 15, etc. Eventually, you’re going after the 20+ hour experience, and that takes a lot of playtime, data, and unblocking issues you’ve found in the earlier time loops. That’s a time consuming process. 

Eventually, you get to the point where you are ready to start layering in conceptual supports to systems that are matured - and that’s when most teams realize that a big part of that conceptual support is readability, the emphasizing and grouping concepts with color coding, that kind of thing. Doing that before your systems and content are mature can actually impede that healthy design early process, because you might emphasize something that twists the way guests think of a tool or concept. 

That’s the way it worked for us, anyway. Once we had those mature systems, we were able to clearly see the concepts that needed more textual attention to improve that long-term comprehension. 

GS: Accessibility has been a popular trend over the last few years and thankfully it seems to still be ramping up. What other accessibility options might you add to Until You Fall?

Alexis: One thing that we continue to tweak is the colors used for visual cues. We’ve heard feedback from players not being able to see important visual cues due to low color contrasts and players being overwhelmed by certain visual cues that have a high color contrast or flash.

We’ll continue to listen to our community and see what comes up. We want to have greater accessibility throughout the lifecycle of the game and not just, “hey, this is our accessibility release.” 

Harley: Adding support for new platforms, which we are working on now, is also an accessibility add for us, from a holistic perspective. New platforms bring new audiences with new needs.

It’s exciting for us to see what those opportunities look like, for sure. And we continue to hear from our existing community about things that would be helpful to them; we’re always triaging and discussing those issues and looking for ideas about how to address them. 

GS: Making VR accessible seems like a unique issue given its mobility demands. Are there any accessibility features which you hope to add but haven’t found a way to implement yet?

Alexis: It’s absolutely true. VR accessibility needs can be very different from a console, PC, or mobile video game.

One of our accessibility goals is that players can comfortably play without repetitive, uncomfortable, sustained, or precise movements. It is something that could make a game awesome for players with different levels of dexterity or mobility, but that same feature or adjustment to the game could make the game really boring for other players.

We have discussed this topic and not found a one-size-fits-all solution, but we’re still mindful of this goal, even without having a major feature to address it.

Harley: We’ve experimented with Subtitle systems, which is actually more challenging than it sounds. There are a surprising variety of ways in which subtitles can collide with other accessibility issues in VR to create an unfriendly experience.

We’re working it out, but it’s been trickier than one would think for such a “simple” feature. 

GS: What have Until You Fall’s accessibility settings taught you about how you’ll work on future projects?

Alexis: It’s not just adding settings. We’ve learned that the earlier in the process that the team is aware of accessibility needs and goals, the easier it is to make them part of the overall game design up front and part of the early prioritization that happens with game features.

Many accessibility solutions truthfully make the game better for everyone, so a setting may not always be needed. We’re also working to share lessons learned across projects and teams at Schell Games, so that these kinds of features can be done faster and easier over time and each team isn’t starting from scratch.

Harley: Not just with Until You Fall, but with all our VR products, we’re discovering anew every time how important it is to establish accessibility goals at the beginning. The difference really comes down to how you design your initial approach.

A commitment to meeting an accessibility goal in the beginning can be baked into your designs, and transparent to everyone whether they need it or not. A late accessibility addition is much more likely to be a costly standalone feature and also more likely to add awkwardness to the experience for everyone. 

As a company, VR mobility accessibility is kind of baked into our DNA. If you think about it, the initial inspiration for I Expect You To Die was a VR mobility/accessibility question. We looked at the state of the art, where people were getting simsick all the time with virtual movement, and we said “what if movement weren’t a need?” and I Expect You To Die, this stationary escape room puzzler, was born.

Then we got into development of our first prototype and some people playing it said “it’s hard for me to reach, to grab. I feel limited.” And so we added telekinesis to solve that problem, and suddenly we’d opened up the whole room to everyone - now our puzzles could exist both close up, in the hand-mind space, and at distance, so everyone could play in the fully embodied fantasy. 

Similarly, we added seated play to Until You Fall early on - long before we even opened it up to Early Access. We knew that if we waited, we’d make decisions about gameplay that irreversibly made addressing mobility issues difficult. 

We have a similar approach regarding single-handedness to all our products, because we view dual handedness as a mobility challenge. We playtest early builds looking for places where we’re requiring both hands, and think about options where those things are concerned.

This early testing can have a massive effect on our approach. For example, in our upcoming HistoryMaker VR product, early one-handedness testing revealed that we’d made a UI best suited to dual handed play. The team took that data back and completely revamped the UI to enable one-handed play, and they were able to serve the goal very well because they made an early decision that it was important to the product.

GS: This isn’t your first VR game and previously you’ve even made VR games for kids. Can you talk about the unique accessibility options studios must keep in mind when developing VR games for younger audiences?

Alexis: We started out trying to come up with a list of “easy wins” for accessibility, but stopped going in that direction precisely because we recognized that the accessibility needs and solutions vary so greatly between different game platforms and audiences, including for younger audiences. One big difference is that kids process information differently and usually have slower reflexes than adults.

Another big thing is their height. While creating a VR game for middle school students recently, the wide range of heights even within students the same age was pretty dramatic. The best thing to do is to let a diverse range of players play your game as much as possible and to keep a really open mind about how they will experience your game.

Harley: Well the first thing that comes to mind is height. Kids can be a lot shorter than adults, obviously, and that can have real implications when you’re talking about play in a world that is made of object affordance rather than symbols of objects. 

Another is the hardware itself - VR headsets are made for adults, and that difference in head size can make it hard for kids to adjust the headset for themselves. We actually include instructions on how to troubleshoot this problem in our educational products meant for kids. 

A fun one that always makes me smile is destructibility. Kids can get really excited to learn the limits of a world and system by breaking it, because they’re often not allowed to do that in real space. So we often find ourselves leaning into supporting those explorations that kids want to do — examples are the breakable glass in HoloLAB Champions and making throwable tardigrades in Water Bears VR.

That kind of destructo-play-enabling thinking even made it into I Expect You To Die — you can set all the books in the office on fire if you want. 

Obviously, there’s a larger range of reading mastery in kids, so we either limit or support reading with grade level analyzers. We recently added a dyslexic-friendly font to an upcoming product (HistoryMaker VR) to ensure that dyslexic kids were able to import and use their own scripts. 

With adolescents, we have seen that some kids really struggle with the blind performance aspect of being in VR — that hyper-social awareness — which should be a familiar feeling for any of us who have gone through adolescence.

We added a “buddy” system to help, so that you can always either have a friend running the cameras and being the person you’re performing to, or you can opt out of the headset, be the buddy, and still get to contribute to the experience. I was really pleased and amazed with the team that they saw the problem and designed in a solution. 

Another one is that kids are likely to encounter VR in schools and they may come from a much wider techno-background than your average VR player base.

We’ve found that while kids are often quicker to pick up the usability details than adults, we must be careful not to make assumptions about whether they’ve had past experiences they can draw on to make sense of the product. Things like button languages and universal game rules don’t exist for this group in the same way they would for a group of adults who have decided to purchase a particular VR system. 

Finally, any group of kids might also include guests with every other accessibility need we’ve come across. Making sure that we do what we can to include them is also a base design assumption we work with. 

GS: What do you think the future of VR looks like regarding things like form factor and accessibility? How long until a headset is simply a pair of inconspicuous glasses?

Alexis: In order to appeal to more players, VR has to be more accessible, comfortable, and easy to use. Its survival relies on it.

Most VR headsets can still feel very intimidating — pricey gadgets requiring adjustments to fit comfortably and to see and hear clearly, while also not tripping over your dog. I think there will be more advances in controllers than headsets in the near future.

I’m excited about the future with added physical sensations to the experience, like feeling pressure on your fingers and hands as you handle objects in VR. Inconspicuous glasses (or better yet, contacts?) for the consumer market feels at least 4-5 years out.

Harley: Inconspicuous is an interesting thought experiment. Will they be inconspicuous because they look like the glasses on my face today, or will they be inconspicuous because so many people wear them that they become an invisible accessory, like glasses? I think the latter. 

A super interesting question to me is the question of controller form factors and VR hands.

VR hands started in the same place that a baby’s hands start in terms of development — just that open/close of all the fingers in the classic “palm grip” that babies learn first. Then we moved to the “mitten grip”, where the thumb could be a separate entity and give a bit more control. That led to the thumb-forefinger grip, where we can simulate picking things up in the self-feeding behavior that kids master at around one year.

So right now, we’re essentially all toddlers in VR.

I think that controller development is going to continue reflecting human hand development, because ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny seems to be as true in VR as it is in biology. Is that going to be a controller that affects and reflects individual movement and pressure of the fingers and wrist, or is it going to be some kind of hand-tracking system?

I’m not sure, but I think that the one that lets us master the next developmental step is the one likely to get the most traction. 

GS: What about as a business? It still seems like VR is niche. Will it ever lose that quality and if so, what will be the driving force to make it more popular?

Alexis: I don’t think there is one silver bullet to make VR more popular.

As with all consumer technology, I think the key driving forces will be price, variety, and ease of use: a reasonable price for VR headsets, a wide variety of high quality games that appeal to more people than just one core demographic, and a headset that is actually easy for the common person to use.

Those are a lot of obstacles to overcome, but they are definitely being tackled across the industry. I see inspiration from other technology industries like the vacuuming robot, which have become surprisingly commonplace.

Harley: Games. Games! Games!!! They’ve been the key to every household digital revolution and I think they will continue to be. We’re seeing big growth in the VR game community now, and I think that will continue as well.

Things that will drive that growth: accessibility, especially universal accessibility thinking that encourages games for headsets that we can just pop on when we’re ready. Cordlessness is a game changer, for sure. Removing the friction involved in getting in and out will grow the market.

Focusing on VR first content, abandoning screenspace gaming conventions that don’t work for the medium, making sure that there is a healthy ecosystem of experiences for a diverse guest market, these are all small parts of the bigger whole. 

GS: How do you view the relationship between game difficulty and accessibility? Should every game be playable by everyone, and if so, what do creators need to do to make that happen?

Alexis: It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed and say, “it’s not possible to make a game playable by everyone,” and just throw up your hands. Creators should think about it on a continuum.

Increasing accessibility, including various types of difficulty, makes your game enjoyable by more people. Who doesn’t want that? It’s not exclusively about making games enjoyable for people with disabilities. It’s not about adding every feature under the sun.

The important thing is to acknowledge the barriers that difficulty of a game can have on players enjoying your game, and to unpack some of the reasons why a player may label a game as “too hard” or “too easy.” 

The key is that there are lots of different solutions to addressing game difficulty. There can be a lot of different changes made to give players more options while they are playing. That can include varying levels of difficulty to choose from, but can also mean giving players different ways to succeed in the game.

For example, in I Expect You to Die, a VR puzzle game, there are multiple solves in each level. While at the surface, this may not appear to address difficulty or accessibility, by providing the player with more than one option to solve the puzzle, you are smoothing the overall difficulty curve in a way that most players will not even realize. 

Harley: The particular question of difficulty/accessibility is a super deep one in and of itself, without even invoking universal accessibility.

For example, Until You Fall is a hard game. We found that it needed to present substantive challenges at every level of difficulty to keep guests engaged and riding the edge of their own mastery, and for that reason we moved away from calling the first tier “easy.”

It’s also a resonant question for individual players — some have a sanguine attitude towards playing games on ‘easy’, some really struggle to see themselves as someone who ever would, even if they are still building skills. 

What we found while thinking through these questions was that thinking of difficulty as a monolith wasn’t helpful. There are so many reasons someone might find the game hard, from stamina to understanding the ways the systems multiply to space available to play.

What we ended up doing was breaking down “difficulty” into a variety of reasons the game might be hard for someone and addressing them each separately — so some things, we realized we were making it harder without giving someone a way to master that, and we just fixed it for everyone.

And some things, the difficulty felt core to that experience of growing as a melee master, and so we broke those things out and made them part of the difficulty tiers.

GS: How has working through the pandemic affected your projects and team?

Alexis: We’ve gone from a culture where no one worked remotely to one where everyone is working remotely, so that was a shift that has impacted all of us. Like most people, when we started working from home, we initially thought it might just be a couple of weeks, but that feels laughable now.

Given the severity of this global crisis, teams have adjusted amazingly well. It hasn’t been easy, but everyone has been extremely flexible, patient, and caring in navigating the challenges and surprises that it brings. Projects that were installation-based have had to come up with new ways of doing their work.

Teams used to doing in-person playtesting have had to come up with new ways of doing remote playtesting. And of course family responsibilities continue to change daily, as parents were unexpectedly forced to become teachers and daycare providers for their kids, and spouse/partner work conditions and schedules change. And on and on.

There could be an entire article about all that has changed, but we’re lucky to be in such a supportive environment at Schell Games.

Harley: It’s been different for each project, for sure, depending on where they were in their cycle and what kinds of hardware challenges they had. Some projects were just finishing up, and were able to pretty smoothly transition to WFH and close the project out.

Other teams had to get really creative, as they were working with installation-type hardware in the studio that obviously, they couldn’t visit anymore. And everyone is impacted by increased family needs, from parents with kids suddenly at home to elder parents who needed more support in some way.

We’ve gotten used to seeing kids and cats pop up during meetings, and we’ve tried to be really cognizant that everyone is working under much more difficult circumstances than we were last year.

It’s put our agile bona-fides to the test, and I think we’ve come out stronger because we’ve stepped back, leaned on flexibility and innovative problem solving to meet those challenges. Our people have been fantastic in caring for each other and themselves and I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this company right now. 

GS: As an educational game studio, have you considered making any games, perhaps for kids, about social distancing or other “new normal” practices?

Alexis: We have actually shifted scope on at least one client project due to this new norm, so it is impacting what we’re already working on.

In early April, we made several educational VR games for kids free in order to help families struggling with home schooling their kids during the quarantine.

We have also seen an increase in people using VR, including Until You Fall, as a motivating way to exercise indoors, so there are definitely new norms taking shape.

Harley: It has come up! There are so many opportunities to help, from education about social distance practices to supporting people who are struggling with isolation.

We recently made a number of our educational VR games free on the Steam store to help parents who are suddenly home-schooling their kids. We’ll continue to look for opportunities to serve our community with what we do best, and it looks likely that the pandemic will shape, at least in part, a number of those opportunities. 

Again I'd like to thank Schell Games for diving so incredibly deep on this topic. You can learn more about Schell Games at the studio's official website

PlanetSide 2's Escalation Update Marks the Beginning of the Future Wed, 27 May 2020 16:09:14 -0400 Gabriel Moss

Ever since releasing in November 2012, the free-to-play MMOFPS PlanetSide 2 has survived, and enjoyed, nearly eight long years of life — a venerability that many of the long-dead MMORPG projects from the late 2000s and early 2010s could only dream of.

For nearly 17 years, PlanetSide and its sequel, PlanetSide 2, have occupied a niche of MMO-dom that broadly similar titles like World of Warcraft and even the Destiny series have never sought to venture upon: large-scale warfare — like that of a Battlefield game — with persistent characters and servers that can host massive assaults and battles between hundreds of concurrent players at one time.

Now that the franchise is approaching its 17th anniversary, developer and publisher Daybreak Game Company (previously Sony Online Entertainment, or SOE, until its reformation in 2015) has decided that it's finally time to kick things off for a new turn in the franchise's development. 

Under the command of Rogue Planet Games, the studio that spun off from Daybreak Game Company earlier in 2020 to focus solely on the development of the PlanetSide series, PlanetSide 2 has already launched a brand new update in 2020, called the Escalation update.

To gain a clearer insight into the update's development and what it means for the game, we sat down with Andy Sites, the Executive Producer of PlanetSide 2, and the head of Rogue Planet Games.  

GameSkinnyFrom the top, give me a state of the game, because I haven't really been following PlanetSide 2 since it launched in 2012. It's been eight years since I played it, and I know that Daybreak is kind of split off into three different micro-companies.

Andy SitesYeah. So, you know, as you mentioned, we launched the game almost eight years ago, back in November of 2012. And the game has been pretty healthy. But over the years, we've been declining a bit in players. And really over the last three years, the number of updates and features and content going out slowed down quite a bit.

Just because we'd pulled a lot of people off the team to help on the various other projects. And towards the end of last year, when the decision was made to spin off the sub studios, and to really ... [have] franchise-focused efforts by each one — with Rogue Planet being focused on PlanetSide 2 — we wanted to really kind of reengage and double down on the effort that we're putting into PlanetSide.

And like all MMOs, if it's successful, it could last not just eight years — it could last, like in EverQuest 1's case, 21 years or longer. So, towards the end of last year, we ended up ramping the team up to about three times the size of what it was.

Today, we're three times larger than we were just six months ago. And part of that was the roadmap that I had put together and the proposal to get the increased team size approved for this year. And ... rather than just talk about how we're going to improve the game, we wanted to show how we were going to improve the game through an actual meaningful, big update.

So we kind of went silent towards the end of the year. And then, when we announced the inception of Rogue Planet Games, we started interacting with the community a lot more. We were able to start getting more updates out just because of the increased team size. And then in early February, we announced the first big beat of our 2020 roadmap, which was the Escalation update.

AS: To say that we were confident in the features and everything ... we really had no idea we were gonna have the reaction that the community had when it was actually released. We had originally planned to roll it out towards the end of February and we started doing a lot of playtesting with the community. At first, it was invite-only for several weeks through our private public test server. And then once we decided that it was time to start scaling it up, that it would be just a little too difficult to do invite-only.

So in an effort to ensure that we were going to not only make a splash, but [that] it was going to be a really positive splash, we actually ended up delaying the update three weeks to the 11th of March. And we were a little concerned about delaying that long because we had announced the release date early in February, and we really wanted to stick to it. But at the same time, we knew that we had to get this right because we had a lot of eyes on us.

We've had over 16 million [players] on PC and PS4 since the game released. We wanted to get as many of those players to come back as possible, so we knew we needed this update to be highly polished and really stable. So, fortunately, the community was very appreciative of us holding it and not releasing it and then hotfixing all the issues once it went live. We held it for three weeks, we rolled it out — and again, we had high expectations — but they exceeded every expectation we had.

Concurrent player usage is the highest it's been since the beginning of 2014. The number of players coming in each day is the highest it's been in over four years.

GSSo I have followed a few of the more recent updates recently. I know that there was a battle royale update that came out recently. And I'm just curious about like, how did that impact the player base? Was it something that gained traction with the player base? Or was that something that didn't do as well?

ASYeah, so it wasn't an update. It was a separate game called PlanetSide Arena. It was definitely a polarizing decision because our plan long-term was for PlanetSide Arena to not be a standalone battle royale game. Our intention was to go into Early Access and not really do any sort of major marketing, just because we wanted to iron out all the kinks.

And really, the thing that kind of put the nail in the coffin was going into Early Access with just the battle royale. Even though we incorporated some changes that lent themselves well to PlanetSide — like it was much larger-scale, it had much larger team play, we did a lot of stuff gameplay-wise that sped up the mechanics and the match experience — at the end of the day, the PlanetSide community loves PlanetSide for what it is, which is an ongoing, massive-scale, never-ending battle.

Battle royale was not something that they were excited about. They were excited about the various arena modes, but unfortunately, we just didn't have those ready at the time that Early Access began. And because of that, we just didn't get the traction that it needed.

Frankly, we knew that PlanetSide 2 would be better off with our focus back on that. So we decided to shut [PlanetSide Arena] down earlier than we had hoped for, so we could basically get back to focusing on PlanetSide 2, which is what happened toward the end of last year. 

GSWere there any specific things that worked really well in PlanetSide Arena that you implemented into PlanetSide 2?

ASYeah, I mean, for example: We made some fairly significant engine improvements for PlanetSide Arena, because the PlanetSide 2 core engine was developed over eight years ago at this point. We did some fairly significant server and graphics optimization improvements in PlanetSide Arena that we ended up carrying over to PlanetSide 2.

There are a lot of learnings from some of the mechanics that we've carried over. There's also a lot of things that we learned that we were considering carrying over to PlanetSide 2, that just once we got them into PlanetSide Arena and then evaluated them for PlanetSide 2, we decided it just wouldn't be a good fit.

So much like all the MMOs that we've worked on over the years — PlanetSideEverQuest and such — we like to innovate, we like to try new things. So we don't have any regrets about the effort that we put into PlanetSide Arena with everything we've done before, we always like to learn lessons. We definitely learned some lessons with PlanetSide Arena on what works well and what won't work well.

GSRight. And you decided, or you rather discovered, that people really don't care about battle royales when they're playing PlanetSide as opposed to playing as the —

ASYeah, yet again: The long term vision for PlanetSide Arena was never to be just a battle royale game. It was meant to have the various types of arena modes that — when they were rolled out, the intention for the arena modes was to capture the massive scale and the fast-paced moments that you get in PlanetSide 2. Not quite as frequently, but it was basically a guarantee that you get in, play a 30-minute match, and you're gonna experience some epic battles that you would, you know, you might not experience every time you play PlanetSide 2.

But, unfortunately, we just weren't able to. The game didn't live long enough to get all the additional arena modes done. So we cut bait and refocused our efforts back on PlanetSide 2, which is where we are today.

GSSo, what does the future of PlanetSide 2 look like in the wake of the Escalation update and this new roadmap?

ASSo like I said before, we really wanted the Escalation update to kind of set the bar for not only ourselves in terms of what we know we could deliver, but to set expectations with all of our players.

This update was the biggest update that had rolled out since the launch of the game. And even with that being the case, we've published some pretty big changes over the years. But one of the results from those previous updates would be [that] we get a lot of players coming back checking it out, but then we wouldn't be able to follow it up with any real significant new features or new content updates for a while just because of the smaller team size.

AS: Our intention beginning with the Escalation update was to roll out major beats like that, at least twice a year. And then between every four and six weeks, we roll out smaller themed updates that have new features, new content, new weapons, new vehicles, new changes to the world.

So, players that do come back, they don't come back, enjoy the game for a month or month and a half, and then wonder when the next big update is going to happen. We don't want anyone to have any reason to want to leave the game, so we have to convince them to come back again.

GSWhat barometers are you looking for in the wake of the Escalation update. What are you looking for as a player response, in terms of how you gauge the success of the update and how you go forward with the next several updates?

ASWe have a lot of hooks in-game that help us understand what mechanics players are using, and where players are spending most of their time in the game and in the world. But really, it's a combination of the anecdotal feedback we get from the community through social media and posts and such.

But it's also just looking at the high-level data of the numbers that I told you before. Our peak concurrent usage is the highest that it's been in six years. And there's a reason for that. It's because this update really resonated [with players].

Game development is completely subjective. So, those data points can help inform us of our decisions. But at the end of the day, we need to have our finger on the pulse of the community and the entire team really needs to understand what's working well and what's not.

GSDo you ever look at forum posts and get feedback from what people are saying on the forums?

ASOh, yeah: [We get feedback] through Reddit, through our official forums, through Twitter. There are a handful of us on the team that are constantly interacting with the community.

GSDo you have plans for a third PlanetSide game?

ASYeah. We've had plans for a third PlanetSide for a while now. Kind of like PlanetSide 2 compared to PlanetSide 1, there are pretty high expectations. We need to be confident that we're not just adding a three and improving the graphics. We need it to be a revolutionary experience and not just a minor evolution of what PlanetSide 2 was.

So, we actually started doing design work over the last several months, but it's still at a point where we're not ready to start sharing any of those details.

AS: But at the end of the day, it's to make sure that this is going to resonate well with our community, and that it's going to do the PlanetSide franchise justice. So, yes, we are absolutely working on it. Is there a timeline? No. But PlanetSide 2 is going to hit its eight-year anniversary this November.

I think that the updates that we've started doing this year, and the real kind of revival of the player base in PlanetSide 2 shows that PlanetSide 2 has a lot of life left in it. We're going to continue focusing on that while we're also continuing behind the scenes efforts on PlanetSide 3.

GSHas the [COVID-19] pandemic affected the development of the PlanetSide franchise?

ASThe biggest, most obvious changes to the development situation [is that] the entire Rogue Planet Games team has been working from home for the past month-plus now. Fortunately, we're a much larger team than we were six months ago, but we're still reasonably sized and everyone is a very tight-knit team.

So everyone knows each other. Everyone's fully engaged in PlanetSide 2 and the whole development process. ... We were kind of expecting a decline in productivity just because of the logistical needs for when you go from everyone literally working within earshot of one another to everyone physically being miles from each other. But we've kind of just moved forward with business as usual with regards to how we're developing the game.

We have our team meetings multiple times a week, we have our feature and content planning meetings, meeting whenever there are new update planning sessions in progress — and the only difference is instead of me being able to  sit across the table from team members to discuss it and having a whiteboard behind us, we're on webcams, and we're on voice chat, just having these conversations.

AS: So far it's been pretty good. No major hiccups. And we're going to continue planning on working this way for the foreseeable future. And there should be really no perceived difference for the player base with the exception of we're doing our dev stream at the end of the month, and it'll be the first time that we're not broadcasting from the Daybreak broadcast room, and we're all going to be connecting through webcams from our homes.

GSJust from the logistical standpoint of running a division of Daybreak games, how does that really affect things like server uptime? And the technical side of running an MMO? Does [COVID] affect it, or?

ASHow does that work? You mean, now that we're all working remotely?

GS: How do you keep the servers running? Who keeps them running?

ASFortunately, none of the live servers are actually physically based at Daybreak headquarters. They're all located in various data centers throughout the world. Japan, Europe, East Coast and West Coast here in North America.

We've fortunately been able to kind of continue forward without skipping a beat because almost everything we do is done in some remote fashion. The Daybreak central tech ops team still runs all of our back end infrastructure. And those are all people that we typically interact with remotely anyway. Even though most of them are located in the same building, a lot of it's done through messaging, chat channels, and over email and phone calls.

So the only real change has been just the development team's physical location. So that's really the main reason why we've been able to move forward without missing a beat; we haven't had to change our short term roadmap in any way. The team has also done an incredible job of being able to adapt to this as well.

Every team member [at Daybreak] chose to be at these studios working on these games. So everyone that's on Rogue Planet wants to work on PlanetSide 2, wants it to succeed, and wants to be proud of it. So it's been really kind of business as usual.

GSOkay. I think that's gonna be it. Thank you so much, Andy.

ASYeah, no problem. And yeah, thanks for making the time, man. Thanks, Gabriel.


PlanetSide 2's recent Escalation update launched back in March. If you haven't played it yet, it brought a lot to the game, including Bastion Fleet Carriers, War Assets, the persistent social hub Sanctuary, and heaps more. For the entire developer run-down, check the official announcement here

Curious about trying the new update? You can grab PlanetSide 2 for free from the Steam store. 

Madden 21 Wishlist: 7 Additions We Want to the League This Year Tue, 26 May 2020 15:10:24 -0400 Mark Delaney

.Though 2020 has been almost totally devoid of any real-life sports, the video game world has kept sports fans afloat during this strange offseason. Here in the States, there is no bigger sports series than Madden NFL because there is no bigger sport than football. 

Madden 20 boasts the greatest year in the history of the series, EA revealed at a recent earnings call. That comes in part because of its overall improvements, as well as a string of interesting post-launch updates, including more depth to MUT and even some new modes to the game.

That means Madden 21 has big cleats to fill, and with EA revealing that the first look at this fall's iteration is coming next week, it's time to write our wishlist to football Santa Claus, which I pretend is actually Andy Reid. Here are seven things I want to see in Madden 21, from significant gameplay improvements to nitty-gritty details.

1. More Offseason Activities

Franchise mode has taken a backseat to Ultimate Team over the last decade for obviou$ reasons, and maybe it's foolish. Still, every year I hope it's finally the season EA pays closer attention to the original timesink of Madden. Should I and so many others get our collective wish this August, one feature I hope is added to Franchise is a complete offseason.

The NFL Draft is an exciting part of every year spent leading my team, but there's a lot more to an offseason than that. I want a full Combine, rookie mini-camps, OTAs, and a full training camp. Let me really get familiar with my players before we hit the field for the preseason, especially those rookies. My first on-the-field experience with them shouldn't be in August.

"If it's in the game, it's in the game," right?

2. The Sam Spence Soundtrack

Years ago, Madden soundtracks featured some of my favorite bands like Saves The Day and Taking Back Sunday. Nowadays, it's almost exclusively a hip-hop soundtrack. I'm okay with that, and I get it. The series moved on without me. But as an alternative to the new soundtracks I don't like anymore, I usually turn to the orchestral football music, which EA turns off by default.

There's just one problem: for the last several years, this music has been limited to EA's original score, even removing the classic Sam Spence soundtrack that exists as the anthem of so many football fandoms. I assume this was a cost-saving measure  pay for your own music once and never have to license the Spence works again  but come on, EA. After the year the series just had, can you open up the wallets and get the brilliant Sam Spence football score back in the game?

3. More Hands-Off Storytelling

My favorite feature of Madden 20 is its reimagined story mode. Rather than go another year with the laughably bad Longshot scripted storyMadden NFL 20 gives players a rough outline of a quarterback's career, starting in college before letting them loose into the Draft and a legacy that is yet to be written. It is everything Longshot is not, and everything the NBA 2K series has been doing for many years itself.

In Madden 21, I'm hoping for more of that. Give me context, but don't guide my hand too strongly. I appreciate some background to my character, but let me tell my own story. Last year's game focuses entirely on the QB position, and this year's game can easily keep it fresh by pivoting to a new position. Wideout, running back, or even linebacker all come to mind as fun next steps.

Wherever we take the field, so long as we aren't doing it as Devin Wade and company, I'm sure it will be worth a try at the very least.

4.  Pick-up Games with Loose Rules

One of NBA 2K's greatest assets is its Neighborhood, a social hub that allows players to load out into several different modes, including the ever-popular streetball mode. FIFA does something similar in last year's game with its Volta 5v5 mode. While Madden 20 experimented with different arcadey modes, I'm still waiting on the streetball equivalent. 

I don't expect a second physics engine here, so it won't exactly be NFL Street reborn, but something like a 3v3 or 5v5 mode with lineups featuring QB, RB, WR, and two defenders could be a lot of fun. Players could pick their players from the boundary like we all did back in gym, and it could be a totally new way to play Madden. While we're at it, where's Madden's social hub?

5. More Weekly Gameplanning

For Franchise players, the game remains about pure Xs and Os and team-building. While Madden has made consistent steps in the right direction in this regard, they've not felt like huge leaps in a long time — again, blame MUT. But in this year's game, I hope to find more nuance in my weekly game-planning abilities.

No coach worth his salary takes the same gameplan into every game. There are matchups to consider and opponents' weaknesses to exploit. Madden has never really let players approach games in such a Belichickian way.

Sure, we can do a quick practice session that plans for some element of the opposing team's repertoire, but that feels short-changed. It always has. I don't just want to practice the same passing play five times so I can look out for when Julio Jones runs that route a few times in my next game.

I want to alter my playbook to shut him down; I want to prepare my team so that my playmakers are making plays how I want them to. No one can control all 11 players at once, so Madden needs to give players more freedom in preparing their teams to behave how they need to on a game by game basis. Versatility: isn't that what the best coaches always utilize to create advantages?

6. Make Offensive Lines Matter

Last year's game does well to make football's biggest playmakers stand out from the pack of 1,800 players in the NFL. Superstars like Deandre Hopkins and Stephon Gilmore can take over games at a moment's notice.

This X-Factor feature mimics real life in a smart new way for the series. Having said that, there's still one position  really a line of positions  that fails to display this sort of separation between great, good, and mediocre players: the O-line.

Don't get me wrong, in some situations, it's clearer that having a great offensive line pays dividends, but this is mostly in PvP games where the opponent is often freelancing with their defender of choice, and you're relying on a lineman to do his job while you play QB. Against the computer in MUT or Franchise, however, there remains a lack of important difference between star linemen and the middle of the pack.

It's not flashy, but Tiburon needs to spend more time on improving this facet of the game. Some teams have notoriously bad offensive lines, but you'd hardly know it in a game of Madden most of the time. Let's let the deserving big boys shine in Madden 21.

7. Show Me the Next Generation

Madden 21 will be the first game in the series on next-gen hardware such as the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Historically, that has meant an impressive display of visuals and a lackluster gameplay suite as EA adjusts to new systems. But this year's incoming hardware sounds more iterative than ever before, with many games already announced as seamlessly cross-gen. 

That makes it sound like the team behind Madden should have an easier time developing the game, as it won't be making two versions of the game as has been the case in previous seasons (looking at you, Madden 06).

All that time saved will hopefully mean this year's game on new consoles looks and plays remarkably well. Perhaps given the solid-state drives and other high-tech features coming to our homes soon, we will get faster load times and more immersive features like better crowd details, audio, and gameplay presentation more closely mirroring a real broadcast.

The future is here, or so we think. Now, hopefully, Madden 21 can show it to us.

Extreme Sports Games We Want Remastered After Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 Fri, 22 May 2020 12:43:18 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs


Tony Hawk's Underground


We'll finish with the best game in the Tony Hawk series. Not only does Tony Hawk's Underground feature rock-solid globe-trotting gameplay, but it also features the series' best story mode, with one of the greatest villains in video game history: Eric Sparrow.


It's hard to understand now, but at the time, structuring an extreme sports game like a role-playing game was a huge risk.


This isn't a game designed for quick, course-based play. Instead, this is a gigantic game complete with character development, trick customization, and a surprisingly deep story. We'd love to experience it again.




Be sure to snag your copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 ahead of the collection's September 4 release date. Head over to our preorder guide to see what's in each edition! 


Jet Moto 1 + 2


The Jet Moto games don't get as much love as, say, the WipeOut series, or the F-Zero franchise, but its brand of futuristic hover jet-ski racing is incredibly engaging.


The game's track and character design is stunning, and the Nightmare track still gives us vertigo. It'd be great to see the game get another day in the sun, in all its Mountain Dew-branded glory.


Jet Set Radio + Jet Set Radio Future


Do we really need to say any more? These games are the two most stylish pieces of video game media ever made, with two of the best soundtracks in video gaming history. The combination of graffiti, rollerblading, racing, stunts, and platforming is perfect.


The only thing that could make the games better would be upgraded graphics, and a camera that doesn't have a frustrating tendency to get stuck in walls. Now, more than ever before, we need these games.


Cool Boarders 2


The Cool Boarders games weren't the first snowboard games ever made, but they are unquestionably responsible for inspiring the genre as we know it today, paving the way for games like 1080 Snowboarding and SSX.


Sure, the games haven't aged particularly well in terms of visuals, but there is a lot to love about the series, especially Cool Boarders 2. Its half-pipe mode, in particular, is a highlight, and a visual upgrade would get rid of most of the problems it has.


Skate 2


To be completely honest, we'd take any game in the Skate series, but for us, Skate 2 is where the series peaked, which makes it especially galling that Skate 2 is the only game in the series not included in the Xbox One Backwards Compatibility program.




The Skate series is the answer to the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater school of extreme sports, pushing against over-the-top tricks and aesthetics for a more down-to-earth approach inspired by actual skating culture. And it really, really works.


Judging by the folks who tweet "SKATE 4 WHEN???!?" during every EA press conference, a remake or remaster would be openly embraced, to say the least. 


Snowboard Kids 1+2


The Snowboard Kids games are arcade kart games in extreme sports clothing, and they remain two of the most unique games ever created because of that.


Both games in the series task players with performing stunts to earn money, with which they can buy Mario Kart-style powerups that derail opponents as they traverse wildly unique courses.


Tracks are varied, and range from haunted houses to underwater oases to a course where you get Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-ed and board through a house while mini-sized.


Both games in the series are perfect competitive couch titles, and we'd love to see them re-introduced with a higher polygon count.


NBA Street Vol. 1-3


The NBA Street series is better than the NBA Jam series, and I will be hearing no argument to the contrary. All of EA's Street sports games are quality arcade sports titles, but the NBA Street series eclipses each.


The games are much more daring and innovative than more straight-laced, iterative sports titles, with sequels adding innovations like the ability to create custom crossover combos and dunks, and each of the games features a story mode that still stands up today when compared with story modes in modern sports games.


It might be a bit of a misnomer to call games in this series "extreme sports" titles, but NBA Street's reliance on stunts and over-the-top action qualifies it for the category in our minds. After all, the games were published by EA Big, the publisher's extreme sports division.


Wave Race: Blue Storm


In many ways, Wave Race: Blue Storm operated as a tech demo for the Nintendo GameCube's launch. What better way to show off your fancy new console than to release a game that is reliant on water physics?


Sure, the graphics look dated now, but you know what's not dated? The gameplay. Jetskis bounce realistically and unpredictably, and catching an eddy at just the right spot to get a speed boost is still incredibly satisfying.


With updated graphics and a fine-tuned physics engine, a remake of Wave Race: Blue Storm (or, indeed, another game in the series) would be a smash hit.


SSX Collection (Tricky, SSX 3, On Tour)


What Tony Hawk: Pro Skater was for skateboarding, the SSX series was for snowboarding.


Following the first game in the series, a relatively laced-up snowboard simulator in the style of 1080 Snowboarding, the series made a huge splash with SSX Tricky, an unapologetically over-the-top snowboard game that features impossible tricks and beautiful, flashy courses.


SSX 3 iterates on that formula by adding more characters and more tricks. It also happens to take place on a single mountain that players can traverse from top-to-bottom. It is, pretty much, an open-world snowboard game.


SSX On Tour wasn't received quite as warmly as the previous two games, but its addition of skis is welcome, and its Napoleon Dynamite-esque visual style holds up even today. 


Though the series did get a reboot back in 2012, that title failed to recapture the magic of the games before it, eschewing over-the-top aesthetics for more brutal realism and adventuring. The time is right to revive the silliness.


Mario Strikers: Charged


There's a reason why the Wii's Mario Strikers: Charged has a cult following: it's legitimately one of the best competitive sports games ever made. It combines soccer and hockey to great effect, creating a hyper-fast, high-stakes arcade sports experience.


The game is chock-full of strategy as well. Passing the ball gives your shots a much higher chance of going in, Megastrikes give you the chance to score multiple goals at once, and power-ups create a tense risk-reward scenario in every possession.


A fresh coat of paint is really all this game needs. The underpowered Wii wasn't able to render the game's character models in as much detail as they deserve, and a Switch remaster would make this an instant competitive classic.


We're all incredibly excited for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 Remastered. They're both legendary games that set the standard for extreme sports gaming with their combination of rock-solid controls and hilariously over-the-top stunts.


The games weren't just special, they were formative for many of us; they served as a drop-in point between gaming culture and extreme sports culture that largely didn't exist before. 


That said, we can't help but think about a few other extreme sports games we'd like to see get a fresh coat of paint, too. 

CastleStorm 2 Demo Hands-On: Why Pick Just One Genre? Wed, 20 May 2020 12:00:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Sir Gavin is kind of a tool. He's haughty, arrogant, and kind of a dummy. That said, he has a glorious beard, and he's very good and wrecking enemy troops. That's why I'm glad to see him back in action in CastleStorm 2, a sort of kitchen-sink approach to gaming. Sir Gavin is the series' de facto mascot, grinning and slicing his way through a variety of the forces of evil.

CastleStorm 2 is a mashup of several different genres. There's tower defense. Resource management. Real-time action. Even some turn-based strategy. It might just look like Angry Birds with knights  it's got plenty of that physics-based destruction, too  but there's a lot more going on than you'd think at first glance.

That's not always to its benefit, though. It can feel like CastleStorm 2 is trying a bit too hard to be everything, and is having trouble focusing on making any particular element enticing. Sometimes, focus is key, and CastleStorm 2 behaves a little too much like an erratic toddler. The minute you think it's figuring things out, the moment passes and you're on to something else.

We went hands-on with a demo of CastleStorm 2 to get a taste of what we can expect when the full game releases later in 2020. Here's what we thought in our short time with it. 

The Beard is Here

Trying to describe all the different elements of CastleStorm 2 is a bit of an undertaking, but here goes.

The action takes place on a procedurally-generated map, where you move your "Commander" characters around to different points of interest. These might provide resources like food or wood, they might trigger an event, or they might start a battle. After you have used all your movement points during one of these phases, enemy Commanders can do the same. You can also build buildings and customize things like your castle and army, but we'll get to those in a bit.

The meat of gameplay CastleStorm 2 takes place in the game's battles. You spawn troops from one side of the screen, who march across and meet with enemy troops coming from the other side. There is a large number of different troop types, and each counters certain enemies. The key is predicting what you'll see from your foe and adapt your army accordingly.

You can also directly affect each battle, as you control a massive ballista that can fire several different types of ammo, each with its pros and cons. The default ammo is a cheap, efficient arrow that does decent damage to soldiers, but very little damage against buildings. Build up your armory and you can start adding giant boulders (among other types of ammo) to the mix, great for breaching castle walls.

That's where the Angry Birds comparisons start to fly in: CastleStorm 2's biggest battles involve some physics-based destruction, as you try to push your troops into an enemy base under a barrage of enemies and magic. If you feel like you're not doing enough with your ballista, you can also sling some magic spells around or take control of one of your commanders, helping turn the tide more directly on the battlefield.

Setting Up for Success

There are a lot of customization options available in CastleStorm 2, and the most important is probably setting up your army. You can hire a variety of different commanders during your campaign, each capable of summoning different troops, such as archers, footmen, and cavalry.

You can also order these commanders to hit the battlefield directly, giving them a chance to earn greater glory by killing enemies and leveling up. A stronger commander means stronger summoned units, but a wounded commander is less effective unless given time to recover; it's a solid risk-reward bit of strategy.

Castles can be customized, too. The Angry Birds-style siege battles often come down to one side wrecking the other's base as quickly as possible. Building a castle with strong foundations is sure to be a key to success in these defensive battles, something we didn't have to worry about in the demo.

A large part of the strategy also comes from managing your resources and the types of ballista ammunition and spells you bring into battle with you. Spells, in particular, seem very powerful but difficult to recharge. You'll want to use them sparingly, and only when victory looks like it's slipping away.

What More Could You Want?

The big issue with CastleStorm 2 is that so many of its ideas are only 3/4 of the way there. It feels like all of the game's different genres are added as an afterthought, and the game's description of itself  a "genre mashup"  throws more fuel on the fire. Ultimately, it feels like these genres are smashed together more as a gimmick than a true, coherent design. CastleStorm 2 comes across almost as half-assed tower defense, half-assed physics-based destruction, half-assed strategy, and half-assed RPG.

Whether that makes two whole asses is up to you.

For me, I found myself wishing it was a little more focused and a little quicker paced. Everything about CastleStorm 2 feels like a mobile game: the design, the layout, the graphics, the implementation of mechanics. Oddly, there is no mention in any of the material we've seen that it is releasing on mobile; so far, CastleStorm 2 is only hitting PC and consoles.

It practically seems like a given, considering how it's designed, that regular PC and console gamers will find themselves struggling with the game's pacing and why things are set up in certain ways.

The demo we played through was a little over an hour long, so it's possible there's more to CastleStorm 2 than we got to see. It has a lot going for it, and it will be interesting to see if the game builds on some of its early promise.

From the taste we got, however, that doesn't seem terribly likely. Currently, it's... fine. I found myself already getting bored with several aspects as I approached the end of the demo, not a good sign when you've only been playing for a short while. 

CastleStorm 2 will definitely appeal to a certain subset of gamers, but beware if you're looking for a game to sink your time into.

Embr Early Access Review: Fight Fire with Fun Wed, 20 May 2020 10:50:10 -0400 Mark Delaney

These days you can get pretty much anything through an app. Need a ride? Call Uber. Hungry? Postmates will be there in 30 minutes. Looking to get your face made into a cartoon? There are like 10,000 people willing to do that online right now.

It makes me wonder, "Where does it end?" Which jobs will we not outsource to a market of independent contractors? 

Built deliberately without unions or benefits, we've traded worker's rights for consumer convenience, and it's all starting to get a bit dystopian. In comes Embr to offer a sarcastic, darkly humorous future where even firefighting runs through an app. If only that possible future could ever be as fun as Embr is.

Embr Early Access Review: Fight Fire with Fun

Embr is a new game hitting Early Access for Steam and Stadia on May 21, making it the first-ever Stadia Early Access title. In it, up to four players can strap on their helmets and ride off in first-person co-op to the next home or business engulfed in flames. The cartoonish colors and bouncy soundtrack tell players right away that Embr is meant to be silly, and that's one of its best qualities.

Answering an app as an Embr Respondr, your task is to get people out of these burning buildings before they die, only instead of valor and community service, you're in it for the tips and the ever-desirable five-star rating.

Typically, there are two types of survivors inside any burning building: the apathetic phone-scroller, who doesn't even bother to look up as you pull them to safety, or the panicked survivor, who is running around the place like they're already on fire themselves. 

In both cases, your task is to get them outside to a safety zone. Sometimes there is more than one of these areas, and once the rescuees are in one, they're safe for good. No need to worry, the game even encourages you to chuck them across the threshold, provided they're at a safe distance from the ground.

It's getting them there that makes up this puzzle platformer disguised as a chaotic co-op experience. Using customizable loadouts of ladders, water hoses, trampolines, axes, and much more, players are expected to bring the right tools for the job and work efficiently.

There's a great sense of player choice in this aspect of Embr. Earning cash and unlocking and upgrading my gear has been one of my favorite parts of the game so far. It reminds me a bit of Sea of Thieves in that the game hardly suggests what to do with any of its items. It gives them to you and lets you use them how you'd like  "tools, not rules" as Rare calls it. Given there are always countless ways to solve each level, this sense of freedom is exciting.

Do you bash down the front door and spray your way up the stairs, or do you prop a ladder against the house and climb through the second-story window? Either way, there's never a level where you can totally put out the fire and you shouldn't bother doing so. You're here to rescue customers so they can tip you, not save a home from burning down.

You can merely quell the flames momentarily while you get people to safety, even if they're too busy tweeting to thank you. Electrical fires cause additional problems, while other obstacles like classic red barrels can make things worse too. Each level gives players a new mix of layout, objectives, and funny, frenzy-inducing obstacles.

Then there's the moral quandary of deciding how many people to save. Each level tends to have you rescue only some of the total number of humans left in the fire. For example, you might only need to save four of the would-be victims, or you can stick around for all eight. Hidden stacks of cash can sometimes be more enticing than the humans too, which only furthers the game's comically cynical view of late capitalism.

Billboards seen throughout the game do well to establish that cynicism too, like a takedown of Deadspin's recent fall from grace through an ad for "SportsShow: Just Sport. No Politics," or a beverage called H2Oh! with the tagline "It's almost water!" It's clear who Muse Games sides with in the ongoing struggle for consumer and worker advocacy, and it's not the bigwigs at the top.  

Scurrying around each level makes replaying for better scores and more cash enticing, especially as you unlock better gear and can clear prior areas much faster. If only I was able to enjoy it all with others. In my time with the game ahead of its Early Access launch, I wasn't able to find any co-op partners.

It seems the game doesn't yet offer crossplay — hopefully, that's planned for later  so I was left fending for myself during the review period. I expect that problem will be solved quickly, but it does mean I'm missing an important portion of the Embr experience.

Speaking of what's missing, given that the game is in Early Access, there are currently several areas that need improving. Though the core gameplay is a joy, the controls can sometimes feel a bit too loose. Some of this is deliberate, like a ladder that can easily topple over if you don't prop it up well, but just climbing the ladder feels off too, and not in the same broken-for-laughs way.

I love the physics-driven gameplay of Embr. Being able to move the contents of any room around to solve platforming problems and complete objectives is inventive and rewarding, making me feel like I'm thinking outside the box often. But controls need to be tightened up. There's a fine line to walk between floaty and unwieldy, and currently, Embr is stumbling to the wrong side.

In the menus, the ability to rename loadouts is apparently not working at all. This isn't a huge concern as at launch, you start with two loadouts and one of them is the default loadout that you'll quickly outgrow, but it does remind me that this game isn't done yet. There are also too few levels right now, so hopefully those keep getting added over time.

Embr Early Access Review  The Bottom Line

  • Inventive and chaotic gameplay
  • Fluid level design lets players choose their playstyle and change it on the go
  • Cynically comical world-building
  • Enticing upgrade tree
  • Welcome accessibility options
  • Wrinkles to iron out such as unresponsive menus and a dearth of levels
  • Controls are a bit too floaty at the moment

I noticed the game has several smart accessibility options right away, including a fine-tuned difficulty slider, reduced gravity (I assume to make trampolines less deadly), and even a profanity filter. With that last one, Embr is a game my son and I can enjoy together, and I wish more games offered such a feature.

I know to expect growing pains in an Early Access game, so today, I don't consider them dealbreakers for what is otherwise another great game in a string of titles that take stressful jobs and turn them into colorful romps with friends.

If you've enjoyed games such as OvercookedTools UpMoving Out, and Get Packed, there's every reason to expect you'll also enjoy Embr. Grab a seat in the firetruck, because Embr is just getting warmed up.

[Note: A copy of Embr was provided by Muse Games for the purpose of this Early Access review.]

Ghost of Tsushima State of Play Recap: Beauty, Death, and Foxes Thu, 14 May 2020 16:54:20 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

As advertised, Sony's latest State of Play was all about Sucker Punch's upcoming Ghost of Tsushima. There's a lot to dig into, including combat, customization, and modes so let's get started.

Things kicked off with Sucker Punch's Jason Connell showing off how we'll explore the gorgeous open world of Tsushima. We already know there aren't any waypoints, but you'll still have a map to guide you and you can call a guiding wind to point you in the right direction should you get lost.

Exploration revolves around the island itself guiding you through sparking curiosity and giving you places to explore, because as Connell said, "you can't have exploration without curiosity."

These could be big story moments, side quests, or any number of things, and you'll need to pay attention to a number of environmental cues like smoke and animals to uncover unique interactions. Birds, for example, point out areas of interest, foxes lead you to shrines where you can acquire special charms, and some animal symbols turn red when there's danger nearby.

It's a big world, and fortunately, Jin has a trusty horse to help take him through it, and you can even gather resources even while you ride.

You'll find resources in a variety of places, including abandoned buildings, so it's worth taking your time to explore the island. And once you find a location, you can go back to it through fast travel as well.

Exploration isn't everything in Ghost of Tsushima of course. A big part of Jin's journey is combat-centric, and according to Sucker Punch's Nate Fox, half of Tshushima's combat is the classic samurai faceoff that pits one warrior against another.

You'll be fighting a ton of warriors, and each action counts. What combat stances you take can change the course of battle, as can choosing the right moment to make your presence known and strike up close or stay back to hit from afar.

Jin isn't just a samurai, though. He's also the Ghost, using stealth, fear, and any number of underhanded tactics to take down his Mongol opponents. Stealth in Ghost of Tsushima is an involved process too. One scene, for example, showed Jin using a firecracker to both distract enemies and cover the sound of his own footsteps as he neared their camp from above.

Eventually, the Mongols will fear Jin the Ghost, which you can also use to your advantage and enhance with actions like eliminating victims as they try to flee. There's a "Slaughter" option you can choose instead of just the typical "Assassinate," and something tells us that might have something to do with increasing fear as well.

Jin's armor and outfits aren't just for looks; they also accent your chosen playstyle. You'll find a number of omamori charms that enhance your abilities, and the same goes for skills. How Jin develops is entirely up to you, as you create and hone your own unique playstyle. For instance, one technique build has Jin restoring health whenever he uses a smoke bomb, so there's a ton of ways to play.

And there's Photo Mode, of course, because this is Sucker Punch. Ghost of Tsushima's photo mode gives you a ton of options for making your ideal photo. There are overlays, changing wind direction or adding particles, and even changing the soundtrack if you're making a video. And that's just some of what's available.

Outside of that, you can customize how the game itself looks, with a special Samurai Cinema filter you can turn on right from the start that gives everything a grainy, black and white, windblown look. Also right from the start, you can choose a Japanese voice track if you want. Kurosawa on your PS4

Sucker Punch says this was just the start. There's a lot more they haven't even shown yet, so stay tuned to GameSkinny for more Ghost of Tsushima news as we near its July 19 launch date.

Crusader Kings 3 Hands-On Preview: Steel Yourself for Battle Thu, 14 May 2020 12:17:34 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Crusader Kings 2 had grown exponentially since the base game released in 2012. It can be daunting to browse through the game's available DLC and figure out what's what. With that in mind, it's high time that Paradox put out a proper sequel. Enter Crusader Kings 3

The CK series is part of the "grand strategy" genre. It looks similar to Civilization 6, for example, but there are some key differences between the two franchises. The main difference is that in the Crusader Kings franchise, you control a family through the ages, rather than a nation or culture. This means Crusader Kings is all about the long game, setting up your descendants to claim titles and eventually rule the world.

Paradox Interactive, the game's developer and publisher, recently walked us through what we can expect to see when we get our hands on the game later this year. We also got a few days to take the current build for a spin, utilizing all the lessons we learned watching Game of Thrones in order to conquer the world.

Here's what we thought of Crusader Kings 3.

Keep in mind, this is the game as it is right now: much of this is subject to change over the coming months. We also found out when the game is releasing, so read on to the end to find out when you can get your hands on CK3.

Crusader Kings 3 Hands-On Preview: Steel Yourself for Battle

Paradox told us right away that CK3 has two central design philosophies: be more character-driven and be more accessible. Let's start with the character focus, as this is what really sets Crusader Kings apart from other strategy titles.

Rather than helping guide a chosen nation to world dominance, Crusader Kings 3 is initially concerned with a single character. That character may be extraordinarily powerful  the ruler of a massive empire, perhaps. They may also be some meddling Duke on some far-flung rock. Either way, you have a massive map to explore, invade, and eventually annex available from the start: Europe, northern Africa, and regions far into Asia are all represented.

As soon as you begin — before even unpausing the game to get properly started — you have a lot of options at your disposal (which we'll get into shortly).

You'll also notice how good everything looks. CK3 has a fancy new graphics engine, with full 3D ruler portraits and all sorts of other neat graphical bells and whistles.

But once you reel yourself in from that, you'll need to get cracking on your to-do list. And it's a long one that veterans will find familiar. You should probably get married: if your character dies and you don't have an heir, it's game over. You may have some empty spots to fill on your small council, and you should probably figure out who your allies and enemies are. Oh, and you should give your character a quick once over to figure out their personality.

That last part is especially important because it plays a huge role in the ebb and flow of Crusader Kings 3. Your ruler has a set of defined traits, and you can influence these in subsequent generations by who raises your progeny  and how.

You are welcome to go against your personality, but it causes stress if, say, your ruler is kind but you continually torture prisoners. Stress will negatively impact various abilities, meaning it behooves you to generally play to type.

Fit for a King

There are plenty of other ways to customize and influence your dynasty than just your personality. The Lifestyle system adds a massive, branching skill tree to the game, giving you plenty of chances to change your realm. Every five years, you can adjust your character's lifestyle focus, with different paths coinciding with in-game statistics. As you earn experience in those paths, you'll be able to add perks to your character.

This helps you plan out your dynasty in the long run. Maybe you have a few different generations featuring characters who are particularly adept with money. As you build your coffers over time and bribe your way to good standing with the right benefactors, you set up your dynasty. Eventually, a ruler comes along who is an impressive battlefield commander. Your previous generations saved the money (using a series of perks to help), and now you've got someone who can put it to use conquering.

Again, it's all about the long game in Crusader Kings 3. 

Playing toward that, there are also special "legacy" upgrades you can earn from particularly impressive feats and having a world-renowned family. These legacy upgrades affect every single member of your dynasty across the game. If you aren't in good standing with your family down the line, some of the more devious members may come back to bite you using the very upgrades you unlocked for them!

Take Me to Church

Another system getting a major overhaul in CK3 is the religion system, now dubbed the Faith system. As of right now, there are 99 different faiths across the continents in Crusader Kings 3. One of the developers joked that they will try to add one more, just to get it to an even 100, but we'll have to wait and see.

Faiths have all sorts of systems attached to them  tenets and doctrines that change the way your government operates. They also have "fervor" attached to them, making larger, more cumbersome faiths harder to maintain and more likely to incite heresy. This gives smaller faiths a way to maintain some power and identity, even as larger faiths spread across the globe.

The faith system is yet another way the developers of CK3 want to give power to the players. You can even set up your own religions. If you don't like a particular doctrine of the faith, you can name your own religion, assign traits to it before recruiting others into it. Just know that you'll most likely make enemies of your old faith.

You can probably expect to see a "Holy Crusade against the Church of Fart Ass" if you don't think things through before breaking off.

Easier to Handle

If it sounds like there's a lot going on in Crusader Kings 3, that's because there is. All of these systems are layered on top of several other systems, making for an intimidating prospect for new players. Luckily, this difficulty is also at the forefront of the game's design. The developers want to be extremely conscious of not overwhelming players and making information easily accessible. 

One of the new systems at play is the fantastic "Issues" widget at the top of the screen. There were similar things in CK2, but the Issues section gathers pertinent information into one convenient place. It also gives you suggestions based on your strengths and current placement in the world.

In an early playthrough as a Scandinavian ruler, the Issues section would remind me that I hadn't sent out a raiding party in a few years. In a different game, it suggested that I fabricate a claim on weaker neighbors to enlarge my empire.

This is a wonderful addition for beginners and experts alike. You can quickly dismiss or turn off these suggestions, but it's great to get a push in the right direction when you're still getting your sea legs beneath you. This section also compiles the usual Crusader Kings popups in one convenient place  "Assign a guardian," "Get married," "There's a plot to murder you!". 

Another welcome addition is the way tool tips are handled. In CK2, if you hovered over your monthly income, for example, you would be bombarded by information. If you already did not understand where your money was coming from, such a system was unlikely to fix that.

Now, hovering the cursor over something will bring up a small amount of info. Often, items inside will show up in bold. Move into the tool tip and hover over the bold options and a new tool tip will appear. You can seemingly fall down the rabbit hole with these tool tips, going as deep into the information as you want, but you're always doing it at your own pace.

It sounds like a tiny thing, but it's extremely helpful in learning how the systems all play with one another in Crusader Kings 3.

A New Chapter

We only got a short demonstration and a few days to tinker with a preview build of Crusader Kings 3, so we only scratched the surface of what to expect from the strategy game. However, it looks like this entry already addresses many of the issues players had (and still have) with Crusader Kings 2. 

In that way, CK3 should be able to distinguish itself from other grand strategy games with its focus on RPG elements and the "medieval soap opera" aspects that it's so good at putting forth. There is a lot more available out of the box, too, so hopefully, CK3's eventual DLC will be more manageable than its predecessor's. 

You'll be able to take over the world when Crusader Kings 3 releases on September 1, 2020. It will launch simultaneously on Windows and Mac and is available for preorder now.

If you've always wanted to try out Crusader Kings but never pulled the trigger, CK3 is shaping up to be a great option for newbies and experts alike. We'll have more on the game as its release approaches, and we'll definitely have a full review as soon as we can. Check back often, and start scheming now!

GhostRunner Demo Impressions: Cyberpunk at Lightning Speed Wed, 13 May 2020 16:25:25 -0400 John Schutt

In GhostRunner, you are a cyborg. You have a katana. And you have a mountain of bodies to build while getting from point A to point B. 

It's a game in the vein of fast-paced hack-and-slash fair like Katana Zero, but instead of high-quality pixel art, players experience some of the highest-fidelity graphics possible on modern hardware, at framerates even most AAA games dream of.

But how does it play? Is it worth your time? Let's take a look.

GhostRunner: One-Hit Kill

Sure, you are a machine of death in GhostRunner, but it only takes one hit to kill you. Thankfully, your enemies are just as fragile.

Problem is, they have guns, and all you have is a razor-sharp blade and expensive cybernetics.

The game gets around this problem by combining two classic mechanics: bullet time and air dashing. Enemy projectiles have a travel time, but if your reactions are fast enough, you can enter bullet time to dodge them in mid-air.

When you exit bullet-time, you'll dash towards the enemy. Hopefully, it's without eating a bullet for your trouble.

Should you fail, though, GhostRunner has a robust set of checkpoints set up before each challenge arena, and you load into them instantly after dying. I was playing the game's Steam demo on an M.2 SSD, and there was no loading time between death and respawn. Slower hard drives might need a second or two.

That might be a blessing in disguise, as GhostRunner's pace will set your heart to overdrive.

Given that the demo is only about 10 minutes long, even with plenty of failures, difficulty ramps up quickly, and the introduction of new mechanics comes fast and furious. You'll learn how to climb, wall run, slide, and kill in a matter of moments. 

From there, you'll learn how to enable and work within bullet-time, and then you'll combine everything you've learned into a singular methodology to use in more and more demanding arenas. The last thing you'll learn is a grapple, which gets put to use immediately.

Chaining abilities is as satisfying as you might hope in a game such as this, and it should be. Failures can be frustrating, especially because the game's enemies are incredibly accurate, and your margin for error so small. 

Don't let that dissuade you from trying the demo out, though. GhostRunner is not a forgiving game, but it rewards successful kills and flawless parkour. It's well worth the price of admission. 

Wall-Running Like a Dream

GhostRunner, even in its demo state, shows the power of Unreal Engine 4, and it runs better than I would have ever hoped. Even with everything on maximum and RTX turned on, I was easily breaking 60fps at 1080p. The game's recommended specs aren't demanding either, so while a top of the line rig can push this game's limits, even mid-tier and budget-builds should be able to have a good time.

There are plenty of customizable settings too, and the developers have even gone so far as to push an update to the demo, adding more options, including an FOV slider and fully-unlockable FPS. It's clearly a game built for PC first and foremost.

While something like this is playable on a controller, the sheer speed of the gameplay on offer is probably best experienced with the freedom of movement a mouse and keyboard provide.

More importantly, the game looks amazing. I would go so far as to compare it to Cyberpunk 2077 at times, both in terms of fidelity and the quality of its art style. Everything looks and feels like a badass dystopian future, from the propaganda to the cybernetics, animations, and environments. 

Whispers in Your Head

The story of a game like GhostRunner only really exists to string together the various gameplay challenges, and we don't get much of it in the short Steam demo.

What we do have is pretty standard cyberpunk fair. Something about a prisoner with tech abilities that needs rescuing, the player character having messy cybernetics, and the usual corporate overlords in control of more than you'd ever realize.

All that doesn't mean the story will be bad, and the final scene has me itching to know more. There's definitely more underneath the surface, and nothing is ever as it seems, but if GhostRunner wants to capture audiences with its narrative, it needs to follow Katana Zero's example.

In other words, it needs to have interesting characters and story-gameplay integration. I see shades of that already in the demo, and the environments show directions a story could go. I'm excited either way.

I'm intrigued enough by GhostRunner to put it on my excited-for list, and you should keep it on your radar as well. Even if it's not your kind of game, it is one that shows what's possible on the latest tech. 

Legends of Runeterra is a Free-to-Play CCG That Respects Your Time & Money Mon, 11 May 2020 15:22:23 -0400 Jonny Foster

Legends of Runeterra (LoR) is a tough game to evaluate reasonably as a card-game fanatic. It’s significantly better than its competitors in so many aspects that it’s difficult not to romanticize it, but I’ll do my best. 

If you haven’t seen or heard of LoR before, it’s a free online collectible card game (CCG). Drawing inspiration from similar titles like Artifact, Hearthstone, and Magic: The Gathering, you’ll play units and spells to try and beat down your opponent’s life total. Legends of Runeterra, however, is based in Riot’s League of Legends universe, so you’re playing Champions and followers and dealing damage to an enemy Nexus. 

The gameplay certainly isn’t run-of-the-mill, either.

There’s a deep initiative system to LoR that passes control back and forth each turn, giving each player far more agency over the flow of the match, unlike more restrictive CCGs that only let you play cards on your own turn. 

There are lots of these small tweaks to the familiar formula that make Legends of Runeterra accessible to all, but exciting enough to keep you playing.

It would take too long to explain all of the mechanics here, but we have some extensive guides on our dedicated LoR page if you’re interested in learning more about how to play the game. 

What really makes Runeterra special, though, is its fine-tuned balance and consumer-friendly monetization. Because there are so many viable decks and interesting combinations between Champions and playstyles, the meta is constantly shifting and evolving. 

As we’ve just had 100+ new cards released in the 1.0 update, it's only a few days before something new is king of the hill, something else is ahead of the pack… only for its counter to rise from the ashes of other decks shortly after. Even once the dust settles, this pattern will inevitably become weeks instead of days.

It’s the closest thing to “balance” that a card game — or any competitive game, for that matter — can accomplish in my opinion. And Riot’s gentle touch with patches definitely plays a part in this.

Rather than making snap decisions or dropping new cards and abandoning ship, they’ve been incredibly clear about their schedule to provide balance changes each month with smaller quality-of-life patches in between.  

Legends of Runeterra’s state of near-equilibrium is only possible thanks to the extremely wallet-friendly monetization strategy that the game employs, though.

A full collection of every card can be unlocked in a reasonable timeframe without spending a cent, while most meta decks can be crafted in a week or so, with many taking much, much less time.

Did I mention Riot's eliminated lootboxes? That’s right, you can craft the exact cards you want for — and I have to stress this explicitly — a reasonable price, with no paid packs in sight. 

There are still free packs earned each week by playing the game, and you can spend real money to unlock cards if you desire, but your progression isn’t reliant on spending piles of cash on lootbox packs, and for that, I cannot praise Riot enough. 

For those wondering, there are a host of personalization options such as themed boards, emotes, card backs, and more to unlock for real money if you want. This Warframe-esque system of “support us, if you want, by buying shiny trinkets” is the perfect monetization strategy for a free-to-play game. 

It makes you feel like the developers actually respect your time, and incentivizes you to keep playing and eventually dip into your wallet — at least it has for me and many others.

While I could talk for hours about the intricacies of why LoR is worth your time, it would be disingenuous to act like everything has been sunshine and roses in Runeterra.  

Early previews of LoR praised it for limiting the amount of real money that players can spend each week, and offering diminishing returns on XP to nudge players into taking a break after grinding for too long. 

Truth be told, this was one of the main reasons why I started playing. 

In one of the final Beta patches, however, Riot removed the spending cap and some of the XP gating. 

While you can easily jump to cynical conclusions about this, these changes have ultimately been healthier for the competitive scene, and the game remains firmly in the free-to-play camp instead of “pay-to-win."

Elsewhere, there were also a few nasty bugs introduced with the Rising Tides expansion — many of which have thankfully been hotfixed — as well as some discrepancies in card text. 

While it’s a real shame the patch wasn’t released in a more polished state, it’s almost impossible to imagine that the COVID-19 outbreak didn’t mess with Riot's playtesting. 

If the Beta patches are anything to go by, though, there’s no doubt that Riot will work diligently to patch up any remaining issues over the coming weeks. 

Speaking of the new expansion, though there are a few cards that will need addressing in future balance patches, it’s comforting to see that the expansion hasn’t completely monopolized the competitive meta of LoR

Long-serving fans of the CCG genre probably shudder when they hear the word “expansion” these days, but the ability to craft cheap yet effective decks remains unchanged, and the newly released cards haven’t swamped the old set out of relevancy. 

It’s clear, then, that any negatives to be found about LoR pale in comparison to the leagues of positivity. 

There are many lingering questions about how long Riot’s model will survive before more nefarious CCG pitfalls take hold, but everything I’ve seen from the Runeterra team so far has given me faith that there are steady hands at the helm. 


For more on Legends of Runeterra, check out our dedicated page for a range of useful guides aimed at all skill levels!

Port Royale 4 Beta Impressions: Cutthroat Strategy Fri, 08 May 2020 13:15:47 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Port Royale 4 seems to be a bit of an odd bird, but (mostly) in a good way. Most games set during the "age of piracy" are all about the pirates, and Port Royale 4 certainly is not all about pirates.

You can go rogue, but it's actually very tough to make it work, and you'll lose a lot of the benefits you'd normally accrue otherwise. Instead, this is a strategy game about building trade routes, controlling the means of production, and occasionally locking horns with some bad buccaneers out on the high seas.

It's also a strangely calming game. Part of that is due to the setting and speed at which things happen. There's a very cathartic feel to setting up multiple trade routes, zooming out, and watching your various convoys set sail. You'll rarely hit stressful, fast-paced sections; Port Royale 4's leisurely pace puts it in a different realm from many supply management games of a similar ilk.

Keep in mind: These impressions come from an early build of the game. Port Royale 4 isn't due out until late September. However, here's what you can expect if you decide to set out on the high seas.

Port Royale 4 Beta Impressions: Cutthroat Strategy

Port Royale 4 is, essentially, a resource management game. You select one of the four major powers in the Caribbean (Spain, England, France, or The Netherlands) and set out to control the economy against a backdrop of pirates and buried treasure. To do this, you set up convoys of ships to sail between the various cities, searching for the best deals and manipulating supply and demand to increase your profits. There are many ways to play, but they all boil down to, "How can I make the most money?".

You start out with just a few little ships, and you send them out to buy a few goods here and there to start increasing your coffers. Soon, you'll start setting up automated trade routes, where you tell your ships when to buy and when to sell. You can turn pirate and attack anyone, or work within your home country's current alliances as a privateer. You can also set up your own production centers in cities, creating your own manufacturing or agricultural empire and, ultimately, reaping the rewards.

One of the best aspects of Port Royale 4 is that, for as complex as it all is, it isn't that hard to get the basics running and start humming along. You won't become some sort of pirate kingpin without putting in the work, but it isn't hard to start turning a small profit and branching out from there.

It's refreshing to play this style of game and not get punished if you don't "figure it out" right away; some players will be perfectly content to set their routes up and watch them work.

High Seas, High Stakes

There is plenty more to do in Port Royale 4 than just setting up your ships and watching them move. While you're trying to turn your profits for the motherland, all those other motherlands are also maneuvering against you. Cities build up on their own, crafting new means of production and growing (or shrinking) as events happen around them. You (and, to an extent, AI-controlled players) can block supplies from getting into certain towns, cutting off their growth and making them worthless.

You can drive up demand for vegetables in a city, then build a bunch of farms in that city and sell them at a ridiculous price. Even better, you could build those farms in a neighboring city, so they have to pay even more to ship them. Even better, you can then sabotage the vegetable farms controlled by England, making it so your vegetables are the only vegetables around. It's some serious mob boss manipulation.

Ready the Cannons

Besides all the economic aspects to control, there is plenty of exploration to be done. As you set sail all around the Caribbean, you'll encounter little points of interest. Some might be as simple as a sailor who wants to join your crew, others might give you part of a treasure map and still more might give you some bonus objective. These all fall under the same general umbrellas, but there are enough slight differences to keep them from getting stale.

There are also hostile ships to contend with: If your home nation is at war with another, you and they have every right to attack one another. Pirates also roam the waters, and you're always free to light the cannons if you come across one of these deviants.

Unfortunately, combat is the area that tends to be the muddiest part of Port Royale 4. Whereas the rest of the game is all happening in real-time, ship battles shift to a turn-based mode using hexes for movement and an alternating initiative. Turn-based works well with some types of battles, but you lose the feel of commanding a fleet when they suddenly start taking turns.

Ships are supposed to be cumbersome beasts. You battle for maneuverability, especially while controlling a multi-masted beast. By setting up battles as turn-based affairs, you lose the sense of seamanship that the rest of the game really puts across. Ship battles often feel unwieldy in video games, but Port Royale 4 doing the opposite helps you realize that they absolutely should feel unwieldy.

Luckily, combat in Port Royale 4 is not a central feature. It is going to happen occasionally, but you can mostly avoid it if it isn't your cup of tea.

A New Horizon

Overall, if you're looking for a strategy-management game that allows you to pick how hardcore you want things to get, Port Royale 4 seems like it's shaping up nicely. It isn't the worst thing in the world to watch dozens of little ships go about their business, sailing around the Caribbean and trading with towns. You can also go full kingpin, cutting off supply lines and starving cities out until they are forced to do business with you and you alone.

Keep an eye on this one: Port Royale 4 has some small issues at the moment, but it could turn into a hidden gem by the time it releases in September.

Inside Xbox: First Look at Xbox Series X Games Thu, 07 May 2020 12:32:38 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Xbox Game Studios just held an Inside Xbox that gave us our first look at a handful of Xbox Series X games. Head of Microsoft Studios Matt Booty took a few moments to address what's going on with Microsoft Studios, reconfirming more news on Xbox Series X first-party titles will be coming in July.

After another lovely glimpse at what we hope is the console's power-on theme, we were reminded all these games are optimized for the XSX. Everything has been captured in-game, so it faithfully represents what we can expect in the final product.

Here's what was shown off. 

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla

The last thing shown during the presentation was perhaps one of the more anticipated titles: Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. As has been mentioned before, AC: Valhalla will support Smart Delivery on the Series X, meaning you'll be able to pick up an Xbox One version and have it upgraded to an XSX version for free should you buy the next-gen system later.

In the gameplay trailer, seen above, we saw churches, longhouses, wild landscapes, and Stonehenge, plus lots of axe throwing. You'll need to raid settlements for support, forge alliances, make tough choices with England's broken kingdoms, and take over fortresses to cement your foothold in England.

Much as we heard from Sony's PlayStation 5 discussion, one big feature of next-gen hardware for games like AC: Valhalla is removing load times and helping players remained immersed in the experience. There's an added bonus of designing worlds without load buffering areas, too.

Though that's about it for what Ubisoft discussed and showed, we're looking forward to learning more in the future.

Yakuza 7

Following Yakuza's roaring entry on Xbox Game Pass, we got our first look at the upcoming Yakuza 7, aka Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and oh boy, was it good. Ichiban's quest for redemption and revenge takes him across a range of environments and a number of huge setpiece fights against yakuza bosses. Somehow, it looks more over-the-top than ever before, and it's set to be an Xbox Series X launch title.

Bright Memory: Infinite

The first game shown was Bright Memory Infinite from Playism. It's a fast and brutal first-person shooter in an Eastern setting. There's guns, armor, swords, strange powers, and super-fast cars in road-rage scenes. Bright Memory Infinite was developed by just one person, built from the ground up. It's the pseudo-sequel to Bright Memory: Episode 1 on PC (Steam). 

Dirt 5

Codemasters' Dirt 5 showed off slick cars and even slicker courses. Absolutely gorgeous environments meet hectic, faced-paced racing antics. It's a Smart Delivery game, too, so it'll be coming to Xbox One as well, complete with a deep story, Troy Baker, and Nolan North. What more could a racing fan ask for? 


Next up was Scorn. It's a Game Pass title set in a strange alien universe. Expect plenty of atmospheric wide shots, probably some body horror, and a decent dose of mystery as you journey to revive the husks of what looks to be your creepy alien comrades.


Deep Silver and Fishlabs showed off another Smart Delivery game: Chorus. It's a sci-fi space shooter centered on the feats of a famous fighter tasked with upholding a civilization — until that civilization decides she hasn't met their expectations.

Madden NFL 21

We knew EA was putting out a new Madden game, and they announced Madden 21 for Xbox Series X during the event. It wasn't so much a feature trailer — that's probably coming during EA Live next month — as it was a look back at how the series has evolved. But we're excited to see what Madden 21 has to offer nonetheless.

It's apparently not a straightforward Smart Delivery title, either. According to a report from The Verge, EA said you'll have to purchase the Xbox One version by December 31st, then upgrade to the Series X version by March 31st, 2021. It's not too surprising, since EA hinted at its own stance on Smart Delivery in its recent investor relations call, a program separate from the Microsoft Smart Delivery plan.

Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2

Sarah Bond, head of Xbox Partnerships, broke in to announce Microsoft has hundreds of publishers working on games slated for launch sometime in the console's first year, including big hitters like Capcom, Bethesda, and Bandai Namco.

What we saw first, though, was an incredibly creepy trailer for Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2 from Paradox. It's the holidays, and someone's rocking around the Christmas tree — with a bunch of hideous puppets that may or may not have been alive once. Expect plenty of seduction, gang warfare, blood, blood, more blood, and maybe some dances to classic big-band tunes as well.

Call of the Sea

Next up was Call of the Sea from Raw Fury, a colorful mystery game set on a paradise island that's too good to be true. It's about a woman journeying through grief and finding her own identity after losing a partner, while also attempting to uncover what it was that led to his death.

The Ascent

Then we had The Ascent, a dystopian shmup set in a cyberpunk world. Corporate greed runs rampant, and workers are basically slaves. A ragtag band of heroes groups together and tries to bring justice to the world, in a world where justice means basically destroying everything in your path.

The Medium

Another Game Pass title shown off was psychological horror game The Medium. We don't really know what it's all about, but it gives off some strong Rosemary's Baby vibes and is set for a Holiday 2020 release. One thing we do know, though, is that the music comes from Silent Hill composer Yakira Yamaoka and more news is on the way.

Scarlet Nexus

Bandai Namco gave us a first look at another Smart Delivery title, Scarlet Nexus. Set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, you deal with "The Others," which is a race of strange beings only you and your group of Psionic Warriors can fight with psychokinesis. It's sort of like a more anime Astral Chain meets God Eater, and we're really quite fine with that.

Second Extinction: Reclaim Earth

Yet another world-premiere and Smart Delivery game is Second Extinction: Reclaim Earth from Systemic Reaction. Second Delivery is also a post-apocalyptic title, but instead of weird aliens, you fight mutant dinosaurs across a range of beautiful, deadly open environments.


As mentioned, there's a lot more to come both from the Summer Game Fest and Microsoft itself. Stick with GameSkinny for more Xbox Series X and next-gen news as it develops. We'll have more on these games in the future! 

Animal Crossing New Horizons Anime Outfits: Cosplay It Up! Tue, 21 Apr 2020 19:57:30 -0400 Ashley Shankle


Cowboy Bebop Spike Spiegel Jacket


I'm not going to say that I saved the best for last, but I am going to say this show is better than all these other shows mentioned. Probably by like five miles and a river. Which is really saying something, because most of the anime these outfits came from are really good.


Cowboy Bebop is on a different level, however; and while this top and the alternative below may be less flashy than some of the others on this list, I do feel obligated as a fan to download and wear these. You should, too.



That's it for our long list of anime-inspired custom designs for Animal Crossing: New Horizons! More outfits are sure to come, but these should tide you over as the community picks up steam and pumps out more fantastic tops to share with fellow New Horizons players.


I'd be much-obliged if you took a look at our Final Fantasy outfit list, and feel free to check out one or a few of our many New Horizons guides!


Revolutionary Girl Utena Uniform


I might be old, I don't know. I love Utena, as repetitive and strange as it may be.


The perfect match to this would be a proper Anthy outfit, and an island full of roses. Perhaps some never-ending staircases. Maybe a car to transform into. You know, normal stuff.


Naruto Uzumaki Jumper


We have all of the Big 3 represented here, right? Bleach? Check. One Piece? Check. Time for some Naruto to wrap it all up, much like the series itself did only to return as Boruto.


Puella Magi Madoka Magica Mami Dress


In the same vein as the Madoka outfit, don't go showing off fighting any witches in this thing. It's bad juju.




Puella Magi Madoka Magica Madoka Dress


You're either down with Madoka, or you're not. If you're not, you should be.


It makes sense for so many magical girl shows to be represented among the New Horizons custom content community, but Madoka?


Just don't go entering any contracts or anything while you wear this.


One Piece Luffy Shirt


How many chapters of manga does One Piece have under its arm now? How many episodes of anime? A million?


Luffy and friends have been on an adventure for 23 years. 23 years! It's the best-selling manga ever. Who would have thought this gummy boy could last this long? Gosh.


Steins;Gate Kurisu Top


I hope you're not planning to time travel in New Horizons, but you better do it wearing Kurisu's top if you do. Just, uh, don't mess everything up.


Bleach Byakuya Haori


There aren't actually a lot of Bleach-inspired custom outfits in Animal Crossing: New Horizons just yet, despite the series being one of what the anime community knew as the Big 3 during its run — meaning it was one of the top three most popular shonen series.


Byakuya's haori is a start, and hopefully more get made and shared.


Dragon Ball Z Trunks Jacket


There are not a ton of Dragon Ball Z outfits in New Horizons yet, but I expect that will change as time goes on and content creators decide that they do in fact want to look like Goku.


For now, you'll just have to look like the most stylish half-Saiyan: Trunks. Future Trunks, to be exact. It's just too bad you can't wield a sword!


Kill la Kill Senketsu


I don't have much to say here, but it'd be absolutely perfect if someone would make a transformed Ryuko top so players could slap both this and the transformed top onto a wand and flip between them on the fly.




Konosuba's Megumin Dress


Aqua's all right, I guess. But no one makes things explode better than Megumin.


I said Konosuba's only for the most refined of anime fans in the last slide, didn't I? Obviously, that means people willing to wear this and spam "EXPLOSION" in Animal Crossing.


Konosuba Kazuma Jumper


Konosuba's only for the most refined of anime fans.


Okay, now that we've established I'm a liar, here's Kazuma's ultra-stylish jumper.


This one's to keep in your pocket for those days where you really just want to spam "hai kazuma desu" at your friends in Animal Crossing. Because I do, and do it.


Extra points to you if another friend wears the next top and says...


Gate/stay Night Saber Dress


This is most akin to Saber's outfit in Fate/Grand Order, but if you're familiar with Fate you're familiar with this outfit.


There are a ton of dress designs available for download, but honestly, not many like this one. I'm hoping there are some more similar styles created, but for now, this is a solid choice whether you're a fan of Fate or not.


Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Jotaro Jacket


You can't quite be Jotaro in Animal Crossing, but you can definitely dress like him. Just without Star Platinum backing you up.


I really love this jacket, but you may not want one so flashy. Check out the alternate, more subdued option below.



My Hero Academia Tsuyu Uniform


Tsuyu is my favorite character in the My Hero Academia series, so excuse me while I share her hero costume with the world and implore you to download it.


Download it.


My Hero Academia All Might Uniform


I'm not saying you're going to be popping off any One for All Quirks while wearing this uniform, but you very well may feel like you are. Maybe.


This outfit is a far cry from most of the others listed, but if you're a fan, this is a must-download.


My Hero Academia Shoto Shirt


Outfit two. This time it's Shoto's hero costume! Getting his hair and face might not be an option, but you can at least look as cool as Shoto and pretend to be wielding two elements at once. That's a decor idea, maybe?


My Hero Academia Deku Top


This is the first of four different My Hero Academia clothing pieces on this list.


Deku naturally comes first, and this is certainly the best of the Deku outfits available right now.


FLCL Haruko Coat


FLCL was once a legendary anime. Wait, is it still a legendary anime? They do say legends never die.


Whether you like the show or manga or not, this is a really nice-looking jacket and is just perfect for wielding a bass guitar as a weapon.


Cardcaptor Sakura School Uniform


Sakura and Tomoyo were once anime queens! Heck, as far as I'm concerned, Cardcaptor Sakura is an anime classic, though maybe not the American dub and all its changes. Definitely not the American dub.


One content creator seems to be very keen on CCS and the clothes found in the series. Check their creator code up there to the left in the image and check out their other designs. However, any fan needs the school outfit as seen above.


Sailor Moon Sailor Scout Uniform


I don't think there is any anime series more represented among New Horizons content creators than Sailor Moon.


There are so many Sailor Scout outfits that I'm just going to link you to the "sailor" search on Nook's Island so you can peruse them yourself.


You can find outfits from all the Sailor Moon series, from the original and R to S and Super S. Outfits for every Sailor Scout have already been made too — it would just be too much to list off all the fantastic ones here!


Kimetsu no Yaiba Nezuko Kimono


The turned Nezuko herself serves not just as the Yaiba mascot, but as one of the most popular characters in the series. Don't we all wish we could just hang out and sleep in a box all day? Maybe it's just me...


This is another one I saved an alternative for, because it's hard to just choose one. The bottom one is a little softer, which may be more to your aesthetic.



Kimetsu no Yaiba Tanjiro Haori


Tanjiro's haori is a signature piece of clothing to the Kimetsu no Yaiba series. Chances are that if you're a fan, you want to download this.


You can also download a pattern for Tanjiro's scar for the complete look. Get a friend to dress as Nezuko and travel the world! Well, at least your island.



Kimetsu no Yaiba Zenitsu Haori


This is only the first of three Yaiba characters on this list, so naturally, I had to put my cowardly boy Zenitsu up first. Haori and kimono designs seem to be very popular among the Animal Crossing community.


Below is an alternate by another creator, so choose the one you like best!



Attack on Titan Survey Corps Jacket


There aren't a ton of signature outfits from Attack on Titan, but I think we all can agree this is the big one. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to make yourself look like Mikasa or Eren wearing this, either.


Honorable mention to the design below, which may better suit your aesthetic.



Everyone plays Animal Crossing their own way, and it just so happens a lot of people like to pretty much play dress up. Myself included, of course.


While some Animal Crossing: New Horizons players stick to outfits consisting of actual in-game clothes, others turn to custom content to pick up some extra flair or nab up codes to dress as their favorite game or anime characters.


In this list, we're going to go through some of the best anime custom designs the New Horizons community has worked up so far. From recent popular series like Kimetsu no Yaiba to classics like Cardcaptor Sakura, there's at least one outfit out there for every type of anime fan.


In order to download these designs, you must:

  1. Buy the Pro Designs app upgrade using Nook Miles
  2. \n
  3. Have a Nintendo Switch Online membership
  4. \n
  5. Have the Able Sisters shop unlocked
  6. \n
Animal Crossing New Horizons: Final Fantasy Outfit Designs You Need Sat, 18 Apr 2020 10:59:22 -0400 Ashley Shankle


Emet-Selch from Final Fantasy 14


The big bad for the Final Fantasy 14 expansion Shadowbringers, Emet-Selch is a fan favorite from his bejeweled head and slouched shoulders to his ornate flowing robe. I didn't think I'd get to run around in his outfit in New Horizons, but here we are. And frankly, I look wonderful!




Thanks for perusing through these 11 different designs, with many more to come! If you like these creators' designs, check out their other creations at the same terminal using their creator codes.


Check our plethora of Animal Crossing: New Horizons guides here on GameSkinny as well!


Tidus from Final Fantasy 10


We all know you're never going to be able to play anything like Blitzball in New Horizons, but in this outfit you can at least try to pretend. Or, stand on the pier and laugh like a lunatic. You know, whatever you want to do.


Vivi from Final Fantasy 9


If you ever wanted to pretend to be a black mage golem with the capacity to love — or whether you just wanted to pay homage to one of the Final Fantasy series' most beloved characters, this Vivi design is for you!


Lightning from Final Fantasy 13


Final Fantasy 13, and by essence Lightning herself, is one of the most polarizing entries to the mainline Final Fantasy series. Except in Japan, where they seem to really like the game as well as its pink-haired protagonist.


It's not the most fancy top, but it is certainly Lightning's.


Tifa from Final Fantasy 7


Is this the last Final Fantasy 7 character featured here? Let me check my notes...


Yes! And of course, Tifa is one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise. She's no Aerith, though. (Yeah, I said that.)


If the above doesn't tickle your fancy, consider the alternative below.



Crystal Exarch from Final Fantasy 14


This Shadowbringers character is one of the most popular in the series, and now you too can look like you're trying to bring darkness to the land — and without having to wait for it to get added to the Mogstation! What a world we live in.


Yuna from Final Fantasy 10


Yuna isn't very popular in the West, but she is pretty dang popular in Japan. It's no surprise her signature outfit is one of the first Final Fantasy outfits to make its way into New Horizons.


Cloud from Final Fantasy 7


The second Final Fantasy 7 character design included on this list, this Cloud design by Nipah is easy to slap on and just imagine that you're imagining you're in S.O.L.D.I.E.R..


This is also one of the more buff-looking ones featured here, even if Cloud's arms actually look sort of like half-cooked noodles.


Auron from Final Fantasy 10


Whether you care for FFX's Auron or not, you can't say his kimono isn't awesome and it has the added benefit of looking great in-game. I don't have much to say about this one, but I will say I downloaded it to use myself.


Y'shtola from Final Fantasy 14


Y'shtola's Shadowbringers outfit is one of the most popular among FFXIV players so much so that it's even now on the Mogstation.


Well, you don't have to toss Square Enix your hard-earned cash to wear her new dress in Animal Crossing. You just have to enter the code above. They've already gotten enough of my money for glamour items. Until next month, anyway.


Aerith from Final Fantasy 7


First had to be Final Fantasy 7's Aerith, right?


Animal Crossing: New Horizons players are, predictably, fond of Aerith from the original FF7 as well as Final Fantasy 7 Remake. She is the best girl in the game, after all.


At the time of writing, there are more Aerith designs than any other Final Fantasy character. Aside from the very cute one above, consider the following two designs to try on. Whichever you choose is up to your tastes!




You may not be the best at making your own creations using the Pro Designs app in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but a handful of particularly determined and skilled pixel artists are hard at work making and sharing all sorts of outfits for fellow New Horizons players.


In this list, we'll be taking a look at a handful of super cute Final Fantasy outfits remade in Pro Designs by content creators for you to slap on and look like your favorite characters from the series. Well, if you're lucky anyway.


The New Horizons content creator community is slowly but surely uploading their creations to sites like Nook's Island and Nooknet. They're not superhuman, though! Be patient as more outfits get made and uploaded, and check back here as this list grows over the coming months and content creators begin to fully grasp the Pro Designs tools and palettes at their disposal.


In order to download these designs, you must:

  1. Buy the Pro Designs app upgrade using Nook Miles
  2. \n
  3. Have a Nintendo Switch Online membership
  4. \n
  5. Have the Able Sisters shop unlocked
  6. \n
Stronghold: Warlords Hands-On Impressions: A Compelling Tease Thu, 16 Apr 2020 14:37:43 -0400 RobertPIngram

The Stronghold series of real-time strategy games is known for its unique use of castles and structures in a medieval setting, but developer Firefly Studios is looking to shake things up with the next release, Stronghold: Warlords, due out later this year.

Though we weren't able to try the game out at PAX East 2020, I was able to go hands-on with a playable demo of the game a few weeks fter the event. The brief experience provides plenty of reason for optimism, even if it was a bit confusing as a new player.

Although there are some new systems in place, much of the game's changes exist in the form of reskinning elements from the series to fit in with the change in setting from Europe to Asia.

Stronghold: Warlords Hands-On Impressions: A Compelling Tease

The primary new addition is that of warlords. These neutral commanders are a big change, however, the interface is relatively intuitive. You can subjugate the game's three neutral factions (one of which begins under your opponent's control) in one of two ways.

The most simple is brute force. Send your forces in and coerce the neutral warlord to bend the knee. Once you have gained their loyalty, you begin to spend Diplomacy points to gain favor that ranges from the delivery of supplies to commissioning army forces. Each warlord also provides a consistent bonus you don't need to pay for, such as free rocket launchers to break down enemy walls.

You can also use those same diplomacy points to win over warlords without bloodshed. The two neutral sides come at an affordable cost, however, the subjugated faction in the north costs you triple if you want to take the peaceful route.

These diplomacy points generate at a steady pace, with diplomatic buildings helping to increase the rate of diplomacy point production. 

While the demo I played is a short mission and can be completed inside of 10 to 15 minutes relatively easily, it does provide a promising look at how the new warlords system will work, and that it should appeal to the series' existing fans.

Deep Systems Make for Deep Strategy

While players familiar with the general feel of Stronghold games may be comfortable right away, as somebody new to the series, I struggled at first.

There's not holding a player's hand and then there's Stronghold: Warlords. While there is a brief explainer given on the new warlords system, I was otherwise thrown in to figure things out on my own.

Without a clear in-game explanation of the various developmental trees and economic systems, it was confusing as a rookie to figure out what was expected of me.

I ultimately got my first win by spawning a bunch of soldiers to defend the river I held, building my full allotment of diplomacy options and then relying on the powerful siege troops my warlords could provide me to break down the enemy's walls. After finding that to be effective but a bit unsatisfying, I went in search of some elaboration on a more effective way to play.

The good news is there are some helpful aides online that new players can check out. In particular, this video from the studio shows a successful approach to the mission, then returns a second time to give a more detailed look at the various systems and how to use them effectively.

As a newbie, it allowed me to go back and approach the mission again from a more tactical angle. (It also gives a great look at the game in action.)

While a brute-force approach was enough to carry me through the demo, playing again with a deeper understanding of the game's intricate and interlocking systems shows the game's true strength. It offers a tantalizing look at what will be expected of players in some of the more challenging campaign missions in the full release.

At the end of the day, the bite-sized taste at the game has me excited for a full serving. Although the classic look harkens back to some of the genre's original hits, the more complex economic systems add an extra level of strategy, and the new warlords system promises a fun way to further customize your preferred approach to a given mission.

[Note: A demo of Stronghold: Warlords was provided by Firefly Studios for the purpose of this hands-on preview.]

Curse of the Dead Gods Early Access Review: Once More Unto the Breach Fri, 10 Apr 2020 14:42:03 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Fancy yourself an adventurer? Think you could give Indiana Jones or Allan Quatermain a run for their money? Can you beat Pitfall blindfolded?

If you answered "Yes" to any of those questions, then you may want to take a look at Curse of the Dead Gods, an Early Access roguelite from developer Passtech Games. It'll have you living out and dying from those adventurer fantasies, all within the confines of a Diablo meets The Binding of Isaac mashup.

The "early" portion of "Early Access" is key with Curse of the Dead Gods: The gameplay seems razor sharp at this point, but many of the levels, equipment, and monsters have yet to be implemented.

Here's what we think in of the game in its current build.

Curse of the Dead Gods Early Access Review: Once More Unto the Breach

Curse of the Dead Gods puts you in the shoes of a daring adventurer, trapped inside a labyrinthine, South American-inspired temple. You are trapped inside and cursed with a constant cycle of death and rebirth, and the only way to stop it is by braving the temple and slaying the god of death itself.

You'll start each run at the entrance to the temple, where you'll pick your starting bonuses and how long of an expedition you want to set out on. There are several starting bonuses to choose from, and each one stays available after it has been unlocked.

If you want to make things more difficult, you can always leave your bonus slots empty when you venture inside. When your health runs out or you defeat that run's boss, you'll be taken back to the entrance, stripped of your equipment, to try again.

It's a similar structure to many other popular roguelites, and it calls to mind games like Rogue Legacy or The Binding of Isaac. However, the gameplay here is what helps set it apart from those titles.

Hack and Slash

Curse of the Dead Gods couples a hack and slash combat style with an isometric view. Enemies attack you from all directions, and you must dodge, parry, and strike when you have the chance to thin the herd and preserve your health for the game's tough boss battles.

You have a variety of weapons at your disposal, including swords, shields, claws, spears, bows, pistols, and more. There are a lot of viable builds, and each player is sure to find strategies they favor.

Adding another layer to the game's strategy is the ability to flip between these weapons on the fly. You have a torch, a primary weapon and a secondary weapon, and a heavy weapon. Each is mapped to a different face button (you can play with the keyboard, but it doesn't feel quite right), so it's easy to swap between them in a hurry. The key is remembering the pros and cons of each weapon in the heat of battle.

You might have a heavy weapon that deals extra damage to enemies that are on fire. Your torch does little damage, but you want to swing it once to get an enemy ablaze before knocking off chunks of their health. At the same time, you might have a secondary weapon that replenishes some of your health every time you score a kill with it, so you want to stop short of killing your flaming foe so you can net that bonus, too.

It's a lot to juggle, especially when you're on longer runs and health restoration is few and far between. Sometimes, you just want to plow through a tough room with your strongest weapons, and other times you want a bit more risk for better possible rewards.

What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse

There are a lot of other mechanics at play in Curse of the Dead Gods that make the risk-reward aspects even more impactful. As you move through the temple, killing enemies and avoiding traps (spike traps, fireballs, etc.), you'll collect gold.

You can use this gold to buy better equipment and stat bonuses as you move through the rooms, but you'll often find that the best items are out of your price range. Lucky for you, the gods also accept blood as payment.

Besides your health bar, you also have a corruption meter that measures how deeply embedded your curse is. As your meter fills (it also goes up as you move through rooms or from certain enemy attacks), your curses become stronger.

This adds different effects to your run: gold might disappear quickly from the floor or enemies might replenish health if they move away from you. Sometimes there's a bit of a benefit, and Curse of the Dead Gods loves to stack effects on top of one another to see if the player (or the temple itself) can take advantage.

Another fascinating element is the game's light and shadow mechanic. There are braziers and other flammable items placed throughout the temple, which provide illumination and cast shadows. On a basic level, light helps you see enemies better. On a more advanced level, light and shadow can come into play through various upgrades and bonuses, giving the player even more things to consider with their build on any given run.

Lather. Die. Repeat.

Gameplay in Curse of the Dead Gods is rock solid already: combat feels slick and responsive. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you dive in too deep but once you learn the mechanics and controls, you'll start to feel like a true adventurer.

There are a few things that give us reservations about completely recommending the game as is, though. 

The main element that gives the best modern roguelikes and roguelites their infinite replayability is the sheer amount of enemies, drops, and rooms you can encounter. Even if you've sunk dozens of hours into The Binding of Isaac, you'll still discover new items and combinations because of the sheer amount of things in that game.

Though Curse of the Dead Gods is still very early in the development process, there isn't a ton of differentiation between runs right now. There are only a few types of enemies you'll encounter. Temple layouts start to feel very similar over time, and weapon bonuses seem to repeat far too often.

Passtech has promised plenty more as the game's development continues, and we don't doubt they'll deliver. However, as is, Curse of the Dead Gods can feel more like repetition than exploration and mastery.

Curse of the Dead Gods Early Access Review — The Bottom Line

  • Excellent risk-reward balance
  • Difficult, arcade-style combat
  • Accommodates several different playstyles
  • Allows you to customize length and difficulty of each run
  • Lack of variety means lots of repetition
  • Combat mastery could ultimately reduce challenge too much

For some, repetition is part of the genre. If that's you, then you won't mind perfecting the combat in Curse of the Dead Gods, stringing together your best runs and overpowered combinations on your way to defeating the temple bosses.

On top of that, whenever an update comes along to add new material into the game (there is a lot of stuff headed down the pipe, ultimately), that'll just be a new reason to jump in for another adventure.

For some, however, you may want to hold off a bit until more gets added. Like most roguelites, you're going to die a lot as you start to figure things out. If you're seeing the same things over and over before you die each time, it would be understandable if you bounced off of Curse of the Dead Gods.

That would be a shame. There is so much good to this game and, if an arcade-style hack and slash game with this much style looks appealing to you, you may want to hold off a bit until a little more work has gone into things. Don't sleep on this one, as it's got everything you want for a fun adventure.

[Note: An Early Access copy of Curse of the Dead gods was provided by Passtech Games for the purpose of this Early Access review.]

West of Dead Beta Impressions: Go East, Young Corpse Thu, 09 Apr 2020 13:21:50 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

There’s something innately appealing about mixing horror and the Old West. They’re two genres that just fit together naturally, especially in gaming. This pairing is definitely one of the key attractions for the upcoming West of Dead, currently in a limited-run open beta on both Xbox One and Steam.

This first taste gives players plenty of reasons to get excited about further adventures in the Old West underworld when it actually releases later this year. 

Two things immediately strike players when first starting. The distinctive, comic book art style and Ron Perlman’s voice. Perlman is, of course, one of the most instantly recognizable character actors out there and he lends his distinct gravitas to our newly resurrected protagonist, William Mason.

The visual style creates a superb gothic atmosphere. West of Dead takes place in some ghostly purgatory between the “west” and “east." Heading East, as it happens, is the more fortunate of destinations. To get there, though, our hero will have to blaze his way through a hell of procedurally-generated mazes.

You always start off in the saloon before pushing through those swinging doors into a world of hurt and violence. The game lays out a variety of different firearms and explosives — pistols, rifles, shotguns, TNT, smoke grenades, and more. You can hold two firearms at a time and two secondary weapons like grenades. Ammunition, in the beta at least, isn’t an issue, but reloading is.

West of Dead uses an isometric-style perspective to show off its cover-based gunplay. Rooms with bad guys are generally equipped with several destructible pieces of furniture to duck behind and evasively slide between. Mason automatically reloads when hiding and you’ll aim with the right stick in proper twin-stick shooter style.

Since each gun has different rates of fire, reload times, and shot counts, a big part of staying alive is having guns that complement each other. The rapid-firing six-shooter might not do a ton of damage, for instance, but it’s perfect for softening up your target before unloading the double barrel on them. New weapons can be picked up throughout a level and there are also upgrade stations that allow you to enhance three stats: toughness (health and melee damage), perceptions (firearms damage), and resourcefulness (abilities damage and item recharge speed).

The interplay of light and dark plays a key role in Mason’s underworld journey. Hanging lanterns can be turned on, briefly stunning enemies. Unfortunately, those lights only reach so far, seldom illuminating the darkest corners of the room. In proper horror style, those dark corners could be hiding monsters.

Walking into the dark only to be killed by some lurking demonic creature for the first time quickly teaches players to either avoid them entirely or shoot first and see if anything dies. Dying is a semi-permadeath affair. Based on the beta, you lose your progress and get shunted to the main menu to start an entirely new, randomly generated dungeon.

Levels also contain lost souls who need help passing on to the next world. These encounters basically set up handicapped challenge scenarios. The one that kept popping up in the beta was having to kill a set number of enemies without taking any damage. One wrong move and Mason not just failed to help the poor soul but died in the process.


Based on this small taste, West of Dead has all the markings of an indie worth tracking. The art style and overall presentation are distinctive, and the action is deliberately slower-paced and challenging. Consider our appetite for frontier justice whetted for more.

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on West of Dead as we learn more. 

Gordian Quest Early Access Review: A Tactical Kitchen Sink Fri, 03 Apr 2020 16:00:40 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

It's happening again. The forces of evil are bearing down, your heroes are on their last few slivers of health, and a town is in desperate need of your help. Will fate be kind and give you the right tools to achieve victory and continue your quest? Or will you have to start your run from scratch?

This is the gameplay pattern in Gordian Quest, a roguelike that draws elements from several indie darlings and smashes them all together into something new but wholly familiar.

Gordian Quest Early Access Review: A Tactical Kitchen Sink

Gordian Quest immediately calls to mind Slay the Spire and Darkest Dungeon. You control a small handful of lovable weirdos, each with their own special abilities and talents that change and evolve through gameplay. Rather than choosing from a narrow pool of attacks, however, each character also has a deck of cards that contain their attacks, buffs, and passive abilities.

You customize these decks as each character levels up, adding stronger abilities and removing weaker ones until you, hopefully, have a series of powerful combinations.

The game then throws your heroes into a series of missions surrounding an area that needs your help. The missions come at you in the same order each time: secure the perimeter, recruit some new heroes, recover the blacksmith's tools, etc. Each battle is procedurally generated, however, and you'll take on different enemies and see different layouts during each run.

You can also manipulate the difficulty to make things truly tough  permadeath and a quick run restart if you lose a hero or two early  or scale things back if you want to survive to see what later missions have to offer.

Planning Ahead

One thing is certain: You'll need a plan after you start figuring out the game's quirks. If you randomly equip items and add cards to your heroes' decks, you're going to get slaughtered after the first few missions. Enemies are ruthless and capable of inflicting all sorts of nasty status effects, and specializing your heroes seems to be the only way to find much success.

I usually built up one hero to tank in the front row and two heroes behind them to deal damage: one with constant, solid damage and one that could build up buffs and critical hits and unleash them all at once.

When it all comes together, it is extremely empowering. You'll move your cursor over an enemy after a few rounds of playing cards and moving your heroes around the battlefield and discover that you can kill them in a single, powerful attack.

When it fails, though, boy, does it fail. You'll pull three passive abilities and a couple of block cards on a single turn and realize there is little you can do to stop the onslaught. Losing feels like a combination of your own bad planning and a bit of bad luck. Sure, you drew that crummy hand right when you needed something good, but who put that many passive cards together in the same hero deck? And why didn't you take the time and resources to heal up before this battle?

Common Fantasy

The storyline in Gordian Quest is pretty standard "Heroes battle the forces of evil" type stuff. The six heroes available at launch are pretty standard fare, too. There's the smirking rogue, the armor-clad paladin, the old-man wizard. After one or two times of starting a run from scratch, you'll probably get really sick of clicking through the dialogue that begins each new wrinkle in the story.

Luckily, you can click through it in a hurry.

One interesting facet that Gordian Quest adds to its gameplay is a bit of influence from tabletop roleplaying. Each character has ability stats in a few areas: strength, intelligence, and dexterity. Occasionally, you'll receive a stat check option, such as avoiding a trap or forcing open a door. You'll pick the hero best suited for the options available, roll a virtual d20, add that character's bonus, and either achieve a successful outcome or not.

Depending on the roll, you may receive bonuses or penalties. It helps to customize the story and make you think about which characters will join you on each mission.

Tricky Tactics

The core of Gordian Quest is the combat, however. It's actually much more complex than it initially seems, but here are the basics.

Your heroes are on one side and your enemies on the other. Each side is laid out like a grid, and certain attacks have range limits or special properties based on where your heroes are currently standing. Characters play their actions out in initiative order, with each playing their full turn before passing to the next. You'll pull a handful of cards each turn, with an "Action Point" cost for each, and you'll choose which you want to play and watch the chaos ensue. Then it's pass to the next character.

There are a lot of elements to combat that are not very intuitive, however. Status effects are extremely small icons next to your character, and they aren't always explained in the best detail when you hover your cursor over them. Especially when a battle goes for an extended number of rounds, you'll often miss a small thing here or there, often with catastrophic results.

It can be outrageously frustrating when you reach a crucial round of a boss fight, lay out your perfect string of abilities, then watch your hero die because you didn't notice a tiny icon indicating a defense buff on the enemy.

Developer Mixed Realms has pushed out several updates since Gordian Quest's initial release, fixing small things and tweaking elements of gameplay. While this is hopefully pushing things in the right direction, it has also made it extremely difficult to keep track of how certain elements of the game work.

Hopefully, they've found a solid baseline now that the game has been out for a few days and balance issues will be tweaked in larger patches.

Gordian Quest Early Access Review  The Bottom Line

Gordian Quest has a lot of good elements to it. The tactical battles are complex and high stakes. Tons of different mechanics are working together, giving you a serious advantage if you're able to juggle lots of small elements in your head and see the bigger picture.

The roguelike elements also add a tense bit of randomness to loot drops and enemy compositions, helping the game feel adaptive in the same way that a DM in a tabletop RPG would, not to mention the elements where you actually roll dice to determine outcomes.

All that said, Gordian Quest also doesn't really manage to do anything better than similar games. If you love the random nature of loot and the brutal tactics of enemies, it's hard to recommend it over Darkest Dungeon. If you love slowly building an attack deck into a lean, mean combo machine, Slay the Spire offers more paths to success and a better feeling of fulfillment when it all comes together.

Essentially, if you've exhausted your time with games in similar genres and need a new fix, Gordian Quest is exactly what you need. If you've still been sitting on some of those greats, you should probably start there.

[Note: A copy of Gordian Quest was provided by Mixed Realms for the purpose of this early access impressions piece.]

Bravely Default 2 Demo Impressions: Rough-Cut Crystal Sat, 28 Mar 2020 15:21:28 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Bravely Default 2’s demo launched during the surprise Nintendo Mini-Direct, and I was pretty eager to get started. Bravely Default and Bravely Second stand among my favorite 3DS games, and the sneak peek of Bravely 2 we got during last year’s Game Awards was enough to put it close to the top of my 2020 most-anticipated games list. 

After playing the demo, I’m still as excited to see what Silicon Studios and the Bravely team have in store, but not without some new and unwelcome reservations getting in the way.

The Bravely Default 2 demo is first and foremost designed to acquaint you with the game's combat and job systems. You don’t really get a grasp of the story, and you aren’t supposed to. That’s sort of a bummer, because what we do see is rather too close to the original Bravely Default. Crystals went haywire and are now causing elemental chaos across the land’s five kingdoms.

Given BD was an intentional throwback to early Final Fantasy plots, this isn’t too surprising. It would have been nice to get a hint at what new surprises might be in store, but I’m sure — I hope — Bravely 2 will probably have plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting along the way.

You start off with all four party members: Seth, Gloria, Elvis, and Adelle. It’s tough to get a reading on any of them in the short amount of dialogue present, but they seem like a decent mix of tropes and over-the-top fun.

Much as I hate to criticize voice acting because of the work that goes into it, BD2’s voice cast didn’t grow on me. They’re either borderline overdone or seem completely detached from what’s going on. But, it’s just a demo, so that’s also subject to change.

After you get through all the opening bits, you’re plunked into the desert town of Salvalon and presented with some brief tutorials about what to do. The first thing you’ll notice is how good Bravely Default 2 looks. The pre-rendered backgrounds are even more gorgeous than in the original game. Colors pop, models are smoother, and everything is just better defined overall. 

All this applies to other locations as well, including the world map. In fact, it reminds me a bit of the Link’s Awakening remake art style, only smoother. Naturally, that means the water looks fantastic, too. 

The soundtrack is superb, even better than you’d expect. It’s sweeping and grand at the right moments, and the battle theme is a strong contender among the top RPG battle themes. Bravely is synonymous with an excellent soundtrack, and BD2 doesn’t disappoint so far.

Unfortunately, the similarities with Link’s Awakening include occasional stuttering, too, and the world map assets don’t always load immediately when you exit the town. It’s not as bad as Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but I hope it gets fixed anyway.

The other thing you’ll immediately realize after exiting Salvalon is random encounters are gone. That’s actually a mixed blessing right now, even though the idea is great on paper. You can see enemies and avoid them if you want. Hooray! 

Except it’s not so good when they run faster than you, sometimes target you from all the way across the map, zero in, and murder you before you can do anything about it. It’s definitely something that needs tweaking before release, especially if Bravely Default 2 doesn’t include an option to toggle encounters off like the original does. A wonky camera obscuring enemies at times doesn’t help either. (Should we still be fighting against cameras in 2020?)

The other thing that absolutely has to be fixed between now and release is the interface. The overall design is great, with tons more character and style than the other two Bravely games or Octopath Traveler — when you can see it.

Any time you highlight a skill, piece of equipment, or battle option, the automatic speech bubble explaining what it is covers a chunk of the screen. It’s annoying in combat when you can’t see all your skills and needlessly frustrating when equipment explanations cover the character stats you need to see. 

Yes, Bravely Default and Second were on the 3DS and could put descriptions on the other screen. But there’s plenty of room at the bottom of the screen for a small strip containing the information, just like the other Bravely games use.

Combat is always at the core of Bravely, and it’s instantly recognizable in Bravely Default 2. Just know you will die many, many times unless you grind a lot. The tutorial saying it’s a touch harder than the final product isn’t lying. In fact, it’s probably laughing at us all because the enemy AI in BD2 is absolutely vicious.

The system was always a strong one, and it doesn’t need any huge changes. That said, it is a trifle disappointing the demo doesn’t treat us to anything new. It’s the same basic starter jobs, the Brave and Default system works the same (oddly, there’s no fast option to Default, though), and most of the job skills are the same — even if they have different names.

From a personal perspective, I’m fine with that. I love Bravely’s combat and job system, and I’m still hugely excited about Bravely Default 2 even with the demo’s share of unnecessary issues. From a critical perspective, there should have been some kind of new or enticing feature here. Pushing the same basic formulas for the third time with no changes at all would be a missed opportunity, given the development team’s obvious talent and ambition.

The final game will probably have plenty of new things or intriguing twists on established formulas. It just makes me wonder why the demo didn’t tease us with any of it.

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on Bravely Default 2

Call of Duty: Warzone Pushes Battle Royale to Its Limits Thu, 26 Mar 2020 12:50:04 -0400 David Jagneaux

Call of Duty set the world on fire two weeks ago when Warzone, Activision's latest iteration of the best-selling franchise, released for free on PS4, Xbox One, and PC with full, seamless crossplay. It's not only the first free-to-play Call of Duty game, but it's also the first standalone title focused specifically on large-scale multiplayer like battle royale  and the new game mode, Plunder.

After spending a couple of weeks with the new game, trying out both modes extensively, digging into the Season Pass, and tweaking my loadouts obsessively, I've got a good handle on what I think of this new look Call of Duty. To be clear though: it is still in beta (although all of the microtransactions are live, mostly making that designation a cop-out to excuse bugs).

Call of Duty Battle Royale

Battle royale in Warzone is insane. There are 150 total players all dropping down onto the same map at the same time. They're all battling over the same loot to be the last team (or player) standing. It's extremely epic to behold.

Much of the moment-to-moment gameplay is comparable to other battle royale games like Apex Legends, PUBG, and Fortnite, but Warzone has a few unique features that set it apart. Perhaps the most important is The Gulag system.

Death in Warzone's battle royale mode is not the end. Instead, upon your first death (as long as it doesn't happen during the last third or so of the match), you're captured as a prisoner of war and sent to The Gulag prison camp. Once at The Gulag, you'll fight another prisoner (aka person that died) for a chance to revive and drop back into the match.

Getting a second chance like that is exhilarating, but it does make games last an incredibly long time since 50% of all first deaths are brought back into the game.

If you lose in the 1v1 Gulag match, then your teammates can still buy you back into the game at a buy station, so there are multiple chances to get back in the action here.

Armor is equipped with pieces that contribute to an overall armor level like in Fortnite and Apex Legends rather than individual armor slots like in PUBG. Everyone also starts with a pistol, so you're not completely unprepared when first landing. All guns have tiers and pre-installed attachments as well, so you won't actually loot those things one by one like in PUBG and Apex

One of the big new features I like best is the new contracts system. Spread around the map, you can find three different types of contracts to complete: recon missions (capture a waypoint on the map), bounty missions (go kill a specific player), and loot box missions (go collect these three loot boxes). For each contract you complete, you'll earn a big influx of cash.

Generally, the looting phase feels shorter in Warzone than in other battle royale games in regards to gear. Eventually, you'll start trying to amass cash instead.

Cash can be used to not only buy back fallen allies but also to purchase upgrades, such as airstrikes, and even call down loadout boxes that contain your custom-crafted top-tier guns and attachments. That same loadout you've been rolling with in multiplayer if you have the Modern Warfare base game? You can use it here. Or maybe you have a loadout that you specifically made just for battle royale.

The main draw of Call of Duty: Warzone is definitely the battle royale mode. This is Activision's follow-up to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout battle royale and is the direct answer to Apex Legends, Fortnite, and PUBG. It's what everyone asked for and talked about leading up to Warzone's release. Yet despite it all, it's my second favorite mode out of the two.


I avoided trying Plunder for several hours the first night I tried Warzone. "I love battle royale games," I thought. "Why would I bother with something that has respawns?" And oh, boy was I wrong.

Plunder uses the exact same map (Verdansk) and employs the same number of players as battle royale, but it completely changes the flow and strategy of matches. Instead of duking it out to be the last team standing, your objective is to amass the most money before time runs out. You do this by looting small caches around the map, killing players and taking their money, collecting massive loot boxes that drop from planes, or completing contract missions.

What makes Plunder so different is that there is no circle at all. Ever. The full map is always in play. Every time you die, you drop about half of your personal cash on your corpse and you get redeployed on the map. 

In order to lock in money for your team that can't be lost, you have to call in a cash balloon (which costs $30,000 to buy or can be found randomly in loot boxes with a max deposit limit of $150,000) or call in a chopper. The chopper can hold an unlimited amount of money, but it alerts everyone on the map when it's called, and it takes time to arrive. Every chopper pad is exposed as well, making it extremely risky to run up and deposit cash.

This creates an amazing sense of risk versus reward that continually ebbs and flows over the entire game, but it also establishes flashpoints on the map. Everyone is drawn to those areas, and you'll always end up in a big firefight.

Strategies shift often, though: Once you have deposited your cash, there is no downside to death other than having to wait for your respawn. The final wrinkle introduced is that all three of the top teams are always marked on the map as red moneybag icons, making them constant targets. Getting into first place is usually temporary since hiding isn't a viable strategy at that point.

I ended up loving Plunder because it's so dynamic. Battle royale tends to devolve into the same rhythm every time you play, but Plunder is constantly ebbing and flowing throughout the game. Matches are also extremely long, emulating a large-scale battle more with all of the respawns, and taking a player's money (and then shooting them out of the sky when they try to respawn on top of you) is endlessly satisfying. 

Free-to-Play Design

Other than Call of Duty Mobile, Warzone is the first time that Call of Duty has gone free-to-play. Fortunately, it's a great model. The entire game, all guns, all modes, and all actual core gameplay is entirely free to everyone. There is nothing you can buy with real money that gives you an actual edge in the game. At all.

Instead, everything is all cosmetics, like character skins, weapon skins, and so on, as well as XP bonus badges. For the purpose of covering the game, Activision provided me with enough COD points to buy the season pass, and I plan on renewing it myself once the next season starts. Unlocking new weapon skins is exciting and it actually entices me to try out guns I haven't used before since I have cool new skins. 

Technically, I haven't had a flawless experience. Sometimes the game suddenly suffers from crippling lag in the middle of a match with no explanation. Other times, I get disconnected and kicked back to the lobby for no reason. One time after dying in The Gulag, my teammates couldn't revive me until, inexplicably, it decided to let them 15 minutes later. When I came back, I moved at double speed everywhere I went. I've also seen people fall through the map a few times.

However, this is technically beta still, so some bugs here and there aren't too surprising and the game, as a whole, runs very well. It's certainly polished and features some of the slickest shooting you'll find in any battle royale game.

Related Content

I'm still not sold on the player size and lack of team setups, but I think over time, things will even out a bit. I look forward to seeing new maps or, at the very least, how this map changes over time to keep things fresh. Since all of the cosmetics are actually really nice and fun to use, it's the first battle pass I have really enjoyed unlocking in quite some time.

Call of Duty: Warzone is out now, for free, on PS4, Xbox One, and PC with full cross-platform multiplayer, crossplay parties, voice chat, and friends list working great. Look out for me on the battlefield!

Nintendo's March Mini-Direct: Xenoblade, Borderlands, Bravely, and More Thu, 26 Mar 2020 11:12:36 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Surprise, there was a Nintendo Direct Mini today! It showed off quite a bit, including Xenoblade Chronicles DE, Catherine: Full Body, and Bravely Default 2. We also got news on updates for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, as well as Super Smash Bros. and Pokemon Sword and Shield.

The Direct started with the expected warning that any announcements may or may not be delayed by COVID-19, so all release dates, except those games that released today, are still in flux. 

Either way, we got to see some of Nintendo's upcoming games this year. Let's dive in.

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition

First up, we got an extended trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. The original game is excellent in itself but looks pretty dreadful. Now, we're getting a chance to see it in smooth, re-mastered glory. That means streamlined menus and controls, plus re-done music as well.

What's different from the original title? It's a new story called Future Connected starring Shulk and Melia. Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition launches on May 29 and will have a special edition.

2K Games

2K Games is bringing a number of games to the Nintendo Switch. These include BioShock: The Collection, as was previously rumored, the XCOM 2 Collection, which was also rumored, and Borderlands: The Collection, which was definitely not rumored.

The Borderlands Collection on Switch, XCOM 2 Collection on Switch, and BioShock: The Collection on Switch all launch May 29.

For reference, BioShock: The Collection contains all the BioShock games, while the Borderlands collection contains the first two games and the prequel.

Bravely Default 2

After getting an announcement during last year's The Game Awards, Bravely Default 2 finally got some more information during today's Mini-Direct. Like the original, it focuses on the four traditional elements and four new Heroes of Light, but it takes place on a completely new continent.

The hero, Seth, washes up on the shores of an unknown kingdom and meets Gloria, a princess who fled from her kingdom after it was ransacked by those seeking its crystal. The other two party members are Elvis and Adelle, mysterious wanderers trying to unlock the secrets of a strange book.

The Asterisk-based job system returns, with familiar classes like Black Mage and Thief. More importantly, the series' signature Brave Point system returns. It doesn't seem like anything's different this time around, but we guess if it's not broken, don't fix it. 

What is different is the job system. You can combine jobs at any time to customize how your characters develop.

Bravely Default 2 adopts Bravely Default's art style, smooths it out, and makes it even more detailed. A demo is available now, but there's no word on a release date outside of just 2020.

Shinsekai: Into the Depths

Capcom is creating a new deep-sea exploration game called Shinsekai: Into the Depths. You'll explore a range of colorful underwater areas full of puzzles and monsters. You'll need to keep track of your oxygen and a number of other factors along the way as you uncover the truth of what happened to humanity. Sound interesting? Good, because Shinsekai is available now.

Panzer Dragoon Remake

One big surprise was Panzer Dragoon Remake. We knew it was coming soon, but it turns out, soon means today. Panzer Dragoon Remake is out sometime later today, March 26, on Nintendo Switch as a timed exclusive.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Update

We already knew Animal Crossing: New Horizons was getting a holiday update, but we got to see it in action with the latest Direct. Bunny Day starts April 1 and ends April 12. Along with the usual Egg Hunt, you'll get the chance to craft unique seasonal items during the event, too.

Another update is coming at the end of April introducing new elements like Earth Day and, it seems, Leaf.

Catherine: Full Body

Catherine: Full Body was rumored alongside the XCOM 2 Collection a while ago, and it's actually true as well. You'll take control of Vincent, a hapless young man in a dark love triangle, making choices about your love life by day and trying to survive a deadly block tower full of puzzles at night. Catherine: Full Body launches on Nintendo Switch on July 7.

Ring Fit Adventure Update

Ring Fit Adventure is getting an update. Not only is your Ring companion getting a voice and changeable languages, but Ring Fit Adventure is introducing a rhythm mode. Among other things, it'll feature music from Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2.

For more on Ring Fit Adventure, check out our review

King's Bounty 2

King's Bounty 2 is coming to the Switch. It's a tactical fantasy RPG emphasizing your choices in each scenario and featuring lovely realistic graphics. How you interact with characters determines how their ethics and choice systems develop over the course of the game.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate New DLC Fighter

The first DLC Fighter in Smash Ultimate's second DLC pass is coming from ARMS, but it's not quite ready yet. The reveal is coming in June, as is the fighter.

Clubhouse Games

Traditional tabletop fans rejoice: Clubhouse Games is coming to Switch, and it has an insane number of games in it (well, 51, but it's still a lot). From Toy Boxing and Curling to 6-Ball Puzzle, Hanafuda, and Backgammon, Clubehouse Games has something for anyone. You can play alone, in local co-op, or online. Clubhouse Games launches June 5 and is open for pre-purchase today.


Ninjala was first announced a few years back, and we're finally seeing it in action. It's a free-to-play game where you use your ninjutsu skills to prove you're the best ninja around.

Along with inherent skills, you'll be using a myriad of weapons, from hammers to katanas. You can team up with other ninjas to work together as a clan if you don't want to go it alone when Ninjala launches on May 27.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass

We also got some more new information about the Pokemon Sword and Shield expansion pass, this time about the Isle of Armor. We saw the dojo first shown off a few months ago, where you get to obtain legendary Kubfu if you train at the dojo.

You'll get permission to challenge the Tower of Two fists as well, either the Tower of Darkness or the Tower of Water. You can only choose one, and the one you choose determines which form Kubfu evolves into.

The starters' Gigantamax forms also got some attention, basically just showing each one's special G-Max moves. Isle of Armor introduces new league card effects and new accessory and clothing items too. If you pre-purchase the expansion pass before August 31, you can get Leon's outfit too.

Finally was the latest Wild area news. Pokemon Shield players can find Gigantamax Garbador and Charizard, while Sword players get Duraludon and Copperajah.


That's it for the Mini-Direct recap. It was short, but crammed full of information about games we can (hopefully) expect to see between now and the end of July. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more upcoming Nintendo Switch game news as it develops.

Outriders Hands-On: Building a Grave New World Mon, 23 Mar 2020 23:44:16 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Outriders had no business surprising the hell out of me.

Though I knew relatively little about the game going into PAX East 2020, Outriders seemed like an average, if potentially fun, cover-based third-person shooter. I had watched the gameplay reveal back in February, read up on it, and figured I would at least enjoy it based on Square's marketing machine.

Fast forward to my hands-on demo, and things changed. What was supposed to be a three-hour hands-on experience was quickly shortened to an hour and a half by technical difficulties and poor planning on my part. But once I sat down and got a controller in my hands, I couldn't put Outriders down. 

Developed by People Can Fly and published by Square-Enix, Outriders is a new IP that has a lot going for it. Coming from a studio that's worked on the Gears of War franchise and Bulletstorm, among others, it's positioned as more than just a cool-looking sci-fi shooter with pedigree. 

Lead Writer Joshua Rubin and Lead Narrative Designer Szymon Barchan have crafted what seems to be an intricate, detailed world in which we can all pew, pew the bad guys whiles also using awesome powers. The world of Enoch is a vivid alien world full of contrasting locales, even in its early hours. 

Though Outriders won't release until sometime late this year — holiday if everything goes to plan — both Rubin and Barchan have agreed they've built the world of Outriders as one that can grow exponentially in future releases.  

Playing through the first hour and half of the game, I believe them. While I won't speak about story beats that fly in the face of convention so early in Outriders, I will say I was (pleasantly) shocked by the decisions made by the narrative team. Rarely have I so quickly cared for characters I previously knew so little about. 

While some characters, like the demo's primary antagonist, are so easy to hate that blowing them apart feels like giddy, divine justice, others aren't so easy to put between the crosshairs. It's a nice mixture that I hope keeps up throughout the game's 30-40 hour campaign.

Check out the panel from PAX below to hear more about the world of Outriders and its already-intriguing characters, the world of Enoch, and the plot that revolves around an alien world ravaged by human civil war. 

Combat in Outriders feels a lot like the combat in Gears of War, but that's not a bad thing. That series is wildly popular for a reason, and its basic cover mechanics fit well with the tight gunplay found in the early hours of Outriders

I was able to try out a sidearm, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. Each played about as you would expect from such weaponry in a third-person, cover-based shooter. The sidearm was snappy, the assault rifle devastating (especially in bursts), and the shotgun mauling at close range, ripping enemy heads off with pronounced ferocity. 

What I enjoyed the most, however, was the game's trickster class. After the prologue, you're able to pick between three classes: pyromancer, trickster, and devastator. I wasn't able to try the other two classes due to time constraints, but the trickster is certainly my early favorite based on time with it and the descriptions of the other classes. 

Shown as the first class in the video below (starting around 1:03), the trickster is a class built for getting close to the enemy. In some ways, this is the rogue class of Outriders: it can hit fast and from many different angles. The trickster can also slow time by proxy of a space-time anomaly, freezing enemies in place and leaving them open for devastating attacks. 

Like the game's two other classes, the trickster also has a unique healing ability: close-range kills. Although Outriders is a game that employs a bevy of long-range weapons, and many of the encounters I played started at a distance, certain abilities and classes work the best in close quarters. 

Though I wasn't able to play co-op, Outriders' campaign can be played solo or with two other people. According to the game's designers and narrative team, this allows for class synergies, where a trickster might slow time, allowing for a devastator (the game's tank class) to unleash a punishing earthquake attack. In the meantime, the pyromancer (another of the game's three current classes) sets the dazed malefactors ablaze. 

Based on what I was able to play, I'm cautiously excited about Outriders. It doesn't redefine the genre yet, and it's sure to tick the "been there, done that" box for certain people. But I'm a sucker for narrative-driven shooters with good mechanics and a compelling world. And ultimately, Outriders doesn't have to completely redefine the genre to be worth rooting for. 

It's certainly a game that shows a lot of promise.

Outriders will release sometime later this year for the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. It won't have microtransactions, and the developers have said they plan to launch the game as "complete." 

Stay tuned for more on Outriders as it develops. 

The Road to PlayStation 5 Recap: SSDs, GPUs, and 3D Audio Wed, 18 Mar 2020 14:05:43 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Sony finally lifted the lid on the PlayStation 5 today, in a stream dubbed "The Road to PlayStation 5." As some expected, this talk was originally planned for GDC, but with that cancelled, we got a stream instead.

There was a ton of information revealed, mostly focused on three main areas: the hard drive, the GPU, and 3D audio. So let's dive into all the new PlayStation 5 reveals without further ado.

PlayStation 5's Solid State Drive

The talk was all about the PlayStation 5's hardware. Mark Cerny, PS5 lead system architect, said the system's development process was built around developers  just as the PlayStation 4's process was  to help avoid the development headaches that plagued the PlayStation 3.

The PlayStation 5's learning time was cut down to about one month thanks to developer input and the effort system architects put into flattening the learning curve for developers.

Cerny said developers most wanted a solid-state drive for the PlayStation 5, and it coincided with Sony's internal discussions. Though it seemed impossible at the time, with the limitations of Blu-Ray and current speeds, Sony made it a top priority for PS5 development.

As many of us already know, SSDs improve load times and read speed. Traditional hard drives can't access data quickly because of how it's distributed, and they can only fit so much data on a disk. Not so with the PS5 SSD.

The PlayStation 5's SSD goal was loading 5GBs per second, which Cerny calls "blindingly fast. Seek time (how long it takes to locate data on a disk) is instantaneous. In practical terms, this all means boot times of one second, no load times, and literal fast travel — travel with no downtime in between initiation and arrival.

An ultra-fast SSD also frees up game designers to have better control over their titles. It eliminates issues with loading textures and dividing areas, meaning developers can focus on game worlds and not how to keep from breaking the experience with transitional areas.

The PS5's SSD improves render speeds as well by reducing duplicate data on the drive, which allows everything to move faster. There will be little to no installment times or hitches for patches either, thanks to no data duplication. Finally, it makes RAM usage more efficient because it's actually being actively used all the time in each game. The SSD itself is, in part, the RAM.

Cerny also went into more detail about how the PS5's SSD cleans up data bottlenecks and helps improve frame rates.

The PlayStation 5 has a lot of custom bits and bobs in the SSD to help keep from overloading the CPU and killing game delivery. What this translates to is a much smoother experience overall, one that lets developers add more layers like dialogue and audio in scenarios that couldn't have handled it in the previous generation.

PlayStation 5's SSD is 825GB, but Cerny said Sony created it from a cost-effective mindset. 

There's a custom i/o unit that helps smooth out decompression and offers better control over where the data gets sent (which also improves performance), and it makes data mapping more efficient for developers, too. Best of all, none of this requires much effort from game developers, apart from dictating where the data should come from and where it goes, ultimately making the i/o process 100 times faster and making development easier.

The goal is making completely open worlds the norm

Despite all the custom pieces in the PlayStation 5's SSD, it can still be customized. Cerny re-confirmed backwards compatibility by saying PlayStation 4 games can be transferred to a new hard drive, and the SSD itself can be expanded through M2 drives that, unlike the Xbox Series X, aren't proprietary.

The problem is the expansions need to be as fast as the PlayStation 5's SSD because of the six priority levels in the PS5 SSD, and it needs to fit in the bay Sony designed for the drive. Those SSDs exist on the market, but they aren't ubiquitous. Cerny expects more to be available by the time the system launches later this year.

That said, Cerny also recommends not getting a new M2 until Sony finishes testing, because not all will work.

PlayStation 5's Innovative Architecture

Some of the system's new features, like primitive shaders and ray tracing, were designed to be easily adaptable for developers. They don't have to be used, though, so there are no extra hurdles for developers to deal with if they don't want to.

The flexibility extends to the overall architecture, too. The custom RDNA2 GPU reduces power consumption and optimizes for performance, creating a greater feature set.

The PS5 does support backwards compatibility with the PS4 through the custom GPU. It's not the same as the original PS3 did with PS2, though. Instead, it's a matter of importing the logic of the previous system's GPU into the PS5's GPU, and it's something AMD worked on for years, according to Cerny.

These PS4 titles will run at boosted capacity, too, even though not all games can handle it. Sony looked at the top 100 PS4 games ranked by playtime, and the goal is making these playable in boosted form on the PS5 at launch. What those are, though, we don't know yet, or what exactly "boosted" means. 

The PlayStation 5's geometry is optimized using primitive shaders that synthesizes geometry in real-time. This hugely improves the level of detail and increases particle effects.

Cerny is keen on pushing the PlayStation 5's ray tracing capabilities as well. The system is capable of rendering hundreds of thousands of rays at once, but he wants it to function at full capacity as much as possible. So far, he says, Sony is seeing PlayStation 5 titles run ray tracing at full capacity without increasing stress or costs.

The PS5 design team has worked diligently to reduce power consumption, especially given the nature of the geometric designs the system supports. There's a special cooling method included to help cool the system, reduce fan noise and, avoid the system overloading.

Part of this method includes giving the GPU 32 CUs and making the GPU and CPU run at constant power, while the workload frequency varies. AMD's SmartShift technology helps, too, by taking unused power from the CPU and transferring it to the CPU. Other than not killing your system, the benefits of these methods help take the guesswork out of power consumption during game development.

According to Cerny, the GPU is expected to stay at 2GHz, with a 2.23GHz cap, though it can overclock to 3.5GHz. It will also stay at roughly 10.3 teraflops.

PlayStation 5's Quest for 3D Audio

The theme for 3D audio is "finding new dreams," with the goal of increasing immersion and the overall experience through feedback and audio. The PlayStation 5's alterations to the CPU and GPU power levels and maintenance mean the design team was able to allocate more space to audio.

The first goal was providing great audio for everyone, no matter how they experienced the game (e.g. with headphones, through VR, or just through a speaker).

Hundreds of sound sources are supported, so every sound can get the same 3D audio treatment. Developers don't have to decide which sounds to focus on, so it expands the resources at their disposal for making their games as great as possible.

Presence and locality were another major goal, where Sony wants to make players feel like they are really in a location. This basically means increasing the sounds and natural effects in a game, so it helps make the world feel real. Locality helps players identify where the sound comes from, which opens up all manner of possibilities for gameplay — such as indicating exact enemy placement and so on.

All this was done based on experience from the PSVR team as well as extensive research into how the human ear responds to sound.

The hardware and technology Sony created to accomplish all this is called Tempest 3D AudioTech, with the hardware unit called the Tempest Engine. Though it's new, Tempest Engine is actually based on the PlayStation 3's sound architecture, but it is much more efficient.

All this means the PlayStation 5's audio blends virtual reality with real sounds, making it seem as if the sounds in the game are real. Not everyone's ears are designed to experience these sounds, though, so Sony is still researching what HRTF levels are most common so more people can get the same experience.

And that was it. "The Road to PlayStation 5" was very much a GDC talk that wasn't given at GDC. It's a bit surprising Sony didn't try to make it more engaging, especially since it raises more questions than it seems to answer.

Hopefully, as we move closer to the PlayStation 5's holiday launch date, we'll get more information. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more PlayStation 5 news as it develops.

Othercide Might be the Turn-Based Action Movie We've Been Waiting For Wed, 18 Mar 2020 00:01:33 -0400 Jonathan Moore

"So it's basically XCOM meets Dark Souls," I say sitting at a small demo station in the bustling Boston Convention Center during PAX East. 

"I'm sure most of the team would appreciate that comparison," Anders Larsson says with a wide smile. Anders is the CEO and Creative Director at Lightbulb Crew, and he's leading me through a demo of Othercide, the studio's upcoming turn-based RPG.

He's explaining the game's systems and making sure I don't die too many times. I kill another enemy with a powerful backstab-ranged combo, all while avoiding the incoming volley from his foul friend to my right. 

Anders is a great guide, and Othercide is a blast. 

In retrospect, it's certainly a bit reductive to compare Othercide to XCOM and Dark Souls. On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between the three games, from how combat plays out similarly to the popular Firaxis series to how the enemies and world look beautifully Lordran-adjacent. 

But dig deeper, and there's something more compelling underneath that familiar surface. Othercide isn't just a successful merging of XCOM and Dark Souls but the intelligent manifestation of something uniquely iterative. 

Instead of something as plodding and methodical as XCOM or Dark Souls, Othercide is a game predicated on high-octane action inside a turn-based architecture. Anders told me that one of the guiding principles behind the game's development was in recreating the feeling of an action movie. 

If you take XCOM as the example — it's a great game and we love playing it  but it would be a terrible action movie. You're moving from cover to cover, you shoot, and then you wait to get shot by somebody else. If you think about what an action movie is, it's much more about reacting to what's happening.

You have these epic moments where your favorite character is about to be killed but the bad guy gets distracted by somebody else or somebody throws themselves into place and takes a bullet for them.

In that way, action movies are often explosively dynamic. Attempting to replicate that feeling, Othercide has a bevy of actions meant to change up the gameplay from what genre fans may find familiar. Some actions happen immediately, other actions are delayed, and others still can interrupt enemy attacks either immediately or on a delay. 

With all of this in mind, the biggest hurdle in the team's way, according to Anders, was the most integral piece of any turn-based title: the turn itself. 

What held us back was this whole notion of a turn. If you're changing up the order of the turn, then, at the end of the turn, everybody has to go. We solved the [problem of canceling turns or interrupting attacks] by just taking out the turn.

The solution is what Lightbulb Crew calls the timeline, which extends from one side of the screen to the other underneath all of the action. Both your characters and enemy mobs are represented as portraits on the timeline and numbers represent intervals of time.

Of course, there can be infinite mobs spawning into the timeline after others are defeated, but you, as a player, typically have access to only three characters at any given moment. From what I saw in my relatively short demo, it seems that one of your characters always starts at the far left end of the timeline, allowing you to move at least one character first. 

The other two Daughters will land somewhere in the timeline, sometimes in direct succession of each other or sometimes with enemies spawning in between. Regardless of positioning, you spend points to move the Daughters up the timeline. 

But everything outside of movement costs AP, from attacks to special abilities. And points are also tied to your overall health pool. 

So while a certain number of points might get you past an enemy attack in the timeline and let you land a devastating attack, you might be left with too few hitpoints to defend yourself in the future, leaving you vulnerable to another enemy attack that lands in the timeline before your next movement. 

While it doesn't seem to completely erase turns, the timeline allows gameplay to feel much more fluid than it might in other genre titles. In my 45 minutes with Othercide, the moment-to-moment action felt perhaps not more strategic than say XCOM but continuously more rewarding. 

Each move and decision carried with it dramatic weight and, when pulled off correctly, even more dramatic power. That feeling wasn't sullied by Anders helping me through each mission, and it speaks volumes for a game of Othercide's ilk. Every significant action was akin to a well-placed overwatch kill.

What's cool is that you can have multiple people having interactions and reactions align at the same time, it can create little chain reactions. For example, an enemy comes to attack, and one Daughter is protecting another Daughter with an interrupting shot, and I have a reaction [ability] that, as soon as an enemy takes damage, I get a free attack [because of the interrupting shot]. 

Such a system creates uniquely strategic and emergent scenarios that aren't often possible elsewhere. 

Adding to that, another neat wrinkle is that you're able to see enemy attacks well before they happen, giving you time to plan around them. While that doesn't mean you'll always be able to avoid enemy attacks, especially if you don't plan correctly, it has the benefit of making you feel completely unstoppable when you correctly line everything up and cut through enemies from one end of a map to another.   

While I won't get into the story elements of Othercide and the reason characters are called Daughters, I will say that you can create an army of them to push back the forces of evil. Each Daughter adheres to one of three classes, each with unique abilities and skills. 

As you play, you come across memories, which you then use to upgrade abilities and traits. These, in turn, can be buffed with different enhancements, such as making attacks stronger or providing more critical-hit chance. Of course, these enhancements also make certain Daughters more powerful when facing certain enemy types, further playing into your overall strategy. 

Additionally, Othercide features rogue-like elements and permadeath, where you play across a specific timeline with a specific set of Daughters. Lose one Daughter to save the others, and though you can create a new one in her place, she'll be gone forever. Lose to the boss at the end of each timeline, and you'll find yourself starting over. 


Othercide certainly has me intrigued. It's accessible enough for newcomers but deep enough for those that have been playing turn-based RPGs and turn-based strategy games for decades. 

With a guide, it took me 45 minutes to get through two of the game's early levels. And while I don't know exactly how long the finished game will be, it's likely to be a hefty experience. 

Anders assured me that those who enjoy lore and story will find plenty to uncover while playing through Othercide. Conversely, he also assured me that those who just want to "min-max" can skip over all of that and just play the game. 

There's still a lot to learn about Othercide between now and when it (hopefully) releases later this year on PC. Until then, we'll be keeping an eye on it. Be sure to check the game's official reveal trailer over here, and stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on Othercide as it breaks. 

Indie World March 2020: Sequels, Timed Exclusives, and Puzzlers Abound Tue, 17 Mar 2020 13:52:51 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

It's not a 2020 Nintendo Direct, but the March Indie World presentation was packed full of exciting and interesting new indie titles heading to Nintendo Switch.

The one thing that unites them all, though, is that all of them are basically timed exclusives on the system. Here's a rundown of what was shown and what we can expect as 2020 moves along. 

Exit the Gungeon

As usual, Nintendo saved the game with the biggest hype factor for last: Exit the Gungeon. It looks like it brings with it all of the insane action and quirky style of Enter the Gungeon, which makes sense given Exit picks up right where Enter ended.

It's packed full of hundreds of weapons, enemies, and random rooms. More importantly, Exit the Gungeon launches later today as a timed exclusive on Switch.

Blue Fire

Blue Fire is a slick-looking action game featuring a deadly little chibi character and myriad gorgeous environments. Coming from Robi Studios, Blue Fire seems to be as much a 3D platformer as an action game, and it's one we're definitely keeping an eye on ahead of its Summer 2020 release date. Blue Fire is a timed Switch exclusive as well.


Baldo's been in the works for a long time. It's a lovely, expressive anime title in the visual style of Ni No Kuni that focuses on Zelda-style dungeon and open-world exploration. Baldo finally launches summer 2020 and is another timed exclusive on Switch.

I Am Dead

Annapurna Interactive's latest title is a unique-looking title called I Am Dead. You'll take control of a museum curator in the town of Shelmerston. He also happens to be dead.

You'll save the island by solving a wide range of puzzles and exploring its mysteries and secrets when I Am Dead launches first on Nintendo Switch sometime this year.

Summer in Mara

Summer in Mara from Chibig Games is a unique twist on the farming genre. It follows Koa's journey as she tries to uncover the secrets of the ocean. To do that, she'll have to develop an island, survive the weather, make friends, and explore everywhere, as you do. Summer in Mara launches this spring and, surprise: it's a timed exclusive.

The Good Life

The Good Life takes place in Rainy Woods, the happiest place on earth — except at night, when everyone turns into an animal. White Owls Inc. describes The Good Life as a repayment sim RPG, where you use all your animal skills to uncover mysteries and pay back your debts in a charming, rural British town. The Good Life launches on Nintendo Switch sometime this year.

The Last Campfire

Hello Games is working on a new title called The Last Campfire that's all about hope and empathy. It follows Ember as she solves puzzles and brings light to the darkness surrounding the manifold people and animals she encounters. Light looks like it's literally life in The Last Campfire, too.

It's got a lovely and expressive visual style and an emotive trailer song as well, but no, we're not sniffling. You're sniffling.  The Last Campfire launches on Nintendo Switch this summer.


Faeria, a card-based MMO, has been out for a while, and it's coming to Nintendo Switch in March. You'll build your deck, per usual, and you'll also build the maps you play on in each battle. Even though it functions as an MMO, Faeria offers a sizeable single-player campaign and PvP mode as well. Faeria will include cosmetic packs available as DLC on the eShop as well.

Eldest Souls

Eldest Souls has you slaying gods in a boss-rush battler that's basically the indie version of Dark Souls. It's brutal, you'll die, and you'll agonize over your skill buildout to try and survive the next time around. Eldest Souls looks ghoulishly delightful, and it launches on Nintendo Switch this summer.


And that was that. March's Indie World presentation didn't have any major stand-out titles or shockers, but there's no denying the Switch has a lot of indie goodness coming over the course of 2020. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more indie game and Nintendo Switch news as it develops.

Wasteland 3 Preview Impressions: Bring on the Cold, Baby Tue, 17 Mar 2020 12:36:31 -0400 Ty Arthur

After Wasteland 3 was funded through Fig in 2016, developer InXile was scooped up by Microsoft. That changing of the company banner tweaked the scope of Wasteland 3, as well as the platforms it would ultimately be available on.

While it's still due to hit the PS4 per backer requirements, this post-apocalyptic RPG will also be included in Game Pass, bringing the anticipated Wasteland 2 follow-up to a wider audience of PC and Xbox players. 

We got a take an advance look at the first four hours of Wasteland 3 and are ready to share what we experienced out in the cold, harsh apocalyptic wasteland.

Big Changes Besides the Snowy Setting

Jarett Dorsey holds a bloody knife in a Colorado snowstorm in Wasteland 3.

From Wasteland 3's first moments, it's very clear the Fig backing and resources provided by Microsoft have changed things in the wasteland, and I don't just mean the swap from brown, dusty Arizona to cold, snowy Colorado.

With the setting of the desert sun and the rise of irradiated blizzards, we're exploring a darker version of the wasteland that the humor-focused E3 trailer really didn't reveal. That's not to say that there isn't a good deal of comic relief to be found in these early hours, but the overall humor has a decidedly grim tone.

This satisfying blend of post-apocalyptic horror and deadpan comedy succeeds to infuse the game with dark humor significantly better than, say, The Outer Worlds did last year. And that balance is showcased in Wasteland 3's character lineup as well, where you are free to take the campaign to one extreme or the other in what will undoubtedly be just the first of several play-throughs.

Whether you load up on recruited ranger fodder to even out your skill types or fill your party with full companions who have their own backstories, options always abound.

Taking that further, every area is loaded with opportunities other than just loot. You'll be able to find more info or access extra goodies by having specific skills or party lineups. Even though the game's overall skill selection has been reduced from Wasteland 2 (which is actually a good thing we'll cover a bit below), it's still unlikely you will have a lineup that lets you see everything in just one go.

Wasteland 3 immediately showcases the importance of choice and how events will change based on what conversation skills you take. In this case, your choice to save someone from certain doom actually makes a second combat scenario harder. But it also has a potential reward down the line when that character decided to join the group, for example. 

Events of that nature pop up everywhere you go and offer plenty of chances to play good, evil, or somewhere in between. Your ranger party might decide to keep someone who's been incarcerated so long he's gone insane locked up, or instead set them free and take your chances. Both decisions, however, have big repercussions.

While these skill and conversation-based options are increased over Wasteland 2, there are other, more basic changes to gameplay that some will love and others might find too simplistic.

In particular, Wasteland 3 goes out of its way to streamline several of the series' more obtuse elements (some might call them "classic" or "old-school" elements instead).

You no longer need to have a shovel taking up a spot in your inventory to dig up hidden items, not that it would matter, because there's not a limit to inventory space now either. There's also now a shared inventory, so you don't need to constantly shuffle 7.62MM ammo between characters.

Some players found that incredibly annoying in the previous game (yup, I'm some players), while others will no doubt feel the game is catering to filthy casuals (Hi, I'm also a filthy casual. Nice to meet you, elitist swine).

Another simple change eradicates the save scumming issue inherent to Wasteland 2's gameplay. There's no longer a percentage chance to succeed or fail at any given skill check. If a lock is Level 7, you just need 7 points in lockpick to open it without a chance of failure.

The biggest change has, though, has to be the inclusion of customizable vehicles for players and enemies. Essentially acting as a party member, they are more than just transportation. They can use deadly weapons or end up terrible death traps if someone with a flamethrower gets close in combat.

While those changes may make the game feel somewhat simpler than its predecessor, others radically increase the options available. Sadly, we didn't get a chance to venture out into the world map in the preview build, but it's clear there's going to be plenty to do with Wasteland 3's many expanded mechanics.

Updating Wasteland's Combat

Wasteland 3's turn-based combat.

Turn-based combat, which is a huge part of the overall experience, will feel familiar to veteran players, but there are some important updates and overhauls.

Working off the game's darker tone, there are some truly bloody effects tied to certain combat abilities that put the bullet dismemberment from Fallout 2 to shame.

It's not just aesthetics that have changed, though. Entirely new mechanics like the strike meter, which lets your rangers use special kinds of attacks after building up the meter during combat, have been added.

End-turn strategy sees a big shift as well. Previously, you could only transfer unused action points, but now there two extra options: defending to take less damage if you get caught out of cover, or ambushing, which is basically overwatch. Both are welcome additions to the roster of final actions that extend your strategic options.

Some elements have remained similar to the previous entry in the series, too, like small-gun, high-action-point builds dominating in the early game. But, thankfully, there is significantly more variety with combat builds overall. Unarmed brawlers, for instance, are now much more viable and are basically 3rd edition D&D monks that can dish out crazy damage with the right perks and skills.

Fists, bullets, knives, and explosives aren't the only weapons you'll be playing with, either. Taking a page from turn-based fantasy RPGs, there are some fun elemental effects available, like frozen and burning, and they usually arrive in wonderfully deadpan ways... like chucking a yellow snowball at an enemy. Yes, you have to choose to unzip and turn them yellow first if you want to use those yucky (but useful) items in combat.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, though, as there are plenty of ways to interact with the environment during combat I don't want to spoil. Instead, let's take a deeper look at more of the skill modifications available in Wasteland 3.

Skill and Perk Changes

Wasteland 3's perks menu.

If you're familiar with the previous two Wasteland games, you know that everything in and out of combat revolves around skill points and perks.

Interestingly, entire skills get wiped out and condensed. Most importantly, skills like field medic and surgeon are combined into the first aid skill; it's a very welcome change from Wasteland 2 where you needed two characters with the surgeon skill and had to ensure they kept each other alive or your game was essentially over.

On the opposite end, the deadly Mangler and similar rocket-launcher-style items now require the explosives skill to use, so you can't just load up your squad with high explosive secondary weapons to cheese through combat on easy mode.

Further enhancing combat and the game's new ailment types, perks from different weapon skill trees dovetail really well now. Increasing those interconnected options means it's no longer the best idea to just have everyone equip assault rifles. Now your ranger squad will keep busy triggering status effects with one type of weapon skill and then exploiting that weakness with a different character using a separate weapon perk tree.

The number of perks already available for both combat and exploration skills tease a wide range of possibilities, but I have to wonder if some extra perks are going to show up in a patch or as DLC. Some obvious entries seem missing at the moment, as hard-ass, kiss-ass, and lock picking all lack any perks at all.

Some Needed Tweaks and What to Expect Overall

Wasteland 3 new recruits menu.

Wasteland 3's early Beta preview shows a ton of promise for an even better post-apocalyptic adventure than we've seen from InXile before. Of course, since development is still continuing, there were a number of bugs and known issues still getting ironed out.  

Many of these are minor, like missing text strings, dialog boxes staying on the screen longer than they should, or weapon mod stats displaying incorrectly, and will clearly see fixes ahead of release.

There's one issue, though, that has me worried: Wasteland 3's exceedingly long load times. Even with an i7-8750 CPU and an SSD, starting the game takes an absurd amount of time, and I shudder to think of what it will be like on a potato computer if it's permanent.

Bugs and load times aside, there's no question Wasteland 3 is both more polished and more streamlined than the previous game. Clearly meant to have a wider appeal, Wasteland 3 is no longer aimed specifically at the hardcore, old-school CRPG crowd. If you crave the total lack of hand-holding inherent to old-school game design, the remaster of the original Wasteland might be more up your alley. But only time will tell, and we'll know a lot more once we get our hands on the review build. 

For those who want to jump in and see how Colorado has fared after the end of the world, the backer Beta starts March 17. Wasteland 3's full launch is currently slated for May 19 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Baldur's Gate 3 Reddit AMA Offers More Details on Larian's D&D 5E Game Thu, 12 Mar 2020 16:02:36 -0400 Ty Arthur

After decades of waiting, a brand new Baldur's Gate game is finally on the horizon, 20 years following the last main entry. Today fans got some interesting new tidbits about the continuation of the Bhaalspawn saga.

Last week, we saw about an hour's worth of gameplay during a Larian Studios livestream that basically looked like Divinity Original: Sin in a D&D form. While that presentation, and our pre-PAX East preview, showed some very promising footage, it also left some major questions and revealed a number of bugs that need to be worked out.

To clear up some of the lingering questions surrounding the game, BG3's creative director, producer, lead systems designer, senior writer, and writing director took to Reddit for a candid AMA. 

Baldur's Gate 3 Main Character and Companions

The previous live presentation left it unclear as whether we'll be able to re-spec companions, and unfortunately, that hasn't been answered with the latest Ask Me Anything session.

If you liked the origin system from Divinity: Original Sin 2, it will return with Baldur's Gate 3, and any Origin character you don't pick can be recruited as a companion to explore their backstory.

The main character can recruit mercenaries outside of the normal companion cast, which it seems like will have a connection to the new campfire system that was briefly shown in the livestream.

In terms of character creation, there will be no sliders, but players can freely change the face type, hair, facial hair, and skin color for the main character. That character is expected to go from Level 1 to Level 10 across the full launch, although that may change.

Unique dialog options are set to be included based on race and class, with some interesting options that may bring to mind hiding your undead nature as Fane in Divinity: Original Sin 2.

Here's a pertinent quote straight from Writing Director, Jan Van Dosselaer:

As you would expect, a drow will get different options compared to a Paladin of Tyr, for instance. For sure, the world will react to your actions, and the choices you make, since these will in some way define you.

For example, Astarion is a vampire spawn and when you play him, you can try and hide this from the party. But if they find out  because, well, you might try to bite them as they sleep  they will obviously be shocked, and unless you manage to handle the situation with the necessary tact and diplomacy, you may just find you’re left behind companionless. 

We have more diversity in creation than in any other game we’ve done before. You'll be able to mix and match a wide variety of defaults, to create something unique.

While interacting with those various companions, the main character will travel along the banks of the Chionthar to the city of Baldur's Gate. Other areas are likely to be included, but they haven't been revealed yet.

The iconic Forgotten Realms mainstay Marco Volo will also appear at some point, and yes, he will have his beard, which apparently bugged out in a previous preview look.

D&D Mechanics

Baldur's Gate 3 is primarily as a turn-based experience. That's not just to stick closely to the D&D rules, but also to be utilized for a potential multiplayer mode down the line.

5th edition character feats will be included in the full launch, but they will not be immediately available at the Early Access launch. It's unclear, at this point, how long players will have to wait for those additions.

All classes from 5e Player’s Handbook will be included at full launch, including the various paths and subclasses. In Early Access, only these classes will initially be available, however:

  • Cleric
  • Fighter
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

Multiclassing is set to be included after Early Access ends, and it will closely follow the 5e DnD base rules. Most D&D fans probably already know what to expect from any given class, but there will be some changes to the Ranger class, according to the Lead Systems Designer, Nick Pechenin:

As for the ranger, we will be implementing alternative variants of favourite enemy and natural explorer features that are not limited to specific monster and location types.

When we were working on these changes, we went to WotC for their approval and it turned out that we were completely on the same page. 

Van Dosselaer added:

Alignment may carry less weight in 5th edition, but all companions definitely have their own moral compass.

Some are fine with evil and underhanded deeds, others are not and they’ll be vocal about their approval or opposition to the decisions that you make. It’s absolutely possible to take actions that cross the line for someone and he or she will leave the party, or even decide to attack you.

In most cases, a character can take one action, reach their movement speed, and potentially employ a free bonus action in a turn. Reaction rules are due to appear in the game as well, although not in the Early Access release. Players can eventually tailor which reactions they want to enable, like disabling an attack of opportunity to enable a reaction to cast the Shield spell.

Grappling, which is usually a point of contention in any iteration of D&D or Pathfinder, will not be included at all.

Standard magic items are due for varying levels of overhaul from minor to major to make more sense in the context of the Baldur's Gate 3 story and for game balance purposes. We don't have any specific examples of how those items will change yet, however.

Finally, Larian made a point of again referencing the vertical aspect of Baldur's Gate 3 gameplay. It appears using the environment and taking the high ground will be critical to overcoming some of the more difficult combat encounters. On the flip side, enemy opponents will also utilize vertical movement and larger areas to avoid getting wiped out quickly with area effect spells like fireball.

Voice Acting

You won't need to worry about losing voice acting if you don't pick a pre-generated character. Custom starting characters will have voice acting and players will choose a voice as part of character creation.

Spells will also come with corresponding voice acting like in previous D&D games. Latin spell words are currently being recorded but weren't ready for the livestream presentation. 

GM Mode

Unfortunately, there will be no GM (or more accurately, DM) mode from the get-go, but it seems like it may be added down the line. Here's what Executive Producer, David Walgrave, had to say to get you salivating at the prospect of putting together your own 5th edition adventures:

When we built GM mode for Original Sin, we were of course thinking of D&D and how long it had been since anyone had made such a mode. So yeah it'd make a lot of sense, but we're focusing on developing the game first at the moment...

More to Come

We didn't get answers about voice dubbing in other languages, or the big question about console releases before the AMA ended. You can bet there will be more info leaked out in the coming weeks, though.

For now, we know that Baldur's Gate 3 is coming to Early Access later in 2020 on PC and Google Stadia. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for additional Baldur's Gate 3 details coming soon!

Destroy All Humans! Remake — One Small, Determined Step for Evil Alien Kind Wed, 11 Mar 2020 14:38:40 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Destroy All Humans! is a game that I've always wanted to play. Over the years, I've considered picking it up through various sales, but I've never taken the plunge for one reason or another. 

With that in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to play the Destroy All Humans! Remake at PAX East 2020. Without nostalgia clouding my vision, the demo I played was fun if not revolutionary.

To be fair, though, THQ Nordic isn't trying to be revolutionary. Instead, the studio is out to create a faithful adaptation that, according to the THQ rep at my demo, is "pretty close" to the original. 

The primary goal with the remake is adding in elements that just weren't possible 15 years ago, specifically in regards to the game's mechanics and aesthetic. Nordic has rebuilt Destroy All Humans! from the ground up using the Unreal engine in an effort to make the game more fluid, while creating a grander sense of scale. 

For better or worse, the demo I played is exactly the same as the opening levels of the 2005 original. Things begin in the cow paddock, and you're still after DNA, which plays a big role in DAH's upgrade system. You still read minds using the Cortex Scan, you still use Psychokinesis to throw cows and farmers around, and you still kill farmers with the Zap-o-Matic. 

The anal probe makes a return alongside the disintegration ray and ion grenade, though I wasn't able to test any of those during my demo. 

What I noticed most is that many of the movements and actions feel smooth, and comparing that to what I know of the original, the mechanics seem more intuitive and streamlined overall. Whereas Psychokinesis in the original required multiple buttons to activate, the remake employs just one, bringing it more in line with modern sensibilities. 

Crypto can also chain multiple abilities at once, such as extracting brains while using the jetpack, or employing Psychokinesis while frying enemies with the Zap-o-Matic. You can even shoot haybales and toss them at farmers to create hideous, raging infernos. It helps that you can now lock onto enemies and cycle through them.

As expected, flying the UFO feels powerful. Though there's obviously a bit of jerkiness to it, especially when switching between targets in comparison to the fluid on-the-ground movement. Obliterating tanks and houses is good fun, and you can fly the UFO up and down as well. 

My only early concern is the way Psychokinesis works. Pressing the right bumper grabs an enemy, and the longer you hold the right bumper, the further the enemy will be thrown when you release it. I kept wanting to press the right bumper and then press it again to hurl the object or enemy, which led to a lot of very short, unimpressive throws. 

However, it's not a huge gripe for an otherwise smooth experience, and it's a mechanic that be ironed out before release. Or, you know, people like me can just get used to it. 

Though I only played the first level, the world of Destroy All Humans! feels big. Unlike levels in the original, which seem to be a bit claustrophobic, the increased draw distance provided by the Unreal engine and modern hardware lends a nice sense of scale to the remake. 

No longer are the edges of an area hemmed in by blurry greens and blues and blacks. It's expected, sure, and something we often take for granted after a decade of playing open-world games, but it lends gravitas to an otherwise arcadey experience. As a galactic-hopping evil alien, I want to feel like I'm in a large world, and Destroy All Humans! Remake accomplishes that at this early stage. 

Another thing I love about Destroy All Humans!  and something I'm sure fans of the series do as well  is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Though some of the jokes haven't exactly aged well, other bits of humor have. Campy and pulpy, Destroy All Humans! Remake fully embraces its influences, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Outer Limits.

The 1950s Americana that dominated the original is here once again. The Army shows up to blow things up. The Men in Black control things from the shadows. Aliens are little grey humanoids. Luckily, though, the more populated world of the remake is also a more inclusive one that sheds some of the worst stereotypes of that time period, at least early on. 

Though this is positioned as a one-to-one remake of the original, THQ Nordic and Black Forest Games has seemingly made a cult-classic even better by mixing together just the right amounts of nostalgia and modernity. Destroy All Humans! Remake will even have a never-before-used stage when it releases later this summer, giving old fans something else to look forward to. 

While we'll have to wait until we get our hands on the final product, things are looking good for Destroy All Humans!. Even those that never played it can find something to enjoy.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons — Crafting the Perfect Island Getaway Thu, 05 Mar 2020 18:21:12 -0500 Jonathan Moore

I had never played an Animal Crossing game before I played New Horizons at PAX East. In retrospect, I don't really know what took me so long. 

Fans of the series already know how charming and irrevocably lovely New Horizons is. That's been shown in the screens and trailers Nintendo has released over the past nine months or so. What they might not know is exactly how some of the game's systems work to create one of the more enrapturing simulation games I've ever played. 

During my PAX East demo, I was able to play 45 minutes of New Horizons at various stages. While I can't yet talk about everything I saw, I can shed some light on a few things we already know about New Horizons  and a few things we might be wondering about. 

Let's start with getting around.

Movement in New Horizons is simple and smooth, and the map in the lower right-hand corner of the screen is clear and easy to understand. It shows the main points of interest, including your house (or tent in the early-game), Resident Services, and many of your island's other buildings. It also shows you important landmarks such as rivers and oceans. 

I particularly like that the map is fully uncovered at the beginning of the game, allowing you to immediately acquaint yourself with your surroundings. You can look at it via your NookPhone. 

One of the things we've known about for a little while is pole-vaulting, but we didn't quite know why or how we'd use it. Turns out it's one of the primary ways you cross bigger rivers and get to other areas of the map.

Honestly, it's much more fun than it has any right to be, and I spent a full 30 seconds pole vaulting from one side of a river to the other before moving on to the rest of the demo. The animation is seamless and just plain fun to watch, and I did it every chance I got. 

But the islands in New Horizons aren't all flat-land. Hills and little mountains crop up all over the landscape. To climb those and get to new areas to forage and farm materials, you'll need a ladder, which is also fun to use, even if it seems to have only a singular purpose. 

Of course, you have access to other tools as well, such as axes, shovels, and fishing poles. While I wasn't able to use the latter, the axe and the shovel come in handy pretty early on. 

Crafting plays a big role in New Horizons not just because you'll want to make new things, but because tools break, too. 

Part of making new items, such as furniture and awesome little doo-dads, entails picking up materials from the ground or gathering them from objects in the world. In a twist from games such as Stardew Valley, trees specifically don't disappear when you chop them and gather all their wood. Instead, they stay where they are and regenerate materials, letting you come back for more later.

To move them to a new location or create a new space for a building, you can use the shovel to dig trees up and put them in your pocket. You can also use the shovel to dig holes in the ground and, thankfully, refill them. You can also use the shovel to dig up fossils for the museum, though I didn't run across in any while I was playing.  

In another bright spot, the radial menu for items is accessible by way of a simple button press, and it stays up until you pick an item or close it. You don't have to hold down a button and a control stick at the same time. In a sentence, the radial menu in New Horizons is to die for. 

However, something I do wish was a bit clearer was tool durability. Tools can break, but there's no meter telling you how far along you are  or at least it's not very clear. Some tools carry the denotation of "Flimsy Axe," for example, so it's likely you'll get access to more durable tools as you play through the game.

Luckily, making new tools and items is a cinch at the crafting bench, which you can build yourself or access at Resident Services. 

One of the things Nintendo really impressed upon me during the demo was that New Horizons is a game about discovery and customization. Part of the reason I'm being so coy about some of this is that I want you to discover it just as I did, such as one little cool outfit-changing spot I don't want to spoil. 

But with that in mind, character customization is a breeze. 

Aside from unlocking them, there are several ways to buy new clothes and accessories at the Able Sisters shop. You can pick up individual items from the floor, where you can buy them one at a time, or you can try on full outfits, buying a set of matching (or clashing) items all at once. 

There are a lot of options, ranging from hats and pants to shirts and glasses. To keep things simple, you don't change the color of items on a color wheel or through a set of other color options. Instead, each item has multiple entries in the shop in different colors.

It actually felt much faster to just scan across the items for a color rather than pick an item and then choose the color from another submenu. 

I also love the fact that you don't have to go in and out of individual menus to pick different options or to see your entire outfit. Simply click on what you want and presto, you see it. I won't spoil what items you can put on, but even though items were still being added daily (some had even been added the morning I played the demo, according to a Nintendo rep), there is a wide array of options already available. 

As you perform certain actions, you get Nook Miles, which you use to unlock items like hairstyles and phone cases. There are both long-term actions and short-term actions that reward you with Miles, and you can access your Nook Miles at any time by entering the game's menu or stopping by the Nook Stop. 

Implementing short-term goals gives the player easily-achievable milestones and keeps the game from getting too daunting. You're always achieving something in New Horizons, and I really appreciate that, especially in a game predicated on player-controlled creation and discovery. I might not feel like gathering and selling a large amount of fruit, but chopping down 10 trees is a cinch. 

In essence, many of these goals are achievable through normal play, such as when you decide to upgrade from a tent to a house.

Speaking of, customization wouldn't be complete without tailor-made houses. While you start in a tent, you can build your way up to a nice, cozy house. I was able to explore two houses in the demo, and though I didn't see every decorative item, I can say there's a great variety to be had.

Toilets, race-car beds, farm-style armoires, funky lights, couches, TVs, mirrors, refrigerators, house-plants. There's something for every style and mood.

Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, houses can also act as storage units for items once your pocket gets too full. However, you must retrieve materials from your house before you can use them in crafting. Items will not automatically transfer to your pocket.  

While building up your island is fun by yourself, getting help isn't too shabby either. Multiplayer is as simple as pressing a few buttons, and if you initiate the co-op session, you're the primary player the camera follows, while the second player is the follower.

The primary player can perform all of their normal actions, such as farming for materials, picking up materials, and talking to NPCs. The second player can only perform actions such as chopping down trees. They can't store things or speak to NPCs. 

If something is an "automatic pickup" and is "picked up" by the second player, the item or material automatically goes to resident services so the primary player doesn't lose it. If a secondary player gets too far away from the primary player, they'll be teleported back on screen to keep everyone together. 

Unfortunately, I didn't get to play much multiplayer during my session, and though I passed by the airport, I wasn't able to go inside. In that sense, multiplayer feels fun if fleeting. I can certainly see the use and draw of it, but I also think the bigger pull is visiting other islands like a tourist, not picking up sticks and wood to help someone else actually build theirs. 

Saving the best for last, the museum in AC:NH is one of the best ever. It's Stardew Valley's community center to the Nth power, and it looks fantastic this time around. This is where you display all of the bugs you've caught, fossils you've dug up, and fish you've hooked. 

The three branches of the museum house different specimens. The eastern wing is the aquarium; the western wing is the arboretum; and the northern wing is the fossil exhibit. Each wing has multiples rooms to fill and explore. Inside these rooms are tanks, terrariums, and displays complete with informational plaques.   

Neatly, you can stand in certain spots to get a wide-angle view of all of the tanks or individual exhibits at once. It also allows you to see animals and fossils from unique perspectives.

It's a great way to display the achievements players have accomplished, while also giving them greater incentive to complete collections. 


Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game about exploration, crafting, and sharing. It's about creating your own unique island through discovery and then sharing it with the world. It takes systems found in other simulation games and seemingly iterates on them in compelling ways. 

I don't know if New Horizons will please series fans or not, but it's certainly made a fan out of me. Relaxing, intuitive, and just good fun, this is one game that's convinced me to buy a Switch. 

There's still a lot more to learn about AC:NH, so stay tuned to GameSkinny for our full review in the coming weeks. 

Sniper Elite VR Drops You Straight Into the Bloody Mayhem of World War 2 Wed, 04 Mar 2020 22:33:45 -0500 Jonathan Moore

If any game series was made for virtual reality, it was Sniper Elite. Whereas some designs translate poorly to the medium, the visceral nature of the franchise is a logical fit for the sensory heightening essence of VR. It helps, then, that the sniper rifle is one of the most up close and personal weapons on the battlefield.

Just as VR was built for the bow and arrow, so was it built for the heft and power of the sniper rifle. No more was this evident than during my demo with Sniper Elite VR at PAX East in Boston, where I played through one of the game's levels set in a besieged village. 

Sniper Elite VR plays as close to a mainline Sniper game as you'd probably expect. There's stealth. There's action. And there's plenty of Nazi scum to shoot. The biggest difference here is that everything happens from the first-person perspective. 

Movement happens in two ways: either through teleportation or free-movement. Teleportation plays out as it does in other virtual reality games: point to a location, click a button, and move. Free-movement works as you'd expect, but unlike other experiences I've had with the mechanic, it's silky smooth here. 

While it might be a tad slower than some might like, Sniper VR's free-movement fits with the world of a methodical sniper. Though I kept trying to run by pressing down on the control stick  a habit carried over from the mainline games  the game's design doesn't allow for it. 

"This is quite a slow-paced game relative to other titles. So it's not like being on a rollercoaster and getting shot through a level." That's Rebellion Assistant Producer Thomas Waterhouse-Biggins, who spoke with me after I'd played through the demo.

He said that not only would running make players sick, but it would also mean your sniper would give up their cover and quickly get killed by a dozen lurking Nazis. 

"You're walking through [levels]. You're observing your surroundings. You stop, look down the scope. You're focusing on a specific point... which only moves when you move your hands. You have all of that freedom, but what you're actually doing doesn't cause motion sickness because it's very methodical."

The main draw here, however, is actually peering down the scope of a sniper rifle. While I hesitate to fetishize guns, there is a potency to the new first-person perspective, especially in the encompassing nature of virtual reality. 

Instead of a singular and detached button-press, actually pulling up the rifle engages all of your senses and motor functions. You raise your controller(s) to eye level as if you're holding a rifle, aim, and fire. It's a set of actions especially immersive using the PSVR Aim controller. In fact, I saw a few players actually rocking back as they fired at digital Nazis, as if they were replicating the kick-back of a real-life gun. 

Though I wasn't able to test Sniper VR using other inputs, such as Oculus Touch Controls or a DualShock 4 controller, Waterhouse-Biggins said the team worked hard to make the experience as ubiquitous as possible across all devices.

"One thing that really helped us is that we're using Unity [for Sniper Elite VR], which is a really versatile engine. You can just set up the game across all of these different platforms. It's definitely a challenge, though there are a lot of similarities between these control schemes. 

And while there is a seated mode, Waterhouse-Biggins said that the game won't work with mouse and keyboard because of how aiming works. 

"With two PlayStation motion controllers, you use two hands, and on the Rift and Vive you're using two hands. So a lot of those systems work across the board, although if you tweak one control scheme, you have to think, 'How are we going to tweak it again to make sure there's balance across the board?'

You're physically moving a controller to tell the game where your gun is, then you look down that to aim. If you had a mouse and keyboard, there would be no way to physically do that."

The level I played was fairly straightforward and mostly took place from the rooftops of a small neighborhood at the edge of a village. Looking down on the street below, I sniped Nazis huddled behind crates, and ducked behind sandbags and walls to dodge incoming fire. Holding my breath to steady my shot was a simple button press. 

Though Waterhouse-Biggins later told me there were throwables such as grenades in the demo, I didn't see them in all the chaos. However, I was told they also work in a more immersive fashion, depending on which VR platform you're playing the game. For example, throwables are assigned a specific button on the PSVR Aim controller, but using the Move controllers in each hand allows for a more realistic throwing motion. 

And though they weren't in the level I played, Waterhouse-Biggins did confirm that other signature weapons from the Sniper series would make an appearance in VR

"I can't confirm an exact list, but a lot of the guns you've seen in the other Sniper Elite titles... are going to make it here because it's going to be an authentic World War 2 shooter. So we need to have those authentic weapons." 

Of course, a Sniper game wouldn't be a Sniper game without the series' signature X-ray bullet cam. But where the mainline titles feature a bullet cam that zips across the map and might bolt through kill-shot animations, this one is slowed down.

Getting a few precise shots during my time with the game, I found the speed to be mostly right for virtual reality, though I think it could be a tad too slow. However, like many of the game's other mechanics, the priority here was to not oversaturate the player with too much stimulus. Waterhouse-Biggins said it was challenging to get the bullet cam right.

"We want to maintain what we did in Sniper 4 but we have to make changes. There's a balance there [between VR and the mainline games], but we still got the full impact. When you're watching the bullet go into the person, you can actually turn your head and it turns the camera," letting you see the bullet penetration from unique perspectives. 

Asked what kind of bullet cam shots fans might expect to see in the final product, Waterhouse-Biggins said many of the ones they've come to love will be included.

"Testicle shots, we got em'." 

Sniper Elite VR is set to release sometime later in 2020 for PC and PS4. 

Resident Evil 3 Remake Gameplay Stream: What Capcom Did and Didn't Show Off Wed, 04 Mar 2020 15:31:36 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Capcom followed through on its promise of a short Resident Evil 3 remake gameplay stream, though not without some technical hitches. Once those got settled, though, it was nonstop tense action for the 30 minutes or so. While there wasn't any news on the upcoming demo, here's what went down in the demo for the intense zombie remake.

The stream started off with a trailer showing Carlos' debut, rescuing Jill after an encounter with Nemesis itself. It was suitably tense and dark, and better yet, a great chance to see the expanded characterization Capcom promised for Jill and Carlos.

The stream itself was, as Capcom UK's community manager called it, "light." It didn't show spoilers of any kind — no puzzles, no special items, no files, and no entering buildings. That's a bit of a bummer on one hand, but on the other, it means there's probably a lot to look forward to as we sample the gruesome delights of Raccoon City.

Breakable boxes and their ilk return for RE3 remake, holding useful items like ammunition.

Even though it's much easier, the dodge doesn't seem like it's that easy to pull off still. When you do manage to pull off a perfect dodge, though, you'll get a few seconds to decide whether you want to shoot or run. Jill also gets a new shake-off move where you can mash the "X" button to help break free faster, receive less damage, and chuck the zombie off to the side.

There's a number of environmental features you can take advantage of to slow or destroy your opponents. Exploding barrels are one thing, but there will be many generators lying about you can stun zombies with if you shoot them. These were presented as necessary to help with the more intense gameplay in Resident Evil 3 remake.

It's worth saying the game looks gorgeous, too. It's vibrant, much more so than the Resident Evil 2 remake. The city is full of light and points of visual interest, from ad posters and all the usual things you'd expect to see in a busy metro, to Easter eggs and ludicrous things like Umbrella-branded food items.

It seems like it's absolutely worth taking your time to stop and... well, maybe not smell the roses, but at least sample the impressive sights. Combined with the general destruction, it really emphasizes the disastrous situation Raccoon City is in and creates an immersive experience even just watching.

That and the sounds of zombies chowing on people in the distance. The earlier promise of using audio to create an impressive and unique soundscape seems like it's being fulfilled with panache. For example, there's noise of all kinds in the city normally and in each building, but in safe rooms, everything's quiet and peaceful. It's even a different quiet from the muffled sounds you still hear when inside other places.

Even if you know everything about Resident Evil 3, it's still worth exploring every corner. We weren't able to see inside many buildings, but Raccoon is full of hidden allies and crannies that offer shortcuts to other places or hidden, useful items.

We'll link the stream above once it's available, and you should definitely listen with headphones on. We're still chomping at the bit for the Resident Evil 3 remake demo, so stay tuned to GameSkinny for more Resident Evil 3 remake news as it shuffles down the street.

A Fold Apart Reminds Us That We're Never Too Far From Love Tue, 03 Mar 2020 17:21:16 -0500 Jonathan Moore

It's been a while since a game easily and truly moved me. As many of us surely have, I've ridden the emotive waves forged in the wake of games like The Last of Us and To the Moon, but those washed over me once I began the journey, not beforehand.

With A Fold Apart from indie developer Lightning Rod Games, it all began with a trailer. 

With its striking complimentary colors and Pixar aesthetic, the trailer quickly drew me in. It made me laugh and cry in less time than it takes to finish the first several puzzles of the game. A minute, to be exact. I showed the trailer to my wife, and she had a similar reaction, tearing up and reaching over for my hand as we watched.  

Fast forward to PAX East in Boston some weeks later, and I was able to finally go hands-on with the game that so quickly captivated me. As soon as I hit "Start," I wished my wife was right there beside me so we could experience it together. 

A Fold Apart, at least in my currently limited experience, is a game brimming with emotion, which makes sense considering its spirited genesis. 

According to Co-Founder Mark Laframboise, who led me through the first five puzzles of the game at PAX East, AFA is "a game about long-distance relationships in a world of folding paper," where thousands of miles can feel like millions. 

Coming up with how to translate that feeling of hopeful detachment into a video game didn't come immediately, but after working through a few iterations, the team was able to construct the clever design underpinning A Fold Apart. 

"I really wanted to make a game that told the story of a long-distance relationship," said Laframboise, "but I wanted mechanics that matched it. The original pitch was that if you have a character on one side of a piece of paper and a character living on the other, they're in basically two different worlds. But when you fold the paper, you merge the two worlds together."

In practice, it's a smart idea that works exceedingly well for a puzzle game, and one that's easily recognizable across generations and bridges the gap between cell phones and postcards. 

The story of A Fold Apart revolves around an architect and a teacher. Separated by an undetermined distance, they communicate through text messages. Smartly, those interactions are represented not by characters staring at phones, but by characters traversing through charmingly designed levels in what Laframboise calls "the emotional world." 

Here levels consist of linear pieces of paper that also look a lot like postcards. They then feature puzzles, which represent various emotional states, such as joy and sadness, reverie and gloom. Solving the puzzles, then, helps the characters navigate the emotional waters of distance and ultimately come together. 

The opening puzzles are rather tranquil, meant to ease you into the world and acquaint you with the game's relatively simple mechanics and controls. Coupled with the game's soothing music and contrasting colors, everything works in concert to relax you, at least in these early stages. 

Laframboise says there are 58 total puzzles in the game, bringing the running time to about three to four hours for most players. In my time with A Fold Apart, I was able to play through the first five puzzles, with one doing its best to stump me. It gave me a glimpse of what I hope is to come in later levels, with more complex emotions leading into more complex puzzle design.  

Currently, A Fold Apart is set to release on Apple Arcade, the Nintendo Switch, and PC sometime in March or April, according to Laframboise. It will release on PS4 and Xbox One "sometime after that," bringing it to almost every major platform, Google Play notwithstanding. 

It's true that perception and circumstance can color our expectations. Perhaps being far from my wife while playing A Fold Apart has led me to expect too much from its overarching narrative. But I don't think so, especially considering the emotional power of its trailer.

Though I'll find out soon enough, I think A Fold Apart will be one of the few games that accurately captures what it's like to love  no matter the distance. 

NHK's Final Fantasy Poll Results: Top Games, Characters, and More Mon, 02 Mar 2020 14:59:27 -0500 Ashley Shankle

The Final Fantasy series is polarizing even among fans, but it seems some aspects of it stand above the rest. At least in Japan.

Japanese public broadcasting station NHK polled Japanese fans about their favorites aspects of the Final Fantasy series. Fans were asked to respond with their favorite Final Fantasy games, characters, bosses and summons, and music tracks.

More than 460 votes were tallied for the survey, and the results are rather lengthy.

Japanese and Western fans have always had different tastes, but just how different? Below we'll take a look at the 30 games ranked, the top 90 characters, 20 ranked summons and bosses, and lastly the top 20 Final Fantasy songs according to this poll.

Be sure to check the webpage out itself as it has some interesting age and gender-grouped polling data, and some rankings going a lot longer than I've translated here.

Top 30 Final Fantasy Games Polled by NHK

1. Final Fantasy X
2. Final Fantasy VII
3. Final Fantasy VI
4. Final Fantasy IX
5. Final Fantasy XIV
6. Final Fantasy V
7. Final Fantasy VIII
8. Final Fantasy IV
9. Final Fantasy XI
10. Final Fantasy XV
11. Final Fantasy Tactics
12. Final Fantasy III
13. Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII
14. Final Fantasy XIII
15. Final Fantasy XII
16. Final Fantasy Type-0
17. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
18. Final Fantasy II
19. Final Fantasy X-2
20. Mobius Final Fantasy
21. Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII
22. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
23. Dissidia Final Fantasy
24. Final Fantasy
25. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Ring of Fate
26. Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
27. Final Fantasy Adventure
28. Final Fantasy XIII-2
29. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Echoes of Time
30. Final Fantasy Record Keeper


Top 90 Final Fantasy Characters Polled by NHK

1. Cloud
2. Yuna
3. Aerith
4. Vivi
5. Zidane
6. Emet-Selch
7. Tidus
8. Lightning
9. Tifa
10. Zack
11. Sephiroth
12. Haurchefant
13. Noctis
14. Squall
15. Auron
16. Gilgamesh
17. Terra
18. Cain
19. Celes
20. Crystal Exarch
21. Locke
22. Vincent
23. Edgar
24. Shantotto
25. Bartz
26. Laguna
27. Rikku
28. Ignis
29. Balthier
30. Faris
31. Agrias
32. Reno
33. Yuffie
34. Jecht
35. Rinoa
36. Ramza
37. Rydia (Adult)
38. Prompto
39. Galuf
40. Cecil
41. Shadow
42. Estinien
43. Kefka
44. Setzer
45. Garnet
46. Ardbert
47. Kuja
48. Hope
49. Sabin
50. Red XIII
51. Y'shtola
52. Beatrix
53. Wakka
54. Golbez
55. Eiko
56. Orlandu
57. Kurasame Susaya
58. G'raha Tia
59. Cid (FF7)
60. Alisaie
61. Ace
62. Lulu
63. Arden
64. Lenna
65. Alphinaud
66. Ultros
67. Edge
68. Vahn
69. Lunafreya
70. Irvine
71. Minwu
72. Steiner
73. Selphie
74. Freya
75. Aranea
76. Cecil (Dark Knight)
77. Rydia (Child)
78. Rufus
79. Zell
79. Asche
81. Noel
82. Seifer
83. Porom
84. Palom
85. Aymeric
86. Serah
87. Kimahri
88. Firion
89. Quistis
90. Cait Sith


Top 20 Final Fantasy Bosses and Summons Polled by NHK

1. Knights of the Round (FF7)
2. Kefka (FF6)
3. Hades (FF14)
4. Anima (FF10)
5. Omega (FF5)
6. Valefor (FF10)
7. Braska's Final Aeon (FF10)
8. Bahamut Zero (FF7)
9. Syldra (FF4)
10. Safer Sephiroth (FF7)
11. Shiva (FF10)
12. Bahamut (FF10)
13. Rubicante
14. Tsukuyomi (FF14)
15. Dark Cloud (FF3)
16. Ghost Train (FF6)
17. Odin (FF13)
18. Omega (FF14)
19. Titan (FF14)
20. Yazmat (FF12)


Top 20 Final Fantasy Songs Polled by NHK

1. To Zanarkand (FF10)
2. Clash on the Big Bridge (FF5)
3. Eyes on Me (FF8)
4. Searching for Friends (FF6)
5. Blinded by Light (FF13)
6. One Winged Angel (FF7)
7. Aerith's Theme (FF7)
8. Melodies of Life (FF9)
9. Main Theme (FF)
10. Those Who Fight Further (FF7)
11. Suteki Da Ne (FF10)
12. Dancing Mad (FF6)
13. You're Not Alone (FF9)
14. A Place to Call Home (FF9)
15. Someday the Dream Will End (FF10)
16. Eternal Wind (FF3)
17. Decisive Battle (FF6)
18. Prelude (FF)
19. Terra's Theme (FF6)
20. The Man with the Machine Gun (FF8)


Do you feel like your favorites were represented well enough in these results? I have to admit I'm glad Final Fantasy 5 gets as much attention as it does, but it seems Japanese fans aren't too keen on Final Fantasy 12  one that gets a fair amount of attention among the community in the West.

Let us know what you think of these results in the comments below. They could be a lot worse!

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Preview: Delivering on Its Promises Mon, 02 Mar 2020 04:00:01 -0500 David Jagneaux

When I previewed the Final Fantasy 7 Remake at E3 2019, it was based on an extremely-limited slice of the game. We were allowed to fight a handful of throwaway enemies before getting shoved into the mechanical scorpion boss fight near the beginning of the game. That was pretty much it. 

This latest demo I tried in San Francisco, CA, ahead of PAX East was a much meatier representation of the game. My playthrough this time started from the very beginning of the game  intro cinematic and all  and took me all the way through the first two chapters before skipping ahead to Chapter 7, including the Air Buster boss fight.

Last year, I had a few concerns about the game but was largely optimistic Square-Enix could probably pull things off. After spending more than two additional hours with a highly-polished version of the game in this latest demo, I'm confident Remake will exceed expectations.

The Remake Treatment

Remaking anything, much less a beloved video game, movie, or piece of music, is rife with complications. Not only must studios contend with nostalgia, but they must also juggle updating (potentially) outdated designs and ideas for modern audiences while still remaining true to original fans. It's a difficult, and often impossible, balance to strike.

To be clear, Final Fantasy 7 is not my favorite JRPG  nor is it even my favorite Final Fantasy game — but I absolutely recognize its place in history. Even though the original clearly has not aged well  at least visually  the story is more poignant than ever.

One interesting thing I noticed during my latest demo is that key characters like Cloud are less impressive to see fully realized in Remake. That's in large part due to the fact that they've previously been upgraded in spin-offs like Dissidia and have shown up in other games like Smash Bros. That makes Cloud's 4K, HD update a bit less impressive than, say, Barrett's or Aerith's, characters who haven't gotten as much love and attention over the years.

Midgar itself, though, is fantastic. There is an overwhelming sense of panic in the streets after you successfully blow up the first Mako Reactor and the voice acting really sells the government's crooked propaganda throughout the story. In a lot of ways, seeing the game anew with updated production values further underscores just how far ahead of its time FF7 was.

Combat Depth

The first 10 mainline Final Fantasy games use relatively similar turn-based combat systems that feature some variation of players and enemies taking turns until one side is defeated. Since then, the franchise has gotten extremely experimental with how it interprets and reapplies that system.

Final Fantasy 13 mixed real-time and turn-based mechanics and, most recently, FF15 is (basically) a strict real-time system with some active menu management. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is very similar to this. 

However, the main difference is how it handles non-basic attacks. When you're mashing your main attack buttons, everything flows quickly in real-time, but when you open up the menu to use an item, queue up a special ability using your ATB gauge, summon something, or issue commands to NPCs, everything slows to a crawl for an impressive, flashy, and incredibly cinematic slow-mo period. There is no limit to this, so you can hold things in slow-mo as long as you want.

When I tried it last year, the majority of my demo was a single boss fight, so I never really got my footing before being thrust into a big battle. It led to everything feeling a bit off. Now, by the time I fought the scorpion, I'd already been playing for around an hour and everything clicked much more naturally.

Having to switch characters, queue up abilities, and  more with slow-mo interruptions seemed a little jilted at first, but it's a lot like the real-time with pause mechanics from games like Dragon Age and Baldur's Gate. It's a lot flashier here.

By the time my demo was over, I was really enjoying the way combat flowed. I made a comment to a Square Enix representative that in the original, you always looked forward to the big special attacks and summons because of how cinematic they were. Now, every combat encounter feels like a cinematic moment because of how grandiose combat looks at all times. It still remains to be seen whether that will get old over time or not.

Tifa is Terrific

The most exciting moment for me in the new demo was getting to take Tifa for a spin. As a stark contrast to Cloud's massive Buster Sword and Barrett's arm-mounted gatling gun, Tifa uses her fists — and it's extremely satisfying. Despite the lack of an external weapon, her attacks somehow manage to be even flashier and more impressive than her allies'. 

Cloud can switch to a more aggressive stance that dishes out heavier damage but leaves him vulnerable. Barrett can charge up a special shot for his heavy attack, and Tifa has a nasty uppercut  but if she uses a buff ability beforehand, that uppercut turns into an even deadlier attack to finish off combos. Once I switched to the second half of my demo and got to use her, I immediately switched to her in every single fight.

The way she bounces on her feet, ready to strike is extremely well-animated, too, and she brings a lot of airiness to conversations, which cuts through Cloud and Barrett's constant headbutting. 

Even though the demo event I attended included a battle that let you try out Aerith, I wasn't able to give her a spin. I was late to the demo because of a scheduling conflict. I did catch a glimpse of her on the screen next to me during my demo, and she seems like a blast.

The way she almost dances while casting spells is mesmerizing and based on trailers, I already knew her voice acting felt spot-on. During my demo, I ran into her very briefly, but that was it. For my money, Tifa is the best girl in Final Fantasy 7 anyway, so I was content with not trying out Aerith.

I did get to summon Shiva though, which was about as epic and visually satisfying as you'd expect.

The wait is almost over for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which seems surreal to write. You'll finally be able to re-experience Cloud's epic journey on April 10, exclusively for PlayStation 4.

[Note: This preview is based on a hands-on demo for a pre-release build played during an event in San Francisco, CA, hosted by Square Enix.]

Baldur's Gate 3 Gameplay Looks Like Divinity: Original Sin in D&D Form Thu, 27 Feb 2020 16:16:08 -0500 Ty Arthur

Two decades after we last explored Amn and concluded the Bhaalspawn saga, a new Baldur's Gate game is finally on the horizon. Months after its initial announcement, today we got to see the very first Baldur's Gate 3 gameplay at a live PAX East presentation from developer Larian Studios.

The video showed off combat with intellect devourers and human opponents, using persuasion skills in combat, and a tantalizing peak at the overall storyline.

If you were a fan of Bastards & Bloodlines back in the 3rd Edition days, you'll like the story direction going on here, as the character shown in the gameplay reveal is both a vampire spawn and infected with a mindflayer tadpole.

It seems like the first segment of the game revolves around the party racing against time to find a healer before turning into illithids. While the mind flayer element seems set in stone, the vampire spawn may have been a character creation choice, so that element may not be required in your playthrough.

While there was plenty to get fans of Baldur's Gate excited, things did not go completely smoothly in the live presentation.

Some of the faces at this stage of development look really wonky, but that was the least of Larian's problems. The presentation got off to an embarrassing start with a total party wipe followed by a save game bug forcing a restart.

The Larian rep then proceeded to accidentally stab a party member when he meant to move an object (woops!), and subsequently got stuck in an infinite loop of climbing up and down a ladder during combat. 

Clearly, there's some kinks to be worked out before Baldur's Gate 3 is ready for release, although there's still time ahead of launch for more polish. 

Bugs aside, the real question from fans of the Baldur's Gate series has been just how much of Larian's trademark style is going to remain in the gameplay. After watching the presentation, it's obvious that BG 3 is very clearly based off Divinity: Original Sin and will play in a very similar way.

We've shifted strongly away from the Infinity Engine style of the previous games. Combat is turned based, rather than real time with pause, and battles make extensive use of elements. As with Divinity: Original Sin 2, you can expect to utilize fire on the ground to create fire-based attacks, as well as aim ranged attacks at explosive objects in the environment.

Various large wood objects can be moved to create obstacles or used for climbing to a better vantage point, and that's a change with some interesting applications. We learned that the Feather Fall spell has been added in, which is something that's been missing from nearly all D&D video games up to this point.

The sneak skill is also handled in a very similar fashion to Divinity: Original Sin, although thankfully, you don't turn into a fake rock or bucket when sneaking (although expect that to be one of the first mods to show up).

The only major change we've seen is the camp system where you go to engage in dialog with party members, expand your belongings, and eventually get camp followers. It's unknown if there will be any sort of stronghold system like with Baldur's Gate 2, but the camp system may very well be taking its place.

We recently previewed parts of the game and though the preview was hands-off, what we saw was exciting and more polished than what was shown at PAX East.

We don't have a firm release date yet, other than an overall 2020 launch window. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for additional news on Baldur's Gate 3, as well as the seven total D&D video games currently in development!

Baldur's Gate 3 Preview: Larian Is Crafting The Ultimate D&D Video Game Thu, 27 Feb 2020 16:00:01 -0500 David Jagneaux

The world's greatest roleplaying game is, of course, a staple of any tabletop gaming discussion, but it goes far beyond that. Dungeons & Dragons has spawned several successful lines of fantasy literature, board games, and plenty of video games as well. Perhaps none more recognizable in the realm of computer RPGs than the Baldur's Gate series.

The first two Baldur's Gate games were published by Interplay and developed by Black Isle Studios and Bioware (yes, the same studio now known mostly for massively popular franchises such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Knights of the Old Republic, as well as the ill-received Anthem) and are often regarded as two of the finest RPGs of all-time. A third game, The Black Hound, was in development but ended up getting canceled.

During E3 2019, Larian Studios revealed they were developing and publishing the next full installment in the legendary franchise, dubbed simply Baldur's Gate 3. Larian is the studio behind both Divinity: Original Sin games, which are regarded as some of the best modern RPGs of this generation, so you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone better suited for the job.

Earlier this month, I was invited to a pre-PAX East showing of the game in San Francisco, CA, that consisted of a hands-off demo presentation showing an impressive introductory CGI cinematic and a couple of hours of actual gameplay. As someone that has played and enjoyed both of the Divinity: Original Sin games, everything about Baldur's Gate 3 was immediately familiar in all of the best ways.

Larian has done a wonderful job adapting their style to fit with the classical fantasy tone of D&D without losing the core of what makes their games stand out. 

Character creation is as deep as you'd expect. In addition to picking from classic D&D races like humans, half-elves, drow, and more, you can assign a background as well, which works similarly to D&D fifth edition, as well as Divinity: Original Sin 2. This gives a bit more color and detail to your character's origin, providing them a separate, more personal purpose beyond the game's larger narrative. But it's all optional: you can make a character from scratch instead if you'd prefer.

By default, the game appears to be presented from a top-down angled perspective with a floating camera, but you can zoom in to emulate a third-person over-the-shoulder style instead if you'd prefer. 

What's immediately apparent to anyone that played the original Baldur's Gate games is how combat is handled differently here. In the past, Infinity Engine games and most D&D games from past years use a real-time with pause format. This means that combat happens in real-time with player characters, NPCs, enemies, etc. all moving around, attacking, and using their abilities as they're available concurrently.

That can get very hectic, so you're often given the ability to pause everything, issue commands, then resume combat. It's a well-respected hybrid approach that's still used to this day for many RPGs.

But in Baldur's Gate 3, combat is very similar to Divinity: Original Sin 2 in that it's entirely turn-based. Ironically, combat in Baldur's Gate 3 now more closely resembles combat in tabletop D&D. Characters take turns moving around the battlefield, performing actions, and trading blows as determined by their initiative order. It plays out just like a real game of D&D would and it flows extremely well.

Since this is heavily based on D&D, dice rolls play a huge factor. Rather than make you manually click specific dice to do things, everything is calculated under the hood so you just see the results. But there's a log that you can toggle on and off if you want those nitty-gritty numbers and details.

Though, there are two exceptions to this that I saw, which require your awareness of the all-powerful dice rolls. One instance is when you land a critical hit. In this case, a d20 shows up on-screen just before getting sliced in half to celebrate your big damage. The other instance is during certain key ability checks.

For example, let's say you want to persuade a guard to let you through a door that they're protecting. Depending on how proficient you are in that skill, you'll need to get a certain number on the d20 roll, just like actual D&D, so the result on the die is randomly selected on-screen as if you had actually rolled it. This adds some unpredictability to everything and very clearly ties the game back to its roots. 

Just like in Divinity: Original Sin 2, dialog is handled very carefully in Baldur's Gate 3. One thing I always hated about RPGs is that you're forced to pick dialog options that are pre-scripted by designers and writers that just don't think like you do. As a result, the options usually never really capture what you want to say.

Larian's response to that is to remove actual dialog options and instead give you a list of tones and feelings to pick from, then you fill in the blanks in your head.

For example, if a bandit says you have to pay up or else you're dead, rather than letting you pick between, "No way! Eat this!" or "Here's 100 gold, sorry for the trouble," it might instead say something like, You refuse and threaten him back, or, Pay the bandit and go about your business. Notice the difference?

The story in Baldur's Gate 3 is still a bit vague from what I've seen thus far, but I will say it appears that knowledge of the previous two games isn't really required. The CGI cinematic we saw at the start of our demo was tremendously epic, complete with a mind flayer abducting people from a city, injecting disgusting illithid tadpole leeches into their eyeballs, and nearly evading an onslaught of powerful dragon attacks while barreling through the sky. It was an excellent cutscene. 

The demo picks up after the actual introductory moments a short ways into the adventure. After surviving the capture and crash, the player discovers that unless they figure out what's going on and how to cure themselves or remove the tadpole from their skull, they'll eventually transform into a mind flayer as well. That is not a desirable outcome.

What proceeds is sort of like a greatest hits of D&D moments. There were some epic fights against large groups of enemies that used the terrain in clever ways, things went horribly wrong after some bad misses and poor die rolls, and eventually, victory was achieved by thinking outside the box. 

Even though I didn't get to go hands-on with Baldur's Gate 3, based on Larian's experience and track record, the history of the franchise, and the iconic nature of the D&D brand, I have no issues in saying that this is clearly shaping up to be one of the best RPGs in recent memory. In fact, if the flow of gameplay between combat and non-combat experiences feels right with its turn-based mechanics, this could very well end up being the greatest video game based on D&D of all-time. Fingers crossed they pull it off.

Baldur's Gate 3 will support multiplayer in the form of both local split-screen couch co-op for 2 players and up to 4 players total online, but I didn't get to see that in action during the demo presentation I attended. At this point, all we really know is that the game is coming to Early Access on PC in a few months.

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on Baldur's Gate 3, including coverage of the game's official gameplay reveal at PAX East.

[Note: This preview is based on a hands-off demo presentation of a pre-release build seen during an event in San Francisco, CA, hosted by Larian Studios.]

Desperados 3 Hands-On Preview — Six-Shooter Strategy Thu, 27 Feb 2020 03:00:04 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Desperados 3 has been a long time coming. The last game in the series  the amazingly titled Helldarado  came out in 2007. Even though the series has switched to a new developer, Desperados 3 is a direct sequel, featuring characters, gameplay, and plot mechanics that will be familiar to longtime fans of the series.

Real time tactics is an underrepresented genre, but there was a time when Desperados and Commandos were big names in PC gaming. So it's nice to see this, and Commandos, making a comeback.

We got our hands on an early build of Desperados 3, which is due out sometime this summer for PC (the version we played), Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Saddle up and read on to find out how things are coming along with this cowboy tactics game.

Desperados 3 Hands-On Preview — Six-Shooter Strategy

If you're unfamiliar with the genre, here's how a typical level works in Desperados 3.

You'll be put in control of a few different characters and given your mission objectives: steal something, killing someone, or simply making an escape. Then you'll be let loose in a carefully-designed level full of enemies, hiding places, and random bystanders. From there, how you achieve your objective is up to you.

You're vastly outnumbered, so you'll have to use each character's special abilities to thin out the pack or sneak around patrol patterns to get what you need. Using the environment to your advantage is key.

As you slowly make your way through levels and eliminate hostiles, you'll need to hide the evidence to create new pathways, eventually peeling back enough layers to achieve success. Early on, this is fairly simple. As you progress further, you'll have to think of ways to chain abilities together to achieve the intended result. 

Desperados 3 might look similar to a turn-based tactics game, but it's much more akin to a puzzle game. One of the hints early on is that quicksaving and quickloading is a huge part of this genre; you're supposed to try several things (and fail several times) in order to put together a solution.

In My Prime

This is not nearly as tedious as it might sound. We're talking extremely quick turnarounds in your quicksaving — I basically started doing it every time I progressed in the slightest — and it all comes together into achieving a very satisfying conclusion. When everything works out in Desperados 3, you feel like a right clever cowboy.

I played the Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines series religiously in my younger years, so fitting back into the intricacies of the genre wasn't too hard. There's still a great deal of challenge here; the preview build had a few levels from later in the campaign, and they were extremely tough to crack if you cranked up the difficulty. It could be a tough world to slide into if you're unfamiliar, but there is a lot of fun to be had here if you want something a bit different.

It isn't all sneaking about and hiding bodies in closets in Desperados 3, either. You have a few options if things go sideways and you have to shoot your way past a few guards — just make sure you have an escape route ready if you decide to do that. Everyone within a country mile is about to come bearing down on you, and it only takes a few shots to put you down.

You're No Daisy

It also helps that Desperados 3 has a delightfully campy little cowboy story to go with it. Your ragtag team of Western cliches has revenge on the brain, and they all are drawn together under various coincidences to take on similar baddies.

Everyone is basically Doc Holiday from Tombstone. Trenchcoats, ridiculous weapons, and over-the-top slang are in the name of the game. The story seems aware that this is not a quiet meditation on a dying breed of gunslinger or a man's struggle between his bloodthirsty past and hope for redemption before he dies. This is white hats and black hats, twirling their six-shooters and making spittoons ring before blasting everyone at the OK Corral.

It's a different kind of cowboy tale than something like Red Dead Redemption 2. Luckily, this town is big enough for the both of those styles.

Room Service

This self-aware attitude isn't just part of the story, either. It filters through into elements of the gameplay as well. This is an extremely "video game" genre of video games — some of the things you'll be doing don't make a lot of sense if you scrutinize them too much.

One of your characters carries a bear trap on his back that is literally big enough to cut a man in half. He can also set it up and lure guards into it. How do they not notice it? Well, Desperados 3 addresses that, claiming the weapon is "surprisingly stealthy." That's... it.

Another example is that most enemies are easily distracted or lured off their posts, but not the ones wearing ponchos. When a character speaks this warning aloud in an early mission, another character asks, "Why?" The only response is this: "Just trust me, I know."

In a game that took itself totally seriously, these details would break the immersion. Instead, these little things just kind of keep you keyed in on the matter at hand — that you're playing a fun puzzle game with a steely-gazed cowboy costume on top. It's your chance to create mayhem in a little spaghetti western sandbox, and that's just fine by us.

Speaking of sandboxes, you can also mess with a whole bunch of settings until you fix Desperados 3 to the perfect level of insidious difficulty. Each mission has several alternate goals to help you achieve "perfect" runs. Straightforward ones, like beating a certain time or limiting the amount of quicksaves are, again, "video game" goals, but there are also more interesting tactics, like making certain deaths look like accidents.

These goals, along with the nasty difficulty at the highest setting, are sure to appease anyone who thinks they're the fastest draw in the West.

Very Cosmopolitan


The build I played was an early one, and certain aspects of it showed. Hopefully, the final game has a bit more style in its presentation.

I generally needed to stay zoomed out pretty far so I could keep track of all the moving pieces on screen. As such, it's hard for Desperados 3 to make things personal. The story seems like a continuation of the previous games in the series as well, something I was not familiar with going in.

Graphically, things are still a little sloppy, too. There's a lot of clipping in some of the models, and the camera controls could be a little more elegant. Maybe they'll get better when the full game hits retail, but it isn't a major problem with this genre.

Overall, Desperados 3 is shaping up to be a great entry in an underrepresented genre. It's set to release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in summer 2020, but an exact date has yet to be revealed.

We'll have more on the game, including a full review, as its release date approaches. Until then, shine your spurs and practice your shooting.

[Note: An early build of Desperados 3 was provided by THQ Nordic for the purpose of this preview.]

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened Early Access Review — Listless Nostalgia Tue, 25 Feb 2020 11:06:12 -0500 Jason Coles

Revisiting the games we used to play, or ones which we have fond memories of, usually goes one of two ways. In our minds, games we used to play tend to improve with time, aging like a nice whiskey into something savory and, somehow, sophisticated.

It's a somewhat frustrating experience, then, when a game isn't as good as you remember. Worse still is when a remake or remaster feels worse than the original, and unfortunately, that's the case with Dungeon Defenders: Awakened

For those of you who aren't familiar, Awakened is a Kickstarter remake of Dungeon Defenders, a game that came out nearly a decade ago. For those of us keeping score, anything 10 years old tends to be considered retro, meaning that if you remember this game, you now feel incredibly old. 

And as you might already suspect, this remake won't make you feel any younger. 

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened Early Access Review — Listless Nostalgia

Comparison shot between the original DD and Dugeon Defenders Awakened in Early Access.

Dungeon Defenders, both the original and Awakened, is part tower-defense and part third-person action game. You play as one of four heroes fending off waves of enemies by using your class attacks and placing class-unique towers in strategic positions.

It's not a complicated game, but its loop was a lot of fun when it originally released, largely because things ramp up very quickly. There's an ever-increasing barrage of various monsters forcing you to constantly tweak your strategy. 

It helps that the game's co-op was some of the best around. Lord knows there are worse games that have been saved by co-op. 

The concept was once unique, but it's something a little more common nowadays. As such, the main selling point of Dungeon Defenders: Awakened seems to be that it is a remake of a game that people used to love, making the target audience people like me. 

And while the original Dungeon Defenders is still oh, so good, Awakened just doesn't hit the mark.  

Do It For the Horde

Squire performing his circular slice attack.

The game goes like this: you look around the map to clock where the monsters are going to come in and the paths they'll be taking, then you lay down towers or traps. The entry points enemies use are shown before each wave, and often, adversaries enter in more places as waves go on.

This means immediately planting defenses you think will be relevant, but also planting ones that will help out later in the game. 

After placing towers and traps, you enter the combat phase. This is where the monsters walk in and follow their set paths towards the object you're meant to protect: the Eternia Crystal. As they approach, either your well-placed towers will take them out, or you can take a more active role and shoot them or strike them with your hero.

Between rounds, you run around and grab more gems to buy more towers or upgrade the ones you already have. You can also level up your character and equip new items.

Again, it's nothing revolutionary these days, and honestly, it's just not enough to warrant a remake. That's especially apparent when the original game not only holds up fine today, but also when it's almost one-third the price of this Early Access version. 

The gameplay is as exactly as it was, but there's less to do because it hasn't got all of the extra content that came after the initial release many moons ago. If you're a returning fan, you'll feel as though the game is rather empty. In fact, I'd wager that's also how you'd feel if you picked this up without knowing the series.

Sure, Awakened looks pretty, and it sounds good, but that's not good enough in 2020. Without more to do, there's just no reason to grind your way through the game or wait for more content to release. 

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened Early Access Review — The Bottom Line

Towers and traps the castle map in Dungeon Defenders Awakened.

  • Cute cartoony graphics
  • Good difficulty curve
  • Still fun, if a little bare bones
  • Not enough content yet
  • It lacks the spark that the original game had
  • It does have its share of bugs

It's important to remember that this is currently an Early Access game, but it's also important to remember that it's one you're paying full price for — $39.99.

As such, there's no reason to pull any punches here, so I won't. Right now, it's not really worth picking up this version of the game over the original. It's just not good enough yet, and it doesn't have enough content. 

Hopefully, in time, Awakened will become an excellent example of how good the series can be, but it's not the case at the moment. 

[Note: A copy of Dungeon Defenders: Awakened was provided by Chromatic Games for the purpose of this Early Access review.]

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct Recap: Living the Island Life Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:03:08 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Today's focused Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo Direct was packed full of information about the upcoming island getaway, from events and tourists to crafting and island re-designs. There's a lot to cover, including how Nintendo will continue supporting New Horizons, but we've got it broken down for you here. Let's get started.

Island Orientation

The presentation was divided into three parts, the first being a general overview of what to expect in New Horizons. Like New Leaf, you'll be able to choose your map layout and, as was mentioned before, pick your desired hemisphere. We got a glimpse at the seasons too, the gorgeous lushness of spring and summer, the aurora in winter, and everything in between. In a sentence, it's freaking gorgeous.

You'll also get the usual orientation to how life works in Animal Crossing, this time given by the Nook Inc. staff (no Isabelle yet folks). You can discuss where everyone's tents should go and even set up where the other denizens place theirs.

Resident Services

Resident Services is where you'll buy daily necessities, craft things and learn crafting recipes, sell your junk, and get advice, should you need it. It's open 24/7, too.

Crafting was shown off a bit more as well, namely the customization options available to you once you reach an advanced crafting level. Color, cushions, and design are all open to customization, though these are still pre-set designs.

Resident Services can expand into a town hall, but there's no word yet how this development will take place. Isabelle herself will be handling all development needs.

Resident Services is also where you'll be building things like stairs, bridges, and more. You'll need to develop the island more fully before you can get access to some of these, though, including the path-building feature.

After you get to that point, you can even modify the town's very layout, building or destroying cliffs, making new rivers and waterfalls, and really making the island your own.

The Airport

The airport is the second major facility on the arrival, staffed by Orville the Dodo. It's like the train station from the original Animal Crossing; it's where you'll welcome others to your island to set off for another. In case you forgot, you can have up to eight people playing on an island at one time. You can also use the airport like a post office, sending letters and gifts to others on the island.

You can also take mystery tours to deserted islands by redeeming your Nook Miles for a ticket. The destination is never the same, depending on the pilot's mood, and you'll find all kinds of crafting materials, plants, and even villagers on your travels.

Special Services

Nook Inc. starts you out with some basic furniture, just like always, only you get the Nook Phone this time. It's your inventory, where you store recipes, check your map, and more.

Nook Miles are meant to guide your daily activities, should you feel a bit lost with all the freedom. These range from things like catching certain fish to other essentials of daily life. Once you rack up enough Nook Miles, you can redeem them for rewards like clothes and other helpful items. A new part of the UI, a quick swap between tools, was briefly shown as well.

Island Life

Wasps and scorpions make their return, as expected on a deserted island. Medicine cures your ills, should you get stung or are otherwise incapacitated.

It's also recommended you mind yourself when wandering around. At night, ghosts (Wisp!!) might make themselves known, and you'll likely come across the hapless traveler Gulliver at some point.

It's actually possible to get lost in New Horizons, apparently. Your Nook Phone offers a Rescue Service to transport you back to your house immediately.

You'll want a house eventually, and that involves taking out a loan from Nook. On the other hand, you'll get storage space and a much bigger living area. As always, the loan is stress-free, letting you pay it back whenever — or never. But you'll want to pay it off if you plan on remodeling in the future.

Happy Home Designer's streamlined decoration style makes a return, letting you move furniture around without having to push it by hand. Rotate the camera 360 degrees to make sure everything's how you want it, and then plunk it down and enjoy.

Other Residents and Tourists

Like usual, you aren't stuck with just the handful of animals who start life with you. You'll be picking where the newcomers live and can even invite new residents.

You'll also have to develop the island for classic facilities, like the Able Sisters, the Museum, and even Nook's Cranny. The campsite makes a return as well, letting you invite residents for a visit and maybe get them to stay forever (not in a creepy way).

Tourists like Label might pass through from time to time and offer their special services while teaching you about the lands they came from, making it a true cultural exchange. This is how you'll meet special characters like Jack and Jingle, but apparently, they'll only be added through free updates later on. The first is available when the game launches and lets you celebrate Bunny Day.

Animal Crossing FAQs and Miscellaneous

The FAQs section was pretty basic, but it did introduce a new feature called Photopia. It's an island you'll eventually discover in the world where you can dress up animals, create a tableau, and, obviously, snap pictures of your creations.

Nook Link is an app for real smartphones that lets you scan QR codes from custom designs in the 3DS Animal Crossing titles. Download them through Nook Link, and you get them in your New Horizons game.

As we reported before, it will also offer voice chat or, if you don't want that, you can just use the phone's keyboard for chat. Nook Link is set to launch shortly after New Horizons in late March.

And that's it! Everything that was announced in the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo Direct. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on the upcoming sim game as it develops.

Until then, be sure to check out some of our other Animal Crossing articles and lists, such as the furniture options we really want to see in the game

World Of Horror Early Access Review: Classic Randomized J-Horror Galore Wed, 19 Feb 2020 10:00:01 -0500 Ty Arthur

Those of us who grew up on Uninvited, Darkseed, or any number of atmospheric text-based horror games are in for a nostalgic blast from the past with World Of Horror.

We recently got a chance to jump in on the Early Access version of the game, and we've got good news for all those truly messed up '80s kids.

If you like the randomized nature of games like Betrayal At House On The Hill and dig old adventure games, World Of Horror is basically your own personal funhouse of scary stories.

Although it definitely needs extensive player feedback during the Early Access period to get polished up before final launch, World of Horror is already a bone-chilling experience.

World Of Horror Early Access Review: Classic Randomized J Horror Galore!

     Look at those gorgeous two-bit graphics!

From its chaotic opening complete with stuttering mouse to its point-and-click adventure mechanics, World Of Horror oozes old-school from the get-go. The scary tropes cover everything from the Cthulhu mythos to Japanese bizarro horror in the vein of Junji Ito (Uzumaki, Gyo).

The classic aesthetic we often associate with old PC games is on full display with a default black and white color scheme. If you want to get fancy, there's an option to change the base white palette to another color, and you can even choose the hi-fidelity "2-bit" mode that comes with grey shading.

Set in 1980s Japan, World of Horror's Classic mode (the only option currently available in Early Access) tasks you with solving five mysteries in any order you choose. Each involves a large number of randomized investigations, which you must complete before dying or going mad.

After completing all five mysteries your poor, doomed high-school student or newspaper reporter can finally unlock the lighthouse and see what horrors are hidden within.

Along the way you interact with various parts of the town utilizing RPG elements and randomized dice rolls. Your paranormal investigator levels up and increases her stats (if she survives long enough), and there's an option to turn the advanced dice roll info on or off. 

In many ways, a Classic mode run is a lot like a randomized Call Of Cthulhu pen and paper campaign set in Japan. Which specific big bad is causing all the various shenanigans — from the appearance of evil mermaids and elastic rubber men to the disappearance of stars  — is randomized each playthrough.

Those Great Old Ones are more than just window dressing, though, as each entity impacts a playthrough in different ways. When Cthac-Atorasu's mystical web covers the town you can't run from combat, but when the towering eye of Ath-Yolazsth looks down from the heavens, then the Doom meter rises anytime you cast a spell.

Nearly every part of World Of Horror has luck involved. Taking the eerily empty metro towards downtown might be uneventful, resulting in a slight reduction to the overall Doom meter. However, you might get accosted by any number of horrible things, causing it to rise. 

Many investigative segments feature extra completion options that are only available if you have a specific skill, item, or spell. Unfortunately, due to how random all those elements are, it's fairly unlikely you'll ever actually have whatever you need at any given moment. 

While you can't change the randomization of investigations and mysteries, it is possible to pick your character, difficulty, and Great Old One options ahead of time for slightly more control. For instance, picking your investigator lets you start with a spell rather than an ally, or you might have higher dexterity than knowledge.

Keeping It Old-School Without Getting Lost

After having completed several Classic runs, I'm struck by the strong contrast between World of Horror and Wizardry: Labyrinth Of Souls, which hit PC in January. Both openly worship a style that doesn't get much love anymore, but while Wizardry feels terribly constrained by its old-school mechanics, World Of Horror is liberated by them.

Surprisingly, World of Horror employs a number of unique and interesting combat options for such a simplistic style. 

In one particularly frenzied fight, which came before I'd picked up anything useful, I had an ally distract the enemy to avoid taking damage that turn. I then scavenged an improvised weapon, dodged a deadly attack, saved up power for a surefire strike, realized there was no way I was getting out of this alive with a broken bottle for a weapon, and finally utilized the environment to end the fight in a story-related way.

Despite how cool all of that sounds, all of the randomization found in World of Horror can really screw your investigator over. A new negative effect settles over the town after completing every mystery as a terrible Great Old One further wakens. If you get the wrong combination of missions and negative effects, it's just simply game over. There's no coming back.

If the randomized investigations don't offer you healing items immediately, it's flat out impossible to win. You might have no choice but to look at a horrifying painting that deals stamina damage at the start of the next mystery and immediately die.

Of course, you could select Initiate difficulty to get more starting stamina and a better chance of making it to the end alive and sane, although that negates some of the rogue-like elements inherent to World of Horror.

Cracks In The Horrific Mirror

While World of Horror has a solid foundation, there is one major, glaring flaw at this stage of development.

Simply, the game needs four or five times as many mysteries and individual investigation scenes to be worth playing long term. The larger mystery cases and smaller investigative scenes will repeat often if you play through more than once. While it's possible to get different outcomes based on your inventory, stats, and stamina and reason pools, there's still a lot of repetition to be had.

Thankfully, it appears there are spots where more game modes and Old Ones will go, so I expect the options will increase ahead of launch. And that's not to mention that each mystery has multiple endings depending on how you finish the final investigation, meaning you can find different resolutions by tackling them in different ways.

World Of Horror further features a currently inaccessible menu for mods on the start screen. It seems like the idea might be to have players add their own stories, effectively multiplying future content. 

Another tinier issue deals with the game's text. Because of the randomized nature of every mystery, some of the text in the investigation scenes doesn't actually match up with your objective.

In one scene, the main character says, "Let's get out of here" after witnessing something horrible, Logically, it indicates I need to leave the area. However, the mission actually requires that I then investigate the same area a second time, which doesn't make any sense.

Hopefully, it's something that will be fixed by the game's full release. 

World Of Horror Early Access Review  — The Bottom Line

In terms of atmosphere and aesthetics, World Of Horror is already exactly where it needs to be, even if the randomized elements need some fine-tuning.

Early Access will give the developers time to add in more content and smooth over the existing stories so they flow better. With more time to gestate, I expect World Of Horror will emerge from its cocoon a more beautiful (and terrifying) beast ready to destroy the world at final launch.

World Of Horror comes to Steam Early Access on February 20. You can add it to your wishlist here.

[Note: A copy of World of Horror was provided by Ysbryd Games for the purpose of this impressions article.]

Stoneshard EA Impressions: Deadly Turn-Based Combat Meets Roguelike RNG Mon, 17 Feb 2020 14:08:24 -0500 Ty Arthur

Following a free demo showing off the game's prologue, an Early Access version of Stoneshard is finally out on Steam. While development continues on the surprise indie RPG, players can explore the first two towns and a big chunk of the surrounding wilderness while dying horribly in a number of satisfying ways.  

Lately, I've found that giant, AAA titles with slick graphics to be rather lackluster on the gameplay front, leading me to seek out games like Stoneshard. In many ways, it's the perfect counterpart to that trend, offering a tactical take on the RPG genre with an addicting level of punishing difficulty.

Stoneshard Early Access Impressions  Colliding Genres

Fight the difficult prologue boss in Stoneshard.

Without question, Stoneshard's classic SNES pixel art style is what first caught my eye, but that's not all there is to this genre-mashing experiment. The inventory screen, enemies, and locales will often bring to mind classic games like Diablo.

The art style closely matches the dark, punishing flavor of combat and the game's grid-based gameplay. Right now, the only graphical hiccups are when moving too fast outdoors; the pitch black squares marking areas out of your line of sight often rapidly shift and it looks strange when you don't slowly move one tile at a time in forest maps.

But unlike those textbook action RPGs that fall alongside Diablo, Stoneshard provides a turn-based take on the ARPG genre, tossing in plenty of roguelike and roguelite elements for good measure. Further setting itself apart, Stoneshard makes you work for every little victory.

The extremely limited inventory space found in Darkest Dungeon is on full blast here, as even gold and the basic world map take up slots in your backpack. Forget about playing Stoneshard like classic Fallout, where you can grab everything that isn't nailed down and sell it to merchants for a quick pay day. Not only is your backpack space limited, merchants have limited gold stores, too. 

In another nod to the harsh world of DD, your character can lose sanity or suffer a variety of other debilitating afflictions during their journey. Combat is more than just managing HP and mana while trading blows; pain and bleeding in the aftermath are often more deadly than the actual battle itself.

Prepare to Die, 2D Edition

Exploring the forest in Stoneshard.

The map itself is another major hurdle for your very squishy mercenary to overcome, as there's no blinking red dot marking your current position. You've got to figure that out yourself by counting squares and paying attention to landmarks. 

In truly sadistic fashion, you might survive a delve into a bandit keep and finally figure out how to return to town... only to die on the way back because you didn't bring any bandages to stop bleeding or medicine to deal with the extreme pain of your broken arm. 

Stoneshard is a harsh and unforgiving world, taking the best parts of the deadly Warhammer or Zweihander tabletop RPGs and converting them into a unique digital setting.

Its not all doom and gloom though, and there are several ways to make the game almost easy if you learn the right tactics. The 2D, grid-based maps allow for a level of strategy, particularly in using the environment to your advantage, that just isn't possible in real-time games, whether we're talking about something like Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity or the more frenzied Diablo style.

Between the game's stealth mechanics and its heavy emphasis on utilizing the randomized map to your advantage, every battle essentially becomes its own little puzzle to solve.

While there are myriad viable builds from grizzled axe-wielder to bow-toting ranger, I'm having the best time with the sorceresses class. At first, I was tempted to go full throttle towards the fireball-flinging pyromancer, but I quickly realized the terrain-altering geomantic powers are actually where the real goods are found.

My favorite tactic at the moment is summoning a runic boulder to push back an enemy and block their previous movement path, forcing them to waste a valuable turn going around the obstacle. Next, I'll blow up that runic boulder and turn the surrounding terrain into damaging stone spikes, further screwing up whatever path the horde of bandits or wolves was planning to use.

Considering how many skill types and spell trees aren't even available yet, I'm eagerly looking forward to trying out different builds at full launch. Even if you don't go the spell-casting route, movement and environment tactics become critical, especially in the the first boss fight against a giant demonic bat thing.

It's another area that holds plenty of promise, and I can't wait to see what else is in store for big bad bosses as the rest of the content is added.

Too Random or Just Random Enough?

Enemies, like the zombies in this dungeon, will quickly surround you in Stoneshard       Surrounded on all sides with no way to the door: yep, I'm gonna die

Since Stoneshard is a roguelike, its environments are heavily influenced by RNG. That means everything from wilderness to dungeons can be deadly, even early on. 

It's something further exacerbated by the game's risk/reward elements. For example, making noise draws enemies, so you must decide between breaking barrels to find a splint for a broken leg and alerting more zombies to your position.

Even beneficial items can be a gamble. Taking Stardust can reduce pain and increase morale, but it increases the chances of adverse psychedelic reactions. If that happens, the screen moves on its own, making it increasingly difficult to accurately target a specific square, and you may move in the wrong direction, putting yourself in a disadvantageous area. 

That randomized play is complicated by Stoneshard's save system, which is one of the main points of contention in the game's Early Access period. At the moment, it's only possible to save at the inn for a hefty fee, or by clearing out a bandit camp and sleeping (which is difficult at low levels).

In other words, you can expect to lose a lot of progress and have to repeatedly start over while getting the hang of the mechanics. In some ways, it would be better if Stoneshard constantly saved like Darkest Dungeon, rather than relying on extremely sparse save points. 

Unfortunately, it can be quite frustrating to survive a long and arduous quest, only to die one square away from town because a wolf decided to follow you after you've run out of arrows and healing items.

Where Stoneshard Needs to Go From Here

Looking through the inventory screen in Stoneshard.

Stoneshard is an extremely challenging game, especially in the beginning while learning to navigate its durability, hunger, sanity, pain meters. That's not to mention its limited inventory systems. But the game is quite rewarding when you get the hang of things, and I suspect some of the more obtuse elements will get tweaked during Early Access.

In short, Stoneshard is basically a grimdark fantasy novel translated into video game form. Fans of the pixel style and bleak worlds similar to Dark Devotion or Blasphemous will love what's on display here, especially if they prefer a more traditional RPG rather than a Souls-style experience.

As expected, more content is going to be added in the coming months. While hunting and cooking already in the game, it seems like crafting potions must be in the works based on some of the ingredients that can be found while playing. I can only see the experience getting better over time as it already has a solid base to work from.

When it is finally ready for full launch, Stoneshard is going to be a thing of absolute beauty.

Ready to give it a try and jump into Early Access? Be sure to check out our Stoneshard guides hub page, so you can arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to take out the first boss and survive the early game. 

Thunder Lotus on Spiritfarer: Death, Hugs, and Legacies Sat, 15 Feb 2020 10:00:01 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Spiritfarer, an upcoming indie adventure game from Thunder Lotus, is all about dealing with death. But it's not what you're thinking.

Instead of relying archetypal morbidity, Spiritfarer punches you in the heart and makes you cry, all in a cozy, Ghibli-style setting. It's a juxtaposed premise that we don’t often see in gaming, and it’s something that's intrigued me about the game since it was briefly announced during Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference.

I had even more questions after I took advantage of the brief demo available last December.

Fortunately, I got the chance to talk with Nicolas Guérin, creative director at Thunder Lotus, about Spiritfarer’s inspirations and strong emotional ties to the development team.

Guérin and the team probably heard this question countless times since announcing Spiritfarer, but naturally, I had to ask it, too: why focus on death, and where’d the idea come from?

Guérin said Spiritfarer was in the works before he joined the team. Thunder Lotus wanted to continue with its unique focus on the stories and universal truths contained in mythology, like they had with JotunThis time around, though, the team changed its focus from Norse mythology to Greek, imagining the story of Charon in “Ghibli-like visuals.” 

It’s hard to imagine two more different styles: the grim ferryman of the underworld in one, and Stella, with her magic hat, bright smile, and lovable feline companion Daffodil in the other. However, that contrast was an important part of the creative process.

The harsh contrast between the dark world of the Charon myth and the colorful world of Spiritfarer helped us conceptualize protagonists that are the opposite of what you generally imagine. Stella was [originally] just a simple doodle from our awesome Art Director Jo-Annie Gauthier, and Daffodil is loosely based on my own cat.

Guerin continued by saying the goal was to do something completely different with how games treat death. felt quite appropriate that a game with those initial ideas would try to achieve something different, and for once, REALLY consider death.

We as humans (and arguably furthermore in the "western" culture) obviously have a hard time considering what is ultimately something so deceptively common.

And it’s not hard to see where this sentiment comes from. Death is many things in video games, from annoying failure state to something we mindlessly inflict on others, but rarely is it a topic for discussion or genuine reflection. Some, like A Mortician’s Tale, attempt to view death from a positive lens, but devolve into traditional gaming gimmicks and don’t encourage people to connect with the topic.

Guerin sees that as a missed opportunity for the medium. Because of how games let “us interact with concepts in a unique way. … death actually happens to all of us. And although it’s incredibly hard to see it this way, it’s actually ok.”

Despite seeing that same promise in the initial reveal trailer, I was still surprised how well the team managed to carry it out — even in just the short demo I played in 2019. You might not feel okay while playing Spiritfarer, but that’s because it’s such an intimate experience — on purpose.

We see characters die in games all the time after all. Melodramatic deaths, sad deaths, pointless deaths. Sure, it’s melancholic at times, but it doesn’t often make one feel too much, if at all.

It’s not by chance Spiritfarer is succeeding in this, though. That, too, was a carefully considered part of the plan. The Thunder Lotus team is pulling from their own experiences to help players connect with their passengers and, in turn, their emotions.

Most (if not all) of the Spirits in the game are inspired by team members’ relatives that passed away. I’ve personally lost my beloved grandmother a bit more than a year ago, and boy was she funny right up until the end!

It’s always been very important to us that all characters would feel real, and not just simple video game characters.

So, although they’re not carbon copies of actual persons, I can tell you that tons of research (and many boxes of kleenexes) went into the creation of those Spirits!

It makes sense, then, to balance this kind of emotion with a Ghibli-like setting, to keep things from getting too overwhelming.

It also seems safe to say that the Ghibli style extends past the visuals and into the storytelling as well. Part of that could stem from the game’s distinct slice-of-life feel, something it also shares with many of Studio Ghibli’s works. It’s most prominent in the simulation aspect, where players guide Stella as she builds her boat and cares for her friends on board.

Those simulation and management elements are rewarding if complex. Yet for all of the moving parts, they aren't meant to overwhelm the player, but instead add layers of simplicity that grow into more robust wholes. 

... they’ve absolutely evolved since the beginning! Our initial references were farm-sim games like Harvest Moon, or more recently Stardew Valley. To a degree, [however,] our narrative style and our approach to NPCs encounter could be reminiscent of games such as Undertale or Night in the Woods.  

There is a sizable amount of platforming and exploration gameplay in Spiritfarer as well, which ties into the building boat building mechanics (the way the boat is built affects how sea events are played) or the various islands you get to explore.

It’s a lot to put into one game, a lot of different inspirations and styles. But Guérin says it’s all been carefully structured to ensure it never feels game-y or so it doesn’t distract from the core concepts. mechanics should only exist if they serve the purpose of the game experience and meaning. The ideas of transmission and legacy are at the center of the game message as well, supporting the concept of a positive outlook on passing away.

So the difference between, say, Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon and us, is that everything you do has been at some point taught to you by the spirits.

That extends to one of my favorite parts of what the demo offered: the hug mechanic. Stella can offer a hug to her passengers, and like in real life, sometimes they want it, but sometimes it annoys them. It seems such a small touch, but the impact in how it organically encourages you to view the spirits in your care is pretty substantial.

Including it was fairly organic as well, and Guérin mentioned it was basically impossible to create a game about care and empathy without including any kind of physical affection. Still, it wasn’t always planned from the start. 

Making a video game means a huge amount of trial and error, but as long as you know where you want to go, it evolves in the right direction.

As Stella interacted with the Spirits and had to take care of them, the hug mechanic just felt like a natural thing to do.

It’s clear how much effort and care have gone into every aspect of Spiritfarer, but there was still one thing that bothered me after the demo.

In the scenario, Stella is helping Summer the snake-monk build her ideal room for meditation and contemplation. Then, Summer surprises Stella by saying she knows it’s time for her to go. Stella’s reaction is brief, possibly too brief I thought at the time — a short, surprised look, a hand stretched out to Summer, and then it’s back to her usual smiling face. 

Any media creation runs the risk of being interpreted in ways the creator never intended, and I was concerned that death could seem as too cozy and natural for people playing it who might be at risk.

Guérin put those fears to rest, though:

I can safely say that death is definitely not portrayed as a cozy concept in Spiritfarer. Loss will be felt, and the coziness is what’s around it all, to help your feelings throughout.

With that in mind, I asked Guérin if he had any closing thoughts he wanted readers and eventual players of Spiritfarer to walk away with: 

We as individuals are the sum of all the ones that were here before us or exchanged with us during our lives, We should cherish the memories of others, and we should do our best to carry on their legacies.

Before We Leave Alpha Impressions: Less Cold War, and More Chill Peace Thu, 13 Feb 2020 15:39:20 -0500 RobertPIngram

Have you ever found yourself sitting around wishing that somebody would combine FalloutCivilizationWarcraft and Stardew Valley into one game? If you haven't, that's fair, because neither had I.

That changed once I got my hands on Before We Leave, the chill city-builder from Balancing Monkey Games. I was able to recently check out an alpha build of the game. While it currently doesn't have a release date on the Epic Games Store, I can say it's one you'll want to keep your eye on. 

Before We Leave Alpha Impressions — Not Your Father's Space Race

Before We Leave building tech tree in alpha.

For a game where a primary goal is to repair a rocket and realize interplanetary travel, Before We Leave doesn't exactly place you in control of a futuristic wonder-society. As your settlers emerge from their underground fallout shelter, they have access to advanced technologies like, uh, huts and potato farming.

Not only are your settlers not ready to tackle the final frontier, they still haven't quite mastered concepts like bridges or schooling, both of which require you to farm research and invest it in your tech tree to take advantage of them. Learning how to explore the starry sky isn't even your first explorational priority, with that instead reserved for finding a way to repair an old wooden boat and take to the seas in search of new lands to explore.

These new islands don't offer vastly new experiences from your starting territory, though the new desert and ice islands do provide the opportunity to gather new types of research and harvest new components.

They'll each also require you to build from the ground up again, establishing a set of base needs before progressing on to the more advanced buildings and jobs. Before you know it, however, you'll have a thriving world of multiple communities sharing resources through sea trading as you work closer and closer to that fateful flight.

Sit Back, Relax and Shoot for the Stars

Building and managing a colony near the ocean in Before We Leave.

As I mentioned above, there are a lot games that Before We Leave feels like, but none more so than Stardew Valley. It's for a few reasons, not only because with enough research your settlers can learn to harvest the immense power of gardening and cooking.

Sitting down to play a new planet in Before We Leave is a relaxing experience perfect for accompanying music or a background podcast. While developing a tech tree that will enable your people to take on new roles may be evocative of a real-time strategy game, you'll find none of the genre's urgency here.

There's no need to worry about a raiding band of Orcs coming to hack your citizens to death. In fact, there's no need to worry at all.

In my first playthrough, I accidentally expanded my new civilization on a desert island too far and failed to get the proper food-production in place before my citizens became too hungry to work. I may have gotten a bit distracted looking at my snowy island's new developments.

By the time I realized my mistake, they had all taken on the equivalent hunger of being 100 potatoes past-due for a meal. They weren't happy, sure, but they were still alive.

With no risk of death or mayhem, you're free to take the game at your own pace, however breezy that might be. When I first gained access to a ship I sailed around the entire planet, clearing out every hexagon of uncertainty, just to see what was out there. The whole thing took several minutes, even on a small planet build, and not once did I think about the civilization I left behind. They were fine, and they'd be waiting for me when I got back.

Rebooting Your Reboot

Exploring a map with a ship in Before We Leave.

When you load up a new game of Before We Leave, you get the chance to start civilization anew. Unfortunately, that doesn't always go as planned. The good news is there's always the next civilization.

When you start the game, you not only choose the size of your planet but also a seed number. This seed is used to procedurally generate a world. This means you can replay your last experience, should you so choose, or you can enter something new and explore a new world.

On another note, I've found the game's trade system in its current form a bit opaque. An easy fix came with my first holdup, a lack of clarity in regards to which side of a trade table to put the goods being swapped. On that front, I tried what seemed right based on the arrow graphics, saw the exact opposite of my intended trade happening, and swapped them.

Another area that tripped me up came when, in desperate need of food, nobody on my new island bothered to take it off the ship. And no one on the main island was loading more than one potato per trip. Ultimately, after throwing the game in 4x speed and trying for about 15 minutes to sort it out, I gave up.

I didn't stop playing, though, I just loaded up a new planet. With my podcast playing, I set about building a new civilization, once again learning to master elevators and glass as I built towards a future flight into space.

This is where the game is at its best. Games that allow you to relax and vent in a very-chill setting are growing in popularity, and Before We Leave is a fine option for scratching that itch.

If you've got 40 minutes to kill and don't feel like spending that time trying six times to beat the same Nioh boss, you can do a lot worse than poking your head out of the bomb shelter and seeing what you can build.

[Note: A copy of Before We Leave was provided by Balancing Monkey Games for the purpose of this impressions article.]

Awesome Fan Project Imagines Fire Emblem: Three Houses in GBA Style Tue, 11 Feb 2020 17:13:01 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Fire Emblem: Three Houses was a big leap forward for the franchise when it launched last year on Nintendo Switch, with grander stories, more characters, and a fully realized hub world. But not everyone has forgotten the series' golden days on the Game Boy Advance.

Dethraxx and the Three Houses Demake dev team aren't just re-imagining Three Houses in GBA style; they're remaking it.

The project started a few months back, with a mock-up of the Prologue battle and dialogue in GBA style. In December, the team took it further and re-created the entirety of Chapter 1 in the Blue Lions' route, including the scenes in Garrag Mach Monastery and the opening mock battle.

The game's log shows the team is at Chapter 5 as of now. Just the few videos made so far show the progress made with the Monastery, which no longer uses the "all units have moved, end phase" structure to let you move around.

However, the team is still in need of more animators and hasn't quite included all the character models yet, which I suspect is why Annette is a purple-bearded man in the Mock Battle video above.

Still, it's a clever project. The team recycled character models from Sacred Stones (some of which are, themselves, recycles from Blazing Blade), so we've got Dimitri built on Ephraim, Byleth from Eirika/Eliwood, and Lorenz is Amelia the knight-in-training (d'awww).

In addition to showing off even more changes, battle sequences, and improved models, the most recent video shows just how well the game's epic soundtrack translates into bit-tunes — which is to say, really, really well.

For now, the Demake dev team doesn't plan on releasing a ROM until the final product is finished, but there's talk of a Part 1 demo when they're able to make it happen. Though it's hard to complain when Nintendo protects its IPs and shuts fan projects down, here's hoping this one stays alive as long as possible.

The team posts regular updates on Discord, so you can follow along there. Stay tuned to GameSkinny as well, as we track the Fire Emblem: Three Houses demake evolution.

Hellpoint Hands-On Preview: Dark Souls Meets Event Horizon Tue, 11 Feb 2020 09:00:01 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Cryptic warnings and powerful enemies give way to an unforgiving difficulty and a whole lot of death in Hellpoint. If that sounds a lot like Dark Souls, you're on the right track. Hellpoint is an unapologetic homage to From Software's genre-defining masterpiece, and you'll immediately recognize several aspects of that influence at the start of the game.

While it's a bit reductive, Hellpoint can be summed up on a basic level as "Dark Souls in space."

Recently, we got our hands on a preview build of Hellpoint, and it definitely scratches the Souls itch. Those who aren't fans of the genre probably want to stay far away from this one.

Here's what we thought of our first foray into Hellpoint.

Hellpoint Hands-On Preview: This Place is a Tomb

Hellpoint is set on a gigantic space station called the Irid Novo. Something terrible has happened and piles of dead bodies lie all over the place. Most of the survivors attack you on sight and the few who don't mostly stay hidden or inaccessible. You must explore the station and unravel the mystery of what happened, all while fighting for survival against deadly enemies.

You play as something called a "Spawn," which is basically a 3D-printed body. You are created by a mysterious presence called the Author, and your purpose is to try and figure out what went wrong.

Whenever you die, you return as a newly-printed Spawn to the last breach you encountered. If you make it back to the place you died, you can pick up your Axions, which you use to level up. But if you die on the way back, they are lost for good.

Replace some of those words with others like hollow, bonfire, and souls and you have the basics of Dark Souls. But the similarities don't stop there.

Instead of glowing messages appearing on the walls and floors, Hellpoint features green, glowing handprints offering tips and advice. Your stats are essentially broken into the same categories as Dark Souls, but with different names. Exploration is rewarded, and information is often cryptic or misleading. Your character model changes as you equip ridiculous-looking armor and weapons.

Hell is Only a Word

From a gameplay standpoint, Hellpoint does differentiate itself from other games in the genre. In general, movement feels much less deliberate in Hellpoint. You move quickly, especially when you have lighter equipment loads. Dodging, rolling and sprinting feel much less chunky than you would expect, and some animations can even be canceled into another midstream.

This makes for a faster-paced, less-punishing style. You will still get destroyed  especially in boss fights  if you just hammer on buttons without thinking about what you're doing. However, I never once encountered one of those "instant death" moments where I pressed a button and watched in horror as things went completely belly up.

The other big difference between Hellpoint and other games like The Surge and Bloodborne, it the game's platforming aspect. There is a dedicated (and surprisingly springy) jump button, and several sections offer secrets and bonus items for those willing to jump off into the darkness.

I never encountered any extremely difficult platforming sections that were necessary to move forward, but that certainly doesn't mean the game doesn't have them. Expect at least one section of outrageous frustration where you repeatedly plummet to your death in the final version of Hellpoint, not to mention when invasions become available. 

Hell's More Fun with a Partner

One of the big draws of Hellpoint is cooperative play. In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, you can obviously summon other players to help you with a particularly nasty boss. Hellpoint will still have that asynchronous multiplayer mechanic, but it will also contain full-on cooperative play, both online and local.

Each player will play their own save file and the loot is shared. This type of cooperative play will pare down the difficulty a bit when tackling some of the nastier bosses, and it will be interesting to see how the community leverages it in other ways. 

It wasn't available in the preview build, but the developers have also promised co-op invasions in Hellpoint's final release. Invaders will be able to enter another player's game as a team and wage some truly epic fights. Sounds way tougher than any boss battle.

Do You See?

Obviously, the other big change from Dark Souls to Hellpoint is the setting. Instead of a gothic-medieval world, you'll get a gothic sci-fi world. 

"Real-time events" come with the orbiting space station. Time travels at a fixed pace in Hellpoint as the Irid Novo circles a black hole. When it passes at either far end of its orbit, strange things happen: enemies get tougher and more numerous, loot drops become more plentiful, new pathways open up, and mini-bosses can appear.

It's pings a nostalgic alarm from Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest, when the lighting changes and your compass warns you of the event, and it again gives you a little way to customize your difficulty. There probably are certain puzzles or foes that you will need to approach while this event is occurring, but you can mostly sit it out if you want to avoid the more powerful enemies.

Battle for the Cosmos

Hellpoint isn't the most original game I've ever played. It very much feels like a developer played a Souls-Borne game and said, "I want to make a game like that!" And that type of inspiration isn't necessarily a bad thing. The game's KickStarter certainly didn't shy away from the comparisons. 

But some choices could prove to be Hellpoint's undoing when it releases in full we're looking at you, jump button and there are definitely aspects of the game that are rough around the edges. We'll have to wait and see if some of those issues (such as animation problems and some strange in-game text) get ironed out or if they are here to stay.

That said, Hellpoint certainly looks like a worthy successor for those who want more brutal difficulty and a gothic atmosphere. Hellpoint has a release date of April 16 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Stay tuned for our review of the final product. Until then, keep this one on your radar.

Persona 5 Scramble Demo Gameplay Impressions: My Heart is Yours Fri, 07 Feb 2020 12:27:20 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

You might have heard, but there's a Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers demo out now on the Japanese eShop and PSN, ahead of the game's February 20 release in Japan. If you've got a user account set to the JP region, you can download it and get a taste of the game's (unfortunately) very brief opening segments.

We've followed P5S's progress pretty closely since it was first announced, and the mix of musou-style Warriors combat with Persona's deeper strategic combat intrigued me. I was curious with questions and was a bit concerned about how the two contrasting styles would mix.

Fortunately, the answers I got allayed (most) of those concerns.

School's Out for Summer 

Like any Persona game, there's a hefty setup in P5 Scramble. Obviously, it's all in Japanese, so your understanding of it will vary, but even someone with little-to-no Japanese knowledge can get the gist of what's going on with the characters and story.

It's the July following the events of Persona 5 (not Royal, which was developed concurrently with P5 S). Ren Amamiya returns to Yongen Jaya and Cafe Leblanc, reuniting with the Phantom Thieves. There's a new app for everyone's phones called Emma, distributed by the IT Company Maddice, which surely isn't significant in any way at all.

Even without a full understanding of what's going on during this initial reunion, it's immediately clear Persona 5 Scramble adopts a different tone from its predecessor, something more akin to Persona 4. Sure, Persona 5 has its slice-of-life scenes, but the overall atmosphere is much darker and tenser.

Everyone's already encountered and overcome their darkness, and it's time to hang out as a group of normal almost-college-kids who just so happen to have amazing superpowers. The cozier, warmer take on The Phantom Thieves is a refreshing change of pace as well, since Persona 5 came close to subjugating the protagonists' relationships to the overall story many times.

Silly anatomists. This is what a heart really looks like

That doesn't mean the overall plot takes a backseat like it often does in Persona 4, though, and it still offers poignant commentary on social issues. This time, it's related to the problems arising idolizing public figures, or more literally, when public figures take people's hearts.

And that's got me wanting to see how things unfold in the final product, because the tension between pursuing justice and pursuing public adoration was a constant theme in Persona 5.

Stories in Warriors crossover games tend to be fairly throwaway, variations of “Dark Power brought many heroes together because thing,” so this emphasis on story situates Persona 5 Scramble in a unique position. It’s not entirely surprising, given P5S is a direct sequel, but it is nice to finally see the musou genre’s potential used for something other than fluff.

Show Time

The uniqueness extends to combat as well. We’ve reported many times that Persona 5 Scramble combat is a hybrid of warriors hack-n’-slash and Persona’s ability and One More systems. It comes together in a pretty solid package, with just a hint of the usual malaise associated with Warriors button-mashing.

There’s a basic attack you can use alone or link with another move for some extra damage and variation. Ranged weapons make a return from Persona 5, and joy of joys, ammo replenishes as you go along.

On top of that, there’s a number of objects in the environment you can use to deal more damage or damage a wider area. It’s fast, loud, frenetic, and I love it.

The star of the show, and what makes P5 Scramble’s combat really stand out, is your Persona. As you’d expect, enemies are weak to different elements and attack types. Exploiting those weaknesses or scoring a Critical or Technical hit earns you a One More, but instead of another turn, you get a chance to deal extra damage in a move that affects all the enemies around that particular one.

Joker still retains the ability to wield multiple Personas, so switching between them and choosing the best attack is just as strategic as it was in Persona 5.

Same Ol' Musou?

But does it really require that much strategy? Well… sort of. The police grunts are basically trash mobs. Out of 20, one might try and hit you with a stick, but it’ll probably miss. The challenge ramps up when multiple Shadows are on the field, along with new machine foes boasting devastating AoE attacks.

However, with three other party members on the field, you typically don’t have much to worry about, at least in the opening stage. Here’s hoping it gets tougher as the game progresses.

Boss fights are where combat really shines. This is where you’ll really have to balance attack, evasion, item use, and SP conservation to pull through. Bosses also have a shield meter that, once breached, leads to a powerful All-Out Attack that are just as flashy and excellent as they were in Persona 5.

The kicker, though, is when your SP runs out or when you aren’t using special skills. Basic attacks just aren’t varied enough to be consistently fun. Even though you’ll be kept busy trying to stay out of harm’s way, the genre’s combat shortcomings end up poking holes in Persona 5 Scramble’s stylish and skillful balancing act.


It’s way too early to say whether this will be a game-breaker, though. I suspect the story segments will go far in keeping things from feeling too stale, even if combat ends up too easy throughout. Plus, if you’re already a Persona fan, then the joy of exploring Tokyo and beyond with the Phantom Thieves will probably be enough to help overlook minor issues.

Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers launches February 20 for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in Japan, though it currently has no Western release date. Stay tuned for more on the game in the future. 

Rustler Alpha Impressions: Stealin' Horses, Runnin' Into Trees Mon, 03 Feb 2020 17:54:40 -0500 Ty Arthur

If you loved the medieval-meets-classic-rock mashup of A Knight's Tale, there's a good chance you'll enjoy Rustler. It's a similar concept, except its ye olden days colliding with the rap-infused verve of Grand Theft Auto.

In Rustler, you get to live your medieval thug life to the fullest. You even get a hip-hop bard as your personal radio station and police-light flashing guards on horses chasing you down.

Essentially, Rustler aims to be the perfect combination of Kingdom Come Deliverance and Bully, all wrapped in old-school GTA style. It's a hilariously awesome concept that also happens to have one of the worst control schemes in gaming history. 

Rustler Alpha Impressions: Stealin' Horses, Runnin' Into Trees

       Seems like we had a good night

When I say "old-school GTA," I don't mean Trevor's meth-fueled shenanigans, Niko's tale of revenge, or Claude's Liberty-City rampages. I'm talking about the days when Grand Theft Auto was a 2D, top-down action game along the lines of Carmageddon.

The main guy (whose name is literally Guy) likes to get in trouble, but like most good criminals, he doesn't like to suffer the consequences of his actions. That's a terrible combo in a person, but a fantastic setup for a video game protagonist.

After a night of drunken debauchery, our erstwhile "hero" awakens to discover he's tagged a cow with the word "horse" and then somehow put said cow on a farmer's roof. We'll put aside all questions of where they got the spray paint or the crane...

After that opening, it's time to jump into an open-world where you steal horses, kill knights for gold, and try to outrun the law. The GTA references run strong throughout, like repainting your stolen cart at the local Pimp My Horse shop, only this time around Guy is using a crossbow instead of a gun.

Old-School isn't Always Better

     OK, maybe things got a *little* out of hand...

If that sounds like a great time, well, it is. Except the nostalgia wears off once you get into the actual meat and potatoes of Rustler's gameplay.

There's a reason the Resident Evil 2 remake ditched the "classic" PS1 camera and controls, and why GTA 5 plays nothing like the first two titles in the series.

To make a long story short, you will want to buy a wireless controller for your PC if you plan on playing Rustler for any length of time. In its current state, Rustler is woefully unplayable with a WASD control scheme.

The horse turns sluggishly, and "forward" is whatever direction the horse's head is facing, not whatever direction the mouse reticle is facing. The controls are bizarrely the total opposite when on foot, which makes it a massive pain to ride around on a horse.

Because of this insane reversal of movement, pressing "A" might turn your horse left, or it might turn right, depending on the direction you are facing and the current angle of the camera.

Exacerbating things, it's very difficult to see how close you are to the edges of obstacles. Combine the two and the end result is that you will constantly get stuck on trees (or anything else) during horse chases. The top-down camera and sluggish movement means you only see the leaves of a tree, not the actual trunk.

This problem persists in towns as well as the wilderness. Trying to leave a city on horseback via the southern gate? Well, that's going to be fun. The camera angle will ensure you can't ever actually see where the gate is supposed to be.

Get ready to fall off and stare at the ass end of your horse — a lot.

Rustler Alpha Impressions  The Bottom Line 

        Nailed it!

Rustler is still in alpha and has a few months of development left, so hopefully, these problems can be overcome.

As it stands, though, Rustler is really only for die-hard fans of the first two GTA games. Even if you love the concept here — and I do the current state of the game's mechanics is just a mess. Rustler needs a lot more time to iron out the kinks and smooth the interface before it will actually be fun to play.

It's a shame, too, because there are some hilarious shenanigans on display here from launching cows in a trebuchet to a horde of pop culture references that will elicit guffaws.

You can toss a coin to your rustler at the Kickstarter here. The development crew is seeking $18,877 and currently plans to wrap up production in Q4 2020 if the goal is met. 

We'll certainly be keeping this on our radar, so be sure to check back for more Rustler news as it gallops in. 

Disintegration Beta Impressions: Five Things at a Time Mon, 03 Feb 2020 14:59:53 -0500 John Schutt

Disintegration is the first game from V1 Interactive, a studio boasting top talent from some of the minds behind the Halo franchise. These are developers with long histories of writing and rewriting the rules of first-person-shooters, and their latest effort aims to do precisely that.

This new title is a lot of things, many of them good. We haven't seen a ton of what the game has to offer, as the beta only has two maps and two modes, but we do know it has a full suite of character classes and tons of mechanics to learn.

The question I have after playing the beta, though, is this: even with all the depth it offers, does Disintegration do enough to stand the test of time, or will it be a flash in the pan?

Disintegration Gameplay: A Lot to Take In

Whenever you play an FPS, your mind has to take a ton of information into account. Quickly. Your gun and its abilities. The layout of the map. Players' abilities to move about that map at a given speed. A special attack or two you can use provided the game has them. Other players' powers. The list goes on and on.

Disintegration takes those considerations and multiplies them tenfold.

The game puts you in command of a "crew," which consists of you controlling a "gravcycle" — a one-man hovering combat vehicle — and two to four AI-controlled ground-based units. You have to not only think about what your particular gravcycle is capable of, but also the abilities, health, speed, and status of your crew.

And no two crews are alike, though they do fall into the classic class-based categories of DPS, Healer, and Tank with one or two generalists in the mix. That said, you have to decide what kind of role you want to play, and how your crew can help maximize your ability to play it.

It's complicated. That doesn't mean it's bad; it just means it's dense. The shooting mechanics are solid, for example, and once you get used to some of their intricacies, you can and will be melting your opponents before they know what hit them.

The incorporation of a dash mechanic is also welcome, as no gravcycle moves fast enough on its own. The cooldown is significant, and I expect it to be tuned throughout the various beta phases Disintegration goes through. 

Each gravcycle attempts to be unique in some way. One of the healing types, for example, specializes in ground support, and the other focuses on keeping other gravcycles in the fight. Neither is well-equipped for a head-up engagement against the smaller, faster variants, but neither are they as squishy when it comes to tanking hits.

Those smaller bikes are a nuisance, as they should be, and in the hands of a competent player can and will shred even the hardiest foe.

I wouldn't call them unbalanced, per se, and we didn't have enough time in the game to know if anything's broken or not, but I can say with some certainty that even a single healer can completely change the game.

Moment to Moment

My biggest issue with Disintegration is not how its parts function together, but in how they act individually. The game seems to have significant depth when you take everything into account, but when looked at alone, things falter a bit. 

As much as I want to like the RTS-like elements the ground units bring to the game, combining the sporadic pace with a need to constantly control where and how your AI acts grows cumbersome quickly.

The AI itself is fairly effective if appropriately placed, and their abilities are surprisingly strong, so much so that they'll likely do at least some of your killing. They don't move with much intelligence and are more liable to get killed if you don't pay attention to them, however. The fact they can't use their more powerful attacks is also something of an annoyance, as I would have liked to set them to a particular action type and called it a day.

Sadly, doing that might exacerbate another problem. While mechanically sound, the shooting in Disintegration lacks punch and satisfaction. The only feedback you receive for hitting a target is a quiet sound and a hit marker. Without the more subtle touches present in games like Titanfall, older Call of Duty titles, and especially games like Halo, it quickly becomes un-fun to shoot at your targets.

Your gravcycle's abilities don't tend to make up for these shortcomings, either. Depending on which one you pick, you have one to three abilities, each on a cooldown once used. They're neither particularly powerful or effective, nor do they cover a wide area. For a game that tries to be both fast-paced and methodical in a single breath, you're often better off just planting them somewhere with some cover and doing the hard work yourself.

One-Way Streets

If you take each mechanic together, the game is serviceable enough, and I think there's more to like in it than, say, Modern Warfare. I can't say the same about its maps. 

We only saw two, but their design philosophy is as tired and limiting as they are drab to look at. There's nothing inherently wrong with the three-lane style, but you have to take your game's mechanics into account when you build a map. With the maps how they are now — just hallways with higher ceilings — there's nothing unique or crazy to do with the advanced movement of the gravcycle. 

If I were to guess, this important limitation keeps your ground units in line, especially from a programming standpoint. And that's a problem because a full half of Disintegration's map design now sits hamstrung by the gameplay and vice versa.

I'm flying around in a futuristic hoverbike armed to the teeth, and all I can muster is a short flight upwards and downwards and around the outsides of buildings? Where are the crazy tunnels and side paths, the boosters that give me some real speed? Where is the verticality? 

In a game with flying speeders, it's the saddest thing, and I don't know what the developers can do to address it if the maps are this far along in development. I have some hope that there'll be at least one more interesting map we can play in, but it's a faint hope. Most FPS betas lead with what developers think are their best maps, and if that's the case here, I don't know what to say.

Disintegration Beta Verdict

As Disintegration moves closer to release, I expect there to be additional beta periods either as technical tests or demos by another name. I know I've said a lot against the game here, but there is real fun to be had if you can get past the flaws.

I don't think this will be the game to obliterate the competition, of course. However, it's something to keep your eyes on, and it's worth 10 or 20 hours of good fun if it doesn't evolve much from the betas. Time will tell. 

Disintegration is set to release sometime this year for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on the game as it develops. 

[Note: A digital key of the Disintegration beta was provided by V1 Interactive for the purpose of this article.]

Temtem Isn't Really a "Pokemon MMO", But it Gives Us Hope Thu, 30 Jan 2020 15:03:17 -0500 Jonny Foster

With the mixed reception to Pokemon Sword and Shield still hanging in the air, Temtem burst onto the stage in late 2019 with a trailer that promised something... different. What it delivers in its Early Access release is a motley offering, but it's an extremely commendable beta with a lot of promise.

The prospect of a "Pokemon MMO" is certainly something fans have been clamoring for for decades now, and plucky indie developer Crema has built their Kickstarter project into something with real wide-reaching appeal. 

It's clear to see why, too; Temtem takes the creature collection genre that you know and love and improves various aspects of it. Almost all battles are 2-on-2, which adds strategic depth from the get-go, while the battle system features various tweaks that make it more interesting than Pokemon's tired formula.

Make no mistake, though, Temtem is a challenging title. There are rival tamers to battle everywhere, and they are anything but pushovers. Routes and caves are long and winding, as well, which is a breath of fresh air to anyone that's grown disenchanted with Pokemon's recent push towards simplified gameplay.

It's easy to read a description of the gameplay and dismiss Temtem as a knock-off or clone, but there's clearly a lot of love built into the world of Temtem. Whether it's the lush environments and colorful creatures, or the level design that so clearly hearkens back to the glory days of Pokemon, the game doesn't shy away from comparisons.

Like a spiritual successor built with real respect for the source material, Temtem knows its roots are heavily inspired by Nintendo's creation, but it's taking the formula somewhere Pokemon has refused to go thus far.

Unfortunately, this new direction definitely has its fair share of downsides. Server stress, maintenance, crashes, and more have plagued the opening weeks of Temtem's Early Access release.

A large portion of Pokemon players enjoy battling and training on their way to work or school, but the online-only design of Temtem denies such a possibility —without the use of a WiFi hotspot, of course. 

This is really my biggest complaint with Temtem. There have been numerous times I've wanted to log in while I have 30 minutes free, only to find the servers are under maintenance. 

The trade-off is meant to be this bustling world of tamers that you can meet and interact with, trade and battle with, show off your house to, and so on,
and while seeing other tamers running around the long grass with you feels exciting the first few times you see it, the novelty soon wears off.

Step into any house in one of the game's towns and you'll usually see 10 or more players huddled around the NPCs living there, cluttering up the screen and making it near-impossible to see who's who.

Temtem is built to be an online game and the developers are aiming for that "Pokemon MMO" fantasy, but this really does feel like Temtem's biggest weakness right now.

And sure, the servers are steadily getting more stable and the max player count is increasing, but you'll never be able to catch Temtem on the bus or level them up if you don't have a wireless connection. 

Still, the upside of an adventure that can be played entirely in co-op goes a long way towards making up for this, and teething problems are only natural when taking a beloved genre and turning it on its head. 

I truly hope that the future will be bright for Temtem, with future content such as customizable housing that should help improve the overall offering and justify the online-only architecture. 

For now, though, the asking price of $35 feels a little steep for what's included. Even though the gameplay is extremely fun, only around half of the game's promised content is currently available in the Early Access version. 

Most notably, only 76 Temtem can be found and caught at present, which somewhat detracts from the wonder of exploring remote islands and corners of the world when the patches of grass don't house exotic new Temtem for you to find. 

This is expected to rocket to 150+ by the time of the full release, though, with incremental content releases planned over the coming months. Once the game has reached a full release, we'll have a complete, scored review, but in the meantime, you can expect lots more Temtem coverage from GameSkinny. 

For a deeper look into how Temtem looks and plays, check out our Temtem vs Pokemon feature, or one of our other many guides and tips articles.  

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! Early Access Impressions: Deliciously Prepared Tue, 28 Jan 2020 13:43:33 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Oh no. There's a horde of hungry patrons standing outside the window.

Four of them want frozen bananas, which I have plenty of in the freezer. But two of them want an extremely complicated ramen dish, and two others want labor-intensive bahn mi sandwiches, which have to be prepped at a holding station.

Of course, as soon as any of them are served, another group of patrons will pop up and demand something completely new and, perhaps, just as labor-intensive. No rest for the wicked, they say.

This is the world of Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!, the game about food that has a title as elaborate as its most involved dish. 

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! Early Access Impressions: 

Don't let the cartoonish look of Cook Serve Delicious 3 fool you. It's a cooking sim that will throw the kitchen table at you, forcing split-second recollection and careful time management. This is a series that keeps you spinning plates for as long as you can. Inevitably, some of them are going to fall.

Luckily, Cook Serve games still manage to stay fun even when disgruntled customers are walking away with the wrong orders. And that's still the case with Cook Serve 3

Here's how it works: you are the chef, and you have a food truck. Every day, you hit the road to serve the hungry masses. You design the menu based off of a few specific parameters (maybe a certain style of food, or a point value difficulty for the entire menu) and try to survive the rush as dozens of people order food from you.

For all its complexity, it takes a few simple keystrokes to make food in Cook Serve Delicious 3. For example, you make a cheese papusa by hitting "D" to place the dough, "L" to flatten it, "C" to place the cheese, "F" to fold the dough over, and "Enter" to cook. After about 10 seconds, it's ready to serve. Easy, right?

Making one certainly is. But then six people want papusas. And they don't all want cheese. Some want pork. Or chicken. Or beans. And they are all ordering at the same time.

The difficulty here isn't necessarily making the food, it's the analyzation required to who is closest to walking away from the window angrily telling their friends to never order from the Cook Serve Delicious food truck again. 

The Best Kind of Stress

Consequently, playing Cook Serve Delicious 3 can be extremely stressful, but it always manages to stay entertaining. The food truck setting means you get little breaks in the action as you drive from one stop to the next, giving you a bit of time between adrenaline spikes (and replicating the lunch and dinner rushes from previous games).

You'll still have things to do as you move from stop to stop, too, like replenishing holding stations and setting up meals you know you'll need. Despite being on the move, Cook Serve 3 does a good job of replicating the real-world restaurant experience of the calm before the storm.

It helps that getting dialed in and really learning all of the game's dishes cooks up a delicious dopamine rush. Cook Serve Delicious 3 has a way of getting you in that transcendent, reactive gaming zone.

By being able to customize the menu (and switch back and forth between "Standard" and "Chill" difficulties at will), you can also easily determine how stressful you're going to make things. It can be great to slow things down when you're trying some new dishes, then ramp it up to see if you can handle the heat.

An Evolving Menu

While the core gameplay of Cook Serve Delicious 3 is the same as we've seen in past iterations, changing settings does bring some other welcome modifications to the game, mostly in its presentation and story.

Set in the future where it seems corporate restaurants have essentially taken over the world, the massive tower that houses your restaurant is blown up (!), destroying everything inside. A pair of robot ambulance drivers named Whisk and Cleaver (!!) come to pick through the wreckage and look for survivors, finding you. Logically, they turn their ambulance into a food truck so you can continue bringing your culinary masterpieces to the world.

To say it's... bizarre ... is an understatement. 

However, Whisk and Cleaver are more than just plot elements: they also help you serve the hungry people. Though you can still serve directly as in the old games, you can also tap a single key and your robot staff will hand out dishes at the ready. This addition is a lifesaver when the rush shows no sign of slowing, providing you a tiny bit of respite in an otherwise stressful gameplay loop.

In addition, Whisk and Cleaver are both fully voiced, warning you of upcoming stops as you prepare dishes and offering advice while food is being served. It's fairly helpful, as you don't have to stop and read while focusing on prepping your dishes.

Finally, the food truck focus allows the developers to bring in some extremely esoteric dishes. Cook Serve Delicious 3 has a massive selection of both street cuisine and regular dishes from all over the world. Sure, you could dish up pretzels, chicken strips, and pizza, but it could also be interesting to put chakalaka, rote grutze, sisig, and medovik on the menu to see how everything goes.

If you're an interested foodie, there's also a description of each dish, including its country of origin and the basics of how it's made. You could bring some of your in-game ideas home to try out!


Even though Cook Serve Delicious 3 is only in Early Access, the game itself is in a pretty good state. I didn't encounter any stability issues or game-breaking bugs in my time with it.

Some of the content isn't quite there yet  some of the dishes are listed but cant' be prepared, and some of the areas and features have yet to be implemented. But the game makes these omissions clear. Vertigo Gaming has a pretty good track record of being transparent with their community and providing plenty of (free) content updates to the CSD series, so this shouldn't be a big issue.

In essence, the biggest Cook Serve Delicious 3's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness: it's more Cook Serve Delicious. The series has shown surprising longevity, and its blend of interesting customization and face-paced gameplay remains strong.

On top of all that, it will make you hungry  some of the dishes look really yummy, even in the game's cartoonish art style. It's clear that the designers of Cook Serve Delicious 3 have a love for food and food culture, and hope to impart that love on its players.

If you've already cracked the first two games and need another CSD fix, we can't recommend Cook Serve Delicious 3 enough. Don't fear the Early Access label on this one.

Warhammer Underworlds: Online Impressions — Does the Dice Roll Payoff? Tue, 28 Jan 2020 11:00:01 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Slicing its way into Early Access on January 28, Warhammer Underworlds: Online is a lovely recreation of the competitive tabletop game originally released as Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire in 2011. The game has seen plenty of growth with steady expansion releases from Games Workshop. Though it has a lot of moving parts, it has some aspects that could help it stand out when it sees a full release. 

Warhammer Underworlds: Online Impressions — Assemble the Warband

In Warhammer Underworlds: Online, you build a small force from a faction called a warband. Currently, there are four such factions in the game. In the tabletop version, there are more than twice that number, and hopefully, we'll see more added here as time goes on.

Right now, though, players have access to Steelheart's Champions, Magore's Fiends, Sepulchral Guard, and Ironskull's Boyz. The warband you choose will help shape your strategy because it will limit the unite you have available. However, it won't completely define it.

For example, Steelheart's Champions only have three units to choose from, but they all hit hard and can take a lot of damage. On the other hand, the Sepulchral Guard uses many weaker units in an attempt to overwhelm opponents and attack from every angle. Without having any concept of the metagame, simply choosing a warband can be a daunting task.

And there's still plenty more to do than just that.

You also need to build a few decks in Warhammer Underworlds: Online. One deck includes bonus attacks, stat-boosting cards, and tricks to help you win in fights. Again, there are cards specific to each warband as well as cards that fall into the realm of "generically universal."

What's more, you will also need to put together your objective deck. This is how you'll actually score points to win a match in WUO. Some objectives are simple (such as "stand on a specific space at the end of the round to earn a point") while others are extremely difficult to achieve, often making them worth many more points.

All of this is done before you even start playing. Luckily, there are "starter decks" to help you dive right in if you don't want to spend the time building your own.

Outwitting Your Opponents

Each match of Warhammer Underworlds: Online is played over three rounds, and each round consists of four "activations." Activations can be a move, an attack, a charge (which is a move plus an attack), or a special ability. An individual unit cannot use the same activation more than once in a given round, so must be strategic about which units you're activating and in which order.

At the end of each round, each player will have a chance to score based off of their objective cards, then the next round begins. Of course, whoever has the most points at the end of three rounds wins.

Though it sounds relatively simple, there are a lot of wrinkles involved. Since you build your decks, you'll have access to all sorts of special attacks and abilities to mess up your opponent's plans. You'll also be the only one who knows how your deck will actually score points.

You won't have all of your objectives in your hand, though. Some are buried in your deck, and you'll randomly draw three at the start of the round. This means your objectives can switch on the fly, adding a lot of variability to each match.

Each Warband has a strategy they favor as well. You can try to suss out how your opponent wants to score based off of their unit composition and their behavior during rounds. At the same time, maybe they're just goading you in so you think they're trying to do something when, in actuality, they're trying to do something completely different. 

Therein lies the fun of Warhammer Underworlds: Online. Having just enough time to keep your opponent guessing adds nuance to each encounter. Sometimes you'll want to start scoring immediately and build up an insurmountable advantage. Sometimes you'll want to play for one massive, endgame objective. And sometimes you'll just want to kill your opponent's units so they can't accomplish anything.

Unsurprisingly, dice are used in combat. Each unit has a number of dice they roll for attacking and a number they roll for defense. If you manage more successes than your opponent, you'll deal damage, and you'll gain a victory point for every unit you take down.

Combat, like the rest of the game, can seem a bit daunting at first, but you'll most likely catch on quick. Though there are a lot of intricacies that can be tough to figure out, consulting the rules often moves things along.

Due to how many small customization elements are available, there is a ton of room for a competitive scene to grow around this game. Matches play pretty quickly, and everything feels balanced once you've gotten the hang of the different warbands and their capabilities. 

Rulebooks and Rulers

Almost everything about Warhammer Underworlds: Online is a slam dunk right now. It looks great, it recreates the tabletop game well, and it has a lot of room to grow. If you have friends who play the tabletop game who you can't always meet in person, or if you're looking for a competitive, turn-based skirmish game to obsess over, this is right up your alley.

It's got a little bit of everything. Pregame strategy and deck building. Dice combat. Quick, competitive games. Plenty of turn-based strategy. If you want to treat this as the virtual version of the tabletop game, pick this up. 

That said, it is still very early in development. For example, when you load up the tutorial, the game will teach you about placing and moving units. It will run you through some combat scenarios, too. But when you load your first game, you may be shocked to discover board choice, cards, objectives, special combat rules, and more — all things the tutorial conveniently forgot to mention.

This has to be something the developers plan on adding in as the game moves forward, but you're going to have to do some online rulebook reading if you want to learn how to play beyond the very basics.

We're excited to see how Warhammer Underworlds: Online develops, and we'll have more on the game as it moves forward. For more games to satiate your thirst for digital tabletop games, be sure to check out our list of the 12 best board games currently on Steam

My Hero Academia: One's Justice 2 Preview — Quirks of the Trade Tue, 28 Jan 2020 10:15:01 -0500 Jason Coles

My Hero Academia is, undoubtedly, one of the best anime in recent memory. The combination of an incredibly earnest hero, involving plotlines, and a fair few twists adds up to create an excellent series. My Hero Academia: One's Justice 2 is an arena-fighter that follows along with the current story arc, at least at the time of writing. It's also the follow-up to 2018's My Hero One's Justice

For the most part, what that means is there are a bunch of new characters, with the likes of Overhaul, Sir Nighteye, and even the Big Three all being present as playable fighters. That's exciting stuff for MHA fans, and it should be too: getting your hands on your new favorite character(s) and learning their attacks is always a treat. 

United States of Smash

The combat in One's Justice 2 is very similar to the combat in One's Justice, which makes sense. It is a sequel after all. 

You choose one main character and two support characters to battle it out in arenas based on places in the anime. One of the big draws here, though, is the ability to properly wreak havoc in these arenas  and even destroy them. 

Destroying parts of an arena might simply make it open up a bit more, but it can actually lead to you falling through the crumbling floor and landing in a different level. It's a cool touch that helps capture the power of each of the combatants in a way that feels true to the show. One of our biggest gripes about the first One's Justice is that it didn't quite feel true to the show. 

The combat itself is fairly simple but probably has enough to keep you playing if you fancy something a lot less intense than Dragon Ball FighterZ, for example. You've got your basic attack, a handful of special moves, and the ability to block. You can summon your support characters to do one of their special attacks, and you can, depending on which characters you've chosen, perform a special attack as a team. But you'll need to have a good idea as to what those teams should be as it's not easily discovered. 

Breaking Down The Walls

The complexity of One's Justice 2 comes mostly from learning when to use your special attacks instead of learning complex combos. 

The real draw here is getting to play as your favorite heroes and villains, and watching how their unique quirks are transposed into a game. This is especially true of someone like Sir Nighteye, whose ability allows him to see the future of those he makes eye contact with. This manifests in the game in a cool counter move; it's good enough to make you feel as though each character was given a fair treatment. 

It's also worth noting the game's new 2v2 mode, which allows four players to duke it out against each other as teams, but all at the same time. That could be the biggest new addition here, and it could well change how much fun can be had. 

The longevity of a title like this depends on things like post-launch support and also the online community. Though, I really think this style of game benefits most if you've got friends you like to play against.

I don't think My Hero Academia: One's Justice 2 will ever be at EVO, but I do think it'll keep a lot of people entertained with its pretty visuals, great character diversity, and explosive over-the-top anime combat. 

Stay tuned for more on My Hero Academia: One's Justice 2 as we get closer to the game's March 13 release on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. 

One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is Funny and Chaotic Tue, 28 Jan 2020 10:15:01 -0500 Jason Coles

Nearly all anime heroes are obnoxiously over-powered. It's such a fact of life that the whole point of One Punch Man is to satirize it. The anime follows Saitama, who is so absurdly strong that a single punch is enough to obliterate his enemies. Frankly, he's bored by it, and playing as him wouldn't be all that much fun.

That's the idea at the center of One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows: it's more interesting to be a character who isn't unbeatable. 

So, to keep things interesting, you play as an unknown hero, one that you get to create yourself. This is where you'll realize that this isn't a game interested in taking itself seriously. You can equip all sorts of nonsense items. Want a horse head on your shoulder? You got it. Want an octopus on your face. No problem! How about bright-orange skin and blue hair? Damn straight.

There are Some Who Call Him, Tim

Your choices in A Hero Nobody Knows will eventually lead the Hero Association to give you a name. Of course, you can change this name, but they're fairly funny. Mine, for example, was Mole Feet, on account of the mole feet that my character had. 

You then run through tutorials that introduce you to the game's combat mechanics. You've got weak attacks, strong attacks, charge attacks, sweep attacks, launching attacks, and special attacks. You can guard and dodge too, just for balance. It's easy to learn, but it felt as though there is actually a bit of depth to it all. 

Part of that feeling of complexity came from further character customization. You can choose to be a different kind of hero; maybe you prefer speed over power or vice versa. Either way, your decisions dictate the moves you can use and your abilities in battle. 

You can go even further than that, though; you can actually choose different special moves that are based on other heroes. So, you can take the Consecutive Normal Punches from Saitama while also having a counterattack taken from Silverfang. It's fun, and it means that you can constantly tweak your character as you go through the game. 

You level up too, which means stats... which also means that heroes who outrank you, to begin with, can eventually become child's play if you train enough. 

Chaos Reigns

The combat itself allows for up to three fighters to duke it out against three other fighters — but only one at a time. Things get interesting, though, when it comes to balancing the power-level of these characters.

Due to the sheer, overwhelming strength of someone like Saitama, he isn't available immediately if you pick him. What happens instead is that he'll turn up to the fight late, meaning you'll have to try and survive using your two characters against the other team's three characters. 

It's a really cool system that allows for some potentially interesting strategies involving picking lower-level characters just to have an extra body. It's not the only chaotic wrinkle to the battle system, though. 

The world of One Punch Man is one of regular world-destroying events. It's the reason there is a Hero Association. So, to help represent this in the game, these events can happen at random during battles.

You can be just about to launch a massive combo, only to see a warning about meteors approaching the city. You've then got to try and dodge said meteors as they collide with the battlefield around you. It's pure chaos, and, in a similar way to Smash Bros, you can choose to turn them off if you'd rather just have a normal fight. 

As of now, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows feels good to play, and I'm really itching to start off the adventure again with my own custom hero, just to see how the story unfolds.

You're not the main hero of the world's story, that's Saitama, but you're still the main hero in your own story. It's a fascinating take on things, and the combat felt like a lot of fun. It all depends on pacing, really, although the multiplayer probably won't have that issue. 

We'll see how things pan out when One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows launches on February 27 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. 

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is Dynasty Warriors but BIG Tue, 28 Jan 2020 10:15:01 -0500 Jason Coles

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is the latest entry in the punch and slash series, and while it's not actually out yet, I've had a chance to play it. And let me tell you: I have some thoughts. 

If you've never played a Pirate Warrior game, just imagine Dynasty Warriors but with the One Piece characters. If you've never played a Dynasty Warriors game, then all you really need to know is that they're all about cutting down hundreds of enemies in completely over-the-top fashion while capturing bases and whatnot on each map. 

If you've never heard of One Piece, then honestly, just Google it. It's about pirates and the importance of a well-rounded diet that includes fruit. Also, there are swords and straw hats, and very odd body types. 

Yes, but BIGGER

Anyway, aside from the usual draws of just punching stuff into oblivion, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 offers new giant characters. These are characters like Big Mom, Katakuri, and Cavendish. 

While the Warriors games are always about cutting through hordes as though they were nothing, the giant characters make it feel a little more believable. You tower over the other characters — I'm talking being a good 10 feet taller than everyone else — and it makes defeating 40 of them with a single attack far easier to digest.

Not that realism is the focus of these games in any way at all; it's just something to consider when playing as a character called Big Mom. 

Though I only got to play on a level that is entirely made of cakes and sweets and only as one of these absolute units, I can tell you that these new characters are intriguing at the very least. 

I'm Running Into the God Damn Walls

The sheer size of these larger-than-life-but-actually-larger characters makes the game feel different. Generally speaking, Pirate Warriors maps are quite large, and making your way around them can take a fair bit of time as a result. That's not the case thanks to the scale difference here, so it made the map feel almost claustrophobic in places during my playthrough. 

The feeling of being stuffed into trousers three sizes too small comes into play with some of the abilities too. Katakuri has an ability that lets him skate around on a mountain of whipped cream (I think), which carries him forward at a decent rate. The trouble is that you end up getting stuck on walls and dead-ends, especially as things don't feel as clearly marked as when you're the same height as everyone else. 

It's still a lot of fun, and the abilities are wonderful. For example, making a huge pile of cream (SFW) explode and take out a bunch of enemies is good fun.

I'm sure One Piece fans will be incredibly excited by the prospect of diving back into another one of these titles, but it's hard to say what's here for new fans or new players. It will be interesting to see how it pans out, but I'm sure it'll find a fanbase either way. 

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 as it develops. The game is set for a March 27 release on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. 

Watch 15-Minutes Of Brand New Doom: Eternal Gameplay Thu, 23 Jan 2020 17:05:44 -0500 David Jagneaux

Doom Eternal is shaping up to be one hell of a good time. At a recent preview event, I got the chance to play the first three hours of the game and came away with a big, stupid smile on my face.

Of those three hours, only the last hour was allowed to be captured and then, only 15 of those 60 minutes could be uploaded in a video. So, I went through it all and found some of the best highlights. There's a good mixture of gore, super-fast combat, and some non-combat moments to mix things up a bit.

One of the most notable things about Doom Eternal is just how slick and clean it looks and feels. Despite the speed and intensity of it all, I never really felt overwhelmed because id has done such a remarkable job doling out new abilities and upgrades gradually over time. 

But it doesn't shy away from kicking you in the teeth and throwing the full wrath of Hell's forces at you from the very start. I've long proclaimed that a good shotgun makes any game better, and Doom basically invented the specific way a video game shotgun should feel. Now in Doom Eternal, it's cranking things up even higher.

In terms of structure, level layouts in Doom Eternal seem way more streamlined with less confusion, but the game as a whole doesn't feel dumber. There's still plenty of depth and challenge here, it's just not hidden behind wave battles or poorly laid out maps. 

At the very end of the video above, you'll get to see me take control of a Revenant Drone enemy that can boost around and shoot rockets down at demons. It also serves as a preview of what the asymmetrical multiplayer could be like with some players taking control of enemies during a match against a single Doom Slayer.

Doom Eternal drops on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia on March 20. There's also a Nintendo Switch version planned for sometime later this year. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on Doom Eternal, as well as our review of the game when it launches. 

Doom Eternal Hands-On Preview: Becoming the Ultimate Badass Tue, 21 Jan 2020 10:36:21 -0500 David Jagneaux

Most people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I really enjoyed the 2016 Doom reboot, but I didn’t actually finish it. I could make excuses and say it’s because I got busy and a lot of games came out around that time — which is true — but if I’m being honest, the real reason is that I just didn’t love it.

I found the levels too large and lacking direction. Waypoints were confusing and difficult to discern. Combat was just waves with little encounter variety. Upgrades and overall progression felt too flat and, above all else, it just got repetitive. Doom Eternal seems to fix pretty much all of that.

For fans of the franchise, the core of what makes Doom, well, Doom, is still very much here. The action is incredibly fast-paced, violence is over-the-top and satisfying, and all of the weapons feel distinct and powerful. But id has also streamlined the levels. They've mixed things up more with platforming sprinkled around big, chaotic fights, adding in some inventive new mechanics for good measure. Needless to say, Doom Eternal is easily now among my most anticipated games of the year.

Doom Eternal Preview: Streamlining Without Simplifying

For this preview event, I got to play the first three hours of Doom Eternal, and I’m more convinced than ever it’s going to exceed most people’s expectations. When I first got to play a chunk of it at E3 2019 last year, I came away impressed. But now I'm eagerly counting down the days until I can rip and tear my way through the beasts of Hell once again.

The differences between Doom: Eternal and Doom 2016 are immediately apparent. For starters, missions are much more straightforward and linear than in the previous title. Objectives are always clear and in my time with the preview, I never got lost or turned around for more than a few seconds.

For me, it meant the action felt much more relentless, which is great, but still well-paced overall. Additionally, it meant I had an incentive to go off the path and explore more because I always knew where I was headed.

As much as I love and appreciate a good open world, I don't think every game needs to be bigger and wider to be better. In our industry's quest to cram as much "content" into games as possible, many publishers seem to have lost sight of good game design.

Doom: Eternal is a gleeful return to an era when reloading wasn't needed because you were too busy blowing off heads. In those moments, the utter ballet of blood and bullets was a sight to behold. That's true here, too. 

id Software has managed to replicate that without sacrificing the depth of what makes Doom great. There are still tons of upgrade paths here, they're just more clear in terms of what they do. Levels are still massive with lots of hidden secrets, but the main path through is less aimless. It's just better in basically every way.

Brutal Arsenal

Killing things in Doom: Eternal isn't just cathartic, it taps into a special flow state that you don't find very often in video games anymore. The closest modern example I can think of besides a few moments in Doom 2016 would have to be Bulletstorm, but even that game suffered from some of the same problems as Doom 2016.

As I became more powerful, unlocked more weapons, and got used to the wide variety of enemies present in Doom Eternal, it felt less like I was reacting to the game and more like I was flowing in unison with the carnage. Chaining together headshots, double jumps, side dashes, slow-motion scopes in the air, and lopping off heads with chainsaws was all just plain euphoric. 

And I enjoyed all of the platforming segments far more than I expected. Mixing together double jumps, air dashes, slow-motion movement, wall climbs, swinging bars, and eventually, the Super Shotgun with its new grappling hook resulted in a surprisingly precise and exciting interpretation of video game platforming mechanics. I'm not sure how much more id can do with that system beyond the first few hours, but I'm excited to find out.

Multiple Paths for Progression

The most staggering part of my Doom: Eternal demo was just how many upgrade paths became available to Doom Guy. Each weapon, of course, has mods that can be assigned to do things like turn the shotgun into an automatic weapon or put a scope on the assault rifle for precision shots, but then those mods can be further optimized and upgraded as well.

On top of that are Crystal suit upgrades that beef up your health, ammo capacity, and shield charge all while adding additional perks on top of general gameplay, like making enemies drop more ammo on death. Then you've also got runes to slot into different skills and Praetor suit upgrades that are more iterative over the course of the game itself. 

Each level even has optional Slayer Gate encounters for adding extra challenge on top of the specific Challenge objectives on each mission as well. Playing through the main story from start to finish looks like it will be a beefy undertaking in and of itself, but when you add in all of the upgrades and side content and extra challenges, it's completely bewildering — and I mean that in the best way possible.

[This preview is based on hands-on time with Doom: Eternal on PC at a Bethesda press event held in San Francisco, California.]

Streamer Attempts to Fart in Mic, Poops Self Instead Mon, 20 Jan 2020 16:13:36 -0500 Tobbpitt

I'm not sure what would possess someone to fart into their mic while streaming, and I don't want to know. All I want is to witness that sweet sweet shame from doing a little more than farting if you catch my drift.

There are a number of examples of streamers farting and accidentally soiling themselves on stream, but this isn't American Dad's first rodeo based on those brown stains on his pants.


When you're at a point when you've got what appear to be poop stains all on the seat of your pants, and you think it's a good idea to shove a mic against your groin and give a little boot toot and instead get the boot sloop, you may have lost control of your life.

I'm not going to judge too harshly. Perhaps he should see a doctor? Or maybe, you know, not try to push out a fart for an audience.

Pokemon vs TemTem — What are the Big Differences You Need to Know About? Mon, 13 Jan 2020 10:45:15 -0500 Jonny Foster

TemTem, the Kickstarter-backed creature collection MMORPG, is just over a  week from release, and we've been hands-on with the Alpha. After spending some time with the game, it's more than apparent the game wear's its Pokemon inspirations on its sleeve. But what are the biggest differences between Temtem and Pokemon?  

The Early Access Steam release — coming January 21 — will bring some changes along with it, so we won't be posting our full impressions until we've had some time with the latest patch.

In the meantime, however, we thought it would be best to summarize some of the main differences between TemTem and the ever-familiar Pokemon series. Can it teach an old dog some new tricks? 

The Way Things Used To Be

Let's start with some elements TemTem has included that old-school fans of the Pokemon franchise will be happy to see return.

Routes between towns in TemTem are long and winding, with tamers hungry to battle you and treacherous long grass everywhere. The Gyms — or Dojos, as they’re known here — also features extravagant puzzles. 

These may seem like small differences at a glance, but when you compare the routes to Pokemon Sword and Shield, the contrast is night and day.

This is facilitated by a rechargeable Temessence Phial, which you acquire early on in your adventure, providing you with a free team-wide revive and heal every time you visit a Temporium — the equivalent of a Pokemart and a Pokecenter, combined in TemTem.

The changes aren't all positive, though. TemTem being a fresh indie project means that we'll only have 100 to 150 creatures to catch and collect at first, which may excite some to return to the "Gen 1 days", but it does mean you'll run into the same Temtem quite often.

A Different Way To Battle

We'll have a dedicated guide going up soon to discuss how the battle system works in TemTem, but there's more than a few differences that may trip up Pokemon veterans. 

The biggest differences include 12 types instead of the 18 types we have in Pokemon, some of which are new, have new names, or have entirely different strengths and weaknesses than you'd expect.

There are also 14 status conditions in Temtem, many of which are brand new. They're not permanent, though, so you'll only be poisoned for 2-4 turns, for example, while Sleep ends as soon as the afflicted Temtem is struck by an attack.

Your Temtem also have a Stamina bar, and each move costs a small amount of Stamina to use, while battles are almost always 2v2 in TemTem, further mixing up the formula from what you may know and expect.

These changes are fairly large and impactful, but the smaller differences can still really trip you up.

For instance, Temtem only evolve after you've owned them for a certain number of levels. So catching a higher-leveled Temtem will mean it takes longer to evolve it. They can also evolve mid-battle, now, rather than waiting until the end of a battle.

On the other hand, you have to wait until the end of the turn before experience points are given out. This means that if you KO an opponent's Temtem but they KO one of yours in the same turn, your Temtem that feints gets no XP for its take-down

TemTem is filled with small tweaks like this that may excite or aggravate you, so you may need to spend some time with the game before you can really decide whether it's right for you. 

Multiplatform Online MMO

We've talked about how TemTem is similar to Pokemon, while tweaking the formula slightly. Now let's talk about some of the things that make TemTem truly different.

Firstly, while the Early Access release is exclusive to Steam, TemTem will be multiplatform. No exclusivity to Nintendo consoles — though, a Switch release is planned — means there's opportunity to reach a much larger playerbase. 

Speaking of, TemTem is also a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG, so you'll be able to see other tamers running around the same patches of grass, fighting the same Dojo leaders, and so on. There's a chat box to speak to the people you meet, and you can even play the entire game in co-op mode!  

This does mean the game needs a constant internet connection, unfortunately, which is a real shame. You don't have to engage with anyone else and can play as if the game is a singleplayer adventure, but only if you've got WiFi (and the servers don't go down.) 

On the plus side, however, the MMO aspect brings a new dimension to the creature-collection genre, blending in a diverse character creator and customizable homes, which gives TemTem an Animal Crossing vibe.

A Contender to the Throne?

Only time will tell how successful TemTem will be. I've certainly seen ambitious statements online about how it will be a Pokemon-killer, which is a little extreme, honestly. 

Crema is a small indie developer, and though their previous title — Immortal Redneck — received a lot of praise, they just don't have the might or funds to stand up to one of the biggest media franchises in the world. 

Personally, I had a lot of fun playing TemTem, and I loved a lot of the subtle differences and new developments that help freshen up what's become quite a stale formula.

Others may find that it just isn't the same without the specific cuddly critters that they grew up with, though. It's all up to preference, and while it's early days to be sizing up TemTem's creature-collector crown, there's oodles of promise in this charming title. 

We have lots more TemTem coverage coming in the following weeks, including a full Impressions piece, a Battle Guide, and much more, so be sure to check back regularly! 

Conan Chop Chop Early Access Impressions: See Them Driven Before You Fri, 10 Jan 2020 14:09:00 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Conan Chop Chop is a quirky, odd beast. It's a roguelite that plays like a combination of Castle Crashers and the original Legend of Zelda, but it has an art style reminiscent of the webcomic Cyanide and Happiness. Despite its cute aesthetic, Conan Chop Chop is also set in the world of Conan the Barbarian. Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, etc., etc.

Conan Chop Chop started out as an April Fool's joke and eventually evolved into a full-blown game. It sets out to press all of the same buttons as your favorite arcade brawlers. Here's what we think of the game as it moves toward its late-February release.

Slice and Dice

Here's how Conan Chop Chop plays out so far: the evil wizard Thoth-Amon summons a demon, and Conan (and friends!) have to stop it. You and up to three friends take control of these characters and run around an overhead map. You kill enemies with swords, axes, and spears, collecting treasure, and eventually make your way through some bosses before squaring off against the big bad.

If you die, you restart, possibly unlocking new weapons, armor, and skills that you'll be able to pick up in your next run. It's fast and breezy. It's also surprisingly difficult, at least on single-player.

In multiplayer, when someone's health hits zero, they drop all of their treasure and lie there until another player revives them. This can bring about a pretty fun metagame of trying to halfheartedly screw over your teammates so they get knocked out, allowing you to pick up their treasure before resuscitating them. Just know they'll be looking to do the same thing before long.

In single-player, you're done when your health hits zero. Some enemies have lightning-fast attacks and, if you get swarmed, death can come swiftly. Once you've figured out the game's combat a bit (and lucked into a decent starting weapon), things will start to fall into place.

The Art of Combat

For as simple as it looks, there's some pretty solid nuance to the combat in Conan Chop Chop. You have an overhead view of each screen, and you move between screens like you would in Legend of Zelda. You can only attack to the left or right, but you can angle your attacks up or down. Doing so essentially gives you six different attack angles. It is frustrating not being able to attack directly up or down, but them's the breaks.

You also have some sub-weapons at your disposal, like bows and bombs, and you can learn a few special moves and combos. Finally, you can also equip a few charms to give your character special abilities. You can set enemies on fire, resist poison, increase how much treasure you earn, and so forth.

Essentially, there are a lot of small ways to customize how you play Conan Chop Chop, adding up to big changes in style. This makes the multiplayer even more interesting  when these choices get multiplied across several players.

Running the Gauntlet

In order to get the chance to take down Thoth-Amon, you first have to set out across several different zones and defeat the bosses there first. You'll traverse through procedurally generated maps, searching for different dungeons. Each dungeon houses a giant, dangerous foe and a special artifact to collect that will help you advance through the next area.

You'll be able to fast travel between the central hub town and all of these dungeons, so you can always equip yourself with new gear and get more potions, for example, before delving in.

In general, bosses aren't terribly difficult. They hit hard and take up a lot of real estate, but a little bit of sitting back and playing defense will usually give you all the info you need to take them down. Block and dodge until you figure out how they move, then go in for the kill.

Bosses are even easier if you manage to find — or luck into starting with — a strong weapon. Every time you die, you start the next run with a random piece of upgraded equipment. On one run, I started with an incredibly powerful sword that killed almost every enemy I encountered in a single hit. Bosses were shredded almost instantly, and I had no need to play defense at all.

Conan Chop Chop is still in early access, but it seems likely that some of these balance issues will get ironed out before the game's full release. They certainly need to, because that's where its biggest problems are.

Hear the Lamentation of the Women

When a game features "die and go back to the beginning" as one of its primary elements, it's going to have a tough tightrope to walk. Since you'll be playing through the beginning a lot, it needs to be challenging, fun, and interesting right off the bat. Conan Chop Chop doesn't quite walk that tightrope gracefully.

The difficulty varies wildly depending on the type of weapons available to you at the beginning of each run. Starting with the sword that obliterates everything in a single hit makes the start of the run boring, but starting with a weapon that requires five or more hits just to destroy an inanimate object leads to tedium.

As it stands, this is really only an issue you face in single-player, but Conan Chop Chop also isn't really optimized yet for multiplayer.

The game is definitely designed to be a couch co-op game, which is perfectly fine. Gathering a group of friends to sit around and bash enemies into pulp is always a blast, but it's also not always feasible. The game was delayed to allow for full online cooperative play, but that option is not available at this point in time. On Steam, you can use the Remote Play option, but that comes with its own set of technical hangups.

If online multiplayer is a must, you may want to wait a bit to pick this one up. It is something the developers have said is on the way, however.

Slap Chop

There's a lot of charm to Conan Chop Chop, but I'm not sure that charm can carry over in the long term. It's a fun little diversion, watching these cute little figures lay waste to hordes of monsters. Venturing through the wilderness with a powerful weapon to collect treasure is a tried and true video game staple for a reason. But the game's world randomization just rearranges where objects are placed; the game itself rarely changes, and there doesn't appear to be a huge push to alter that aspect.

That said, Conan Chop Chop still has about a month and a half to go until its full release. It's a goofy little couch co-op game that will definitely provide you and your friends with some mindless entertainment. If developer Mighty Kingdom is able to provide some support for the game and help beef up how much the player can do, then Conan Chop Chop has the chance to become something special.

[Note: Mighty Kingdom provided a preview copy of Conan Chop Chop for the purpose of this early impressions article.]

Pokemon Direct Reveals New Mystery Dungeon, Sword and Shield Expansion Thu, 09 Jan 2020 11:00:02 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Today's Pokemon Direct from Nintendo was chock full of information, including a new Mystery Dungeon game and an expansion pass for Pokemon Sword and Shield. Let's get started with the content that's coming first.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX

Mystery Dungeon fans will be thrilled to learn that their pre-Direct predictions were indeed correct. A new Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, dubbed simply Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is in the works for Nintendo Switch. 

The game will launch on March  6, 2020. A demo that offers the chance to transfer save data to the full version will be available later today. Details on Rescue Team DX are still a bit thin right now, and we aren't really sure yet what the "DX" part of the title refers to.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass

As expected, a Sword and Shield expansion pass was announced. There is one for each version of the game. These expansion passes will take the place of expanded versions like Pokemon Platinum and let you dive right in using your current save data. The pass will retail for $29.99.

Development on the pass content is ongoing, but the Game Freak development team showed off an initial trailer. In it, we see a wide variety of new locations planned in the Isle of Armor, which is part one, and the Crown of Tundra, which is part two.

The Isle of Armor will launch in June 2020, and the Crown of Tundra is expected to be out this fall. Both will be available as part of the same expansion pass. The basic stories are essentially the same, but the Sword and Shield versions of the pass feature different characters and Pokemon.

Game Freak is planning on adding more than 200 Pokemon from previous games in the expansion. New updates are set for the base Sword and Shield games that'll let players who don't have the expansion pass import Pokemon from the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra into their base game.

The Isle of Armor

Expansion pass director Hiroyuki Tani spent some time discussing the upcoming Pokemon content expansions. The Ise of Armor is developed around the theme of growth, Tani says. It sits off the shores of Galar and has bogs, forests, caves, sand dunes, and gorgeous beach locations. There's also a dojo on the island, run by Mustard, who is a former champion. Mustard will be your mentor. Klara, a Poison trainer, will be your Sword rival, while Avery the Psychic trainer is your rival in Shield.

The Isle of Armor has its own legendary Pokemon called Kubfu, a Fighting Type Pokemon that Mustard gives you once you reach a certain point. Kubfu evolves into Urshifu, a 'mon with two styles.

Single-Strike style is a Fighting/Dark hybrid, while Rapid-Strike style is a Fighting/Water hybrid. Urshifu can also Gigantamax, and its G-Max move and form are different depending on which form you evolve it into. Interestingly, you can also use Urshifu in official competitions.

The Crown of Tundra

Tani also discussed the Crown of Tundra, which focuses on exploration. It's set in the Crown Tundra (duh), an uncharted portion of the Galar region characterized by small communities and harsh living conditions. The Crown Tundra has new Pokemon not seen in Galar, strange temples, and ancient trees that don't belong there.

Calyrex is Crown Tundra's legendary Pokemon, a Grass/Psychic graceful Pokemon thought to once have ruled over Galar. Raids are getting expanded too, letting you explore Pokemon Dens and come across both new legendaries and Gigantamax forms of older legendary Pokemon.

Both regions are developed as seamless maps, like the Wild Area, letting you freely move around and control the camera. Both areas are reportedly larger than the Wild Area as well.

There will also be new Galar variants too, including Galarian Slowpoke (more on that in a bit). On top of the return of existing Pokemon like Blastoise and Lycanroc, it looks like the Galar starters are (finally) getting Gigantamax forms — but only on the Isle of Armor.

Other News: New Raids and Galarian Slowpoke

Gigantamax Coalossal, Gigantamax Lapras, and Gigantamax Flapple or Appletun will be more common in Sword and Shield starting today. A new software update will go live later today as well. Once you've updated, go to the train station in Wedgehurst, where you'll meet Klara in Sword or Avery in Shield.

You'll also encounter a Galarian Slowpoke that wandered in from the Isle of Armor. You can catch it, but you can't evolve it yet. You'll need a special item from the Isle of Armor to evolve it into Galarian Slowbro and an item from Crown Tundra to turn it into Galarian Slowking.


That's everything announced during the most recent Pokemon Direct from Nintendo. Be sure to keep it here at GameSkinny for more Pokemon news, including that for Sword and Shield, GO, and Mystery Dungeon: Rescuers DX, as it develops. 

GameSkinny's Best Games of 2019 Tue, 31 Dec 2019 16:47:58 -0500 GS_Staff

Some truly amazing games came out in 2019. From monolithic AAAs like Gears 5 and Pokemon Sword and Shield to unassuming indies like Wattam and Disco Elysium, the last year of the decade hasn't left us wanting.

To celebrate the year that was, we've collected our highest-reviewed games of 2019 into a pseudo "best of" list. We're a small staff at GameSkinny, so going the traditional "staff voting route" didn't really make a whole lot of sense. The most democratic way to make a list like this was to include any game with a score of "8" or higher. 

Such a rubric might not be perfect as it leaves out some of the year's tentpole titles like Modern Warfare and Death Stranding, but a list like this is never perfect. It will always create some form of controversy. 

So without further ado, here is GameSkinny's "Best Games of 2019" list. We have arranged the following games in alphabetical order. Be sure to sound off in the comments at the end of the article. We're certain you will have thoughts — and we want to hear them! 

A Place for the Unwilling

Publisher: ALPixel Games
Developer: ALPixel Games
Initial Release Date: July 25, 2019
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A Place for the Unwilling offers a delightfully sinister tale of mystery and destruction with a staggering number of branching paths that guarantee no playthrough will be the same.

Read the review

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Initial Release Date: January 18, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The VR Mode is the big draw of Bandai Namco's new flight combat simulator, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, but it is more limited than you might have hoped.

Read the review

Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Triumph Studios
Initial Release Date: August 6, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: The turn-based strategy game of the year has arrived, and the unexpected transition from fantasy to sci-fi is handled superbly.

Read the review

Ape Out

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developers: Bennett Foddy, Gabe Cuzzillo, Matt Boch
Initial Release Date: February 28, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: There's a lot to love about Ape Out and not many glaring flaws to point to... It may be a simple game with basic controls, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still provide a challenge that rewards sound, strategic play. 

Read the review

Astral Chain

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Platinum Games
Initial Release Date: August 30, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Astral Chain presents an experience that might be familiar to those familiar with Platinum Games, but there's enough to keep you engaged and excited... But even if you're just looking for a new, fairly linear story to dive into, or dying to get your hands on a game whose combat actually involves new ideas and executes them well, then this is the game for you.

Read the review

Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Initial Release Date: May 21, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: It's more of the same Atelier, but it also takes the best from its predecessors to synthesize a fun and customizable adventure. It might not be a huge leap forward for the series, but it combines the best elements from previous Atelier games to make this new entry a contender for best of the crop and an excellent starting point for newbies.

Read the review

Atelier Ryza Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Initial Release Date: September 26, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Atelier Ryza is the best Atelier game to date, with some much-needed improvements that make for a more compelling package on the whole.

Read the review


Publisher: Team 17
Developer: The Game Kitchen
Initial Release Date: September 10, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: If you love SNES platformers and aren't concerned by the possibility of an angry god pressing its "smite" button to rain lightning upon you, Blasphemous is simply a must-play.

Read the review

Blazing Chrome

Publisher: The Arcade Crew, Limited Run Games
Developer: JoyMasher
Initial Release Date: July 11, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Rad and totally kickass, Blazing Chrome stands as one of the best run n' gun games of all time. A worthy successor to the Contra crown from concept to execution.

Read the review

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Artplay
Initial Release Date: June 18, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night stands as one of the best Vania games of recent memory, and one of the most satisfying games of 2019 so far.

Read the review

Borderlands 3

Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Initial Release Date: September 13, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Borderlands 3 is the best Borderlands has ever been. It's beautiful, funny, and frantic in the best ways. There are issues, but those shouldn't deter you too much from having an absolute blast.

Read the review

Cadence of Hyrule

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Initial Release Date: June 13, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Cadence of Hyrule is a fresh approach to the classic 2D Legend titles that looks and sounds amazing, but it doesn't last long.

Read the review


Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Gambrinous
Initial Release Date: December 6, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Cute graphics, funny writing, and good gameplay make Cardpocalypse a rousing good time.

Read the review

Children of Morta

Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Developer: Dead Mage Studios
Initial Release Date: September 3, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Children of Morta is a standout roguelike RPG with a solid central hook, satisfying gameplay, and gorgeous art style all piled on top of huge replay value.

Read the review

Code Vein

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Initial Release Date: June 5, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Code Vein is an anime souls-like featuring great customization and a wonderfully bizarre world.

Read the review


Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Initial Release Date: August 27, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Control is undoubtedly Remedy's biggest and weirdest game yet. In many ways, it's also their best, all while it paves the way for a Marvel-like connected universe.

Read the review

Cooking Simulator

Publisher: PlayWay
Developers: Big Cheese Studio, Wastelands Interactive
Initial Release Date: June 6, 2019
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The simple fact that Cooking Simulator does what it says on the label makes it a must-have for anyone who loves cooking as much as they love gaming.

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Dark Devotion

Publisher: The Arcade Crew, DotEmu, Maple Whispering Co.
Developer: Hibernian Workshop
Initial Release Date: April 25, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Get ready to die with another killer 2D souls-like that flips the script in several ways for a refreshing take on the genre.

Read the review

Devil May Cry 5

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Initial Release Date: March 8, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Devil May Cry 5 is back, bringing with it the same hack-and-slash action that made it one of the best action franchises of all time.

Read the review

Dick Wilde 2

Publisher: PlayStack
Developer: Bolverk Games
Initial Release Date: February 19, 2019
Platforms (VR): PS4, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: With humor, stylish visuals, and solid shooting mechanics, Bolverk Games' Dick Wilde 2 is a great little VR diversion for those that dig on-rails shooters.

Read the review.

Disco Elysium

Publisher: ZA/UM
Developer: ZA/UM
Initial Release Date: October 15, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Looking for something even weirder than Torment and with even more character customization options? Disco Elysium is RPG of the year. Hell, maybe even the decade.

Read the review.

Doraemon: Story of Seasons

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developers: Marvelous Inc., Brownies Inc.
Initial Release Date: October 10, 2019
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Doraemon: Story of Seasons borrows from both franchises while managing to be a stand-out farm-sim game in its own right.

Read the review.

Dragon Star Varnir

Publisher: Idea Factory
Developer: Compile Heart
Initial Release Date: June 11, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Dragon Star Varnir could use some polishing in a few areas, but the combat, setting, and story make for a dark and compelling RPG nonetheless.

Read the review.

Dragon Quest Builders 2

Publisher: Square-Enix
Developers: Square-Enix, Omega Force
Initial Release Date: July 12, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes just about everything that made the original so enjoyable and improves upon it.

Read the review.

Etrian Odyssey Nexus

Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Initial Release Date: February 5, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Etrian Odyssey Nexus is an excellent way to end the franchise's time on the 3DS, beckoning old and new fans alike back into the labyrinth.

Read the review.

Far Cry New Dawn

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Initial Release Date: February 15, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Far Cry New Dawn recycles the same general setting from last year's Far Cry 5, but this time with a post-apocalyptic twist and healthy injection of creative, colorful, and bombastic content.

Read the review.

Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark

Publisher: 1C Entertainment
Developer: 6 eyes Studio
Initial Release Date: August 16, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is a deep and engrossing tactical RPG no genre fan should miss. With interesting characters and complex combat, it's a poster child for the greatest the genre can provide.

Read the review


Publisher: EA Games
Developers: EA Vancouver, EA Romania
Initial Release Date: September 27, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: For fun and realistic gameplay, FIFA 20 can't be beat, though the specter of card packs looms large over the game's Ultimate Team mode.

Read the review


Publisher: Bedtime Digital Games
Developer: Bedtime Digital Games
Initial Release Date: September 22, 2019
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Figment turns a touchy topic into an engaging puzzle adventure that's filled with heart and some excellent setting and soundtrack designs.

Read the review

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Publisher: Nintendo
Developers: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo
Initial Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the definitive Fire Emblem experience, with a compelling story, streamlined gameplay, and a staggering amount of content.

Read the review

Gears 5

Publisher: Xbox Game Studio
Developer: The Coalition
Initial Release Date: September 10, 2019
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: The Coalition has set a new benchmark for Microsoft's first-party campaigns. By taking huge risks, subverting expectations, and delivering a visual spectacle, Gears 5 is the best in the series.

Read the review

God's Trigger

Publisher: Techland
Developer: One More Level
Initial Release Date: April 18, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Heaven's under new management. It takes a little while to come into its own, but God’s Trigger is a decent weekend’s worth of splatterpunk entertainment.

Read the review


Publisher: Devolver Digital
Free Lives
Initial Release Date: August 24, 2019
Platforms (VR): PS4, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Gorn is challenging, horrifying, hilarious, and a genuine joy to play. It manages to be brilliant in both short bursts and long sessions.

Read the review


Publisher: XSeed Games, FuRyu, Marvelous Inc.
Developer: FuRyu, Netchubiyori Limited
Initial Release Date: December 3, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Heroland offers a hilarious take on working life, RPGs, and fan culture, wrapped in a clever combat system.

Read the review.


Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Lab Zero Games
Initial Release Date: October 8, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Indivisible brings its own mix of genres, packed with the best group of characters in years.

Read the review.

Ion Fury

Publisher: 3D Realms, 1C Company
Developers: Voidpoint LLC
Initial Release Date: February 28, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ion Fury mixes old and new in a throwback FPS that deftly builds its own enduring identity.

Read the review.

John Wick Hex

Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Bithell Games
Initial Release Date: October 8, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: John Wick Hex puts you in the well-trained shoes of a master assassin, but without a lot of planning, you'll find yourself no more use than a kid with a water pistol.

Read the review.


Publisher: Sega
Developers: Sega, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Initial Release Date: June 25, 2019
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Though there are some hiccups along the way, Judgment proves without a doubt that Ryu Ga Gotoku studio doesn't need Kazuma Kiryu to sell a great game.

Read the review.

Katana Zero

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Askiisoft
Initial Release Date: April 18, 2019
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: If I have one complaint about Katana ZERO, it's that there's not already a sequel.

Read the review.

Kingdom Hearts 3

Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix
Initial Release Date: January 25, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Kingdom Hearts 3 delivers an amazingly fun and intense experience in a long-awaited title that lives up to the hype.

Read the review.

Luigi's Mansion 3

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Next Level Games
Initial Release Date: October 31, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Luigi's Mansion 3 is almost non-stop fun and is another must-have for the Switch's library.

Read the review.

Madden NFL 20

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Initial Release Date: August 2, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Madden NFL 20's major new features are good on their own, but they are even better as a foundation for the years to come.

Read the review.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Team Ninja
Initial Release Date: July 19, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a more-than-solid release that will interest most Switch owners. While some fans of the original games might have gripes, it's still likely to be a solid choice.

Read the review.

Metro Exodus

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: 4A Games
Initial Release Date: February 15, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Metro Exodus, 4A's new first-person shooter, is almost a perfect game, introducing exciting new elements while still offering the classic Metro experience.

Read the review.

Mini-Mech Mayhem

Publisher: FuturLab
Developer: FuturLab
Initial Release Date: June 18, 2019
Platforms (VR): PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: If you want a new, randomized strategy title for the PSVR that you can sink dozens of hours into, Mini-Mech Mayhem should be on your wishlist immediately.

Read the review.

MLB The Show 19

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
Initial Release Date: March 26, 2019
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Show is back with the latest, but just barely the greatest addition to the world of baseball video games.

Read the review.

Mortal Kombat 11

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Initial Release Date: April 23, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Almost three decades since the original, Mortal Kombat 11 proves the fighter's might is still strong.

Read the review.

Need for Speed: Heat

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Ghost Games
initial Release Date: November 8, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though it still can't match the scope of Forza Horizon 4, Need for Speed: Heat is a great racing game in its own right.

Read the review.

NHL 20

Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Vancouver
Initial Release Date: September 13, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: NHL 20 delivers an enjoyable simulation of the NHL experience, with new modes and features adding additional fun to the strong framework provided by prior years' releases.

Read the review.

Night Call

Publisher: Raw Fury, MonkeyMoon
Developers: BlackMuffin, MonkeyMoon
Initial Release Date: July 17, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Night Call is an intriguing ride through Paris full of intriguing tales and conversations. Too bad its detective elements aren't as compelling.

Read the review.

One Finger Death Punch 2

Publisher: Silver Dollar Games
Developer: Silver Dollar Games
Initial Release Date: April 15, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: One Finger Death Punch 2 is a deep, rhythmic fighting game that attempts to replicate the feel of classic kung fu movies.

Read the review.

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth

Publisher: Atlus
Developer: P-Studio
Initial Release Date: June 4, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Rating: 9/10

What we said: New Cinema Labyrinth is a brilliant combination of game mechanics with a heap of Persona charm and style that's sure to keep you busy for a long time to come.

Read the review.

Planet Zoo

Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Initial Release Date: November 5, 2019
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Planet Zoo is a deep management sim featuring some beautiful animal recreations. It's a must-have for any animal lover.

Read the review.

Pokemon Sword and Shield

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak 
Initial Release Date: November 15, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Pokemon Sword and Shield breathe a joyous breath of life back into the series, with great improvements and a stellar batch of new 'mon.

Read the review.


Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Double Fine
Initial Release Date: August 20, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: RAD is a fantastic roguelike that creates a world worth fighting for and a game well worth playing over and over again.

Read the review.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw

Publisher: Double Damage Games
Developer: Double Damage Games
Initial Release Date: October 20, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Despite a few stumbles, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is one of the best space sims of recent memory, with strong characters, fast-paced combat, and amazing music.

Read the review.

Remnant: From the Ashes

Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Developer: Gunfire Games
Initial Release Date: August 20, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Remnant: From the Ashes is a tough-as-nails cooperative shooter that brings together the best elements of games like Dark Souls and Left 4 Dead.

Read the review.

Ring Fit Adventure

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo 
Initial Release Date: October 18, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ring Fit Adventure may be the best exercise video game, blending strength and aerobics training into an impeccably designed package.

Read the review.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Publisher: From Software, Activision
Developer: From Software
Initial Release Date: March 22, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is probably the best game From Software has ever made, and it's worth every second of your time playing.

Read the review.

Shenmue 3

Publisher: Deep Silver, Shibuya Productions
Developers: Ys Net, Yu Suzuki
Initial Release Date: November 19, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: For better or worse, Shenmue 3 is a blast from the past. It's a beautiful world marred only by its insistence to stay the same.

Read the review.


Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: Red Blue Games
Initial Release Date: November 14, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Sparklite is a good example of how creativity and sharp game design can elevate a genre even if you thought you'd seen everything it has to offer.

Read the review.


Publisher: James Patton
Developer: James Patton
Initial Release Date: February 1, 2019
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Spinnortality is tightly focused on the bleak but shiny transhumanist megacorp side of cyberpunk, putting it in unique territory.

Read the review.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Initial Release Date: November 15, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has some technical issues and poor pacing but is still an amazing single-player Star Wars game.

Read the review.

Steel Division 2

Publisher: Eugen Systems
Developer: Eugen Systems
Initial Release Date: June 20, 2019
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Steel Division 2 proves to be a much better game than its predecessor in terms of graphics and mechanics, even if it still needs to solve a few balancing problems before it can be called "definitive."

Read the review.

Stranded Sails

Publisher: Maple Whispering Co
Developer: Lemonbomb Entertainment
Initial Release Date: October 17, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though it's a bit more survival-focused than other games of its kind, Stranded Sails is still a mostly quaint and worthwhile farm life sim any genre fan will enjoy.

Read the review.

Stranger Things 3: The Game

Publisher: BonusXP
Developer: BonusXP
Initial Release Date: July 4, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch, Android
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Stranger Things 3 has taken over the pop culture world like it always does when a new season hits Netflix. If you've binged it already and need more, the console game is a fun adaptation worth any fan's time.

Read the review.

Super Mario Maker 2

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Initial Release Date: June 28, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Super Mario Maker 2 fulfills just about everything it set out to do, making it a must-play for Mario fans.

Read the review.

Team Sonic Racing

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sumo Digital
Initial Release Date: May 21, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch, iOS
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Team Sonic Racing is closer to a 3D Sonic game to a kart racer, and we love it. Sonic Heroes Racing, anyone?

Read the review.

The Blackout Club

Publisher: Question
Developer: Question
Initial Release Date: July 29, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Stranger things have happened, but they're rarely as scary or as fun as The Blackout Club, a dynamic co-op adventure that beckons with its bellowing song of hypnosis.

Read the review.

The Church in the Darkness

Publisher: Fellow Traveler
Developer: Paranoid Productions
Initial Release Date: August 2, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Church in the Darkness is an ambitious game and delivers on its premise almost all the way. It's worth sipping this Kool-Aid.

Read the review.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 3

Publisher: NISA
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Initial Release Date: October 22, 2019
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Trails of Cold Steel 3 is a masterclass in storytelling that improves nearly everything in the franchise's history.

Read the review.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Publisher: Nintendo
Developers: Grezzo
Initial Release Date: September 20, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: With a host of enhancements that more than make it worth playing for newcomers and old fans alike, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening remains a brilliant example of impeccable design.

Read the review.

The Outer Worlds

Publisher: Private Division, Take-Two Interactive
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Initial Release Date: October 25, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Outer Worlds is a goofy, full to the brim RPG that liberally samples from other giants in the genre. It's a fun romp through a neon universe.

Read the review.

The Sinking City

Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Developer: Frogwares
Initial Release Date: June 25, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: With a distinct lack of hand-holding, in-depth investigative mechanics, and a solid mix of open-world design with mythos monsters, The Sinking City is the standard for Lovecraftian games.

Read the review.

The Sojourn

Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Developer: Shifting Tides
Initial Release Date: September 20, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: The Sojourn elevates simple mechanics and creative level design to create a thoroughly enjoyable puzzling experience and a game any fan of the genre should play.

Read the review.

The Surge 2

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Deck 13
Initial Release Date: September 24, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: With more options, more weapons, and a much bigger environment to play with, The Surge 2 improves on everything from its predecessor.

Read the review.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

Publisher: HumaNature Studios
Developer: HumaNature Studios
Initial Release Date: March 1, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove isn't a blast FROM the past, it's a blast TO the past.

Read the review.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developers: Massive Entertainment
Initial Release Date: March 15, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Division 2 is an improvement on the first game in almost every way, and it's both a fun game and a satisfying investment.

Read the review.

Trine 4

Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: Frozenbyte
Initial Release Date: October 8, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The puzzles and banter are as good as they've ever been, though Trine 4 has a hard time overcoming some dodgy combat mechanics.

Read the review.

Trover Saves the Universe

Publisher: Squanch Games
Developer: Squanch Games
Initial Release Date: May 31, 2019
Platforms: PS4 (VR), Xbox One, PC (VR), Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: A surprisingly entertaining platformer smothered in Roiland-brand humor. Trover Save the Universe is a title well worth playing whether you have a VR headset or not.

Read the review.


Publisher: Headup Games
Developers: btf GmBH
Initial Release Date: March 12, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Truberbrook has a few faults, but its engaging characters, enjoyable narrative, and fantastic atmosphere make it easy to recommend.

Read the review.

Vambrace Cold Soul

Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: Devespresso Games
Initial Release Date: May 28, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: If you don't mind being actively abused and tortured for hours on end, Vambrace can become extremely addicting for fans of either Darkest Dungeon or classic SNES RPGs.

Read the review.

Void Bastards

Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Blu Manchu
Initial Release Date: May 28, 2019
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Void Bastards is a roguelite shooter that encourages experimentation and smart thinking in outer space, and it mostly works to great effect.

Read the review.


Publisher: Annapurna
Developer: Funomena, SIE Santa Monica Studio
Initial Release Date: December 17, 2019
Platforms: PS4, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Wattam is a rare wonder of a game, full of hope, charm, and poop. But it's also one of the kindest games to come out all year.

Read the review.

We. The Revolution

Publisher: Klabater
Developer: Polyash
Initial Release Date: March 21, 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: All told, We. The Revolution comes together to make a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Read the review.

What the Golf? 

Publisher: Triband
Developer: Triband
Initial Release Date: October 1, 2019
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: What the Golf? is a funny hole-in-one success of a game that keeps surprising and captivating with unfiltered creativity.

Read the review.


Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Moon Kid
Initial Release Date: August 15, 2019
Platforms: Android, iOS
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Witcheye is the most fun you can have as a floating eye in a mobile game.

Read the review.

Yoshi's Crafted World

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: good-Feel
Initial Release Date: March 29, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Don't let the green dino's mid-tier status fool you. With fluid platforming, incredible attention to detail, and a huge variety of content, Yoshi's Crafted World is a must-have Switch game.

Read the review.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Other Ocean Interactive
Initial Release Date: August 20, 2019
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution is the most complete Yu-Gi-Oh! title to date, with a great price tag for its infinitely replayable content.

Read the review.


That's it for our list of the best games of 2019. What were your favorite games? Sound off in the comments below. 

Darksburg Beta Impressions: Move Over Vermintide, There's A New Fantasy L4D Mon, 30 Dec 2019 13:16:26 -0500 Ty Arthur

The developers behind the quirky and inventive Evoland are gearing up to try out the fast paced cooperative zombie killing genre, and we got to jump into an early closed beta test of the impending Darksburg.

Granted, there are already several options already available in the 4 player co-op space dealing with hordes of enemies. While we are unlikely to get a new Left 4 Dead anytime soon (or ever), there's the zombie slayer GTFO, the tried and true skaven killing simulator Vermintide 2, and of course the upcoming D&D foray Dark Alliance.

Darksburg sits very solidly in that same genre, but with major twists on the viewpoint, graphical style, and character types. If you boil it down, this closed beta test feels a bit like if Diablo 3 had been a Left 4 Dead spin off instead of an ARPG.

Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse In A Fantasy Realm

       Yes, I am in love.

While trying to survive an outbreak of the undead in the city of Darksburg, four characters are available to choose from with varying abilities, and each of those options include new perks to add as you level up over time.

The current lineup includes a werewolf, head-bashing inkeeper, and crossbow-wielding rogue with a ferret companion. All play slightly differently, and all need to be utilized in tandem to keep the hordes at bay while completing tasks.

For me though, there's really only one character: the lovable battle nun Abigail. She's a sister of a holy order, but don't expect her to heal you. Mostly she beats things to death with a giant cross, and sometimes she shoots beams of holy fire to thin out the throngs of zombies.

In Beta we saw two question marks spots for additional characters, so its not clear yet if those are unlockables or will be available straight from the get go with the full launch version.

       Things can get hectic if you don't multitask

After picking your zombie hunter, the base gameplay is very much in the vein of Left 4 Dead, just in an isometric angle and set in a fantasy world. While wading through shambling groups of regular zombie enemies your foursome will come across specialty enemies that take single players out of the fight for limited times (sound familiar?).

There are occasional big bosses to deal with, and getting to the next area requires completing some task... which inevitably makes a bunch of noise that draws a big horde.

One of your unlucky crew will need to carry bulky items during these segments -- which means that player can't attack and must be defended while bringing wood piles to barricade the door, dragging hay bales to fuel a machine, and so on.

In traditional co-op style, you need to stay on top of reviving downed allies, and there are very limited bandages and healing salve to find and use during combat.

      I will deliver this hay bale if its the last damn thing I do! (It was).

The campaign consists of four main story style levels in and around the town, and much like the campaign levels in L4D or Vermintide they involve traveling through an enemy infested city, cutting through fields to find a safe zone, and so on.

If you want straight up zombie mayhem without the objectives, there's also a 20 wave horde mode called Survival. That one is a fun way to jump into quick action, but it definitely needs some tutorial prompts add in.

I never figured out what lighting the beacons (and the race to keep them lit) ever actually did in Survival mode. There's also a big twist here in that you can play as the zombies if you've got a full two teams of 8 players available.

The Bottom Line In Closed Beta

      Twas a valiant effort

While the gameplay is solid, there's a big question of longevity and the ability to build up a sizable player base surrounding Darksburg. That could be exacerbated by the art style, which -- rightly or wrongly -- will unfortunately put Darksburg in more of a niche space than a first person 3D title.

I played the closed beta during the Christmas and New Years time frame, and sadly never actually got enough people to show up in a lobby for a full non-AI team on the North American server. For this latest Shiro Games title to take off, hopefully it will switch to open Beta for a week or so and then launch in Early Access.

That later part will be critical to success, as there are some needed tweaks at this point of the Beta. Cache boxes strewn across the campaign landscapes for instance don't seem to ever have anything in them right now.

There's no question Darksburg is meant to be played with four to eight live players, so this won't be as much of an issue after launch, but the AI companions can be a little wonky. I saw one get stuck on a door / building edge and get annihilated by a single zombie while the rest of us where doing something else.

That being said, there's a fantastic art style and fun gameplay on display here, so this could be a hit if its marketed right and people are willing to jump over from GTFO or Vermintide 2.

Sega Genesis Mini Review: Perfect Enough Sun, 29 Dec 2019 13:38:45 -0500 Ashley Shankle

I am not ashamed to say I never grew out of my Sega kid phase. The Sega Genesis ignited an obsession in me that's carried on these past near-30 years, through the Sega Saturn, Dreamcast, and well into the 2010s and now into the 2020s.

The Sega Genesis Mini is one piece of hardware I was eager to get my hands on because, while I do still have the exact same model the Mini is designed to replicate, quality CRT televisions aren't exactly the easiest thing to come by these days. I love the Genesis library, I don't love how hard it is to track down a proper Sony Trinitron television.

The first thing I noticed taking this bundle of joy out of its box is that it really is an exact replica of the original first-model Sega Genesis consoles. The only differences lie in the fact the cartridge slot doesn't work, the audio adjuster doesn't work, the power and HDMI ports are different, and the stickering on the bottom has changed slightly. Looking at it, it's perfect.

You get two controllers with the Sega Genesis Mini for some multiplayer action and the console is packed with 42 games among the best-remembered titles of the Sega Genesis library.

Earthworm Jim, Ecco the Dolphin, Strider, Shinobi 3, Sonic and Sonic 2, Golden Axe, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Gunstar Heroes, Landstalker -- most gamers know these titles, whether they've played them or not; and this is a fraction of the games included in the Mini.

Colloquially known as 'a buttload of games'.

A console is nothing without games. Though 40 games isn't a huge amount, the entire Sega Genesis Mini library is notably impressive. The titles included aren't just nostalgia bait, they're nearly a perfect introduction to gaming on the Sega Genesis.

What's also notable is the lack of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which is flagship title for the console one would consider a shoe-in. The two-games-but-really-one-game that introduced stacking cartridges to millions of kids in the early '90s is nowhere to be found in the Genesis Mini. Rumor is this is due to music licensing, as Michael Jackson reportedly had a hand in a number of compositions for the game.

The lack of Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a glaring omission among the rest of the console's near-stellar collection of games. I say "near-stellar", because it does include Sonic Spinball. Sonic Spinball always has and always will sound like a spoon stuck in a garbage disposal, so its inclusion instead of Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a little frustrating.

So what does this modern day replica box have over the original Sega Genesis? Save slots. Well, those, an HDMI output, and the ability to swap game regional versions.

If you ever wanted to save scum your way through a bunch of Sega Genesis games on your TV, now's your chance. Toss those Ecco passwords out, tell Ghouls 'n Ghosts to shove it -- now you can just save and load via a menu by holding the start button.

The Sega Genesis Mini does also have a CRT filter option to add scanlines to its display. This is something most retro gamers, myself included, insist upon as games released in this period were designed with CRT televisions and the extra blurriness they provide.

The CRT filter on the Mini is a bit of overkill, however. The scanlines are hard against the otherwise crisp video. As it stands the filter is harsh enough I have to switch it off after just a few minutes due to eye strain. Some softening would have done the CRT filter some good. 

Finally, we come to the Sega Genesis Mini's secret move: You can use actual Sega Genesis controllers with the Mini. That includes six-button controllers, which you're going to want for Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition. Luckily I've still got a couple sitting around, but if you don't there are some reproductions that will tide you over.

Spoilers: Get them off Retro-Bit.

As a Sega kid and someone who still unabashedly posts on retro game forums, the Sega Genesis Mini is almost perfect.

Though it doesn't have Sonic 3 & Knuckles (I just can't stop whining about it), it does serve as a much-needed entry point into gaming on the platform in the modern age. My only complaint outside of the lack of S3&K is the sub-par CRT filter, but honestly you probably weren't going to use it anyway.

  • 42 iconic Sega Genesis games in one unit
  • Near-perfect visual replica of the original console
  • Compatibility with real Genesis controllers
  • Easy to use save slots and loading
  • CRT filter is painful to look at
  • Seriously, no Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a big deal

Whether you grew up in the early '90s and were crazy about Sega, are a general retro gamer, or are just now dipping your toes into the classic game pool, you could make a much worse purchase than the Sega Genesis Mini.

The Super Nintendo was best known for its platformers and RPGs, and the Sega Genesis known for its action and arcade-like titles. This is the best way in the modern age to see what all the hubbub was about in Sega's camp all those years ago.

[Note: Sega provided a Sega Genesis Mini for the purpose of this review.]

20 Years of An Interview with Creator Joe Merrick Mon, 16 Dec 2019 10:36:52 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

A lot can happen in 20 years. Fads come and go, interests change, and passion projects lose their luster as we move on to something new and exciting.

But that wasn't the case for Joe Merrick, founder and webmaster of the long-running, which celebrated its 20th anniversary a month before Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield released.

We caught up with Merrick and chatted with him about how the Pokemon news scene has changed over time, how he's altered his approach to keep up with information floods, and what still stays the same.

Merrick started back in 1999, a year after Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue debuted outside Japan, and two years before Pokemon Gold and Silver were set to release in the UK. Multiple Pokemon fansites were popping up left and right then, all for basically the same reason: Poke-fever had gripped the world.

Merrick was no exception. When asked why he wanted to start a Pokemon website with a friend, he said:

It's mostly because Pokemon was the "in" thing when I started. It was the thing everyone was talking about and that we were all into, so it really felt like it was the choice.

It isn't as if he had no experience with the series before that point, though. In an earlier interview with the PUCL Podcast, Merrick said he begged his mother to import Pokemon Red after he, like so many others, got a taste of the franchise by playing a friend's copy at school.

It's hard to say what really grabbed me. I think because it was so different to everything that I had played up to that point."

Unlike other PokeFan websites, though, Merrick's stayed hyperfocused on its original goal. Where other sites in the Articuno Islands network of the late '90s gradually drifted into fanfiction or faded away completely, Serebii continued delivering news about the mainline games, then the anime and films, and eventually the various spinoffs that appeared as the series was catapulted to global popularity.

Initially, keeping this up wasn't quite so difficult. "... you never really had to be on it the instant things came [out]" he mentions. But with the series' increased popularity came more demand for news, as much of it as possible. Merrick reflected on that:

It's become more cut-throat... now if you're just half an hour late you'll get responses from people chastising [you] for being late. So this means I have to be more prepared for news to drop at any given moment.

Keeping up with increasing volumes of news and audience expectations isn't the only challenge, though. With increased popularity and access to image editing technology, you naturally get faked images, false leaks, and a range of other bamboozles.

Merrick has developed a knack for separating lies from truth, though.

It's really the little things. Typically people try to go for a Japanese magazine image when making fakes and those are so easy to detect with a trained eye.

Things like sentence structure, language, and even page formatting makes it so obvious. It's definitely something a trained eye can see.

However, it's not as straightforward as false information being passed off as false. Some "leakers" have occasional bits of truth in their content, leading people to believe their information is correct or at least to not pass it off as false.

Others are well-meaning, though work with incorrectly translated material. Merrick suggests it's especially difficult when people want to believe something is true, even when it isn't.

It's really hard because people struggle to accept that their viewset is wrong. Many people take a view and if it's based on something that turns out to be a mistranslation, then people often refuse to accept it and just go on the attack.

I've provided correct translations and been attacked for it, with youtubers [sic] trying to discredit me using Google Translate.

Google Translate is never a good choice for accurate, or even sensible, translations, as we've covered before. Merrick himself enlists the aid of some "English <-> Japanese" translator friends who've helped him out a number of times over the years, though, and says their work is "top-notch."

Surprisingly, the biggest challenge staying on top of news isn't the number of spinoffs or keeping up with every new anime episode and TCG pack release. It's the games-as-a-service approach Pokemon mobile titles have adopted.

Pokemon GO and Pokemon Masters regularly host new updates and events, but at irregular intervals and with no set schedule.

There are some other changes adding to Merrick's workload as well:

With games before 2013 [before Pokemon was released simultaneously worldwide], there was always a delay between when it was released in Japan and when it was released in the West, which allowed me to get everything up in time for when the English speaking audience is ready, but now I have to rush through and get everything up as soon as possible.

Some of Game Freak and The Pokemon Company International's more recent teases haven't made things any easier.

A few months ago, TPCi broadcasted a "livestream" of the Glimwood Tangle, the forested area in Sword and Shield's Galar region. It was a 24-hour event leading up to the reveal of Galarian Ponyta, but until that happened, there was a lot of nothing — and it was its own unique challenge for Merrick.

The Glimwood Tangle stream was definitely the hardest thing I've done. With most games, I end up doing an all nighter and just cover through the night, but this had me have to sit and do nothing but watch a stream where things barely happened

All this, plus working coding jobs, and maintaining the other aspects of the Serebii website is a lot to handle, and we asked how Merrick copes with it all.

"It's definitely a difficult balance," he admits.

There's always the chance some new nugget of information will drop. However, he's managed to create a healthy separation that keeps him from getting overwhelmed, saying "I always try to keep a good balance, see friends as much as I can and so forth."

Still, staying on top of everything and having access to insider information doesn't mean you'll always find leaks on Serebii until its officially confirmed. In light of the Sword and Shield leak fiasco, where a number of content creators and media outlets ran illegally obtained Pokemon information well before the games' launch, we asked Merrick about his philosophy concerning leaked data.

It's really a grey area. I often do share leaks, however there's times when leaks go too far when it's blatant violation of NDAs or even the law, and those I won't touch because, as you may have seen lately, Nintendo will take down any Youtube channel, Twitter account, Discord or even website that posts them. I wouldn't risk my site for a bit of clout and hits.

Merrick was a bit more coy when asked about his sources, though, saying "That's really a hard question to answer, so I'm going to skip it haha."

However, all this insider information does come with a price, as does scouring every new game as quickly as possible to uncover all its secrets.

It has definitely meant that I typically lack the surprise element, going into a game, taking my time and seeing new stuff. As I have to rush through, it's just how I've become with games. I play most games like it now, just marathoning them until I'm done.

When asked if he wants to go back to older titles to experience them again or to see if they still have the same magic that first drew him to the series, though, Merrick said the answer is no. He wants to "look forwards, not backwards. [Older games] may still hold up but there have been so many QoL improvements since it's hard to say."

One area that hasn't improved with time, however, is a certain portion of the fan community. Anyone using social media is probably already aware, but Pokemon Sword and Shield were the most controversial titles released to date, all because Game Freak whittled down the game's Pokedex to over 400, instead of including every single creature.

What sounds like a simple change created a huge wave of backlash that only grew as time went on, though a group of fans creating the #ThankYouGameFreak hashtag expressing support regardless of the change.

Merrick supported the latter movement, taking to Twitter to remind the Pokemon fan community that "Criticism is 100% fine and should be levied every time it's valid. However, harassment is wrong..." Yet this earned Merrick a helping of backlash as well, with a bevy of comments ranging from defending the right to protest "lazy" developers to the more severe death threats.

We asked Merrick what he thought about all this, and he said:

It's really just how things are nowadays with social media. Compared to past times, you'd complain on a forum or a newsgroup, or send an angry letter and often it'd make you question if it's worth it.

However, now anyone can just spread their anger and get the same attention as anyone else for it. It's just how the culture is now, and it sucks.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true about the internet and social media. Merrick's supporters ended up creating their own hashtag, #IStandWithSerebii, and the same comment threads filled with arguments and insults were also filled with hundreds of messages expressing support and appreciation.

Even one negative voice can stand out in a chorus of positive, though. We asked Merrick why he keeps Serebii going, when the workload only increases and the fans get tough to deal with.

He said the reason is "...sheer stubbornness, though I really love doing what I do, I'd never let it go."

That stubbornness has paid off in a big way. One of Serebii's features Merrick is most proud of, Pokéarth, was the first of its kind, letting users look up extensive amounts of data based on location and covering every game. "Now," Merrick says, "it's commonplace everywhere. I'm really proud of it."

Moreover, Merrick's dedication in covering Pokemon Sword and Shield — coverage which only finally started winding down December 3 — meant had more than 2 million visitors every day for the first two weeks after the games' launched, which shattered Merrick's previous records from Sun and Moon.

With Sword and Shield breaking sales records worldwide, bringing ever more people into the Pokemon world, that's hardly a surprise, and it seems certain Joe Merrick and will continue being Pokemon staples for years to come.

System Shock Remake Pre-Alpha Impressions: Needs More Time In The Oven Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:31:59 -0500 Ty Arthur

After an all-too-brief glimpse into the reverse horror platformer Carrion, next up in the Games Festival demo-a-thon is a title we've been looking forward to for a long time. Since the Kickstarter back in the summer of 2016 we've been desperate to get our hands on something playable from the System Shock remake, and now its here thanks to The Game Awards.

Previous backers get to keep this pre-alpha demo forever, while the rest of us poor plebs only get to play around for 48 hours.

If you haven't been following the System Shock saga, this return to a sci-fi / horror classic has gone through a rather odd development cycle worth noting before you play. It ended up switching from remake to reinterpretation and back to remake again, as well as changing engines mid-development. The fact the demo is here at all is a surprise in its own way.

Although the opening of this limited time playable area is the same as the tech demo we saw some time back, this time around we get the full first level to explore, so let's dive in and see how System Shock is shaping up!

The Past Is The Future Again

         Thanks for the tip, bro!

This rendition of System Shock aims to stick strongly to the old school aesthetic, which comes with its own set of pros and cons.

But before we get to that, it's worth noting the lack of optimization. The demo stutters quite a bit when first loading up. After launch it all seems pretty smooth.... until you start racking up a kill count.

Unfortunately there's a bug involving how rag doll physics work, so the more enemies you kill, the worse the performance gets in the demo. Something to bear in mind and to hope see fixed in the future.

With that out of the way: The game tries to stay true to the original, which means some of the controls are a little wonky.

Reloading for instance was pretty much impossible to figure out without actively searching the forums. Turns out you have to press "T" (wait what, why T and not R?) but none of the menus tell you that fact.

Sadly we can't remap anything at this point in development, either. That's going to throw some players for a loop because the left mouse / right mouse is the opposite of what you'd normally use for shooting and interacting.

UI and keybinding aside, the puzzles are what you'd expect from the remake and are put together pretty well. While the first keypad code is incredibly easy to figure out (its literally written on the wall in blood) the rest of the demo makes you work a lot harder to access new areas.

One code even requires you to listen to an audio log, so you can't skip those and need to delve into the lore. The electricity puzzles are also randomized and change each time, so you've got to engage your brain more often if you died or re-started the level.

       I am somehow stuck in the air between two ladders and can't go anywhere. Cool.

While the full first level is now complete and features all its graphic assets, some tweaks to the color palette are warranted. System Shock is supposed to be dark, but right now its too dark. Not in terms of story, but in terms of actual lighting. 

Many of the objects are really hard to see with the current color scheme, and the old school object highlighting makes it worse. If you didn't play the original game, you could miss a significant portion of the items (like the magnum!) or just completely walk past dark elevators and doors.

While bodies are plentiful, oddly almost none of the corpses have items, so its not really clear why they are all searchable right now, as that's just a waste of time.

Finally, the vertical movement controls also need some tweaks, as there is incredibly wonky movement on the ladders right now. That's bad enough just trying to get around, but the issue becomes a major problem when you are trying to fend off a bloodthirsty mutant.

Mutants And Killer AI, Oh My!

        Would you like to hear about an exciting multi-level marketing opportunity?

While the sadistic AI running the station is of course the big bad to watch out for, there are plenty of more direct physical threats to deal with in the demo.

Unfortunately there's not much menace from the plentiful mutant enemies, who are actually scarier the less you see of them. When lurking in the shadows and you just see the eyes there's a sinister movement to these vile creatures, but the fear factor is missing when they get up close and personal.

The hybrid Borg-lookin' dudes with demonic red eyes and laser blasters are pretty menacing, however; and I tried to avoid them rather than getting into a firefight.

Between the old school mechanics and creature types we've seen so far, the end result of the demo is a bit of a mixed bag. System Shock has potential... if it spends quite a bit more time in the oven first.

Despite the numerous issues at this stage in development, the overall graphics and atmosphere are what fans of the original System Shock are looking for.

In the end I came away neither hyped nor overly disappointed after playing the demo. My gut feeling? If the development crew doesn't run out of money and actually releases a finished product, I expect it will be just all right. But we'll have to see.

     Resistance is futile... I will play this game even if it turns out to be terrible.

Carrion Alpha Impressions: Bloody Good and Bloody Hard Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:41:11 -0500 Ty Arthur

It's no secret that Carrion is a gory indie I've been excited to try out. So much so, that I even named it as one of our top 15 most anticipated horror games of 2020

While Carrion's announcement trailer showed off some truly stunning imagery, the Games Festival limited-time demo catapulted this giblet-covered platformer into the upper echelons of anticipation. 

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to try it on Steam, and I can say that I was mostly impressed. 

Platforming Re-imagined 

Carrion's selling point is that you play as a monster escaping a research facility. It's immediately clear that the game takes inspiration from John Carpenter's The Thing — just with a bloodier worm motif.

As the titular monster, you roll around on pseudopods that can stick to any surface, lending a serious World Of Goo feel to the game's wobbly movement. It might take some time to figure out, but it's satisfying once you start stalking the soldiers and scientists roaming about the lab.  

Carrion's art style nails that dark and bloody feel, but it's the excellent sound effects that really take things to the next level. Between the whipping and suctioning of tentacles and the screams of dying fleshy scientists, this is a game best experienced with the sound turned up.

Staying with the gory style, there's also an appropriately gross take on save points. Your tentacled creature squiggles into wall cracks to form a beating heart that can be used to re-spawn and fill regain any lost biomass. It's delightfully creepy. 

Unfortunately, not everything is bloody goodness (just yet). While you see text messages scrolling on various walls issuing warnings to complex employees, you miss out on any sort of actual conversations. Carrion would greatly benefit from audio in this regard, giving you the ability to listen to scientists or soldiers talking to each other.

Since so much of the game revolves around hiding and waiting before moving forward, it's currently a glaring omission I hope gets added later on.

Hard, But Satisfying

       ...and I'm on fire. Great.

The alpha demo version of Carrion draws heavily on classic SNES and Genesis platformers, playing like a more fluid, but also more nightmarish and blood-soaked, version of Flashback.

In true old-school platformer style, Carrion is much harder than you'd expect considering that you are the big bloody monster and your enemies are a bunch of squishy, oh-so-edible humans.

Small arms fire isn't much of a concern, but machine gun turrets, drones with force fields, and soldiers wielding flamethrowers can quickly annihilate even a large blood monster if you aren't careful.

Because of the pixel art style and side-view camera, it's sometimes a little difficult to tell exactly which objects can be grabbed and interacted with as well. Some color tweaks would solve that issue nicely.

Adding to that difficulty is an issue with aiming while sticking to multiple anchor points around the room. There were several times during the demo where I was completely undetected and should have gotten in a quick kill, but the creature didn't launch exactly where I was trying to go. A soldier ended up turning around and killing me. 

Though the physics are generally fun, some tweaking is in order before the game's final release. 

Finally, the AI could also use a bit of a tweak for increased immersion as well. Scientists and office personnel run screaming at the sight of you, but soldiers have an odd lack of behavior.

Throwing a mangled corpse of a dead soldier at his living bodies elicits very little reaction at all   not even a shout or involuntary step back.

Some Final Bloody Thoughts

        That guy won't be bothering me anymore


When you aren't devouring humans to add to your monster's biomass, most of Carrion involves destroying obstacles, pulling switches, circumventing deadly traps, and backtracking to previous areas to unlock new rooms.

Along the way you can launch viscera-covered spines to hold robotic enemies in place and upgrade new skills by breaking open canisters of god-knows-what. The fact that all of this is handled with three mouse buttons is kind of astonishing.

The sadly short Carrion demo ends with the release date blurred out (curses!) and a tantalizing view of the outside world just beyond the developer's workroom, making me want to get out there and devour!

Suffice it to say, Carrion has cemented its place on our most anticipated upcoming games, and we can't wait to see how it improves and expands at launch.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Hands-On Preview — Going One Step Further Tue, 10 Dec 2019 10:00:01 -0500 Jason Coles

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is an action-RPG that puts you in the shoes of the Z fighters as they battle there way through the stories told within the Dragon Ball Z universe. 

That means fighting off Radditz, Vegeta, Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu. As any fan of the series knows, those are a lot of stories to get through, so it's safe to assume Kakarot will be a sizeable game.

While we've played through these stories a good few times at this point in other titles, it's generally been in the arena of a fighting game, which makes Kakarot's genre change rather exciting. 

Charging Up for Half an Hour

Throughout this preview, I'm going to be purposefully vague to avoid spoilers. What I do want to say is that I recently got to play through the opening hours as well as the dying moments of the Saiyan Saga, and overall, I had a lot of fun. 

The first thing worth noting is that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot looks incredibly pretty. Anime games are finally reaching a point where they look like the shows they're based on, and Kakarot is no exception. The animations are gorgeous, the worlds are vibrant, and the super attacks look, well, super. It's all very lovely. 

Kakarot kicks off at the beginning of Dragon Ball Z. This means Kid Gohan. These opening moments serve as your tutorial. Exploring the big, open areas is a lot of fun thanks to the ability to run, fly, and ride vehicles. You can move at incredible speeds because getting from one place to another would take hours otherwise. Kakarot's world is incredibly large. 

A Filler Involving a Meal 

Along the way, you can fish, find fruit, hunt, and cook. You can whip up meals that will boost your stats for a little bit, but also make some that will permanently increase your stats as well. This should come in handy when the battles get really tough later on.

You will also come across plenty of sidequests to undertake too, many of which (at least in the early game) have references to the original Dragon Ball story. Completing these side quests allows you to gain extra materials, experience points, and even the occasional community member. 

You see, you can boost your cooking chops, mechanical skills, or fighting abilities (as well as a lot of other intangibles) by making connections with other people. You will get a pin that represents them, and then earn boosts for putting these pins into Kakarot's various boards. You can even gain extra boosts depending on the character.

For example, having Goku and Gohan on the combat board allows you to boost your combat prowess. It's an intriguing take on stat-boosting that should incentivize players to take on sidequests to get stronger. 

Not only do sidequests unlock new community members, but they can also net you more Z Orbs, which can also be found while exploring the world and from battle rewards. You use Z Orbs to unlock new special abilities from your Skill Tree.

Each character has their own tree, and many of the abilities can only be unlocked once you've completed certain missions. Overall, the system seems to be a good way of stopping you from becoming too powerful, at least when it comes to skills. 

A Flashy Fight Scene

If you wanted to spend a few hours grinding in Kakarot, you could easily do so by fighting the abundance of wandering enemies that populate Kakarot's open areas. You can fight against these to your heart's content, although I did accidentally blow one up simply by flying past it, so it could well be that fodder enemies simply stop fighting you once you're too powerful.

Good news, though: I also stumbled into some enemies three times my level, and they ruined me. That's the kind of nonsense I like to see in an ARPG, and hopefully, it will be present throughout. 

Kakarot's battles are a lot more Dragon Ball Xenoverse than Dragon Ball FighterZ, but that's not a bad thing. You fight in huge arenas and can fly around freely. You can also perform basic melee and ki attacks, as well as charge up to unleash your super moves. You'll even be able to activate transformations, too.

While the battle system seems basic at first, there are a few deeper levels to uncover thanks to the differences between special attacks, status effects, and even just when deciding to dodge or guard. 

It's a fun and functional battle system that should have players enjoying their time with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, but it's important to note that this isn't a fighting game. The aim isn't to be complicated but accessible. A lot of the complexity comes from the wealth of systems to mess around with. 


I had a lot of fun with my time with Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, and I'm incredibly hopeful for the full-game now. It's just a matter of whether or not it can keep a better pace than the series itself.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is set to release for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on January 17, 2020. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more news and info on the game, as well as our review early next year. 

Bee Simulator: The Edu-tainment Kids Deserve Wed, 27 Nov 2019 18:09:58 -0500 Mark Delaney

Hearing the name Bee Simulator, you'd be forgiven for expecting the same absurdities as those found in the similarly titled Goat Simulator from Coffee Stain Studios.

While the latter is a bugs-as-features physics playground, the former, from Poland's Varsav Game Studios, is not nearly so dismissive of itself. It's still a lighthearted game, but it uses that quality in a way much more suited to the game's endgame purpose.

At its heart, Bee Sim is as much a learning experience as it is a video game. It performs both roles well enough that it should be used in schools.

By now, you're probably familiar with the meme about bees dying at an alarming rate. I still recall when I first saw it online. What you hopefully also know is that it's based on a real and growing problem. Bees really are dying at an alarming rate. It's made more problematic due to our inability to pinpoint exactly why it's happening.

Lots of theories have been proposed  pesticides, climate change, viruses and though each has its respective proponents, the most recent science, according to source-heavy podcast Science Vs, says the most likely answer is that it's a combination of all these things.

Knowing that, Bee Simulator impressed me right away. The opening cinematic reminds players just how crucial bees are to our world, and when Bee Sim touches on why bees may be fading away, it alludes to this same three-pronged dilemma.

It doesn't hunker down and pick a side. The game's only agenda is obviously to educate players, not to recruit them.

That told me Bee Simulator is well-versed in the important environmental topic it's focused on, and from then on, I was invested to see what else Bee Sim could teach players.

The game's setup is, in a word, cute. You play a bee whom you can name  I stuck with the suggested autofill of Beescuit. Ahem.

It's Beescuit's job to learn how to pollinate, waggle dance, and race across a park meant to mirror Central Park in New York. What I didn't expect is that the bees would be fully voiced and personable.

This strange approach gives the subject a Pixar-like appeal to it, as though Bee Sim is a game meant to instruct and attract kids first and foremost. In that respect, the game totally nails its mission.

Bees chat, and joke, and you'll take plenty of orders the same way every protagonist does in any game. The difference in Bee Sim is that you're a winged insect for nearly the first time ever in video games.

It feels like the kind of game that hardly exists today, but alongside its rather innocent offering to young gamers who maybe already moved onto Fortnite, it also owns something unique: a teachable moment.

Real-life bee roles are turned into silly mini-games and mechanics that put players literally in the mind of a worker bee. Bee Sim teaches the hierarchical nature of a bee colony.

The game explains what pollinating means and why it's vital to the world's food supply. And it even lets players see how bees may interact or clash with other creatures, some of them their size, others much bigger.

In its four- to five-hour story mode, Bee Sim feels more like something you'd play in school where fun smuggles in the learning. When I'm not writing, I teach at an after-school program at my son's school, and Bee Simulator is the kind of game around which I'd want to build a curriculum. In fact, I'm even considering it for the spring term.  

The gameplay is charmingly goofy, and the developers probably know that, but it's also not self-deprecating. Its pleasant and playful tone is inviting, especially to younger players. While you're having fun, Bee Simulator wants you to think about what's really happening, in the game and in our world alike.

Bee Simulator is a unique game that feels like it came to life almost impossibly. Its scope of edu-tainment would, on one hand, seem dated in an industry that no longer caters games just to kids.

It should be the case that it's now at an insurmountable disadvantage when the competition for timeshare is stuff like Rocket League, Fortnite, and sometimes even Call of Duty (trust me, they tell me).

But Bee Simulator possesses an innate appeal that still speaks to kids thanks to a family-movie-like ethos complete with its serious commitment to instructing positive change and awareness in its players.

Bees are important, and we should care that they're dying off, especially as we seem to be partly to blame. Video games are now the biggest entertainment industry in the world, and I love all sorts of games. But something like Bee Simulator is quite rare today. Even more rarely is this sort of thing done well.

I hope Bee Sim inspires more games like it, more games that use this industry's enormous influence for good. Taking care of our world could use some more positive buzz.

Don't Die, Minerva! Early Access Impressions: Good is Still Fun Tue, 26 Nov 2019 15:47:47 -0500 RobertPIngram

Over the last week, I've been putting time in on the latest Early Access release from Xaviant, Don't Die, Minerva!. The early indications point to a game that is clearly still a work in progress but one that has some promising signs.

Don't Die, Minerva! is a rogue-lite that puts players in control of Minerva, an 11-year-old girl who finds herself trapped in a recurring loop on the grounds of a haunted mansion.

The bad news for Minerva is that she has nobody but a friendly, ghostly butler in the lobby to talk to, and nothing but a stuffed animal and a flashlight to take further into the depths of a ghoulish mansion.

The good news is those stuffed animals and that flashlight are surprisingly useful tools for taking on the ghostly dead, and death just means starting over, possibly even with some new tools unlocked along the way.

Don't Die, Minerva! Early Access Impressions: Good is Still Fun

Like many games of its type, Don't Die, Minerva! makes use of procedural generation by randomly generating the game's mansion — sort of. The system doesn't quite play out as a truly random experience.

As opposed to creating vastly different worlds to explore through each playthrough, the procedural generation here means that the usual assortment of rooms are arranged in a random layout with randomized enemies spawning every time you start a new playthrough.

While this does mean you can't simply race through the levels from one elevator to the next — as there is no way of knowing exactly where you have to go  it also means that runs don't feel quite as fresh and distinct as they do in some other rogue-lite games. 

Similarly, enemies progress as you move from one floor to the next. However, there isn't a ton of variety to be had. Enemies often have similarities that result in minimal differences between their models. Some are simply rehashes or upgraded versions of those on lower floors. 

None of these are game-breaking issues, and the enemies, in particular, may see further expansion before the final release, but players should be prepared for the limitations going in.

Progress is Slow on 11-Year-Old Legs

Every death sees Minerva sent back to the mansion's front gate to take it on all over again. However, you don't get to keep all of your gear when that happens.

That doesn't mean that there's no sense of progress, of course, as the game does have the traditional rogue-lite standard of developing permanent upgrades. What you shouldn't expect, however, is to be wildly more powerful from one run to the next.

As Minerva explores the mansion's floors, she'll discover portals that bring her back out to the mansions gates, bathed in an eery red light. There she can improve her situation in two ways.

In the short term, a merchant offers her the chance to improve her gear and become stronger in the moment. With Mr. Buttersworth, Minerva can turn in crystals that help her progress toward unlocking permanent perks for future runs.

These permanent upgrades are not without value, but they are slow-going. Some basic upgrades can be unlocked in just a few runs. But as you begin studying some of the more enticing benefits on offer — and comparing their costs to the crystals harvested on an average run — you will quickly find it takes dedication and repetition to unlock the good stuff.

Light 'Em Up

Combat in Don't Die, Minerva! is relatively simple. Minerva is armed with a flashlight that damages any baddy unfortunate enough to get caught in its light. She can also deploy her stuffed animal to provide additional support.

Minerva enters the mansion armed with a standard flashlight to take on monsters if they get too close, but that doesn't mean that's Minerva's only option.

Whether you're finding them in an item drop, in a treasure chest, or on the merchant's table, Minerva can swap her flashlight for one of the alternatives lying within the mansion's walls. These lights look and behave less like flashlights and more like guns.

There's the machine gun variety, the heavy hitter that slowly churns out blasts of light, and even a Tesla-like arcing weapon. Each of these can be further upgraded with the addition of stones that Minerva finds around the mansion.

Upgrades range from adding increased elemental damage to granting special abilities like energy regeneration, knockback power, or chained attacks that bounce from an enemy to its neighbors.

As you get deep into a run and stack up powerful weapons with useful boosts, you can turn Minerva into a force to be reckoned with. This is further enhanced by the addition of your trusty stuffed animals.

As with weapons, Minerva can unlock new varieties of and higher-leveled stuffed animals as she progresses. But even the basic Level 1 Monkey you grab from the first elevator each run can prove to be highly useful in combat.

If anything, the stuffed animals can occasionally feel overpowered. Early in my playthroughs, upon discovering their effectiveness and while dealing with some user-error-related misunderstandings about the functionality of Minerva's flashlights, I found that it was often best to let them carry the load. 

One of the most effective strategies I found with lower-level enemies and weapons was to simply drop my monkey in the middle of a pack of them and focus entirely on dodging their attacks while the monkey cleared them out.

Their use becomes even more crucial as you begin to discover shielded enemies, for whom the two-pronged approach of a pincer attack is crucial to getting past their mono-directional defenses.

Don't Die, Minerva! Early Access Impressions — The Bottom Line

With all the caveats that come with Early Access titles, Don't Die, Minerva! seems to be an enjoyable, if unspectacular, addition to the world of rouge-lite exploration games.

While there was nothing in my time with the game that blew my mind, there was also no time where I wasn't enjoying what I was doing, either. The little touches, like the tiny blue footprints Minerva leaves behind after walking through defeated ghost goo, help to make it an endearing experience.

Although it's not the first game I'd recommend to somebody looking to try the genre out for the first time, if you're looking to have some fun in a new setting, it's a perfectly suitable way to spend a few hours with a controller in your hand.

Don't Die, Minerva will be available on Steam Early Access on December 5. It is scheduled to see a full release sometime next year. 

[Note: A copy of Don't Die, Minerva! was provided by Xaviant for the purpose of this impressions piece.]

Project xCloud Impressions: Microsoft Takes the Streaming Lead Tue, 26 Nov 2019 11:23:01 -0500 Mark Delaney

Project xCloud is here. If you read our early Stadia impressions, you know that game streaming has arrived sort of. While Google's foray into the game industry has been up and down so far, that may partly be because they're rushing to beat Xbox to market.

Microsoft is currently running a Project xCloud streaming preview program for select players who sign up for the trial phase. I was lucky enough to be given the green light as a sort of beta tester. 

That makes me one of very few people with a foot in both the Stadia and xCloud camps so far. So how does xCloud work? In brief, xCloud works very well on mobile, just like Stadia. For the long version of that, keep reading.

Project xCloud promotional still featuring games played on phones and tablets.

What is Project xCloud?

In case you've missed the news of xCloud from the beginning or maybe aren't sure of everything it offers, Project xCloud is Microsoft's game streaming initiative.

Much like Google Stadia's 2018 experiment called Project Stream, where select players were able to play Assassin's Creed Odyssey via the cloud, Project xCloud is Microsoft's big bet that game streaming will matter in the years to come.

Unlike Project Stream, and even unlike Google Stadia at launch, Project xCloud has a lot of games on offer  over 50 right now. What's more, in 2020 the service will become compatible with Xbox Game Pass, which currently has well over 200 games in its library.

This includes major first-party stuff like Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4 to indies and third-party titles like Oxenfree and Madden NFL 20.

Do I Need to Buy xCloud Games? 

The wildest part about xCloud right now is that you don't need to own any of the games to play them. Unlike Xbox Console Streaming  another invite-only initiative Microsoft is running where you stream games directly from your console  with xCloud, these 50+ games are available for free if you can get accepted into the program.

That's because it's all in preview right now, and the tech giant benefits from live player testing. 

Progress carries over, achievements pop, and if you've played before on console, the platform even recognizes that and picks up where you left off. It was awesome to see I didn't need to start my pirate's life over in Sea of Thieves.

What Devices Does xCloud Support? 

The program will roll out to more devices in 2020, but for now you'll need select (see: modern) Android smartphones or tablets to access the app you'll need to play.

According to Microsoft, compatible devices should have specs of at least "Android version 6.0 or greater, as well as Bluetooth version 4.0." Useable Xbox controllers can double as xCloud controllers but require Bluetooth capability. 

Will xCloud come to iPhone or Apple devices? Presumably, yes. Microsoft has previously said the streaming service will come "to other platforms at a later date." Right now, that's all we know, though more news is sure to come.  

Project xCloud Games: What's Available?

Promotional xCloud still featuring a library of more than a dozen games.

As mentioned, there are over 50 games currently in the xCloud library. If you want the full games list, we've got you covered:

  • ARK: Survival Evolved
  • Absolver
  • Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
  • Battle Chasers: Nightwar
  • Black Desert Online
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
  • Borderlands 2
  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
  • Conan Exiles
  • Crackdown 3: Campaign
  • Darksiders III
  • Dead Island: Definitive Edition
  • Devil May Cry 5
  • F1 2019
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Gears 5
  • Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Halo Wars 2
  • Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
  • Hello Neighbor
  • Just Cause 4
  • Killer Instinct
  • Madden NFL 20
  • Mark of the Ninja: Remastered
  • Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
  • Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
  • Overcooked
  • Puyo Puyo Champions
  • RAD
  • ReCore: Definitive Edition
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
  • Sniper Elite 4
  • Sea of Thieves
  • State of Decay 2
  • Subnautica
  • Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
  • Tekken 7
  • TERA
  • The Bard's Tale IV: Director's Cut
  • theHunter: Call of the Wild
  • Vampyr
  • Warhammer: Vermintide 2
  • West of Dead (BETA)
  • World of Final Fantasy Maxima
  • World of Tanks: Mercenaries
  • World of Warships: Legends
  • World War Z
  • WRC 7 FIA World Rally Championship
  • WWE 2K20
  • Yoku's Island Express

Will Project xCloud have exclusives? As of now, Microsoft has said that the service will not have exclusive games or titles. The company told Gamasutra

We are investigating a variety of new capabilities made possible by the cloud. However, we remain committed to an approach with game streaming that is complementary to console and have no plans for cloud-exclusive content at this time.

Does Project xCloud Work?

Sea of Thieves shooting cannon at broadside of ship.

Does Project xCloud actually work? In a word, yes.

With several hours logged in Project xCloud so far, I can confidently say it is living up to the dream. My hands-on time with Stadia was a few weeks of mixed feelings, but other than some slight scan lines when Sea of Thieves or State of Decay 2 got very dark the latter gets deliberately, cripplingly dark for horror effect I can't report a single issue I had with xCloud.

To be fair to Stadia, it too always works perfectly on my smartphone, so there seems to be something about the smaller screen or their Wi-Fi catchers that just works astoundingly well.

Playing several consecutive hours of Sea of Thieves has been a dream come true. It's a tough game to play at home when you've got two kids, including an infant, but with xCloud, I finally feel like I can reach Pirate Legend status because now I can play it anywhere the Wi-Fi is half-decent.

As games like Sea of Thieves and Forza exist in permanently shared, often uber-competitive worlds, they rely on high performance, and I would be lying if I said I felt disadvantaged when racing other drivers and fighting off pirates. It just works.

My games almost always look great, if not better than they do at home, thanks to my new phone with a gorgeous screen. In fact, the xCloud stream is, for me, much more reliable than the Xbox Console Streaming preview, which is usually unplayable unless I'm on my home network with my Xbox.

xCloud loads games faster too. I first noticed that when my two favorite aforementioned Xbox exclusives, both known for long load times, threw me into their games much faster than they do at home. When you can give me faster loads, and hitch-free HD displays, I'm convinced.

Project xCloud doesn't have it all yet, though. Notably, I saw no way to join friends' games, nor could I take screenshots or videos. For what it's worth, I could join voice parties at least. These are functions that will surely come later, so I'm not too concerned yet, but as a frequent screenshotter, the feature is missed for the time being. 

Knowing how well Stadia works on mobile, I see a similar trajectory for Microsoft, only the latter has 15+ years of experience in the industry and a huge fanbase.

Stadia took a major hit with its launch lineup of 22 games, some of the titles years old. Xbox won't have that problem as one of the established Big Three in the market, and with Xbox Game Pass compatibility on the way, there will be no shortage of titles.

I'm curious how Microsoft will decide to approach pricing. The a la carte menu on Stadia has turned many gamers away right off the bat. Is it possible Microsoft sticks to offering just Game Pass titles someday, tying the services together?

More likely, they will run it how they do their current digital store, where XGP and single-purchase games coexist. That way, xCloud never feels like it's missing anything, but it also offers a ton of incentive for current and curious Xbox gamers to jump in and try it.

The dream of next year, playing stuff like Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite wherever I may be, is coming to fruition — and fast. I'm already starting to feel old when I tell my seven-year-old how good he has it, and how back in my day, handheld games would never look or play like they do now.

Game streaming is rapidly altering the landscape of mobile gaming. Switch did something similar when it arrived in 2017, but Nintendo still struggles to pull in the full scope of third-party games. This future Microsoft and others are carving is also making Switch feel almost obsolete, or at least awkward at times, like a dedicated gaming handheld suddenly feels old-school.

Smartphones have swallowed up nearly every other item that was once in our lives, from calculators to cameras to newspapers. Now they're coming for your Switches and Vitas. With xCloud performing so well so far, I feel like my favorite games are just an app away.

The Game Awards 2019 Categories and Nominees Tue, 19 Nov 2019 17:17:53 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

The nominees for The Game Awards 2019 were just announced, which means polls are now open — assuming the event's website has recovered from its earlier crash — and voting can now begin.

The Game Awards 2019 itself is set for December 12 at 8:30 p.m. EDT. With that knowledge, there's not much time to wait and see if your favorite game, streamer, or eSports team will be taking home a shiny new trophy to commemorate their awesome superiority.

Here are all of the categories for The Game Awards, as well as their respective nominees.

The Game Awards 2019 Categories and Nominees

Game of the Year
  • Control (Remedy/505 Games)
  • Death Stranding (Kojima Productions/SIE)
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Bandai-Namco/Sora/Nintendo)
  • Resident Evil 2 (Capcom/Capcom)
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (FromSoftware/Activision)
  • The Outer Worlds (Obsidian/Private Division)
Best Game Direction
  • Control (Remedy/505 Games)
  • Death Stranding (Kojima Productions/SIE)
  • Resident Evil 2 (Capcom/Capcom)
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (FromSoftware/Activision)
  • Outer Wilds (Mobius Digital/Annapurna)
Best Narrative
  • A Plague Tale: Innocence (Asobo/Focus Home)
  • Control (Remedy/505)
  • Death Stranding (Kojima Productions/SIE)
  • Disco Elysium (ZA/UM)
  • The Outer Worlds (Obsidian/Private Division)
Best Art Direction
  • Control (Remedy/505)
  • Death Stranding (Kojima Productions/SIE)
  • Gris (Nomada Studio/Devolver)
  • Sayonara Wild Hearts (Simogo/Annapurna)
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (FromSoftware/Activision)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Grezzo/Nintendo)
Best Score/Music
  • Cadence of Hyrule (Brace Yourself Games/Nintendo)
  • Death Stranding (Kojima Productions/SIE)
  • Devil May Cry 5 (Capcom)
  • Kingdom Hearts III (Square Enix)
  • Sayonara Wild Hearts (Simogo/Annapurna)
Best Audio Design
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward/Activision)
  • Control (Remedy/505)
  • Death Stranding (Kojima Productions/SIE)
  • Gears 5 (The Coalition/Xbox Game Studios)
  • Resident Evil 2 (Capcom)
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (FromSoftware/Activision)
Best Performance
  • Ashly Burch as Parvati Holcomb (The Outer Worlds)
  • Courtney Hopeas Jesse Faden (Control)
  • Laura Bailey as Kait Diaz (Gears 5)
  • Mads Mikkelsen as Cliff (Death Stranding)
  • Matthew Porretta as Dr. Casper Darling (Control)
  • Norman Reedus as Sam Porter Bridges (Death Stranding)
Games for Impact
  • Concrete Genie (Pixelopus/SIE)
  • Gris (Nomada Studio/Devolver)
  • Kind Words (Popcannibal)
  • Life Is Strange 2 (Dontnod/Square Enix)
  • Sea of Solitude (Jo-Mei Games/EA)
Best Ongoing Game
  • Apex Legends (Respawn)
  • Destiny 2 (Bungie)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix)
  • Fortnite (Epic Games)
  • Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Best Independent Game
  • Baba Is You (Hempuli)
  • Disco Elysium (ZA/UM)
  • Katana ZERO (Askiisoft/Devoler)
  • Outer Wilds (Mobius Digital/Annapurna)
  • Untitled Goose Game (House House/Panic)
Best Mobile Game
  • Call of Duty: Mobile (TiMi Studios/Activision)
  • GRINDSTONE (Capybara Games)
  • Sayonara Wild Hearts (Simogo/Annapurna)
  • Sky: Children of Light (Thatgamecompany)
  • What the Golf? (Tribland)
Best Community Support
  • Apex Legends (Respawn/EA)
  • Destiny 2 (Bungie)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix)
  • Fortnite (Epic Games)
  • Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Best VR/AR Game
  • Asgard's Wrath (Sanzaru Games/Oculus Studios)
  • Blood & Truth (SIE London Studio/SIE)
  • Beat Saber (Beat Games)
  • No Man's Sky (Hello Games)
  • Trover Saves the Universe (Squanch Games)
Best Action Game
  • Apex Legends (Respawn/EA)
  • Astral Chain (Platinum Games/Nintendo)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward/Activision)
  • Devil May Cry 5 (Capcom/Capcom)
  • Gears 5 (The Coalition/Xbox Game Studios)
  • Metro Exodus (4A Games/Deep Silver)
Best Action/Adventure Game
  • Borderlands 3 (Gearbox/2K)
  • Control (Remedy/505 Games)
  • Death Stranding (Kojima Productions/SIE)
  • Resident Evil 2 (Capcom)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Grezzo/Nintendo)
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (FromSoftware/Activision)
Best RPG
  • Disco Elysium (ZA/UM)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (Square Enix)
  • Kingdom Hearts III (Square Enix)
  • Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (Capcom)
  • The Outer Worlds (Obsidian/Private Division)
Best Fighting Game
  • Dead or Alive 6 (Team Ninja/Koei Tecmo)
  • Jump Force (Spike Chunsoft/Bandai Namco)
  • Mortal Kombat 11 (NetherRealm/WBIE)
  • Samurai Showdown (SNK/Athlon)
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Bandai Namco/Sora/Nintendo)
Best Family Game
  • Luigi's Mansion 3 (Next Level Games/Nintendo)
  • Ring Fit Adventure (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)
  • Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Bandai Namco/Sora/Nintendo)
  • Yoshi's Crafted World (Good-Feel/Nintendo)
Best Strategy Game
  • Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Triumph Studios/Paradox)
  • Anno 1800 (Blue Byte/Ubisoft)
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Intelligent Systems/Koei Tecmo/Nintendo)
  • Total War: Three Kingdoms (Creative Assembly/Sega)
  • Tropico 6 (Limbic Entertainment/Kalypso Media)
  • Wargroove (Chucklefish)
Best Sports/Racing Game
  • Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (Beenox/Activision)
  • DiRT Rally 2.0 (Codemasters)
  • eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 (PES Productions/Konami)
  • F1 2019 (Codemasters)
  • FIFA 20 (EA Sports)
Best Multiplayer Game
  • Apex Legends (Respawn/EA)
  • Borderlands 3 (Gearbox/2K)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward/Activision)
  • Tetris 99 (Arika/Nintendo)
  • Tom Clancy's The Division 2 (Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft)
Fresh Indie Game Presented by Subway
  • ZA/UM (Disco Elysium)
  • Nomada Studio (Gris)
  • DeadToast Entertainment (My Friend Pedro)
  • Mobius Digital (Outer Wilds)
  • Mega Crit (Slay the Spire)
  • House House (Untitled Goose Game)
Content Creator of the Year
  • Courage (Jack Dunlop)
  • Dr. Lupo (Benjamin Lupo)
  • Ewok (Soleil Wheeler)
  • Grefg (David Martínez)
  • Shroud (Michael Grzesiek)
Best Esports Game
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (Valve)
  • DOTA2 (Valve)
  • Fortnite (Epic Games)
  • League of Legends (Riot Games)
  • Overwatch (Blizzard)
Best Esports Player
  • Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf (Immortals, Fortnite)
  • Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok (SK Telecom, League of Legends)
  • Luka "Perkz" Perkovic (G2 Esports, League of Legends)
  • Oleksandr "S1mple" Kostyliev (Natus Vincere, CSGO)
  • Jay "Sinatraa" Won (SF Shock, Overwatch)
Best Esports Team
  • Astralis (CounterStrike: Global Offensive)
  • G2 Esports (League of Legends)
  • OG (DOTA2)
  • San Francisco Shock (Overwatch League)
  • Team Liquid (CounterStrike: Global Offensive)
Best Esports Event
  • 2019 Overwatch League Grand Finals
  • EVO 2019
  • Fortnite World Cup
  • IEM Katowice 2019
  • League of Legends World Championship 2019
  • The International 2019
Best Esports Coach
  • Eric "adreN" Hoag (Team Liquid, CounterStrike:Global Offensive)
  • Nu-ri "Cain" Jang (Team Liquid, League of Legends)
  • Fabian "GrabbZ" Lohmann (G2 Esports, League of Legends)
  • Kim "Kkoma" Jeong-gyun (SK Telecom T1, League of Legends)
  • Titouan "Sockshka" Merloz (OG, DOTA2)
  • Danny "Zonic" Sørensen (Astralis, CounterStrike: Global Offensive)
Best Esports Host
  • Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere
  • Alex "Machine" Richardson
  • Paul "Redeye" Chaloner
  • Alex "Goldenboy" Mendez
  • Duan "Candice" Yu-Shuang

How to Vote for The Game Awards 2019

Fan votes are open for this year's The Game Awards. Normally, you can vote by visiting the official voting page. It's down right now, though The Game Awards on Twitter has a link to a generic Google page that tallies your votes.

You can vote once in each category once per 24 hours.

The Game Awards 2019 will air live on December 12 at 8:30 p.m. EDT. You can see how to watch it here

Google Stadia Review in Progress: The First Week with Google's Streaming-Only Dare Mon, 18 Nov 2019 13:12:56 -0500 Mark Delaney

Google Stadia launches November 19 for the earliest adopters, and that means today, I can finally start talking about my experience with the streaming-only platform from the search and tech giant.

I've already put in many hours on two different wireless networks at very different speeds. I've played on my Google Pixel 3a XL smartphone, on my 4K HDR television, and my Chromebook, seeking to experience the service and games on screens of different sizes, devices with different features, and on networks of varying stability.

While I'll have my final review to share in the coming days, I wanted to at least address some of the most pressing questions, including the most obvious of them all: does it work? My answer so far: yes.


Google Stadia Impressions: 4K Streaming? Yes, Really

Some of Stadia's most touted features deliver as advertised, and that's been quite an exciting proposition thus far. I first booted up Shadow of the Tomb Raider on my 50' 4K TV and was blown away to see, for the first time in my own home, true 4K gaming.

I play games on an Xbox One S, a standard PS4, and a Switch, so I've not yet seen real 4K games outside of trade shows. Stadia set a gorgeous and smooth first impression. Gameplay didn't miss a beat, and I couldn't sense any pixelizing or any input lag. All of those scary phrases many were worried about, they weren't present.

It didn't matter that I was streaming. On my home network, I pay for 75 Mbps download speeds, and unlike some unlucky folks, I do tend to get the full extent of those powers. It seems a 75Mbps speed is more than enough for Stadia to deliver problem-free 4K games streamed to my home network. With each game I tried  GYLT, Destiny 2, Kine, Tomb Raider, and lastly, Red Dead Redemption 2  gameplay went off without a hitch.

On a second network, where I get about 35 Mbps, my streams were a bit less impressive.

Once a stream began, it tended to go just fine. It was only sometimes when the Stadia app or website would inexplicably tell me my connection was too slow to play  despite Google's own speed tests confirming otherwise  that I got annoyed (Google promises 10 Mbps is the bare minimum to stream games on Stadia). For the most part, when I'd boot up a game, it would start fast and come in clear, and off I went.

Sometimes, though, some slight hitches, like frame rate slippages or some pixelization of the image, would occur on the lesser speed of 35 Mbps. This happened no matter the game, it seems, as it was present for me in Destiny 2GYLT, and Red Dead Redemption 2.

While most of my brief issues with streaming came via a slower connection and on lesser devices, that does give me pause. For many people, 35 Mbps is about what they're getting at home, and that's meant to be the minimum needed for 4K gaming. I need more time with the platform to see if that's really feasible, but so far, it seems like those speeds will only work if your bandwidth isn't being spread out, which is a tough ask in an age of ubiquitous connectivity. After all, even fridges and light switches can run on WiFi now.

One of the coolest Stadia features is the way you can transition from one device to another in just a few seconds. Testing it out, I moved my GYLT stream from TV to phone simply by opening the Stadia mobile app and hitting the play button. Without needing to save or wait any longer than a breath, Tequila Works' horror-adventure had simply migrated from the big screen to the palm of my hand and picked up precisely where I was.

That could be a very handy feature for people, and I could see myself using it regularly when my daughter suddenly commandeers the TV for Sesame Street

Google Stadia Impressions: Missing Features

While the foundational premise of Stadia has, more often than not, worked well so far, I still have many questions. First among them is what was the rush? Stadia launches this week in a state of borderline disarray, missing lots of features that would be expected or were even advertised as marquee features by Google.

The launch lineup includes 22 games, and only one of them is brand new, the decent horror-adventure GYLT I mentioned earlier. Sure, it also includes the game of the generation in Red Dead Redemption 2, as well as the second-best RPG of the generation in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, but it feels like anyone so excited to adopt a new platform early has probably already played the games in this lineup — or already owns a system that will run them. 

Fourteen more games are on the way before 2020, and they include more heavy hitters like Borderlands 3 and Ghost Recon Breakpoint, but again, none of these are system sellers on their own to an audience largely being asked to play them again.

Along with a library full of holes to plug, the platform is strangely sparse regarding many of its most popular and proudest features. The dedicated Google Assistant button goes nowhere yet. The Achievement system won't be implemented until an undisclosed date in the future, though any earned will unlock retroactively. 

Remarkably, family sharing isn't coming until later either, meaning you'll need to buy multiple licenses for the same game to play with another Stadia user on your account. Playing Borderlands 3 in co-op with my son has been fun on Xbox, and I'd maybe like to do it again on Stadia, but not if we're buying two copies.

Similarly, the Buddy Pass, which allows early adopters to gift a friend with three months of Stadia Pro, the service's subscription program offering a free game each month, won't be ready for a few weeks either, meaning Founders may have to spend a few weeks only talking about the platform with their friends, rather than playing with them.

4K streaming on PC won't be there at launch either, which was once meant to entice PC players with lesser rigs, or players like me, who have never until now played PC games at all. It's been great playing Stadia on multiple mobile devices like my Chromebook and smartphone, and though it looks fantastic on the latter's small but brilliant screen, I'd love the visual upgrade to come to my laptop, too.

Only the Chromecast Ultras that ship with the Founder's Editions will be compatible with Stadia at launch, meaning if you've already got one at home, you need to buy a Founder's Edition or wait for the firmware update later.

One minor gripe in light of these other issues is that I can't find any way to share screens and videos I've recorded, which has become a huge part of this generation as consoles have integrated social media sharing right into their respective UIs.

The Stadia UI doesn't seem to offer that, but then again, I've maybe overlooked it. That's because a lot of things feel out of place in the UI despite its limited feature range right now. These are growing pains I'm ready to forgive, but some of the other issues listed herein are less forgivable.

I also never saw Google provide a reasonable answer to questions concerning data usage. The tech giant warns that playing on Stadia could eat up to 20GB per hour. Play two hours of games per day and that's 140GB in a week, 560GB in a month.

I get 2TB of monthly allotted data with my ISP, so I'd be in the clear with these figures on their own, but Stadia must coexist with all my other platforms. For an avid gamer like me (especially for those who work in the industry or buy a lot of games), data spent on downloading new and sale-priced games can take up a chunk of equal size.

Factor in streaming video, music, and other data usage, and many will quickly approach or exceed their data caps, potentially costing themselves more money in the highway robbery industry known as internet service providers.

It seems like Stadia wants to shove other game platforms out of the way and become the all-in-one landing spot for gamers. Doing so may save on data in the long run, but the library far from justifies that turf takeover at launch.

A year from now, Stadia will probably be much stronger and more robust, but by then, the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft will just be hitting shelves too. That includes Microsoft's own xCloud initiative doing what Stadia does, and maybe that explains why Google has seemingly rushed Stadia this holiday. 

Google has said a rollout of features is how they like to do things at the company, and that's fair enough, but then they must also understand that such a launch leaves few in the target market for early adoption. 

For someone to buy into Stadia early, they likely need to have an interest in gaming, the discretionary budget to meet their curiosity, the optimal internet data plan, and the compatible tech like a 4K TV and a smartphone. You know what we call someone who checks all those boxes? A gamer, meaning they probably already feel full up on platforms and content enough to not revisit some admittedly good to amazing games they've already played.

The convenience of Stadia is where it will win hearts and minds if it's going to at all, and that will only really happen once all these missing features are present.

Google Stadia Impressions: More to Come

After many early hours with Stadia, my feelings are so far mixed but hopeful. The most impressive aspect of the endeavor has been its marquee feature: streaming video games. No download queues, no waiting for updates to install, no transitions from device to device. It almost always works, so far at least.

Before I'm comfortable giving my final verdict, I'd like to spend time with a number of specific areas.

For one, I need more multiplayer time in a live environment. Destiny 2 has been my only brush with that so far, so I look forward to going further this week. I'd also like to stress-test the streaming capabilities some more. How does it hold up when my kids are sharing our bandwidth and I'm racing across Tumbleweed in Red Dead 2? What's the controller battery time like and how does it feel after many more hours of use? These questions and more will be my focus over the next week or so.

There are some blemishes at launch, no doubt, and with more time this week, I'll see what else shines and what looks rusty. Even so, it's certainly a platform I'm rooting for. If done well, it will provide a future that makes games and the hobby of playing them undoubtedly better. It's a fascinating project, and with more time, I'll know if that fascination translates to fandom.

[Note: Google provided a Stadia review kit for the purpose of this article.]

Nioh 2 Beta Impressions: Back to the Past, Better Than Ever Tue, 05 Nov 2019 11:07:55 -0500 John Schutt

The concept behind the Nioh franchise isn't one that should work as well as it does. Take Souls difficulty and marry it to a deep, technical combat system, then set it in Feudal Japan and fill it with Diablo-style loot. That's Nioh in a nutshell.

Despite all conception to the contrary, it works like a dream. Thankfully, Nioh 2 takes the original game's dream-like formula and perfects it. Based on my time with the beta, I can see this being the definitive edition of an already stellar outing by Team Ninja.

Nioh 2 Beta Impressions: Weapons, Combat, and General Gameplay

Nioh 2 boasts every weapon from the first game and its DLCs and even goes so far as to add a couple of new ones. I wish I could have tried them all in the short time I've had with the beta, but I can say that any worries about combat depth and variety can be put to bed. 

The combo system from the original Nioh is back in full force, and if you mastered a weapon in that game, many of those skills will transfer to the sequel without much trouble. 

Players will find all their favorites back in all their glory. The single and dual katanas remain the game's bread and butter weapons. The kusarigama is still as technically challenging and rewarding as it ever was. Newer additions like the tonfa and odachi are back. But for me, the star of the show is the Nioh 2 switchblade.

Essentially a Bloodborne-style trick weapon, the switchglaive transforms as you move between low, medium, and high stance, going from a bladed club to a spear to a full-on scythe with the click of a button. It's a slower weapon and mechanically challenging enough that few will truly get a feel for it in the beta. That said, I think those who dedicate the time are bound to find something to love.

Combat itself is as fast and chaotic as Nioh players will remember, with plenty of iterations on old formulas as well. For one thing, rather than imbuing your weapon with a Guardian Spirit like the first title, your character takes on a yokai-human hybrid form, complete with new attacks, combos, and special abilities.

Using Yokai Shift, as it's called, would have added more than enough variety to the game, but Nioh 2 goes even further. You can now pick up souls of dead yokai and add them as modifiers to your armor. This new mechanic — called Imbue Soul Core — grants you a limited number of additional equipment perks. More importantly, every bonded yokai soul core gives you a special yokai attack based on the creature you pulled the core from. All of this drains a new energy bar called Anima.

I would say it stops there, but it doesn't. There's a whole new type of counter-state as well. Enemies will now telegraph their windup attacks with a red aura, and with a properly timed combo breaker, you'll be able to do significant damage with moderate risk to yourself.

The Yokai realm got an overhaul, too. Now there are entire areas of a map that exist in a separate dimension. In this dimension, your stamina regeneration is significantly reduced, making the Ki Pulse ability more valuable than ever. Killing the miniboss yokai who rule these pocket dimensions cleanses them of taint, bringing back both their color and your stamina recovery.

On top of all that, skill trees get a complete overhaul, with old favorites and new additions making their returns. I can confirm that Onmyo magic is still broke as hell, and while I didn't spend as long with ninjutsu, I can say that it's probably just as good.

One interesting change to the progression system is how you advance Nioh 2's more specialized skills. Magic, samurai, and ninjutsu skills now only progress through usage, so you won't have easy access to any of them right away. Until you find Onmyo magic items in the wild, I don't think there's a way to advance that tree at all.

That's good from an early game standpoint, but once you have a few talismans to use, you can grind your way into every magic ability known to Japan. The only thing keeping you from tearing through the entire game at that point is the capacity system, which limits how much of an ability you can equip at once. 

So far, that's quite a few notable changes, which begs the question: is it still Nioh? Oh, yes.

Nothing about the core gameplay has changed. You will still be showered in mostly worthless loot. You will again slaughter your way through small armies of 14th-Century samurai, ninjas, and uncountable demons. And you will still do it looking as serious — or silly — as you please. Add a custom player character and one of the most robust character creators since Code Vein, and there will be seriousness and silliness in spades.

Just as it should be.

Nioh 2 Beta Impressions: World Design, Enemies, and Bosses 

One of the chief complaints haunting Nioh was how the game's worlds were flat. They gave little lip service to the twisting, turning levels present in the Souls games that inspired Nioh.

Seemingly, that hasn't changed too much in Nioh 2.

Verticality is more present in Nioh 2 than it was in the first game, but without any new ways to traverse the world, there's only so much a few ladders and hill pathways can do.

Shortcuts are more frequent and more creatively laid out, which is a welcome change, and I liked the forest environment as a nice change of pace from the constant nighttime settings from the first game. There was a nighttime level in the beta, of course, coupled nicely with the obligatory poison cave, but the sweeping change of scenery was a nice change of pace. 

I can't say the new enemy types in the beta are all that nice, however. All of them are horror-terrors with fast attacks, high damage, and Nioh-brand close-quarters fighting. Most have seemingly been conceived under the design moniker of "let's-put-this-enemy-and-his-friends-in-an-arena-that's-way-too-small."

But saying it that way sounds a tad cynical. So let me say it another way: I love every one of them. 

They're everything I could ask for in a Souls-like enemy. Tough to learn, punishing to the smallest mistakes, and generally freaky looking. I can't wait to see what other terrible things I'll get to take down come full release.

The bosses give me the same feeling. Between the two, I prefer the one that's a bit more catty, if only because it's a cat and I'm a cat person. Though, I do find myself at a distinct disadvantage mobility-wise, as bosses can and will cross the entire arena in seconds only to flee once again when I get close. It's a frustrating balance to strike between caution and aggression, one that needs tuning in any Souls-like. 

I hope Team Ninja can nail it more than miss the mark.

Beta Verdict

Short version: I'm picking up Nioh 2. Even on my launch PS4, it runs well enough, and while I want it on PC for the frames and textures, I won't complain either way.

So far, Nioh 2 is a game that speaks to Souls fans. It pairs technical combat and tons of loot with genre-accurate difficulty and a change of scenery. That alone makes it worth checking out. 

I put too much time into Nioh, and I look forward to doing it all again with Nioh 2.

Death Stranding Review Roundup: A Masterpiece to Some, Boring to Others Fri, 01 Nov 2019 13:54:32 -0400 GS_Staff

It's been a long wait, but Death Stranding reviews are finally here. With them comes a greater understanding of the behemoth Kojima has conjured from the depths of his strangeness. 

While we're still hoping to receive a review code from Sony and provide our own thoughts on the game, we wanted to share some of the reviews other outlets have posted so far. For the most part, the game has received positive reviews. Yet as the conjecture grows around Death Stranding, we want to make sure there are as many places to get the info you need. 

Sure, you could bounce over to the game's Metacritic page and take a gander, and we encourage you to do so as more reviews get posted. But in the spirit of sharing good information, we decided to provide you with this review round-up, too. 

In no particular order, here's what has been said of the game so far: 

EGM (5/5)

In the end, Death Stranding’s biggest mystery isn’t any of the elements we’ve had teased in three-plus years of trailers—it’s what people are going to think of it. Even from a man known for making love-them-or-hate-them projects, this may end up being one of the most divisive games ever created. For me, it was an experience that I can truly say was unlike any other I remember. And, if nothing else, Death Stranding makes me respect Hideo Kojima for convincing Sony to invest millions into a game that’s about a man delivering packages to holograms.

Read the full review

GameRevolution (5/5)

Death Stranding is one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s smart, it’s well-produced, and it just feels good to play. It’s damn cool. I don’t think any other game made me think to myself, “Damn, that was powerful,” as many times as Death Stranding did. Sure, there’s a lot of games that have some point to make. I don’t want to downplay anyone else’s work. However, Death Stranding will get you thinking about some stuff. I’ve played through it twice, and there are still things I’m turning around in my head.

Read the full review

Screen Rant (5/5)

What Death Stranding is, though, is a game that pushes the medium forward. So much of Death Stranding is memorable, from its characters to its gameplay sections to its stellar soundtrack. It genre-hops in the same way that NieR: Automata did so successfully a few years ago. While navigating between stealth, adventure, survival, and gunfighting elements, Kojima’s latest title balances them all into something that feels new. The game is incredibly ambitious, and it is unapologetic about the design elements it feels are integral to telling its story.

Read the full review

Destructoid (8/10)

Death Stranding is not the overly-strange inaccessible walled garden the marketing has made it out to be. It's weird, don't get me wrong! But anyone with a surface-level understanding of surrealism in art should be able to acclimate to what is essentially a playable Hollywood production.

Read the full review

Game Informer (7/10)

Try as it might, Death Stranding’s story doesn’t shore up its faults. It’s the normal Kojima mix of twists-and-turns, tropes, and overbearing themes, but at least I like that it explores real-world topics like the theory of multiple dimensions and key events in the history of the planet’s biodiversity. Like Sam himself, I often wasn’t sure why I kept going in Death Stranding. Maybe there was a little bit of pride in another task checked off the list, another job done. Unfortunately, this added up to little reward in the end.

Read the full review

IGN (6.8)

Certain landmark games in recent years, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2, have managed to successfully tread the line between the rigidity of realism and the exhilaration of pure escapism. But much like its stumbling protagonist, Death Stranding just can’t consistently get the balance right despite possessing equally lofty ambitions and countless inventive ideas. There is a fascinating, fleshed-out world of supernatural science fiction to enjoy across its sprawling and spectacular map, so it’s a real shame that it’s all been saddled on a gameplay backbone that struggles to adequately support its weight over the full course of the journey. It’s fitting that Kojima Productions’ latest is so preoccupied with social media inspired praise, because in some ways I did ‘Like’ Death Stranding. I just didn’t ever love it.

Read the full review

VG24/7 (3/5)

If you do manage to hold out, you will be rewarded with flashes of brilliance, it’s just that those flashes are buried as deep as the core story is buried in the endless dialogue. And as profound as it wants to be, this is still a game in which you can equip and unequip your penis so you can piss out Red Bull. The good stuff is waiting for you beyond that piss, beyond the shit grenades, beyond that Ride with Norman Reedus advert unceremoniously plastered into a game universe where I didn’t see a single television set. It’s just a test of attrition.

Read the full review


Death Stranding will release on Friday, November 8. For more on the game, here's a look at almost a full hour of gameplay. If you still haven't pre-ordered the game and want to see what bonuses are available ahead of launch, be sure to check out our pre-order guide here

Stay tuned to GameSkinny in the coming weeks for more Death Stranding content, including our review. 

Seeing Screens in a Better Light: An Interview with Gunnar Optiks' Ryan Jaress Tue, 22 Oct 2019 13:44:11 -0400 Erroll Maas

"Don't sit too close to the screen." It's a warning many of us heard from our parents growing up, but distance isn't the only thing that can harm our eyes. Looking at screens for too long can put strain on our eyes and negatively affect our vision.

In the past decade or so, a few companies have focused on making glasses that help block strain-inducing blue light and decrease eye strain. Gunnar Optiks is one of those companies leading the charge.

Gunnar Optiks has been around since 2006. However, the company has become much more prominent in the last few years because of the exponential growth of gaming. At Twitchcon, we sat down with the company's Assistant Marketing Manager Ryan Jaress to talk about the company's start, its success, collaborative efforts, and plans for the future.

GameSkinny: How did the idea for Gunnar glasses originally come about?

Ryan Jaress: It originally came about by our founder Matt Michelsen. He actually was diagnosed with what's known as Digital Eye Strain. This was a relatively new phenomenon back in 2005 or so. And he pretty much developed Gunnar, and they named it after his son.

We developed amber tinted lenses that block 65% of blue light, which were originally for doctors and those in offices just in front of a screen, but ultimately, gamers were the ones who saw the need first. So here we are today, being known as the number one gaming glasses. We've been around since 2006, and we're continuously growing.

GS: What has the success you've seen since 2006 been like?

RJ: We have had a ton of success in terms of collaboration and developing ourselves as the primary stakeholder in ... gaming glasses... So if anyone in the gaming industry thinks of gaming glasses, they immediately think of Gunnar, and that's because we really paid attention to the community and we're continuously evolving our technology to fit the needs of gamers.

Through history's past, we've partnered with gaming companies such as MLG, and currently, we're partnered with the top gaming peripheral company Razer as well as top gaming company producer Ubisoft. So we're continuously building our partnerships to further advance our authority as the leaders in digital eye protection. Over the years, we've continuously partnered with very heavy hitters throughout our time — since 2006.

GS: Can you tell us more about your partnership with Ubisoft?

RJ: Yeah. We have made three collaborative glasses: one for Far Cry 5, which is the Father, which are the amber-tinted aviator style glasses, which look exactly like the protagonist's glasses. And then we made an Assassin's Creed Odyssey Enigma Glass, which is our Enigma frame that has a nice marbleized black temple and has a customized pouch. And then, for the most recent one, we worked together with Tom Clancy's The Division 2, so we built an all orange temple glass that resonates with the branding of the game, so people can really connect with it.

Also, there's something in the pipeline with a little more of a competitive feeling to it, so be sure to look out for that in the near future  probably mid-October.

GS: Speaking of collaborations, you also recently collaborated with Game Grumps, and I know many people were introduced to your products through them. Can you tell me more about that?

RJ: Our first collaboration with Game Grumps was a smash hit, and we wanted to make a second round collaboration equally as special. We collaborated with the Game Grumps team about the overall design of their signature glasses. Both Arin and Dan chose their colors by hand, which represents their personality (Pixel Pink for Arin, Cobalt for Dan).

As a personalized touch, The Pixel Pink Enigma glasses have Arin's signature and the Cobalt Enigma glasses have Dan's Signature on the left temple. 

GS: What are some of Gunnar's goals for the future?

RJ: Our goals are to further advance our lens and frame technology to better suit the needs of gamers and computer workers alike. So we continuously want to be a global company that protects all eyes from  around the world. So that's kind of our future goals. We want to make sure that every pair of eyes is covered by Gunnar so they can live in the digital age.

GS: When we were talking earlier, you mentioned making glasses for younger individuals. Can you tell us more about that?

RJ: Yes, so we currently have one pair of glasses that's for developing eyes, ages 12 and up, and that's called Cruz. What the difference is for those is that the glasses don't have our patented 0.2 diopter  magnification or focusing power. It's actually non-magnifications because when the eyes are developing, we don't want to mess with their vision because they have sensitive eyes, so they only get the protection of Gunnar with the amber tint and the clear tint.

We're also making glasses for even younger generations to come in the near future, such as ages four to eight and eight to 12.

GS: For your sunglasses, the description on the website mentions the circadian rhythm. Can you tell us about that?

RJ: So it's specifically tinted to help boost circadian rhythm, which is, overall, just a mood booster which will help you sleep better at night. When you eyes are looking at a specific color, your mind reacts to that. So we tried to mimic that sort of effect with the tinted glass. But also, it's for outdoor use and specifically for viewing digital devices outside. It's specifically non-polarized, so when you're looking at screens, it doesn't distort the vision of the screen and reduces glare.

So when you're outside you can look at a phone, you can look at a camera, or laptop, while you're protecting your eyes from the sun and from the screen at the same time.

GS: So when we were talking earlier you mentioned compatibility with headphones/headsets, and as someone who wears both glasses and headphones or a headset at the same time and gets uncomfortable after a while, I feel this is a great idea. Can you tell us more about that?

RJ: A lot of our glasses, specifically our gaming glasses, are built with the gamer in mind.

For headset compatibility, we have made a few frames that have very flat temples to reduce the pressure of headset wearers.
A few examples are Vayper, FPS Designed by Razer, and Torpedo.

It's rather clear to see that those at Gunnar Optiks put plenty of care into their products. Besides Game Grumps, plenty of other ambassadors swear by them, too. 

You can order Gunnar glasses through their official website or at their booth at various conventions. If your order products at a convention, Gunnar provides a 20% discount. 

Twitchcon 2019 Stack Up Interview with CEO Stephen Machuga Mon, 21 Oct 2019 13:23:32 -0400 Erroll Maas

While there are a lot of video games that revolve around war such as Battlefield, Call of Duty, Halo, and various others, often these games don't educate players about the true cost of war and how it affects the lives of those who took part in it. Lately, video games have been getting better about showing this but what about real veterans? How have they been affected and how could video games help them? Studies have suggested that video games can help veterans deal with their mental health struggles and companies like Activision and Microsoft have been helping veterans with the power of video games for some time now.

Several mental health based video game charities have also become prominent is the last few years. Stack Up is one of these charities. Stack Up helps veterans at home, as well as soldiers overseas, with their mental health through gaming. At Twitchcon, I sat down with founder and CEO Stephen Machuga to learn more about the charity and its growth.

GameSkinny: Can you give us a quick rundown of Stack Up, what it does and its mission?

Stephen Machuga: Sure. Stack Up is a military charity for Veteran's mental health through gaming and gaming communities. We have a variety of programs that we use to support that. We have our Supply Crates, where we box up games and gear, and we send them all around the world to veterans deployed in combat zones and others to military hospitals, as well as individuals who are struggling back home.

We have an Air Assault program that we use to help veterans fly out to various gaming events like studio tours, Comic-Con, E3, and things like that. We have our stacks program, which are community based volunteer efforts around the world, teams that get out and do good in their communities.

Then we have our Stackup Overwatch Program (StOP), which is our 24/7 peer-to-peer suicide prevention team on Discord, where veterans can come in and get some help that they need at all hours of the day. So those are our primary programs.

GS: You mentioned you help troops both overseas and here at home. What are some of the different difficulties that come with doing that, and what are the results you've seen from doing these programs like?

SM: We don't really have that many difficulties. First off, it was filling the boxes and getting enough money to buy gear on the wishlist, so that involved working with publishers and developers to find the gear that we needed; but we've come a long way. Now we have partnerships with almost everybody on the block as far as the games industry goes.

We get new stories back ... as far as individuals ... asking for gear like that we say, "Hey, if we're going to send you this stuff, could you please send us back some photos and some stories of you guys utilizing this?" And you get stories about individuals having tournaments at their unit wherever they are to determine who gets a day off or who gets to do what duties based on how they do in the tournament.

It's a cool taste of home for these guys and gals that are in a place that feels as far away from home as you can possibly get.

GS: So can you tell me about the kind of things you do with those here and not overseas?

SM: That's a big problem because when you're in the thick of it, when you're deployed forward and you're doing it, whatever it is you're doing, you don't really think about it. But there's a large contingent of veterans that are committing suicide because they're Vietnam war vets. A lot of people are like, "Why did they wait so long (to get help)?". Well, turns out that if you're working 40 to 50 hours a week and doing your thing and then you retire, you have a lot of time on your hands to just sit there and think and process. They don't have the tools in place to deal with their trauma. We're trying to make sure we're getting guys and gals that are younger and younger age through gaming, we're trying to raise morale, we're trying to make them feel more at home wherever they're at. And then back home, guys and gals who need help here, we're also making sure we're taking care of them.

You hear all kinds of stories about people who don't have enough money. They're living on disability, and they don't have enough money for gaming and it becomes a luxury item. It's tough to say, "Hey, this is an Xbox and some games as a medical necessity," but it very much can be.

One of the key indicators of somebody who's suicidal is somebody who's disconnected from the outside world. They don't feel that they're a part of anything. And multiplayer gaming is one of those things where you have a group of people who may not have served in the military but speak that gaming language. It helps you feel like you're part of something bigger, which many veterans feel when they're in the military.

GS: What are some of your hopes for the future of Stack Up?

SM: Just growing it out. Obviously, everybody we tell what it is we do, they love what we do, and they think we're amazing. And then they walk off. We need to make sure we're getting to the point where we're reaching the people who can make a difference in growing out our organization.

There's no venture capital, and there's no shark tank that's going to say, "Hey, this is a great charity idea; I want to invest money into it." Because it's about getting a return on investment, so we need to find individuals with deep pockets and that love philanthropy to help get this thing from a half million dollars a year to where we're competing with some of the bigger charities.

That's the goal right now. We get larger, we're not going anywhere, we're not worried about keeping the lights on, we can do more, we can help more people, and it doesn't become this hand-to-mouth existence that we're living with. So we can do more if we're secure.

GS: Can you tell me about what you have at your booth here at TwitchCon?

SM: Yeah, we used to have a push-up competition at our booth and it became kind of problematic. So now we have this high striker (example pictured below). Ironically, a lot of our veterans who are helping man the booth are sensitive to loud noises they aren't expecting, so there's a bit of a problem with that but it's a learning experience.

GS: Can you tell me about the dinosaur mascot that's all over your booth?

SM: Yeah, so one of our first conventions, one of our volunteers and community members got a T-Rex outfit, and we threw a T-Shirt on him and started walking him around at conventions and the response we got from people, they were taking pictures with it and using social media to make noise about it. We thought we were on to something. So it became our official mascot: Stack Up Rex.

GS: What is the logo for Stack Up, and why was it chosen?

SM: Obviously, the logo wording is "Stacked Up" on each other. The "grenade" is a flashbang, a non-lethal explosive device used for breaching buildings and disorienting enemy forces. A "Stack" is a formation used by a fire team to enter a building where enemy forces are believed to be inside. The flashbang is used after the door is breached to stun everyone inside, making entry easier.

Those interested in learning more about Stack Up can visit their website. For those who would like to help out with the charity's efforts, they can either donate or volunteer.

Preview: Dungeon-Crawl Straight Down in Shovel Knight Dig Tue, 08 Oct 2019 12:28:55 -0400 Thomas Wilde

There are a lot of things about Shovel Knight Dig that feel like they should’ve happened before now. The most obvious is in the gameplay. For as much digging as Shovel Knight is known to do, he hasn’t yet been in a game where digging is this much of it.

The other, which is a little more inside baseball, is that until now, as far as I know, nobody else ever thought to slap Dig Dug and Mr. Driller together and see what happened. Those are the two big names in digging-based 2D arcade games, and really, the more I think about it, the more I think they should’ve crossed over before now.

Instead, we’ve got this.

The story of Dig is simple: one night, Shovel Knight is peacefully asleep at his campsite when new enemy, Drill Knight, and his crew, the Hexcavators, make off with Shovel Knight’s accumulated treasure. All of it. Chasing Drill Knight and regaining the lost loot means going straight down into the earth, through an assortment of monsters, traps, obstacles, and hazards.

It takes very little time to get accustomed to Dig's new mechanics. As Shovel Knight, you can dig left, right, or down through soft earth, carving out passageways as you go. Once you drop down a level, however, it’s easy to get stuck that way. Most of the time, going down at all is a one-way trip.

You’ve also got a time limit in the form of a giant whirring death machine that will drop from above if you take too much time. It’s odd in that there’s no real indication it’s there, but all you have to do is see it once before you start feeling its pressure bearing down on you. Dig feels like a comparatively leisurely experience, right up until this monster made of blades and pain starts chasing you down a tunnel.

That’s where the Mr. Driller comparison kicks in. The movement’s out of Dig Dug, where you make your tunnels through the dirt as you go, but the constant feeling of being one step ahead of imminent disaster is pure Driller action. It encourages you to rush through things and be as expedient as you can, although it thankfully doesn’t feature the additional distraction of something like Mr. Driller’s air gauge.

Along the way, you can whack monsters with your shovel using Shovel Knight’s usual retinue of moves. You also dodge spikes, outwit explosive obstacles, and collect treasure to spend in shops. In each area, there are three golden gears you can pick up, and if you get all three, you can open up a big chest at the end of each level section. The gears usually require a bit of a detour to grab or, at least, make you think further ahead than usual.

Dig is decidedly the kind of game that stresses both your reflexes and your ability to pre-plan on the fly, as you can miss out on a lot of treasure and opportunities if you shovel straight down as quickly as possible. The treasure, in turn, can be spent to unlock bonuses and upgrades in shops that pop up along the sides of the tunnel.

According to Yacht Club Games, the publisher of Shovel Knight Dig, the game features a mixture of handcrafted levels and proprietary generation. While individual areas and challenges do appear, the order in which they appear and are attached is randomly determined at the start of your run. They are then regenerated if you die.

The plan is to feature “infinite replayability,” roguelike-style.

Shovel Knight Dig was available for play at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle at Yacht Club Games’s booth.

For Dig, Yacht Club is only the publisher; the developer is Nitrome, a studio in London founded in 2005 known for making (well over 100) browser and mobile games with high-quality pixel art. Nitrome broke into the console market for the first time when it brought Bomb Chicken to the Switch last year. 

According to Yacht Club’s Alec Faulkner, Dig had been in development for about a year as of PAX West, with no firm plans yet for a release date or platforms. It was shown off alongside Cyber Shadow and the forthcoming Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, featuring the brand-new 4-player Showdown mode. 

Dig also features a new soundtrack by Shovel Knight composer Jake “virt” Kaufman.

Deliver Us The Moon Preview Impressions: Light on Gameplay, Heavy on Polish Thu, 03 Oct 2019 16:53:57 -0400 Ty Arthur

Space is going to be a tough nut to crack for humanity. As resources dwindle and we look to the stars while fumbling around on Earth, there are plenty of game developers offering up unique visions on what might be in our near future.

That's what you get with Deliver Us The Moon. It goes the route of Interstellar or Gravity over more outlandish sci-fi and stays focused on a low-key, science-based world even though it has flights of fancy and is a drama at heart.

With the game's full release just around the corner, KeokeN Interactive let us try out a revamped preview of the game to see what's in store for launch.

At its core, Deliver Us The Moon is a reasonably basic walk-around (float around?) and look at documents/flip switches game. While relatively light on actual gameplay, there are plenty of collectibles to find. The game rewards exploration if you want to discover everything there is to know.

That's where the game shines, too. Both the voice acting and music in Deliver Us the Moon are surprisingly solid for an indie release, and its visuals are top-notch. 

From the barren, sandy wasteland of the launch site to picture-perfect padded space station corridors, Deliver Us The Moon nails its aesthetic and never lets you forget where you are.

In fact, this is one time I'm glad a game like this isn't in VR. As I played, I got some mild motion sickness from how well the game implements three-dimensional movement in zero-G environments. Thankfully, things aren't in hyper-speed like they are with Detached

Exploration aside, your mysterious astronaut will need to figure out how to turn off fuel valves, initiate launch sequences, restore life support systems, and access closed-off areas.

The code puzzles are wildly easy nobody will have any trouble finding the numbers to enter into any given keypad but the rest of the puzzles put up more of a challenge.

They frequently revolve around using limited resources to solve a problem, often in a limited time frame. It reinforces the feeling of being on a space station where things aren't working quite as they should.

Timed puzzles also imbue the game with an element of danger as you run out of oxygen. Certain moments, such as docking a rocket to a space station, are surprisingly tense, slow-motion dances.

         Even when the world is ending, there's always time for beer pong

Although the game's aesthetic may give off a creepy vibe, this isn't a sci-fi horror game like SOMA or the upcoming Moons Of Madness. Rather, it's more a drama with thriller elements. Although there is the little caveat that if you fail, all of humanity will die. So no pressure.

Much of the story is told through holographic re-creations heavy on dialog. It's done in a way that may bring to mind Close To The Sun minus the supernatural, horror-style connotations.

Taking place in our near future of the 2050s puts things into vivid perspective. The hard choices we make today regarding climate change are echoed here with humanity on the brink of collapse. On character drives that allegory home when talking about how humans first went to the moon "only 100 years ago."

Those little touches referencing real-world events make things all the more tangible, ringing true for those of us hoping for a better future. 

While the environments are spot on and the puzzles will keep you engaged, there is one major downside to Deliver Us The Moon: the game is really short. Reaching the end of the preview section takes about three to three-and-a-half hours. Using a walkthrough or correctly guessing all the puzzles on the first attempt without searching for every collectible, you could conceivably do it all in two hours.

Sure, this is a preview and the final build may be longer, but you'll have to wait for our review next week to find out.


To put it simply, Deliver Us The Moon is more of a cinematic experience with coupled with interactive puzzles than an action-oriented game, and it's the sort of title that was made for Let's Plays with no commentary.

That being said, there's a lot of fun to be had flying around in zero gravity environments trying to solve puzzles while tracking down that last audio recording to put all the pieces of the story together.

The full version of Deliver Us The Moon, including a fan-requested addition, will drop October 10, 2019. Stay tuned for our full review. 

Heading Back to the Murder Party: Super Meat Boy Forever Mon, 30 Sep 2019 11:17:44 -0400 Thomas Wilde

It’s been a long time since Super Meat Boy came out. It started in 2008 as a Flash game, then made its way to consoles and PC starting in 2010, which doesn’t sound like that long, but it was almost two console generations ago. In this field, that’s as good as decades. It's long enough that there’s a whole new potential audience for it. 

Super Meat Boy was a genuine hit, selling over a million copies. It spurred a flurry of imitators, great and small. Every demanding, unapologetically challenging platformer from the last decade, to my mind, owes at least a symbolic debt to Super Meat Boy.

Whenever you play a Mario Maker level that’s 90% elaborately rotating spikes and saw blades, or spend several hours beating your head against a stage in Celeste or Cuphead, Meat Boy is there in spirit. He is our bloody patron saint of difficult but mostly fair platform challenges.

Super Meat Boy Forever saw trap

According to its lead programmer/business manager/producer/writer Tommy Refenes, Super Meat Boy Forever has been in the works off and on for around eight years. It was initially prototyped in 2011, begun and initially showed off at PAX West in 2014, stopped entirely in 2017, and then “basically started over” later that year. The release date has shifted forward one year once a year since 2014 or so.

Since then, Team Meat has grown to 14 people, including a full-time artist, level designer, and animator (and notably not including co-creator Edmund McMillen). Super Meat Boy Forever is now scheduled to come out… well, when it comes out. (Maybe the world is telling us not to name our sequels “Forever.”)

Super Meat Boy Forever disclaimer at Pax West 2019
The disclaimers on the demo kiosks for
Super Meat Boy Forever
at PAX West 2019.

After spending that much time in development hell, with a couple of different false starts, you’d think the final product would end up feeling a little self-conscious. That isn’t really the case with Super Meat Boy Forever.

Much like Meat Boy himself, it’s cheerful and oblivious to anyone else’s opinion. The best thing about Meat Boy, in general, has always been its “why the hell not” atmosphere, where you go from hell to heaven to 8-bit flashbacks and back again without rhyme, reason, or sense, and Super Meat Boy Forever has that in spades.

It’s been some time since the original Super Meat Boy, long enough for Meat Boy and Bandage Girl to settle down and have a kid, named Nugget. (One of my favorite things about Nugget is the look on Meat Boy’s face, as if every time he sees the kid, he remembers he’s a dad all over again.)

One day, during a family picnic, Dr. Fetus abruptly shows up and kidnaps Nugget.

(I asked Refenes at PAX what the deal was there, as Dr. Fetus was very visibly stomped into mucilage at the end of Super Meat Boy. His answer was to say “Enh” and shrug. There you go.)

The significant change in Forever over Super Meat Boy is that now, your character never stops moving. From the moment you hit the ground, your character – both Meat Boy and Bandage Girl are playable and mechanically identical – takes off at a dead sprint to the right. You can jump, slide, rebound off of walls, and use special tiles to change your direction, but you can’t actually ever stop.

Super Meat Boy Forever wall jump

I was initially wary of the premise since it sounded a lot like one of those endless-runner phone games, but playing it feels better than I expected. It basically reduces the number of things you have to keep track of, so you can focus entirely on timing your jumps and slides. Naturally, this is a Meat Boy game, so even on the first stage, there are jumps that require a pixel-perfect approach to survive.

As usual, Meat Boy inhabits a universe that is anywhere from 50% to 99% swinging blades at any given time, and navigating each stage is a short gauntlet of deadly leaps, murderous traps, freak mutants, and strange hazards. At the end of every level, you find Nugget again… just in time for Dr. Fetus to kidnap him again. So it goes.

One big difference, of course, is that you can attack now. When Meat Boy or Bandage Girl slide, they stick out a fist or foot in a vicious-looking, weirdly satisfying punch. Used to be, you could only defend yourself from enemies by avoiding them or manipulating the environment against them. Being able to haul off and deck some random monster is a surprisingly big step forward.

While a lot of the structure of Forever is immediately familiar from the original Super Meat Boy, including the basic shape of its world map, the game is designed in a way that actively prevents you from memorizing its patterns. Every stage of Forever is built out of 70 to 100 “chunks,” according to Refenes. These are assembled on the fly to create a one-of-a-kind version of the level. If you back out of a stage to the map and reenter, it reshuffles itself, so it's difficult to see the same run twice.

Super Meat Boy Forever map

It does feel like Super Meat Boy Forever has a lot to live up to. It’s weird to think about just how much has changed in the platformer genre and the indie game marketplace between the first Super Meat Boy and now. At the same time, Super Meat Boy tripped off a wave of imitators and descendants that has never quite subsided, even now.

Forever is heading into a much more populated field now, to compete with a host of games that wouldn’t exist without its predecessor. It’s in with a good chance, but I’m really interested in seeing how the audience will react.

Planet Zoo Beta Impressions: Breed Your Very Own Ostrich Army Fri, 27 Sep 2019 17:15:21 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

When loading up Planet Zoo's beta for the first time, the plan was to start with an animal that wouldn't be too difficult. Monkeys seemed like they would be too smart and escape. Lions or bears would be too dangerous. Ostriches seemed like a solid bet; they could cause a ruckus if there were a screw-up, but they could probably be a safe first choice. Bertie and Benny did great for a while.

Then they had babies. So many babies.

Soon, the ostrich pen was full of little fluffy birds. It got too crowded. The protesters showed up to tell all the patrons how awfully my zoo treated the animals. The money dried up. The zoo went under.

Overall, it was pretty fun.

We Bought a Zoo

Planet Zoo comes to us from Frontier Developments, who have a pretty solid track record when it comes to simulation management games. Just in the last few years, they released Planet Coaster and Jurassic World: Evolution. Planet Zoo looks and feels familiar to anyone who has dabbled in their other games.

It puts all sorts of tools at your disposal to build the perfect zoo. You must build paths, facilities, and shops, adopt and care for your animals, and decide when and how many to release back into the wild (or put up for sale). You can also choose when to expand to new locations around the globe in your quest for global zoo-premacy.

The beta, which I played for this article, is available to those who preordered the game: it began September 24 and runs through October 8. The full game releases November 5.


Let's get something out front: the Planet Zoo beta is buggy.

My game has crashed multiple times, and lots of little hitches have gotten in the way of things I want to do. Judging from Frontier's track record, this is a true beta. Planet Coaster featured a very similar opportunity before its release and had identical results. From the good we've seen so far in Planet Zoo, it's going to be an absolute blast for those who love every little detail of designing an attraction.

In my second attempt at a zoo, after the ostrich disaster, I lasted much longer.

Multiple species ran around in their habitats, guests had a variety of ways to view and interact with the animals, and shops hummed along. It eventually came crashing down, as often happens when one is learning the ropes of a new management sim. However, Planet Zoo hits that "Oh my, I've been playing for HOW long?" level of interaction that the best management games always hit.

It's even more entertaining because of how great everything looks when you zoom in for a closer look.

Picture Perfect

One of the best parts of Jurassic World Evolution was zooming in on your dinosaurs (or taking to an ATV and just driving around) while watching everything run efficiently. 

Planet Zoo takes that even further by incorporating into gameplay the actual behavior patterns of the game's animals. Some animals are comfortable with guests entering their habitat. Others are particular about the types of plants in their habitat, the amount of water they have, and how close guests can get (even through glass) before they freak out.

That said, it's super easy to get lost in it all and just watch the animals. You can turn on a cinematic camera that follows any animal in your park. You can hop into the vantage point of a guest and wander around yourself, peering into enclosures to spot all the baby bears.

It's a wonderful little time sink, and all the small difficulties of managing keep you engaged and dying to put up one more habitat.

Conservation is Key

One of the other exciting aspects of Planet Zoo is how you obtain animals.

There are two types of currency in the game: money and "conservation points." They are both earned in different ways. Money is what you make (or lose) by putting together a good zoo. Conservation points are earned through daily challenges and by releasing animals into the wild. You can buy animals for your zoo with either currency, and many of the animals up for auction are put there by other players.

This means there are a lot of options for the focus of your zoo. You can transfer animals freely from any of your open zoos, so you can start one with the sole purpose of raising critters for your other zoos. You can focus on animals that have a lot of babies with the goal of releasing many into the wild once they reach a certain age. You can concentrate on big-ticket animals that will draw a lot of eyeballs (and a lot of money).

There are a lot of opportunities for how you choose to run your zoo, and they all seem viable. That's the hallmark of an excellent management game: you can make a variety of different methods work as long as you piece together the puzzle.

A Positive Outlook

It will be interesting to see how the game's different modes play out on the full release. The beta only contains a tutorial scenario and a barebones "Franchise" mode that will have a lot more options.

I would like to see some things streamlined. For example, scrolling through animals, especially when shopping for new creatures, features a lot of delays and hitches.

Research is handled by the park vets, who will stop researching if an animal gets hurt, but then won't automatically go back to what they were doing before. There are just some things that can get repetitive that seem like they shouldn't.

That said, Planet Zoo looks like it's a winner. We'll have more on the game once it sees a full release on November 5. Check back then.

Contra Rogue Corps' Nobuya Nakazato Tells Us If We Can Aim Up, Why the Game Has Pandas Mon, 23 Sep 2019 15:33:38 -0400 Jonathan Moore

While you wait for our Contra Rogue Corps review, which is currently on the way, you might be interested in what the game's Nobuya Nakazato had to say about the game ahead of its September 24 launch.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with him at a Konami event in Seattle, Washington, and while our conversation was brief, Nakazato-san shared some tantalizing details about the upcoming shooter. 

GameSkinny (GS): Historically, Contra has been light on story; its narrative is often minimal or told through the environment. Why did the team choose to emphasize story in Rogue Corps, and what movies, games, or other media inspired that story?

Nobuya Nakazato (NN): Contra has always been about two parties fighting together, so the story wasn't that important, but this time we are up to four players, so you need each character to stand out. It made sense to create the background story for each of them, having a personality for each of them. This is why we decided to put more focus on story this time. 

GS: There's a huge, gun-wielding panda in Rogue Corps, as well as a katana-wielding assassin fused to an alien. Contra has had some crazy characters — Brad Fang and Browny from Hard Corps come to mind — but how did the team come up with these wild examples?

NN: I'm a huge movie fan, manga fan, so I take a lot of influences from there. That's where the ideas start to come up. 

GS: Is there a manga or anything specific that you may have pulled from for the inspiration for these characters? 

NN: When it comes to [influences], I could quote the drama series the A-Team as an inspiration for this. [Laughs]

GS: I can definitely see that! Focusing on the gameplay, Contra typically has a fast, frenetic pace. There's a lot of running and constant gunning. In Rogue Corps, that seems to be dialed back a bit with weapons overheating, as well as the precision aiming mechanic. Why slow things down and was that a deliberate decision by the development team, or did it naturally happen as the game moved through development? 

NN: In this game, we wanted to include hack and slash elements. So you can customize your weapons, you can basically make one of your own from scratch. Having that in the game means you have to add a strategic layer to it.

To decide if you want to go for a super-powerful weapon, such as something that only has one shot before overheating, or something weaker but will overheat more slowly ... Everything is [built around] the purpose of adding a bigger, more strategic layer to the game. 

GS: I ran into Big Fuzz it appeared at the end of [the PS4] demo, and it really surprised me. I was glad to see a familiar face! What classic Contra enemies or bosses might we come across in Rogue Corps

NN: You will find old enemies making a comeback in this game, as well as old environments. You may come across some old stages from the first Contra as well. 

GS: Lastly, I have to ask: Can we aim up? 

NN: Actually, that's one of the things that you can customize on your weapons. So it's more like aiming up to aerial enemies [with certain weapons that you make or unlock]. And yes, it's straight up with the weapon you're using. [Laughs]  

Contra Rogue Corps was unveiled at E3 2019. The game features four-player co-op and PvP, as well as a single-player campaign and a plethora of modes. According to Konami, the game can take players up to 30 hours to complete. 

While it's not the best Contra game ever made, Rogue Corps is fun to play. Having only played the PS4 demo before this weekend, I admit that my stance on the game was originally very negative. But after spending almost four hours with the game since then, my tune might have changed just a tad. 

You'll have to wait and see in my review coming tomorrow. 

Contra Rogue Corps will release on September 24 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It is the first new Contra game to release since 2011's Hard Corps: Uprising for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. 

"Intimate, not epic": An Interview with Tequila Works' Raul Rubio Wed, 18 Sep 2019 14:58:59 -0400 Mark Delaney

From the show floor of PAX West a few weekends ago, I got to go hands-on with Google Stadia for the first time. Google's big bet that game streaming has arrived impressed me in my 30-minute appointment as I played some Mortal Kombat 11 and the upcoming DOOM Eternal

While both demos ran as smooth as any player would demand they should, neither is the foremost reason I'll be eager to get my hands on Stadia when it launches this November.

For me, the killer app is Tequila Works' GYLT, a Laika-like 3D adventure game launching exclusively for Stadia. I got the chance to speak with the Spanish studio's CEO, Raúl Rubio Munárriz, about their design process, how they're utilizing Stadia's unique features for the eerie GYLT, and what lies at the heart of Tequila Works.

GameSkinny: How long has GYLT been in production? Has it always been envisioned as a Stadia exclusive?

Raul Rubio: Around two years. GYLT was our answer when the Stadia team asked what could we bring to the platform then known as Yeti. There was a previous prototype version before Stadia, but GYLT has been designed with Stadia in mind.

GS: What ways is the GYLT team leveraging Stadia’s features to develop the game?

RR: Stadia changes the way you create. Simulated physics, AI and machine learning. Even on a single-player experience, we can use those amazing tools. For example, style transfer allows us to change the visual style seamlessly in real time. We can enhance the mood and atmosphere from eerie to melancholic to scary by “simply” changing how you see the world.

GS: GYLT was revealed as a horror game. How scary is it meant to be?

RR: It’s not gory horror, more like delicate horror. Less Wes Craven and more Guillermo del Toro. Respectful of the world and its inhabitants. Scary, but always at the service of telling an intimate story about pretty deep and dark themes.

GS: The game is described as letting players “hide from terrible creatures or confront them.” Can you talk about the way players do these things in the game? 

RR: Think of a sick hide and seek game. Sally is a little girl facing the physical manifestations of her fears and traumas. She is a fragile character, so using her wits is recommended over frontal confrontation. That means hiding and using stealth to avoid the monsters. Sally has plenty of tools at her disposal, though, so creating distractions or other tactics are available to the player.

GS: The character and world design of GYLT gives the impression of a child’s perspective corrupted by some kind of darkness. What was the process like designing this world? How did you come to this final version we see in the trailers? 

RR: Or more like how a child would face and understand that darkness that is twisting her reality. Magical realism was the way we made a world that seems believable but feels something else. Neil Gaiman was a great inspiration, as well as the beautifully crafted stop motion worlds of Laika and Aardman. A combination of physically correct lighting and materials but a very stylized and “hand-drawn” approach to architecture and characters.

GS: What else inspired GYLT, either in fiction or in reality?

RR: GYLT was originally inspired by a personal, real story close to us. It evolved thanks to working with psychologists specialized in the subject of bullying who introduced us to its deep complexity in a respectful way.

The fictional mining town of Bethelwood was heavily inspired by locations from Maine. The state was the main (no pun intended) visual reference, not only because of Stephen King’s tales (laughs) but because of its combination of history, people, and biomes.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline — and by extension Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — helped us shape the twisted and sometimes surreal nature of GYLT. Another unlikely inspiration was RiME itself.

GS: Video games are often very good about getting players to feel heroic or scared at different times, but less successful when it comes to making them feel sad or, as GYLT is described, “melancholic.”

Your previous work, RiME, is the most personally affecting video game I’ve ever played. Behind its own symbolism, GYLT looks like it’ll have a lot of emotional weight, too. What is the process like inside Tequila Works to ensure the player remains emotionally present?

RR: Thank you, kindly. We have been working on narrative structure for a long, long time. We decided many years ago that our stories would be interactive stories, a vehicle to touch the player, driven by their own feelings. As such, the kind of experiences we create are intimate, not epic.

We believe in telling stories worth being told, not excuses to justify fancy graphics or cerebral gameplay. We embrace the interactivity of our medium; we don’t telegraph a narrative and tell you how you should feel, but lay a structure with slots so players can develop their own emotional response.

Just like RiME was about grief, or Deadlight about solitude, or The Invisible Hours about exposure… GYLT is about blame. Sometimes it's hard to differentiate the victim from the aggressor; sometimes they can be both. In a sense, GYLT is not about judging or indoctrinating, but putting all those elements under the spotlight, and letting the player decide with their actions.

GS: Tequila Works’ history is consistently unpredictable. It’s impressive that one studio is responsible for an eclectic mix of games like Deadlight, The Invisible Hours, RiME, and upcoming projects like Groundhog Day 2 and GYLT. How many teams do you typically have working on different projects and what sizes are these teams? 

RR: I guess you can only expect the unexpected from Tequila Works, because we love to play with what audiences take for granted. We are pretty genre-agnostic, just like we are platform-agnostic.

Each creation tries to raise a question or answer one of our own. That would be pretty hard if you only make the same game over and over again I guess. That’s why we always aimed for Tequila Works to be a boutique studio.

Now, we are around 85 people in the studio, currently split in four teams. We just finished Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son and that team has moved to either GYLT, two new undisclosed projects or The Distillery, our small R&D team.

We are very flexible, and we have never put all the staff on a single project because that would be AAA territory, and we have been there, done that. Our team sizes change a lot, the smallest being one, strike teams are typically three, each Distillery “cask” is five, Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son was 18 at its peak, GYLT is around 35.

It’s all about the project scope. We try not to oversize because big teams require not only more “bureaucracy” but it’s harder for the creativity and spontaneity we're prideful of to flow in a less agile working environment.

GS: With that in mind, how does Tequila Works determine where they’re going next with their projects and why is GYLT the right game to make now for your studio?

RR: Tequila Shots and The Distillery, of course! They operate on a Game Jam basis and are responsible for the boldest, craziest stuff playable. Also proper R&D like new tech or tools, but mostly new future concepts with gusto.

Concepts come from the Tequila Shots (regular internal Game Jams) where people propose personal ideas. Everyone is welcome, no matter their background (financial and accounting have dreams, too!) and all ideas are voted on by everyone. The only requisite is answering the questions: “Where is the beautiful?” “Where is the crazy?” That’s how GYLT entered our lives; it was the project the team believed in.

I’m involved in all our projects, but we truly believe in career development inside the studio and that’s why David Canela is leading the GYLT project, with me as editor, creative supervisor, or executive producer, choose yourself. I provide constant advice and feedback, but I serve more like a counselor and “keeper of the mojo.”

New generations of talent slowly blending with hardened veterans to keep evolving is key for the studio to grow without diluting our culture. That means you can expect new directors in future projects. I’m full-time on The Distillery and a new project now, being half-time on GYLT and “the other one.” What’s the secret for double-full-time? Sleep deprivation and a grain of lawful chaos, that’s it.

GS: To date, Tequila Works has never made a sequel. Do you ever consider going back to any of your previous worlds, and if so, which ones?

RR: We have written sequel concepts for Deadlight — in all its Metroidvania glory... and RiME — I personally loved this one. We even prototyped the former. Again, maybe not the kind of sequel you expect. If you have finished both games you know what I mean.

I think we feel more confident working on original IPs. Even our sequel proposals are conceived as originals, thus Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son. Fun fact: one of the early incarnations of The Invisible Hours was a sequel to Deadlight!

GS: What do you hope stays with players after they finish GYLT

RR: Their integrity. Nobody should completely lose their innocence. Ever.

GYLT launches alongside Google Stadia this November, though no exact date has been revealed for either the game or the platform.

To learn more about GYLT and other projects from the always-busy studio, you can visit Tequila Works' website. Thanks again to Raul for sharing the view from inside of one gaming's most unpredictable studios.

Mythgard Impressions — A Plucky Challenger to the CCG Throne Wed, 18 Sep 2019 09:00:01 -0400 Jonny Foster

Being a free-to-play card game, Mythgard faces a handful of hurdles from the get-go. The already established might of Hearthstone, the power of Magic: the Gathering Arena, and the popularity of other free-to-play genre titles makes for a flooded market, causing lower-budget competitors to like flies.

Valve’s Artifact (though not actually free) is a notable victim, with its rapidly dwindling playerbase.

Thankfully, Mythgard, a plucky young offering from developers Rhino Games Inc., has a few aces up its sleeves that might give it an edge, particularly its monetization aspect. Like all free CCGs, Mythgard gives you the option to pay real money for card packs, but its approach is commendably user-friendly.

Not only can individual cards be crafted using an essence system similar to Hearthstone’s Dust, but the card packs can also be purchased with an in-game currency that you steadily collect across all modes of play.

This means that you never need to spend any money if you don’t want to, and though this is technically true of other titles, Mythgard’s pacing feels more organic than any other CCG I’ve played. All too often, CCGs make earning packs feel like a horrific grind, leading players to pay their way to a better deck out of frustration — or stop playing entirely.

Mythgard, on the other hand, feels like the Warframe of CCGs; an ethically paced experience, where a devoted community will likely spend money out of a desire to support the developer, rather than feeling that they have no choice but to pay their way to success.

The comparisons don’t end there, though; Mythgard also has systems that could do with better explanations.

The gameplay itself feels like a cross between Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, with monster cards having single-digit numbers for attack and defense, and an associated mana cost, as well. There are no land cards, though, and cards must be discarded to earn additional mana or gems — a secondary resource that functions almost identically to mana.

Though reasonably simple to pick up, it isn’t aimed at a casual market, especially considering the additional rules that take more than a single match to master. What will keep players of all abilities coming back, however, is the great selection of modes to play, which range from a basic single-player story that leads you through various tutorials to multiple casual and ranked PvP options.

Once you’ve spent some time with the game and leveled up your profile, you’ll even find constructed and draft modes, with PvE versions that ease newcomers into Mythgard’s ins and outs, letting them get acclimated to the game before taking their decks and drafting talents to the game's PvP arenas.

There are also a number of puzzles in Mythgard, which give you a predetermined playing field and one turn to finish off your opponent. Though these offer a decent level of challenge and fun, the completion rewards are relatively low, leaving the mode feeling more like a minor distraction than a robust attraction.

The primary draw here, though, is the story mode, which blends gorgeous, comic-book-style narration with tutorials and duels. While the rest of Mythgard’s art might not maintain the lofty quality found here — the character portraits can look a little rough, in particular — the storyboards are wonderfully drawn.

The animations, on the other hand, become more of an encumbrance than they should be, often taking far longer than they need to. This slows turns — and, ultimately, matches — down to the point where my interest eventually began to wane. And it was this, along with the over-complication of some of its systems, that ultimately led me to put Mythgard down in favor of something else.

  • Variety of solo and multiplayer modes means there's always something new to try
  • Already a diverse selection of builds available, with good synergy between multiple colors 
  • Pacing is ethical and microtransactions are less egregious than other card games
  • Not the simplest set of rules
  • Tutorials still lacking in some areas
  • Some animations take much longer than they should

Despite putting up a good fight against the established might of CCGs like MtG, Mythgard ultimately lacks the finer polish to feel like a true competitor.

Hopefully, the Early Access will allow it the time it needs to work out the kinks and elevate itself to a higher standard, but it’s on the right track; having already played an earlier alpha build of Mythgard, it's plain to see that steady progress is being made towards improving the game as a whole.

[Note: A copy of Mythgard was provided by Rhino Games Inc for the purpose of this review.]

Gears 5 Multiplayer Review: A Greater Arsenal, But Not Without Issues Tue, 17 Sep 2019 10:49:46 -0400 Mark Delaney

While we delivered our Gears 5 campaign review ahead of the weekend, we wanted a few more days with the expansive multiplayer suite before passing our final judgment on that side of The Coalition's blockbuster.

As it turns out, we didn't need a heck of a lot more time anyway. Even a week post-launch, the game's multiplayer component is plagued by connectivity issues.

When it is working, the component's modes are phenomenal, and in time, Gears 5's multiplayer will likely deliver a best-in-series experience just as its story mode has. But as of now, there are too many issues plaguing it to be anything better than decent. 

Bugs in the Sawmill

For a game that launched to some players on September 6 and to the rest of the world four days later, Gears 5's stability is still inexcusably poor.

Maybe it's a sign that the game's launch was bigger than anyone expected, which, considering the numbers coming out, may mean Game Pass is having a hell of a month, but none of that matters outside of Microsoft's corporate offices.

For fans, Gears 5 multiplayer is a brilliant experience, but only when it's working  and that's currently not often.

Several of my play sessions both before and after launch were hit by connectivity flaws, including disconnects and false starts when heading into new rounds. These hiccups don't happen all of the time, or else I wouldn't have so much forthcoming praise to share, but it is more common than anyone should find permissible.

To their credit, the development team has been extremely vocal on forums and social platforms like Twitter, as well as on the game's website, keeping players updated with how fixes are progressing. Once these issues are ironed out, it looks likely Gears 5's multiplayer will join its campaign as being the new benchmark for the long-running franchise.

Hero Shooter-Lite

While several fan-favorite modes return with little tweaking, like Arms Race, Dodgeball, and TDM, these are supplemented by completely new modes that give Gears one of the most robust multiplayer offerings in the industry.

Arcade mode is what The Coalition has called a "hero shooter-lite," where players load into a battlefield with their preferred character and abilities they can customize. Meant to be played a bit faster and wackier than the standard modes of old, Arcade offers game-changing mid-match upgrades that feel like totally new ideas for the series.

Properly balanced out of the gate, you'll quickly find your own playstyle as you learn to work with others to maximize effectiveness just like you would in something like Overwatch

The Great Escape

The greatest addition to Gears 5 is the new Escape mode. A three-person PVE experience, Escape drops you into a Swarm hive where you detonate a bomb before charging as fast as you can to find the exit in a long, labyrinthine interior. Your only clue as to where to go next is often to follow the trail of bodies you've left ahead of you.

With safe rooms on the way and an emphasis on resource management, it's often the case that you don't have what you want in terms of ammo or weapons when things go down, but as a true survival experience, that's perfect. You rely on teammates and well-timed item drops from corpses to keep charging ahead until you find salvation in the outside world.

Charting Your Own Way

Escape is an excellent mode all on its own, but it's made even better because players can make and share their own maps. The Coalition hopes to expand this map-making ability to Versus and Horde modes later, but even for now, it's an interesting tool that gives the whole suite the feeling of a studio going above and beyond.

Featured maps from The Coalition will welcome players to the Escape menu each week, but the best and most played user-generated content will be highlighted too, and you can search for specific maps that you've heard are good or maybe your friends made. There are even some already designed to boost achievements.

"If It Ain't Broke ..."

Versus and Horde, meanwhile, return their familiar elements to Gears 5 and don't add a whole lot new. For many players, this makes for an "if it ain't broke" proposition, though it should be noted that it's not all just shotgunners so far in the early days. 

It's obvious that the devs gave more attention to bettering other gun classes, meaning firefights should be more varied than the old days where enemies wall-hugged from room to room until they were in your face with a Gnasher.

All of this comes on the foundation of the deepest customization and ranking system ever seen in the franchise.

Unlocking skill cards improves characters across all modes and allows you to craft your exact character to a level that I can't recall seeing in any other shooter. Add to that the most content, be it characters, maps, or many cosmetics, will be free or earnable with in-game currency, and you've got a player-friendly system that still leaves space for the "whales" to buy into some content and keep the studio working for the betterment of the whole.

  • The deepest Gears online experience yet
  • Escape mode is a fantastic new addition to the series
  • Tweaks to gunplay make it more worth playing without a Gnasher
  • Arcade is a faster, looser take on Gears with hero shooter inspirations
  • Connectivity issues continue to plague the game at the time of writing

If this review was written a few weeks from now, I'd bet the score you see below and the words written within would contain more praise. Sadly, it's too unstable even 10 days after the Game Pass Ultimate launch day to earn those higher marks.

It feels safe to assume The Coalition will iron out the problems found here, and Gears 5's multiplayer will join its story mode as the best in the franchise. For now, you can see how great it will be, but that doesn't hide how troubled it is today.

Monster Sanctuary Early Access Impressions: Monster Mash Wed, 11 Sep 2019 14:17:54 -0400 Jason Coles

Collecting and training monsters is increasingly common in games now. Thanks to the popularity of several Japanese series with ‘mon’ in the title, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of games where capturing and battling various fluffy and unfluffy things is the primary goal. Of course, each of these games has achieved varying degrees of success.

The good news is that sometimes, these games try and branch out a bit, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Monster Sanctuary.

Monster Sanctuary is a turn-based monster battler with Metroidvania elements. Which is the latest in a long line of games designed to either set your brain on fire with excitement or have you screaming as you dunk your head into the toilet.

(Please don’t dunk your head into the toilet, it’s not hygienic.)

We Did the Mash

You play as a Monster Keeper in Monster Sanctuary, but a brand-new, green behind the ears type. You are one of four spectral familiars that's available at the start. Once you've made your choice, you then you set off on your journey to catch ‘em all.

Wait, no. Wrong game.

You then set off to climb the ranks within the Monster Sanctuary and eventually save it from the sudden appearance of powerful Monster Champions who are threatening the peace.

To do this, you go around fighting monsters, killing them, and then stealing their unborn children. At least, that’s how it seems. You battle monsters and can occasionally get eggs as a reward. You can then hatch these eggs and add them to your party, which can consist of six monsters. However, only three can be in a battle at any one time, so you have to choose carefully.

It’s a fairly standard system, but what’s really interesting is the battle system. Each battle is 3 v. 3, and there are a number of factors to take into account during each turn. Elemental strengths and weaknesses are given to you on a plate, so it’s all about strategy.

As you make your way through your turn, you build up a combo meter which increases your damage. This means if you need to heal, you can do so to start your turn, follow that up with a small attack, then choose your heavy hitter to get an extra 50% damage to your attack.

It’s a great system and one that adds a massive layer of complexity to a seemingly simple turn-based game.

Skillz To Pay The Billz

There is a wealth of different buffs, skills, and attacks to use, too, each of which you unlock using the skill system as you level up your beasties. You can choose from different passive buffs, stat upgrades, and even unlock new skills or upgrade your current ones. Each decision matters, though, and that’s what makes the game feel so good.

Every choice you make in battle is relevant, but that includes the things you do before you’ve even started a fight. Equipping your team with the right gear can take them from timid little fluffs and mushrooms into a squad of deadly beasts, and picking which of those to bring into the fray with you can decide the battle all on its own.

The best part is that if you mess up in a critical fight, you simply pick up right before you started the fight. This means you can experiment to your heart’s content, and never worry about needlessly backtracking.

The game's exploration is good, but it's very standard stuff. You go around a 2D map knocking down hidden walls, eventually unlocking new skills as you go and revisiting earlier areas for secrets and loot. It’s fun, but nothing revolutionary, and it can often be a little confusing as to where to go next. Not that it needs to be perfect, because the combat more than makes up for it, but it's worth mentioning.

  • Wonderfully deep combat system
  • Charming music and visuals 
  • Lots of customization 
  • Some battles take a while
  • It's not always clear where to go next

On top of all of this, it looks good, sounds good, and plays well. Monster Sanctuary is already shaping up to be an excellent game, and that’s despite it only being in Early Access.

If things continue on the path that it has currently laid out, then it’s sure to be the kind of indie gem that fans will talk about for years to come.

[Note: An Early Access copy of Monster Sanctuary was provided by Team 17 for the purpose of this impressions piece.]

Solving All My Problems With Violence in Streets of Rage 4 Wed, 11 Sep 2019 10:13:06 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Streets of Rage 4 feels like… well, pretty much exactly what it is. A French studio teamed up with a French-Canadian studio to make a stylish, faithful sequel to one of the great idle franchises in video game history, with a soundtrack by the original composer and a few equally legendary collaborators.

In a lot of ways, this feels like a fan project, the same way Sonic Mania did. Streets of Rage 4 isn’t an attempt to “update the series for a new generation,” or any other kind of random cash grab off an old license. It’s an arcade-style beat-‘em-up from stem to stern, with most of the old tricks, gimmicks, and conventions firmly in place. It felt familiar, and I felt and comfortable with it from the moment I picked it up, just as if it hasn’t been 25 years since the last Streets of Rage game.

Streets of Rage 4 is a collaboration between three studios. Lizardcube (the recent remake of Wonder Boy 3), in Paris, is handling the art direction, while Montreal’s Guard Crush Games (Streets of Fury) is handling the programming and Paris’s Dotemu is providing design work. The latter is also publishing the game.

I will say that the visuals are the biggest change. SoR4 in motion looks like the animated version of a European comic adaptation of the series. It's as if someone threw a giant sack of money at the guy who draws Yoko Tsuno to have him illustrate those old Sega licensed comics that ran in the U.K. in the ‘90s.

SoR4 is supposed to be set 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3, but Blaze Fielding hasn’t aged a day, Axel Stone looks like he joined a grunge band, the nameless city they’re in is still mostly populated by garish ‘80s gang members and the occasional dominatrix, and many of the backgrounds are rich with that ‘80s New York style of urban rot that all the old arcade beat-‘em-ups got out of movies like Death Wish and Cobra. It almost feels like a period piece.

Streets of Rage 4 has a soundtrack composed by series veteran Yuzo Koshiro, as well as Hideki Naganuma (Jet Set Radio, Sonic Rush, the last couple of Smash Brothers games), Yoko Shimomura (Final Fight, Street Fighter II, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XV), and Keiji Yamagishi (Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo Bowl, The Messenger). If you’re the sort of person who sits around listening to 16-bit chiptunes for fun, you should probably plan on ordering the SoR4 OST now. This is basically a supergroup for the 16-bit era.

I got a chance to play Streets of Rage 4 at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, at publisher Dotemu’s booth on the sixth floor of the convention center. They just handed me a controller and let me and a friend pummel our way through the game’s sixth stage.

The first thing I noticed, playing co-op, is that friendly fire is on by default, and according to a nearby Dotemu producer, cannot be turned off. Your worst enemy in Streets of Rage 4 is the person you’re playing with. The game was generous with its power-ups, so I was able to regain life by punching apples, hamburgers, and entire cooked chickens out of oil drums, but I wouldn’t have taken half as much damage if I wasn’t catching stray hands from Player 2.

I ended up playing as the newest character, Cherry Hunter, who’s the daughter of Adam from the original Streets of Rage. (Since Skate from SoR3 was Adam’s little brother, I guess the cross-city beatdown tour is now officially a Hunter family tradition.) Cherry felt like she was in the same mid-range zone as Axel always was, not too slow and doing decent damage, with the ability to bust out her guitar for an explosive chord that cleared the area around her.

One thing that did change in SoR4 from past games is that your special attacks still cost you small amounts of life, but it isn’t a permanent loss. Any life you spend on specials will regenerate a tick at a time as long as you don’t take any additional damage. The idea, according to Dotemu’s producers, is to make your special moves a risk vs. reward issue, rather than an emergency measure. As long as you can stay out of danger, you can freely incorporate your specials into your offense, which is great for clearing out sudden crowds of enemies.

That’s just one way in which SoR4 is a little kinder than the older games ever were. I remember complaining back in the day about a few other franchise revivals  like Contra  that kept a lot of the bad habits from the quarter-muncher days despite not being on an arcade cabinet anymore. Streets of Rage 4, though, at least in the stage from the PAX demo, doesn’t do that. You don’t have to memorize its patterns to avoid sudden cheap hits or deaths, the way that old ‘90s arcade games would in order to suck more change out of your pockets. It’s got a smoother, more intuitive difficulty curve.

Watching other people play SoR4, I did notice that I’d missed a few things. There are apparently a lot of secret moves and special attacks hidden in each character’s moveslist, the same way there were in Streets of Rage 3. There’s also at least one character that hasn’t been revealed yet, to go by the game’s key art. (I kind of hope it’s Busujima from Zombie Revenge, since this is suddenly the year for unexpected crossovers.)

I do wonder how Streets of Rage 4 will play if you didn’t grow up on arcade beat-‘em-ups. There’s a lot it improves about the original series the animation, the general difficulty curve, some of the basic mechanics but in a lot of ways, it’s trading heavily on nostalgia. The retrogaming guys I know are already hype for SoR4  Sega fans have been asking for a new Streets of Rage game since the Saturn was a thing but it’s enough of a throwback product that I wonder how well it’ll do with a brand-new audience.

Then again, it’s not a subtle genre. There are half a dozen guys over there with intact teeth, and your job is to go fix that. That will always have a timeless appeal.

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

Hurry! We're Giving Away 15 Call of Duty Modern Warfare Beta Codes Tue, 10 Sep 2019 18:39:26 -0400 GS_Staff

The Call of Duty Modern Warfare beta period is almost here! In less than two days, those who pre-order certain version of the game will start to get access to the early beta period on PS4. Those on PC and Xbox One will get access starting September 19. 

But if you enter using the widget below, you don't have to pre-order to get early access to those beta periods. However, you have to act fast. Since we JUST got codes, we're only running this giveaway for the next 36 hours!

Each action will give you a certain amount of entries, meaning the more actions you perform, the more entries you'll get, and the greater chance you have at winning.  

Please note that must be 18 years or older to enter

Any of the information provided below is only used to contact you in the event you are chosen as a winner. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare Pre-Order Beta Giveaway

When We’ll Announce Winners:

There will be 15 Call of Duty Modern Warfare beta keys given away and the winners will be announced September 12, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. EDT. The contest closes at 6:30 a.m. EDT on September 12. 

How Do You Redeem Your Code? 

Per Activision: 

  • You must redeem code at
  • You can then pick the version of the game/platform you want to play on, and you will be sent a code for that specific platform
  • You can then use your code and start playing on the dates below

When Do the Pre-Order Betas Begin? 

Per Activision, this is when the pre-order codes we are giving away will be useable for each platform: 

  • PS4
    • Sept 12-13
  • Xbox
    • Sept 19-20
  • PC
    • Sept 19-20

Codes will only be useable during the days listed above per Activision.

The open beta periods for each platform will begin shortly after each of the dates above, so you'll still have access anyway. To see the specific dates for each open beta period, head here

World of Warcraft Classic Impressions: Visiting Azeroth for the First Time Tue, 10 Sep 2019 10:31:13 -0400 David Jagneaux

My foray into the vast universe of MMOs began with EverQuest. For those unfamiliar, it was one of the very first graphical 3D MMORPGs ever made. It took a lot of concepts from Ultima Online's top-down 2D world and applied them to a fully-realized 3D adventure. In 1999, it was one-of-a-kind, and it's still going to this day, although it's nowhere near as popular as it once was.

In 2004, World of Warcraft released alongside EverQuest 2, and it doesn't take a history degree to know which game proved more popular. Blizzard's juggernaut wiped out all competition and is still, even 15 years later, the reigning MMORPG champion, boasting a massive fanbase.

But it's not the same game that it once was MMOs are persistent, living worlds that change and grow. Several expansions have dramatically altered the game's mechanics, added tons of new content and zones, and even changed existing ones.

Recognizing Influence

World of Warcraft Classic is like a time machine to a simpler time; a time capsule of what the world of Azeroth was like at its inception rather than the world that exists today. As someone that never played WoW other than perhaps one or two short times out of curiosity, approaching WoW Classic wasn't a walk down memory lane for me at all. It was more like entering a living museum that was reanimated as a sort of experimental roleplaying adventure.

The main difference between playing World of Warcraft Classic right now versus playing the original World of Warcraft when it launched 15 years ago is the state of the MMO market as a whole. Back then, it was still a niche genre that a very small section of the overall gaming community knew or cared about. For all intents and purposes, WoW was the breakout mainstream success that put the MMO as a whole on the map. Now we're inundated with MMOs across Steam, mobile devices, and consoles.

From free-to-play games, a handful of subscription-based options, buy-to-play MMOs, and a slew of shared-world games that borrow heavy inspiration from MMOs without fully committing to the design (such as Destiny, The Division, Warframe, Monster Hunter, and others) the concept of a persistent, shared world shaped by its players that exists as a living, breathing place is now the norm.

That's due in large part to Blizzard and World of Warcraft.


Is It Actually Fun If You Never Played?

I'm really enjoying World of Warcraft Classic, probably for most of the reasons a typical gamer in 2019 will hate it. My current modern MMO of choice is Elder Scrolls Online, and I love how streamlined and accessible it is with a heavy focus on exploration, world-building, and storytelling with its lateral progression rather than min-maxing and grinding along a gear treadmill. That being said, as far as MMOs go, ESO and WoW Classic couldn't be more different.

In ESO (and Guild Wars 2 for that matter) the entire world is leveled to your character. So if you return to a starting zone once you've hit max level, it'll still take a few hits to kill even the most basic enemies, and if you adventure into an adjacent zone while leveling up a new character, you won't get immediately murdered on sight.

The idea here is that now it's possible for everyone to play with everyone else at any time, in any zone. If your friend is 40 levels higher than you, at least you can do some quests or run dungeons together because levels have far less weight than in other games.

WoW Classic is the exact opposite of that. If an enemy is two levels higher than you, then you better hope you've got plenty of healing items or are ready to tuck tail and run away because it'll be a tough fight. Combat is very slow and methodical in terms of ability rotations and in general, you're not moving much while fighting.

In this way it borrows heavily from EverQuest before it, albeit with more flourishes. Levels are extremely important, as are gear and stats, for more so than pure skill in WoW Classic. You have to earn the privilege of being considered powerful, and you'll feel it when you get there. In a way, I really like that.

As much as I Iove ESO because of how it respects my limited time via its ubiquitous fast travel wayshrines, the streamlined guild finder and group finder systems, and all of the various ways it makes things as accessible as possible while still being fun  and results in a lot of what originally drew me to MMOs.

Most notably, it's the sense of being a small speck in a vast sea of possibilities. In WoW Classic, there is no group finder. If you want to run a dungeon then you better either be in an active guild or get familiar with the zone chat terminology really fast. Playing a tank or healer? You shouldn't have much trouble finding a group. If you're DPS, then it'll be a bit harder because of pure supply and demand.

In WoW Classic, people sell items by posting in various chats, bartering and seeking interested players. Kill stealing is a very real thing out in the open. Quest objectives aren't shared, so if you need to kill a certain enemy to finish your quest but other people are waiting on it to respawn, then you might need to literally get in line for the chance.


Grinding Like It's 2004

A lot of this sounds inconvenient, but it's designed in such a way that it makes the world feel more active and believable as a result. Rather than playing a game that's designed to funnel you from one piece of content to the next, WoW Classic gives you the tools but asks you to find your own fun.

One great example of this, something I initially hated but grew to love, is the quest journal. When you get a new quest from an NPC, there are no waypoints on your map, no mini-map icons, no compasses to point you in the right direction. You need to actually read dialogue and check your journal notes to see where you need to go. Reading directions from the log and using things like landmarks and environmental clues is essential. It reminds me a lot of what quest journal entries were like in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

A bit tedious and annoying, sure, but it contributes very strongly to that sense of presence and immersion that's so important for an MMO. It's a stark contrast to the auto-run feature in Black Desert Online, for example, which, when enabled, literally just makes your character follow a trail as they run automatically between quest objectives.

All that being said, other than some of the subtle nuances and trends I mentioned before, MMOs really aren't that different today than they were back then. You're still creating a character that starts mostly from scratch, completing quests, slowly leveling up and learning new abilities, finding loot, unlocking new zones and areas, clearing dungeons, grouping up with people, and so on. The progression, format, and designs are all basically the same.

This could be viewed as a huge compliment to WoW, that it apparently nailed the formula so early on it's had the biggest influence possible on the genre as a whole. But at the same time, it's a sign of the lack of innovation across the market as well, especially if I can boot up a 15-year old game and start feeling comfortable pretty quickly with very little hassle.

I don't know if I will stay subscribed to World of Warcraft Classic after the first couple of months, but I don't regret jumping in at all. It's refreshing to return to the genre's fulcrum point that took it mainstream, and I can easily see the polish and appeal.

If you're keen to try it for yourself, you can download Blizzard's game client and subscribe for a month for $15. 

“You Can Make A Good Living Off of Being A Bottom Feeder”: Jeff Vogel & Mariann Krizsan Talk Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror Mon, 09 Sep 2019 11:01:09 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Jeff Vogel is old-school in several different ways. As the owner of Spiderweb Software, Vogel has been an independent game developer since the days of shareware.

Spiderweb, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, makes 1980s-style fantasy CRPGs, such as the Avernum trilogy, Geneforge, and the series that started it all, Exile. Each game is primarily written, designed, and coded by Vogel, with assistance from his wife, Mariann Krizsan, and a handful of freelance artists.

Vogel often refers to himself as indie games’ “Crazy Old Uncle in the Attic,” and in that capacity, gave a speech called “Failing to Fail” at the 2018 Game Developers’ Conference. He also caused a bit of controversy earlier this summer with a couple of posts on his personal blog.

Vogel’s newest game, Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror, comes out on September 11. Funded by a successful Kickstarter last summer, Queen’s Wish puts you in the role of the youngest, rebellious child of Queen Sharyn of the Empire of Haven.

Up until the start of the game, your character’s life has been mostly spent partying. One day, without ceremony, you’re sent via a one-way teleporter to the distant, failed Havenite colony on the continent of Sacramentum. Sharyn charges you with bringing Sacramentum back in line and under Haven’s control.

Unusually for a Spiderweb game, Queen’s Wish offers a lot of different paths from here. You can opt to run your facilities like a tyrant, peacefully reforge diplomatic ties with the other races of Sacramentum, or ignore the Queen entirely and go wandering on your own. In another first for Spiderweb, Queen’s Wish also offers the option to rebuild the facilities in each of your allied settlements, using your collected resources to construct, supply, and enhance the shops and services in each one.

On August 29, I sat down for a conversation in downtown Seattle with Vogel and Krizsan to talk about Queen’s Wish, Spiderweb’s business model, and Vogel’s recent adventures in blogging.

(The following transcript has been edited for clarity.)

GameSkinny (GS:) I’m a little disappointed. I judge all fantasy-game character creators on whether or not I can make Lemmy from Motorhead, and you can’t quite do that in Queen’s Wish.

Jeff Vogel (JV): Because our budget for this game is so low, what we had to do was start with a core bit of art and expand it. For example, with the portrait system, there’s enough there to be a base, and get nice rounded faces. If there’s a Queen’s Wish 2 — fingers crossed  we’ll go to the artists and say, okay, now we need more faces, more beards, more this and that.

A Lemmy beard is definitely a good option. Because God knows I need ideas. I’m not an expert on hairstyles. For making these, I just did a Google for “hairstyles,” picked out a half-dozen that looked good, and handed those to the artist.

GS: You told me once that you have all sorts of freelance artists.

JV: Yup, about four main paid freelancers, but we are very, incredibly cheap in our budgeting. So we pull from a lot of good public domain art from all over the place. It tends to give our games sort of a schizophrenic appearance where the art doesn’t entirely blend together. But on the other hand, we can afford them. Keeping budgets low is very important these days for surviving as an indie developer.

GS: So the money from the Kickstarter was the entirety of your production budget on this?

JV: We still had some money kicking around. Pretty much always, the earnings from one game pay for the next game, and our games have super low budgets. It’s because the main product I’m selling is my writing, so the game is just a vector for the storytelling. I’m also pretty good at game systems.

But you know, we’ve never written a hit. We’re never going to write a hit. We make enough money from each game to write the next one, and pull salaries and health insurance out of what’s left.

GS: I got a kick out of that, with your recent blog posts (“I Am the Cheapest Bastard In Indie GamesandWhy All My Games Look Like Crap”) and the reaction to them on Twitter. The fans all reacted with various flavors of stark disbelief, and the pros all said, to paraphrase, “Yeah, that’s about right.”

JV: Our games, like most indie games, are a niche product. I’m only aiming for a small percentage of the gamers. If you show my games to a hundred gamers, 95 of them are going to say, “That looks really gross.”

But five will be like, “Hey, sure, I’ll try that out.” And you know, you can make a really good living out of being a bottom feeder, off of 5% of the gaming market.

GS: I was actually thinking that there are a couple of different people now in the indie space who are working with Patreon —

JV: Oh, yeah.

GS: — and are making a surprisingly good living off of it. These are games that have less development and less of a profile than yours do. I’m surprised you didn’t go there.

JV: I’m old-fashioned. We’re old. We come from a generation where you make a thing and you sell it.

Just moving to Kickstarter was a big step for us, but we treated a Kickstarter kind of like advanced sales, and that’s something we can wrap our old brains around. If it gets to the point where we’re really tight on money, we’re not so proud that we won’t pass the hat around and go onto Patreon, but we’re not quite at that point yet. We still want to make our living from just selling stuff.

GS: I’ve been playing Queen’s Wish. The last game of yours I played before this was the Avernum III remake, and this feels even more self-consciously old-school than that. Most of how you’re moving forward here is being able to put up buildings in your settlements, and the fact that your protagonist this time is actually a character rather than kind of a cipher.

JV: Yeah. You know, fantasy role-playing games are genre fiction. It’s like a novel, and you can approach it in just an enormous amount of different ways. Which is one of the reasons we write fantasy role-playing so much: because it’s a genre that you can do an infinite amount of things with.

As game designers, we believe we’ve barely began to scratch the surface of what you can do with fantasy role-playing games. One of the ways we stay sane writing them again and again is to break up the reality. Sometimes we like to do a game where your main character is a cipher, and then you put your own personality into that character, and in others, you have a specific role, and you have to decide what you’re doing within that role.

In Queen’s Wish, which deals with a very specific sort of political situation, with very different political problems, it really made sense for you to have a specific role that you had to either fulfill or rebel against.

GS: I did like how you’ve surrounded your main character with competence in a way that a lot of games don’t tend to. Most of the NPCs you encounter in Queen's Wish have their jobs under control and don’t need your help immediately, like the admiral at the entrance to the swamplands.

JV: Yeah, I love that. That was a lot of fun to do. In so many role-playing games, you’re just sort of a lone wolf, wandering around and beating up bozos. I wanted you to be a prince, with everything that comes with that. You’re wealthy, you have power, you have assistants, you have an army, you have forts, you have your own butler…

GS: I like that you can have your butler do a bunch of stuff for you, like give you a haircut, that has absolutely no mechanical benefit.

JV: [laughter] Yeah. A lot of the stuff is just there to contribute to a work of fiction. I love doing lots of things that don’t have game mechanics, that are there to just flesh out the world and make the player emotionally invested. Once the player is emotionally invested in the game, the mechanics are just more meaningful because you care.

GS: I’ve been running around hunting down books to add them to my records.

JV: I wish there were more of those. It’s just that there’s only so much time. It’s the two of us. I wrote most of them, Mariann wrote a bunch of them…

GS: [to Mariann]: I knew that you were his business manager, but I didn’t know you were involved in the creative side until just now.

Mariann Kriszan (MK): I do whatever he doesn’t want to do, or he needs help with. I’m kind of a jack of all trades.

JV: She assists with the design a lot. She often helps build the terrain in the engine, she writes a lot, and I just give her notes at the end.

So Spiderweb’s existed for 25 years. [as if suddenly realizing it] It’s our 25th birthday! Woo!

MK: Woo!

JV: And Mariann started working with me in ’96? ’97?

MK: Yup.

JV: And we’ve been partners ever since.

GS: I knew of your work because I grew up with Apple computers, and 90% of the Macintosh gaming library back then was what you got on the disc that came with copies of MacWorld magazine.

MK: Good times.

JV: Our business exists in large part because, a couple months in, we got our game onto one of those MacWorld discs. The sales boost from that was what enabled us to say, “Hey, this is a thing. Let’s make this a business.”

GS: I remember that the first Exile was one of the first times I ran into a lesbian NPC in a video game. There was a lesbian couple near the start.

JV: I’ve always been big on diversity in video games, in the character casts. Starting from our first game in 1994, you could have an entire party of characters that were female, or who weren’t white. At the time, that was a fairly radical thing. I got a lot of emails from people about it and thought, “Well, this is nuts.”

It wasn’t a big political stance at the time. It was just that I want as many customers as possible, so I want everyone to feel at home. It’s just more of an artistic statement. If I’m making a fantasy world from scratch, I want to have a wide variety of people in it. I want you to be in a world that feels big.

GS: One of the criticisms I saw going around, and I can kind of feel it with Queen’s Wish, is that it’s a four-character party. Why four, rather than more than four?

JV: Our first four games let you have a six-character party, and the last one of those I wrote came out in ’99, I think. Then I switched to a four-player party. In the Avadon games, it’s three characters, but usually it’s four.

I get asked again and again, why not six? It might be a good business idea to switch to six, because most people do four. The answer is: it’s an aesthetic feeling. I can’t put into words how I’m more comfortable playing games and running games with a four-character party.

It’s purely an aesthetic judgement, but part of it has to do with the fact that in my mind, when I’m playing four people, the amount of thought I have to give to each one is divided. It’s easier for me to give these people four identities in my mind than six. If I’m playing with a six-character party, I feel like it’s more of a crowd. I keep losing track of who everyone is and what they can do. If it’s four, I can always keep track of them.

MK: Six is also kind of an army.

JV: Yeah. It makes it trickier to balance.

MK: That’s the other big thing, yeah. Balancing a game is easier with four.

GS: So it’s a personal choice, rather than any kind of code limitation or what-have-you?

JV: Oh, yeah. I could easily do six. It’s just that for doing design and programming, it’s just me. I have to do something to enable my mind to keep a handle on it, because otherwise, I’m already on the ragged edge of being overwhelmed all the time. Sometimes, I just have to say, "I gotta do the simpler thing."

If you really want to get nostalgic, when I was a teenager, there was a game called Wizard’s Crown where you had an eight-person party. That’s the only game I’ve ever seen that had an eight-person party, and that came out around 1986, then disappeared from the face of the Earth. We learned from it very early on.

MK: Eight people’s just too many.

GS: Now that you mention it, I’ve seen more, but they were in turn-based strategy games rather than RPGs.

JV: One of the things about writing a role-playing game is that you have to be really careful with the cognitive load. A human being can only put so much mental focus into a game. So with Queen’s Wish, there’s a story and characters, and it’s really in-depth — I’m sorry, but I’m really happy with the story and the characters. That’s going to take up some room in the game.

There’s also a construction system, and the game’s system. I have to keep everything at a modest level so it doesn’t squeeze out everything else. I have to leave room in the player’s mind for every element.

GS: I can already tell there’s going to be a point in Queen’s Wish where I’ll hit a brick wall and have to start getting really interested in the construction systems, in order to squeeze out a few more upgrades.

JV: The construction system is fairly simple, partly for that reason. I don’t want people obsessing about their town builds so much. I want them to be going out, killing bozos, doing diplomacy and other stuff.

Also, if you’re playing on Normal difficulty, I always make Normal really easy because that’s by and large what people want. If you play on that, you don’t have to engage with the fort system a lot. You have to do it some, but not a ton. But when you play on Veteran or Torment difficulties, then you really have to know what you’re doing with building houses.

GS: My party build right now is a front-line sword-and-shield guy, then a spearman, an archer/support mage, and then an offensive caster.

JV: Yep. It really supports the standard buildout. With four people, it’s usually two melee, a support, and a mage, or some mix of that. But I’ve been finding in testing that people are coming up with crazy stuff. Someone will come to me and say “Melee is way overpowered in this.”

Someone else will come in and say, “Oh, yeah, magic is way overpowered. Don’t bother with melee at all.” I love when that happens. Everyone thinks they have the one, true build.

GS: I’d feel like magic was more powerful if not for the fact that your area-of-effect spells just munch energy, and that everything has such a high miss chance in the early game. It’s not uncommon for me to catch an entire enemy group with one spell, but miss half of them.

JV: But it’s still worthwhile. Everything just has its limitations.

One of the unique things about Queen’s Wish, which for things like this I really like, is that respecs are free. You can return to town and retrain everything.

So, on the highest difficulty level, when you’re going to an area where you know you’re going to face a certain person, you have to really modify your build. There are abilities that seem really bad at first, like silence, that suddenly on a high difficulty level become necessary for certain situations.

GS: I was wondering about that. You’ve got a lot of tools in this game that don’t seem like they’re necessary now, like all the combat abilities where you have to use up a turn first to set them up.

JV: It’s a buff on your next attack. So, for example, there’s an ability where your next attack does regular damage and stuns. But also, and this is one of the coolest things about it — I really tried to emphasize this in the game, but I’m not sure a lot of people are gonna notice — you can do that with any attack. It’s not just melee.

GS: Oh. No, I hadn't picked up on that.

JV: So your archers can do that, too, or your mages with their wands. Most people assume that a buff like that is only going to be on their melee weapons, but you can give an archer all of these optional abilities, so they can do crazy stuff all over the battlefield.

GS: I just pictured my archer suddenly pulling out Green Arrow’s boxing glove arrow.

MK: [laughter]

JV: Or just aiming it in such a way that it hits them in the head. Everyone’s going to have their own mental picture.

I really like that system. I don’t think a lot of people are going to notice that system, but what can you do?

GS: Well, now that you’ve told me, and I’m planning to run this interview, that’ll be something.

JV: Yeah. Y’know, I’m old, and I’m burned out.

GS: I was wondering about that, and some of the tweets you’ve made. I know a few people who are looking forward to Queen’s Wish, but one of the things they’ve talked about is that every so often, you tweet about how tired you are, and it worries them.

JV: Okay, first of all, no one should feel bad about me. We’re living a great life. Nobody should feel the slightest bit of pity for us in any way.

A lot of the reason I’ve been saying I’m so tired is because, with this game, I really wanted to prove I’m not a hack. I’m not burned out. I’m not out of ideas. I’m not just sort of coasting on past glories. With this game, I wanted to leave everything on the field. And it’s been exhausting.

I’ve been working on this game on and off for five years. I first had the idea for this game five years ago.

GS: Yeah, we talked last year, when you said you were about to do the Kickstarter. I wasn’t expecting to hear that the game was done for a while yet, let alone that you’d have something playable as soon as you did.

MK: A lot of the stuff was already done on paper.

JV: I’ve heard some people call the Kickstarter a glorified shit post. I’m like, "Oh, my God, we worked on this Kickstarter for months." Like, the video on the Kickstarter page?

MK: [knowing laughter]

JV: I had to program the game to make that. I love it so much. It’s like a vertical slice of the entire game. All of the systems are in that.

Making the Kickstarter took forever. But the thing is, it showed. For the people who were paying attention and cared about what we’re doing, it showed, and that’s why the Kickstarter made so much money.

So by the time the Kickstarter came out, we were already… [groans in mock fatigue]

MK: And then you can’t stop.

JV: And then you’re like, "OK, now it’s time to do the real job."


GS: I know a lot of people who really appreciated the Scroll of Absolution Kickstarter bonus, where you forgave people for ever having pirated one of your previous games.

JV: Yeah, that was something that did really well.

We’re probably going to keep Kickstarting games. The indie games business in 2019 is so ugly and murderous that you cannot afford to let any angle go past, and Kickstarter is a chance to do advanced sales, and sell Scrolls of Absolution. It’s just a little extra safety margin, to get a little extra money, which is necessary.

We added in Kickstarter the ability for backers to contribute designs, to create items, characters, and quests, and I have to say, that has been fantastic. I was worried.

MK: We were like, “Oh, no. What are we opening the doors to here?”

JV: But the items we got, the characters, the ideas, were just solid gold. I was reading these ideas, and I was like, “I’m getting blown out of the water. I’m getting put to shame. I can’t wait to put this stuff in the game. This is fantastic material.”

GS: You apparently have an impressive fan base.

JV: Yeah. I didn’t get ideas for lore from them. I got things like, “I want an item that does this, or one item that does this sort of thing.” So all the best weapons and items in the game are based on user suggestions.

Then someone said, “I want an item that does this, but also has this weird side effect.” I said, “Okay, I’m gonna have to go into the engine and reprogram this, but it’s such a cool idea. Hell yeah, this is great.”

And the quests. One person made his backer quest with his kids, and what they came up with… it’s just silly and weird and really big. He wrote to me and said, “This is so goofy. My kids came up with it. I’m not sure you’re going to want to put it in.”

I’m like, “Oh, no. This is totally going in. It’s nuts, but it’s really neat.”

GS: So, out of curiosity, let’s say someone comes forward with a lot of money, somebody trustworthy, and says, I want to bankroll your next project. Suddenly, you have a budget. You can hire people. What would you do?

JV: I’d want one or two real artists. I’d want a coder who’s good at programming art, because the thing is, a lot of the problem with our visuals is not just not being able to afford art, but having a person who’s good at programming art. Maybe I'd get somebody who’s good at programming Unity, so I can make that switch.

I’m actually pretty good at managing people. I have to manage a million freelancers all the time. I’m constantly giving people directions. My freelancers tend to really like working for me. They do it for a long time.

If you gave me a budget, I’d hire artists, and a sound designer, and programmers, and an extra designer who’s really good at writing. I could be very comfortable sitting at the top and just spinning out the story, but with enough backup and support to really do it justice and give it a lot of detail. It’s a beautiful dream.

But you know, there’s no shortage of good designers. People will sometimes ask me, “Why don’t you sell out? Why doesn’t someone steal you away and put you in charge of a larger product?” Because, you know, you throw a bunch of money at me, I’ll write you a crackerjack roleplaying game. But a lot of people can do that. There’s a million designers out there.

GS: With the sheer density of video game studios in Seattle, especially right now, I’m surprised no one’s tried to grab you.

JV: No, everyone gets their designers in house. Being a designer is the dream. That’s the ice cream slot. Everyone wants to be the one who does that. If Microsoft or Bungie wants to design a game, they’re almost never going to pull someone from outside, because they’ve got a million people right outside their doors clamoring for that job, and a bunch of them are probably just as good as me.

If a company wants to write a role-playing game — well, God help them, because it’s a difficult genre to make money in under any circumstances. [as an aside] Rest in peace, Bioware. There’s going to be someone inside the company who’s just going to be champing at the bit to write their roleplaying game for them.

GS: I was playing Queen’s Wish last night, and it really made me realize the degree to which this sort of game hasn’t even really fallen out of style, but has just gotten hybridized with everything else.

JV: And that’s what keeps us in business, to a large extent. We treat video games, role-playing games, as a storytelling medium first and foremost. We want a really good story with lots of words.

Indie game developers do best when they pick up the genres that the larger companies have dropped. Right? I’m a bottom feeder. I look for a niche that is not being served elsewhere, and I serve that. The industry is moving away from games with lots of words, but there’s still a demand for that. There will always be a demand for that. So that’s what we satisfy.

When I go to Mariann and say, “We need more words,” nobody else is saying that.

MK: That’s true.

JV: Everyone else is trying to get rid of the words.

GS: I can’t imagine trying to translate one of your games.

JV: It’s just never going to happen. It’s not worth it.

MK: Too many words.

JV: Localizing one of our games to French or what-have-you would cost a fortune and take a lot of time. It’s just not worth it. That’s another reason why we’ll probably never be on consoles, because they tend to want games that are very "localizable." You can get a game that’s all English on a console, but it’s hard.

GS: Honestly, I want to get Queen’s Wish working on a gamepad. I feel weird about click-to-move.

JV: We’re working on it. Already, today, I’ve spent some time prototyping the interface for Queen’s Wish for iPhone. It’s going to be our first game on the iPhone. I don’t know how well it’s gonna work, but we’re gonna give it the old college try.

GS: I remember seeing a lot of people who were happy about your previous games being available on mobile.

MK: It’s a good medium for it.

JV: It goes really well, it’s portable, and it’s neat. It was a Kickstarter goal to get Queen’s Wish on the iPhone. So we’re gonna work on that really hard as soon as the game’s out, and get the port out on iPad and iPhone by the end of the year. I’ve already started laying the groundwork, but really grinding out the code will start after the game comes out on Windows and Mac on [September] 11, via all the standard stores. Steam, GOG, Itch, our site. Not Epic.

GS: You’re not putting it on the Epic Games Store?

JV: [cheerfully] Nope!

Well, you know, I’m not going to lie. If Epic walked up to us and offered us a gigantic bag of money so we didn’t have to worry about earnings for a couple of years, I’d take that deal. Every indie would take that deal. This business is terrifying.

GS: [laughter]

JV: Everyone here is three bad days from going out of business. Of course everyone’s going to take the Epic money bag. It’s just that I’m not good enough for it. Our games are too niche and too low-budget to get into that club. But you know, no hard feelings.

Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror is available for sale on September 11.

PAX West 2019: In Predator: Hunting Grounds — Only the Strongest Will Get to the Chopper Fri, 06 Sep 2019 12:55:27 -0400 Mark Delaney

Insomniac's Spider-Man really makes you feel like the webslinger. Arkham Asylum really makes you feel like the caped crusader. Marvel's Avengers makes you feel like Thor. 

At the risk of sounding cliche, Predator: Hunting Grounds really makes you feel like the predator or at least, I assume it does. Having played it at PAX West 2019 as one of the jungle soldiers, I experienced really feeling like my guts were being swiftly removed from my stomach. 

The predator is fast, fearsome, and formidable, and just like Illfonic's other asynchronous multiplayer game, Friday The 13th, it feels like the developer may have cultivated a special breed of multiplayer gaming.

Loading out as a four-person contingent of commandos, my PAX West team headed into the jungle armed to the teeth. Each of us chose one of the several classes of soldier available; I went for the Scout class, which packs an SMG and has increased mobility at the cost of some vitality.

It's usually a tradeoff I'm happy to make, but minutes later, I found myself wondering if that extra speed would have ever really made a difference against the eponymous hunter.

What Predator: Hunting Grounds does well is pacing. There are no illusions that someone is out there playing as the camouflaged creature, hunting you down, waiting to strike. But since you don't know when that stalking player will attack, you must carry on with your mission schlepping that creeping weight.

Each mission is meant to be multi-faceted and move you from place to place within a small hub; complete all the objectives and eventually, ahem, "get to de choppa!"

But that is so much easier said than done. The predator is a killing machine, just like it is in the movies. While you're distracted with time-sensitive objectives and firing back at enemy AI soldiers, the king of the jungle will eventually make its appearance. And when it does, things get scary — fast. 

These signature moments highlighted my demo. Second by second, I could feel the creature getting closer; I could tell my team was getting eviscerated by the hunter. It was all the more reason to push forward, to not stop and watch it happen.

Strangely, I felt like a Wall Street executive shredding documents as the FBI banged on the door. My attempts felt futile, but in my haste, there was no better option but to continue on.

Eventually, I was the only teammate still completing objectives, amazed that the predator hadn't come for me yet. I spotted a downed teammate. I hurried to revive them, and then, as I got them to their feet, it happened. Like something straight out of the movies, the predator launched its forearm blade directly into his chest, killing him instantly. 

It was terrifying and awesome at once. We couldn't have scripted it any better.

From there, it picked us off, one by one, almost feeling as if it was toying with us. We didn't make it to the helicopter, and few did at PAX. Time will tell if the monster needs to be nerfed, but for now, it felt like poor teamplay was the mechanism of our failure  and that's how it should be.

For more impressions from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: Once Upon a Time In Roswell is a Promising Mix of Aliens and Noir Fri, 06 Sep 2019 10:58:19 -0400 Mark Delaney

Some things in life just go well together. Peanut butter and jelly. Sports and junk food. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. 

Other things don't immediately jump out as obvious pairings. Extraterrestrials and film noir is one such duo. But even as you'd be right to ponder such a combination, you'd also be quick to realize their pairing potential — especially after you played Once Upon a Time in Roswell.

From the pre-PAX ID@Xbox Open House, I was able try out a 20-minute demo of the upcoming first-person horror game just hours before it was revealed at TinyBuild's PAX press conference. With a plot happy to warp every preconception, I came away excited to see more of this fascinating mix of aliens and noir, sci-fi and style.

At the start of my demo, all the usual hallmarks of a classic noir were present. The private detective's desk was blanketed in miscellaneous documents and soaked in the setting sun. The PI's moody monologue waxed poetic about his recent workload, the Peterson Case, which was also the former project name of Roswell

Walking the halls of an office building, I solved puzzles and recounted moments from my investigation, chatting up my inner self with musings that felt plucked right out of the golden age of 50's noir. Given the title, I expected aliens, too. Somewhere.

But before I encountered anything from beyond the stars, I saw ghostly flashbacks of a family floating in a black ether, reminiscent of the paranormal visions haunting the game's recent reveal trailer (seen below).

As I continued along, I began to suspect that aliens wouldn't show up after all until they finally did. Speaking with reps from TinyBuild, I excitedly asked, "Is this an alien game?" Much like the demo they had put in my hands, they were cryptic. Eventually, though, they admitted the title keeps giving it away. 

Thankfully, it doesn't seem like Roswell's story hinges on players being ignorant of the significance of Roswell, New Mexico. Even when E.T.s arrived in my demo with an entrance reminiscent of the birthday home video in Signs, I was still left wondering if there was more behind the veil.

The visions I had seen already told me something darker may be stirring in Roswell, and like the detective at the center of the story, I felt like I wasn't going to rest until I solved one of the strangest cases he I had ever been faced with.

While my thoughts continued to make little sense of the story, it was partly because this was a demo, and I was lacking context, but I sensed the narrative enjoyed shrouding itself in enigmas regardless. 

Is it a noir tale? Yes, it's absolutely that. Is it an alien game? It seems to be for now. Is it all just a twisted metaphor for a family crippled by tragedy or anger or turmoil? Some early signs pointed to that, too, and the overall confusion I felt when I left my seat is why it's been on my mind for days. 

Once Upon a Time in Roswell could go in many different directions, and the thrill of the unknown is leading me down its inevitably dark path. I can't wait to see more. 

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: No Bones About It, MediEvil is Another Nostalgic PlayStation Trip Thu, 05 Sep 2019 14:21:15 -0400 Mark Delaney

When Crash Bandicoot got his remake a few years ago, critics and fans were unanimous in their adoration of the collection. The same happened soon after with Spyro the Dragon's trilogy. Then, Crash Team Racing got its moment in the sun earlier this year. 

Each outing has been awesome for new fans new and old, and the projects have amassed a ton of goodwill for these properties which laid dormant for so long.

Fittingly, it's now the undead Sir Daniel Fortesque's moment of resurrection. I went hands-on with the first two levels of PlayStation's overhaul of the cult classic, and I found in it the same nostalgic thrill all recent remakes have given me. 

I was never really sure what the lasting impression of MediEvil was among the gaming public. I liked it a lot when I played it on PS1 as a kid, but we had a lot of weird games back then, and there was no internet to tell us the consensus opinion.

With this remake forthcoming, it seems I wasn't nearly alone in my appreciation for the difficult but lovable game as I thought.

The remake truly plays out just like those aforementioned recent remakes do. It's shot for shot the original, perhaps recrafted right over the old code like Crash and Spyro apparently were. If you played MediEvil decades ago, you'll immediately travel through time.

Waking in the crypt, reading tutorial tomes, and gathering your weapons all looks and feels exactly as you left it, only now it's much prettier, even with a layer of the macabre decorating the entire world.

Heading out into the graveyard is another immediate blast from the past. It's amazing how much one retains of influential titles without realizing it. It was like I remembered where to go and what to do, even where the zombies would sprout up.

If there's one element of MediEvil you'll struggle to welcome back, it's the button-mashy combat, where Fortesque chops at the undead almost aimlessly. He's quick with a sword, especially for someone with no muscle structure, but it still feels less than reliable.

No matter how fast you can hack away, the enemies sometimes land a few hits on you. 

This could be a long-term issue for the game when later sections get really tough. Nobody likes feeling as if the game let them down. It's easier to accept when it's our own fault, and MediEvil sometimes doesn't feel that way, just like it's always felt.

I played just the first two levels, but the second stage also left me stranded without a shield during a platforming section where a shield is vital.

It's these sorts of old-school design flaws that annoyingly come along for the ride in the same way the original Crash Bandicoot still features depth perception issues.

But for those that recall how the game once behaved and can accept it might be like that again, MediEvil will be a challenging experience, though ultimately one that is still full of simple fun and great imagery. 

What's a few broken bones along the way?

For more PAX West 2019 coverage, including more hands-on impressions, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: Disintegration is More Than the FPS You Might Expect Thu, 05 Sep 2019 12:49:31 -0400 Mark Delaney

When the selling point of your new IP is that it comes from one of the co-creators of Halo, you automatically paint a particular image in the minds of players.

That's how the world was first introduced to Disintegration, a brand-new sci-fi shooter from V1 Interactive, being published next year under 2K's "indie" label, Private Division.

You'd be forgiven for expecting something of a reskin of tried and true first-person shooters with that proud pedigree dominating its marketing materials, but Disintegration goes much deeper than that. In fact, its design is, as far as I am aware, unrivaled in all of games.

By uniquely combining elements of the FPS and MOBA genres, Disintegration is poised to be a trailblazer in competitive gaming.

Hands-On With Disintegration

After a brief introduction from one of V1's developers, the PAX audience and I were split into two warring teams. The 5v5 game mode felt a bit like Capture the Flag, but to say it was precisely that is underselling it. Really, the mode is an amalgamation of CTF and RTS.

In the mode, each player loads out in their choice of hovering vehicles called gravcycles. Some are slow but sturdy, others are agile but vulnerable. Some are clad in '80s colors, others look like Mad Max ambassadors.

With these various functions and factions, you're meant to feel like this is a hero shooter of sorts. Mastering each cycle and customizing their look will be a big part of Disintegration when it launches.

Hitting the battlefield with four other teammates, we were each also responsible for a ground team of AI combatants.

Depending on the gravcycle you choose, you have between two and four soldiers awaiting your orders. This is where things morph from a familiar sci-fi shooter to something much greater. With 10 human players fighting for control of two bombs one team defends while another tries to plant each gravcycle is also responsible for the boots on the ground.

This makes for a refreshing ballet, not just because the gravcycles float around the battlefield like Olympians, but because every player has a lot to consider. You can take on other players' gravcycles directly, but it's clear that the best players simultaneously bark orders to their soldiers with the intuitive click of a button.

These AI grunts behave according to the context, too. Highlight an enemy and they open fire. Move them to the bomb, and they try to plant it. Order them to use some of their special abilities, and they do so. Leaning on its MOBA influence, maps even have noticeable lanes where players can send their troops to play offense or defense.

With a round full of rookies, the match was absolutely chaotic, with battles often colliding in one central location while we all wrapped our heads around the flow of the action. In time, though, Disintegration looks like it will grow from a hectic mess to a calculated esport where laying back and playing strategically is often just as valuable as running ahead twitch-shooting hoverbikes.

Smart controls and an already obvious risk/reward element form the foundation of a shooter that will no doubt find footing with at least a pocket of passionate fans. How big Disintegration gets from there is a guessing game, but it's a risk 2K is taking its chances on.

The game certainly doesn't look like an indie, or really anything less than a big-budget shooter, but its unorthodox setup will probably turn some curious players away once they find there's more to this than another Halo.

But then, we don't need another Halo. Disintegration is going for something new, and this amalgam of MOBA principles and ubiquitous shooter mechanics is itself a fascinating risk/reward proposition of multiplayer game design.

Disintegration will launch with a full single-player campaign alongside this and other multiplayer modes in 2020. I'm curious to see if the gambit pays off, and I'd wager Disintegration will win over enough fans to birth a new subgenre.

For more PAX West 2019 coverage, including more hands-on impressions, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Early Impressions — Solid And Snappy Multiplayer Mon, 02 Sep 2019 11:32:37 -0400 David Jagneaux

In just a few short weeks, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Open Beta period will begin.

Ahead of that, though, I stopped by the Call of Duty World League Championships that took place on the UCLA campus a couple of weeks ago to check out a demo ahead of time before trying out the public Alpha test shortly after that.

It's been a long time since I've attended an MLG event for a shooter, and the hype was in the air just as strongly as ever. The venue was really impressive, and the play from all of the contestants was on another level, much like the multiplayer elements of the upcoming soft-reboot I was able to try out.

Fighting With Guns

Both of the demos I played specifically focused on the 2v2 Gunfight mode. In this game mode, you and a partner are pitted against two other players without respawns in a series of showdowns.

Each time a new match begins, everyone is issued new weapons. In this way, it's a bit like Gun Game since weapons switch, but in Gunfight, everyone always uses the same weapons. Consequently, it's a true test of skill and map knowledge.

Since there are no respawns in this mode, the stakes are extremely high and communication is key. Every time I played, I played with a stranger, and if that stranger wasn't active on the mic, we usually lost. It's extremely hard to coordinate in a game mode like this without being able to speak to one another.

In a way, it's a stark contrast to the K/D/A ratio-focused experience of most other Call of Duty modes.

The variety of guns the mode forces you to use is refreshing as well. Some maps have long, corridor-style kill lanes that can make rounds extremely short if a headshot is pulled off near the start, but then, if you get shuffled to a shotgun, the dynamics suddenly become very different as you have to try and close ground more quickly.

Hopefully, Activision and Infinity Ward can keep this mode fresh and actually release updates with new maps and new content semi-frequently given that balance considerations are far less complex in a world where all players will be using the same gear each round.

While I'm still eager to try out the full multiplayer experience, including the large-scale 100-player matches in the newly revamped Ground War mode, Gunfight nicely scratched my Call of Duty itch.

Analyzing Game Flow

If you've followed the game's marketing and previews at all, then you know the developers are taking a much more grounded approach with this entry, focusing heavily on gritty realism especially for the single player campaign.

Admittedly, that's the part I'm most excited to experience, but multiplayer is obviously the biggest draw for the franchise as a whole.

While I wasn't able to get a good feel for how the overall multiplayer meta will be affected with the current changes, in terms of moment-to-moment feel, this is the snappiest and best feeling Call of Duty game I've played in years.

I enjoyed Call of Duty: WWII for a while, but bounced off of Black Ops 4 fairly quickly. I never got into Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, or Infinite Warfare at all, and the last time I really actively played the series was around the Modern Warfare 1-3 and Black Ops 1-2 era.

Since then, it just hasn't felt the same to me.

But from what I've seen, Modern Warfare looks to return the series to its fundamentals (in a way) while also modernizing and retooling things under the hood. It seems odd to have another game with the exact same title in "Modern Warfare," but the developers have expressed that to call it anything else would be inaccurate.

The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot is set to release on October 25 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC and will feature cross-platform multiplayer for the first time in the franchise's history.

However, you can jump into the game as early as September 12 for the Multiplayer Beta if you pre-order. All date variations can be found here.

For more on the reboot, head over here for everything we know on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, from release date to every single trailer and more. 

Blasphemous Demo Impressions: Bloody Delicious Mon, 02 Sep 2019 11:16:41 -0400 Ty Arthur

Exploring a somewhat similar style to both last year's Death's Gambit and this year's Dark DevotionBlasphemous delves even further into subversive religious inversion, providing a truly disturbing and deliciously evil retro platforming experience.

While all three games clearly spring from the same basic influence, multiple entries in this retro style is a good thing, giving players choice if one title or another doesn't suit their fancy. 

Although we've only played the recent limited-time demo for the game, here's what we think of Blasphemous so far. 

Dark Style & Bloody Substance

While exploring twisted dungeons and crumbling castles, The Penitent One hacks and slashes his way through a horde of religiously-themed enemies.

What exactly does he need penance for and what the hell kind of messed up world do these characters live in? Don't expect any straightforward answers; this seems like the kind of game where atmosphere and level design are more important than steady story beats.

Clearly, the name should tip you off to what this game is all about. But in case it didn't, your mileage with Blasphemous may vary based on personal religiosity. There is a lot of, well, blasphemous content here. 

If you see a bloody guy carrying a giant cross and your brain thinks "torture porn" before it thinks "Jesus," you'll be at home here.

Aside from that, one of the biggest draws for Blasphemous is its devilishly dark pixel art style, complete with insanely bloody animations and crazy execution moves like beheading, dismembering, disemboweling, running through with fiery candelabras, and more.

Enemy types and weaponry are extremely on-brand, as it seems like everyone is carrying some sort of religious guilt that gets turned into a means to kill. 

However, Blasphemous isn't quite as devastatingly hard as the other two recent titles in this style. That's primarily because the developers ditched the Souls-style stamina meter. There is a recovery period after dodging, so you still have to time things properly, but it's not as prominent a mechanic as with other such titles.

If you take the time to learn enemy patterns, it isn't hard to get through any given section in terms of combat. The real challenge arrives when there are multiple enemies on the screen and traps in a hallway all working in tandem.

Taking out one flying pope with a trident isn't that difficult, but when you're also dodging flying projectiles and trying not to get skewered by spikes or knocked off a ledge into oblivion, you've got a challenge on your hands. 

While the demo only featured a single boss, the giant level-ending enemies already show quite a bit of promise. Notably, boss attacks get more powerful and cover more of the screen when they are low on health, it seems, making these lengthy fights extremely tense.

Metroidvania For The Next Gen

Besides ditching the stamina meter, Blasphemous is a little more Castlevania and less Dark Souls than recent games in this styletoo. There are, among other things, hidden castle walls to break and limited item shops to be found.

The game is also a bit more forgiving if you screw up a single dodge or combo, and you get two health potions to use before you die and the enemies respawn.

That being said, Blasphemous is still more deadly than something like Symphony Of The Night. In terms of gameplay, this is old-school platforming to the max, where you have to time jumps perfectly and strategize ladder climbs to avoid projectiles, enemy attacks, and an ever-more devious number of traps.

A skill tree offers up abilities to unlock that have that proper old-school SNES feel, and some will bring to mind the glory days of platformers like Mega Man X. In my playthrough, I was partial to an ability that lets The Penitent One get in an attack at the end of a dodge roll. Since you're going to dodge roll like mad anyway, you might as well get a kill out of the deal. 

While the platforming style is workable with a keyboard (I played the demo the whole way through that way), a controller would probably feel smoother and more intuitive. 

The Retro Bottom Line

Between its pixel graphics, platforming level design, and animated cut scenes, Blasphemous is a game banking on your nostalgia before utterly disgusting you with an insane level of wonderfully heretical violence.

If I have one major complaint with the demo it's that the voice acting is rather poor, as its very noticeably low budget. 

However, since we've seen a small portion of the game so far, there are also still some question marks about the full version, like how much backtracking is going to be involved while exploring the map. 

An answer to that question will be here sooner than later, though, as Blasphemous is slated for a September 10 release, which makes it unlikely there will be any major changes based on feedback from the demo.

If this style strikes your fancy, you can wish list the game or join in the discussions about the demo over on Steam.

Cyberpunk 2077 Deep Dive Reveals Character Choices and Pacifica Details Fri, 30 Aug 2019 15:20:36 -0400 Ty Arthur

Between E3 and Gamescom, the hype for Cyberpunk 2077 keeps building as CD Projekt Red keeps dropping new juicy tidbits.

Today we saw a 15 minute deep dive live stream along with an interview featuring members of the level and quest design teams. 

While what we've seen so far seems to have no particular connection to that first jaw-dropping teaser trailer back in 2013, the extensive character creation options and new hints of the branching prologue options look very promising.

Plus, we got to hear the breathtaking Keanu Reeves unexpectedly say the phrase "rat's dick" so that's something!

Today we got a glimpse at three character "life paths" to choose at the start of Cyberpunk 2077:

  • Nomad
  • Street Kid
  • Corporate

Based on what we saw, they appear to serve somewhat as cross between the Etiquette options from Shadowrun Returns and the starting background package in Dragon Age.

Which group you choose will impact quests throughout the game long after the opening prologue segment.

We also learned there are no standardized classes, and instead players will make their own classes by choosing skills and assigning perks to skills. The deep dive video focused on three types of builds:

  • Strong Solo - Terminator fantasy who tackles problems head on
  • Techie - Hardware class with a Flathead robot to command
  • Netrunner - Stealthy hacker who handles situations behind the scenes

That final option in particular seems to open up the playstyle options as main character V can hack people, objects like cameras and turrets, and even the background environment like vending machines.

On the flip side of that, it appears some enemies can hack you and mess with your vision and shooting abilities.

Aside from character options, the deep dive showcased a new look at the actual cyberpunk elements themselves, like getting into a bathtub full of ice -- which is a very different take on connecting to a digital world than with Shadowrun or The Matrix.

Out in the real physical world, V took some time to explore the bombed out Pacifica district, which was originally a swanky upscale area filled with high rises that were never finished and is now is host to dangerous gang warfare.

Vastly different from other areas we've seen in previous teasers, Pacifica is dominated by Haitian refugees and the hacker gang The Voodoo Boys, who approach cyberspace as a sort of holy religious place. 

If you missed the live stream, here are the two big take aways you need to know about:

  • Cyberpunk 2077 is extremely non-linear with a big focus on choice, both in overall play style and in specifically how you want to complete missions -- including mostly pacifist runs
  • Night City was designed by real world city planners focused on giving players enough interesting elements to interact with that they won't want to use fast travel

Are you looking forward to the game arriving on April 16, 2020 and what character type are you hoping to play? Sound off in the comments below!

All You Need to Get Your WoW Classic Guild Started on the Right Foot Fri, 23 Aug 2019 21:26:42 -0400 GS_Staff

World of Warcraft Classic is right around the corner, and with it will come leagues of current and prior WoW players flooding into the game and trying to get their footing in old Azeroth.

Part of getting that footing is being a part of a guild, whether as a leader, an officer, or a rank and file and sharing a big part your WoW experience with that group.

A few years ago, MMORPG guild-leading veteran Elliot Lefebvre wrote an extensive and long-running series of guides on being a part of and leading a guild, most heavily focusing on effectively running a guild without running it and its players into the ground.

We've collected this series of "guild guides" in one place so that you can go into Azeroth with the right community mindset. These are particularly useful for guild leaders, as these articles touch on a lot more than just the base social aspects of running a guild: managing conflict, running events, effectively recruiting, tiering leadership, and more are covered in these articles.

Without further ado, for your perusing pleasure, here are Elliot's fantastic guides to running a guild in a productive and sustainable manner, and to being a productive and helpful member of any guilds you may be a part of down the road.

Guides and Tips for Guild Leaders

Guild Recruitment and Promotion

Guides and Tips for Guild Members


We wholeheartedly wish you the best adventures in your return to Azeroth of yore, and hope you don't get ganked too many times in STV.

If you're a current or prospective guild leader, check out our sister site Gamer Launch and its tools to build and maintain a guild website. You don't have to have a website to run a guild, but it certainly helps organize your members and keep them engaged with one another.

Interview with Duolingo: Come for the Spanish Lesson, Stay for the Gamification Thu, 22 Aug 2019 13:59:32 -0400 Mark Delaney