Culture Category RSS Feed | Culture RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Wolfstride Preview: Black and White Mech Fights Tue, 15 Jun 2021 10:26:47 -0400 George Yang

Wolfstride is an upcoming turn-based RPG game about mechs from Ota Imon Studios and Raw Fury. It was revealed back in 2020, and it was recently showed off at E3 2021.

Wolfstride is definitely an interesting game to look out for when it eventually releases. We even named it one of our most-anticipated turn-based RPGs of the year. I was able to play a brief demo build of the game and I came away intrigued by what I’ve seen so far. 

In the demo, you control a character named Shade, who unsurprisingly, dons a pair of cool shades. Immediately, the two aspects that stood out to me were the music and the art direction. Both are absolutely fantastic.

The song that plays in the main hub area is a great rock guitar tune that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Persona 5 dungeon. The overall art design of Wolfstride employs a black and white comic book style in its menus, battle animations, and character portraits. 

Shade himself looks very similar to Kamina from the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann anime, especially since Shade has the same sunglasses as the character. Wolfstride is really a pleasure to look at and listen to.

Good, ol' Fashioned Mech Battles

Wolfstride's gameplay revolves around turn-based mech battles, and you have certain actions at your disposal that either take up MP or AP. The action line at the bottom of the screen consists of squares that you can move along to get closer to your opponent. MP is primarily used for moving and going towards the middle squares in the line, and it can offer you bonuses like increased damage output.

AP is used for both attacking and defending. Certain skills use a set amount of AP, so you have to strategize what skills to use. Skills have varying properties —like Knockout Punch. It can only hit an opponent if they’re right in front of you, but it also has the ability to push them several squares back. Another example is Reload, which is a defensive skill that allows you to reload bullets. Defensive actions like Reload use up AP just like any other skill.

To beat an opponent, you must destroy the chest area of their mechs. The mechs have separate HP bars for each part of their body, such as the arms, head, and chest. While the chest is the primary objective, taking out other parts first has its advantages. For example, taking out the right arm can shut down your opponent’s ability to use a certain attack skill completely. Destroying the head impairs the mech’s ability to target specific body parts.

Back at the hub area, you can purchase new parts of your mech using money earned from victories, as well as repair any damage you sustained from the previous fight. These new parts can have positive effects like simply increasing base damage. However, some might have drawbacks, too. Some may increase HP but also decrease your ammo capacity. It's a system that welcomes strategic planning as you build the best mech for your playstyle. 

It's Just a (Wolfstride) Demo!

Though it's just a demo, I wasn't able to get a clear picture of the game's story. I was just dropped off in the middle of the hub with barely any context, so it's hard to say how the narrative will play out.

There’s also a big difficulty spike between fighting the first mech and fighting the second. The demo emphasizes practicing on the first mech battle to earn more money and buy new parts, but hopefully, that’s not an indication of drawn-out grinding during the main game. We'll just have to wait and see. 

In the full game, it seems like you’ll be able to explore the setting, Rain City, in a greater capacity, and you’ll seemingly be able to talk with residents and forge relationships. Unfortunately, the demo doesn’t provide access to that part of the game, so I am definitely curious to see how that all plays out later.


Wolfstride draws a lot of its nostalgic air from the era of Japanese mech-battle TV cartoons, which has been done before. However, the art style and music will certainly help the game stand out from the crowd.

The battles are strategic enough without feeling like they’re dragging on, and the degree of mech customization is fun so far. The demo only gives a small taste of what’s to come, but hopefully, with a few difficulty tweaks and more content, I can give Wolfstride a more accurate assessment down the road.

If you like the kind of setting and aesthetic that Wolfstride employs, then by all means give the demo a shot when it launches on PC on June 16.

Monster Harvest Hands-On Preview: Poke Valley Wed, 09 Jun 2021 09:00:02 -0400 StevenGreen

Harvest Moon has been an ocean of ideas — revisited a number of times in recent years — with games like Stardew Valley taking the world by storm, washing over players in a wave of nostalgia and excellent game design.

One such upcoming title coming, which takes inspiration from that classic franchise, is Monster Harvest, a top-down pixelated farming sim that looks, feels, and starts similarly to most titles in the genre. However, it mixes into the formula another notable piece of nostalgia: monster collecting and battling, similar to what you might expect from Pokemon.

Now, Monster Harvest is more closely related to other farming sims, but with an item known as slime, players can stimulate plant growth, turning flora into unique creatures that can help the protagonist around the farm. 

I was able to go hands-on with a recent preview build of the game on PC. Here's what I think of it so far. 

Monster Harvest Hands-On Preview: Poke Valley

Waking up from that everlasting slumber known as "the start of every farming/romance simulator," you're given the opportunity to take over a farm from your uncle. With this stroke of agrarian luck, you pack up your dreary city life and become one with nature in Planimal Point. With a story as old as time (or gaming, I guess), Monster Harvest transplants the player to a town they know nothing about with neighbors who expect regular presents and pay very little for services. 

While I jest about the tropes found in the genre, Monster Harvest does include many of the mechanics you'd expect from a game like this. You start by clearing your farm of the initial debris of rocks and trees before growing crops with your basic tools. That's followed by slowly improving your farm and tools to allow for smoother daily routines and better quality vegetables. 

Where things get unique is with the inclusion of the aforementioned slime that is spread onto crops. Based on the crop that gets oozed(?), you're gifted a special animal friend that follows you around. You’ll be able to create up to 72 different mutations in Monster Harvest, all of which will help you in the fight against the wicked corporation, SlimeCo. 

This twist to Monster Harvest makes things interesting enough to sway you away from the similarities to its genre cohorts, as the story focuses on your fight against this company. While that turn-based battling feels similar to other titles as well, it is an interesting divergence from the rest of the game, even if the auto-battling and slower style of it isn't necessarily exciting. 

For those diehards who are still in the market for their fully-fledged farming simulator, don't fret — you'll get plenty of what you're digging for as well. Crafting allows you to build furniture for your customizable home, as well as items used across your farm. Piping and sprinklers allow for more efficient farms, and all the artisanal crops and products you'd want to work towards can also be found here in Monster Harvest

All in all, Monster Harvest is coming to a genre that's exploded over the past few years doing a lot of the things you'd expect it to do. However, it also adds in some new mechanics that make it a much more unique experience than what lies at the surface. There's still a lot to learn about this one. 

Monster Harvest is releasing on August 19, 2021, for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Check back for our full review around that time. 

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Preview: Another Classic from the Brutal Past Returns Tue, 01 Jun 2021 09:00:01 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Alex Kidd is the latest series from Sega’s 8- and 16-bit era to get the modern-day remastering treatment. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a revamping of the 8-bit Sega Master System platformer. The full game releases on June 24, but we checked out a demo to see how things are coming along.

The three levels included showed off the variety of gameplay at work in Miracle World. The focus is primarily on familiar platform running and jumping with lots of block smashing. Gold blocks reveal coins used to buy things in the shop and power-up items. A variety of enemies populate the landscape waiting to be punched or just avoided, and there are plenty of regular blocks that can be destroyed or jumped on. 

Being a fairly straightforward and faithful recreation of a game from 1986, the gameplay here is very familiar for anyone who’s played a side-scrolling platformer in the intervening 30+ years. Admittedly, a lot has changed since then and Alex Kidd is more than happy to vividly display how things used to be. Alex, despite being a martial arts master, is also a one-hit kill sort of guy. As in, he gets hit once and it kills him. 

Unlike Mario, he also can’t bounce on top of enemies to kill them, which just feels wrong at this point. What Alex can do is find (or purchase) power-ups to give him an advantage in this harsh, unforgiving Miracle World. Shields, power attacks, and other goodies all provide a temporary edge. 

Some of those goodies are vehicles. The demo included two levels where Alex purchases a ride. One is a motorcycle that allows you to plow through enemies and jump obstacles. Another is a sort of helicopter balloon thing that turned the level into something resembling a shoot ‘em up. What’s interesting about these levels is they’re still platformer-centric and getting the vehicle is optional.

The vehicles can be destroyed as well, leaving Alex to run and jump the rest of the way. It’s an interesting spark of creativity that still holds up after all this time.

Another fun option is being able to switch between the original 8-bit version of the game and the new version at any time. Just press a button to see Alex in his original, primitive pixelated glory.

The new graphics, on the other hand, have managed a remarkably good compromise between the old days and modern tech. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is still very much in the 2D-pixel art style, but the modern palette of color and high detail makes it look superb. The gameplay itself feels accurate to the original, with exacting, unforgiving jumps and attacks, multiple boss battles, and instant death everywhere.

The DX version does expand on the original game (which, incidentally, can be found in the Sega Ages collection on the Switch) in some key ways. For one thing, this version will have new and expanded levels with more story, enemies, and refined boss fights. There’s also a new "boss rush" mode for those who just really like beating up large angry things.

Much like the recent Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is shaping up to be a lovingly redone version of a game from a bygone era. Stay tuned for more. 

Hokko Life Preview: A Fresh Start Full of Heart Fri, 28 May 2021 16:06:39 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Team17 invited us to go hands-on with Hokko Life before its early access launch on June 2 and get a taste of what life in a village of unbelievably adorable animals is like. Naturally, comparisons to Animal Crossing are inevitable, and while they aren’t without merit, it would be a disservice to Hokko Life to pass it off as an Animal Crossing clone. That said, you might want to wait a bit before starting your cozy new life.

Hokko Life starts with you falling asleep. It’s a normal enough occurrence, except this time, it happens on a train, and you wake up in a strange new town populated by talking animals. Although perhaps it’s not too strange since you seem to take it all in stride.

Either way, now arrived and needing a place to put your head, you chat with the local pink elephant innkeeper who lets you stay the night and then indefinitely — on one condition. The town’s seen better days, and Moss, the local shopkeep and giraffe, thinks you might be able to fix that with your fresh, out-of-town ideas.

One of Hokko Life's big draws is decorating. You can decorate nearly anything, anywhere, placing it at unique angles, giving it a fresh coat of paint, or whatever you see fit.

That goes for neighbors’ houses too, which you can invade and redecorate at will. It’s a welcome feature after seeing the travesties Animal Crossing neighbors created with their homes, though Hokko Life’s critters do seem to have better design sense on the whole.

They also have if not more heart, a different kind of heart. The writing in Animal Crossing is superb, but you know what to expect from the broad personality categories the series itself helped create. 

Hokko Life might fall into these categories later on too. For now, though, the townsfolk are a refreshing blend of broader archetypes and personal characteristics that makes them easy to empathize with. It’s like if Stardew Valley characters were animals.

Mei the patchwork elephant isn’t shy, for example, but she does get overwhelmed in crowds and finds relating to books easier sometimes. Moss, thankfully, is not a self-conscious Tom Nook imitation, but a generous pillar of the community who genuinely wants to help everyone. He’s also adorable, but Hokko Life won’t let me hug him.

Your day-to-day activities vary depending on what you want to do. Once you finally get a house, you can grind for money and materials to buy loads of furniture and customization pieces from Moss’ store, or you can help the townsfolk, go fishing, or explore.

It’s here where Hokko Life’s Animal Crossing similarities are most apparent, though the structure is closer to a farm-sim game. Time passes faster, and you’ll see new seasons soon after settling in the village.

If you’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it might all still seem a bit too familiar, especially at first, when access to items and blueprints is limited. However, Hokko Life’s visual style and heart make it distinct enough to stand as a separate entity.

That said, it might be worth waiting a bit to leap into Early Access. The opening stages are still a bit rough, especially with how you progress. One early request from Moss took several in-game days to finish while I waited for flowers to grow, days where there was nothing else to do. Villagers are sometimes excessive in their demands, too; for example, Mei wanting six monarch butterflies when I couldn’t even find one. 

Waiting for the real estate agent to build her office so I could have a house, accessing new blueprints, earning money — it all just takes so long. I’m not concerned about it for the final product since this is pre-Early Access even, but it does mean I spent more time skipping ahead by sleeping than I’d have liked.

Regardless, Hokko Life is charming and full of potential, and I can't wait to see how it grows alongside the village itself during Early Access. Hokko Life will release into Steam Early Access on June 2. 

Can the New Super Mario Bros. Speedrun Record Be Beaten? Wed, 19 May 2021 14:43:53 -0400 Gavin Burtt

On April 7, 2021, speedrunner Niftski set a new world record in the Any% category of Super Mario Bros with a time of 4:54.948. This was the first-ever sub-4:55 run of the classic Nintendo platformer and will go down as the last-ever second barrier. A sub-4:54 run is impossible, but is it possible to get a lower 4:54 and break Niftski's record?

Super Mario Bros, released in 1985, has had ample time to be mastered by speedrunners. As it stands now, the Any% category is one of the most optimized runs in all of gaming. This, plus the popularity of the franchise and the cultural impact of this specific title, make speedrun world records in this game some of the most coveted. 4:54, being the last-second barrier possible to break in the game, makes this world record one of the biggest milestones in speedrunning history.

To better follow along with this discussion, take a look at Niftski's world record:

How Was the Record Set?

To really drive home just how optimized this run is, it's iportant to know exactly how the game functions. Super Mario Bros can only load the next level on every 21st frame, an interval of time that players have dubbed "framerules," which are 21 frames or 0.35 seconds. If a runner reaches the end of a level 11 frames into a framerule, 20 frames into a framerule, or just one frame into a framerule, the next level will only load at the beginning of the next framerule.

This means that once a level has been optimized to the point of being beaten in the earliest possible framerule, then it is already at its theoretical limit.

The Any% route is as follows: play through 1-1, take the warp zone in 1-2 to 4-1, complete 4-1, and take the warp zone in 4-2 to 8-1. Then play through the final four levels and defeat Bowser at the end of 8-4.

Runners play through eight levels total. Of these eight, Niftski got the theoretically best possible time on six of them. Not even AI programmed to beat the game as quickly as possible could beat Niftski on those six levels.

Of course, this means there is still time to save on two levels. We'll get to those, but first, let's consider some of the highlights of the current world record that put this run into perspective. Some of this may sound like jargon at first, but what's important is that it's noted how precise all these tricks are.

  • On worlds 1-1, 4-1, 8-1, and 8-3, Niftski performed what is known as the flagpole glitch. These glitches allow players to skip the flagpole animation and enter the castle early, and all require frame-perfect inputs and subpixel-perfect positioning.

  • 1-2 and 4-2 both include frame-perfect wall clips. The first is used to access the warp zone quicker, while the latter is used to push Mario further to the right side of the screen, a requirement for the first "wrong warp" glitch.

  • 8-1 features what is known as a fast acceleration on the first frame of the level. Niftski had to hit left on the first frame of the level, then jump and hit right on the third frame, and release jump on the fourth frame. These are all frame-perfect inputs that allow Mario to reach running speed quicker and must be started on the first frame possible, with no cue as to when that first level frame is coming. Doing this, plus the flagpole glitch at the end, allows him to catch the earliest possible framerule with zero frames to spare. 

  • 8-2 includes the infamous "Bullet Bill Glitch" to trick the level into ending two framerules early; another frame-perfect trick, as well as the "TAS 8-2" setup, which involves getting to the end of the level at such a pace that was only recently determined to be humanly possible thanks to new setups.

  • Timing ends on the frame that Bowser's axe is grabbed, not the framerule that it is grabbed, so every frame counts on 8-4. Niftski made use of a frame-perfect wall jump and an incredibly difficult fast acceleration before the second wrong warp to get a low enough time for 4:54. 

That only covers the key moments of the run. Every level features at least one frame-perfect, pixel-perfect trick, and Niftski hit each one in succession, on top of perfect general movement through everything between.

So what are the two levels that runners could theoretically save time on, and are they humanly possible to save time on?

Where Can Time Be Saved?

The more realistic area to save time on is 8-4. There are 20 possible frames to save on this level, though the fastest 8-4 ever done in practice only saved 17 of those frames, also done by Niftski.

These 20 frames can be saved by performing first-frame fast accelerations in every room of 8-4, similar to what is done at the beginning of 8-1. Considering the incredibly low success rate of the 8-1 trick by even the most accomplished speedrunners, it is unlikely that we'll see anyone hit it multiple times in one level at the tail-end of a world record pace run, anytime soon at least. 

A fast acceleration means that Mario is programmed to decelerate from running speed to zero faster than he accelerates from zero to running speed. The software determines deceleration when you are trying to move in the direction opposite the way you are facing. Thus, by facing left and doing a backward jump to the right, you will "decelerate" to maximum speed quicker. 

The other level to save time on is 4-2, where a single framerule can be saved. This is done by hitting a trick known as "Lightning 4-2." The trick to this level is to push Mario 20 pixels further to the right of the screen than is normally possible.

By doing so, Mario can enter a pipe before the screen has scrolled far enough to the right to overwrite the pipe's transition data. Instead of taking you to a coin cache like normal, it takes you to the above-ground region that you typically need to watch a vine-climbing cutscene to reach. 

Niftski uses the wall clip to nudge Mario to the right enough, but there is a quicker way of doing it. By bumping into corners of blocks in the right way, while facing backward but holding right, runners can force Mario to the right 7-10 pixels per bump. Two perfect bumps would thus get you the exact amount of pixels needed, and going down the first pixel of the pipe would take you above ground. This saves a few frames over Niftski's record.

Once above ground, runners would then have to hit a first-frame fast acceleration, just like 8-1 again, then enter the 8-1 warp zone pipe on the first possible frame to save an additional framerule overall on 4-2. When Niftski practiced this trick, it took him six months of on-and-off attempts to hit it once.

In conclusion, there are 41 possible frames left to save in Super Mario Bros, so yes, the record can and will be beaten. Most likely, the next few records will involve small timesaves on 8-4 as single fast accelerations are added, but a framerule save on 4-2 is inevitable. It's just a matter of time and practice.

Taking down those 41 frames would result in a 4:54.265, the fastest possible time the game can be beaten. As we come closer to perfection, the improvements only get harder, and right now, those improvements are nearly impossible. To see Niftski's run compared with the theoretically perfect 4:54.265, and see those potential 4-2 and 8-4 timesaves for yourself, check out this comparison video:

Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous Beta Impressions — By the Numbers Wed, 05 May 2021 17:58:30 -0400 Gabriel Moss

If you’re getting tired of waiting for Baldur’s Gate 3 to exit Early Access, and if you’re jonesing for another D&D-themed top-down roleplaying game, you may want to check out Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous when it releases this September. Wrath of the Righteous is the latest game to carry the CRPG genre torch, indirectly following up 2018’s Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

This past week, I got a chance to drop into the official Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous beta and get a feel for how it plays, including story structure and combat. 

Granted, I don't have a foundational understanding of the Pathfinder series, having never played a game in the series. My closest point of reference is the Pillars of Eternity series, Divinity: Original Sin 2, and Disco Elysium, so I went into the beta a bit green. But as a completely new player, here's what I thought so far.

Also note that these impressions are based on only the first few hours, since I simply did not manage to get the time to dig as deep as I wanted before the embargo lifted.

Character Creation

Like every top-down roleplaying game, the first thing you do in Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is select your character.

If you don't want to choose a pre-made character and want to really fine-tune the precise details of a character, you can't go wrong with what Pathfinder offers here. I counted about 25 regular classes, 12 prestige classes, and 12 races to mix and match between. Not to mention, you get to also choose your race, background, ability scores, skills, two feats, a deity, alignment, appearances, portrait, voices, and, of course, a name.

I was even able to choose a birthdate for my character, though I'm not so sure how relevant that will be in the final build. Whether there are any story implications, I’m uncertain, but at least it’s cool from a roleplaying standpoint.

However, I was totally overwhelmed by the number of feats and deities I could pick and choose from, which is par for the course for this sort of game, but I already know that many tabletop and CRPG fans will love this variety of choice.

I'm not quite sure that much of this choice is meaningful; I barely noticed many of my character's unique traits coming into play, even during dialogue sections. Most choices seemed arbitrary or based around pushing me down a particular path in Pathfinder's Mythic system, which seems like a souped-up campaign morality system, but with six different paths instead of a binary system like in Mass Effect.

All of this isn’t to detract from the sheer depth of choice here. Even in beta, you can get lost in the character creation system for hours if you'd like. Exploring all the different possibilities is certainly a big part of these games, and at least in Pathfinder's combat system, the unique mixture of classes and traits could probably make for some very unique playstyles.

Appearance customization is about as detailed as it is in other recent CRPGs, namely Pillars of Eternity 2 or Divinity: Original Sin 2, where you have a palette of skin and hair options, but not much beyond that.

Character portraits — images that represent your character in Pathfinder's user interface — are limited to a handful that you can choose from by default. But Pathfinder made it easy to import my own portraits if I wanted to go that route instead of choosing one from the provided selection.


To somebody who has played many fantasy games but isn't too well-versed in and doesn't have much of a connection to Pathfinder lore, the story in Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous comes off as run-of-the-mill high fantasy stuff involving angels and demons. You're a relatively unknown hero who awakens from unconsciousness in the middle of a city square, during which the populace is celebrating the end of demons in general.

But that all changes when, a few beers later, demons attack the city and force you underground with a handful of refugees. Long story short: you team up with a group of woefully misunderstood humanoids called Mongrels. And then together you all make a break for the surface, an experience that takes you through the first level or so before you're let free to venture around in the world map.

The first thing that stood out here wasn't the contrived story, but rather the voiced dialogue. Most lines of dialogue in this early section were voiced, and the quality of the voice acting was pretty darn good throughout. It wasn't quite as tonally consistent as in the voiced narrations of Disco Elysium: Final Cut, but it grounded me in Pathfinder's world immediately.

I'm a fan of storybook-esque "events'' in computer roleplaying games, where the story is narrated and you choose from a list of different options, succeeding based on different skill checks or trait checks. Now, I'm not talking about dialogue here. I'm talking about illustrated sequences that are presented in a choose-your-own-adventure book format.

Interactive sequences in this style — not the choice-based dialogue variety — were one of the main appeals of Pillars of Eternity and its sequel, and it was cool to see that Owlcat Games are attempting it in Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous as well. However, I noticed that these choice-based sequences appeared substantially less than I would have hoped, and without nearly as many skill checks or prerequisite checks.

Most options in these roleplaying segments, and in actual dialogue with other characters, simply contributed toward a score, such as your alignment or Mythic score, and thereby felt less about roleplaying the character you already created and more about creating a character through your roleplaying.

Some will love that, but I wasn't as big of a fan of it, since I never saw any kind of meaningful impact for any of my decisions in the few hours I spent in the beta. It struck me as a shame, given just how extensive I found Pathfinder's massive character creator.

Granted, again, I didn't get too deep into the beta beyond the first few hours, so these choices may expand further into the game.

Gameplay & Graphics

Overall, the environments are pristinely detailed, and the lighting in darker areas looked great on my 1440p display. But I found that the character models look dated, something more apparent during cutscenes where the camera zooms in on them for dramatic effect. 

There's a multiclassing system, and from what others are saying it sounds like you can throw a new class onto a character every time they level up.

That's consistent with my experience; each time I leveled up, I could choose which class got that level, meaning that I could also choose just how far I could progress into each specific class if that's what I wanted. But since it's so open, and because I could pair any set of classes with minimal guidelines or directions, I felt like at any moment I could quite easily "break" a character by mixing playstyles that wouldn't fit together.

For creative sorts, this unlocked multiclassing system is probably ideal, and there's a ton of room for players to tweak and experiment.

The biggest standout feature for me was the idea of shared storage, which pools each character’s inventory capacity into one aggregate storage space. In theory, this makes inventory management much easier and simpler to deal with because you don’t have to root around in each character’s inventory to find the items you want to sell or equip. I also appreciated the fact that there was only a minor debuff in my party’s speed if I over-encumbered myself.

Also neat was the fact that, if I tried to leave an area before collecting all of the dropped loot in that area, I was prompted to auto-loot everything before I transitioned to the next area. I’m not sure if this feature picked loot out of chests as well, but I definitely thought it made things more convenient when I left a zone without looting every monster corpse.

The default combat system in Wrath of the Righteous is based on a real-time with pause system; every action is played out in real-time, but you can pause the game and make decisions for what you want each character in your party of up to six to do next. This system worked as fine as anyone would expect a real-time with pause system to work in a top-down roleplaying game, but I do lean more in favor of a turn-based system, so I'm a bit biased here. For those who also prefer turn-based systems, there is indeed a turn-based combat system if you go looking for it in the settings menu!

I did enjoy casting Enlarge Person on an enemy, making them more physically strong but very easy to land hits on and kill early in a battle, and while I mainly stuck to my tried and trusted healing and damage-dealing spells, I noticed a ton of "weird" spells (like Enlarge Person) that I could get creative with if I wanted to.


So far, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous feels like just another top-down roleplaying game. And for hungry roleplaying game fans, that might just be good enough. Nothing about the story really stuck out to me, and while I’m a sucker for extensive character creation systems, none of the choices I made here seemed to have a ton of story or gameplay impact beyond combat.

But of course, this is all just how it plays in only the first couple of hours of its current beta. I didn't dig nearly as far as I could have if I were given more time, given how much content was provided, and it's still not quite a finished product yet, so I'm certainly willing to bet that I'm passing more than a few misguided judgments of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous far too soon. Regardless, even if you just want another roleplaying game to fill your time, this one is definitely shaping up to be worth at least checking out.

Scavengers Early Access Review: Can We Last Through the Winter? Tue, 04 May 2021 15:24:31 -0400 Mark Delaney

In just four years, the battle royale genre has gone from niche to a must-have addition for many of gaming's biggest franchises. Now, many competitive games, including virtually all shooters, continue to iterate on the popular mode in different ways.

Though Midwinter Entertainment is unusually shy about saying so, Scavengers is one of the genre's newest innovations.

It seems as though the team doesn't want to be pigeonholed into the battle royale maelstrom, and perhaps that's smart given how busy that space is these days, but some games inevitably rise to the top, and thanks to the team's shooter pedigree, Scavengers has the potential to emerge from that storm as a fan-favorite.

Scavengers is a free-to-play third-person co op "survival shooter," according to its creators, but for anyone jumping in for the first time, what you really need to know about Scavengers is that it's a battle royale.

With dozens of players on every iteration of the game's massive and frosty map, teams of three must work together to scavenge for supplies, fend off enemies both AI and human, and be the last team standing when the dropship arrives.

Perhaps Midwinter doesn't call its debut title a battle royale because that comes with certain connotations, several of which Scavengers defies. For instance, you can die and return after a 60-second respawn timer. There's no Gulag to prevail in. There's no Reboot Van at which your allies revive you. The simple, yet ultimately nerve-rackingly long, respawn timer is one way Scavengers challenges players to play cooperatively.

As the map shrinks due to an ever-encroaching blizzard, if at any point all three players are eliminated on a team, they're all sent back to the lobby. This provides the right kind of anxiety, the kind this genre is meant to provide. Being the lone survivor on a team, desperate to survive until your allies get back in the fight, is fun every time, even if it doesn't go your way. It gives every round the sense that you're going down swinging.

The map's storm moves slower than the ones in other games in the genre, meaning you can often outrun it even if you start to trek out of it later than you should.

But there are unique consequences for staying in Scavengers' storm. With gauges for both hunger and warmth, players will see the latter drop fast, eventually blocking part of their health bars unless they can recover it using campfires or some crafted items, like a Thermal Boost. As you sprint, you accumulate hunger as well, so even if you're hoping to lie low for a long portion of any round, it won't be long before it's time to hunt for food.

These survival elements add a necessary spin on the genre. In addition to crafting vital survival tools, players can also craft shields, throwables, and signature weapons for each of the game's seven class-based heroes at launch, three of which are unlocked on day one. While crafting and survival mechanics aren't anything novel either, Scavengers bridges the last-player-standing excitement of battle royale with the reward of survival games, where the best-prepared players, not necessarily the best shooters, can do the most damage.

Shooting in Scavengers feels excellent. The game's pedigree, including the former Halo creative director and veterans from BattlefieldCall of Duty, and more, shines through. A pretty standard assortment of guns, like assault rifles, shotguns, snipers, revolvers, crossbows, and more, don't impress with any sort of innovative mechanics on their own, but they make up for it thanks to tight controls that ensure players never need to grapple with the game itself, only the enemies.

That's more than one can say for what is admittedly still my favorite game ever -- PUBG -- and puts Scavengers closer to Warzone or Fortnite in terms of battle royales that actually feel good to play. The genre is wildly all over the map in this regard, but Scavengers is reliable when it comes time for a shootout.

The biggest issue Scavengers has is its map features. The point of every round is to escape with not just your life, but also the most Datapoints, which can be gathered at major settlements across the map or dropped by AI and human enemies. This added factor means Scavengers is the battle royale that scores you based on your found loot, which is fun as a concept.

Some of the game's best bits are nevertheless let down at times by a map too flat and barren in between its main settlements. I've landed on using the sniping- and crossbow-class characters, because I just don't see the utility in playing someone with close-quarters special weapons, like a shotgun or a melee sword. The sightlines are so vast when between settlements. It feels like anyone who needs their targets at close range is at a severe disadvantage.

I've lucked into my preferred character, a stealthy archer named Kali, being such a strong fit for the current geography of Scavengers. Anyone who loves to play as the shotgunner of their group may find Scavengers to be more of an uphill battle, figuratively and ironically speaking, because the terrain can be so flat on the outskirts of towns. 

I expect the meta to quickly reveal itself to favor long-range gunners, at least in this earliest of Early Access stages.

Scavenger's economy is based on not just cosmetics, but also individual research projects players can explore between rounds. Researching new items, weapons, and talents is straightforward for anyone who's played mobile games or those that borrow from it, though it's worth noting nothing in Scavengers' economy is predatory like those of many mobile games. Players earn credits as they play, and while you can use them to complete research projects faster, I've not yet seen any reason to.

There's always more to unlock, and every crafting resource you'll need can only be found by playing the game. I wouldn't call anything in Scavengers pay-to-win for that very reason. It's play-to-win, with an option to speed things up by a few hours if you really want to.


Scavengers is in its infancy as an Early Access live service game, and that's a period during which fans should reasonably expect some growing pains. Midwinter's debut has fewer than some others, to its credit, though no one would rightly argue it's without blemishes.

The foundation is strong, and one can quite easily see a future where this competitive game continues to grow thanks to its fusion of two of the industry's biggest trends. Scavengers has at least earned my curiosity for now, and with strong ongoing support, I expect its harsh but fulfilling world will draw in plenty more Explorers too.

Black Skylands Preview: An Ambitious Open-World Pixel Art Adventure Tue, 04 May 2021 15:09:46 -0400 Luke Shaw

Set in a skypunk fantasy world full of airships, pirates, floating islands, and giant airborne beasts, Black Skylands is a mix of genres that manages to work despite its patchwork nature. It's an ambitious project for indie studio Hungry Coach Games, but all the ingredients for success are baked in.

We were able to go hands-on with the latest Black Skylands playstest on Steam and came away with positive impressions. Here's what we thought. 

Limitless Horizons

In Black Skylands, you play as Eva, a girl from a farming community who wants to explore the wide world beyond her Fathership, the floating paradise where she lives with her father and brother. Soon after a short segment introducing players to the game's farming and settlement building mechanics, your home is attacked by pirates and razed in front of your eyes.

You fight back, learning how to shoot enemies a la' Hotline Miami with Skylands' fun aim deviation if you spam fire. You're then introduced to the hook that drives the demo and the early game: your brother has gone off into the sky to fight the pirates on their home turf, and you'll need to take an airship out into the great beyond to find him. Taking the first steps into the sky lets you drink in the gorgeous pixel art on display.

For a demo of an Early Access game, Skylands already looks extremely polished, with flocks of fauna flying overhead as giant sky-faring whales casually float below. It's clearly far beyond your average retro-aesthetic, with lush detailing everywhere, and the only complaint is that the top-down characters are not quite as bold or instantly recognizable as they could be, which often leads to missing certain things here and there, such as important shopkeeps.

Piloting in Black Skylands is wonderfully tactile, and stocking your ammo and fuel involves grabbing crates from stores and physically carrying them to your hold. Fuel cans must be purchased, filled up, and then emptied into your ship's motor. Managing your ship's repairs feels unique, too, and operating its guns is done with the left and right mouse buttons. On top of that, you'll need to keep an eye on your firing arcs and how much fire as the guns can overheat. 

Grand Theft Airborne

Cooling overheated armaments and repairing damage to the ship can only be done by letting go of the steering wheel and manually moving to the damaged area or affected gun and expending time (and often resources from the ship's hold) to fix the issue. While aerial combat is mainly you fighting against smaller ships and propeller-suit-wearing pirates (at least so far), it can get fraught as you try and orientate your ship's firing arcs while avoiding gunfire, rockets, stationary mines, and clouds of noxious gas.

Transitioning from ship to island is achieved by diving off the deck of your ship and latching to firmament with a grappling hook. The hook is a great tool in combat, as well, letting you zip around or pull enemies in for a melee attack or close-range shotgun blast. You are equipped with a dodge roll that takes you through projectiles, allowing you to dance through bullet-hell style waves of attacks and avoiding swarming melee grunts.

There are plenty of weapons to choose from, running the gamut from pistols to shotguns to submachines, and each is fully moddable with upgrades found at vendors and in loot boxes. There are also mods to craft for your airship, and buildings you can create and upgrade back at the Fathership, which makes the game feel familiar to recent Assassin's Creed titles. 

Islands in the Sky

It may sound odd to say, but Black Skylands is very clearly trying to parrot some of the trends found in AAA open-world games, but with the kind of top-down, retro stylings that are so favored by indie studios. It sounds like an unlikely combination, but it's a good fit.

The small opening story quest ends the demo, but there is scope to carry on exploring the rest of the open world. Each island is occupied by a host of enemies, and clearing them all lets you stake a claim on the island, giving you new resource options and access to new vendors.

Black Skylands releasing in Early Access makes sense for a drip-feed of content. The map is limited right now, but there are clear plans to expand outside the demo area. The islands on offer currently present a good mix of top-down platforming, combat, and exploration with some minor secrets to find. 

With the scope it has for constructing buildings on your Fathership, upgrading you weaponry, armor, and airship, and the vast expanse of the sky to explore, there's a great foundation here. Controls are a little finicky at times, and the distance and reliability of your grappling hook take some getting used to.

It will be extremely interesting to see where the developers take Black Skylands next, especially if new challenges and sky biomes are added. This is one to keep your eye on. 

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 Hands-On Preview: Aiming to Please Tue, 04 May 2021 10:18:08 -0400 Justin Koreis

The mission was quickly becoming a disaster. I’d managed to assassinate my first target, an Arms Dealer named Antwan Zarza, in a large industrial area at the northwest edge of the map. My journey to the next target took me right through a makeshift military base. I eliminated an enemy overlooking the camp but failed to notice his friend, who managed to raise the alarm before I could put him down.

Now I was pinned down by fire from below. I picked off a few of the soldiers with my sniper rifle, but at the center of the base, a soldier was preparing to fire a mortar. The explosive shell would almost certainly end my life.

I drew my rifle, calibrated the scope to accommodate for bullet drop, and took aim at his chest. That’s when I saw it, the gleam of a grenade hooked to his belt. Quickly adjusting my aim, I took note of a slight crosswind, held my breath, and fired. The grenade erupted in a white-hot flash of fire and shrapnel; the power of the explosion tore through the surrounding men, ending the skirmish in an instant. I was on to my next target.

When I went hands-on with CI Games' upcoming Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, the sixth installment in the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise, I was expecting another solid sniper game, with quality gunplay and over-the-top Bullet-Cam kills. What I found was a game with the potential to deliver some of the best emergent gameplay of the year, where every player’s unique adventure exceeds anything a scripted encounter could ever hope to deliver.

Contract Killer

In Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, you are Raven, an expert sniper dropped into enemy territory, tasked with eliminating key cogs as you work to topple a corrupt head of state. Along the way, you must complete certain objectives, such as freeing prisoners, destroying special equipment, and more.  

Right from the beginning, it was clear that SGWC2 is more than just a point-to-point sniping game. The first mission dropped me into a large map, with three potential targets, each in a different area. The overall lack of direction was refreshing, as I was free to make my own however I saw fit. In this case, I headed South, pursuing expert hacker Fyodor Novikov, who had taken refuge at a military facility.  

The journey to my destination wasn’t easy. I had to work past multiple groups of guards by way of intuitive first-person stealth. Keeping to shadows, I was able to get behind a guard and ambush him. The goon found himself more than willing to divulge where the rest of his allies were in hopes I would spare him (I didn’t). With this newfound information, I plotted a route around the group's perimeter and made my way to the target zone.

Cerebral Assassin

There are five total levels in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, each filled with targets, missions, and challenges. Three are built as hubs, with Extreme-Range Sniping assignments scattered around. The other two levels are pure sandboxes, more akin to previous SGW titles, where you can take the perfect shot from afar or make a stealthy approach for an up-close and personal assassination.

Novikov was in an Extreme-Range Sniping zone. Previous games have you eliminating targets from a maximum range of around 600M. This time, you fire from up to 3X that. In this case, I was roughly a kilometer from the target, and I set to work.

One of the great strengths of this series is the balance between realism and fun gameplay. CI Games consulted with actual snipers of GROM, the Polish Special Forces. These conversations lead the team to focus on strategy through observation and planning before taking any shots. In practice, this meant I spent several minutes watching the target zone through my binoculars, tagging enemies and points of interest.

To have the best chance of success, I needed to plan out an entire series of moves and attempt to visualize the sequence of events before taking a shot. It was chess from a kilometer away, with a .50 caliber sniper rifle.  

I decided to play it defensively. First, I eliminated an opposing sniper on a rooftop. This would give some margin of error should I miss my shot. At this range, no one would hear the sound of my rifle firing. I could try and lead the target by a few steps, catching him in stride, but I found a spot where he liked to greet one of the guards. I sat patiently, trigger finger at the ready.

Taking the Longshot

At 1,200 meters, there were many factors to consider, all of which were readily visible in the thorough but unobtrusive UI.

First, I calibrated my scope for distance. This would center my crosshairs at an elevation that accounts for the effect of gravity on the bullet over the distance. There was a slight crosswind, illustrated by the Dynamic Reticle System, which drew a line trailing off the side of the crosshairs, reflecting the bullet's path. The bullet would take more than a second to travel this far, so I needed to line up my shot for where the target would be at that time. He entered my field of view, and I fired.  

There is immediate feedback when you find a well-aimed shot. The camera exits the first-person perspective and follows the bullet on its course in a cinematic follow-view. A rifle of this power strikes with unbelievable force. My bullet struck the side of my target's head, just above the ear.  

At player request, the gore has been turned up from previous entries in this series, and it was on full display here. The concussive power was enough to shatter the skull. A crimson explosion erupted, with anatomical details similar to what you would find in Mortal Kombat. It was at once disgusting and exhilarating, striking the right balance of violent enough to not diminish the violence of what you, a sniper, are doing, yet exaggerated enough to avoid being excessive or gratuitous.

Gore can be turned down in the menus to an extent if you prefer.

Another Round of Shots

Now that my target was eliminated, I made a hasty retreat. My successful kill earned me money and upgrade tokens, which are used to buy new equipment and upgrades. There are several upgrade trees that you can customize to your style. Gadgets include spy drones, special ammo, and even a remote-control sniper you can use as a second gunman.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 missions are designed to be repeatable. You can return to try different strategies for eliminating your target. As you progress and upgrade your equipment, you can start honing some of the more creative ways to eliminate your targets.  

In addition to your rifle, there are environmental hazards to take advantage of. In one case, I saw a crane with a heavy load suspended conveniently above the path one of the targets likes to walk. Another had an escape vehicle that I could destroy once my quarry was inside. These emergent sections give the game a Hitman-like replayability, with challenges and achievements to match. 

As I continued playing, I found each encounter to be dynamic. Once, I was spotted and had to snipe the driver of an armored vehicle. Another time, I carefully circled an enemy until he was aligned with another soldier, and I was rewarded with two kills for a single shot. I shot circuit breakers to lure a target into the open in one assassination attempt and blew up a parked helicopter to create a distraction in another. Everything I did felt dynamic, and every encounter had to potential to be unique.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 feels like the marriage of tried-and-true first-person sniping and the unique experiences possible in modern open-world games. As much as I am looking forward to playing the final release, I am more excited to see and hear the unique experiences of other players. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 might just be a shot worth taking when it releases on June 4

Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart State of Play: The Next Best Looking PS5 Game Thu, 29 Apr 2021 19:18:44 -0400 David Carcasole

June is almost here and for PlayStation fans, that means Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart is closer to release on PS5. In anticipation of Insomniac's continuation of the fan-beloved series, Sony hosted a State of Play event on April 29 that gave fans the most in-depth look into the game yet.

After beginning the State of Play with a look at the upcoming Subnautica: Below Zero and announcing an impending Among Us release on the PS4 and PlayStation 5, Sony and Insomniac devoted the rest of the time to Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart.

The tandem wasted no time in starting the event with a visual spectacle. Within the first few moments, we see Rivet and Clank, then suddenly a massive robot ripping off the wall in front of them before attempting to steal Clank while Rivet grabs her hammer and goes after him.

Just as Rivet is about to smash her way to Clank's rescue, Marcus Smith, Creative Director on Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart at Insomniac takes over and begins to narrate over a mix of cinematics and gameplay. 

From the game's logo, we pan down to find Ratchet, picking himself back up after being thrown across dimensions into one where Dr. Nefarious has succeeded in his plot for domination and is now Emperor Nefarious. As Ratchet explores the world, we're treated to our first full look at Nefarious City, a full urban sprawl that feels incredibly realized, and it looks stunning.

We also start to discover some new story beats. For example, Ratchet acquires a dash and wall-running ability after visiting a new character called Phantom. There's also a new vendor in Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart, Ms. Zurkon, who hints at a larger rebellion fighting to end Emperor Nefarious' tyrannical rule. Ratchet re-confirms the existence of two Dr. Nefariouses as he begins to find out more about where he's landed in time and space.

Before he can get to them, Ratchet sees Rivet and Clank on the run from Emperor Nefarious' forces. When they jump in a ship, he rushes to find a way off-planet. 

Ratchet's exploration also shows off other small changes long-time fans of the series will note. For example, Raritanium has once again been redesigned and looks more akin to a box of bolts than ever before. 

While showing off Ratchet's new methods of traversal, Smith said that "one of the focal points in gameplay for Rift Apart is increased mobility. This focus on mobility allows players to chain moves together, to create exhilarating combos."

The gameplay shown also seems to have a heightened sense of verticality than previously seen in other Ratchet & Clank games. 

From there, the event moved onto the game's combat, and the variety of new weapons players will be able to use. Some old favorites return, but there are, of course, plenty of new out-of-this-world weapons for Ratchet to take advantage of, like the new Shatterbomb. 

Smith went on to explain how dashing allows players to evade attacks either by dodging outright or dashing through them.

We also got another look at dimensional tears within the world of Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart and how Ratchet will be able to use his rift tether to make a quick escape or get the jump on his enemies. Later in the demo, it is shown that Rivet also uses a rift tether. 

As combat continued, Smith explained how the Dualsense controller on PS5 will be utilized, both with the haptic feedback features and adaptive triggers. Different weapons will fire differently and will require different inputs from the trigger, such as the difference between a full press and a half-press to determine the rate or strength at which you fire. The haptic feedback from the controller will allow players to really feel the impact of every shot. 

The demo then continued to what appeared to be a mini-boss fight with a large enemy encounter, as Ratchet used all of the new mobility tools at his disposal to avoid a barrage of attacks thrown his way.

Suddenly, before the fight is done, Ratchet and his enemy are sucked into another dimension, and we see how quickly they can jump between entire worlds, loading them in seconds, by way of the PS5's SSD. 

The demo then shifts to Rivet and Clank, and we see our first lengthy amount of gameplay with Rivet and her hammer at the helm. Smith said here that Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart features alternate dimension versions of classic planets and locations from previous games within the Ratchet & Clank series.

More than just feeling the impact of each shot, haptic feedback within the Dualsense will also be used to send direct information to players with specific vibrations indicating an enemy's status, though it only seems to work with a new weapon called the Topiary Sprinkler currently. 

We then get a closer look at one of the pocket dimensions that can be explored throughout the story of Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart. Rivet and Clank go for a ride on a "speetle" to help them get around faster, and this is another case where we see the speed of the SSD as Rivet and Clank fly straight through from one world into another entirely different one.

While continuing to follow Rivet and Clank as they attempt to save Rivet's friends, we get a nice extended look at the combat and the gunplay for Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart. From there, the demo ends and Smith said there will be multiple modes and features to be found within Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart such as battle arenas, Clank puzzles, large open areas to explore, aerial combat, armor to obtain, and collectibles to gather like gold bolts. 

Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart will also include a bevy of accessibility features, though more information on those will be shared at a later date. Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart omni-wrench smashes its way to PS5 consoles everywhere on June 11, 2021. 

Naraka: Bladepoint Beta Impressions — A Blade in the Night Tue, 27 Apr 2021 11:00:01 -0400 John Schutt

Naraka: Bladepoint is a new ninja-melee, close-quarters-combat battle royale from 24 Entertainment. It has all the trappings you might expect from the genre: team and solo matches on a shrinking map where you pick up weapons and upgrades while looking out for enemies to defeat.

But that’s where many of the similarities end.

Naraka cares very little for whatever gun skill you’ve picked up in Apex Legends or Warzone. Not only are most fights in-your-face brawls, but you’re also equipped with a grappling hook and can parkour around the map at will. You can also choose between a growing number of heroes (a term used lightly) with different abilities you’ll need to master if you want to succeed.

It’s easy to misstep with this sort of gameplay loop, but Naraka nails it. It also runs beautifully on PC, meaning you won’t be hurting for frames even on max settings. In short, Naraka is a rare combination of novel ideas and established conventions that should definitely have your attention.

Fast, Chaotic, Fun

As a melee-focused action game, Naraka’s map is significantly smaller than the maps in Apex and Warzone. The time you spend in combat vs. looting is about the same as other BRs, thanks to everyone having to run everywhere.

There are no vehicles to speak of in Naraka. Instead, you’ve got a grappling hook and the ability to climb almost everything on the map.

Grappling hooks are looted items like any other consumable, making them a valuable resource to take in the late game. The grappling system is a little finicky, where players need to let the ending animation finish before continuing, and there’s a slight delay before you can grapple as well, making its use in combat less an escape mechanism and more a tool for closing the gap or repositioning early in a fight.

You can attack at any point during a grapple and can even attach the hook to enemies if your aim is good, giving you a brief window to strike quickly and with less fear of punishment.

Regardless of how you close the distance, combat itself is usually faster than any other BR I’ve played. Once a fight starts, it tends to only end when one team is dead. A highly-skilled player could grapple away, hide, then return for his fallen friends, but because you leave behind a grave (called a cairn), a quick survey would reveal the deception.

Actual combat uses one of three melee weapons: a Sword, a Greatsword, and a Katana. Each weapon has its own moveset and upgrade path, with a special ultimate ability if you’re lucky enough to find one of the rarest Souljades, the game’s player-upgrade items.

An encounter between two newer players is likely to devolve into a spam-fest, but Naraka spices combat up by adding a counter mechanic. If you time the button presses perfectly, you’ll not only stun your opponent, you’ll also disarm them, leaving them vulnerable. You’ll also want to make liberal use of Focus Strike, a charge attack that prevents stun and deals a lot of damage. And while there are technically ranged weapons in Naraka, including a bow, gun, crossbow, and... cannon, they aren’t ever going to be your main means of fighting.

With a cast of heroes to play, any fight hinges not only on your ability to swing a sword but also use your ability and your Super effectively. Your role in the team is thus dependent on what your character can do, be it heal, disorient, distract, or destroy.

Nuts and Bolts

For those keyed into the BR genre, what I’ve just outlined sounds a bit like Apex Legends, and Naraka does owe some of its more micro details to both that game and Warzone.

Every weapon, Souljade, piece of armor, and consumable upgrade you acquire has a rarity, and their effects or stats increase with higher rarities. The color scheme is familiar, from grey at the bottom to gold at the top.

If you get your hands on some of the best items in the game, you can do things most players can’t, giving you a straight-up advantage. You’ll also be harder to kill. You’ll hit harder. And you'll be more deadly in whatever encounter you have, no matter how one-sided.

Every weapon also has a durability value, or how many times you can use it before it deals significantly less damage. This applies to guns and bows as well, so you’ll want to have not only armor and health restoration but also weapon repair items in your backpack.

There’s also the Talent system to consider, which is a set of passive upgrades your characters unlock over time. Whenever you unlock a Talent, you can head into the Talents tree and apply it, giving your character an instant and permanent boost to their capabilities.

I could go on about the buy stations scattered around the map and the currency they use. I could talk about the hazards around the map, the tightly-designed match pacing, the revive mechanics for solo play (you get three) — I could go on for another couple thousand words examining the nuances in Naraka, but instead, I’ll end this section by talking about how the game has another mode beyond the BR component.

The alternate game mode is called The Bloodbath, and it’s basically Team Deathmatch with heroes. It won’t hold your attention long, as it’s fairly barebones (right now anyway), with a focus on taking down bounties and staying alive for long periods. It is, however, a great way to get a feel for a new character before taking them in the real meat of the game.

Bloodbath is very “instant action.” You’ll never need to look far for a fight. If you want to try out a new tactic or trick without dedicating a long time to a proper battle royale match, this mode is the way to go.

Naraka also has a training room where you use all of the weapons and Souljades in the game, learn their effects, and see which weapon type suits you best.

Final Thoughts

Naraka is very, very fun. The smaller map size and novel focus on melee combat sets it apart from almost every other entry in the genre. It’s exceedingly well-paced, and every weapon is fun to use; in the right hands, they're capable of mass carnage.

Only two things give me a little pause: the ladder skill ranking system and the monetization element. If you’ve played any other free-to-play BR, you should see where I’m going with this.

As you play Naraka, the game scores you based on how well you do in each match, then it attempts to put you in lobbies with others of a similar skill level. The justification here is keeping new players out of the deadly clutches of veterans, likely to ensure they don’t immediately rage quit the game entirely.

It’s a valid argument, though players of the highest caliber will end up playing only other tryhards, making every game a struggle. As someone who enjoys giving a good stomp from time to time and who knows what it feels like to get my teeth kicked in, I understand the sentiment.

That said, I don’t believe there’s a reason not to have a non-ranked playlist where fun is the only goal. If you’re 100% focused for the entire match, or even most of it, burnout becomes more and more likely, as do the other issues that come from a skill-based matchmaking system.

The other issue is monetization. In short: loot boxes. Called Tidal Crates in Naraka, you need the premium currency, Gold, to unlock them. You can buy as many Crates as your gold can purchase, but you can expedite the process by buying crates in packs of 10.

Loot boxes are fairly controversial in the gaming space, but they are effective when used correctly. I think adding a premium currency on top of a loot box mechanic seems a little much, at least without a good way to spend it directly on cosmetics and other niceties.

Those two issues will likely not affect Naraka’s success. This game is carried by its amazing gameplay, incredible art style, and the many upgrades that make every game unique. It isn’t necessarily a game for shooter fans, but it isn’t trying to be, and more importantly, I think the ways Naraka breaks with convention will bring in those same players.

I’ve got high expectations of Naraka, especially as it grows and brings in new players while maintaining current ones. If you have any love for the battle royale genre, check out Naraka the first chance you get.

Unpacking is a Zen Puzzle Game That Makes Order Out of Chaos Fri, 23 Apr 2021 11:33:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

Do you ever find yourself stress-cleaning? It's that compulsion to tidy up when everything seems to be weighing you down. Maybe work is pouring in, the kids are bouncing off the walls, and the puppy is peeing on the carpet again. It can feel like your only options are to pull out your hair or, as a healthier alternative, clean your house.

It's a way to create some semblance of control. There's something soothing about reorganizing a bookshelf or dusting the entertainment center when you're having a bad day, isn't there? 

The stressors of daily life have only become more burdensome for many folks during the pandemic. That's why, as we seem to finally be turning a corner in this whole mess, Unpacking has become the meditative timeout I wish I had a year ago — but it's one I'm thankful I have today.

As part of LudoNarraCon, this week's indie games festival focusing on story-based games, I was able to check out a few dozen demos of upcoming indie games, but Unpacking is my favorite of the whole event.

In Unpacking, players organize rooms as though they're just moving in. Without so much as a text-based intro or an opening cutscene, the first level drops you into a child's room fit with bunk beds in 1997. An empty shelf and a desk sit there, as do three taped-up cardboard boxes. 

Instinctively, you know to open the boxes and start decorating the room, and the total lack of timers, score settings, or much of anything that would be considered gamification makes it so much more inviting. You're mostly free to organize and decorate the room as you see fit  there are nearly no wrong answers in Unpacking.

Maybe you want the stuffed animals to go on the shelf, the board games to go under the bed, and the soccer ball to sit in the corner beside the desk. Or maybe you want your soccer trophy on display prominently in the middle of your desk, but you're through with the stuffies, so you set them on the top bunk, generously donated vertically to your little brother.

Only a gentle guiding hand will let you know that some object or objects are not in one of their many "right" spots. You can't, for example, just leave the board games strewn about the bedroom floor, but what kind of ne'er-do-well would want to anyway?

All the while, lackadaisical music plays and the game moves only at a pace you choose. For the stress-cleaners, the serial organizers, or even the interior decorators of the world, Unpacking is a unique experience you probably didn't know you wanted. 

Without any character models or dialogue, you're free to make up your own story as you move from room to room, year to year, house to house. Who is this person whose bedroom you've decorated? That stuffed pig toy that sat on their desk in 1997 is now beside their dorm room computer in 2004. Did they bring it to college? It's for you to decide.

Awkwardly, my inferred story even got a bit dark when I imagined the stuffed animals as belonging to the younger sibling in the game's first level, so I put them on their bed, but when I pulled the same pig out of the box in the subsequent level, I had to account for why the big brother brought their sibling's toy with them to college.

Was it a gift from a brother who would miss you? Was it a monument to a child taken too soon? No one knows for sure, but like the act of decorating the room, there seem to be few wrong answers.

Unpacking apparently provides for a vast blank slate for players to fill in their own stories this way, but even if you don't think too much about the details of what you're decorating with, there's a wonderful sense of tranquility in moving room to room, opening up the boxes, putting away their contents as you prefer, and admiring your finished work.

I'm the type of person who genuinely feels a bit of stress when a movie includes a scene with a messy space, like a child's toy room or a trashed post-rager kitchen. The simple act of cleaning a room in Unpacking feels like the cure for what so often ails me, now more than ever in a year where my eight-year-old son has been home-schooling for a year, my two-year-old daughter has never even seen a library or a toy store, and my wife and I work a combined three jobs, two at home and one in a city hit pretty hard by the pandemic.

One can start to feel overwhelmed, even in a family as loving and close-knit as ours. But playing Unpacking gives me the sort of respite I find so inviting and so effective. Best of all, it's so unexpected.

I wouldn't think this game's concept would work, but with soothing music, a nostalgic visual style, and no-wrong-answers design, Unpacking has become the pause in the daily chaos I so appreciate. I can't wait to unpack the full game when it arrives on PC later in 2021. 

Lake is the Best of Death Stranding Without the Nonsense Fri, 23 Apr 2021 11:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

Lake, the upcoming adventure game from Gamious, is somehow not the first to cast players in the unexpected role of a mail carrier traveling the land and interacting with their community. But it's so far my favorite of this apparently emerging niche.

Death Stranding, the game that has widely popularized this new subgenre, is a polarizing experience. Some decry it as Kojima's misguided passion project, while others consider it an instant classic. Personally, I land closer to the first group, but I still fondly recall some of the game's good parts: the quiet moments when it's just you, the terrain, and a stellar soundtrack that invites an uncommon meditative experience AAA games rarely provide. 

Lake rebottles all of that same magic without veering into sci-fi gunplay and hour-long monologues. It's a much more grounded experience that confidently leans on an odd but surprisingly intoxicating gameplay loop of delivering mail and taking a breather.

In Lake, players assume the role of Meredith Weiss in 1986 Oregon. Weiss has just moved back from the city to slow things down and fill her dad's shoes as the local post office mail carrier. She's been away for many years, so while some remember her as a child long absent from the town of Providence Oaks, others don't know her at all. It's said that the full game will let players live out three weeks of Meredith's respite in the mountain town, and the demo already gives players access to those first few days.

It only took one for me to know my pre-demo excitement was warranted.

Getting some on-the-job training from a seasoned employee acts as the game's tutorial before it sets you off on your first day of work. I had both paper mail and bulkier boxes to deliver, with a simple map system keeping me aware of where I was and where I needed to go. There seemed to be neither timers nor any way to deliver the wrong mail to an address. Lake isn't about gamifying the delivery process. It's more about Meredith, her past, her future, and perhaps most of all, her present.

Driving the mail truck, listening to the radio, and soaking in the serenity of the day gave me the same feeling I get when I go for bike rides during Portland's quieter hours. Sometimes I'll turn off my music or podcast and just soak in the stillness. In Lake, that same stillness is present and irresistible. Meredith seems to need the timeout, and amid the unstoppable rush of regular life duties and a relentless games calendar, I appreciate the deliberate pacing of Lake myself. 

One of the best parts about Lake so far is its welcoming nature to those who like to role-play their characters. Some Grand Theft Auto players, for example, forego the madness and violence to instead abide by traffic laws, park safely, and so on. In Lake, that's encouraged even more, of course, and you can really put yourself in the time and place when you play it that way. 

Sure, I could speed off on the wrong side of the road in my mail truck, but the dissonance between that and who Meredith seems to be would make no sense. Instead, it was much more enjoyable to slow the truck to a stop, walk to the back, and pull out the right package for delivery. Just like a real mail carrier. 

With each delivery, you get to meet residents of the quiet town, and as you learn about them, you also start to learn a lot about Meredith. I can sense there is a deeper story waiting to be told in Lake, but to be honest, I checked out of the demo before it forced me out because I knew I was enjoying it so much and wanted to keep the rest fresh for the full experience.

Death Stranding showed me there is an unexpected appeal in a game about traveling and delivering mail, but for me, it's an experience bogged down by many of the usual Kojima touchstones: long diatribes, combat I didn't ask for, and a convoluted world difficult to connect with. 

Lake takes the best parts of Death Stranding  its tranquility and its stories of human connection  and puts them in a setting still unique but now tangible, and it features characters still compelling but now lifelike. 

Lake looks like it will be a welcome pause in a hectic year, and though I suspect its story will eventually unveil its own tumult to sort through, I've really enjoyed the peaceful vibes it's delivered so far.

Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood's Companions Add a Needed Layer of Depth Thu, 22 Apr 2021 14:39:10 -0400 Gabriel Moss

Elder Scrolls Online is a lonely game. Rather, it's lonely in contrast to other MMORPGs like Final Fantasy 14 and World of Warcraft. Those games, which take place in sprawling virtual worlds much like the one you explore in Elder Scrolls Online, basically force you to interact with other players in order to move forward.

In ESO, much of the world is completely open by default, and a hefty chunk of ESO's content is designed around ease and simplicity. Because of this, it's incredibly easy to run around and pursue your own quests, utterly missing out on interactions with other players altogether. That is unless you specifically seek them out. Even then, the places in which you do end up playing with others are usually in PvP Battlegrounds, Public Events, or World Bosses, none of which stack up to good old questing.

That being said, there's a wealth of story content in Elder Scrolls Online, and most of it is soloable. Each story casts your character as the protagonist, making it inconvenient to share your journey with others (unless you specifically seek out ESO's multiplayer-focused content). Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood does its best to fill the gaps in social interaction with NPC characters that follow you around and level up with you.

These newly-introduced NPCs, called Companions, do a great job of making you feel connected to the world, and they often have their own commentary on what's going on.

During a press preview event for ESO: Blackwood last week, I spent about three hours alongside the mercenary companion Bastian. Once I helped him infiltrate a cave of vampires, he was mine to summon any time I wanted his assistance.

But as I explored the bog surrounding Leyawiin, an iconic city best remembered from the southeastern portion of the Oblivion world map, I quickly learned that Bastian had his own insights to share when I approached him for conversation. And, as I entered battles and completed quests, Bastian commented on those events as well.

It wasn't the most on-point commentary, and he did repeat himself a handful of times, but it did serve to fill in a layer of depth that I feel has been missing in the game. Not to mention, it made the world of Elder Scrolls Online more lived-in and alive.

For those who are curious how well the companions perform in PvE against bosses and challenging groups of enemies, I found that Bastian added to the flow of combat quite well. I also found my choices for his development affected the abilities I chose for myself. See, companions have their own skills that you can invest in and equip, based on what kind of playstyle you want to go with.

For example, I could choose to make Bastian a healer if I wanted to play as a tank, or I could customize him as a melee battlemage if I were building a ranged DPS character.

There's more to companion customization beyond skills. I found out that I could even equip different weapons and equipment to Bastian, decking him out even further. Granted, I was disappointed to find that the only items I could equip to Bastian were designated "Companion's" pieces, and I'm unsure how difficult it is to find or craft those. But still, it's a neat idea that I'm excited to explore further.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I could further customize Bastian's look by equipping him with my own outfits and mounts that I'd saved in the Crown Store or earned through questing. The preview character that I was provided only had a couple of those unlocked, so I wasn't able to see Bastian riding around on my beloved Dragonscale Solar Horse mount from my primary account, but it's something I'm excited to play around with when the final version of Blackwood releases in June.

Companion bits aside, my impression of the new Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood expansion is leaning positive. The world itself didn't feel quite as fleshed out as I'd have expected, often revealing large, ugly patches of ground that hadn't been treated with flora and other features. And, if you're getting sick of the general gameplay of Elder Scrolls Online, there isn't nearly enough here that will change your mind.

Of course, these things are all subject to change as the release date looms closer.

But it's shaping up to be a decently-sized expansion pack that further thickens the massive suite of stuff to do in ESO's world. Companions are clearly the highlight this year, and I'm curious to see how far Bethesda takes the system going forward.

Chivalry 2: A Bloody Good Time Wed, 21 Apr 2021 09:00:02 -0400 Justin Koreis

If you are going to kill a man using a chicken, make sure he’s not on your team. I learned this lesson the hard way, as my ally and I battled an enemy knight in Chivalry 2.

I had thrown my sword earlier in the battle, and the chicken was the first thing I could find to defend myself with. My attempt to hurl the bird into the enemy was poorly timed, and I struck the final blow into the back of my teammate's skull. Left unarmed after my fowl betrayal, all I could do was stand and laugh, as my foe crushed me with his massive war hammer.

It was moments like this, more than the wins or losses in the first-person Medieval multiplayer sequel, that stuck with me following my hands-on preview of Torn Banner Studios' upcoming Chivalry 2.

The game kept me alternating between sweaty determination and tear-filled laughter, and it might just be the game we all need right now.

Inelegant Weapons for a Less Civilized Age

Chivalry 2 puts players in the boots of soldiers in massive medieval armies. Up to 64 players control one of several archetypes, from Swordsmen to Archers to the above-mentioned hammer-wielding Vanguard and more. Player-controlled armies then clash, facing off in team deathmatch, capture the flag, and various other game types.

The preview began with the Siege of Rudhelm, an objective-based game type where the invading Agathian Knights assault a city held by the opposing Mason Order. My knight joined his comrades-in-arms pushing massive siege towers towards the city walls and fighting off player-controlled foot soldiers sent to stop us.  

The action is, by design, somewhat clumsy and brutal. Weapons swing in wide arcs, striking friend and foe alike. It doesn’t take much damage to kill or be killed, but a mercifully short respawn timer gets you right back into the action.  

My comrades and I found ourselves off to a fast start. Mixing blocks, feints, and attacks from different angles, I had decent success felling the enemy. Hiding around the corner of the siege tower and ambushing enemies unseen piled up my body count, and eventually, we took the main gate.  

The melee was so much fun I honestly don’t remember who won, nor do I particularly care. Severing heads never got old, and anytime I died it was followed by a laugh, and a desperation to return to the fray.

Embrace the Chaos

The well-designed tutorial walks you through Chivalry 2's surprisingly deep combat, with an over-the-top instructor barking orders with equal parts Drill Seargeant-esque authority and cartoonish comedy. Controls are simple to learn but require timing and strategy to execute in battle. There is support for gamepad or keyboard and mouse, and I found both to work equally well.  

Torn Banner has made a game with a dirty medieval style, and they embrace it wholeheartedly. The world is brutal but with a sense of humor that successfully makes the violence a part of the joke, rather than something darker. The presentation works symbiotically with the gameplay to realize a world that exists for players to take part in. It almost reminds me of Rare and Sea of Thieves, just with less water and more severed limbs.  

This is most evident in the weapons you can find on the battlefield. The arenas are littered with everyday objects to use as weapons. One second, I was fighting side by side with a man holding pitchfork, the next my head was being caved in with the bell from a nearby church (which I’m not convinced is what the clergy had in mind).  

I threw books, smashed people with barrels, even attempted to slay a man with another man's skull. It became a metagame that both armies leaned into and resulted in immediate post-game conversations about who killed or was killed in what hilarious way.

Make Your Soldier Your Own

Next, we all engaged in some good old-fashioned team deathmatch, played on foot in a jousting arena. The two armies sprinted to each other, and the resulting scrum was an excellent facsimile of something out of Bravehart.

Finding opportunities to flank enemies and/or bullying them with superior numbers became key. It’s hard to overstate the joy of bating an enemy to attack you, only to watch your teammate cut them down while you use the in-game emote system to hurl insults at your fallen foe.  A quick click of a button and your character can emote, battle cry, beg for mercy, and more, all fully voiced. There are multiple voice types, with masculine and feminine options to suit your taste.  

The battlefields have environmental hazards as well. I sent people through trap doors onto spikes, was killed instantly by a scorpion (a sort of giant siege crossbow), was crushed under stone on a rope. Every battle revealed a new wrinkle to explore.  

Customization wasn’t available for the preview, but come launch day, Chivarly 2 will feature player customization across each class. Both an earnable in-game currency and premium currency will provide options to purchase cosmetic upgrades. There is also an in-game progression system, allowing players to earn experience points to unlock additional weapons and clothing options.

Chivalry 2 is shaping up to be a grand experience. It's coming to PC via the Epic Game Store, PlayStation 4 and PS5, and the Xbox One and Series X|S with full crossplay support on June 8, 2021. Xbox One and PS4 editions can be freely upgraded to next-gen.

Based on our preview play, this has the potential to be the most fun video games of the year. Prepare for battle! 

Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne HD Remaster Preview — Embrace the Chaos Tue, 20 Apr 2021 10:00:02 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The world as you know it has ended. Tokyo lies in ruins. Lost souls wander the streets as the world struggles through a tortuous infancy on the path to a brighter — or more destructive — future.

Basically, it’s just another day in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne.

Nearly 18 years after its original PlayStation 2 release, SMT 3 is getting the HD remaster treatment. I’ve had a little while to wander Tokyo’s desiccated remains, and while there’s still so much left to uncover, I can already say this is probably ending up on my list of top five RPGs — at least until Shin Megami Tensei V comes out.

The end of the world takes surprisingly little time to happen, as it turns out. Within the first 30 minutes of SMT 3, your normal after-school routine gets shattered by the Conception, a catastrophe that rips the world apart, destroys almost all humans, and fills the void with demons.

Not every human dies, though. Your teacher and a handful of others survive intact. You’re different, though unlike other RPGs, being the chosen one in SMT 3 means having an old lady shove a demon bug down your throat. 

That demon bug is a Magatama. Aside from granting you Demi-Fiend status, it also gives you a number of special skills. It’s not the only one, either, and it plays an important role in your strategy.

Where Shin Megami Tensei 4 ties weaknesses and character development with equipment, different Magatama influence stats growth, skill selection, and elemental weaknesses in SMT 3. You’ll get a second one barely an hour or so into the game, and it’s evident swapping between these for key fights is vital for survival.

And yes, you still have to ingest Magatama to gain their powers. It’s as gross as it sounds and then some. Occasionally after battle, for example, the Magatama will “rage” within you and grant some kind of additional effect.

However, it adds to Shin Megami Tensei 3’s atmosphere and presentation. SMT 4 leans into the post-apocalypse theme, and Persona gradually shifted away from horror. There’s a distinct sense of dread and mild horror permeating Shin Megami Tensei 3, though, giving it an identity not often found in RPGs.

Where SMT 4 has the series’ staple law, neutral, and chaos routes based on choices made, SMT 3 is all chaos. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of the game’s broader story or how choices affect it so far, but you get a clear idea of the game’s main players early on and what their intent for the world likely is.

Fortunately, the pacing is much tighter than SMT 4, and you won’t be wandering a deadly multi-level dungeon for hours before anything interesting happens.

Fighting is turn-based with a twist. Physical attacks are lumped into types, elemental skills drive combat, and it's all centered around finding and exploiting weaknesses. Unlike SMT 4, the difficulty seems more balanced. That’s probably because the godforsaken Smirk system is absent, so enemies don’t steamroll you before you have a chance to think.

Still, like other games in the series, SMT 3 is no pushover. The signature Press Turn system grants additional turns if you exploit unique weaknesses and takes turns away if yours are exploited (which they will be) or you miss an attack (which you will). 

The key to victory lies in negotiation and fusion, though more than in Persona games. Fortunately, the remaster lets you choose skills to inherit, removing a significant hassle from the original release. Negotiation is as opaque as ever, and you get a good idea of what demons want pretty quickly. Spoilers: it's almost always your soul.

There’s also a new quick save feature, which is a huge relief when you’re nowhere near a save point and it’s already 2 a.m. The free DLC, Merciful mode, lets you tone down tougher fights if you don’t feel like grinding, since difficulty is changeable at any point during the game.

The most evident new change is the HD part of the remaster, obviously, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Character models look slick and polished, absolutely oozing with Kazuma Kaneko’s style, and the demons have never looked better.

The dungeon areas are a bit too PS2, though, and probably would have benefited from more than just improved textures. They look good — just sparse.

That’s about the only complaint I have so far. Others have reported some black screen flashing problems, though it’s not something I’ve encountered.

This is all barely scratching the surface of the writhing darkness in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne remastered. Stick around for our full review sometime later in May.

Diablo 2: Resurrected Hands-On — Flawless Technical Alpha, Impressive Controller Support Tue, 13 Apr 2021 16:32:26 -0400 David Jagneaux

Over the weekend, Blizzard hosted a technical alpha period for Diablo 2: Resurrected on PC. I got the chance to spend a few hours with the remastered action RPG classic and came away impressed, excited, and more than anything, eager to play more.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Diablo 2: Resurrected is that it's, quite literally, almost exactly the same game as the original. Other than a few quality of life changes, such as letting you share your stash between characters, this is almost exactly identical.

To be clear: I mean that in the best way possible.

Diablo 2 Resurrected for Modern Players

The technical alpha only featured three playable classes: Amazon, Barbarian, and Sorceress, none of which are my usual Necromancer or Paladin, so I had to make do with something new.

Diablo 2 is also entirely gender-locked and character-locked for its classes, which means other than equipping different gear and giving them a unique name, all classes have the exact same underlying design in terms of their face, hair, body type, etc. You don't spend much time looking at them closely, so that's not a huge deal, even if it would have been a nice feature to see added in this version.

I tried out both a Barbarian and an Amazon. They play similarly at first, but specializing the Amazon to focus on bows and spears for long-range and mid-range combat is a lot of fun. I loved shooting a fire arrow with my ice bow and watching enemies either freeze or burst into flames.

Barbarian is a class I never tried in Diablo 2 originally, usually opting for a Paladin, but he's a lot of fun as well. The Leap ability is excellent for clearing crowds, and the multi-attack can really make quick work of tough elite enemies. 

One of the best and most immediately noticeable changes with Diablo 2: Resurrected is that you can switch back to the original graphics at any moment at the press of a key. Changing between the two has such a weird effect that while playing with the new graphics, I started to think, "Wait. Didn't it always look like this?" before switching back and getting a huge punch in the gut. Turns out retro gaming memories are in HD but the reality is not.

I don't fully understand the sorcery at play here, but Blizzard must have made a deal with Diablo himself because the game feels the same but looks new. It's that very special sweet spot I think every developer wants to hit when crafting a remaster. The PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus comes to mind as another great example.

Back in the early 2000s when I first played Diablo 2, I was struck by the depth of its world, its amazing characters, and its addictive loot mechanics. Nowadays, we're spoiled for choice in this genre with Path of Exile, Torchlight, Grim Dawn, and tons of others, but none of them can hold a candle to the methodical charm and dark, gothic world of the Diablo series.

There's just something so satisfying about the sound effects for every hit, the cracking of bones and squish of blood, and the jingling of gold hitting the floor. It's so satisfying on a core, primal level in ways that few games manage to be.


Keyboard and Mouse vs Gamepad Controls

I never liked playing Diablo 3 on consoles and have only ever played this genre on PC. There is just something that feels natural about clicking on enemies and loot, and quickly navigating menus without a second thought. It feels great and plays great — just like I remember it.

But... I think I prefer playing Diablo 2: Resurrection with a controller?

For starters, the fixed camera angle means that analog stick movement is simple and straightforward without any weird hurdles to jump over. Holding down the attack button is just like holding down shift and clicking, so it's great for dealing with large groups without stutter-stepping in combat.

The real reason, though, is the hot bar. When you play Diablo 2 on PC, you have two ability buttons: left mouse and right mouse. You can assign hotkey switching to any of your skills, like how pressing "F1" changes the RMB to a fire arrow or "F2" switches to the rapid-fire javelin jab. The hotkeys are nice, but you still have to fire off the skill with a mouse click and keep cycling.

On a gamepad, you can assign all four face buttons as well as a trigger and bumper button to a specific skill — plus as a secondary duplicate hotbar when you hold the left trigger. Potions go on the d-pad.

This is just so much more efficient and functional for dynamic classes like Amazon and Sorcerer that will need access to all their skills at any moment for all situations. 

Diablo 2 is Back

Obviously, the verdict is still out since I only played for a few hours between two characters and didn't get around to finishing Act 1, but I'm really impressed with Diablo 2: Resurrected so far. There is a lot of content to cover across multiple Acts, the expansion, and all of the procedural shuffling that happens with each playthrough and each class — not to mention the politics and excitement of playing online or playing with permadeath characters.

Diablo 2: Resurrected was already one of my most-anticipated games of the year list out of pure nostalgia, but now that I've tried it for myself, it's near the very top. I can't wait to take down the Lord of Destruction once again.

[Note: Blizzard provided the alpha copy of Diablo 2: Resurrected used for this impressions piece.]

Eville Preview: Wouldst Thou Care For a Murder? Tue, 30 Mar 2021 14:37:54 -0400 Josh Broadwell

The sun peeks through your curtains and signals the start of another lovely day. You get up, and, remembering the local herbalist needs some materials from you, get ready to head out. The birds are singing, and all is well — except the village mayor is lying dead five feet away from your doorstep.

Welcome to Eville, a town where murder and other deeds most foul are afoot. It’s a social deduction adventure from VestGames, but don’t let the tagline “Art thou sus?” fool you. Eville is closer to an interactive game of Clue than it is an Among Us lookalike.

I had the chance to play a few rounds thanks to Vest Games and UberStrategist, and despite still being in its early development stages, Eville promises to be a wagon full of gruesome fun.

Eville supports up to 12 players, and the development team said bigger parties are ideal. It’s easy to see why as well. Once the round starts, Eville assigns each player a specific class.

The naughty ones are the Conspirators: barbarians, thieves, slanderers, and smugglers. Their goal is stealing from and/or murdering everyone in town. The other players are Villagers of varying types, ranging from Seers and Detectives to the Mayor, among others.

By day, it’s (hopefully) a normal village. You can mill around, see what others are doing, take on quests, and other totally normal things such as buying traps to keep people from assassinating you in your sleep. Night is a different story. Few characters can venture out after the sun goes down, and it’s when all manner of mischief can happen.

Most murders and poisonings happen then, but the more brazen Conspirators can bump people off in broad daylight too.

Each class has a role to play. Barbarians slay under cover of darkness, for example, while Trappers set traps (obviously) for catching Conspirators, and Ghost Whisperers can glean clues from the departed. 

I ended up as Detective and Seer in my two rounds.

Detectives can enter people’s homes and, once per day, examine their belongings to see what role they might have. They can also venture out at night once per game to see who is behaving badly. Seers can track suspicious villagers and set up night cameras to monitor certain areas.

These roles are where Eville’s greatest potential lies because you can only gather so much information as one person. Piecing together the rest of the mystery means working with villagers you think you can trust, while always seeing who might be lying and whose actions are inconsistent with their stated roles.

Eville lets you accuse others of having a certain role, whether good or bad, and you can claim one for yourself. It’s instant chaos, throwing a wrench into what you thought was a clever deduction plan.

Yet it also gives you a hint at how to use your skills. In the first round, I realized the person who claimed they were the Mayor couldn’t be, because my Detective’s skills showed me the real Mayor was dead. Sadly, my ace sleuthing didn't extend to realizing the browser muted my microphone. The killer remained at large until they murdered someone in the town square.

The game switches to a "judgment mode" whenever someone discovers a body. There’s a period for placing blame, and then the accused undergoes another trial. Everyone takes sides to choose whether they think the accused is guilty, and the majority opinion determines whether they live or die.

Murder victims, alongside the falsely accused (and subsequently murdered), exist as ghosts after death. The test build I played didn’t include it, but VestGames said they’re adding ghost quests to later builds so the dead won’t be bored.

Outside all of the sleuthing and killing, Eville gives you several other tasks to complete. NPCs have requests you can fulfill for money, there’s a shop with useful recovery items and traps, and the local herb witch is on hand to sell you potions should you find yourself inexplicably poisoned. It’s here where I ran into my only hesitation.

The day cycle is fairly short, so having time to actually find and complete a task in the same day is rare. There’s a distinct sense of injustice when you’re dispatched before finishing a quest too.

For all I know, though, the planned ghost quests could be “unfinished business” where you can still do most of what you could in life. Still, restricting skills to once per day or per game also makes the cycle feel more limited than I’d have liked.

These are minor complaints, though. Eville is already highly polished, much more so than I'd expect from an early alpha build. The unique classes and skills add a surprising amount of variation in each game, and the deduction element, so far, makes for one of the most enjoyable mystery experiences I've encountered in games. I can’t wait to see what’s in store when it enters early access later this year.

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139... Preview, First Impressions: Automata Renewed Mon, 29 Mar 2021 13:42:58 -0400 George Yang

When I first played NieR: Automata on PlayStation 4 in 2017, I was amazed by the smoothness of its combat, especially compared to the original NieR. Platinum Games did a fantastic job making Automata’s minute-to-minute gameplay feel exciting and responsive. 

Now comes NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139..., a remaster/remake of NieR Replicant, which is the "alternate version" of NieR only released in Japan, featuring a different set of main characters and a few other minor tweaks.

Ahead of the game's release on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on April 23, I was able to go hands-on with an early build of Replicant. And for this preview, I brought out my PlayStation 3 and the original NieR to directly compare some of the early game areas.

A Mix of Old and New

For the most part, the combat in NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… feels much more in line with Automata’s gameplay. While it keeps most everything else relatively the same from the original game, there are a few quality of life enhancements to be found here.

In battle, Nier can now simultaneously use and charge magic attacks while executing regular physical attacks, which, for example, lets you rapidly fire Dark Blasts at enemies while also slicing and dicing them with your sword. Think something similar to Automata’s pod machinegun fire.

Another change comes in the form of heavy attacks. Previously, players could only perform a shoulder tackle that would stun enemies and inflict minimal damage. In Replicant, that function is now a stronger sword combo, another carryover from NieR: Automata that is a welcome addition.

Though those mechanics have changed, there are some that have stayed the same in this remake/remaster. The magic meter returns, indicated by a blue bar at the top right of the screen. With it's inclusion, there's no spamming attacks like in Automata

Nier’s running speed still slows down whenever you use magical attacks, like Dark Lance, as well, giving you a better chance to line up the crosshairs and hit the appropriate target.

The Lock-On System Shines

Speaking of selecting targets, the best new feature is the lock-on function. Just by pressing in the right thumbstick, you can aim at a particular enemy or a boss’ weak point. In the original, pressing the right thumbstick would reset the camera behind Nier, which isn't exactly helpful for keeping track of any target, much less fast ones.

Luckily, if pressing the thumbstick isn't comfortable, you can remap all of the controls in ver. 1.22474487139, allowing you to set this new feature to another area of your controller. 

This feature particularly shines in the Junk Heap and The Aeries, the two dungeons I was able to play during the preview. These two areas are practically identical to their original counterparts, complete with the same top-down and side-scrolling sections and bosses. The main difference is being able to lock-on to the bosses.

After dealing a set amount of damage in these battles, a timer appears on a boss' body part, and you must deal more damage to it before the timer runs out. If you’re successful, the battle moves on to its next phase. If not, then the boss recovers a bit of HP, and you have to repeat the process. In the original game, I had a much harder time beating that timer, but in Replicant, I'm able to easily aim using the lock-on function and finish off bosses without any trouble.

As for some of the game’s aesthetic changes, your book buddy, Grimoire Weiss, now floats around Nier at all times. In the original NieR, Weiss would only appear during gameplay when Nier conducted magic attacks, so it's nice to have them tag along everywhere this go around. 


There's a lot more to cover about NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… but that will come in our full review later in April. Right now, the game is shaping up to be a great experience. Developer ToyLogic has managed to keep the spirit of the original game intact while incorporating the refined gameplay mechanics that NieR: Automata introduced.

Having spent a few hours in the game so far, it feels fantastic. Be sure to check back for more soon. 

Daedalic Wants to Make Gollum "Sympathetic" in The Lord of the Rings — Gollum Thu, 25 Mar 2021 18:15:01 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Daedalic Entertainment has been working on The Lord of the Rings — Gollum for a while now, and I recently had a chance to see the game in action and speak with Daedalic’s Publishing Director, Jonas Hüsges, about it. A good bit of Gollum is as unknowable as the creature himself, though Hüsges and the demo reel did offer some insight about telling Gollum's story and building a world around him.

The footage Daedalic presented is from a mid-2020 build. Hüsges assured us the visuals have changed significantly since then, but that’s not the only difference. The 2020 build was from when the game was still a “stealth and reaction” game, and while Hüsges couldn’t share much about how Gollum has evolved, he did say it’s much different from how Daedalic originally conceived the game.

Whatever the differences are, Gollum’s core gameplay still revolves around sneaking. The demo shown followed Gollum’s desperate attempts to escape captivity. While fans of The Lord of the Rings books and movies know how Gollum’s story ends, Hüsges understands this.

“It’s like watching Titanic,” he said. “You know how it ends already, and we won’t be altering the world."

J.R.R. Tolkein buried much of Gollum’s story in the appendices of Return of the King, which gives Daedalic plenty of leeway to, if not alter his tale, embellish it with some unexpected elements.

Take Gollum himself, for example.

“He’s a fascinating character, and we want to do him justice,” Hüsges said. “In the movies, he’s very much a creature. We want to present a more sympathetic side to him.”

Another unexpected element is seeing Gollum make a friend in Grashneg, another prisoner. I don’t know why he’s there or what happens, but it ultimately seems to make Gollum’s story that much more tragic. “You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you” as Gollum tells Smeagle in The Two Towers film.

For a time, though, Gollum will partner with other characters and make use of their special abilities. Strength isn’t the wiry Gollum’s forte, but Grashneg, for example, can smash obstacles. Gollum will encounter other characters with unique abilities as well, though Daedalic kept quiet on who they might be and where he’ll find them.

These embellishments and expansions come with full approval from Middle-Earth Enterprises, the license holder for anything related to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“We are working closely with [Middle-Earth Enterprises],” Hüsges said. “Everything we do, we show and discuss with them. We have two or three bigger calls every year and also try to meet up when that’s possible.”

Friends and temporary acquaintances aside, it seems a good bit of Gollum’s journey will be solo. Traversing Daedalic’s massive rendition of Middle Earth puts Gollum’s superhuman mobility to the test. Each stage has multiple routes Gollum can take, and which one seems the most expeditious at the time might depend on how you play the game. 

For example, some routes feature small tunnels Gollum can escape through that force large pursuers to find another route and give him a chance to flee. The short exploration segment I saw had three different paths, and that was just one part of the larger level. Gollum can climb almost any surface, turning it into a kind of Middle-Earth parkour experience.

Other actions include jumping and swimming, though Gollum uses stamina for these. Anything Gollum does makes noise, so just because you can smack a fish against a rock doesn’t mean you should.

The demo I saw didn’t feature it, but Daedalic said the current Gollum build features a listening mode where Gollum can "see" sounds to get a clearer idea of where danger might lurk and how much of a ruckus he’s caused.

Gollum’s open level design and parkour climbing make for plenty of replayability, though what accessibility measures Daedalic includes remain to be seen.

I asked Hüsges about options that might help indicate possible paths or mark obtainable items for visually impaired players.

He said “I don’t know what kind of accessibility features are already in the game, but I’m sure we’ll take this very seriously. Visual impairment is important to address.”

It's certainly important in a game like Gollum. Guesswork is involved in determining whether landmarks are actually ways out or just deathtraps. The demo footage showed no quest markers or other visuals to help guide players either.

While Gollum has changed in the 10 months since the footage I saw, stealth will still play an important role in every level. Gollum can take a few hits and restore health through food — including fish, naturally — but ideally, he’ll stay hidden or in the shadows as much as possible. 

Foes who spot him raise an alarm and make hunting Gollum their priority. It’s not just the one enemy who spots him, either. Orcs and other foes spread the word about Gollum’s activities and increase the threat across the entire area.

You might think sneaking behind a nasty orc and throttling them would be the best course of action, but that's not the case. While Daedalic is remaining quiet on how Gollum’s choices affect each playthrough, they did mention a few ways your choices matter.

Killing an enemy might remove an opportunity to exploit them or even get help from them later. Some characters, even friendly ones, might retaliate depending on how Gollum treats them, but playing nice could also convince others to lend a helping hand.

Fortunately, Daedalic is including several difficulty modes. Players who want a hardcore stealth challenge will find it, and those who just want to experience the story can do exactly that.

It's a shame Daedalic can't share more information about how The Lord of the Rings — Gollum has changed in the past 10 months, but not because the old build is bad. Beyond the dated visuals lies the promise of something intriguing, of seeing and experiencing Tolkien's epic landscape from the viewpoint of Middle-Earth's most tragic and detestable creatures, and I can't wait to see more of it.

Evil Genius 2 Preview: World Domination Isn't a Piece of Cake Fri, 19 Mar 2021 18:11:15 -0400 Luke Shaw

Put on your best jumpsuit, steeple your fingers, and polish your gun made of precious metals: Evil Genius is back with a sequel after nearly two decades.

Following in its the nefarious footsteps of its forebear, Evil Genius 2 is a base building game where you construct an wicked lair underneath an arcadian island resort. From there, you recruit minions, research technologies, and run ignoble schemes.

It all mostly works together, and where it does, Evil Genius 2 shines. We were able to go hands-on with the game ahead of its March 30 release on PC. Here's what we think of it so far. 

Evil Genius 2 Preview: World Domination Isn't a Piece of Cake

Once you've got a stable base of operation going in Evil Genius 2, the meat of the game revolves around performing schemes to take over portions of the game map. As you put your schemes to work, you build heat in a somewhat similar fashion to Grand Theft Auto. Once you meet a certain heat threshold, an attack on your base is triggered and waves of investigators, soldiers, and super agents begin to close in.

To deter these dastardly villains, you can outfit your base with a wide range of traps and security doors, and you run a casino as a front to hide your operations.

Functionally, not much has changed from the original game. You dig out corridors and nooks underneath the resort for your rooms to slot into and must ensure you leave plenty of space for generators and control nerve centers. The former gives you much-needed power for the various items you build, and the latter gives you network power, letting you set up outposts on the world map from which to run schemes.

Other buildings are fairly standard: the vault acts as a treasury for your gold, holding cells allow you to confine prisoners you have captured, and barracks, rest areas, and canteens let your minions refresh over time. 

The main wrinkle in running your base is that you generally must commit minions to your schemes for them to work.

Workers are your basic variety, and they can be upgraded into specialist types: muscle, science, and valet all have their own functions, which are fairly self-explanatory, and some schemes require these specialists.

Beyond your regular minions, there are more specialist classes you can unlock, as well as henchmen with better stats and specific abilities. These are great in practice, but like your Genius abilities, such as removing suspicion from agents, they often feel a little too specialized and fiddly to deal with while managing everything else.

With the Genius Maximillian, I often ended up running between my training room and science room to deploy his "instant training" and "work harder" buffs, before sending him to recharge. This is similarly cumbersome as it's very easy to misclick, or forget that your Genius needs to recharge.

As schemes constantly drain your manpower, it can feel a little hard to keep up with constant invasions by enemy spies, especially when more powerful agents come knocking. Minions and agents dying lowers your morale, and when they die, they litter your base with body bags, which also lowers morale. It's an easy spiral to fall into and a hard one to escape.

Progress is slow after the game's lengthy tutorial is over; most everything in the main game is contingent on fulfilling schemes on the world map, battling down heat, and then tackling tougher assignments. All of this is a drain on your minions, which you acquire in a slow trickle. They can be "purchased," but that costs gold, which you can only get by sacrificing minions to schemes.

It's yet another tough cycle to get on top of, but ultimately, that's where the challenge is. Evil Genius 2 wants you to feel smart by balancing your minion requirements and making sure you have enough of each type (but not too many). It wants you to expand your facilities to make sure they are outfitted well enough to support your schemes, but not so sprawling that you can get caught out by agents sneaking through your defenses.

When you do get on top of managing everything, Evil Genius 2 is a great time.

The aesthetics are polished to a wonderful mirror-sheen that reflects your maniacal expression as you build and toil. In a nice touch, your personal sanctum matches your Genius of choice, so, for example, Maximillian has a gaudy gold finish to everything, including his huge conference table. 

Elsewhere, the game is all chunky retro-future aesthetics that feel one part Austin Powers and two parts Saul Bass and John Kricfalusi. Animations are also wonderful, with minions educating each other in the Henchmen Training 101 apparatus, and valets and technicians running around doing all the work with their arms slumped to their sides.


Though it's a little more taxing than something like Two-Point Hospital, Evil Genius 2 is shaping up well so far.

Guards seem sluggish to respond to threats at times, and despite putting mandatory guard posts in my corridors, they often abandon them to sit around in the armory. This is part and parcel of the genre, though; wrangling your minions is meant to feel like part of the challenge, even if I wish it were just a little more streamlined.

Overall, it's a unique experience, with a wonderful retro-aesthetic, and plenty of comedic touches. Each main objective unlocks more of the game's research tree, and there are clearly some interesting aspects I've yet to see. Be sure to check back soon for more. 

Until then, stay evil.

Cartel Tycoon Early Access Review: This is Bat Country Wed, 17 Mar 2021 10:19:59 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Sure, we've all been there. The DEA won't stop raiding your meth labs. The gang a city over keeps disrupting your supply lines. Your most trusted lieutenant threatens to rat you out unless you give them another raise. And all you want to do is throw another event at the salsa club. 

That's the world of Cartel Tycoona business management game from Moon Moose where the business isn't exactly legal. Set in the 1990s, Cartel Tycoon puts you in charge of a burgeoning drug empire. Your task is to outmaneuver rival cartels, law enforcement, and your own scheming underlings to take over the narcotics market.

Releasing in Early Access on March 18, Cartel Tycoon shows a lot of potential, though it's still very early in development. 

Cartel Tycoon Early Access Impressions: This is Bat Country

Like any good tycoon management game, Cartel Tycoon starts you out small. At first, it's just you and your opium farm. As a set of narrative quests teach you the basics, you build a few new farms, take control of a few shipping points, and get a few lines of production going. You ship your product to a private airfield. The money starts flowing in.

One of the more interesting mechanics surfaces not long after you start cooking. Cartel Tycoon gives you two pools of money.

One is a pool of "dirty money," which goes to support many of the illegal activities you're engaging in. As you sell drugs and bribe politicians, your dirty money stores fluctuate rapidly. However, there are a lot of things you do on the level, too — or at least need to appear like they are. You could be sitting on a huge sum of money but be unable to spend any of it, as a lot of the purchases you make won't accept suspicious cash.

To fix this, you also have to invest in some other businesses so you can launder your cash into another pool. That might come in the form of a casino, a taxi company, or some other front.

You must edge out rival gangs using violence to get those businesses going, which eventually attracts the attention of law enforcement. Soon, you have too much product for your tiny private planes to handle. You need to grow legal products and build production centers that hide your drugs inside crates of veggies or coffee to get through bigger shipping centers. Naturally, this requires more violence. The cycle continues.

While Cartel Tycoon starts you out "small," that's a relative term here. The game does a great job of making things feel "big" and substantial right away. You deal with what seems like a lot of money right from the beginning, and things escalate in a hurry. It's nice that you don't have to start selling baggies of weed out of your dorm and build a criminal empire from there. The stakes feel high right from the start.

That feeling is compounded because Cartel Tycoon is not much of an idle tycoon game. There aren't a lot of opportunities to build the perfect machine, then sit back and watch it hum. You are constantly putting out fires and juggling more and more plates. You gradually lose control of cities and shipping points if you don't have underlings stationed there. You have to use those same characters to move dirty money from building to building, capture buildings from rivals, and fight off enemies. Losing one cog in the machine can cause the entire thing to grind to a halt.

In one scenario, I was paying off a debt and loaded a bunch of money in the trunk of a lieutenant's car before heading to the drop-off point. Not long after I started driving, the DEA began raiding a shipping point, so I had to close operations there for a few days. At the same time, a faction attacked another shipping point, forcing me to divert a substantial crew to fend them off.

Shutting down these shipping points alongside taking out such a huge payment caused my laundering businesses to stop operating. Without any of that money coming in, my workshops and farms stopped operating.

I had to keep moving my gang members around to keep control of various access points, and I reached out to a mayor for a loan to keep me afloat. The only issue with that? I'd have to pay it back, with interest in a relatively quick turnaround. Thus, it all began anew.

This cyclical nature is the big issue I see right now with Cartel Tycoon. Even though it isn't an idle game, it doesn't exactly have events either. You're just kind of doing things, but those things aren't big enough or substantial enough to offer a sense of steady accomplishment. Battling a rival gang is just a matter of moving enough "power" to be higher than the enemy "power," then waiting for a meter to fill up. When the police come to investigate, you just turn off the building they're looking at until they're done.

A lot of this polish will probably come with time, as the game is still in very early stages. Though the developer is a newcomer, publisher tinyBuild has a pretty solid portfolio and a long history of listening to community feedback to provide support for their releases. It would be nice to see a bit more "oomph" in Cartel Tycoon, and I'm really hoping to see a greater variety in how things start and play out as it moves forward.

The only other issue with Cartel Tycoon in its current state is the game's tone. It's really hard to tell if it's completely serious, tongue-in-cheek, or shooting for total satire. Its cartoonish aesthetic and somewhat goofy trailers give the sense that things here are campy, but I saw almost nothing that suggested this is a silly or lighthearted game while playing.

It may look to be in the same vein as Tropico (or something similar), but I didn't get that sense at all in this early build.

Cartel Tycoon Early Access Review The Bottom Line So Far

It's always hard giving a recommendation for games that are still so young in the Early Access phase. Cartel Tycoon has a really strong foundation, and could definitely bloom into a really impressive management game. It could also not address the holes that currently exist and never gain any traction.

As of right now, it's still a bit too early to go all in and fully recommend it. Keep watching this one, though: it could grow into something excellent.

[Note: tinyBuild provided the copy of Cartel Tycoon used for this Early Access review.]

Voidigo Early Access Review: A Lurid Monster Hunting Experience Mon, 15 Mar 2021 10:03:38 -0400 Luke Shaw

Video games are full of really good noises and audio cues. The distorted explosion of rockets in Quake, the awful crack of a headshot in Gears of War, Mario's iconic whoops and hollers. They serve as hooks that bring us into the worlds of our favorite games.  

There are plenty of subtle animations that do this, too: the screen shakes that crop up in Vlambeer's pixel-art arcade games, the pause-on-hit and stark audio cues of Hades' combat. They enhance every action and delight the player with the way they infuse each experience with a sense of kinetic energy and reward.

Voidigo leans into of all that so hard that it falls over, sending everything in the room clattering and bouncing away, with a cacophony of honks, squeaks and trills before getting up, dusting itself off, and doing it all over again.

Every frame of Semiwork Studio's roguelike is full of movement and activity. It brings to mind the jittery, wiggly animation of Klasky Csupo, as objects and characters bop and wobble around before you send them flying with a shot to face.

Voidigo Early Access Review: A Lurid Monster Hunting Experience

At its core, Voidigio is a Roguelike similar to other screen-shaking top-down shooters Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon. You are Drash, a small pink bird lady who has no memories of her past but has been picked by the Antivoid to help battle the Void, an all-consuming evil that has messed up reality.

You do so by entering levels shaped like wheels, each with a hub in the middle reaching out to six spokes that are all connected in a ring. Every level has a boss, a big beast corrupted by the warp and turned into an aggressive hunter. When you encounter the boss, which can be from a set roster including everything from a giant queen ant to a carnivorous plant with an angler fish style lure, you are able to begin chipping away at it. 

Bosses have fairly large health pools and a wide range of telegraphed but still hard-to-avoid attacks. You'll notice fairly quickly that they have a big health bar covered in padlocks; this is because each map has a set of void-corrupted monoliths that protect the boss. Of course, you'll need to smash those before you can fully defeat the level's ultimate enemy.

But wait! The monoliths are often locked by a key held by one of an assortment of minions that can be found in the area surrounding the main hub. So the aim of the game is to find the monoliths, get the key, zap it, and hunt the boss. It's not so simple, though, because bosses aren't static. Instead, they roam around the map, haranguing you when they feel brave or scarpering to heal from a hiding place. 

In practice, the loop works like a mix of Monster Hunter and Nuclear Throne, a set of micro objectives forcing you to engage in bullet-hell battles with a menagerie of aggressive tree people, shell wearing goons, and boisterous pigs — all while looking for new loot vortexes to grab weapons from, or shops to spend currency in to top up your ammo count (or durability for melee weapons).

Like most roguelikes, you can also get a whole host of passive upgrades: gems that shoot lasers when you dodge with your jump, buttons that trigger random environmental effects, familiars that make you shoot faster, a long arm that, unsurprisingly, makes your arms longer.

Scrap Mechanics

Combat is hectic and kinetic with projectiles and enemies pinballing off each other, but you're equipped with a good few movement options, including a sprint, a jump that does double duty as a dodge, and a Mario-style stomp that stuns enemies for a few precious moments.

Weapons range the gamut from banal — a revolver, a shotgun, various swords and clubs — to the brilliant — the shotgum, which is a shotgun with bouncing gumballs, the basshunter, a gun that fires small watery fish, and, well, there are lots of unique and memorable weapons best not spoiled.

As with all the great roguelikes, synergies between weapons and effects allow for fun combos to play out. I found a tasty one where my sprint left little electric clouds behind me if I was in combat, which coupled with a gun that shot water projectiles had the added effect of spreading the electricity to even wider areas, stunning bosses and foes alike.

Load up on peppers, which modify melee with effects like fire and poison, and soles, which affect stomps in a similar way, and you might end up going with a full melee build for a run. After the first and second stages, there are shops where you can trade items for health and vice versa, giving you a variety of things to consider as you progress. More health is always good, but sometimes an extra item is better. 

Rush of Blood

Currently, there is a third stage that gives you a wealth of guns and other weapons to choose from as you attempt to battle three bosses at once in a madcap dash around the world. The game currently ends after this, as it is only at version 0.0.2 right now — but it's quite a finale as it stands. 

There are already options to try harder runs, change your starting loadout, and a hint that more characters will be coming over time. It's a really promising start for a roguelike that's already bursting at the seams with creativity.

It's also nice to see such an aesthetic switch-up for a genre that often favors sci-fi and fantasy of the more conservative approaches. Voidigo is a day-glo nightmare world, more 'zine than comic book in its presentation. Music has a pop lean that fits the way everything in the world shakes and shimmies, and it's nice to hear novel instruments like slap bass, woozy synths, and tin drums clatter away in the background.

Voidigo Early Access Review — The Bottom Line So Far

Voidigo is definitely one to watch, so don't let the over-the-top 90s surrealism look put you off. There's great scope here for an exceptional experience, and having bosses smash through levels to chase you is something that never grows old. The whole thing feels slightly manic, and that goes hand in hand with the die and try again approach of a roguelike.

I'm already itching to get my hands on new characters and try out new weapon combos, and I can't wait to see where the developers take things next.

[Note: Semiwork provided the copy of Voidigo used for this Early Access review.]

Valheim Early Access Review: A Well-Executed Viking Survival Experience Tue, 02 Mar 2021 13:39:10 -0500 Justin Michael

I had spent days in Valheim preparing for this fight. No longer was I clothed in rags and armed with only a meager wooden club. I was protected in tough leather armor crafted from the many deer and boar I had hunted in the sun-drenched meadows that I called home. The club was replaced with a primitive but deadly flint axe. A hearty meal of roasted meats and mushrooms bolstered my health and stamina bar as I placed the sacrifice upon the altar. 

The sky darkened as Eikthyr made his way into my world from the void. His antlers, branches of iron that lashed out at me. His hooves, the sound of thunder as he charged. His voice, a howling gale of fury as my arrows found purchase in his flesh.

Eventually, the mighty beast lay broken before me, and I relished in my triumph, giving praise and glory to Odin in the form of the mighty stag’s head, a trophy to the All-father from which I received its boon. 

This was my first three hours in Valheim, the wildly popular Viking survival game currently in Steam Early Access. Here, in this wonderful but deadly world, you take on the role of a fallen Viking warrior battling for the right to feast and fight in the glorious halls of Valhalla. The path there is a perilous one, however, and this battle against the mighty Eikthyr was merely a taste of the challenges still to come.

Since then, I’ve battled hordes of greydwarves skulking in the dark of the black forest. I've slain trolls larger than the humble hall I call home. I’ve set sail across the vast ocean in my Karve only to find myself beset upon by a fearsome sea serpent. And I've landed not on a shore but the back of a mighty leviathan.

Valheim is an experience. It's a blend of well-thought design, adventure, and survival. It is full of beautifully wonderous moments, all wrapped in great RPG elements and mechanics. 

Valheim Early Access Review:  A Well-Executed Viking Survival Experience

The way Valheim handles its health and stamina mechanics is one of the first things that stood out to me. Food isn’t yet another meter to manage, giving the game an inflated measure of difficulty; unlike other genre titles, you’re not going to starve to death without eating.

You will, however, be weak and have virtually no stamina. Food is the key to survival and variety is the spice of life. It's also the deciding factor in the size of your HP and stamina pools. 

Whether it's roasted meat harvested from the hunt or foraged berries and mushrooms, each food item in Valheim carries with it varying stats that add to your maximum hit points and stamina. Simple foraged foods like berries provide modest buffs for short timeframes, while roasted meats or the more involved mid-to-late game recipes from farming provide much more for longer periods.

You’ll find many different foods during your travels, and travel you will. The map is vast.

Much like the Vikings of history, you’ll be doing a lot of exploration in Valheim as you seek to slay the various bosses and earn your spot in the honored halls. There are numerous biomes — meadows, black forest, swamp, plains, and mountain — each with its own challenges and inherent difficulty spikes. 

Before fighting the first boss, Eikthyr, I decided to explore a bit of the vast area around me. Valheim starts you off in the “tutorial" biome of the meadows — an area with relatively weak enemies — but given the procedural generation of the map, danger could be right next door.

In my case, exploration found me with my pathetic wooden club and rag tunic wandering around the black forest biome, totally unaware of the danger I was in until I saw something large and blue: a troll. The encounter was over before it began, as the troll hurled a boulder, killing me instantly.

Death is the name of the game in Valheim, and while it can be a bit frustrating at times, it's also a welcome challenge, carrying with it a great sense of accomplishment when you get revenge on your adversaries.

Eventually, you’ll find your way to the ocean, in search of adventure and new lands that give way to new biomes, treasure, and enemies. The progression here feels substantial and natural as you explore biomes leading into each other; the meadows merges into the black forest, the black forest to the mountains and swamps, and then into the deadly plains.

Beyond those areas, more are yet to be discovered as the mistlands, ashlands, and deep north have yet to be fleshed out.

Together We are Strong

While Valheim can be played solo, playing with others is a rewarding and tribal experience. Boss battles are much easier as a group, resource gathering can be divvied up, and building up your small settlement into a leviathan stronghold gives the game a real feeling of community.

Things are even more fun when tackled with a roleplaying mindset; toiling in the field farming while others brew mead, smelting ores into ingots while others gather raw materials and scout biomes for an upcoming raid. 

It’s welcome relief to have a few others with you when attacked on the seas by serpents, or when spelunking in the sunken crypt full of powerful draugr. And let’s not forget the bit of solace when there’s someone else to draw the aggro of the deathsqutio when you make your first landing in the plains.


Valheim has a unique look, melding together pixelated and 3D styles into something vaguely reminiscent of something from the Nintendo 64. That, though, isn't a knock but a testament to its great nostalgic sense of self, where it contrasts with very cinematic moments. Watching the sun crest over the ocean as the dark of night transitions into day, or gazing at the rays of light peeking through dense pines as you make your way into a clearing.

Each biome I’ve encountered in my more than 30 hours of play has the right feel. The meadows are bright and inviting. The black forest is dark and ominous. And the swamp is damp and rotting. Areas often come together in a showcase of real diversity, though, at times, the random generation does make for some strange mixtures bleeding into each other. 

The audio is also enjoyable, with the background music deserving special mention. It blends into the background not to be lost, but simply be, further creating a tapestry perfectly fitting of a Viking adventure.

Enemy audio cues fit well and the sounds emanating from the various crafting benches lend to an immersive feel. I particularly love the sound of the fire as it crackles inside of my modest home, all while the gale of a storm mixes with the patter of rain outside.

Valheim Early Access Review — The Bottom Line So Far

What I find most exciting about Valheim is that it isn’t finished yet. I’ve played my fair share of Early Access games. Some are great, others sit collecting virtual dust.

Early Access can be a real shot in the dark and games sometimes end up becoming something entirely different than what they started as, making them something I’m not entirely comfortable evangelizing to others. 

I don’t feel that way about Valheim.

While it's not a finished game, there’s a lot of meat on the bones right now, and with the absolutely massive four million copies sold since launch in early February, I don’t believe fans will have to worry about Iron Gate Studios second-guessing their development roadmap.

At the time of writing, Valheim is easily worth more than its $20USD asking price. If you’re looking for exploration, adventure, and rewarding combat with the option of solo or co-op play set in a fantasy Viking setting, then Valheim is that game.

And if that seems like a lot to experience, we have plenty of guide content to help you explore the vast expanse that is Valheim.  

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town Preview — Fields of Promise Mon, 01 Mar 2021 16:35:16 -0500 Josh Broadwell

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, the first brand-new Story of Seasons game in four years, is out on Nintendo Switch this month. I’ve been spending the past few weeks getting a feel for the pioneer lifestyle courtesy of XSEED and can tell that, even after a few seasons, things are only just getting started in Olive Town.

Instead of a big overview about the game (because that’s what full reviews are for), I put together a few of Pioneers of Olive Town’s best and not-so-hot standout features so far.

The Prize Crops

Life on the Frontier

Most SoS/Harvest Moon games share a common foundation. You start from scratch, clear your fields, and gradually develop your podunk farm into an agricultural mega-producer. PoOT is no different but puts heavy emphasis on "from scratch."

Your farm is a wilderness of weeds, trees, and dilapidated buildings, and you only get a measly tent to live in at first. You craft almost everything important you’ll need on the farm, and there’s a definite by-the-bootstraps feel to proceedings.

Olive Town itself is much the same. Your goal is to transform the sleepy town into a bustling tourist destination, and you see and benefit from your hard work in tangible ways.

Pioneers’ organic progression system adds to this enterprising feeling. You unlock new crops by finding and shipping wild variants around your farm-forest. You’ll fix up farm buildings with materials you harvest and craft instead of just buying a barn outright, and the more you do, the more you raise your skill levels, which unlocks yet more activities and craftable items.

So Much Freedom

PoOT pairs all this opportunity with an equal amount of freedom in deciding what you want to do and how. Aside from customizing your farm layout however you wish, you can prioritize what you want to focus on and run with it.

I put off building a house, for example, because I funneled all my money and resources into high-selling crops and more maker machines than I have room for. However you want to build your farm is a viable path to success, and you’re rarely forced into doing any specific thing to move forward.

A Hard Day’s Work

If it’s not already apparent, Pioneers of Olive Town is stuffed full of things to fill out each day with. Planning your routine even feels like breaking new ground because it’s not going to be the same as previous SoS games — and probably not the same as another player’s, depending on where you split your focus.

It’s refreshing, but above all, seeing your farm and town evolve almost every day as a direct result of your actions makes it all even more satisfying than usual, since your ultimate goal is much more than just watching that money counter climb ever higher.

What’s Not Ripe Enough Just Yet

Flat Characters 

Pioneers of Olive Town’s characters don’t have much to say or do in your first few seasons, and you won’t see introductory events — or any events period — until you’ve raised their affection meter by one heart. PoOT ditches the series’ lovely 2D character portraits as well, so it’s harder to get a read on personalities for longer than I’d have liked.

Adding to the issue is a set of vague cues for likes and dislikes. Either everyone in Olive Town is so polite they won't complain about getting garbage as presents, or the dialogue needs to be more specific.

Object Borders

This is a very specific issue that others might not even care about, but something in how the game treats object borders means you can’t put items such as fences or maker machines up against other objects.

There’s a gap between the fence and coop, for example, and the mayonnaise maker sits out about an inch from the building instead of butting up against it. It’s a small issue, but notable nonetheless for restricting some of that freedom to build how you want. That's not to mention how it borked my farm layout in the early days, where space is limited by how many trees you can clear out in one day.


Don't get me wrong, Pioneers of Olive Town incorporates diversity in representation much more effectively than most games. Still, there's a nagging issue in character creation that's left a sour taste. Despite throwing open the options for clothing, hair, and voices, you only get two overall looks for your character. You can have a feminine (cute) stance or a masculine (powerful) stance, an oddly restrictive and arbitrary choice in an otherwise open gender design.


My first few seasons in Pioneers of Olive Town have been about making my own farm and leaving my footprint in the wilderness more than getting to know people or feeling like part of a community. Signs indicate that’s likely to change as the year draws to a close, and I hope the characters spring to life a bit more.

Still, there’s no denying Pioneers of Olive Town is a big step in the right direction in revitalizing the series’ familiar systems and gameplay, and I'm eager to see how the rest of the game continues growing. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks. 

Watch Dogs Legion Online Hands-On Preview: London Hosts the Hacking Olympics Mon, 22 Feb 2021 17:23:42 -0500 Mark Delaney

It's the current trend of games planning to offer both a deep single-player campaign and a robust online suite of modes to give players only the former at launch. The idea is to get the game out the door, take in feedback, and work on making the eventual online launch even better.

Robust worlds like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption have been revealed with such staggered schedules, and though 343 says it's not true, a rumor once suggested Halo Infinite would launch without multiplayer at first too.

The move has so far seemed to be a smart one. Players tend to forgive delays more easily than buggy launches, especially if the results are fun and exciting. For that reason, Watch Dogs: Legion Online will likely be forgiven for arriving five months after the solo story mode. Time will tell whether the game mode can be the hacker timesink Ubisoft has envisioned, but the source code proves intriguing.

Right away, it's evident Watch Dogs: Legion Online takes many cues from Grand Theft Auto Online. Like GTAO during its launch in 2013, Legion Online (or henceforth WDLO)'s range of things to do is wide enough but merely feels like the foundation for something grander in the months and years ahead.

Players can choose from activities such as instant co-op missions that matchmake them into lobbies with up to three others for one-off jobs and special assignments. They can also jump into the Spiderbot Arena or, in the suite's centerpiece, take on lengthy, multi-part (and often grueling) Tactical Ops.

Of course, sometimes the best part of all of this is just running around the sandbox of dystopian London, causing cars to veer off the road into Albion checkpoints. Admittedly, my team of four games journalists bookended our hours-long session just this way and had a blast in the process. 

In the in-between, we were given a tour of the game's more structured attractions. While the co-op missions were fun, they didn't shatter my expectations heading into the event. Each mission felt almost procedurally generated. Go to this spot, hack/steal/kill a number of machines/cars/bad guys, and exfiltrate alive. It's a rote formula, though like our freeform open-world antics, the missions do benefit from the universal truth that nearly everything is better in co-op. 

Conversely, Spiderbot Arena feels like it will be WDLO's most overlooked mode, and for good reason. It's fun in short bursts and controls really well, but in my experience, Legion has too many spiderbot sequences already, so I wasn't looking for any more chances to take control of the arachnid automatons.

If you're trying to command players' attention en masse, you'll need to do better than some familiar co-op missions and an arena shooter afterthought. It's a high bar in such a crowded field, where every multiplayer game is crafted to capture dozens of your gaming hours every week.

Delightfully, Tactical Ops mode clears that high bar. If the full game is so clearly inspired by GTA Online, Tactical Ops mode can be considered the game's "heists." These multi-part, potentially hours-long co-op missions creatively use the game's systems in ways that are unique to the online mode, meaning even players who loved the story but might be uninspired to play with others should give it a try.

Often Tac Ops missions split your party, two and two. This is interesting because as you break into pairs, you'll still all be sharing the same voice channel working on separate objectives but needing to coordinate, and maybe even synchronize, with your immediate partner as well as the whole group. It's the ultimate teamwork mode, and for that reason playing with friends looks to be a blast and one of the things I'm most looking forward to doing when the mode launches in a few weeks. 

Having said that, nothing makes fast friends as well as life-or-death co-op missions, and as our hands-on time with Tac Ops came close to the end of our day of play, my teammates and I quickly developed a workable, enjoyable camaraderie that enabled Tac Ops to go over not just successfully, but often hilariously.

At one point, we sought desperate refuge in a pub while killer super-drones patrolled just outside the windows we dared not peek out of, like a reimagined Shaun of the Dead where robots took over instead of zombies.

Some of Watch Dogs: Legion's most fascinating elements have been imported into Legion Online, such as the play-as-anyone directive. Like in the campaign, you can recruit whomever you'd like, and every anti-hero hacker brings their own skills, personality, and tools for the job. But unlike in the story mode, these recruitments cost you Tech Points, which were previously only used for upgrades like better guns and new gadgets. 

This means you'll have to choose between upgrades for your characters and new characters entirely. More impressive recruits mean a higher price but don't worry, they aren't on sale as far as I saw. Permadeath is still in play too, though since it's co-op, you'll now have a revive window to be saved, or maybe do the saving yourself. This makes your team cohesion all the more vital, as allies running off on their own may only have themselves to blame when their star Operative is down and out for good. 

Each mission of Tactical Ops takes anywhere from 20-60 minutes, and there were five parts in the Tac Ops mission I got to play.

We ended up dying several times on the final boss, which was both a rewarding challenge but also a bit of a questionable chore as it was a near rehash of the solo story's endgame. This is just one of many planned Tactical Ops missions, however, and I get the sense they will come more commonly than the GTAO heists.

The conundrum of live-service games today is that each one of them is built to be your live-service game. No one has time to fully invest in maybe more than two or three at the absolute most, so each one needs to prove it can sustain your interest in the long haul. Watch Dogs Legion Online looks to launch with a gamut of modes and attractions to try and capture the hearts of ample hackers.

Daily, weekly, and event challenges, a cosmetic rewards train a la the ubiquitous "Battle Pass," and enough blips on your map to ensure you're always catching up with what's available today collectively means WDLO is built to commandeer your free time.

Some of what will determine the success of that mission wasn't visible during my time but will be shortly after launch; things like how fast players can level up the Season Pass, how much XP players get for missions big and small, and what kind of rewards players can expect for just goofing around will all determine whether Legion builds a legion of online fans or London is left a ghost town.

The prospect of revisiting Ded Sec's London with friends and co-op partners is itself alluring, though to really keep players for the foreseeable future, Ubisoft will need to supplement Tactical Ops with more engaging content.

In 2021, every game with a big budget offers impressive quantities, but they don't all give players the quality experience worth hundreds of hours. Tactical Ops does, and its open-world is an even better sandbox with friends along for the ride, but some of the other parts of Watch Dogs: Legion Online don't capture the imagination as well, at least not yet. But that's the beauty of a live-service game. In time, the entire city can be the hacker's paradise everyone  players and creators  wants it to be.

Watch Dogs Legion Online launches across all its available platforms on March 9 as a free update for all players who already own the game. If you've yet to jump into Watch Dogs: Legion, consider checking out our review.

Project Triangle Strategy Demo Impressions: Top Tier Tactics Mon, 22 Feb 2021 11:58:48 -0500 Ethan Anderson

Those who watched the most recent Nintendo Direct know that Square Enix's new RPG, Project Triangle Strategy, received an announcement trailer during the presentation, alongside a surprise demo drop. Don't be fooled by the terrible placeholder title, though. Project Triangle Strategy's somewhat-lengthy demo provides a solid preview of what players can expect to find in the full game when it launches in 2022.

Using the same awesome visuals as 2018's Octopath TravelerProject Triangle Strategy manages to implement new, strategy-driven gameplay systems that set it apart.

History of War

After giving you a short backstory on the land of Norzelia — the continent in which this story of war and conflict takes place — the demo drops you right in the middle of things as Serenoa Wolffort just as a short-lived era of peace is about to come to an end.

Norzelia is home to three great nations that don't exactly play nice. The Kingdom of Glenbrook is a land of flourishing trade, the Grand Duchy of Aesfrost contains rich veins of iron, and the Holy State of Hyzante is where life-giving salt can be found. Their previous conflicts eventually grew into what became known as the Saltiron War (not the most creative name, but it gets the point across), so it's not entirely surprising they're fighting once again.

With such a large amount of lore and history, there's sure to be some confusion here and there, but the demo does a decent job guiding you through the most vital information. For example, you're able to instantly pull up a character profile whenever a character speaks during dialogue sections, which helps things tremendously. This is especially true when you're trying to remember the various houses, allegiances, and family ties that play central roles in the plot.

Friends in High Places

Project Triangle Strategy may look like Octopath, but it certainly doesn't play like it. It's not another static turn-based RPG. It's much more dynamic, as it contains familiar bits and pieces of other strategy RPGs that came before it. Think Final Fantasy Tactics and, maybe, the more recent Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

Each party member (or unit) is a different class with unique abilities and playstyles. Serenoa, for instance, is a Soldier. He's most effective with up close and personal attacks, but his vertical movement is a bit lacking. He won't be jumping up on a roof to get a vantage point.

Hughette, on the other hand, is a Scout who inexplicably rides into battle on a giant bird. Naturally, she can change elevation with ease, giving her the ability to rain down fire from above with her bow.

In all, you can control up to nine party members in battle. Couple that with the need to understand verticality, positioning, and terrain, and there's a lot to keep track of during combat. Attacks from greater elevations do more damage, for example, and attacks from behind are automatic critical hits. This is true for both friends and foes.

Enemies that are close enough to attack you will have red lines connecting them to your units, much like Three Houses. Additionally, purple spaces indicate areas where foes can reach you with their attacks.

Most enemies in the demo can move and attack from a good distance, and the damage they deal adds up fast. For this reason, you won't want to venture too close to a group of foes without having some sort of plan in mind. Even so, one or two wrong moves can put your units in dire situations depending on their position. 

The key to winning battles efficiently, then, is knowing how to properly use each of your units in terms of positioning, movement, attack, and support.

Talk It Out

One of the most interesting parts of Project Triangle Strategy has nothing to do with its combat.

Exploration phases occur between battles and story scenes, and it's during these phases where you shape Serenoa's mindset as a leader through dialogue choices.

The "Scales of Conviction" system is an invisible parameter that changes as you make dialogue choices between utility, morality, and liberty-related decisions. Depending on your choices, new party members may join your cause.

Even beyond the Scales of Conviction feature, there's also a voting system for major plot-altering decisions. During the voting phases, each member of your party, including you, votes on which path you take in the story. The majority will win, no matter what you choose to vote for.

However, if you gather enough information on the topic being voted on through exploration and conversation, you can attempt to persuade party members to vote how you want them to. In the end, you won't know exactly how they're going to vote until it actually happens.

It's an engaging bit of unpredictable gameplay that breaks up the action-oriented segments perfectly.

Project Triangle Strategy is definitely a turn-based RPG that you should keep an eye out for leading up to its full release in 2022. This is doubly true for those who can't get enough SRPGs, specifically.

The demo manages to give a solid look at the story, world, combat, dialogue, and even the main characters to some extent. It shows off a lot more than you might expect, but like any good demo, it'll leave you wanting much, much more.

Everspace 2 Early Access Review: All Systems Go Mon, 08 Feb 2021 16:06:25 -0500 Justin Michael

I love space, and I love games that put me in space. Old-school titles like Freelancer and X3: Terran Conflict were some of the first games to hook me, melting the world around me away as I fought, explored, traded, and built my space empires.

Then Everspace came out back in 2016, and it blew me away. I spent over 100 hours exploring Everspace and loved every second of it. I then reviewed it after its full release, and it again proved to be a defining experience. So when I heard that Rockfish Games was making a sequel, I knew I had to play it.

Everspace 2 is currently in Early Access on Steam. As with any EA title, this one's not yet finished. As of this writing, there's no firm release date for the game. Nonetheless, here's how the game is shaping up so far two weeks after release. 

Everspace 2 Early Access Review

In Everspace 2, you play as Adam, a skilled fighter pilot working as security for a mining company operating out in fringe space. How did you get so skilled at fighting? Well you died, a lot. You see, Adam is a clone, and that puts a big colonial-military target on his back. 

After an outlaw ambush catches you off guard, you end up in a whirlwind alliance with an ex-soldier to save the life of your injured comrade and only friend. Of course, there's also the potential to earn a lot of credits in a not-so-legitimate way.

While the story is a bit cliche and a bit predictable at times, it’s still engaging. I found myself wanting to see more of it unfold which, at the current time of writing this EA review, is a bit on the short side, taking about 3-5 hours to complete. It is Early Access though, so I have no doubt that it will become much more expansive as development continues. 

Speaking of size, Everspace 2 has a significantly larger gamespace than its predecessor. Not only is there plenty of space to explore, but also there are also massive stations and planetary surfaces to uncover. If Everspace 2 already does one thing well, it's providing massive scale for its worlds and areas, giving you an expansive space to explore. 

Even simple asteroid fields tell a story; some are littered with destroyed ships and mining outpost debris, while some have barely functioning automated systems grinding away. There's a feeling of hustle and bustle when you get to a jump gate port and see ships having their cargo scanned or various drones whizzing about welding this, transporting that.

The game world feels alive and lived in, which just adds another depth of immersion to a sprawling universe. 

Everspace 2 differs from the first game in that it’s not a roguelike — it’s more of an open-world shooter with RPG elements. That is not a bad thing. Death isn’t a progress reset anymore, and instead you’ll find yourself respawning at the last autosave point — with your gear and credits intact — ready to try again.

While I'll miss the satisfaction of the roguelike runs of Everspace, I feel like the direction Everspace 2 is taking is one of more accessibility. It feels like Rockfish is trying to tell more of a story here, and honestly, I don't think the roguelike play loop would work for the open-world exploration gameplay and narrative they're trying to achieve.

Currently, there are five different ships to choose from — which I covered in my ship guide — and presently 10 primary weapons, three secondary weapons, ship modules, and numerous consumable items to choose from making for all kinds of mix-and-match to fit your playstyle.

Playing Everspace 2 with keyboard and mouse is as comfortable as it is with a controller, and I even prefer it because there seems to be more control with weapons like the rail gun; there's no feeling like sniping off drones from max distance with the precision only a mouse can give.

The dogfighting is natural and visceral in the ships meant to dogfight, like the interceptor and the striker, while the much heavier gunship functions true-to-nature— as a brick loaded down with heavy ordinance. 

Enemies come in a number of different variations; you’ll fight scout ships, fighters, bombers, and more, sometimes in small packs and other times supported by all manner of drones. Combat is challenging and rewarding, especially when you manage to survive wave-after-wave onslaughts culminating in a mini-boss battle with a Destroyer ship. 

Past those combat aspects of Everspace 2, there is plenty of exploration and some puzzle-solving pieces as well, all of which act as good changes of pace to keep gameplay fresh. While not particularly challenging, puzzles generally reward you with a strong weapon, ship module, or much-needed credits in the early game. 

Much like its predecessor, Everspace 2 also incorporates crafting, though presently not to the same degree, allowing you to craft varying levels of weapons and modules with RNG bonus effects making no two items alike. I'd love to see the crafting expanded to include consumable items as at the present time, the only way to get those is to find or purchase them.

Everspace 2 Early Access Review — The Bottom Line So Far

Everspace 2 is everything I thought it would be and more, especially in its current Early Access state. The graphics are gorgeous, the gameplay is spot on, and the story so far is fun with lots of room for growth. There's little in the way of bugs; the game loads a bit slowly, and there are subtle issues like the occasional lag between menu screens. Nothing to really complain about.

If you’re a fan of space shooters, RPGs, and open-world exploration, then Everspace 2 is right up your alley. The high level of polish and a good 15-20 hours of playtime under its belt gives you plenty to enjoy while the game continues development. Stay tuned throughout the game's run in EA, as we'll be checking back in to see how things have progressed. 

[Note: Rockfish Games provided the Early Access copy of Everspace 2 used for this review.]

King Arthur: Knight's Tale Early Access Review — Grimdark Tactics Wed, 03 Feb 2021 13:31:39 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Don't let the screens or trailers fool you: King Arthur: Knight's Tale is not a Diablo clone. Instead, it's a turn-based skirmisher set in the time of Arthurian legend. However, this is not Disney-fied, Sword in the Stone Arthur either. This is nasty, grimdark, metal-as-hell Arthur, with zombies, questionable morals, and a strange who's-actually-the-good-guy subversion.

We got our hands on the Steam Early Access version of King Arthur: Knight's Tale, which features the game's first few story missions and a few sidequests, alongside some of the economy management and roleplaying elements that look to feature much more heavily in the final build.

So far, it's a good start, though it seems like a game whose lofty ambition might be weighing it down just a bit.

King Arthur: Knight's Tale Early Access Review — Grimdark Tactics

At its most basic level, King Arthur: Knight's Tale plays a lot like a tabletop RPG. You control a team of heroes (in a fairly morally grey sense of the word) going out on quests to battle a variety of baddies. Bandits, the undead, rogue knights  typical fantasy stuff.

As you progress, you level up your characters, giving them new abilities and outfitting them with better gear. You also make choices that affect your morality, pushing you in different directions on a skill-tree-like chart that changes what characters you can recruit and the decisions you can make.

This is all set in a twisted world of Arthurian legend, where you take on the role of Mordred. You've been raised from the dead by the Lady of the Lake to find a destroyed Camelot and an also-raised-from-the-dead Arthur gone mad. You stake your claim to the throne and set out to raise an army and stop the scourge plaguing the land. Depending on the choices you make, you'll also encounter other heroes of legend along the way.

It's a good setup for some skirmishes, and each scenario in King Arthur: Knight's Tale feels familiar if you've played other tabletop-inspired turn-based games, such as XCOM, BattleTech, and the like.

Before each scenario, you choose a small team based on the classes you think you'll need. You outfit them with gear and start your journey. There are branching paths through each mission, so, for example, if you've brought a strong force, you'll probably be able to take some side paths, get in some extra scuffles, and come away richer for it. If your heavy-hitters are on the bench, you may want to beeline straight for the objective.

I was pleased to see just how similar the battles in King Arthur: Knight's Tale are to something like the tabletop version of Pathfinder. The pandemic wreaked havoc on regular tabletop RPG sessions, and King Arthur scratches that itch nicely, albeit in a simplified way.

Luring enemies into chokepoints where your archers can pick them off, or buffing up a heavily-armored tank and sending them in to scrap is always good fun. Likewise, the stakes are high.

Your characters can suffer wounds that put them out of commission for extended periods of time; if things are bad enough and you aren't paying attention to status ailments or the odds are stacked against you, they can even die outright. Extremely hardcore players can even play the game on a roguelike setting; you still play through the story, but things are much more randomized and much more permanent.

The snippet of the game I was able to play also offers some glimpses at the big picture of King Arthur's campaign, which allows you to rebuild the kingdom of Camelot, recruit new heroes, and build up resources that help you in your quest. You can put captured bandits to work, helping to upgrade your castle, or you can put them to the sword to scare the remaining population into compliance. As you progress, these decisions move you around the game's morality chart and give you different opportunities for building, recruitment, and more.

There are a lot of big ideas at play in King Arthur: Knight's Tale, and those big ideas could also wind up being problematic.

This is not a game from a well-known studio (NeocoreGames is probably best known for Van Helsing, though they've done a few others), but it has aspirations to come off as one. The opening moments are cinematic and intense, and look as if they've been taken straight out of a heavy metal music video. Its morally-ambiguous characters would fit perfectly into some 80+ hour action-RPG hybrid where your early decisions come back to haunt you.

However, it seems doubtful (so far) that those big ideas will fully coalesce.

The voice acting for some characters, even central protagonist Mordred, comes off as amateur as frequently as it doesn't. Even with my video settings turned way down, a few missions were borderline unplayable due to chugging framerates. On top of that, King Arthur is a game that looks a lot better in screenshots than in motion. My video card is certainly getting a bit long in the tooth, but it can handle plenty of heavy lifting still. I did not expect King Arthur to test it like it did.

The other danger that King Arthur might run into is a lack of differentiation. Though the Early Access version is only a few hours long and there's still more to come, combat generally plays out a little too much like I planned. In general, tactics can dissolve into "group your biggies together and put your smallies behind them." The AI struggles with simple ideas like targeting my ranged fighters to smack my beefy bois, making some of the strategy here rather simple. 

I generally found that, when I tried to get too cute, things quickly fell apart. I hoped something like a pincer attack, or delaying a move in order to flank my enemies, would pay dividends, but almost universally, I found that things probably would have gone better if I had just charged in like a dummy.

One other problem I ran across was that it's just hard to parse out a situation at a glance. Many of the status effect icons are tiny and aren't really explained, and it's really tough to quickly tell things like enemy difficulty or abilities. Even telling the difference between your own units can be tough, as many of them are just big grey suits of armor. Approaching an enemy is a bit of a crapshoot, as it is not immediately apparent if they're going to be a tough foe or fall in a single swipe of the sword.

All these issues are things that could get ironed out through the Early Access period, and hopefully will. Learning the mechanics and systems will (hopefully) come with more time playing. Optimizing the way a game runs on different systems and tweaking AI are some of the main reasons developers release games into Early Access, so hopefully, these issues are addressed before King Arthur's full release.

King Arthur: Knight's Tale Early Access Review  The Bottom Line


  • Differentiated take on well-known source material
  • Tactical combat feels good and has nice risk-reward balance
  • Lots of different systems will push strategizing


  • Some scenarios cause massive framerate issues
  • Strategy can take a backseat
  • Voice acting could use some polish

When it's all said and done, I am pleasantly surprised by King Arthur: Knight's Tale, and I hope the developers can address some of the central issues before its full release.

It's got the bones of a smart, tactical sandbox that lends a lot of different ways to succeed, but it also seems like it could get bogged down by attempts to be too big for its own britches. We'll just have to wait and see. 

[Note: NeocoreGames provided the early access copy of King Arthur: Knights tale used for this review.]

Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 Hands-On Preview Mon, 01 Feb 2021 10:44:25 -0500 Justin Koreis

I’ve got my weight forward on my dirt bike with the throttle wide open. I’m ready. The gate drops, and I, along with 21 other racers, shoot out, jockeying for position. We speed to the first turn, and I’m near the back of the pack. I shift my weight to the outside, then come back in hard. Everyone else is carried wide by their speed, but my tight angle cuts inside of the pack, and I accelerate to the front. I’ve got the holeshot, the leading position at the start of the race, and just like that, this is my race to lose... 

Moments like this are at the heart of Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4. I had an opportunity to go hands-on with the latest entry in the series recently, and it looks like it has the potential to be a strong next step for the franchise.  

It Starts with a Feeling

In Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 (Monster Energy Supercross 4 for short), developer Milestone’s expertise in motorcycle racing is apparent from the moment you start your first ride. The bikes have a tangible sense of weight and power. The tracks, replete with bumps, jumps, and grooves carved by other bikes, give constant feedback as you go. Different surfaces, such as dirt, sand, and mud, change the way bikes accelerate or turn, and effective use of blur at high speeds gives a strong sense of velocity. 

The act of riding is a blast. 

The gameplay straddles a line between sim and arcade, with options to skew further one way or another. By default, the game provides some assistance with shifting your rider's weight, braking, and managing your transmission. There is a rewind function that lets you redo the last several seconds of the race a limited number of times, or you can turn all of that off and switch the assistance features to full manual control for a truer to life experience.  

Racing itself is a much more cerebral endeavor than you might expect. Passing your competition requires careful positioning, and the amount of time you spend with your bike in the air, with little to no control, means you are often planning several moves ahead. It’s almost like chess, just with a 450cc four-stroke engine tucked between your legs.  

Real World Championship 

I started my preview with Championship mode. This series of races is based on the real-life 2020 AMA Supercross World Championship, sponsored by Monster Energy. You face off against hundreds of real-life supercross stars, including Ken Roczen, who is making his much-anticipated debut in the series.

The mode itself is pretty standard for a racer: you accumulate points based on your finishes over a series of races and try and finish in the top spot. The series of races takes place across 11 stadiums, with 17 different tracks and optional qualifying races. 

The authenticity of the presentation goes a long way toward making Championship Mode shine.

One of my first races was in State Farm Stadium, where the NFL's Arizona Cardinals play. The stadium is painstakingly recreated, complete with crowds, signage, and title banners the Cardinals have won over the years. The announcers are convincing enough before and after the race, and the fanfare is very true to life for a Supercross broadcast. Even the moving lights on the truss around the starting gates move realistically. It all adds up to an immersing presentation.  

DIY Fun 

The free roam area in Monster Energy Supercross 4 is called “The Compound.” Only a small subsection of this area was available for the preview, but it provided a fun palette cleanser after all the racing. The area I was in had a steep hill with switchbacks, a pair of sizable jumps, and rocks strategically placed to use as impromptu ramps. I was compelled to repeatedly race to the top of the hill and launch myself off of a cliff, attempting aerial stunts as I went.

This was especially entertaining in the updated first-person mode. Even now, I can’t help but smile, recalling riding through the rain as my tinted goggles accumulated dirt, the sound of the rain drumming on my helmet, and being totally absorbed in the world before promptly wrapping my rider around an unseen tree.  

The Track Editor is back as well and is easy to use, with a well-designed tutorial to walk you through creating your first track. All tracks need to contain certain elements, such as a starting gate, and they need to be verified as well, which requires both you and AI players to complete one lap around the newly-created track successfully.

Once that tutorial was done, I set about creating my own track with one very specific goal: to see if I could launch myself into the stands. I particularly appreciate that you can jump quickly between editing and testing a track. One long straightaway and a large hill later, I was officially flying into the cheap seats. Success! It was a fun distraction, and I'm interested to see how much the Monster Energy Supercross 4 community embraces the track editor.  

Racing to the Future 

Monster Energy Supercross 4 has plenty of new features as well. Next-gen consoles and high specification PC's will have support for dynamic 4K and 60fps. There will be an extensive new Career Mode, with skill trees and progression, and online multiplayer with dedicated servers, though neither of those modes were available for this preview build. 

Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 has the potential to be a big step forward for the franchise. The riding feels great, and the modes I saw in the preview are all well-crafted and enjoyable. Whether or not the game truly steps into the upper echelon of racing games will depend on how compelling the career mode progression is, and how strong the community around this game grows, but early indications are that this is a game to keep your eye on.  

Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 releases March 11 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Stadia. 

[Note: Milestone provided the copy of Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4 for the purpose of this preview.] 

Balan Wonderworld Demo Impressions: Old School to a Fault Wed, 27 Jan 2021 03:00:01 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Balan Wonderworld is a game to get excited about. It's helmed by Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, who also were responsible for Sonic Adventures and Nights Into Dreams. It's published by Square Enix, and it flexes those big names to deliver a unique and delightfully odd style.

The full game doesn't release until March 2021, but there's a free demo coming on January 28 (available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, and Switch) that will let you get your hands on Balan Wonderworld early to see if it's up your alley. We got to put the demo through its paces a few days ahead of its release. Here's what we thought.

Balan Wonderworld Demo Impressions: Old School to a Fault

So, you're going to have to bare with me a bit in trying to describe Balan Wonderworld. It's a weird duck.

The game focuses on two kids, Emma and Leo, who are seemingly disinterested in the world. That changes when they stumble into a run-down theater and encounter Balan, who's is a well-dressed maestro that seemingly draws more than a little influence from sources like The Cat in the Hat and Looney Tunes. Balan zips around and whisks Emma and Leo off to a magical dream world, where their goal is to (I think) travel into people's minds and help them stave off depression.

They do this, seemingly, by donning a variety of costumes that grant them different abilities and by collecting gems. Still with me?

It could be easy to watch gameplay footage of Balan Wonderworld and assume it plays like Kingdom Hearts. If you go in with that mentality, you're going to be disappointed. This is an unapologetically old-school platformer whose gameplay would feel right at home with so many Banjos, Bubsys and Bandicoots.

Wrapping your brain around the controls in Balan Wonderworld takes no time at all; there are literally only two controls to utilize alongside movement. There's a swap costume button and an action button. And that's where the world-building elements of Balan Wonderworld are likely going to make or break it for many players.

When you aren't in a costume, the action button jumps. The bulk of each level is figuring out which costume changes (you can have up to three in your inventory at a time) to bring with you in order to achieve your goals. One costume dresses your character as a plant and allows them to stretch and become extremely tall. Another is a dragon that blows fire, which can defeat enemies and break blocks. One is a sheep that can float on air currents.

It is as bizarre as can be, with each world looking like the inside of a pinball machine. The three areas included in the demo are pretty inventive, and it looks like there are plenty of opportunities for the developers to create difficult combinations that will test your platforming abilities.

Along the way, there's lots of dancing. Seriously, you'll encounter phantom-like characters who just... dance. You'll run across more than a few frustrating level sections, as any salty veteran of 3D platformers will know. You'll encounter over-the-top color and music. And, unfortunately, you'll discover a game that seems like it may not have as many tricks up its sleeve as we had hoped for.

Balan Wonderworld sets an impressive stage. My jaw was literally hanging open during the opening cutscene, as Balan zipped around the screen and characters put together a choreographed dance number that would make a Broadway playwright jealous.

The game itself, though, at least so far, never quite lives up to the moments that the cutscenes set out.

Movement feels clunky and imprecise. The levels, though clearly inspired by dreamscapes and imagination, all have this weird scale where the background kind of rolls into view as you move. It literally gave me motion sickness on occasion, and that's never a thing I've dealt with while gaming before.

On top of that, there's sort of the question of "why"? Why is my goal to collect all these gems? Why do I feed them to little marshmallow peeps called Tims who chirp incessantly and (this is true) build a tower once I feed them enough? Why are there bizarre QTE minigames where the goal is literally to press a button when two pictures line up?

For right now, it just feels oddly put ogether.

Sometimes, a game is made better by selling out to totally bizarre concepts. Sometimes that really works, and I'm not necessarily arguing that Balan Wonderworld doesn't work. However, the small sections of gameplay that the demo provides don't inspire confidence that it has enough substance to back up its very appealing style.

I hope this isn't the case.

There is a moment, after a particularly tricky section, where the game stops so several of the characters can get together and dance. Balan flies around, and dozens of creatures on a series of moving platforms just go nuts. It's delightful.

But then I pop back into the game, slowly running around a mostly empty world, jumping in the air to collect a lone red gem. Then I encounter a puzzle I can't move past unless I backtrack to a different portion of the level and swap out a costume. The game itself is far too slow and methodical, whereas the fantastic cutscenes make everything feel like it should be flying past at warp speed.

I want to explore these imaginative worlds like Balan would, flying through the air, laughing and spinning all the while. Instead, I'm trundling along with a clumsy jump, trying to avoid getting hit so I don't have to go back to the beginning of the level.

All that said, we've still got high hopes for Balan Wonderworld. If the gameplay itself can capture some of the magic and style that it clearly has, it could be a fun, bombastic brainteaser of a 3D platformer. As of right now, it kind of feels like someone slapped a shiny coat of paint on a GameCube launch title. Fingers crossed.

[Note: Square Enix provided the demo copy of Balan Wonderworld used for this impressions piece.]

GameSkinny's Best Games of 2020 Thu, 31 Dec 2020 09:00:02 -0500 GS_Staff

To look back on the year that was in video games, we've collected our highest-reviewed games of 2020 into a "best of" list. We're a small staff at GameSkinny, so going the traditional "staff voting route" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for us. The most democratic way to make a list like this is to include any game with a score of "8" or higher. So that's what we've done. 

This list will not include DLCs (such as The Foundation or AWE for Control), expansions (such as Destiny 2 Beyond Light), or hardware reviews. It will contain ports and remakes of games. 

Here are our best games of 2020, starting with a real good one and getting better from there. 

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim mixes smart design with superb storytelling, then slathers the whole package in gorgeous style. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim spins a web of mystery around you, then chuckles smugly as you think you've found your way out only to realize you're in the middle of a maze.

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A Fold Apart

Publisher: Lightning Rod Games
Developer: Lightning Rod Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS
Rating: 9/10

What we said: A Fold Apart is about hope and how love can get us through even the toughest of times. In that way, it's timeless. 

The game is so incredibly charming and so accurately depicts the rigors and pleasures of being in love that I can't help but adore it. The first title from Lightning Rod Games isn't perfect by definition, but even with a few tiny blemishes, it's only a fold apart. 

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Amnesia: Rebirth

Publisher: Frictional Games
Developer: Frictional Games
Platforms: PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though its scares don't reach the heights of the original, Amnesia: Rebirth remains a must-play horror game for delivering a story more akin to a brilliant novel.

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Among Us

Publisher: Innersloth
Developer: Innersloth
Platforms: PC, Switch, Mobile
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Flaws aside, Among Us is a clever game that deserves its time in the spotlight. It works a surprisingly complex concept into a simple and accessible package where matches are quick, fun, usually hilarious, and sometimes even intense.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: The latest Animal Crossing is also the best, full of life, charm, and near-endless ways to make your very own island paradise.

New Horizons is bursting with personality and charm, with opportunities to create something new and completely you. It's compelling and also one of the most chilled out games you'll ever play. In short, there's nothing quite like Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

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Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Assassin's Creed Valhalla builds its world around a familiar formula, but with a compelling story and plenty of things to do, it's a game series fans will find inviting.

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Astro's Playroom

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team ASOBII
Platforms: PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Astro's Playroom proves that the DualSense's haptics and adaptive triggers are for real — and that Astro Bot could have a very bright future on PlayStation 5. Though it's short and may lack enemy variety, Astro's Playroom makes up for it in character and heart. 

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Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Atelier Ayesha DX is a solid entry starting off the Dusk trilogy, with compelling crafting and gameplay loops, as well as plenty of loveable characters. Overall, Atelier Ayesha DX is a great entry in the series whether you're new to it or just finding it now. 

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Atelier Escha and Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky DX

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Atelier Escha & Logy DX refines the formula Ayesha laid out and other new features that make it not just the best in the Dusk trilogy, but one of the best Atelier games in general. All in all, Atelier Escha & Logy DX is easily the best entry in the Dusk trilogy  With refined mechanics, better combat, and seriously compelling crafting systems, it even stands among the top entries in the Atelier series on the whole.

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Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though Atelier Shallie falls short in some ways, it's still a solid package with compelling crafting and combat systems. Atelier Shallie is the weakest part of the Dusk trilogy. It's ambitious in doing away with the time system and trying for a more flexible approach. But there's just not enough worthwhile content to make the freedom and flexibility a satisfying trade-off for the systems it does away with, and it doesn't make good use of its own strengths.

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AO Tennis 2

Publisher: Big Ant Studios
Developer: Big Ant Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: AO Tennis 2 feels like a sports sim built first and foremost to correct its predecessor's mistakes, and that's a directive that pays off for tennis fans. Not without issues, AO Tennis 2 is my pick for the best tennis game on the market today. There's obvious room to grow, but this has quickly become Big Ant's best series in their ever-expanding catalog of sports titles.

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Before We Leave

Publisher: Balancing Monkey Games
Developer: Balancing Monkey Games
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Before We Leave is a relaxing take on the post-apocalypse and city building, with enough benefits to overcome its hiccups.

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Publisher: Paper Cult
Developer: Paper Cult
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Bloodroots is a high-speed slash-and-bash extravaganza that always makes you want to beat "just one more level." A good game can be really fun when things are going well and you feel skilled and empowered. A great game remains fun when you feel like a useless idiot who can't do anything right. Bloodroots is a great game. 

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Blood Rage

Publisher: Asmodee
Developer: Exozet Games
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Blood Rage: Digital Edition is a strong port of the popular tabletop game that's challenging for both newcomers and veterans alike. Blood Rage: Digital Edition is a really strong port of a popular tabletop game. 

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Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Rare
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Battletoads returns after 26 years, and it's a love letter to gaming past and present. The urgency at which it propels you through its runtime is both a blessing and a curse, as it’s hard to put down but ultimately a short affair. 

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BPM: Bullets Per Minute

Publisher: Awe Interactive
Developer: Awe Interactive
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: BPM: Bullets Per Minute is a challenging rhythm shooter that’s difficult to master but highly satisfying. It's not a forgiving experience, and though it's difficult to master, BPM proves surprisingly easy to pick up and play. 

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Bubble Bobble 4 Friends

Publisher: ININ Games
Developer: Taito
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is, for the most part, exactly what fans would have hoped for. It’s a modern classic that keeps all the charm we loved about the original 80s game. There’s a significant graphics improvement of course, but the gameplay itself is largely identical.

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Cake Bash

Publisher: High Tea Frog
Developer: Coatsink
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: There’s a lot to love about Cake Bash, and High Tea Frog has made an excellent party game for their debut title. With a variety of entertaining games, some lively stages, and good replayability, it’s a fun experience, especially with friends. We only wish there was more of it on offer. Though some minigames feel a little finicky, it’s otherwise a sweet treat all around.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch, Raven Software
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is full of content that series fans will enjoy and offers a few unexpected surprises along the way. The vast amount of content at launch is enough to draw players in, while the promise of more will keep players around. 

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered is a mostly commanding return of the game's classic single-player, though not without a few hiccups. It is a functionally updated retelling of a story millions know and played in their formative years. The characters and politics are somehow as relevant today as they were back when the game first released, and it still sounds, plays, and looks better than most shooters on the market.

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Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Tamsoft
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is legitimately the best arcade sports title to come out since Rocket League. The simple, easy truth here is that if you're craving an arcade soccer game, you really should buy Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions. 

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Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Carrion is a beautifully orchestrated symphony of blood, guts, and dismembered limbs. While Carrion won't win any awards, it plays out much like a late Friday night feature, full of gruesome horror and satisfying effects. More importantly, it doesn't outstay its welcome.

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Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ultimately, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time had a lot riding on it. Being the sequel to a 22-year-old game likely presented Toys for Bob with some developmental challenges, but the development team nailed nearly everything about this sequel. The Crash series has seen its fair share of mediocre (or even bad) entries, but Crash 4 is a big step in the right direction, and the future of the series couldn't be more exciting. 

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Crusader Kings 3

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Crusader Kings 3 is the best looking and most accessible the series has ever been. If you've always been intrigued by the idea of Crusader Kings but bounced off of it, Crusader Kings 3 is the best way to get started. 

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Deliver Us the Moon

Publisher: Wired Productions
Developer: KeokeN Interactive
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A narrative journey through space so intriguing and full of compelling puzzles that it easily papers over some minor cracks in execution and major leaps it asks the player to make.

Just as the interesting minutiae of the plot are enough to overcome some of the issues I had with the macro-level concept, the overall experience was more than enough to make up for having one or two bouts of irritation.

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Demon's Souls

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Platforms: PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Demon's Souls is an instant classic, one of those rare retellings that stands triumphantly alongside the original as an essential experience. This remaster stands as a shining example of how transformative reimaginings can be, and how, with loving dedication, a remaster can be just as revolutionary and memorable as its source material.

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Desperados 3

Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Mimimi Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Desperados 3 is a much-belated sequel that strikes the right balance between classic gameplay mechanics and modern sensibilities. It's a welcome return for the series. Mimimi Games has proven once again that they know the genre, as both Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics demonstrate.

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Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition makes a great game even better with a new character, new modes, and overhauled visuals for next-gen consoles. Devil May Cry 5 may not have a whole lot that's truly new to offer, but what it does add and change manages to elevate an already excellent action game into the upper echelon of the entire genre.

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Dirt 5

Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Dirt 5 continues Codemaster's tradition of creating some of the finest racing games around that have neither the words "Gran," "Forza," or "Speed" in the title.

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Disgaea 4 Complete+

Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Disgaea 4 Complete+ is the definitive version of the game, with upgrades galore, tons of content to get lost in, and one of the strongest casts in the series. Disgaea 4 Complete+ is one of the stronger entries in the series, with its outlandish cast and relevant, if loose, story.

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Doom Eternal

Publisher: Bethesda 
Developer: id Software
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Doom Eternal absolutely delivers on all-fronts by blasting us with one of the most intense and satisfying single-player shooter campaigns in years. From the moment you kill your first enemy with the starting shotgun to when you revel in the explosion of blood from your final enemy, Doom Eternal is a nearly non-stop thrill ride that exceeds almost every expectation.

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Dragon's Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Dragon Quest XI Definitive Edition makes one of the most joyous and downright wonderful gaming experiences of all time even better. The Definitive Edition of Dragon Quest XI is the perfect salve. It's a game unashamed to be a video game, and it's one that embraces its roots in a charming, beautiful way. It's unashamedly jolly and light, but most importantly, it's comforting.

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Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Media Molecule
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: On one hand, Dreams is a bottomless bag filled with toys, vignettes, and indie games. On the other, Dreams is a must-own for anyone who's ever been curious about game design. Dreams is the best platform for anybody who loves playing tons of indie games, or who would like to make one themselves, or even just those who'd like to network into a game development community.

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Fall Guys

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Mediatonic
Platforms: PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Despite unbalanced team-match dynamics and pesky server issues (which the developers are ironing out) sometimes interfering with the fun, the simple approach of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout makes these negatives seem meaningless in the long run. This is not only the game we want in 2020 — but it's the game we need. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a comfort blanket that provides some warm, friendly fun with friends.

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Final Fantasy 7 Remake 

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Final Fantasy 7 Remake faithfully updates Midgar and the original’s enigmatic cast of antiheroes for a new generation, masterfully weaving its own grand tale in the process. In fact, it could be the best Final Fantasy game I've ever played — period.

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Fort Triumph

Publisher: All In! Games
Developer: CookieByte Entertainment
Platforms: PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Fort Triumph expertly blends genres into a strategy experience that's infinitely fun and endlessly charming. Fort Triumph is just a lot of fun, and the charm oozes from every arrow wound, spell singe, and sword strike, making it a very easy recommendation indeed. 

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Publisher: NCSOFT
Developer: Harmonix
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: FUSER would be an incredibly special game if it came out last year. But now, in late 2020, it almost seems necessary. This game is already something very, very special, and it's only going to get better as the community grows. After all, it's always better to make music with friends.

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Gears Tactics

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Gears Tactics takes the intense third-person action of the console game into the realm of PC-centric turn-based tactical strategy. Thanks to intuitive controls, Gears Tactics is easy to get into even for players who have never played a turn-based tactical squad game before. It’s just a shame there’s not more here.

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Get Packed

Publisher: Coatsink
Developer: Moonshine Studios
Platforms: Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Get Packed is strangely not the only indie co-op arcade game about moving furniture to launch recently, but it ends up standing out with its own kind of hilarious chaos. Get Packed is playable for up to four players in local or online play and across several modes, including a campaign, versus, and destruction. Whichever you choose, the colorful and bubbly characters and levels you've come to expect from games like this are back once more.

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Ghost of Tsushima

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ghost of Tsushima offers an amazing open-world experience and satisfying combat, only mildly held back by its writing and characters. Ghost of Tsushima does a lot of things right. Its got fun combat, a wonderfully designed world, and top-notch sound design. Neither the story nor the characters moved me in any real way, even though I could tell both were trying.

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Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: One More Level
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: In Ghostrunner, a single slash divides life and death. It's fast, frenetic, and, even in the face of its weaker moments, endlessly satisfying. Ghostrunner offers satisfying combat in a well-constructed, beautiful cyberpunk world. You will feel more and more powerful as the game moves on, and moving through the world is always a wonderful experience.

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Publisher: Supergiant Games
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Hades is everything great about the roguelite genre all but perfected. Few games aim as high, and fewer still reach their goals. Hades does, exceeding even the loftiest expectations.

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Half-Life: Alyx

Publisher: Valve
Developer: Valve
Platforms: PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: While the "VR-only" part may alienate many current PC gamers, it's a triumph that a VR title as excellent as Alyx exists at all.

The release of a VR game like Half-Life: Alyx is a momentous occasion. Not only is this one of the very first AAA VR games to break the bubble, but it's also a revival of one of the most beloved game franchises on the planet, following up on a nearly 13-year hiatus that left us all on a very inconvenient cliffhanger.

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Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Developer: Easy Trigger Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Huntdown is a throwback run and gun shooter that cares about style and rewards precision. Huntdown understands the genre and its influences, and it carves its own path. It's short enough that you can play through it in a single sitting, taking four to six hours, depending on the difficulty you choose. 

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Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Omega Force
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a heck of a Warriors game and a fantastic love letter to Breath of the Wild and Zelda in general. Maybe Age of Calamity is a stop-gap to tide fans over until Breath of the Wild 2, but no effort was spared in making it a quality game.

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Iron Harvest

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: King Art Games
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Iron Harvest leverages its unique setting and strong design into an impressive and memorable RTS. If you're looking for a strong, single-player RTS with a unique world to explore, Iron Harvest is a perfect option. 

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Immortals Fenyx Rising

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer:  Ubisoft Quebec
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Rating: 8/10

What we said: It may look like a Breath of the Wild clone, but Immortals Fenyx Rising has a lot of unique charm that makes it a must-play for fans of the genre. Immortals Fenyx Rising has undeniable charm. Your mileage may vary, but don't sleep on this one. It's worth the adventure.

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Journey to the Savage Planet

Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Typhoon Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Journey to the Savage Planet is a satirical and colorful Metroidvania that survives its corny jokes thanks to fun traversal and worthwhile exploration. With an intriguing world and creature design, the right amount of retro principles, and a surprisingly long post-credits tail worth chasing, Journey to the Savage Planet is a light-hearted, charming debut from a promising new studio.

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Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Melody of Memory is a nostalgic, rhythmic celebration of Kingdom Hearts that fans of the series and the genre will adore. Drawing upon a rich soundtrack that ranges from original songs to Disney hits, there’s a lot to love in this new spin-off, but don’t expect any major story developments.

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning

Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Kaiko
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning changes little from its original release because it doesn't need to. This is immediately one of the best RPGs you can play this entire generation.

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Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Developer: TurtleBlaze
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Classic components come together to form a stellar slashing platformer, with the titular kunai providing a particularly high note.

Metroidvania games remain a popular niche in the gaming community with good reason, and KUNAI is a worthwhile addition to the genre. It's easy to pick up and get going, but it provides enough escalation as you progress to keep you interested as you move from sector to sector, picking up new toys and perks along the way.

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Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Maneater's deep combat and deeper oceans provide just the type of blissful escapism we need right now. Even if it wasn’t on your radar at all, Maneater is a title that will gobble you up for a few hours of blissful escapism. 

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Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer:  Insomniac Games
Platforms: PS4, PS5
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Insomniac wanted to please Miles Morales fans with their latest Spider-Man adventure. The result is a damn near perfect action-adventure game. It’s also close to being perfect when it comes to representation. Black and brown people fill out most of the roles and do so with gusto. Their performances, at times, eclipsing what came before. I’m thoroughly pleased with what Insomniac has accomplished.

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Magic: ManaStrike

Publisher: Netmarble
Developer: Netmarble
Platforms: Android
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Magic: ManaStrike is a very familiar strategy game that includes some classic characters to make for an all-around fun time. There is a constant stream of rewards for those who don't want to spend money, too, so you never feel hamstrung for not wanting to buy in-game items. It's fun and has enough depth to make for some interesting strategies, the more you play. 

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Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is an excellent little package that is sure to please fans both old and new.

Overall, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. All of the games are enjoyable, the new features make them far easier to consume for modern players, and the love to the series spills out of every frame. It's just a very good collection of very good games, even if the title is utterly absurd. 

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Metro Redux 

Publisher: Koch Media
Developer:  4A Games
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Metro Redux arrives on the Nintendo Switch with a bombastic statement: absolutely nobody's safe from Switch-ification. 

Metro Redux on Switch feels like one of those rare Switch games that shouldn't exist. I mean that in a very, very good way. I also mean it in the sense that, thematically and technically, it doesn't seem like it would be a great natural fit for Nintendo's portable gaming console.

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MLB The Show 20

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE San Diego
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: MLB The Show 20 doesn't rewrite the script, but its numerous tweaks to gameplay, modes, and options makes it the best baseball game around. MLB The Show 20 still feels like the most complete baseball title available — comfortably so, in fact. But it doesn't feel like a significant evolution over last year's entry in the series. 

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Mortal Shell

Publisher: Playstack
Developer: Cold Symmetry 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Far from being a pretender, Mortal Shell is a sometimes exceptional entry to the genre. Its stumbles are noticeable only because there is so much to enjoy.

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Moving Out

Publisher: Team17
Developer:  SMG Studio
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Moving Out's familiar brand of local-multiplayer party-game fun lets everyone join in on the fun, laughter, and cursing. Whatever your preference is, Moving Out certainly provides the same flavor of co-operative tension and burst-out-loud laughter as Overcooked. 

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Murder by Numbers

Publisher: The Irregular Corporation
Developer: Mediatonic
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Murder by Numbers is an exquisite detective puzzler with wonderful writing, gorgeous graphics, and masterful music. The comparisons to the Phoenix Wright series are instantly evident. Not only do the visuals share the same motif of hand-drawn 2D sprites, speech boxes, and thick lines, but the gameplay is very similar, too. 

The soundtrack is lively, bouncy, and upbeat. It's inspirational and uplifting when the moment is happy, it's imposing and harsh when the pressure is on, and it's cold and gloomy when the protagonist doubts themselves. 

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My Hero One's Justice 2

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Byking 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: My Hero One's Justice 2 is a lot like the original, with a few minor adjustments that might entice you to enter the arena once again. Make no mistake, My Hero One's Justice 2 is a good, fun arena brawler on its own merits. Taken on its own, the game really does provide an amazing adaptation of the My Hero Academia franchise.

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NHL 21

Publisher: EA
Developer: EA Vancouver
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: NHL 21 provides more of the same, and with the uncertainty of the real world season, even less of what few changes fans come to expect of yearly releases.

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Nioh 2

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Nioh 2 takes everything great about the first game and dials it up. Despite a few returning gremlins, this is an instant hit for fans of the series. Nioh 2 is essentially more Nioh, but better. Fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy here, and newcomers won't feel like they had to play the first game to appreciate what it has to offer.

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Not for Broadcast

Publisher: TinyBuild Games
Developer: NotGames
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Who knew that overseeing a bunch of media personalities who say so little by saying so much could be so fun? Not For Broadcast is excellently paced. As soon as you pull up behind the switchboard, you're presented with a smorgasbord of screens, buttons, and switches. While it would be easy to overwhelm new players with options, the game takes it slow.

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One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is not only one of the best One Piece games but possibly one of the best Musou games around. When you throw in the ability to grind out your skill trees and chase ever more impressive kill counts, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a game with an incredible level of replayability.

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One Step From Eden

Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Thomas Moon Kang
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: One Step From Eden is a fantastic rogue-like deck-building game that is a few small tweaks away from perfection. Like most roguelites, One Step From Eden is brimming with replay value but can easily be played in short stints, too; each run takes 30-60 minutes to complete — or, more often, 5-10 minutes to lose.

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Ori and the Will of the Wisps 

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Moon Studios
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ori and the Will of the Wisps is another triumph return for the series — a beautiful game with only the smallest blemishes to its luster. If you want to play a beautiful, often difficult Metroidvania with some of the most satisfying combat and traversal mechanics the genre has to offer, Ori and the Will of the Wisps will give you plenty to be excited about.

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Initial Release Date: 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Othercide is a modern gothic take on turn-based tactics. It's stylish, difficult, and a solid addition to the genre. If you want a tough take on turn-based tactics, Othercide is a great pick-up. If you've tried the genre before and bounced off because of the gameplay, it isn't going to change your mind.

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Orcs Must Die 3

Publisher: Google
Developer: Robot Entertainment
Platforms: Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Though its name offers no way around it, the creative ways you dispatch foes makes Orcs Must Die 3 perhaps the most addictive Stadia exclusive to date.

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Orwell's Animal Farm

Publisher: The Dairymen
Developer: Nerial 
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Orwell's Animal Farm faithfully recreates and even reinvents the classic allegory at a time when it's never been more relevant for some players. There's absolutely an audience for this game, and if you find yourself in it, Orwell's Animal Farm is a timely, effective reimagining of one of the last century's most notable allegories.

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Paper Mario: The Origami King

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Despite a combat system that gets old quickly, Paper Mario: The Origami King's writing, puzzles, and worldbuilding make it the best entry since The Thousand-Year Door.

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Persona 5 Royal

Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer:  P-Studio
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Persona 5 Royal improves on the original in almost countless ways, big and small, to deliver a top-notch RPG for new and old fans alike. If you haven't played Persona 5 countless times, you're in for a real treat. Persona 5 Royal is easily the best Persona game yet and one of the best RPGs available right now.

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Pikmin 3

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Eighting 
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Pikmin 3 Deluxe is the best the series has to offer, a showcase of creative design and smart strategy. It's one of the most enjoyable experiences on the Switch.

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Pumpkin Jack

Publisher: Headup
Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: With levels reminiscent of beloved 3D platformers and an irresistible audiovisual experience, playing Pumpkin Jack this Halloween is exciting and youthful like trick-or-treaters finding the house giving out full-size candy bars.

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Rune Factory 4 Special

Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Neverland
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Rune Factory 4 is an abundant RPG, full of fun characters, things to do, and a compelling network of interlocking systems. While Rune Factory 4 might not reach the epic heights of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or Dragon Quest 11 S, and as a simulator, it might get overlooked for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. However, Rune Factory 4 manages to be something else entirely and manages it very well.

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Resident Evil 3 Remake

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Resident Evil 3 is a decent horror-action game that falls short of the Resident Evil 2 standard. To be fair, though, RE3 is trying some new things. It's much more of a straightforward action game than RE2, keeping a lot of the trappings of survival horror while emphasizing RE4-style shoot-'em-up gameplay. 

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Robotics;Notes ELITE & DaSH

Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Developer: Mages Inc.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Robotics;Notes ELITE & DaSH give fans lighthearted adventures with the Robot Research Club in the Science Adventure universe. Fans of the Science Adventure series, and visual novels in general, will enjoy Robotics;Notes ELITE. While it doesn’t quite reach the incredibly soaring highs of Steins;Gate, it is more enjoyable than the underwhelming Chaos;Head.

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Sackboy: A Big Adventure

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sumo Digital
Platforms: PS4, PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: After a six-year absence, PlayStation’s knitted icon returns in stunning form in one of the year's best platformers. With an A-list cast, superb visuals, and some strong co-op gameplay, Sackboy: A Big Adventure successfully proves that Sackboy can thrive without LittleBigPlanet’s creation mechanics, all while still paying homage to his roots.

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Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin

Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Edelweiss
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a bold genre fusion that pays off with superb farming and combat systems plus a cast of characters you'll remember for a long time to come. It might ask you to take it on its own terms from time to time, but that's a small price to pay when the experience is this rewarding and unique.

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Sakura Wars

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA 
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Sakura Wars' unique LIPS system, thoroughly charming cast of characters, and great writing more than make up for its less than stellar combatIt's a strong reboot, and one I truly hope heralds an encore for the series. There's nothing else quite like Sakura Wars, and that's a compliment.

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Samurai Shodown

Publisher: SNK
Developer: SNK
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: 2019's Samurai Shodown is finally available for the Switch, bringing one of the foundational Japanese fighting games to a brand-new audience. Samurai Shodown has managed to make the trip to the Switch without sacrificing more than a little bit of graphical fidelity. 

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Sayonara Wild Hearts

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Simogo 
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: In its one-hour runtime, Sayonara Wild Hearts transcends video games and becomes not just a playable pop album, but a hypnotic self-help soundtrack. It's an endorphin factory. Sayonara Wild Hearts is more than a game for me. It's a catharsis vessel. It's a story of self-love. It's a reminder that some things break but that doesn't make us broken. It was once a dream and now forever a memory. It's transcendent and undying, but, of course, it is. Wild Hearts Never Die. 

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Serious Sam 4

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Croteam 
Platforms: PC, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Serious Sam 4 is a delightfully old-school first-person shooter that doesn't bring a ton of new stuff to the table but still hits all the right notes. Serious Sam 4 is a strong, polished, old-school shooter. The massive, open-air firefights are a fairly unique element to first-person shooters, and panicked kiting of hundreds of enemies is the name of the game.

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Shantae and the Seven Sirens

Publisher: WayForward
Developer: WayForward
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a welcome return of a now-classic platforming series. Shantae has been weaving her magic for nearly 20 years and still feels distinctive amidst the sea of other platformers. Her latest romp might not feel quite as fresh as Half-Genie Hero, but it’s still a worthwhile, highly entertaining adventure.

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Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Spiritfarer is a finely crafted piece of artistic commentary on what it means to let go, and it's far and away one of the best games to come out of 2020.

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Star Wars Squadrons

Publisher: Motive Studios
Developer: EA
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Star Wars Squadrons is an instant classic and an ode to the space combat sims that came before it. Squadrons does a lot of things right. And it's the closest thing to a new X-Wing or Tie Fighter we're going to get. Though it's a stand-alone game, it's also a fantastic complement to Battlefront 2's starfighter assault mode, giving aces new and old two very good options to choose from. 

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Stories Untold

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: No Code
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Stories Untold is a boundlessly smart and stylish adventure game that both celebrates the past while changing the future. Stories Untold is a unique adventure game smothered in atmosphere. Switch players will have to contend with the port's less-than-ideal UI, but provided they can get over that relatively small hump, the rest of the game is an unsettling, intelligent, fourth-wall-breaking success.

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Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town

Publisher: Natsume
Developer: Marvelous Interactive
Platforms: PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town might not re-invent the wheel, but it's an excellent reminder why the formula the original helped create is so beloved and long-lasting.

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Streets of Rage 4

Publisher: Dotemu
Developer: Dotemu
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Streets of Rage 4 is a surprisingly decent return to form for a franchise that's been collecting dust for over 25 years. It plays a bit of a trick on you if you’re a fan of this sort of game, where you fall into your old patterns almost immediately, but the game is built to smack you down if you do. Instead, it’s got a simple combat system with some real depth to it, and which only gets more fun as you add players in co-op.

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Surgeon Simulator 2

Publisher: Bossa Studios
Developer: Bossa Studios
Platforms: PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: While some sequels fail to build upon the entries that came before them, turning into bloated, convoluted messes, Surgeon Simulator 2 reshapes the original idea into something entirely new. 

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Little effort was put into modernizing Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and somehow, that's still more than enough. Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a satisfying gift for the series' 35th anniversary.

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Super Mega Baseball 3

Publisher: Metalhead Software
Developer: Metalhead Software
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Super Mega Baseball has never been given the accolades it's deserved, but this is the year baseball fans will finally notice this all-star. Don't let a lack of MLB licensing turn you away. This is a serious baseball sim in every way except for the silly naming conventions of its athletes.

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The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4

Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Trails of Cold Steel 4 brings the Cold Steel series to a spectacular conclusion with some of the best storytelling in the genre and improvements to every gameplay system.

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The Last of Us 2

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog 
Platforms: PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Last of Us 2 is an emotional rollercoaster that doesn't always hit the mark with what it tries to pull off. It does, however, provide enough amazing highs to outweigh its unfortunate lows.

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The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners

Publisher: Skydance Interactive
Developer: Skydance Interactive 
Platforms: PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners would be a great game even if it wasn't in VR. Suffice it to say Saints & Sinners definitely suffers from some modern-day VR problems, but it's still a great sign of the immersive and exciting things to come.

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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 makes good on its promise of revitalizing a legendary franchise, but it's modern twists aren't all clean landed.

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Vitamin Connection

Publisher: WayForward
Developer: WayForward
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Vitamin Connection is one of the best games on Switch. It's extremely fun, creative, and great with a friend. An easy pill to swallow. To bring this love-letter in disguise to a close: Vitamin Connection is a game that everybody should play. 

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Void Terrarium

Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platforms: PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: There's a lot to love about Void Terrarium, with its touching story and unique approach to the mystery dungeon genre, even if does occasionally frustrate. Void Terrarium is special for how it balances challenge and accessibility to create its own unique identity, a balancing act many other games struggle with. If you're new to the genre, it's a great place to start.

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Wasteland 3

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: InXile Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Wasteland 3 invokes feelings of classic RPGs such as Fallout and manages to nail the feel and tone perfectly in a modernized setting. While the game often falls into some of the genre's more vexing traps, such as percentage damage idiosyncrasies and lackluster character models, it’s hard to deny its engaging power. 

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Watch Dogs: Legion

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Watch Dogs: Legion throws out a decade of Ubisoft's cluttered-map open worlds in favor of exciting systems that deliver unique emergent moments consistently. Watch Dogs: Legion drastically revises the Ubisoft open-world blueprint it has leaned on for over a decade. 

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Wintermoor Tactics Club

Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: EVC
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The indie strategy game Wintermoor Tactics Club is one of the better children's books I've ever played. Kids will love it, but adults may find it too simple. Really, the highest recommendation I can make for Wintermoor Tactics Club is that it’s a funny, weirdly true-feeling interactive children’s book, with just enough tactical action to keep you interested throughout.

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Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monolith Soft 
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition makes one of the best RPGs even better, despite not spreading its improvements evenly over the whole package.

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Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S 
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Yakuza: Like A Dragon isn't just a great Yakuza title — it's legitimately one of the best modern role-playing games there is. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is an uplifting and hopeful story told with heart, supported by satisfying RPG gameplay and a host of entertaining side-missions and minigames. 

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Ys Origin

Publisher: Dotemu
Developer: Dotemu 
Platforms: Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ys Origin on Switch is one of the most focused, fluid, and exhilarating action RPGs around. Read our review to see why it absolutely should be on your radar.

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Zombie Army 4: Dead War

Publisher: Rebellion 
Developer: Rebellion
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ever wanted to dodge zombie sharks while on a quest to destroy the undead animated by evil wizard-Hitler? Well, it doesn't get much better than Zombie Army 4. The game's shooting mechanics, its level design, and its ranking system come together in a much more satisfying way [than the core Sniper Elite series]. 

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That's it for our list of the best games of 2020. What were your favorite games? Let us know in the comments below! 

King Of Seas Preview: A Swashbuckling Adventure Wed, 02 Dec 2020 11:10:59 -0500 Henry Stockdale

For 3DClouds, a developer that established themselves with racing games like Race With Ryan and Xenon Racer, a pirate-themed action-RPG is quite a departure. But that's exactly what the studio is currently working on.

Set in a procedurally-generated oceanic world, King of Seas is currently set to launch in early 2021, and in the run-up to its release, I was recently offered access to a preview build of the game. Though the gameplay demo was limited to 45 minutes, my initial impressions are certainly positive.

The tale for King of Seas begins with a mysterious death. Playing as an heir to one of the game's kingdoms, you find yourself inexplicably blamed for an assassination and quickly come under a barrage of cannon fire from the Royal Navy. As your ship sinks to Davey Jones' Locker —  and the Royal Navy leaves you for dead —  you're saved by the pirates of Eagle’s Den, led by Captain D. Morgen, who takes you on as a fresh recruit.

This all unfolds across a mission-based structure, where you aid your new allies as Captain Morgen investigates the truth behind the assassination.

There are five difficulty options to choose from in King of Seas, all of which tweak stats such as health, bounty bonuses from completing missions, and damage output. Higher difficulties up the challenge further with modifiers such as increasing the frequency of hostile spawns, destroying and removing your inventory when your ship sinks, and adding in permadeath.

From transporting materials between trading outposts to taking down enemy ships, primary missions and side missions offer up some decent variety and do a good job of introducing you to the game's mechanics, at least this early on. Since King of Seas' world is procedurally generated, you’ll never explore the same layout twice across these missions; the sea is ever-changing, remolding key locations with it.

Though the short demo kept me from seeing too much of the game, exploration, in general, was enjoyable. You can find cargo adrift at sea that gives you gold, which is used to repair your ship, and you can loot shipwrecks for new items, giving you materials such as wood for building new ship parts.

Every ship has three indicator bars, one each for its hull, its sails, and its crew. These bars represent your ship's overall health, speed, and cannon cooldown times respectively. 

As expected, if your hull meter depletes, your ship will sink; it will be game over. And since ships cannot be repaired until you leave combat  once they’ve been anchored at Eagle’s Den — each battle becomes a strategic mix of maneuvering and attacking.   

Moving your ship across the open water means, of course, raising the sails, and you're able to hoist three at once for maximum speed. Wind speed factors into movement, and though going against it doesn't impede you much, sailing quickly with it makes turning a lot trickier (so handle this with care, unless you fancy crashing into the nearby island!).

Ships are armed with two sets of cannons on their port and starboard sides, and every attack has a cooldown; you can’t spam attacks on enemy vessels. Instead, winning engagements requires precision and a bit of patience. Combat is a bit slow in places, but it is satisfying to eventually take down your foe through methodical play. 

After the game's initial missions, you can begin unlocking skills, which are assignable at will, and swapping ships via the carpenter at Eagle's Den.

Skills, for example, include giving your First Officer the ability to perform a flamethrower attack, which launches from the front of the ship, inflicting heavy damage on enemies. 

Swapping ships isn't just cosmetic, as all ships have different stats for top speed, cargo space, and the number of cannonballs they can volley at opposing vessels. If you've found a ship you like, though, existing ships can also be upgraded with gold, increasing aspects like cannon firepower and crew capacity.

That’s not all you can find at Eagle’s Den, though. One option, called “cove,” was unavailable in this preview build, so we can’t detail what that involves just yet, but there’s a bank for storing your cargo, as well as a marketplace to sell and purchase items. Should any crew members fall in battle, a tavern is also available for recruiting new pirates to the cause.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with King of Seas, but I found it hard to get pulled into its world completely, likely because of the short session length, so I'll have to hold my final verdict on that until I see more.

Though the combat was slower than I expected, King of Seas still proves quite entertaining, if never truly thrilling. Regardless, I’m certainly curious to see how this story unfolds.

So far, 3DClouds have brought us a well-crafted game with significant potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it next year.

Into the Phoggyverse: Bit Loom Games on PHOGS! Inspiration, Co Op, and More Mon, 30 Nov 2020 15:32:50 -0500 Henry Stockdale

There’s genuinely nothing quite like PHOGS! out there at the moment. While most co-op games have you playing as separate characters or entities, PHOGS! revolves around playing as two heads of a conjoined dog, Red and Blue, in a manner reminiscent of the Nickelodeon animated series CatDog.

Developed by Bit Loom Games, PHOGS! was first conceived back in 2017. Having made the rounds at conventions for the last two years, publisher and co-developer Coatsink has confirmed that PHOGS! is now finally ready to launch on December 3, releasing on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Google Stadia, with backwards compatibility for PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.

Spanning 24 levels between three separate worlds in a realm known as the “Phoggyverse,” you’ll need to overcome obstacles by working together, completing puzzles along the way in a game that promises a unique brand of challenge.

In preparation for the game's launch, we had the opportunity to speak with Bit Loom Games, who were kind enough to tell us more about this adorable new experience.

Henry Stockdale, GameSkinny: First, thank you for joining me. I actually played the demo back at EGX last year. For any readers unaware of PHOGS!, though, could you please introduce yourselves?

Bit Loom: We’re Douglas, Henry, and James, and we make up Bit Loom, a small studio based in Scotland, who are making PHOGS!

GameSkinny: As your studio’s debut game, it must be quite thrilling to finally launch it, but as a small team, have there been any specific development challenges you’ve faced?

Bit Loom: We’re incredibly excited to have the game out. It’s felt like such a long journey to get here. Most of the challenges we’ve had throughout development have been due to us learning how to build the game. We’ve also been ridiculously lucky throughout development to have the support of our co-developers Coatsink, who jumped in to help with art, animation, sound design, porting, and multiplayer implementation. This definitely helped ease the load for some part of the game that wouldn’t have been possible with just the three of us.

GameSkinny: We know PHOGS! revolves around an adorable two-headed doggo, each head called Red and Blue, and it's often been compared to CatDog. Did that show influence yourselves or were there other inspirations?

Bit Loom: While we all grew up around that particular era of cartoons, it definitely wasn’t something at the forefront of our minds while developing the game. We knew that we wanted a silly creature with two ends controlled by two players, and we wanted it to be something simple and friendly.

The dog element mostly came about because we thought that adding arms would look really strange, and it made sense as a creature that interacts with things primarily with its mouth.

GameSkinny: How did this idea turn into a playable concept at first, and what convinced you to take this further?

Bit Loom: We just started off getting the PHOG working and stuck them in a blank room with some boxes to push around, and we knew as soon as we started playing around with the character that we had something interesting.

It just immediately felt like we’d managed to find something fun and exciting that we wanted to explore further, and it was hard to stop coming up with ideas.

GameSkinny: Most co-op games involve you playing as separate entities, making PHOGS! rather unique in that respect. Was it a challenge to create an experience where the players are conjoined?

Bit Loom: If anything, I think it maybe made it easier to make, purely because the characteristic of being joined together generated so many ideas in itself. As well as the fact that it meant we never really had to worry about things like the players getting too far away from each other or setting off things in completely the wrong order since we had more control over where both players would be at any one time.

While it occasionally did bring its own challenges, such as trying to ensure both players had some part to play in each interaction. But we attempted to solve this by having lots of interactions [that] require both heads, such as turning a tap to activate something instead of just pushing a button.

GameSkinny: While co-op play seems to be the focus, we know that single-player options have been included too. Was it difficult designing a solo mode for it?

Bit Loom: Luckily, it felt kind of natural to play the game either way pretty much from the start. As we wanted the controls to be very simple and easy to pick up, we designed them around the idea of using a shared controller. This means the game can always be played on a single controller and while it requires a bit more mental gymnastics to coordinate with yourself, it’s definitely something you get more used to over time.

GameSkinny: Puzzle-solving will factor into gameplay, so how does this work in practice?

Bit Loom: We’ve tried to design puzzles that focus most on working together and using both of your heads. Some puzzles will be a case of using several objects or creatures you’ve been introduced to together in interesting ways, others may be more of a case of experimenting with something new to find surprising ways to solve problems.

From hosing water through your wobbly body to swinging across monkey bars in sync with each other, there are lots of ways to put the phogs’ unique anatomy to the test.

GameSkinny: Can you tell us more about the worlds we’ll visit and what differences they bring to gameplay?

Bit Loom: The worlds of Food, Sleep, and Play each have their own vibe and mechanics.

Food is bright and bouncy and has the phogs hosing water through their body in order to grow food for creatures to eat to overcome environmental obstacles.

Sleep is super cosy and all about putting creatures to bed and using light and shadow to solve more traditional puzzles.

Play is a manic mix of minigames with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure, where one minute you are playing golf, and the next minute you are inside a giant golf ball.

Every level introduces something new, and we hope people fall in love with the wonderful and weird characters along the way!

GameSkinny: Would you say it’s a particularly long campaign?

Bit Loom: Our focus with PHOGS! was to make every puzzle and level feel fresh and surprising for the player, with no mechanic outstaying its welcome. Being a puzzler, it can vary from player to player, On average, though, the story lasts around eight hours for new players. With all the bones to find and characters to meet, you can make it take quite a while longer if you don’t want to rush. When I play the game, I spend half the time choosing what hat my end of the phog wears!

GameSkinny: Have there been any considerations for DLC expansions or a sequel, or are you looking towards brand new projects once PHOGS! is out?

Bit Loom: Currently, we are taking it slow and focusing on PHOGS!. We have plenty of ideas but no solid plans for what the next big project is for Bit Loom. If people really love PHOGS! and want to see more, we might go back to the drawing board. We’ll have to see what happens!

GameSkinny: Last of all, would you like to share any messages with the fans?

Bit Loom: We cannot wait for everyone to play the game and meet the characters throughout the phoggyverse! I also have a question for the real fans out there: what other animal would you like to see become stretchy bellied and double-ended?

Override 2: Super Mech League Preview — War of the Mechs Wed, 18 Nov 2020 15:48:54 -0500 Henry Stockdale

It’s been nearly two years since Override: Mech City Brawl first dropped, bringing fighting game fans a 3D arena brawler reminiscent of classics like War of the Monsters. Developed by Modus Games, reviews for the game were generally positive, with it offering up some fun co-op opportunities.

Earlier this year, news arrived that a sequel was on its way.

Launching on December 22, Override 2: Super Mech League is not far off now, scheduled to release on current- and last-gen consoles. Taking place seven years after Mech City Brawl’s campaign, with the Xenotype invasion successfully defeated, these glorious mechs that were once used to defend planet Earth now entertain its populace instead, seeing pilots compete in a global competition to become Super Mech League champions.

In the preview build I was able to play, the new career mode wasn’t yet available, but my time with the game gave me a taste of the combat we can expect. Outside of tutorials, I had access to a training mode for fighting AI opponents, but versus mode is where I mainly spent my time.

Allowing four-player matches in both local and online multiplayer, Override 2 has two battle modes, letting you team up with friends or enter a free-for-all fight to become the last person standing.

Standard is your basic deathmatch option, fighting until your mech runs out of health, but Control is essentially a “King of the Hill” style mode. Here, an ever-moving blue circle appears around a stage that's slowly closing in. If you remain outside of the circle, your health slowly depletes until one person remains.

Fights take place within contained arenas, and I had access to five of them: Garden Arches, Caldera, Cakeland, Sulfur Breeze, and Skyview Center. Each has destructible environments and a series of hazards to look out for, such as Caldera’s lava pit. Weapons drops will frequently appear in arenas as well, spawning everything from rifles to frying pans for players to pick up and use. 

Override 2's final release has 20 confirmed mechs and for this build, eight were playable, which, sadly, didn’t include the guest characters from Ultraman.

Each mech has different attributes and caters to different playstyles. For example, Setesh is designed as a somewhat cumbersome powerhouse, while other mechs, like Mya, are agile but less powerful. 

They all employ a basic move set: a shield for defense, a grab attack to throw opponents or stage objects, a dash for quick movement, and a double jump for jumping up onto platforms. Primarily, main attacks focus on punching and kicking, giving heavy and light options to choose from. Every mech has a unique set of special abilities too, so Aura can throw their halo for AoE damage and Watchbot can stun opponents.

Fans of the original might be wondering if there are any changes in this version, and while the core gameplay is largely intact, Override 2 does make a few adjustments. Previously, special attacks required you to charge up a meter but can now be used at will. Furthermore, the heat meter, which worked as an anti-button spam measure by making mechs overheat if you constantly attacked, has also been removed.

The most significant change here relates to ultimate abilities. Originally, ultimate were made available once you took 75% damage, and they allowed you to launch a devastating assault to potentially turn the tables of battle. But in this instance, yellow charging circles will appear instead.

Standing inside them gradually charges your attack and once your gauge is filled, you can unleash your ultimate attack for heavy damage.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in Override 2 so far, but it takes some getting used to in terms of controls; button placement feels slightly awkward for the game's mech move set. The AI also proved surprisingly tough at points, and it took several online sessions before I found a natural rhythm.

Overall, though, there’s a lot of promise here, and Override 2: Super Mech League is shaping up to be an enjoyable sequel.

[Note: Dead Good Media the PC preview copy of Override 2: Super Mech League used for this preview.]

Immortals Fenyx Rising Devs On Breath of the Wild Influence, Name Change, More Thu, 05 Nov 2020 16:37:18 -0500 David Jagneaux

Immortals Fenyx Rising is a rare new IP that's launching simultaneously at the end of one console generation and the beginning of another one. Seeing this behavior from established franchises like Madden or Call of Duty isn't unusual, but it's not often a big new game like this hits everything in one huge splash.

Ubisoft Quebec is gearing up to break away from the shadow of Assassin's Creed with Fenyx Rising, which takes a few elements from almost every successful open-world third-person action-adventure game of the last 10 years and mixes it into a single package with an art style that can appeal to gamers of all ages and demographics.

Recently, we got the chance to try out a brief demo for ourselves and came away with positive impressions. Though I didn't play that demo for GameSkinny, I did play the game around the same, and I came away impressed, as well. I'm excited to play more when Immortals Fenyx Rising releases on December 3.

In the meantime, while we all wait, I sent over a bunch of questions for the development team to answer, covering topics that range from development challenges, platform differences, comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and much more.

Here's what they had to say. 

Immortals Fenyx Rising Developer Q&A

David Jagneaux, GameSkinny: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions! The game looks great. I'm a big Zelda fan and love mythology, so it looks right up my alley. I noticed it's developed by the Ubisoft Quebec team, who, of course, worked on AC Odyssey. Can you speak at all about the influences that project had on this one?

Marc-Alexis Coté, Producer: First, I’m glad you enjoyed the demo!

Throughout the development of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, our minds lingered on another aspect of Greek history — mythology. The stories of the Greek gods and heroes have existed through generations of storytellers and have transformed into the tales we know and love today. These stories inspired us to build something totally new, which brought Immortals Fenyx Rising to life.

While inspired by mythological tales, this brand-new IP explores our vision of the gods throughout the ages with more creative liberty and through a more fantastical, comedic lens, delivering a fresh take on the Greek gods that has a modern spin.

GameSkinnySince this is also a big, sprawling open-world like AC Odyssey, how different of an experience is it from a design perspective for players?

Scott Phillips, Game Director: We designed the gameplay experience around three core pillars that really sets this game apart when put together:

  1. Rewarding exploration via dynamic and risky traversal
  2. Over-the-top, fast-paced combat against Mythological creatures
  3. Challenging Puzzles and World Challenges

Traversal in Immortals Fenyx Rising is an incredibly varied, exciting, and challenging experience. Players will sprint across open fields, climb enormous mountains, and glide through the skies as they explore the world of the Golden Isle. All the while, they are challenged by the terrain and mastering their Stamina to discover every hidden location and secret the island has to offer.

The combat is an acrobatic, airborne, over-the-top mythological experience. Fenyx will face off against giant creatures like the Cyclops, the Minotaur, or Medusa and use the Wings of Daidalos to lift themselves up into the air to properly deal with the immensity of these creatures.

Problem-solving is also key to the experience. The puzzles of the Golden Isle will challenge players’ logic, manipulation of the environment, and navigation capabilities. These world puzzles include small scale individual puzzles, giant sprawling points of interest filled with many puzzles, all the way up to the epic Vaults of Tartaros.

GameSkinny: Going back to my mention of Zelda, a lot of people have made comparisons to Breath of the Wild stylistically. What do you think of those comparisons?

Scott Phillips: We knew from playtests that many players were apt to make a comparison to Breath of the Wild upon first seeing Immortals Fenyx Rising. We also saw that when those players got their hands on the game, they grew to see the differences and the uniqueness of our game, even when compared to the masterpiece that Breath of the Wild is widely considered.  

People often find new things easier to explain in reference to something that they already know – which is why we feel this comparison is made, and why we’re happy with that comparison. Because once people open themselves up to the game, we think they’ll find something very special and unique! 

GameSkinny: The game seems to mix up puzzles, exploration, and combat for a varied experience. How does that balance shake out? Are all three aspects crucial, or could a player focus mostly on the areas they enjoy more?

Scott Phillips: Our world was built on the same philosophies as a theme park, creating strong iconic thematizations for all regions and biomes. Each region is inspired by a Greek god, and everything in that region is specifically built to support the mythology of that god.

From the scarred battlefields of Ares the god of war to the lush paradise lands of Aphrodite the goddess of love, players will encounter a huge and detailed world full of varied terrains, monsters, and challenges that they can tackle in any order they want.

Each enemy encounter, puzzle, and quest location is tailored to bring a unique aspect of the story, a myth, and a gameplay feature to light. Some terrain is more acclimated to gliding or focused on climbing, while other areas are larger and more open, perfect for a mount. This keeps the moment-to-moment gameplay interesting while allowing players to focus on activities they like best. 

GameSkinny: Immortals seems to have a very free-form movement system with lots of verticality. What are some of the specific ways this helps separate it from other open-world games Ubisoft has made, and just open-world games in general?

Scott Phillips: Traversal in Immortals Fenyx Rising is all about making sure that the journey is as rewarding and challenging as the destination. Our goal is to ask players to think about the world around them and consider the best way to reach a location or a point of interest, rather than simply pushing the movement stick and waiting for their character to reach a marker.

We wanted traversal to be a mechanic that could be mastered – something that the player gets better at over time, rather than having it be a static capability that gives them the same gameplay experience from beginning to end. The stamina system, fantastical opportunities brought by mythology, the world-building of the Golden Isle; all are key to ensuring that traversal is constantly engaging, and the world always offers something new to discover. 

GameSkinny: I noticed there is a robust character creation system and lots of loot and gear. What is progression like? Are there classes, abilities, levels, etc., or is it mostly gear-based?

Scott Phillips: Player progression is incredibly varied and engaging in Immortals Fenyx Rising. All of the progression systems are centered on the Hall of the Gods – the place where the gods will gather once Fenyx has restored them to their powerful selves.

At the core, players can upgrade Fenyx’s health with Ambrosia collected from the world. Fenyx’s stamina, which drives usage of advanced combat and navigation moves, can be upgraded with the Lightning Bolts of Zeus collected from Vaults of Tartaros. New skills and fight moves can be learned by spending a currency called Coins of Charon.

In addition to upgrading Fenyx, the weapons, armor, and potions used by Fenyx can also be upgraded by defeating enemies and opening chests to find shards of Adamantine – the unbreakable metal of the gods. The Wings of Daidalos and Fenyx’s companion, Phosphorus, can also be modified by collecting skins with specific perks on them.

GameSkinny: Around how long would it take to finish the main story, and then how much longer would it take to complete the game in terms of finishing quests and exploring the map? 

Scott Phillips: Since Immortals Fenyx Rising is a huge open-world game filled with content, every player’s experience will vary. However, in general, players should expect somewhere between 20 to 30 hours of playtime to complete the main campaign and many more hours if they focus on completing non-main path content and further progressing their character.

Once players have completed the main campaign, they have the opportunity to try a harder difficulty level called Nightmare mode and New Game Plus.

GameSkinny: Are there post-launch plans for Immortals?

Marc-Alexis Coté, Producer: We will share more details about post-launch content for Immortals Fenyx Rising at a later date.

GameSkinny: What is the reasoning behind the name change? Was Gods & Monsters always intended to be a temporary name?

Marc-Alexis Coté: The extra development time allowed us to push our initial vision even further and explore new avenues for the game. As this vision was coming to life and developing a more mature tone, we felt the game needed a new name to better reflect those changes. Immortals Fenyx Rising evokes the timeless nature of not only gods and magical creatures but also the thrill of mythology itself; stories and legends that live forever through storytelling.

We also felt it was important to shine a light on Fenyx and her journey as the first main character of this new franchise.

GameSkinny: What benefits will players get by playing the game on PS5/XSX versus PS4/XB1?

Marc-Alexis Coté: The team is optimizing the game on each platform to make sure you get the best experience possible everywhere you want to play! XSX and PS5 players will be able to enjoy faster load-times, increased graphics fidelity, and higher framerates!

At launch, the team is targeting 60 FPS and 4K resolution for both platforms. We are also working on a Quality mode that will push visual quality and fidelity even further!

GameSkinny: Will there be a free next-gen upgrade for current-gen players if they want to wait on getting a new console? Will saves transfer?

Marc-Alexis Coté: Immortals Fenyx Rising players will be able to enjoy free console next-gen upgrade and cloud-save transfer at launch.

GameSkinny: Regarding the Stadia version: is it more similar to current-gen or last-gen in terms of fidelity and performance?

Marc-Alexis Coté: Performance will vary depending on the subscription tier of the player. The game will offer graphical and performance modes targeting 4K/30FPS or 1080P/60FPS at launch.

GameSkinny: Can you speak about what benefits Stadia brings to a game like this? 

Marc-Alexis Coté: We are excited to let players experience Immortals Fenyx Rising before launch via the Stadia Demo. With the simple click of a button, players will be able to join Fenyx in the fight against Typhon, explore a new mysterious archipelago by foot or glide in the air using the wings of Daidalos and battle against dangerous mythological creatures.

It’s awesome to think this demo will be playable on any devices that support Stadia!

GameSkinny: As a developer, what is the experience like developing or porting something for Stadia?

Marc-Alexis Coté: In the very particular context of the pandemic, developing on Stadia has allowed our entire teams to quickly have access to development versions of the game from the safety of our homes.

It helped our ability to develop and deliver a high-quality game in these challenging times.

GameSkinny: Finally, what about Immortals Fenyx Rising do you think is the most notable and unique feature? What is the key impression you want players to have after experiencing it?

Scott Phillips, Game Director: My two favorite things in Immortals Fenyx Rising are the mixture of gameplay and the presence of the narrators.

With our three pillars of over-the-top mythological combat, fast-paced traversal, and challenging puzzles, I believe our gameplay experience is quite unique and varied and allows players to choose what they want to engage in at any moment based on what’s appealing to them. This ability to change my gameplay focus means I’m always excited to see what’s around the corner.

If I feel like exploring, I know I’ll find something meaningful while gliding, climbing, or double jumping around the world. If I feel like fighting, I can always scout for a small pack of corrupted enemies or seek out a legendary or world boss enemy. And if I feel like solving puzzles, there's always a small hidden chest up to giant Constellation Myth Challenges to keep me busy solving their riddles.

I also find the narrators to be really entertaining and funny! I look forward to their interactions in the story. They mix up the tone and allow me to stay in the action while they provide the narrative context that helps keep the game engaging and fun. Hearing Prometheus become flustered by Zeus’ interruption of his epic storytelling to insert a mythologically based joke is always a good time.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is slated for release on December 3, 2020, for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Google Stadia. It's also releasing for next-generation consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, with visual and performance enhancements. If you buy the PS4 or Xbox One version of the game, you can redeem a free upgrade to the applicable next-generation console.

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on Immortals Fenyx Rising, including our full review near launch. 

Demon's Souls Second Gameplay Trailer Mines the Beauty of Stonefang Tunnel Fri, 30 Oct 2020 21:11:30 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Good grief. Not only are we less than two weeks away from the launch of the Demon's Souls remake on the PlayStation 5, Sony and Bluepoint Studios have released another stunningly gorgeous gameplay trailer for the upcoming RPG. 

Whereas the first gameplay trailer shown back in September focused on the tutorial level leading up to the Vanguard boss, this gameplay trailer gives a lot of love to Stonefang Tunnel, the Armor Spider, and Flamelurker.

The layout of Stonefang in the remake is identical to the layout in the original game (at least in these sections), but the amount of detail and refinement here is, if not surprising, astounding. Definitely watch this trailer in 4K if you can. 

Some of the most notable and obvious changes come in the more detailed character models and the incredible use of lighting. Here, the Scale Miners looks more like withered yet ferocious vampires instead of mopey skin bags, and the Armor Spider looks downright terrifying with its wandering center eye. We still don't get a look at any builds outside of the Knight (who is, yes, wearing the Fluted Armor set), but we finally get to see spells in use. 

While the vastly improved lighting in the first trailer was certainly obvious, especially in the tower area leading to Vanguard, the lighting in this trailer really shows what the PS5 version of Demon's Souls is capable of. Here, where lights and darks play off of each other in flickering fire, and the bright blue flourish of the Soul Arrow spell, the PS5's graphical capabilities create an entirely new atmosphere for the game. 

I'm still picking my jaw up off the floor. 

Everything concludes with a fight against Flamelurker, as well as a look at other locations in the game, including the Tower of Latria and the Shrine of Storms. The quick look we get at a Mindflayer is utterly terrifying and full-on Lovecraftian, while what we see of the Silver Skeleton in the Shrine of Storms looks... ok. I'm not quite sold on it yet, but I'm sure its design will grow on me when I'm able to see more than what amounts to a flash. 

We get the Blue Dragon, Maneater, Old Hero, and so, so much more. I can't wait to play Demon's Souls in just a few short weeks, and I know I'm not alone. And if anyone's still on the fence, this trailer is sure to push them right off. Stay tuned for our full review and a full set of guides. 

Immortals Fenyx Rising Hands-On Preview: A Massive Mythological World Thu, 22 Oct 2020 13:27:08 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Battling monstrous foes, unleashing the power of ancient Greek warriors, and rescuing deities from a terrible fate: all in a day's work for Fenyx, the titular hero of Ubisoft's upcoming Immortals Fenyx Rising. The massive and colorful world is a joy to explore, and the well-trodden gameplay elements are sure to delight fans of modern AAA titles.

We got a chance to sit down with an early build of the game to get a sense of what Immortals Fenyx Rising has to offer. Most elements of the game are well done, if extremely familiar, but presentation and story should help it stand out when it releases later this year. Here's what we thought of our limited time with the game.

Gods and Monsters

It seems unlikely that Immortals Fenyx Rising will wake anyone up to a brand new genre, but it does wrangle all of its elements together in an exciting way.

Immortals Fenyx Rising opens with a cataclysmic event, and it's up to you, a shipwrecked greenhorn named Fenyx, to harness the power of legendary Greek warriors to set everything straight.

In standard, big-budget fashion, you can probably guess how you'll go about doing this. After customizing your character, you'll find yourself stranded in a location called the Golden Isle. Different sections of the Golden Isle are the domains of different Greek gods, and you'll be able to explore these massive, open-world areas as you please.

You'll pick up several different items along the way that help you improve various stats. You'll unlock new combat abilities and magic spells. You'll tame mythological beasts and ride about the countryside. You'll climb to the top of various scouting points and locate all sorts of little icons on your map. You'll use your abilities in fluid, real-time combat against all sorts of monsters and bosses.

There are elements of Breath of the WildAssassin's CreedKingdom Hearts, and a whole lot more here. It seems unlikely that Immortals Fenyx Rising will wake anyone up to a brand new genre, but it does wrangle all of its elements together in an exciting way.

Battling Beasts

The opening sections of Immortals Fenyx Rising serve as an introduction to the various abilities that serve the core of the game. You wield a series of powerful weapons imbued with the powers of Greek heroes like Achilles and Odysseus, and you can earn new abilities and techniques as you progress through the game. This helps shape your character's playstyle as you see fit, and emphasize the areas that will give you the biggest advantages.

Your sword is quick and deadly, your hammer fills a stun bar on foes, your bow can take enemies down from a distance. Prioritizing the most dangerous enemies in a group you're facing is extremely important, especially on the higher difficulties. Your health can melt quickly if you stand in the middle and just swing away, so you'll want to master your abilities and upgrade them in order to progress.

There are some unique wrinkles here. One that stood out in my play session was a pair of bracers that allow you to pick up heavy objects. As you unlock more abilities for these bracers, you can use them to hook foes and bring them to you or, even better, hook foes and bring you to them. Using it against flying foes, zipping high above the battlefield to destroy air support, then gliding down to mop up slower foes felt really good.

Combat is very similar to many third-person games in this style, but the look and animations most reminded me of Kingdom Hearts. The generic foes don't have a ton of personality, but they are easy to identify and they fly away like popped balloons when defeated, which never ceased to make me smile.

Riddle of the Sphinx

If you can't get enough of the digital to-do lists of open-world games ... you're going to find a lot to like here.

Outside of combat, the other major element of Immortals Fenyx Rising is solving environmental puzzles. There are tons of them littered throughout the Golden Isle, and all offer enticing rewards should you solve them. There are gates that open into the underworld, opening platforming sections and testing how well you've mastered your abilities. You'll have to locate objects and place them correctly. Hermes even offers navigation challenges.

There is a ton to do in this game, and this sense of breadth came just at face value I generally followed the icons on the map because of my limited playtime and didn't fully explore other options to the fullest.

Surely there will be even more intricate puzzles buried beneath the surface. If you can't get enough of the digital to-do lists of open-world games  sidequests, objects to collect, people to talk to, vistas to visit, etc.  you're going to find a lot to like here.

An Epic Story

This is all well and good, but not a lot of it makes Immortals Fenyx Rising stand out above a crowded crew of AAA titles. Luckily, that's where the story helps a lot. Greek mythology is such a wonderful place to mine stories and to subvert expectations, and the clever writing here stood out as my session moved forward.

It's a bit tough to explain, but the gameplay of Immortals Fenyx Rising is actually a story being told by Prometheus to Zeus. The two will argue over the narrative as you take actions on-screen, calling to mind the wonderful narration of indie darling Bastion. It isn't as in-depth as that, but the layers run pretty deep here.

Your character is also known as a storyteller in the game's lore, so there are plenty of ways for the writers to play with the narrative element throughout.

It's funny and cute, and it never felt like it was trying too hard. The characters you meet all have distinctive personalities, and hearing Zeus speak longingly of the Greek heroes of legend or meeting an Aphrodite who is nothing like she's usually depicted is fascinating for a big ol' mythology geek like me. Your character even tries Odysseus' "Nobody" trick when Typhon asks who you are, and Typhon calls them out for it!

It's wonderful.

See the World

It might look like a lot of other things out there, but I know that I'm excited to explore the entirety of Immortals Fenyx Rising ...

The giant, open-world of Immortals Fenyx Rising seems have a lot to offer and plenty of secrets to uncover. It certainly looks and animates well, and jumping off a massive statue and gliding around searching for treasure won't get old quickly.

It doesn't seem like Fenyx is breaking a ton of new ground, but the way it presents things is a welcome respite from how many major titles seem to think that "more gritty = more fun." It's obvious why the game is frequently compared to Breath of the Wild, but is that so bad?

For anyone who doesn't have a Nintendo Switch, this is a great imitation. For anyone who does, they've probably already beaten BotW, but is something else similar going to be a big problem?

As my play session came to an end, I was granted a massive power upgrade so I could try my hand at a couple of late-game areas. The moves you unlock towards the end of the skill trees are pretty darn powerful, but the foes you meet are as well.

It might look like a lot of other things out there, but I know that I'm excited to explore the entirety of Immortals Fenyx Rising when the game sees full release. If you're craving an open-world action game, you should have your eye on this one.

Immortals Fenyx Rising releases December 3 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, and Stadia. Stay tuned for our full review as the release date approaches.

Second Extinction Early Access Review: A Raptor-ous Debut Tue, 20 Oct 2020 13:53:18 -0400 Mark Delaney

For all of the fanfare they receive in Crichton novels and their blockbuster movie adaptations, dinosaurs are surprisingly underutilized in the video games space. Capcom seems content to sit on their Dino Crisis IP and while ARK includes them in its broader but messy survival game it's virtually alone in casting the giant beasts in a game. You have to go pretty far back to find much else in the dinosaur genre.

There's definitely space for a new take on the dinosaur sub-genre to leave its mark. Second Extinction, like a tyrannosaurus rex stomping through the mud of Jurassic Park, does just that — even if it's just in Early Access.

With intense, cooperative action as the ever-rumbling engine behind this still-growing dino shooter, Systemic Reaction has found a way to bring life to a promising FPS.

Second Extinction Early Access Review: A Raptor-ous Debut

One of the first things to notice about Second Extinction is how gorgeous it is.

At launch, players choose a pre-designed hero from a list of four characters. Each of them serves as a familiar but remixed archetype, like Rosy who acts as both a minigun-wielding tank and the group's healer, or Ortega who is both nimble and deadly with a unique ability to dual-wield primary weapons instead of carrying a pistol as her sidearm.

Each round of cooperative play is built around teams of three, and while you can load out with duplicate characters, the best teams utilize the complementary skill sets of three of four heroes in every round.

That also means you'll always be one shy of a full four-person team, even among the most diverse teams, which leaves you vulnerable in an interesting way. You're always needing to make up for a deficiency somewhere depending on who you're missing. 

One of the first things to notice about Second Extinction is how gorgeous it is. Systemic Reaction is a team within Avalanche, the same studio behind Just Cause and the co-developers of Rage 2, and their experience in making gorgeously lit, sprawling worlds is immediately on display. It's all built on Avalanche's proprietary Apex engine, which allows the fast-paced gunplay to shine with a smooth framerate and impressive draw distance.

That said, the vast world does lack variety at launch. Much of the map can be described as snowy mountainous terrain with only the occasional human-made encampment and dinosaur-filled cave to break up the scenery.

In time, I hope for more visual and topographical diversity.

While the world is beautiful, the dinosaurs are not. These hideous mutations sometimes have the names of real-life extinct creatures like raptors and the T-rex, but the loose sci-fi story playing as the game's backdrop has resulted in colorful tendrils, glowing underbodies, and vibrating red pheromones that fill more submissive breeds with rage.

On one hand, these dinosaurs look something as if the Lisa Frank brand targeted boys in the 1990s instead of girls, but given the setup and how they seem to have just appeared one day  leading to the fall of our kind  I find myself forgiving of the B-movie design because it's in keeping with the world the exaggerated survivors live in.

What I'm more appreciative of is the game's relentlessness. There are few moments of salvation in Second Extinction, especially if you don't have a full team. In fact, if you plan to play it solo, find a new way to spend your time. It's virtually impossible, as the hordes that rush you at every objective location across the open-ended map are massive and overwhelmingly fast.

A two-player squad is where you can start to consider it playable, but it really is best played in a full team, and I say that as someone who hears that about other games a lot and still finds fun in playing solo. 

Second Extinction doesn't fit that bill. It is non-stop punishment for solo players. I'm not sure if that's by design or if it needs to be scaled better, but this is Early Access, so, for now, I'm willing to keep playing with others and see how it evolves.

With several replayable missions that can vary in certain ways, such as where and when the dinosaurs arrive, Second Extinction earns some of the Left 4 Dead comparisons it's received since its reveal earlier this year, but it's quite different enough to stand on its own, too.

Primarily, this comes down to the game's upgrade system. Every success in the game earns you XP and Research points, while special breeds of dinosaurs drop rare biological loot, like claws, that you are meant to collect. As you work through the massive world, hitting only the main objective or as many side attractions as you wish, the end goal is to rack up a lot of these credits. 

Both successes and team wipes will reward you for your time, though you get much more for making it to the extraction dropship. I immediately found the loot and XP to be well worth the trouble because the unlocks they bring are powerful. New weapon types allow you to customize loadouts, while Research points can be spent however you wish to improve guns.

I focused on the standard assault rifle with my early upgrades and after just one round, I noticed a huge improvement in how efficiently it could dispatch the countless dinosaurs jumping at my face — much like the Jurassic Park arcade game.

Though it's made by a different team within its parent company, Second Extinction reminds me of a more explosive, more polished Generation Zero.

While the missions available for now can feel a bit lacking due to some repetitive objectives  destroy nests, collect eggs, find your deceased crew, etc.  I've found the pull of these upgrades to be more than enough to keep me invested so far. Because improvements are blatant with every unlock, the game can shift from one where you're outnumbered and outclassed to one where you're daring the most daunting tasks, like taking down a T-rex, to earn the best loot.

In that way, it's more like a Destiny than Left 4 Dead, and it's this unexpected marriage of the two genre frontrunners that makes Second Extinction interesting right away.

Though it's made by a different team within its parent company, Second Extinction reminds me of a more explosive, more polished Generation Zero. It was that 2019 game that betrayed my strong enthusiasm at its own rocky launch and only recently became the game I was hoping it would be a year and a half later. Maybe that's helped shaped Second Extinction as an Early Access game and helped it deliver a much stronger debut in the process. 

It's that simple distinction  "Early Access"  that has me at once forgiving of its faults and hopeful for its future. There is surely room to improve things like mission structure and Systemic Reaction has already shared some of the Second Extinction post-launch roadmap, including more game modes, new augmentations, and party buffs for each mission.

I'd also hope to see more diversity come to the world map. New heroes and weapons seem likely, though the team isn't speaking to those areas just yet. 

Second Extinction Early Access Review — The Bottom Line 

  • Fast-paced, smooth gunplay built perfectly for co op
  • Complementary heroes allow for varied squads
  • Addictive upgrade system with great rewards
  • Open-world lacks variety
  • Mission objectives also need more diversity 

As easy as it is to point to Second Extinction's deficiencies, it's even easier to see all the fun already present at launch. In time, this Early Access game may grow into one of 2021's best co op shooters. It has many of those pieces already thanks to a fun cast of heroes who offset teammates in useful ways and a deep upgrade system that is hard to step away from.

Trusting that the future of Second Extinction brings recurring and rewarding updates, I have no doubts this will be a game many, including myself, will stomp around in for a long time. 

[Note: Systemic Reaction provided the copy of Second Extinction used for this Early Access review.]

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Beta Impressions: It's Call of Duty, All Right Mon, 12 Oct 2020 11:23:21 -0400 John Schutt

The Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War PS4 beta is behind us. There have been marked improvements over the alpha from late September, but many of the concerns voiced in our Cold War alpha impressions remain. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is still plenty of fun to play, but the newest FPS in the franchise does little to reinvigorate the series the way previous Treyarch games have. We’ll know even more after the PC beta, and when release comes, but even though I'm not completely sold, I think Cold War will do fine.

What Was New in the Cold War Beta?

The Cold War beta brought us a new map, a preview of the progression system, and two new/revised modes. All of the modes on offer are enjoyable enough save for the new Combined Arms mode, though that’s more a fault of the map design than the mode itself.

New Map: Cartel

Taking place in a drug cartel’s supply and distribution depot, the newest map isn’t as cumbersome to play as Miami (or sometimes Moscow), but it’s not nearly as good as Satellite, by far the best map Black Ops Cold War has so far shown us. 

Cartel makes heavy use of the traditional three-lane model and takes a few cues from 2019’s Modern Warfare with the addition of some rather potent power positions. 

In standard 6v6 play, where I spent most of my time, the map played reasonably well. Domination was a chaotic mess for the middle, as it should be, and Kill Confirmed and Team Deathmatch were a little on the slower side. Its smaller size worked well in Combined Arms.

Even a newer player could wrap their head around where to expect enemies, and which way would best serve their playstyle in just a few matches.

Don’t expect to be floored by Cartel, however. It’s not Slums or Summit or Nuketown and lives more in the middle of the quality scale for Treyarch maps. Like the rest of Black Ops Cold War, it serves its purpose admirably, and little more.

New Modes: VIP Escort and Combined Arms Assault

In VIP Escort, a variant on single-life, round-based modes, one player on the attacking team becomes the VIP, with only a pistol and a single UAV to defend themselves. The rest of the attackers must escort the VIP to one of two evac choppers, which shift locations every round. No one else has streaks of any kind.

Like Warzone, you go down rather than instantly die, and your teammates can revive you, but if you get taken out in a downed state, you’ll be spectating.

Playable on every map in the beta, VIP Escort is an interesting variation on the model codified by Search and Destroy. In essence, a player becomes the bomb. Rollout timing is key, as is solid communication if you want to win, but there’s still plenty of room for misdirection and heads-up play. 

Matches are quick, as well, especially on the smaller maps. Defenders win if they kill either every player on the opposing team or the VIP. One false move from anyone spells defeat, but like any other Call of Duty mode, a single player can turn the tide of an entire match. 

It’s a fun mode, but it’s unclear if VIP Escort will make a significant dent in the Search and Destroy player base. The concept is novel, but unless SnD is a trainwreck at launch, I don’t see this new mode being played except for novelty.

Combined Arms Assault doesn’t bear much mention. It takes place on the larger Combined Arms maps and asks both teams to capture a set of points starting with the map’s center, then one just outside their spawn. I experienced one of two outcomes: stalemate or steamroll, and I think that’s as much a fault of the maps as the playstyles Combined Arms incentivizes.

You don’t have to jump on the point if you can conveniently keep an entire team at bay from a hill, sniper or no. 

Progression and New Perks

Where we were stuck with just a few options in the alpha, the Black Ops Cold War beta introduced its leveling and gear unlocking systems in greater detail. If you’re familiar with 2019’s Modern Warfare, the same basic principles apply here.

You earn access to weapons, perks, streaks, and equipment based on your level. Weapon attachments are tied to a particular weapon’s level, and you earn them in the same order across weapons and weapon types.

Gaining the levels themselves works much the same as it always has, too. Early progression happens quickly, then drops off steeply around Level 20 or so. The same is true of weapon leveling. 

There is a set of new perks atop the nine we saw in the alpha. Most aid or deter detection in some way. From Assassin marking high-score players and rewarding their defeat to Paranoia alerting when someone aims at you, survivability over killing ability seems to be the name of the game in Black Ops Cold War

The problem is that while new perks are interesting, they seem more interested in novelty than in actual utility. Why would you want an alert with Paranoia when you can have resistance to tactical equipment with Tactical Mask or detect equipment and scorestreaks with Engineer? And that’s just the first slot.

With all the heavy hitters — Ghost, Ninja, Cold Blooded, and Gung-Ho — in the third slot, it’s almost smarter to load with the Perk Greed Wildcard and be effectively invisible.

What Else Changed From the Alpha to the Beta?

Hit detection

Hit detection was improved, which, while not a high bar to clear, was a welcome change. I felt like I had more control over where my bullets were going and more confidence that I’d actually get a kill after shooting an enemy for more than a couple seconds.

Whether that’s an improvement to my aim or the netcode, I can’t say, but I think it’s a bit of both.

Gun balance

Gun balance got a look at, too. Many of the best guns, from the MP5 to the Krieg to the AK-74u onwards, are still dominant, but poor performers like the LMGs were brought into the competition.

Snipers weren’t the enormous problem they were in the alpha, which was nice, though they still dominated at their proper ranges or in the hands of someone who really knew what they were doing.

Streak and objective reward systems

The streak and objective reward systems got tweaked, as well, with consecutive kills rewarding score based on the game mode rather than on a linear curve.

Domination and Kill Confirmed, for instance, saw their objective score values increase significantly while kill score progression was flattened about as much. TDM saw it’s kill score increased across the board without the fast ramp-up seen in the alpha.

You’re still better off going for kills if your team has the advantage, but you get quite as far as you once did.

Streak score values

Lastly, streak score values saw across-the-board increases, with a UAV going from 800 points to 1,000 points, and everything going up from there. High-level streak spam was down significantly as a result, but all were still attainable by a skilled player.

They were about as effective as they were in the alpha, though the few Attack Helicopters I managed to get didn’t do a lot. 

Final Notes

All in all, the Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War beta did little to change my opinion on the game. It's not the revolution we saw back in Black Ops 2, nor is it the earth-shaker that the earliest entries could boast. 

Map design and flow are still serviceable, and the game’s fundamentals remain solid. The new additions — progression, a set of new modes, and a new map — either do little to build or improve on the core experience or are genuinely unfun to play. Even the new perks don’t seem to be better choices than what’s been powerful in every other game in the series, and likely won’t see a ton of use outside of their novelty.

Combined Arms, in whichever form you’d like, is still a mess. Weapon balance and spawn logic need a lot more attention.

The sound design is good, but footsteps remain overly loud. And I still don’t know if I agree with kill streaks carrying over through death. There has been significant tuning to some of the largest issues the alpha faced: kill vs. scorestreaks and snipers specifically. 

Black Ops Cold War is, in a word, fine. It’s more than fun enough to warrant a purchase at its base price. We’ll need to see how Zombies and Warzone play out, and how predatory the microtransactions become, but if you’re getting tired of Modern Warfare 2019, I think Black Ops Cold War has everything you’ll want in a Call of Duty title, so long as you don’t expect anything more than exactly that.

Every Video Game Halloween Event in October 2020 Thu, 01 Oct 2020 14:41:13 -0400 Josh Broadwell


Torchlight 3 Halloween — Gears 'N' Goblins Update


The Torchlight 3 Halloween update brings the pets along for the ride. Players can rescue three new Halloween-themed pets from bosses and dungeons: the Midnight Cat, Spooky Retriever, and Dragonling Spirt. Each with a special skill that summons skeletons in battle, but the pets are only available until December.


Aside from battle-pups, the update introduces the Ancient Ember gear set and two new skills along with it, plus new fort decorations and two new weapons: Sword of the Lost and Lightning Baller mace.


And that's it for now! Feel free to bookmark this page for more Halloween event updates throughout October! If you found this list frightfully delightful, please consider sharing it! 


Hardspace: Shipbreaker Halloween: Haunted Frontier


Hardspace: Shipbreaker's Halloween event is Haunted Frontier, full of spooky haunted ships that put your bravery — and desire for salvage — to the test.


The update, which is live now on Steam, turns any ship into a potential ghost ship. Things start deteriorating as you gather materials and fend off rogue AI nodes. Lights flicker on and off. Air gets sucked out of the room. And somewhere deep in the ship, unsettling sounds can be heard...


Should you make it out alive, you can show off your hard-earned rewards with new stickers and badges.


Hunt: Showdown Halloween Event


Hunt: Showdown has its first-ever Halloween event on now until November 4, with a gourd-full of ghoulish events and treats to earn.


Players earn Event Points for special equipment and other items by doing the following:

  • Destroying pumpkins scattered through the world 
  • \n
  • Destroying the Butcher's pumpkin head 
  • \n
  • Investigating a Halloween-themed Clue or Rift 
  • \n
  • Destroying pumpkins mounted on scarecrows 
  • \n

There's only so many Event Points you can earn each day, but using the special Halloween item Wormseed Shot increases the points earned by 25%.


1,000 Event Points are needed for all the event's special gear. Any points earned over that will be converted into Blood Bonds once the event ends.


Minecraft Halloween in the Minecraft Marketplace


Minecraft Halloween celebrations run through November 2, with frights aplenty in the Minecraft Marketplace. Mojang's got Halloween-themed maps and items in store there, plus Halloween Collections to choose from in the Character Creator and Marketplace.


Until November 2, you can grab a free Halloween skin pack and Halloween character creation item for free. These will still be available to get after November 2, but they won't be free then.


[Source: Mojang]


Fire Emblem Heroes Halloween  Special Heroes (Dragons Harvest)


Fire Emblem Heroes' Halloween event runs through November 7 at 7:59 p.m. EST and offers a chance to summon four new Halloween-themed units:

  • Fall Vessel Robin (Awakening)
  • \n
  • Autumn Trickster Xane (Mystery of the Emblem)
  • \n
  • Harvest Goldoan Dheginsea (Radiant Dawn)
  • \n
  • Harmonic Hope Ninian and Tiki duo unit (Binding Blade and Shadow Dragon)
  • \n

As always, the seasonal Fire Emblem Heroes' units come with a new Paralogue event, Dragons Harvest.


No Man's Sky Halloween Update


Head back to the outer reaches of the galaxy to find some new loot in the No Man's Sky Halloween update. Brave explorers can scour Desolation's wrecked vessels again to find a new item, Tainted Metal, and have a chance to snag some Quicksilver. But it comes at a cost. The freighters are full of new treats and a security system gone haywire.


Trade Tainted Metal with the Scrap Dealer to get new base decorations and additional customization options, or you can stockpile it to exchange for the Horrific Flesh-Helmet.


Scrap Dealers also have Orange Pustules and Detoxified Slimes for infesting and purifying bases.


[Source: Hello Games]


PixARK Halloween


PixARK Halloween brings a spooky makeover to the survival game from now until November 2, with costumes and treats galore.


Things kick off at the main menu, which is getting a Halloween re-skin. The main attraction is the Pumpkin Soul Reaper though.


When you defeat the Pumpkin Soul Reaper, it might drop:

  • Pumpkin Seed
  • \n
  • Magic Broom
  • \n
  • Flying Firework
  • \n
  • Clown Costume
  • \n

The Firework and Broomstick only last seven days, but you have a slight chance of getting a permanent one from defeating Ancient Wyvern King, Beach Bully, and Aurora Butterfly King enemies.


Then there's candy grenades, Halloween decorations, a creepy scarecrow costume, and plenty of events to make the most out of the season.


[Source: Steam Community]


Apex Legends Halloween: Fight or Fright 2020


Apex Legends' Halloween Fight or Fright event is back with Shadow Royale and more from now until November 3.


Shadow Royale sees night fall on Kings Canyon and its trio matches. When a Legend falls, they're reborn in Shadow form with a thirst for vengeance.


This year's event sees several all-new skins plus re-imagined versions of last year's, including Sweet Dreams Caustic and Wicked Harvest Bloodhound. Skins from last year are available on rotation in the in-game store as part of bundle offers or special offers.


There's a set of exclusive rewards in the event's Prize Track too with skins, charms, and more.


[Source: EA]


War of The Visions Final Fantasy Brave Exvius Halloween Special


War of the Visions is celebrating Halloween with two featured UR summons and a bucketful of rewards. Players can summon UR Little Leela and UR Rairyuu from now until November 10, both in Halloween attire with appropriate skills to match.


The Halloween Special also includes a Rewards From the Producer reward period from now until November 10. It features:

  • 2,000 Visiore
  • \n
  • 20,000,000 Gil
  • \n
  • 1 Rainbow Fragment of Thought
  • \n
  • 3 Rainbow Vision Sphere
  • \n
  • 50 Adamantite (Large)
  • \n
  • 50 Burst Pot
  • \n
  • 50 Armor Pot
  • \n

In a separate update, new players who start the game get a 7-day free summon period where a UR summon is guaranteed.


From October 28 through Halloween, players can take advantage of 6-UR Guaranteed Step Up 10x Summon, which guarantees:

  • one UR unit or vision card on step 1
  • \n
  • two UR units/vision cards on step 2
  • \n
  • three UR units/vision cards on step 3
  • \n

There's also a  5-step 10x Summon which guarantees a MR+ unit or vision card on steps 1-4 and UR “Exorcists” on step 5.


And there's even more, from daily login bonuses and Halloween Challenge Missions to a spoopy new Halloween-themed game icon.


GTA Online Halloween Bunker Series


GTA Online has a bunker full of frightful delights this Halloween. Halloween Bunker Series features triple RP and GTA$ plus three Slasher maps: the depths of the bunker, the silo, and The Diamond.


Taking part in the Halloween Adversary modes such as Beast Vs. Slasher and Come Out To Play doubles your RP and GTA$.


The peyote plants are back, in keeping with the spooky season, though Rockstar isn't saying what they'll transform you into yet. Nightclub income rates are going up as part of the event, and there'll be an influx of Freemode Events with triple payouts through October 28.


[Source: Rockstar Games]


Mortal Shell Halloween: Rotten Autumn


Mortal Shell's first content update just so happens to be a Halloween update called Rotten Autumn.


After downloading the update, speak with Gorf to unlock a new mini-quest. Completing it earns you new shades to deck out your Shell with. And you can show the world just how you spruced up your Shell with Mortal Shell's brand-new photo mode.


There's also a separate download alongside Rotten Autumn that adds a new soundtrack for boss fights, courtesy of Rotting Christ.


Those who haven't jumped into Mortal Shell yet can do so with a limited-time 20% discount for the digital version on PS4 and PC. That same discount isn't live for Xbox players yet, but it will be come October 27. 


Mortal Shell's physical version releases November 3 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in the U.S., then on October 23 for PlayStation 4 and PC (case containing a key) in Europe and October 30 for Xbox One in Europe.


Fortnite Halloween — Fortnitemares 2020


King Midas is back from the great beyond in Fortnite's Fortnitemares 2020 event from now until November 3, and he's giving you the chance to wreak havoc on friend and foe alike.


When you're eliminated in a Solo, Duos or Squads match, you get the chance to return as a Shadow in Nitemare Royal. Attack surviving players from the shadows and even possess vehicles to bring their game to an end.


That's the trick side of things, but the island has plenty of treats in store too. You can get your hands on the Pumpkin Rocket Launcher, Fiend Hunter Crossbow, a special Midas invention, and of course, candy.


There's a suite of Fortnitemares challenges where you can unlock costumes and weapon skins such as the Smash-O'-Lantern Pickaxe and Midas' Shadow Wrap.


Finally, on Halloween night (October 31) at 9 p.m. EST, award-winning reggae singer J Balvin kicks off the Afterlife Party at the Party Royale Main Stage.


[Source: Epic Games]


PUBG Mobile Infection Mode


PUBG Mobile's Infection Mode is back from the dead from now until November 9, with new content, themes, costumes, and plenty of zombies.


Infection Mode's classic combat returns, pitting a team of Defenders against a team of Zombies in an all-or-nothing fight. Zombies — sporting Halloween masks, if you so choose —  can only use melee attacks, but fallen Defenders transform into Zombies with chances for form shifts and stat buffs.


If it all gets too much for the Defenders, they transform into Vanquishers when their team is down to three members. Foes they vanquish can't be resurrected.


These hellish fights unfold across maps decked out with pumpkins, gravestones, and other seasonal paraphernalia. More costumes and decorations are planned before the end of the event.


World of Tanks Halloween — Burning Games


Free-to-play war game World of Tanks is hosting the Burning Games Halloween event until October in partnership with Korn and their new video for "Finally Free." It's a chance for Tier V and higher vehicles to complete challenges and earn special items and take part in the new Wasteland map.


In World of Tanks Wasteland, tanks start with 1 HP and have to attack others to replenish it. Players can attack allies to restore teammates' health, and respawning increases the tank's overall power.


From October 16 through October 31, players can join The Way of the Raider 60-stage event to earn XP, camo, and the two new tanks featured in Korn's music video.


Finally, from October 24 through October 31, World of Tanks brings back Mad Games, a limited-time chance to outfit your tanks with the wildest abilities possible.


Red Dead Online: The Halloween Pass


It's spooky time at the Red Dead Online corral, with the game's first-ever Halloween Pass. Now through November 16, players can get their hands on wagon-loads of Red Dead Online Halloween rewards, ranging from weapons and costumes to decorations for the tavern. Everything acquired during the event lasts after it ends.


The Halloween Pass is available in the progress menu or the Wheeler, Rawson & Co selection.


Pokemon GO Halloween 2020


Pokemon GO Halloween 2020 runs from October 23 at 9 p.m. EST through November 3 at the same time and offers the first chance to get your hands on Galarian Yamask among other things.


Completing the Halloween Special Research "A Spooky Message Unmasked" gets you one step closer to finding both Galarian Yamask and Spiritomb. Other Field Research tasks will also center around Halloween themes during the event.


Ghost-type Pokemon will be more common in the wild, in Raids, and in Eggs. You might even find a costumed Gengar in Raids or hatch a Sableye in costume if you're lucky.


Talking of Raids, Darkrai takes center stage for five-star Raids, but there's more Halloween Raid goodness in store.


On October 31 from 11 a.m. local time through 5 p.m. local time, there's a higher chance Alolan Marowak will show up in Raids.


There's a special Halloween Cup from October 26 at 4 p.m. EST through the end of the event where only Poison, Dark, Bug, Ghost, and Fairy Pokemon can compete, and they have to have less than 1,500 CP.


It just wouldn't be Halloween without costumes. Pokemon GO Halloween 2020 amps up the costume game with a Gengar onesie, Sableye goggles, Pikachu mask, and more, along with bundles in the in-game shop.


Finally, there's an all-new event on October 26, the Catch Mastery event, which we cover in more detail elsewhere.


Harry Potter Wizards Unite: Darkness Rising 2020


Harry Potter Wizards Unite is back for 2020 and, like its Pokemon counterpart, you can play it safely from home.


This year, Darkness Rising revolves around weekly events where completing tasks — brewing potions, collecting notes, and the like — earns you rewards such as extra XP, Portkeys, and books.


The ultimate goal is finding the Dark Witch, masquerading as a Brilliant Oddity. Other oddities abound, too, including Brilliant Witch, Brilliant Dark Wizard, and Brilliant Giant Stone Hand.


Dreams Halloween


If you're looking for a more atmospheric experience, Dreams' Halloween event, All Hallows' Dreams, may be for you. The whole thing is user-generated, like the rest of Dreams, and All Hallows' Dreams pops up at the top of the world list when you boot the game up.


Choosing it takes you to a dream world with different scary mansions to explore.


Some are reportedly very scary indeed, though they have their biggest frights confined to the upper floors. Others are just fun, creepy haunted houses to explore, complete with pumpkins carved by other Dreams players and a costume zone.


Call of Duty Halloween 2020 — Haunting of Verdansk


Call of Duty Warzone and Modern Warfare share a Halloween event in 2020: Haunting of Verdansk. The event runs from October 20 through November 3. It's a multi-pronged event featuring crossovers with SAW and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but some of it does come at a cost.


If you want the film crossover treats, you'll have to shell out for the SAW and Chainsaw Massacre bundles, both of which include skins, items, and weapons inspired by their respective franchises.


Activision promised more Halloween-themed bundles for the in-game store, including the new Dr. Karlov bundle focused on regional Verdansk folklore and a Grim Reaper bundle.


In addition to Trick or Treat crates with Halloween items galore, Haunting of Verdansk adds night modes to event maps, zombie battle royale, scavenger hunts, and much, much more.


[Source: Call of Duty]


Minecraft Dungeons Spooky Fall Halloween Event


Spooky Fall is coming to Minecraft Dungeons from October 26 until November 3 with challenges and rewards galore.


Seasonal Trials are summoning up ghoulish mobs for players to take on. If that weren't spoopy enough, the event turns down the lights with Night Mode — but only until the event ends.


Completing the Season Trials earns exclusive seasonal weapons and gear, whether Night Mode is enabled or not.


Elder Scrolls Online Halloween — Witches Festival 2021


Elder Scrolls Online's annual Halloween Witches Festival is back once more with double XP and plenty of treats to go around. ESO's 2020 Witches Festival runs from October 22 at 10 a.m. EST through November 3 at the same time.


If this is your first time taking part, you'll need to complete "The Witchmother's Bargain" quest from the Crown Store and earn the Witchmother's Whistle item. If you already have it, just select it from your collections to get started.


Using the Whistle kicks off a two-hour period of bonus XP, but there's a lot more.


Players can earn new mementos, furnishings, and Dremora and Hollowjack-themed items through Plunder Skulls earned in battle.


Bosses drop Dremora Plunder Skulls with extra goods, including treasure maps and pages for the Grave Digger weapon style.


There's the final evolution of the Indrik, a costume gala, grab bags, deals, and more. Check out the full details on the ESO event site.


Overwatch Junkenstein 2020


Overwatch's Halloween Terror 2020 event, aka Junkenstein 2020, is live now through November 3, bringing the Junkenstein's Revenge Brawl back alongside new skins and more.


Baptiste and Ashe are added to the brawl mix as playable characters this year, and there are weekly challenges to take on to earn new skins.


These are the new Legendary skins for the Halloween Terror 2020 event:

  • Karasu-Tengu (Genji)
  • \n
  • Dai-Tengu (Hanzo)
  • \n
  • Werewolf (Winsto)
  • \n
  • Flying Dutchman (Sigma)
  • \n
  • Shin-Ryeong (D.Va)
  • \n

That's in addition to three new Epic skins:

  • Fantasma (Sombra)
  • \n
  • Stone (Brigitte)
  • \n
  • Ragdoll (Echo)
  • \n

Here' the schedule of events.


October 13-20

  • Vengeful Ghost — get chased by ghosts
  • \n
  • Frenzied Stampede — chase down fast-moving zomnics
  • \n

October 20-27

  • Volatile Zomnics — zomnics explode when you get close
  • \n
  • Three They Were — take on missions with just three characters
  • \n

October 27-November 3

  • Mystery Swap — heroes get randomly changed
  • \n
  • Shocking Surprise — shock tires spawn from defeated enemies
  • \n

Overcooked! 2  Moon Harvest Festival


Overcooked! 2's Halloween celebration isn't technically Halloween-themed. It's in honor of harvest and autumn celebrations throughout eastern Asia, but it's fall-ish, so it works.


Better yet, it's a free update with no end time, and the content will appear in Overcooked! All You Can Eat for next-gen consoles.


Overcooked! 2's Moon Harvest Festival introduces new kitchens themed around water and lily pad obstacles. There are five new levels total, plus three succulent-looking mooncakes to add to the menu.


Doom Eternal Halloween 2020


Doom Eternal's Halloween 2020 event is pretty straightforward. Until October 29, log in every day, complete campaign missions to earn XP, play Battlemode, and complete weekly challenges to unlock skins. Challenges refresh every Thursday.


These Doom Eternal skins include:

  • Halloween Slayer
  • \n
  • Black Widow Mancubus
  • \n
  • Webenant Revenant
  • \n
  • Cultist Marauder
  • \n

[Source: Bethesda]


Dragalia Lost — Postmortem Panic


Dragalia Lost's Halloween event for 2020 is Postmortem Panic, a series of increasingly difficult challenges with a slew of rewards. It's live from October 12 at 2 a.m. through October 19 at the same time, but the event rewards can be claimed until October 26 at 1:59 a.m.


Postmortem Panic divides its missions by difficulty. Completing all the challenges at one tier earns battle charts and stratagems for unlocking the next level of quest.


Some of these are special dragon battle challenges, pitting adventurers against the toughest of foes like Astral High Mercury.


Victory earns wind and water tomes to unlock new skills for certain characters, while completing quests earns primal crystals used for treasure trading.


[Source: Nintendo of America]


Splatoon 2 Halloween Splatfest — Splatoween


Splatoon 2 is hosting a Halloween Splatfest called Splatoween, where the Tricks face off against the Treats. The special Splatfest kicks off on October 30 at 6 p.m. EST/3 p.m. PST and runs through November 1 at 5 p.m. EST/2 p.m. PST.


During the event, players can get their tentacles on some Halloween Splatoon 2 gear, including:

  • Kyonshi Hat
  • \n
  • Li'l Devil Horns
  • \n
  • Hockey Mask
  • \n
  • Anglerfish Mask
  • \n

These will be available via a Switch News article, so make sure you're signed up to get Splatoon 2 news on your Switch system. 


Star Citizen: Alpha 3.11 High Impact and Halloween


Star Citizen's Alpha 3.11 update includes a bounty of additions, and among them is Star Citizen's first-ever Halloween event. It kicked off earlier this month and runs through Halloween on October 31.


During the event, players can earn Halloween helmets and a special Day of the Vara Cutlass skin. There's a cosplay competition and even a pumpkin carving contest with plenty of "sweet prizes" in store for those who take part.


Borderlands 3 Halloween — Bloody Harvest Returns


Borderlands 3's Bloody Harvest Halloween event is back for October 2020. The ghoulish festivities run through November 5, and it's easier than ever to get your hands on some sweet, ghastly gear.


To kick things off, head to Sanctuary III, and speak with Maurice. Maurice tasks you with collecting Hecktoplasm from haunted enemies, easily spotted by their ghostly green glow.


Defeating haunted enemies spawns specters you'll need to defeat as well, and that's when you finally get ahold of Hecktoplasm.


After collecting enough of Hecktoplasm, Maurice opens the gate to Heck, where you can chat with Captain Haunt to access a number of quests, through which you'll earn Bloody Harvest items and cosmetics.


This year, the Bloody Harvest quests are less demanding than before, making it easier to get loot.

  • 4 challenges completed  “A Shrinking Feeling" weapon trinket
  • \n
  • 8 challenges completed  "Message from Beyond" ECHO Device skin
  • \n
  • 12 challenges completed  "Haunted Look" shared Vault Hunter skin
  • \n
  • 15 challenges completed  "Porphyrophobia" weapon skin
  • \n

Destiny 2: Festival of the Lost 2020


Destiny 2 brings back the Festival of the Lost and the Haunted Forest for 2020, with new weapons, triumphs, armor sets, and cosmetics for Exotics to celebrate the spookiest season of the year. Festival of the Lost 2020 is free for all Destiny 2 players and runs from October 6 through November 3. 


Festival of the Lost 2020 adds new perk rolls for the Braytech Werewolf and Horror Story, plus new sets for a few classes:

  • Hunter — Lycanthrope Set
  • \n
  • Warlock — Daywalker (vampire) Set
  • \n
  • Titan — Promethean Set
  • \n

On the official Festival of the Lost blog post, Bungie provided more information on the Halloween event. The Spider is a new NPC that gives players Cipher Decoders that unlock special chests at the end of The Haunted Forest. The chests are worth pursuing because they contain Legendary items specific to the Festival of the Lost. 


Rounding things out, there are new Sparrow skins available, as well as festival masks and vanity items for various armor sets, including broomsticks and witch hats. 


Resident Evil Resistance October Update


Resident Evil Resistance has a big October update in store, which is basically a Halloween update without actually being called a Halloween update.


Jill Valentine joins the ranks of the Survivors, with powerful weapons and her characteristic dodge mechanic from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis remake. And as is only fitting, Nemesis itself is a playable Mastermind for the first time. Players control Nemesis through playing as Nicholai, another new Mastermind.


The Prison is a new map added in RE Resistance's October update, and the Uptown Raccoon City and Bemusement Park maps get a remix with new layouts.


Finally is a slew of new costumes and weapon skins, Survivors' perks and customizable abilities, and Mastermind traps.


[Source: Capcom]


Grounded October Update


Grounded’s October update adds ziplines and more to the survival game, including some Halloween-themed items. The initial announcement is relatively light on details, but players can expect decorations, recreational items, and doodads to use with friends. These include harvestable Candy Corn and a new landmark in the Frankenline, which is described as "a creepy discarded Etch-a-Sketch you can actually draw on."


Aside from washing The Backyard in a spooky glow, the October update for Grounded does a lot on the backend as well, including fixing a handful of bugs, fine-tuning combat, and unlocking new perks. You can see the full patch notes here


Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath  All Hallows' Eve


Mortal Kombat 11 Aftermath is getting some Halloween goodness with the All Hallows’ Eve character skin pack. It’s available now and is free for Aftermath owners. Those who haven’t upgraded to Aftermath yet would need to purchase the expansion, which also unlocks the Summer Heat and Femme Fatale packs from earlier in 2020. 


Mortal Kombat 11’s All Hallows’ Eve skin pack trailer highlighted three of the included skins. One is the “Blizzard King” outfit for Sub-Zero, and then there’s the part-werewolf part-school spirit “Beast Within” skin for Johnny Cage. Then there’ “Bad Medicine” for D’Vorah, turning the Kytinn fighter into a spidery nurse from hell. 


It’s not certain if Warner Bros. is adding anything else to Mortal Kombat 11’s Halloween event, but we’ll update if something new turns up.


Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Halloween


The Halloween fun isn’t limited to New Horizons, as Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp celebrates spooky season in its own way. The 2020 Pocket Camp Halloween event features a number of special activities with ghoulish treats on offer for those who complete certain goals.


Jack comes around and demands sweet treats. Hand over bat-themed lollipops to get bat furniture as a reward, and plant pumpkins during the month’s Garden Event to nab hatbats. Jack offers exclusive items such as mystical pumpkins in return.


Taking part in the October Fishing Tourney nets some goodies as well, with potion-themed furniture on offer every time players reach a size goal with the fish they catch.


Then there’s a fright night gyroidite scavenger hunt, new Happy Home classes and challenges, wall and carpet sets, special cookie items and more. The Pocket Camp Halloween and October events are live now.


Animal Crossing: New Horizons Halloween


Animal Crossing: New Horizons' Halloween update is available to download for free now, and it’s bringing more than just the Czar of Halloween to the island. 


Animal Crossing patch 1.5 paves the way for Halloween by adding Candy as an item players can purchase from the Nooklings’ store and pumpkins as growable DIY fodder.


The patch 1.5 trailer shows players planting, watering, and harvesting at least four different pumpkin varieties and then using them in various Halloween-themed DIY recipes.


On Halloween night (October 31), Jack himself visits the island. It’s not clear yet what he requires of the player, but all the residents will be lurking about, asking for Candy and showing off their costumes.


The patch adds new skin tone options for players to look their creepy best as well. We’ll update with more information about what New Horizons Halloween brings to the table as it becomes available.


Monster Hunter: World Iceborne — Fun Fright Fest


Capcom’s brewing up a special Monster Hunter: World Iceborne Halloween event called the Fun Fright Fest, part of the hefty Title Update 5. It runs from October 15 at 8 p.m. EST through November 5 at the same time and is exclusive to the expansion.


The Autumn Harvest Fest is returning to the base Monster Hunter: World game, but Capcom hasn’t said much about it yet.


Fun Fright Fest (starting at 7:06 in the above trailer) sees the Seliana Gathering Hub decked out with spooky furnishings, and the handler dons a Cute Demoness outfit to celebrate the occasion. There are two special ticket types to collect during the event and trade in for loot: the Fun Fright Ticket and the VIP Fun Fright Ticket. 


The former get doled out as daily login bonuses for the MHW Halloween event and can be used to craft armor with Decoration slots. Players can exchange the latter for in-game decorations and Layered Armor, but these are only available as random item drops. Both ticket types can be exchanged for Melding Tickets too.


There’s at least one new set of armor coming to the Fun Fright Fest, Demon Lord Alpha+. Wearing pieces of this armor set increases the chance of getting VIP Fun Fright Tickets.


Capcom may reveal more about Monster Hunter: World Iceborne’s Fun Fright Fest as the start date approaches, and we’ll update if that happens.


Killing Floor 2: Infernal Insurrection


It wouldn’t be Halloween without Killing Floor 2’s annual Halloween celebrations, and 2020 is no different. This year’s Halloween event is Killing Floor 2: Infernal Insurrection, and it brings treats galore, including new weapons, maps, and cosmetics.


Infernal Insurrection’s new map is Hallmark Station, a twisted take on London’s famous King’s Cross Station. Hallmark Station has been overrun by zeds, of course, and players must team up with fellow mercenaries to take down the demonic threat. Hellmark Station includes Survival, Endless, and Weekly modes.


Two new HRG weapons make their debut in Killing Floor 2’s Halloween event.

  • HRG Scorcher (Firebug class bonus) — a flare gun that marks targets by setting them on fire
  • \n
  • HRG Arc Generator (Survivalist class bonus) — fires EMP blasts in short bursts or powerful charges
  • \n

From now until November 10, Killing Floor 2 is also introducing a number of Halloween events, objectives, bonuses, and cosmetics.


October 2020 is upon us, which means it's time for scary movies, The Simpsons Tree House of Horror, and Halloween events in all our favorite video games! While we're still on announcements from Overwatch and Apex Legends, games like Killing Floor 2Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and MHW already have their in-game-event plans laid out for the spooky season.


From new weapons and outfits to new DIY recipes and Palico Halloween costumes, there are plenty of tricks, and even more treats, in store for the witching month. 


Games that haven't announced Halloween plans yet likely will in the coming weeks, and we'll update this list of Halloween events when that happens. Be sure to bookmark this and check back throughout October!

Aquanox: Deep Descent Hands-On Preview — Muddy Waters Thu, 24 Sep 2020 19:57:03 -0400 Jonathan Moore

It’s been a long time since games like Aquanox and Descent ruled the seas and the voids of space, and while we’re still awaiting the latter to make its triumphant return, the former will soon return to take fans of 6DOF vehicle shooters back to the crushing depth of the ocean. 

Aquanox: Deep Descent is a reimagining of the 2001 game of the same name. While I’ve played plenty of Descent and games like it, such as Sublevel Zero, I had never jumped into the Aquanox cockpit until recently, when I was invited to go hands-on with a roughly one-hour preview of Deep Descent

Things like movement and combat take a little getting used. Still, once you begin to understand how the game’s mechanics work and gain access to other ships and modules, Aquanox: Deep Descent starts to morph into a fun and somewhat addicting first-person combat sim.

To give myself greater context into the Aquanox games, I purchased the 2001 version of Aquanox on Steam after giving Deep Descent a whirl. 

Both games take place in an underwater world where humanity has escaped the dead and dying land above. Aqua, though, is full of warring factions and governments, and it plays host to mutated creatures hell-bent on your destruction. 

Deep Descent’s narrative isn’t as immediately gripping as the story in 2001’s Aquanox, which ebbs and flows in a dramatic X-Files like presentation, but it is seemingly more focused on a grander social commentary not found in the original — at least in its opening acts. 

Voice acting is currently hit or miss, with some characters nailing the appropriate tone of the world, while others are far less polished. Dialog remains lore heavy, but the pacing is still a bit off, something that I hope is addressed by the time the game releases in October. 

Unlike 2001’s Aquanox, which focused on a singular protagonist, Deep Descent introduces players to four characters with various backgrounds. They’re presented in a somewhat tone-deaf, hero-shootery way, and don’t seem to have much bearing on the overall story yet.

The game will feature drop-in co op and PvP at launch (though I wasn’t able to test multiplayer here), so it will be interesting to see how these characters play into that and if they bring their own skills to the table. 

Where the narrative seems to diverge from the original, movement and combat in Deep Descent remains virtually the same. Each ship has base values for stats ranging from speed to hull strength to agility. Ships can also be outfitted with a retinue of weapons from Gatlin cannons to missile launchers and shrapnel guns.

For some vessels, movement can be clunky and downright irritating, especially for those expecting something clippier like Descent. If the demo I played is indicative of how the final game will begin — which I believe it is based on the narrative and mission structure of the two missions available — I am a bit worried that some players may find it hard to forgive Deep Descent for dropping them into a ship that moves like oil through water. 

That’s not helped along by the nature of the game’s initial combat encounters, which can be unforgiving at best, especially if players skip the tutorial or gameplay tips because they want to jump straight into the action. Knowing to lock onto enemies is a complete game-changer, one that makes the game immensely more enjoyable. 

It is worth noting that there will be multiple ships in the final product, as well as modules that can be equipped to those ships. Different makes and models, as well as hull and engine attachments, can be swapped out at ports and will surely make significant differences for players looking to customize the game around their playstyle. 

One vexing bugbear I do hope receives attention before launch is the dodge mechanic. Since Deep Descent is a 6DOF shooter, you can move forward and back, left and right, and up and down. In combat, where enemy ships can quickly melt your shields and hull, dodging is a critical maneuver. 

Darting left and right is simple enough, but the vanilla controls for dodging up and down (double-tapping the spacebar/left CTRL) are also tied to the input for simply moving up and down (holding the spacebar/left CTRL).

Sometimes, the game registers a hold as a tap, sending you flying up or down though you didn’t want to. This can be an instant killer in combat, especially if you get caught in any part of the environment (which will also damage your ship). 

There’s sure to be a lot more to talk about when it comes to Aquanox: Deep Descent, including its beautifully rendered but sometimes drab environments, as well as its economy, trading systems, and side quests. But that will have to wait until our final review in the coming weeks. 

Overall, I’m hopeful for what Digital Arrow and THQ Nordic are building lives up to the legacy of the games that came before Deep Descent. I have my concerns, especially regarding the game’s initial stages and its difficulty, even on its easiest setting. But it’s hard to judge a game entirely by the first hour or so. 

For what it’s worth, I’ve played through the missions four times now, growing to enjoy the game more each time. Despite my initial reservations, that’s got to count for something. 

Stay tuned for more on Aquanox: Deep Descent, which will release on October 16 for PC and retail for $29.99. 

Xbox Game Pass vs. PlayStation Plus Collection: What is the Difference? Tue, 22 Sep 2020 13:05:10 -0400 Mark Delaney

We now know everything we need to know about the PS5 and Xbox Series X and Series S as we head toward their exciting November launches. Prices have finally been revealed, specs were shared long ago, and launch lineups have been determined, barring a few last-minute moves. 

With the PlayStation Plus Collection revealed at Sony's most recent online showcase, some are wondering how the PS Plus Collection compares to Xbox Game Pass. For those answers, we break down everything they share in common as well as all the ways they're different.

Here's what you need to know about PS Plus Collection vs. Xbox Game Pass.

Are PS Plus Collection and Xbox Game Pass Worth It?

Both the PS Plus Collection and Xbox Game Pass are gaming libraries, but to really understand their value, it's best to start with how players can gain access to each of them.

What is Xbox Game Pass?

Xbox Game Pass is a $9.99 per month subscription on Xbox consoles or Windows PC that gives players what Microsoft advertises as "over 100 games" to play for as long as they subscribe to the service.

There's also Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a $14.99 per month version of Game Pass that bundles Xbox Game Pass for console, PC, and Android devices via the cloud, Xbox Live Gold, and EA Play (EA's own subscription service).

It's worth noting that for many consecutive months and still to this day, the Xbox Game Pass library actually includes more than 200 games with over 150 of those now available on phones and tablets via xCloud

The library of games is ever-shifting, with games coming and going at a pace of at least every few weeks. But normally, when a game hits the Game Pass library, it remains there for at least several months and often over a year. You can find the full list of current Game Pass titles on

Game Pass also includes many indie games, as well as every Microsoft first-party game on their launch days for no additional fee. This includes upcoming games such as Fable, State of Decay 3, Halo Infinite, and Gears Tactics among many more.

What is PS Plus Collection?

Unlike Game Pass, which first arrived in 2017, the PS Plus Collection is a new incentive program offered at the launch of the PS5 this November for all PS Plus subscribers.

Sony has bundled 18 of the PS4's most critically acclaimed games, including The Last of Us Remastered, Persona 5, and Batman Arkham Knight, into a single package available for PS5 players who subscribe to PS Plus, Sony's equivalent to Xbox Live Gold. PS Plus is available for subscription at $9.99 per month.

The PS Plus Collection differs from Xbox Game Pass considerably, but above all, it's a difference in volume. While most avid PlayStation players and virtually all those buying a PS5 at launch will already be PS Plus subscribers, making it a seamless collection to claim with your PS5, the library of games is limited to only 18 games, at least for now.

Sony has not clarified whether the PS Plus Collection will grow over time or if it's meant only to reward early adopters with backwards compatible games to play when the PS5 arrives this holiday season. 

It seems more likely that PlayStation will continue to grow its PS Now subscription service rather than the PS Plus Collection, as PS Now is their Game Pass analog. However, until Sony confirms one way or the other, this is honestly our best guess. For now, here's every game included in the PS Plus Collection.

PS Plus Collection games list
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Battlefield 1
  • Bloodborne
  • Days Gone
  • Detroit: Become Human
  • Fallout 4
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • God of War
  • inFAMOUS: Second Son
  • The Last Guardian
  • The Last of Us Remastered
  • Monster Hunter: World
  • Mortal Kombat X
  • Persona 5
  • Ratchet & Clank
  • Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
  • Until Dawn

PlayStation has promised that 99% of PS4 games it's tested for backwards compatibility have worked without a hitch, so these titles are just some of the most exceptional PS4-era games players will have access to when the PS5 arrives. 

Though it contains a dozen PS4 games, the PS Plus Collection is a PS5 program, so these games won't be available to PS4 owners. Think of it as an instant grab bag of great games to play day one on PS5 alongside other new titles such as Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Demon's Souls, Godfall, and Destruction All-Stars.

How long will the PS Plus Collection be available? 

We're still waiting to learn more details about the PS Plus Collection such as how long it will be offered, but for now, it's understood that anyone who is getting a PS5 at launch who also has an active PS Plus subscription will unlock these 18 games for play digitally.

How much is the PS Plus Collection? 

The PS Plus Collection is free for PlayStation Plus Subscribers. As noted above, PlayStation Plus costs $9.99 a month, though there are discounts for subscribing to more than one month at a time, as there are with many other subscription services. There is also a 14-day free trial for new subscribers.

Here are the packages available:

  • 1 month: $9.99
  • 3 months: $24.99
  • 12 months: $59.99

If you're getting a PS5 on launch day, it's extremely likely you already have a PS Plus subscription, and therefore it costs you nothing extra to enjoy this collection, making its value obvious even if you've played many or most of these games already. And if you're new to the subscription, it may be that you've played few or none of these games, thus making it an even more attractive offer.

Simply put, it's worth it in either case. Having said that, it's also quite obvious that it doesn't really hold a candle to Xbox Game Pass. 18 games versus 200+ just can't reasonably be compared, plus if you factor in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate's many other perks, such as cloud gaming on mobile, EA Play subscription, and more, it becomes a better deal.

Consider third-party "Perks" such as free trials to Discord Nitro, Spotify Premium, and Postmates Unlimited, and Game Pass is the far-and-away industry leader in gaming subscription services.

That's a trend we expect to continue into the next generation. In fact, we're writing this story just hours after Microsoft has acquired ZeniMax, the parent company of Bethesda, and all its properties and IP, including eight more studios. The likes of The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, and Wolfenstein are now under the Microsoft umbrella and will also come to Game Pass at their respective launches.

PS Now will look to grow too, in order to one day keep pace with Game Pass, but for now both the PS Plus Collection and Xbox Game Pass offer great values for what they are, even if the differences make them pretty lopsided for anyone on the fence.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Alpha Impressions: A Huge Hybrid Mon, 21 Sep 2020 15:43:46 -0400 John Schutt

The recent alpha test for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on the PS4 revealed a game in dire need of an identity. It still plays like some of the better games in the storied series. Nevertheless, its various ideas and gameplay mechanics pull from every corner of the franchise, settling on none of them as a foundation for the broader experience.

Everything in Black Ops Cold War is a strange hybrid of what's come before. The class system, the killstreaks and scorestreaks, gun handling, map design — everything is a mishmash of past installments with no clear vision of a way forward.

Cold War is a perfectly enjoyable game, to be sure, and more fun for me than last year's Modern Warfare. However, its hodgepodge nature concerns me for its long-term viability.

The Nuts and Bolts of Gameplay

At its core, Black Ops Cold War is still very much a Call of Duty game. The gunplay is tight, the movement is satisfying, the streaks are powerful, and the maps are able to keep the action constant. It's hard to find anything that doesn't work as intended, but it's equally difficult to discover something that stands out.

The gunplay, for one, is perfectly functional and keeps to the Treyarch tradition of a slower time to kill and a need for more consistent aim. All of the weapons have their quirks and, despite a few standouts, are reasonably balanced. You won't be insta-melting people from across the map with a submachine gun, for instance.

Up close, it's no contest. Unless you catch your opponent off guard, as of the alpha, any of the SMGs will dominate to early mid-range. ARs take over at slightly longer distances, and Tactical Rifles — burst and single-shot weapons — compete at those ranges, as well. Snipers will be receiving significant tuning before the beta, which is welcome as their alpha variations are incredibly powerful.

Light machine guns and shotguns are the odd groups out, as most engagements during the alpha called for faster-moving, more reliable weaponry. You could make them work; it just took adjustment.

If the gunplay is traditional Call of Duty fare, the Create-a-Class system is where Cold War starts to hybridize. There's no Pick 10, a hallmark of Treyarch games for three straight entries. Instead, they smashed it and the Gunsmith system from Modern Warfare 2019 into one odd amalgam that works but is awkward at the best of times.

Wildcards are back, and you can use them to have up to eight attachments on your gun. Or you can have six perks in any combination, or two primary weapons, or multiple grenades.

There are over 50 attachments per weapon, all with their pros and cons, and you get access to several "field upgrades" like a Jammer or Proximity Mines that recharge over time. It's kind of a mess, but it's a mess that works about as well as it can. 

If you were hoping for a familiar return to scorestreaks with Treyarch at the helm, you'd be disappointed there, too. Every action you take does still reward score toward your streak, but because they no longer reset on death, their point values are much, much higher.

Usually, that wouldn't be an issue, but in Cold War, the only way to reliably achieve the highest streaks is to get multiple kills to stack a point bonus. Objective play is incentivized only because it gives a pittance of score: killing is how you progress up the ladder.

It's a combination of every streak system Call of Duty has ever seen: streaks that don't reset like Modern Warfare 3's support variation and builds primarily through kills but gains a little from objective play. Again, kind of a mess.

Maps, Maps, Maps

Looking for a return to standard three-lane maps? Nope, not in Black Ops Cold War.

Map design pays lip service to the three-lane standard, but ditches many of the fundamentals that made older Call of Duty maps flow so well. The asymmetry from Modern Warfare 2019 is back, but very little of its verticality returns. 

The only map with any significant ups or downs is a desert map called Satellite, with its valleys and positions looking down on the rest of the area. The other 6v6 maps in the alpha, Miami and Moscow, are mostly flat with the occasional power position at a slightly higher elevation. 

Despite the alterations to design philosophy, the maps do flow rather well, especially considering how much larger they are than previous entries. Cold War takes cues from Call of Duty 4, constraining troop movement in buildings and hallways to make up for the distance players have to cover between ends of a map. Miami's closest analog is Crossfire from CoD4, for instance, not any "classic Treyarch" design.

And there's nothing "classic Treyarch" about the 12v12 maps in the new Combined Arms Domination mode. Both maps seem more like experiments than well-built play spaces, with Armada taking place in the middle of the ocean on three separate warships. The snow map, called Crossroads, brings tanks back into play, and it's downright huge. 

Neither plays remarkably well, as the spawn system still needs work. Both maps are trying to take notes from the likes of Battlefield without the team or point spawning mechanics that make bigger maps work. As it was in the alpha, no matter how many points a team owned, they would spawn at the same location over and over again.

Thankfully, spawn traps were uncommon, but it was frustrating to hold four flags and have to run for 45 seconds only to be shot in the back and have to repeat the journey.

Aesthetics and Technical Details

You're likely to be disappointed (again) with the graphics of Black Ops Cold War if you were expecting something on par with the technical achievement of Modern Warfare. Models, textures, animations — it's all a downgrade, though not by much. 

In the absence of graphical horsepower, Cold War goes for an 80's action movie aesthetic, mixing the neon streets of Miami with the propaganda-laden halls of a Moscow bus station. Color and variations on theme play a much more significant role in 2020's Call of Duty than in 2019's. Given a choice between the two, I'd rather have a broader focus on brightness than the same shades of washed-out grey and brown. 

Character and world animations are also less realistic and detailed than Modern Warfare, but they all have something last year's game sorely missed: style.

Sure, it might not be realistic to add a flourish when reloading a gun or detonating C4, but Call of Duty isn't the game for all that. Classic entries in the series like Modern Warfare 2 and CoD4 eschew what a reload should look like in favor of the Rule of Cool, where what looks good trumps what's true.

Treyarch has always understood the need for flashiness over function, and while that's downplayed a little here, it's still present. 

There's sadly not as much going for Cold War on its back end. The hit detection, for one thing, has always been spotty in Treyarch games, but it felt way off in the alpha. I could get hit markers by aiming both at my enemy and behind them if they were moving, and the number of times where I put enough bullets into somebody's back only to lose the fight anyway was too high to count, gitting gud notwithstanding.

There were desync issues as well. What I would see and what my enemies would see were often on two different planets. Console remains peer to peer, and there needs to be some serious networking work done to tighten up connections between clients.

Perhaps most troubling of all was the performance and aim assist. I was playing on a standard PS4, and in heated gunfights or with a lot of action on screen, the framerate would start to chug something fierce. Textures and high-res models also took time to load in, sometimes staying low-poly for much longer than they should have any reason to. 

The game also felt clunky to control, especially regarding aiming. The aim assist in Cold War felt egregiously strong. The area where it kicked in was also much larger than the player model, and my aim would sometimes be pulled above someone's head rather than actually on their body. 

Final Thoughts

I'm of two minds about Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War, its overly long name notwithstanding. On the one hand, I enjoyed the core gameplay, and I liked the way it looked, sounded, and felt moment to moment. On the other, I wanted there to be more than just a rehashing and re-smashing of old or borrowed ideas. 

Treyarch is in an impossible scenario, what with a new console generation to design for, being forced to take over development mid-swing, and the ongoing need to work from home. So I get why they had to cut corners, especially on current-gen (because of course, we haven't played next-gen yet). It doesn't make the product we got our hands on feel any more satisfying.

Based on the alpha, if I were to rate Cold War on a sliding scale of Call of Duty games I liked, I'd put it squarely in the middle. It has nothing that made the worst games in the series bad, but nothing that elevates it to the best entries.

Time will tell if new maps, modes, changes, and optimizations can take the game higher. For now, I can confidently say that this game will admirably fill your need for arcadey, shooty fun, but it will do little to knock your socks off.

Batterystaple Games' Chris King Talks 30XX and Building for the Future Fri, 18 Sep 2020 14:55:22 -0400 Josh Broadwell

When asked how he spends his free time when he isn’t developing 30XX, Batterystaples Games’ Chris King said he doesn’t have much of it to spend. 30XX and its predecessor 20XX have taken center stage for King in the last seven years. But when he does have time, he likes to play the same games until he’s mined their depths.

“I’m probably a horrible developer,” King joked, “because I like playing the same game, and look for that momentum that lets you play the same games over and over.”

That understanding of what makes a game tick is how King intends to make 30XX even better than the first game. Ideas for 30XX’s design came from a number of different places, including King’s love of pixel art. But King said the community inspired some of the most significant changes Batterystaple made for 30XX.

30XX's Steam page mentions games like Mega Man X and Binding of Isaac as direct inspirations, but these are more like guide points giving players an idea of what to expect. 

“I never sort of expect to see whatever inspiration hits,” King said. “I try to go out of my way to play something new every week just to always be taking in those fresh perspectives. You never know when you’re gonna find a specific mechanic emotion or feel that you’d like to evoke yourself. ”

It can be anything, from a gameplay style to something as small as a smart UI feature. 

King’s goal in pulling from so many different ideas is making a game people can keep playing for a long time and still get something out of.

That’s also why King made taking 20XX feedback to heart a priority. 

“My approach to making something is building a fun skeleton of something and saying ‘here are a bunch of ideas I think are cool, but what I'd really like is those of you who enjoy this, tell me what you like and what you don’t.’”

He spent eight hours per week sorting through Steam Community comments and Discord mentions when 20XX was in Early Access, and he made it a point to read every email he received. Of course, not every suggestion made it into the game, but many of them, including ideas championed by just one person, shaped 20XX’s design.

Still, there were some areas after 20XX launched that fans and critics thought could be improved.

“We heard from a lot of people saying they just wanted to enjoy the game without roguelike elements,” King said.

So they came up with 30XX’s Mega Mode. 

Mega Mode builds on 20XX’s Revenant mode with a bit of Celeste’s Assist feature in mind. Mega Mode generates a series of levels from the start, and players decide what levels they want in what order and at what difficulty rank. 

Should they fail, there’s no permadeath. Instead, they can try again with no major penalty, taking the pressure out of each playthrough. The levels won’t change until they’re completed either, making it easier to learn the stage’s ins and outs.

It’s meant as an entry point to roguelike newcomers, King said, and there’s an arcade mode for players wanting a similar level of challenge 20XX offers.

The Batterystaple team doubled down for 30XX, and King said it goes “multiple levels deeper for systems, content, and appearance.”

For systems, Batterystaple overhauled Nina’s and Ace’s progression. 

“One of the things we heard the most was that the end of the game felt the same for both characters,” King said, referring to how Nina and Ace ended up following similar progression paths despite playing differently.

That’s not the case for 30XX. The team built Nina’s path around managing energy resources. For example, Nina gets boss weapons and can fuse them in a number of different ways. Some are small, like basic mods to make progression easier. Others are “over the top” combo attacks, but they take more energy and planning to pull off.

Ace gets a host of techniques instead. These are mapped to button controls for players to weave into his basic attacks without worrying about energy resources.

Then there’s the art style change, something King and the team deliberated over for a while before deciding it was the right thing to do.

“I always knew high-quality pixel art would be valuable to the game,” King said.

But they weren’t sure whether it was a good idea.

“We researched to see, and no other games ever released a first installment using vector art and then a sequel using pixel art,” King said. “We didn’t know if there was a reason for that, if it was a bad idea.”

Batterystaple started working on 30XX prototypes using detailed pixel art in 2018 and kept tweaking and working with it.

Now, “I’m just noticing, oh my gosh, I can’t believe it looks this good,” King said.

It’s a significant difference from 20XX. The single-player level for the PAX Online 30XX demo drops Ace or Nina in a cave with glimpses of the outside world. The foreground is full of texture, from multi-faceted, shining jewels to gently pulsing speaker blocks. The glimpses you see of the outside show a richly detailed mountain, almost a shrine, of speakers.

20XX looked good, but 30XX is already carving a strong new visual identity for itself.

It also plays very well for a build that’s yet to even enter alpha. 

King said it’s not the beginning, though. Batterystaple wants to launch 30XX in Early Access sometime in early 2021, where work will continue just like it did for 20XX.

“It would feel foolish not doing Early Access,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of work in our roadmap, but a number of large question marks because we know once we get into early access, there will be tons of feedback to integrate.”

Naturally, that means there’s no solid date in mind for a full 30XX launch, but King said the idea is to stay in Early Access for at least a year so the team can make the best game possible.

Meanwhile, the 30XX pre-alpha demo is live on Steam with a short-but-sweet taste of what's to come. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more 30XX news in the coming months.

Stronghold: Warlords Demo Hands-On — Cry Havoc Fri, 18 Sep 2020 07:00:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Gather your troops, sharpen your axes, and let slip the dogs of war. The Stronghold series is on its way back.

The newest iteration, Stronghold: Warlords, is expected to ship in January 2021, and it offers a nice change of pace from previous games in the series.

We got to go hands-on with the newest demo of Stronghold: Warlords, learning the new systems in an attempt to conquer East Asia. There's a pretty steep learning curve if you've not played the series before, but the combat is extremely tactical and satisfying. The new warlord system also seems poised to offer ever-fluid tactics in each match.

Here's what we thought of this latest demo.

Intricate Strategy

This is a game that rewards patience and strategy, and can pull the rug out from under you in an instant.

Stronghold: Warlords aims to recreate castle economy and siege warfare in an RTS. Because of this, the game puts a premium on a tactical approach. Storming a well-fortified encampment is quite an endeavor, as penetrating thick walls while enemy archers pepper you from towers is a tough puzzle to solve in itself.

Luckily, you have a lot of different tools at your disposal in Stronghold: Warlords. In the latest build we got our hands on, those tools include three tiers of melee troops and three tiers of ranged troops, as well as a multitude of siege options, including ladder troops, cannons that fire flaming rockets, and oxen with fireworks strapped to them (!) that can suicide-bomb walls.

With the East Asia setting, there are all sorts of interesting weapons to play with, as fire and gunpowder innovations are on full display here. Everything looks great as it's playing out on screen, with explosions and fire blasting troops around and units dropping left and right.

It's wild (and a bit overwhelming) to watch play out.

Stronghold: Warlords really encourages you to think tactically; just marching a massive number of axemen at a walled-off fortification is going to get them all killed. This is a game that rewards patience and strategy, and can pull the rug out from under you in an instant.

There was one situation where I wasn't prepared for the AI to employ a certain strategy, and had no answer for its long-range siege weapons when they were brought into play. By the time I'd mustered a counter-attack, it was far (far) too late.

A Steep Curve

The first time we got our hands on a playable build of Stronghold: Warlords, we talked about how steep the learning curve is. That is definitely still the case. When the final version of the game comes out, there will surely be some tutorial tools that help teach you how to play, but in this demo, you are thrown right into the action.

It will take a lot of clicking through buildings and units before you start to figure out how everything works. Certain buildings can only be placed on certain terrains, but how they are actually placed there remains a mystery. Unit strengths vs. unit weaknesses will take both intuition and trial-and-error on your part, especially when you take on the new warlord units.

These are powerful, neutral units that you can win to your side through force or diplomacy. Each Warlord offersto the factions they are currently working with bonuses and strengths in the form of resources and soldiers. A huge part of the early game in each match appears to be trying to pick and win over the warlords who will most benefit your strategy, and then playing to your strengths to overwhelm your opponent's attempts at doing the same.

It will be interesting to see how much variety there is in the Warlord factions in the game's final release and how well balanced they are.

The diplomatic options seem like an interesting wrinkle as well, as you can earn diplomacy points like any other resource and then spend them to receive powerful bonuses. Overwhelming neutral forces with kindness is a unique spin on typical RTS gameplay, though it seems you'll almost always have to switch to brute force when nearing the end of matches.

A Good Taste

Overall, Stronghold: Warlords seems to be shaping up nicely. It's a unique change of pace for the RTS genre that seems more focused on strategy and clever plays rather than twitch reaction speed and micromanagement. The setting allows for some creativity, and it's great fun to watch all the moving pieces engage in a massive battle.

Hopefully, the developers can stick the landing when addressing polish, balance, and the game's learning curve. 

Stronghold: Warlords looks like it could be a great all-nighter when it releases in early 2021. Look for the new demo and give it a shot.

[Note: Firefly Studios provided the build of Stronghold: Warlords used for this hands-on demo.]

Remedy's Next Game is Hidden in Plain Sight in Control Fri, 04 Sep 2020 13:46:27 -0400 Mark Delaney

By now, any Remedy fan worth their tweed jacket should know that 2019's award-winning Control and the 2010 cult classic Alan Wake share a singular story universe.

Even Max Payne and Quantum Break were once considered story siblings of the games in the "Remedy Connected Universe," though they are seemingly being retconned out going forward due to IP law. 

It's pretty exciting stuff, as though Remedy is doing for its mind-bending games what Marvel did for its superheroes on the big screen. In the latest DLC, titled AWE, we learn a lot more about the Control/Alan Wake bridge, and that alone is exciting stuff, but dig deeper, and you'll find even more.

There is another connected game on the horizon, and using my penchant for rifling through every corner of a Remedy game searching for clues, I think I've come away with some big hints as to what's next from Remedy.

Let's get one thing out of the way. This isn't about Alan Wake 2.

Yes, it's true — and awesome  that Remedy essentially confirms a sequel is on the way for that beloved and long-dormant IP, but that much is evident for anyone who makes it to the final cutscene. What I believe I've found is evidence of the next new IP from Remedy, which they have said is on the way and will exist in the Remedy Connected Universe.

The Blessed Organization

While the AWE DLC is loaded with scattered documents to find and read, they largely came in two varieties: those relating to writer Alan Wake and the events of Bright Falls, and something else.

One word kept coming up in those non-Wake materials: "Blessed."

A summary of the Federal Bureau of Control's current understanding of the shadowy Blessed Organization reveals they are considered an elusive group with unknown motives. Still, they have likely manipulated Altered Items and perhaps even intentionally created Objects of Power.

In the lore of Control, this is what they unofficially would call "a big no-no."

So what more do we know about Blessed? Well, the redaction-happy FBC leaves some room for error. Still, it appears as though this paranatural criminal organization was responsible for the Eagle Limited AWE and resulting train crash, which players also investigate in the AWE DLC.

An excerpt from the summary of the event seems to link back to Blessed, with the singular redaction even seeming to fit the name.

The terrorist group was actually already being monitored by the FBC in the 2015 Eagle Limited AWE, as the document above makes clear, which aligns with the suspicion that the group has been in action since at least 1968, according to FBC records.

It also seems as though tempers were once flaring in the Investigations unit according to another found document, which seems to paint a clearer picture of the FBC's struggle to track the group properly while running through its own red tape.

In the below document, an Agent sends a sharply-worded letter to Kirkland, head of Investigations, demanding action on an unnamed terrorist group, which seems to be the Blessed Organization.

It seems the Bureau's preparedness at the Eagle Limited scene at least led to some fruitful arrests. Tracking the group to its hub in the American Midwest, the Bureau was able to take one member into custody, where he eventually confessed to his involvement and even divulged details on other members of the mysterious Blessed Organization.

This is important because, until this point, the FBC still seemed to operate on assumptions or the idea that this group was centralized under such a banner, but as of their 2015 investigation, they've had it confirmed.

That's the most recent element of the investigation the AWE DLC definitively gives us, though one other document has me wondering if there's a connection. In a memo regarding a black market for Altered Items in the Czech Republic, the Bureau openly worries about the apparently increasing awareness of Altered Items. Could it be that the Blessed Organization is partly responsible for the market forming around these items? Add that to their apparent interest in creating an AWE, and their motives are as dangerous as they are suspect. 

A Blessed Sequel?

With all this evidence sorted on our virtual corkboard, what makes me think it's all teasing a new game?

For one, as I said, most of the DLC's collectibles revolve around Alan Wake's disappearance or the events of Bright Falls. A few others are focused on the Fra Mauro AWE  the third in the DLC  but a substantial number of them don't just involve the Blessed Organization, but they do so while rarely saying so bluntly, as though in a meta sense, Remedy wants fans to piece this together.

Another cause for suspicion is in the name itself: Blessed. Remedy has a long history of using either puns for names or making names out of unconventional words: Max Payne, Alan and Alice Wake (awake), Beth Wilder and Paul Serene, Jesse Faden (fade in or fading). The list goes on.

As a document above implies, the Blessed Organization may come from someone with the last name Bless, and doesn't that just sound like a character in a future Remedy game?

While the close ties to AWEs might make you think these are Control sequel teases, remember that everything we saw in Bright Falls is also an AWE. So the Federal Bureau of Control may just have its hands in everything moving forward in the Remedy Connected Universe. If these Blessed plot points are to play a pivotal role in a future Remedy game, all of this background on them years ahead of time would echo how we learned a lot about the plot of Control in a 2012 Remedy ARG, long before Jesse Faden stepped foot in the bureau. 

The most significant link of all comes by way of the Oceanview Motel. The recurring in-between space is still not entirely understood. Yet, throughout Control, Jesse routinely traverses it to advance back to and through The Oldest House, always moving through a door with an inverted black pyramid painted on it.

In the AWE DLC, two crucial revelations are made in the Oceanview Hotel. For one, it seems as though Alan has used a separate door, one with a spiral painted on it. Jesse has never gone through this door, but the story suggests Alan is on the other side of it, perhaps even literally.

That's a big deal on its own, as it suggests the Oceanview Motel may be the transit center for traveling between different worlds in the Remedy Connected Universe.

More than that, a third door has another symbol on it: two overlapping circles with a dot in the middle, like a Venn diagram turned 90 degrees. This symbol is referenced in the AWE DLC as possibly being the insignia for the Blessed Organization, as it's found at different scenes where they are assumed to have visited.

We know two doors in the motel lead to two different worlds, and this links a third to a third door. Remarkably, there are six doors in total locked away with different symbols on them. Does this mean there will one day be six Remedy Connected Universe stories to tell?

My mind is racing at the possibilities.

Remedy has promised to work on a swifter schedule with its games going forward, and they're already about to launch their next one with the story mode for CrossfireX on Xbox. But after that, they've revealed they have two games in development.

At least one is in the Remedy Connected Universe, per their words, and it seems at least one is Alan Wake 2. Could they be the same game? Yes. But if not, that makes both games new RCU entries, and in that case, we may have already seen a preview of what's to come.

It certainly feels like a blessed time to be a Remedy fan, doesn't it? 

Outriders Multiplayer Hands-On: World Tiers, Crafting, and Technomancers Tue, 25 Aug 2020 12:30:01 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Outriders is still shaping up to be one hell of a good time. I was able to go hands-on with a new portion of the game earlier this month, and I came away impressed with the third-person looter shooter yet again.

Though neither its world nor its characters grabbed me as much as they first did, the gameplay remains tight, and the core mechanics, specifically synergizing abilities with teammates in co op multiplayer, makes for intense, often rewarding encounters. Its robust crafting system, which we hadn't seen until now, is smart, accessible, and deep. And the new Technomancer class adds a new way for players to strategize in combat. 

Square-Enix dropped my fireteam of three outriders about 15 hours into the game, and we were able to explore the semi-open world for about two and a half hours. We were given Level 30 characters, an epic gear loadout, and access to the entire skill tree for our chosen class.

I didn't get to experience much of Outriders' World Tier system in my first hands-on demo back in late February, where my playthrough was locked to World Tier 1. Here, though, my team began on World Tier 5 (there are 15 in all, according to Square).  

World Tiers are a dynamic difficulty system in Outriders where levels scale up or down based on player performance. Enemies get harder, and the loot gets better. Even at Level 30 with epic gear, though, Tier 5 was challenging, to say the least. Torrents of enemies flood the screen, and captains unleash vicious, unrelenting attacks. Accuracy, ammo conservation, and strategic use of skills are paramount for even the most well-armed team. 

Perhaps it was because my team was thrown directly into the fray before acclimating to the game or that our class composition (two Technomancers and a Trickster) wasn't ideal, but in some ways, it feels that the difficulty is a bit tough at higher levels and too disparate between World Tiers. 

The higher you go, the more bullet sponges you'll encounter, with Tier 5 enemies taking dozens of critical headshots to bring down. A duo of enemy captains can quickly overwhelm teams, soaking up all of the ammo on the battlefield in quick order. It does give me some pause that the system isn't quite balanced yet.

As expected in a shooter like Outriders, cover is a must, and, as my poor teammates learned from my initial enthusiasm, running straight ahead can lead to a quick death, stranding you from your fireteam easily. Enemies bead on you really quickly, even from across the map without long-range weapons. It does make some encounters frustrating if only because you feel like you're stuck in cover until you thin out the horde. 

But that's where class abilities come into play. 

We've known since February that players can respec the entire skill tree at will, but being able to try new passive abilities in real-time without being permanently locked into a particular build is immensely liberating. Staple skill upgrades are here, such as increasing your health and increasing close-range weapons damage, decreasing damage taken from specific enemies and decreasing cooldowns.

Being able to mix and match or completely start over without penalty encourages class experimentation and gives players a monumental amount of freedom in each encounter. Though skill trees culminate in one of three subclasses, players are afforded flexibility in their choices and are even allowed to mix skills from various branches on a situational basis. 

The system further highlights the strategic elements present in every encounter, and it blends well with gear and weapon passives, which provide more granular control of classes and loadout.

A piece of upper-body armor may reduce damage taken from elite enemies or increase the damage or duration of a particular class skill by a certain percentage. An auto-shotgun may have a mod that makes enemies more vulnerable for a period of time, or an LMG may have bullets that explode into shrapnel after killing an enemy, wounding others nearby.

It's a deep modding and crafting system that we haven't yet seen. What's really interesting is that players have an amount of direct control over the progression of certain items. Item rarity can be improved from one color to another by spending resources harvested in the world. Typically, this increases the armor or firepower value of an item, but it can also unlock new mod slots that can be switched out on the fly. 

Players can also raise the attributes of a weapon or a piece of gear, as well as increase the overall level of an item. Attributes focus on things such as armor-piercing damage and long-range damage for weapons and anomaly power and cooldown reduction for armor.

Weapons also have variants that can be swapped in and out, effectively making them vastly different firearms. A Burst Fire AR variant, for example, can be switched over for a Demolisher AR variant, which has a higher capacity clip and can shoot faster. However, it takes big hits to accuracy and stability.

It's not just about finding new gear in the world; it's also about picking up gear and finding ways to make it better to fit a specific playstyle.

Crafting is done at the Outrider camp, a mobile base of operations that moves along with the outriders from place to place. Here, players can also speak with NPCs for missions, find a squad for multiplayer, restock ammo, access their stash of weapons and gear, and change their appearance. 

The star of this hands-on session, though, was the brand-new Technomancer class, an altered that controls technology to devastating effect. It separates itself from the elemental-based classes of the Pyromancer, the Devastator, and the Trickster by conjuring weapons and explosives. Though I did not play as the Technomancer, the effect of the class on battles is already palpable.

Despite its access to immense firepower, where my teammates were able to summon devastating mini-guns and proximity mines, the Technomancer is ultimately a support class focused on crowd control and dealing damage over time. It's also the only Outriders' class that can heal teammates "at the press of a button," giving it a unique place in each team composition. 

Alongside the powers of my Trickster, we were able to slow enemy movements to a crawl before laying waste to large swaths of them with an array of rockets or well-placed grenades. These moments, where class synergies combine, are some of the most engaging in Outriders, and they flow naturally.

Though, my teammates and I were on comms, we didn't verbally communicate all that often. Instead, we fed off of each other's abilities, learning in the field, and combining skills as they were unleashed.

It's a smart, organic, and effective interplay between the game's mechanics and the ferocity of its presentation. It feels good to pull these synergies off and advance, to work together to outwit an enemy captain by syncing with the groove of combat. 

Unfortunately, the world of Enoch didn't feel as unique or intriguing this time around. With tinges of other post-apocalypses peppered across its environments, it felt, at times overwhelmingly, like I had seen this all before. One character deeply reminds me of another from a famous Ubisoft franchise, and some of the environments feel directly pulled out of games like Fallout 4, Destiny 2, or Anthem.

That's not to say the world itself isn't beautiful, but instead that it's sometimes generic, not nearly as captivating as its many systems and subsystems. To be fair, some of that feeling can be attributed to being thrown into the middle of the game, so we'll have to wait and see.

Of course, there are the staple journal entries to find, as well as secondary mission types, bounties, and hunter quests. Bounties are scattered across the world and can be started at any time by picking up a wanted poster, while hunter quests involve hunting down some of Enoch's most ferocious wildlife. 

I'm very much looking forward to what else Outriders has in store. Though my expectations of its world and story are more tempered than they were pre-pandemic, there's a lot to love here. If I could give Outriders one ringing endorsement so far, it would be this: I just want to keep playing it.

And that's what has me hopeful for what's to come.

Outriders is set to release on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X later this Holiday. It will launch on both Steam and the Epic Games Store. 

Rogue Legacy 2 Early Access Review: Back at the Castle Gates Tue, 18 Aug 2020 15:04:18 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

The original Rogue Legacy was a lovely little platforming roguelike perfect for both quick gaming sessions or longer, more intense dives. It released all the way back in 2013, however, and Cellar Door Games is finally back with a proper sequel in Rogue Legacy 2.

It's out now in Early Access and, even in its extremely early stages, certain aspects of it are very strong. The bones of the game are solid, even if much of the content is yet to be implemented.

If you want a difficult but fair platformer with some fun randomization aspects, Rogue Legacy 2 is a perfect fit, even if it's not dramatically different from the original. 

Rogue Legacy 2 Early Access Review: Back at the Castle Gates

At its heart, Rogue Legacy 2 is an old-school, 2D platformer with roguelike aspects added on. You hop and slice your way through procedurally generated rooms, overcoming enemies and zipping between ledges over perilous spike traps. Your ultimate goal is to defeat the boss of each zone, eventually making your way into the final battle. Your immediate goal is to collect treasure.

Each time you die (and you will die a lot), you'll find yourself back at the castle entrance with all the gold you accumulated on your previous run. You'll use that to buy upgrades and equipment that will then be available on every subsequent run.

Eventually, your characters will become exponentially stronger, slicing up foes in a single swipe and laughing off damage that once sent your health bar plummeting. This will let you go even longer and further without dying, allowing you to buy even better upgrades for the next run.

It isn't just the levels that are randomly generated, either. At the start of each run, you'll have a few randomly generated characters to choose from, too. They aren't totally arbitrary, but aspects like their classes, spells and abilities, and traits are all drawn from a random pool of options.

The framing device for Rogue Legacy 2 is that each character is the heir to the previous one. This essentially means that you're sending an entire family tree through the wood chipper in a quest for gold and glory.

Positives and Negatives

The traits you can choose from are the lifeblood of Rogue Legacy 2, helping to shape each run from the onset. Some traits are inherently powerful and unlock special abilities. Some are funny, while others are simply cosmetic. Some are downright debilitating, and many of the extremely negative ones offer massive percentage increases to how much gold you accumulate. This makes every trait combination worth considering, as taking an underpowered character into the fray and still getting a decent run can reap huge benefits down the line.

The downside to this system is that some of the traits just... suck. There's one that throttles all your attacks and abilities with a really long cooldown. Unlike the fun "Pacifist" trait that makes you rethink the way you approach the game, this one just reduces everything to a slog.

There is also a pair of traits that makes either close or far away objects blurry, and it literally hurt my head to look at. After a few times of trying to struggle through, I wound up refusing to play a single run with a character who had either trait. Hopefully, these are aspects that get ironed out as the title moves through Early Access.

Precision Platforming

Just like the original game, Rogue Legacy 2's platforming feels very good. You can jump high and easily maneuver your character through obstacles and areas, but many of the rooms have dastardly fireball traps or inconveniently located spikes. Often, obstacles like these can be entirely ignored if you just want to work your way through the room, as there are tons of branching paths to follow and secrets to find.

However, since most runs are about gathering as much treasure as possible, you're going to be tempted by that treasure chest just past all those enemies.

Luckily, you've got a lot of tricks up your sleeve, too. As you progress through the game, you'll start to unlock new abilities, like an air dash and a Super Mario World-esque damage-dodging spin jump. When everything comes together with proper planning and execution, you'll fly through rooms like a sword-wielding pinball, slicing through enemies completely unscathed. Other times, something will go wrong immediately, and you'll be quickly sent packing back to the castle entrance.

Luckily, Rogue Legacy 2 is designed so these restarts are rarely frustrating, especially if you tend towards the challenge and bonus gold of those negative traits.

Work In Progress

Though the platforming in Rogue Legacy 2 feels like a solid upgrade over the original game, it is also symptomatic of the game's biggest flaw: it feels a little too similar. After just a few hours of Rogue Legacy 2, the lines began to blur to the point where it feels a bit more like Rogue Legacy 1.5 than a true sequel.

Part of that could be that the game is still in very early Early Access. For example, the developers ultimately hope to have five or six distinct "biomes" in the final game. As of right now, they have what they call "1.5 biomes."

The first is a pretty standard castle, which feels and looks very similar to the original area in the first game. The ".5 biome" has a unique look but not many unique enemies and the game offers a sneak peek at a third biome that is also unique. However, it's a bummer that the first area feels like a copy of the first world from the original Rogue Legacy.

There are tweaks throughout, but the classes, enemies, bonuses  everything — feels very, very similar to the first game. For some, that's not going to be an issue at all. However, if you already wore out your welcome in the original, you may want to hold off on Rogue Legacy 2 to see if the new content does anything to tickle your fancy.

Cellar Door Games says there will be major updates every couple of months or so (there's even a patch countdown indicator on the menu screen), and that they hope version 1.0 hits about a year from now.

Some folks love participating in the Early Access process, and Cellar Door Games has proven to be a savvy studio that listens to fan feedback and remains pretty transparent. However, don't buy Rogue Legacy 2 on its EA release date and hope for a complete game  there's a lot of stuff that isn't here yet.

Rogue Legacy 2 Early Access Review — The Bottom Line

  • Rock-solid platforming
  • Customizable difficulty through character traits
  • Improves on many aspects that made the original good
  • Feels a bit too similar to the original
  • Content is lacking severely at the moment

I love the original Rogue Legacy, and the sequel feels great. If you just want more, and upgraded at that, then it's a slam dunk for you. However, if you're turned off by "unfinished," then you may want to hold out on this one.

It doesn't hide the fact that it's Early Access, but it is still extremely early on. We have no doubt that new content that makes its way into Rogue Legacy 2 will be high quality, but some gamers will definitely want to wait until a few more patches have come through.

[Note: Cellar Door Games provided the copy of Rogue Legacy 2 used in this Early Access review.]

Iron Harvest Hands-On Preview: Steampunk Strategy Fri, 14 Aug 2020 09:00:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

To say nothing else of Iron Harvest, it is a world that instantly makes you pay attention. Based on the art of Jakub Rosalski (which is also where the world of the board game Scythe came from), Iron Harvest takes a rural, post-WWI Europe and drops gigantic mechs right in the middle of it. Looking at artwork and screenshots, you can't help but get sucked in by curiosity.

Luckily, there's a lot more to this RTS than just a pretty face. Iron Harvest has a pretty impressive real-time strategy skeleton underneath its veneer, with plenty of opportunities for players to adapt to and outwit their opponents.

Iron Harvest also provides hard enough counters that matches never feel totally lost; there's always an opportunity to build up an army that can fight back against a complacent opponent.

We got our hands on a preview build of Iron Harvest, and we like what we've seen so far.

Mechanical Monstrosities

A tank mech with eight legs guards a depot scattered with powerlines and industrial machinery.

Iron Harvest is essentially a skirmish-style RTS set in the "World of 1920+." It's an alternate reality based in Europe after World War I, with factions loosely based on real-world countries.

The central powers in Iron Harvest are the nations Rusviet, Saxony, and Polania. Rusviet is an amalgamation of Soviet powers. Saxony is a combination of western European countries. And Polania is the somewhat scrappy underdog, sandwiched between the two massive empires.

All of this sounds like pretty standard RTS stuff, but what helps set Iron Harvest apart from the rest are its mechs. This is a world where Nikola Tesla has worked his magic, and huge, mechanical war machines roam the countryside.

Unlike the slick mechs you'll see in some anime, however, these mechs are big, clunky beasts. They look like combinations of repurposed farm equipment and walking tanks. The first mech you encounter in the game is best described as a barrel with legs.

Watching these wobbly, clunky weapons of war steamroll across the battlefield, wiping out entire infantry battalions, is extremely satisfying.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Three Saxony soldiers in blue and a spider-tank guard a barbedwire barricade in a city at night.

Even though the mechs are impressive, you won't wield massive armies of them. You have a lot of other tactical options to take into account, and sometimes, a massive swarm of infantry groups is more successful than a handful of lumbering brutes.

Generally, your smaller troops have stronger tactical options, and their ability to maneuver and adapt to more situations allows them to be effective in the hands of a savvy commander.

Infantry units can serve different purposes, and each faction's troops have a few varying details that help them stand out. For example, Polania's basic infantry carries bolt-action rifles, while Rusviet's infantry carries shotguns. In certain situations, you'll find yourself wishing you had the troops your faction doesn't have, and a huge aspect of finding success in Iron Harvest is putting yourself in situations where your troops have the advantage.

On top of that, troops can hide inside buildings, take cover against walls or in bushes, seek higher ground, and even lay out landmines, barbed wire, and other obstacles. If you kill an enemy unit, they may drop weapons that an existing unit can acquire and use, changing the makeup of your army on the fly.

Even a military composed of just a few engineers can put some serious hurt on opposing mechs if you strategize correctly by laying some traps, setting up an ambush, and avoiding detection in the open field. Brute force might overcome you, but a savvy strategy can trump superior firepower in Iron Harvest.

Economics 101

Cranes sit idle at the edge of an industrial railyard in the early morning, smoke stacks in the distance.

The economy and base building aspect of Iron Harvest is relatively simple, but it gets the job done. There are two resources to manage and a handful of buildings that let you churn out units and upgrades.

Having a strong economy is key to overcoming some missions, but Iron Harvest seems more focused on tactics and warfare than out-resourcing your opponent.

There are resource stockpiles scattered throughout the various maps, and there are also buildings you can "control" that give you a set amount of resources over time.

Controlling more buildings will give you more iron or oil per second, for example, and these buildings can change hands easily if not properly defended. At the same time, spreading yourself too thin over a map is just asking to be shredded by an opposing army.

A Winning Personality

Polania soldiers hide behind a rail car in a rail yard waiting to attack unsuspecting enemy soldiers and mechs.

One of the trickiest aspects to get right in a strategy game is giving each faction its own identity but still managing to keep them balanced. This is one of the areas where, as of now, Iron Harvest stumbles.

There are some small differences in faction infantry units, and each faction has distinct mechs and heroes, but ultimately, they feel like reskins of one another. The difference between "shotgun infantry" and "rifle infantry" doesn't make for much distinction. It's a stark contrast to something like StarCraft, where each faction is distinct.

On one hand, this means you'll be able to swap between factions without too much of a learning curve. On the other, it damages some of Iron Harvest's depth in the long run.

The hero units do offer a bit of personality, though, even if they don't change up your strategies too much. Polania features a sharpshooting woman named Anna who has a pet bear named Wojtek; they make for a great combo of long-range damage and close-range tankiness. Saxony has a massive, AT-AT-esque mech called Brunhilde piloted by a salty commander named Gunter von Duisburg.

Nuts and Bolts

A dozen Polania foot soldiers group near an oil derrick to attack a Saxony trench in a field defended by two soldiers.

Iron Harvest's production values are solid, even if certain aspects of it feel a bit fast and loose. Troops, especially groups of infantry, don't always behave like you think they will. Multiple times, I ordered my collected infantry to take cover behind a wall, only to watch them hop over it and take cover on the other side. That's all well and good, but the enemies are on that side. Cover doesn't work that way.

It's easy to identify certain aspects at a glance, such as what weapons are hitting the battlefield, once you know the icons that represent them. Maps are surprisingly detailed, and unit graphics look pretty sharp even at medium distances. Get too close and you can pick apart the details, but that's why you don't zoom in that far in real-time strategy games.

The voice work is not phenomenal. The Polania and Rusviet factions sound a bit like if you asked a group of stage actors to imitate Soviet accents. And playing through the opening Polania campaign from Anna's point of view is a bit irritating as well, as pretty much every character simply cannot believe your hero character is not a man. Yes, Anna is a girl. She can shoot. Isn't that CRAZY?!?!

Time to Play

A bi-pedal mech leads three footsoldiers across a bridge to attack other mechs on a snowy map.

There's an open beta of Iron Harvest, free to download on Steam, that contains a few of the early Polania missions. It's definitely worth trying out to get feel for the game's systems if you're a fan of RTS fair.

Our press copy had a bit more to it: a few of the Saxony missions from later in the campaign and the ability to organize skirmishes with both of those factions and as the Rusviets.

The campaign seems like a pretty solid exercise, but a lot of the value of RTS games comes from how well the multiplayer works. Whether Iron Harvest is able to find that balance and personality in its factions will probably be the deciding factor in if it is worth a buy. Keep an eye on it, try out the beta, and check back here for a full review when it releases in September.

The Yard is Madden's Most Accessible, Exciting Mode in Years Thu, 13 Aug 2020 12:15:56 -0400 Mark Delaney

The Madden franchise wears many hats. It caters to the diehard Franchise players, the ever-lucrative Ultimate Team community, the plug-and-play online head-to-head fans, and more.

One community not totally served, however, is the series' more casual fans. Franchise, MUT, and online play each require a level of dedication and knowledge about football that scares off some players, and understandably so.

This year, Madden 21 seeks to be more inviting with The Yard, a brand-new backyard football-inspired mode that allows for trick plays, quick scores, and stylish celebrations. After a few hours of hands-on time with the mode, The Yard proves its concept, but surprisingly, not just for more laidback football fans.

As a diehard, I'm excited too.

The Yard is a 6v6 game mode with up to three human players per team. Immediately, this new effort stands out from the rest of the game's suite of modes due to its commitment to shorter fields and flashier equipment.

When you first enter The Yard, you'll first make an avatar, choosing their face and body features, their name, and some of their other attributes, just like you would in an RPG. 

Next, you'll choose your Prototype. From game to game, you can change this facet of your digital athlete from a list of Prototypes the Madden team says will grow as the season goes on. The system was a bit confusing at first, as each Prototype has its own skill tree and stats that can be improved through use, but a producer likened them to suits of armor one might find in a role-playing game, which clarified the concept.

It's a smart idea too, as it gives players a long tail of upgrades to chase. Maxing out one Prototype, like "Truzz," based on scrambling QBs like Lamar Jackson, or "Zeus," modeled after dominant tight ends like Travis Kelce, is only the beginning of what's possible.

You can play 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 in terms of the number of human players on the field, but games themselves are always made up of 12 total athletes. Therefore, solo mode means you fill out the whole roster for your team, while in twos or threes, you divvy up the roster evenly among your teammates, literally picking them from a lineup the way you would in the backyard football days.

A player in an orange and teal jersey, blue and purple pants, hurdles with ball in his hand on a training field.

The Yard's best attribute is its versatility. With "Ironman" rules in play, all six players on your team play both sides of the ball. Positions are merely markers for where players start a play, and they have little to do with what their role may be on any given down.

I had Matt Stafford at "wideout," but that only meant he lined up as my X receiver. With tons of pre-snap motion available, plus unlimited passing behind the line of scrimmage and a strong suggestion to lateral the ball, any player could be the one to come up with a big interception or score a TD in the same game.

Games are played on a smaller 80-yard field, which means scoring comes more often, and each of the four locations at launch offers "House Rules" that further modify things, such as how many drives each team gets and where they may begin on the field. Scoring is wacky too, but in a really exciting way. After a 6-point touchdown, players can go for 1, 2, or 3-point conversions from increasing distances, sort of like how last year's XFL handled point-after attempts. 

Interceptions will earn you a point as well, and it was explained that the best scoring play one could achieve, a long interception returned for a touchdown followed by a successful 3-point conversion, can swing the score 13 points in one's favor.

Because there are no offensive linemen, the game respects the timeless "Mississippi" rule, where defenders can't cross the line of scrimmage until the timer is up. I spent countless summers playing with these rules, and The Yard brilliantly taps into that nostalgia and fantasy at once. Suddenly, it's not pudgy 12-year-old me in my "husky"-labeled jeans returning a pick, it's Tarik Cohen in a colorful getup dancing in the endzone.

A custom player in cheetah sleeves, red and gold jersey stares at receiver, ready to throw.

The game's post-launch roadmap seems evident from this pre-release glance, even as the dev team wasn't ready to confirm some of the details I had in mind. "We have no plans to announce a Season Pass at this time," they told me in a virtual roundtable Q&A, with the key phrasing there being "at this time."

With a focus on cosmetic unlocks to make each avatar look slick, silly, or even solemn, like an anti-racism cosmetic set I found in my preview, and multiple currencies to unlock these styles with, The Yard feels destined to be a live-service akin to MUT, only for a different audience.

With play-art that looks drawn in the sand and trick plays that would leave the Harlem Globetrotters in awe, Madden 21's The Yard infuses the otherwise diehard-focused Madden lineup with something that feels fresh, welcoming, and totally timely.

Next year, 2K intends to challenge Madden, at least in an arcade sense, but The Yard may have already clinched a victory.

Marvel's Avengers Beta Impressions: A Stark Naked Endgame Mon, 10 Aug 2020 16:11:35 -0400 Daniel Hollis

When I walked out of Avengers: Endgame, I was in awe that Marvel Studios managed to successfully marry more than a decade's worth of films into one perfect conclusion. After several hours with the Marvel’s Avengers beta, however, I walked away deflated, drained, and ultimately, bored. Much as we felt in our final review of the game

Marvel’s Avengers releases this September and is developed by Crystal Dynamics, the team behind the recent Tomb Raider trilogy. Avengers is half story-driven-action-adventure and half Destiny-inspired-looter-shooter. Neither matches up with the other, and the beta is indicative of a game that, like the Hulk, is continuously at war with itself. 

It’s perhaps ironic that a large majority of the beta is spent playing as the Hulk and speaks metaphorical volumes for the internal struggles the game grapples with.

Starting the beta off is the Golden Gate Bridge mission that has been showcased in many of the game's trailers. This is the first time — outside of various events — that fans had the opportunity to play this mission, and it molds a worthy first impression.

It’s pure summer blockbuster fun and feels like a genuine set-piece from any of the Avengers movies. The bombastic nature in which it throws action in your face as constantly swap between different heroes is electrifying in pace and a fantastic show opener. 

Thor maintains a God-of-War-style move set, and Mjolnir can be thrown like Kratos' mighty war axe. It’s not as fluid or snappy, but it gets the job done. Arial combat with Iron-Man is high-octane, explosive action, perfectly blending into the Hulk's destructive smashing, bashing, and crashing. Captain America and Black Widow have the same contrast that Batman and Catwoman have in the Arkham games. Overall, combat is fluid, engaging, and visually stimulating.

Ultimately, the opening level manages to highlight each character's strengths, while also being an incredibly loud and in your face rollercoaster ride.

Hulk holding a smashed bidpedal robot, ready to throw it at more robots in a jungle.

Things momentarily slow down as the next story mission places players in the shoes of Bruce Banner and Kamala Khan, a regular citizen who has gained superpowers following events of the game’s opening. As they explore a jungle for a hidden base, the setup invokes feelings of Uncharted; it helps that the quips fly back and forth with some good-hearted banter.

It’s a promising start to something more substantial and nuanced, but Avengers quickly jumps back into what's clearly its primary focus: grindy, explosive action.

What turns out to be a lengthy mission has you control the Hulk as he bashes through hundreds of nameless enemies, each with quintessential health bars, levels, and loot. Later, though the perspective changes to the fast, agile, and powerful Kamala Khan, it's evident that Avengers is more focused on grind than anything else. 

Ironically, the best moments in Marvel’s Avengers are the ones where the game slows down and ponders its characters' personalities. Such is the case when players are allowed to freely explore a room filled with Avengers memorabilia as Khan. She pauses, examines objects, and reflects on the situation she’s in. It’s a sweet, sincere moment and one that is predominantly stronger than any of the exhausting action the game throws at you.

It only helps that Troy Baker and Sandra Saad, Banner and Khan respectively, shine in these emotional moments. 

Kamala Kahn holding a large, plastic soda cup alongside Bruce Banner driving a 4x4.

Unfortunately, the beta falls apart from here. Following the jungle mission, players are brought to the War Table, which works as an elaborate menu and offers a host of multiplayer-focused missions. These have specific power levels, where finding better gear or purchasing new skills for your heroes is vital. 

Though each mission fundamentally operates similarly, War Zones are obviously the main focus and act as semi-open areas. Here you will find a host of activities to do, but sadly, few if any hold any interest.

You’ll control control points, defeat strong (and stronger) enemies, and loot a lot of loot chests. Each piece of loot can be equipped to improve the stats of your character and bump up some numbers.

Outside of War Zones, there are augmented combat simulations that players can partake in. These work exactly like the rest of the game and pit players against waves of enemies in a generically rendered environment. 

Kamala Khan standing on a desert cliff overlooking a large complex below, with cliffs and dark clouds in the distance.

A repetitive gameplay loop simply overshadows everything that the multiplayer portion of Marvel’s Avengers tries to achieve.

Players are jumping into Marvel’s Avengers to live out their superhero fantasies, not to slowly open chests and swap out body parts. As an Avenger, players should feel powerful from the offset and build upon that sense of power with skill, not attachments that can be swapped out on the fly.

The conflict Marvel’s Avengers faces seemingly has no resolution. On the one hand, the game has an engaging narrative, with emotionally charged cutscenes and stunning setpieces. On the other hand, there’s a service-style multiplayer suite, which feels very reminiscent of titles such as Anthem.

Marvel’s Avengers has a lot to prove, and I feel the beta has further muddied the waters for fans. Will the single-player segment be long enough to warrant a purchase? How will level scaling work between single-player and multiplayer modes? And will players get bored before reaching the game's conclusion?

The beta for Marvel’s Avengers raises more questions than answers. Much like anyone other than Thor attempting to carry Mjolnir, it often feels, that in the end, Avenger's may not be worthy of its namesake. We'll have to wait and see. 

Grounded Early Access Review: Big Ambitions Wed, 05 Aug 2020 16:57:49 -0400 Mark Delaney

Since Minecraft, survival games have become a staple of the games industry, but until now, no other game in the genre has been so family-friendly. 

With Grounded, Obsidian walks back years of survival games moving ceaselessly toward dreary post-apocalyptic worlds and instead imagines a colorful little-big sandbox where insects are intimidating behemoths.

The developers have a lot to be proud of right out of the gate with the Game Preview/Early Access version of Grounded, and even as it's clearly lacking in some areas  namely story and polish  it's easy to see the small offshoot team at Obsidian has crafted something adventurous and wonderful.

Grounded Early Access Review: Big Ambitions

In Grounded, one to four players are shrunken down to a centimeter for reasons that aren't yet clear. Shocked to awaken as something smaller than an ant, the now-standard survival game ramp introduces players to its world of massive anthills, fearsome spiders, and grass as tall as buildings — or at least, that's how it all appears from your perspective.

The premise is a strong one and Obsidian wastes no time building on it. The game's open world, The Backyard, is full of interesting secrets to discover and, of course, plenty of objects to craft. The game's earliest moments will be spent chopping down blades of grass and plucking pebbles and plant fibers from the earth to make a simple axe, but soon, your toolbelt expands to include other handheld objects like spears and torches.

After that, you'll learn how to make different armor sets, each offering different stat bonuses which can positively affect things like your defensive abilities or how long you can go without eating or drinking.

The most exciting part of Grounded's crafting system is its already expansive base building mechanics. From simple doors and walls to basketball courts and reading rooms, you're free to build to your heart's content, so long as you're willing to defend what you've made.

Given that you're just a centimeter tall, insects such as beetles, spiders, and even ladybugs are transformed into wild beasts you must always account for. Enemies will attack your base, meaning how to build it is more than a cosmetic choice, unless you're playing in Creative mode. By lining spike traps and bottlenecks for home defense, players can push back against their six-legged (or more) foes.

This is an exciting part of Grounded, but combat as a whole needs some balancing at launch. Many enemies can kill you in just a few hits even when you're wearing armor. Perhaps Obsidian likes it that way to keep the threats feeling so scary, but it feels poorly balanced for solo players especially.

One of the most compelling elements of Grounded is hardly available right now: its story. You can see all of the story content in about 30 minutes in this version, as it amounts to one NPC scene and some audio logs.

As it's Game Preview, we know to expect more down the line, but given the game's sci-fi teases — it seems Obsidian plans to actually explain its shrunken survivors — I'm eager to see more, but I can't yet. If you're in it just for the story, you can safely keep waiting for now.

Having said that, I'm pretty picky with my survival game timeshare, as so many punish players with harsh conditions and obtuse menus right away. It can be pretty unappealing. Grounded doesn't have that problem. Its UI is one of the best I've ever seen in the genre. With so many menus, I expect more confusion, but I routinely know my way around my inventory, the deep crafting menu, and other helpful tools like a hotswapping UI for assigning your most-used items.

You can also switch between third- and first-person, toggle the HUD display, and provide Early Access feedback all from a radial menu. Obsidian has joked that they don't normally make this kind of game, and that's true, but you'd never know it. It seems years of building RPGs have taught them some things about helping players navigate their bulky backpacks.

Something else Grounded shares with RPGs is its abundance of secrets. Audio logs are ubiquitous in games, and though they add some light story beats right now, the real treasures come from discovering new craftable objects, or even stumbling on them whole cloth.

Things like a rotten bee armor, rarer insects, and new areas to install at your base can all be discovered with exploration. You could spoil most secrets by heading into Creative, where it's all there to see right away, but a lot of fun is had in turning over stones — literally — and finding something you didn't know existed underneath.

In my time with Grounded, I've found a basketball hoop blueprint, fungal bombs, and fun berry furniture to name a few. You can also stumble on the world interacting with itself, like when I saw a major battle between spiders and beetles. No doubt this is an area the studio will continue to expand on as well but even on day one, it feels like every moment spent in The Backyard is ripe for adventure.

If you're not one to simply build up a base or explore for secrets, there's a simple quest system in place too, which will allow you to advance your character in more quantitative ways.

Early Access means bugs, and in this case, I don't just mean insects. Most of the issues I saw were in the game's menus, where multiplayer lobbies don't populate correctly or UI items might look a bit wonky. Trying to swim with your head above water also barely works right now, and when it does, it still leaves the camera in an awkward spot.

It's not a bug, but the world map could also use some improved UI as the way it's set up currently is less than clear in some cases.

These are exactly the sort of growing pains any Early Access game reminds you of when you boot it up, though, and that's why we aren't speaking to the final experience in this review. For now, Grounded surely still needs some work, but it's already a game fans of the genre will totally dig.

Grounded Early Access Review — The Bottom Line

A strong premise will get you a great trailer, but only a strong team will deliver a great game. Even in Early Access/Game Preview, Grounded is a great game. Its youthful spin on the survival genre is supremely refreshing as it casts aside years of greyscale, slow-death misery simulators in favor of something players of all ages can enjoy. 

Grounded is full of marvelous mechanics, creative contraptions, and some surprisingly scary showdowns. It has an exciting world rich with discovery; its base building already goes deep; and its imaginative, child-like spirit rejects genre norms.

The team has more work to do by adding more bug variety, expanding the story content, and balancing combat, but the foundation is certainly solid.

Ary and the Secret of Seasons Preview: Nary a Reason Not to Play Wed, 05 Aug 2020 09:00:01 -0400 Henry Stockdale

We’ve seen a mini-revival of 3D platformers these last few years, bringing with it a mix of good and mediocre experiences, such as the acclaimed A Hat In Time and the somewhat mixed Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Making their own attempt at a platforming game, Belgian developers Exiin are now releasing Ary and the Secret of Seasons.

Due to launch on September 1, this new action-adventure title takes inspiration from The Legend of Zelda franchise, and while it doesn’t quite hit those lofty heights so far, there’s a lot of promise in what we’ve seen.

So what’s the story here? 

You play as Aryelle, daughter of the Winter Guardian that resides within Yule City, one of four Guardians of Seasons chosen to defend this world from an ancient evil mage's magic by commanding the powers of spring, summer, and fall. Ary's brother Flynn has recently gone missing, and as a result, her anguished father is in no state to carry out his duties as Guardian.

After fending off a hyena attack, Yule gets attacked by crystals that stop the elements, and a Guardian Council is called to discuss this new threat across the world of Valdi. With no one else to do it, Ary sets out to take her father’s place, armed with a sword and his winter crystal, the source of his power over the winter elements. 

For this preview, Exiin included two parts. Part one is the game’s opening, the same demo released for Steam’s summer game festival. However, part two is new, showcasing the Winter Temple as you take on the Winter Golem, and it gives a broader view of Ary’s full set of powers. 

The 3D graphics aren’t the sharpest here, but Ary’s colorful visual approach brings a lot of life to this world across both segments, filling it with personality and a lot of charm.

Taking place within Yule and the surrounding areas, this preview made for a great introduction to Ary’s open-world gameplay. Utilizing her new-found power, Ary can bend seasons to her will, which is crucial to both advancing in Ary’s adventure and solving the game’s puzzles. 

Unable to cross a broken bridge? No problem; the winter crystal can freeze the gaps between it. Ice wall blocking your way afterward? No problem; you can deactivate your power so it melts. Need to clear some water? No problem; the spring crystal can help you separate it.

These different uses make for a creative experience, and once you've obtained further crystals for fall and summer, switching between these seasons is easily done via the D-Pad.

As you might expect from a Zelda-styled game, combat features in your travels, too — and you need to be prepared. Some areas are filled with hyenas, hogs, and raccoons, to name a few. You’ll need to employ defensive strategies to keep Ary alive, parrying and rolling to dodge attacks while locking on to enemies to deal damage. If you get hurt, health is replenishable via fruit from trees or pots.

It’s easy to learn but slightly tedious in its simplicity. Not every fight has to happen, though, as you can choose your battles by simply running away if you're not after a quarrel.

Ary doesn't exactly have a bustling open-world, but it never feels quiet either. Alongside monuments that detail Valdi’s history, you’ll encounter plenty of locals to chat with, and some will offer you side quests. These quests are all highlighted on your mini-map so that you won’t get lost in or between them.

As such, exploration is encouraged, and traversing Valdi never feels dull; there’s a lot of fun to be had uncovering its secrets.

You can also buy many items that will help you in your journey, including outfits, which allow you to both customize Ary’s appearance and upgrade some of her abilities. The Wing Boots, for example, allow Ary to double jump. Other upgrades, which you can purchase from merchants called sensei, let you enhance attributes like attack damage. These are purchased with coins found in secret chests or gained through side quests.

With only a month to go before launch, Ary And The Secret of Seasons is coming together nicely. In a couple of instances, the framerate dropped during sprinting, but otherwise, it proved a smooth experience.

Backed by a lovely visual aesthetic and charming personality, Ary is a game that platforming fans won’t want to miss and wears its influences from Zelda well. Personally, I cannot wait to see Exiin’s finished release. Stay tuned for more coverage in the coming weeks. 

Monster Crown Early Access Review: Raising a New Kind of Beast Fri, 31 Jul 2020 16:10:43 -0400 Josh Broadwell

It’s tough being a monster catcher game like Monster Crown. No matter what, they always have a hard time breaking out of their venerable grandpappies’ shadows. Pokemon and Digimon might not have been the first to lay the groundwork for the genre, but they were the first to go mainstream and, so, they stuck in the public consciousness.

Comparing new games in the genre to the likes of Pokemon might make them automatically seem derivative, but it’s a comparison I’m sticking with for Monster Crown. And for good reason.

Monster Crown is Pokemon’s (and even Digimon’s) Stardew Valley, being created very obviously with these inspirations in mind, while building on those foundations — fulfilling them, you might even say — and turning it into a completely new and totally engrossing creation.

This seems familiar...

Monster Crown opens with a brief explanation of how the game world works, courtesy of good ol’ dad. This world is inhabited by people and monsters. But the only reason they work alongside each other is because certain people called Tamers bargain with monsters using a mystical contract.

Otherwise, said monsters would probably just eat everyone and move on. That’s not something you’d expect Professor Oak to say, despite the inherent dangers associated with almost every Pokemon in existence. 

You get a glimpse of how these contracts work right away, since your character’s home is a farm run partly by monsters. Is it happy work? Are you the bad guy for enslaving these creatures? Or is it just grudging mutual understanding and the monsters secretly still want to kill you?

That kind of ambiguous tension between humans and monsters permeates Monster Crown. This is their world you just happen to have a foothold in, and the entire game (so far, at least) stems from that important premise.

And it’s impressive from the start not just because it’s edgy and dark. It actually shows you a world built on a relationship, however sour it may be, between humans and these critters — all without making you watch 986 series of an anime to see it in action because the games talk about it and won’t show it.

So with that juicy introduction to Monster Crown’s character out of the way, including a mock battle where your mom completely wipes the floor with you, it’s time to head out on an adventure. You’re a talented Tamer, because of course you are. But your goal is actually just paying tribute to the nearest king. Best to keep these ruler types on your good side, dad says. 

The Humanism Kingdom is a ways away, which is good because it’s a chance to soak in Monster Crown’s gorgeous pixel work. It’s hard to think of a game outside Shovel Knight that takes pixel aesthetic and uses it so well without just seeming like an obvious attempt to re-create the golden years.

Even outside their rolling waves of pixel grass, Monster Crown’s environments are a high point in and of themselves, though at a slight cost. On your way to the first town, you learn of two mega monsters blocking your way. They’re almost like forces of nature, unpredictable and obstructive, but technically just doing their thing. It makes the world of Monster Crown feel alive and lends these monsters a nice extra touch of both character and menace.

In its current state, Monster Crown’s routes, caves, and paths do feel a bit empty, though. You don’t run into too many people. That’s understandable, given the nature of the world. But it makes the trek from point to point feel lonely and like you’re just being shunted along to the next point. Environments being rather large and empty doesn’t help offset this feeling either.

The same duality applies to the story so far. Monster Crown is definitely the story-based monster catcher it’s billed as. That story gets split between a number of worldbuilding vignettes in towns and important places and the overall story surrounding a very interesting villain named Beth.

But it also feels a bit… rushed? One early example has a very dramatic event occurring in your first town, that you’re about 75% responsible for. You get a couple of sentences about the town’s current state before the event, and after the climax, that’s it. Back to business folks.

Beth’s first big moment feels a tad rushed as well, like it might have more impact if you had the chance to learn more about the world’s politics and important people at that point. 

Preach it, brother

Still, I guess it’s a good thing Monster Crown’s story tantalizes me and leaves me wanting more, and hopefully, it gets fleshed out between now and its final launch. It’s also one of the only monster catchers not called Shin Megami Tensei where you’re treated to a proper story, which is a bonus on its own.

But, of course, Monster Crown’s real stars are the monsters themselves, and they and the systems around them are pretty excellent thus far. Monsters get divided into five different types, with the usual rock-paper-scissors chain of weakness and resistance. 

What makes Monster Crown’s system stand out is how soon you absolutely need to master it. Where your Rookie Digimon and hordes of Pidgey and Rattata mostly know moves related to their types, Monster Crown’s monsters usually have at least two moves of different types, making them an immediate threat.

Or if they don’t, they excel at their own type and force you to raise a good monster with a type resistance if you want to progress.

All the monster designs are fantastic too. These aren’t mascots like Agumon or cuties like Pikachu. These are monsters. And they look like it, which has the smart effect of making you feel a bit less attached to them — almost like they’re just convenient tools you formed a contract with…

Battle has the usual turn-based flow, where you attack, they attack, and speed determines who might go first. The Synergy system adds a nifty twist to the formula, and its meter builds every time you swap a monster out from battle, assuming the one you switch in doesn’t get knocked out (or whatever it is that happens to a defeated monster in Monster Crown). 

Each full stage on the meter powers up your moves and has some extra effect, like granting a bonus type. It’s absolutely essential for some battles and adds extra purpose to the common Pokemon strategy of switching in and out.

I haven’t had a chance to dig into Monster Crown’s signature monster breeding very much. It’s set up like a cross between Pokemon breeding, digivolution, and demon/persona fusion, where you can engineer brand-new monsters with a totally unique stat and moveset. After learning how battles and moves work, I can’t wait to get into it more.

And of course, Monster Crown has the usual set of things common to early access games. Text spacing is variable, the map could/should be more detailed, and the day/night system moves blisteringly fast without seeming to affect anything. Weather is a bit iffy, too. In one scenario that felt a bit too realistic, a narrow rectangle of rain followed me around, while everywhere else was bright and sunny. 

I’m not worried about these things, though. Or about most of Monster Crown. Its monstrous inhabitants — and their lovingly crafted backstories — are excellent, while the battle system is simple but addictive. The story is promising, even while it could use a bit more detail. And it’s a world full of unique personality and atmosphere that just begs you to keep peeling back its secrets.

In short, Monster Crown is taking the best of the monster-catching genre and spinning it together into something that's part homage, part brand-new creation, and totally compelling.

[Note: An early access copy of Monster Crown was provided by SOEDESCO for the purpose of this early access impressions article.]

Rogue Company Impressions: Open Audition for the Suicide Squad Wed, 29 Jul 2020 16:31:20 -0400 Mark Delaney

In the increasingly competitive hero shooter space, a game's success is measured by the strength of its characters. You can't only have characters that look interesting or offer useful abilities, you have to have both.

Built by Hi-Rez's First Watch team, Rogue Company has both. Its cast of heroes is modern, each of them unique from the pack, and collectively, they give Rogue Company a style I appreciated right away, even as other elements of the game are quite familiar.

It's a bit rough at launch, as the game is still technically in beta, but there's more good than bad in this new contender for your competitive shooter timeshare.

Rogue Company is a competitive team shooter that pits two teams of four against each other in quick rounds of familiar, hyper-competitive game modes. It offers both cross-play and cross-progression.

In these early days, though other game modes have been detailed, there are just two on offer: demolition, elsewhere called search and destroy, and a deathmatch-like mode where players count down their remaining lives until one team reaches zero and loses.

Both modes are fun, but it's demolition where the game really shines. It brings with it the same precious attention to detail as some of the PC platform's most intense shooters, and Rogue Company similarly feels like so much rides on your performance, especially in a no-respawn mode where you know your team is watching you when you're the last alive. 

Rogue Company unabashedly borrows from games like Counter-Strike, and more recently Valorant. It was revealed before the latter, but it still feels like someone on the team was privy to the details at Riot. Though, perhaps that's cynical.

In any event, maps look quite like those seen in other games like it. More important are the maps' dimensions, with sightlines carefully considered; no cover angle or corner peek has been overlooked. That gives a lot of legitimacy to Rogue Company's desire to be taken seriously in the competitive shooter arena.

I do wish there was more visual variety in the maps right now. Each of them feels like a sunny vista with a few ramps, interiors, and a zipline or two. They're still conducive to smart team play, which takes precedence, but they all sort of blend together in any given play session.

Time to kill isn't as unforgiving as other games, and regen is fairly quick too. The end result is a game that doesn't feel as frustrating as something like Counter-Strike, where a protruding elbow may get you killed in an instant. 

Rogue Company's shooting mechanics are reliable and rewardingly varied across its many classes and weapons. Third-person shooting feels more variable than first-person, but I have no complaints regarding the game's shooting.

The real highlight of Rogue Company is its roster of heroes  or more appropriately in this case, anti-heroes, it seems. Any one of the dozen or so shooters feels like they could be auditioning for the Suicide Squad, but I don't say that as a bad thing. You get who they are just by looking at them, and no two could easily be confused for each other, even as they all look like they graduated from the same school of hard knocks. 

Ultimately, it's their hero abilities that define them more than their masks, blades, or outfits anyway, and Rogue Company's variety in this regard is excellent. My early main is shaping up to be Ronin, who wields a blade and bomber jacket with equal flair. More important is her active ability, which gives me a one-time explosive knife to throw. Where it lands becomes like a proximity mine, or it can connect with enemies directly.

Others can throw down defensive walls, heal downed allies in a flash, or hack the map to see enemies' locations. It feels like there's someone for every play style.

I've been pretty glowing thus far, but as I alluded to in the intro, it's not all wonderful out of the gate. The game's commitment to a super competitive scene is well-intentioned and pretty well-executed, but in an effort to also run an in-game store, the game gets dragged down by some faulty mechanics involving some superfluous stuff. 

Emotes are available in the Rogue Company, both paid and free, but there's such a lag between choosing one and seeing it play that they're rendered pointless. The only time you'll ever have to use an emote is at the end of a round, and the game throws you back to the next one so quickly that the stutter causes you to never really see the emote anyway.

Unfathomably, the game is also selling in-game currency right now, but there's nothing to spend it on. Surely the store will be stocked in time, but it just looks bizarre to offer an in-game cosmetic item shop without actually putting anything in it. 

I like that there will be different clothing options for the characters, which I find that to be pretty critical to any hero-based game. But the emotes only get in the way, and even then, they are implemented so poorly as to be irrelevant. It feels like Rogue Company is designed with all the competitive spirit of Counter-Strike, but still wants to have the absurd dance moves of Fortnite, and the two styles just don't mesh in Rogue's fairly realistic style.

That's too bad, because otherwise, that style is a highlight. Players are introduced with the slow-motion walk-up of an action movie, and each match begins with players quickly gliding onto the map, which also serves tactical purposes. An original hip hop soundtrack and some more Suicide Squad styled voice lines complete the game's aesthetic: focused but just a little silly. 

The game is in "beta" in the Fortnite sense; it's out and offers a lot but we should expect bugs. Of those, I found them usually in the menus. Game audio would sometimes disappear, though never during matches. A few times the character select screen didn't appear, which is a huge problem, even as I was able to blindly navigate the screen's options without actually seeing it.

It's neither a bug nor a feature, but the early days of the game seem mired by bad-sports in the community too. Final kills in a round usually lead to the lobby watching someone getting teabagged or repeatedly shot in the head as they lay defeated. I haven't used voice comms with random players, but a few times I had teammates blasting music through their speakers too.

To some extent, this is behavior we can expect in all games, but some platforms do lend themselves to more toxicity than others, and I worry the hyper-competitiveness of Rogue Company is quickly breeding contempt for one another in its player base.

  • Competitive modes with reliable mechanics to match
  • Characters are varied and each is enticing 
  • A familiar setup with a few fun wrinkles 
  • Early bugs include menus and audio disappearing
  • Feels likes it's pulled in two conflicting directions at times
  • Playerbase seems comprised of unsporting jerks

Hi-Rez has again taken what worked elsewhere and made it work for them. Despite the success of Smite and Paladins, I'd estimate Rogue Company has the highest growth potential of any game from the studio yet, thanks to interesting characters pitted in a world of competitive and fun gameplay.

There are bugs to work out and jerks to suspend, but I'm still excited to drop into more rounds with my ragtag crew of mercenaries.

Image source: Hi-Rez Studios

Fall Guys Beta Preview: I Think I'm Falling for You Tue, 28 Jul 2020 09:43:29 -0400 Daniel Hollis

Fall Guys takes the sugary sweetness of a bag of Skittles and mixes it in with the brutal competition of The Hunger Games. There can only be one winner, and no matter how many layers of color and charm you drench the game in, it can get brutal.

The basic premise of Fall Guys is a mixture of the popular game show Takeshi’s Castle and the ever-expanding battle royale formula. By now, the genre has received many iterations — with some better than others — and the idea feels as though it’s reaching the pinnacle of what can be achieved.

The recent technical beta gave insight into how the full experience will pan out, with online multiplayer also being stress tested. Ultimately, it appears that Fall Guys is proving to create a solid foundation with room for improvement as it continues to grow.

Fall Guys takes the battle royale concept and completely removes weapons, pick-ups, and loadouts. Instead, 60 players race to be the last man standing, which is determined over several rounds that are a mixture of solo and team-based gameplay. 

By the end of every round, numerous players are disqualified by either being left behind or thrown off the map. Others are on the team with the lowest points for that round.

Solo levels are primarily based around tackling daunting ventures across elaborate traps. See-saws lean under the weight of players, pendulums swing across bridges to throw off players. Some levels and traps work better than others, but the physics-based controls ensure players don’t get too comfortable in any one level.

With 59 other players competing for victory, sections often seem like a sea of mindless zombies as characters dressed as pigeons and bears scramble over one another to reach the next platform. During my time with the beta, the sight never got old; being thrown down and overwhelmed by a wave of players is both terrifying and hilarious.

As the stages advance, team-based modes are thrown into the mix to disqualify a group of players at once. While these modes create delightful distractions, they can quickly become frustrating as you must rely on your team to survive.

Team events range from rolling a ball through an obstacle course to a game of tag. During the beta, players were quickly starting to think outside of the box in these situations (for example, teams blocking your ball as it rolls down a hill instead of tending to their own). It’s a great use of creativity, but getting placed in the right team feels based solely on luck instead of pure skill.

Completing matches rewards you with experience and, in turn, gifts new cosmetic items to wear. Many of these can be purchased via microtransactions, though, the developers remain adamant that these payment schemes will be used for cosmetics only. There are seemingly no unlocks for abilities or enhancements, and I hope Fall Guys follows that trend.

Controlling your character in Fall Guys is very similar to other physics-based games such as Gang Beasts. Controls manage to be both floaty and weighty at the same time. Intentionally, the characters don't have the pitch-perfect fidelity of a Mario-style platformer, but that further adds to the hilarity that plays out across its numerous stages.

Controls are fairly simple and don’t require much input outside of running and jumping. A dive move can be utilized to stretch a jump out a touch longer, and you can grab other players, too. However, the grab mechanic feels fairly redundant right now; not only does it stop an opponent from proceeding, but it stops you from proceeding as well!

In fact, the move encourages players to purposely wait by the end of the stage, grab you, and attempt to drag you away. Not cool.

The full game will come with 25 stages, and my main concern is how long they will engage players. Throughout the beta, some of the same stages came up fairly consistently, while others only appeared once or twice. While that is fine for a beta, the main game will need to do a better job of shuffling the stages, and, for an audience to stick around, a roadmap for the future must be laid out.

It’s super refreshing to jump into a battle royale that isn’t bulging with players camping in every orifice available, one that instead promotes some good-natured fun. Fall Guys has the building blocks for something special, and I truly hope developer Mediatonic uses the framework they currently have to improve the formula and create something special.

Outside of a few long wait times for matches, the beta was almost flawless. Lag was nonexistent, and the game ran at a smooth and polished 60fps. Graphically, Fall Guys showed it wasn't a powerhouse, but its art style still creates an eye-pleasing display. With numerous game showcases unveiling upcoming titles mostly soaked in dark ambiance, it’s sweet that Fall Guys doesn’t rely on moodiness to capture an audience.

Fall Guys could be the start of something special. I just hope it stays supported.

Watch the Xbox Series X Game Showcase Right Here Thu, 23 Jul 2020 11:30:03 -0400 GS_Staff

As promised, Microsoft is showing off a ton of Xbox Series X game footage today. If you're wondering how to watch the Xbox Series X Game Showcase, you've come to the right place. You can watch the stream live below

Will we get a look at the rumored Fable 4? Perhaps. According to multiple reports and information circulating on social media, it seems almost certain the long-awaited ARPG will make an appearance in some capacity. 

Will we see more of Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R.R. Martin's Elden Ring? No one knows for sure (though some think not). The game was supposed to make an appearance as part of Sony's lineup at the Taipei Game Show earlier this year before the entire event was ultimately canceled. 

What we do know is that Microsoft will show new footage of its first-party catalog, including Halo Infinite. The hour-long, games-focused live stream begins at 12 p.m. EST/9 a.m. PST on July 23. Stay tuned to GameSkinny after the show for more on the games Microsoft reveals. 

Ooblets Early Access Review: The Greatest Non-Violent Game of the Generation Wed, 15 Jul 2020 14:29:02 -0400 Mark Delaney

Where do I begin with Ooblets? How about here: it's amazing. Its colorful world imbued with saccharine creatures quickly reveals a sarcastic, slightly subversive sense of humor. 

The daily to-do list is better organized than just about any of those seen in genre peers, teasing players to play forever on a day/night cycle that isn't dependent on the real-world calendar.

Townsfolk are interesting, and the turn-based battle system is approachable yet revolutionary. This is an early access review, so don't expect a score at the bottom, but understand this: Ooblets is nonetheless a Game of the Year contender.

Ooblets Early Access Review: The Greatest Non-Violent Game of the Generation

In Ooblets, the everpresent trope of a boat ride into a dazzling new town gets players into Badgetown, a rather bustling village in the land of Oob. While you'll soon get to explore neighboring areas, Badgetown is where your custom character plants their flag. 

Unlike the year's other big farm sim, Animal Crossing New Horizons, the land you settle on is not up to you. Instead, you are gifted a fixer-upper farmhouse and asked by the mayor (Mayor Tinstle, a rainbowish girl with a welcoming demeanor and a reward system of badges for you to chase) to introduce yourself to everyone.

Badgetown seems to have about 20 or so permanent residents, and they each have set personalities, allowing you to get to know each of them. A friendship system even incentivizes chatting with them and giving them gifts regularly.

For the first few days of your new life, you'll work to revitalize the neighborhood. This means learning how to craft, cook, garden, and shop. You'll also need to repair places around town like the dance barn, the hot air balloon, and a mission board that constantly offers fetch quests for big payouts in the town's currency, gummies. 

For veterans of the genre, this likely all sounds very familiar, and pleasantly, it is. It helps you hit the ground running. But, as I said, Ooblets is a Game of the Year contender, and for that, the small team at Glumberland would need to raise the bar somehow. 

How they do that, in my view, is threefold. 

First, the titular creatures themselves bring a major second point of emphasis alongside Ooblets' typical farm life mechanics. By collecting these adorable creatures, which alternatively appear like sentient plants or robots (but are always grown out of the ground like the former), Ooblets brings an element of Pokemon to the genre in a way nothing before it has.

A turn-based battle system allows players to collect more of them as they progress, and in turn, unlock new moves to use in battle. This is no small wrinkle for Ooblets. The battles are one of the game's best elements, and though they're currently without any difficulty settings, they haven't been difficult to handle thanks to a familiar, somewhat simplified system of action points and damage.

The battles also reveal another of Ooblets' strongest features: its universal commitment to non-violence. While many wholesome games smuggle in the casual violence of fishing, crafting with animal parts, or direct creature battles (sorry, but Pokemon is dog-fighting, folks), in Ooblets, every single aspect has been reimagined in a pacifistic context.

How? They're dance battles, which the Ooblets, according to the game's lore, take part in enthusiastically. The "fishing" you do involves no hooks through the faces of animals. Instead, you "sea-dangle" for non-sentient objects, like crafting supplies or food. Even the food itself is entirely vegan. You won't have to worry about the moral implications of eating some Ooblets and caring for others.

While the creatures themselves are sentient plants, there are unconscious crops with which to make food, each of them with names as silly as anything from Adventure Time, such as a carrot hot dog called a hop dob or sugar called froobtose. 

Ooblets invents its own silly language, and while it's adorable on its own, it's made much more charming to see how it's used by Glumberland to carefully avoid any instance of harm to the game's conscious creatures. As an animal rights activist, Ooblets fills my heart with intense glee.

Even if you're unphased by this avoidance of the genre's casual violence, Ooblets is, quite simply, one of the best-made games in the genre regardless. With a tantalizing XP system, virtually all actions big and small, from chatting with neighbors to completing quests to even something as common as picking or planting crops, earns you XP.

As you level up, you can spend Wishies to improve your character by giving them more energy in the day, or expanding their farmhouse, or even introducing new types of Ooblets to town, among a growing list of other features.

Farming is much more engaging and speedier than many games like it too. With the hold of a button, you transfer into gardening mode, and your crop space becomes a grid for you to work on. This system seamlessly allows you to clean up the backyard, plant, and harvest in no time, all the while making it so it feels decisively yours. Everything goes just the way you want it, and the UI helps you know exactly what your plants need, be it time or water or the clearing of some encroaching weeds.

While initial customization options are purposely sparse, you'll soon unlock a wealth of options for your hair, clothes, and farmhouse, meaning the sim-like aspect of living the life you want is present as well. I haven't grappled with those elements too much yet in my 10 or so hours, but a look at the stores tells me they run quite deep. I'm eager to turn my brown shack into a party pad for dancing Ooblets in due time.

As this is early access, I expected bugs  the game even reminds you of this when you load it up  and yet, I didn't find anything too problematic. The worst case I saw was when one of my crops disappeared. That happened once. Other than that, the UI does trip on itself at times, with descriptions of items overwriting some other icons in a way that feels unpolished.

The quick-access inventory is a key feature, but it needs to be brushed up a bit too, as moving things into it can get clunky in the full inventory menu thanks to that aforementioned issue with your item descriptions. I've seen somewhat regular clipping too, usually when you enter a store or a home. My wife witnessed one character running on the walls of their home, but I only heard this one secondhand.

Ooblets Early Access Review — The Bottom Line (So Far)

  • Unprecedented respect for its creatures
  • Engaging XP system keeps you chasing great rewards and upgrades
  • Adorable, funny world full of color
  • Smart gardening system keeps those mechanics fun, never dull
  • Ample secrets to discover, friends to make
  • Dance battles bring rewarding turn-based combat without the casual violence
  • Unclear today what the endgame may look like
  • Bugs are along for the ride in early access, as expected

In addition to bugs, I'm wondering what the pull may look like after many more hours. Some farm life games have a clear endpoint, while others go on forever. With so much scripted content, Ooblets seems to fall in the first category, so I wonder how long its tail will be at launch, but the journey so far has been awesome. I wouldn't mind a finite amount of story and exploring to do, so long as the rest is as fun as it has been so far.

After four years of clearly hard work, Ooblets feels like it's hardly an "early access" game at all. I've seen plenty of games launch in worse states than this pre-release title has done today, and that makes for an exciting starting place. When Ooblets exits early access, I'll offer my final verdict including a score and some renewed thoughts as needed, but for today, even as it's not officially out, it's absolutely my new frontrunner for Game of the Year.

We'll see how the year shakes out, but one distinction I'm quite comfortable awarding it even today is perhaps a more important one; for so many reasons, Ooblets is the greatest non-violent game of the generation.

[Note: An early access copy of Ooblets was provided by Glumberland for the purpose of this early access review.]

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