Culture Category RSS Feed | Culture RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network 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.

Read the review.  

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]. 

Read the review.

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 
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  • Investigating a Halloween-themed Clue or Rift 
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  • 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
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  • Magic Broom
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  • Flying Firework
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  • Clown Costume
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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


Tony Hawk's Underground


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


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


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




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


Jet Moto 1 + 2


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


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


Jet Set Radio + Jet Set Radio Future


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


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


Cool Boarders 2


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


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


Skate 2


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




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


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


Snowboard Kids 1+2


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


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


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


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


NBA Street Vol. 1-3


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


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


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


Wave Race: Blue Storm


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


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


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


SSX Collection (Tricky, SSX 3, On Tour)


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


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


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


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


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


Mario Strikers: Charged


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beard is Here

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Up for Success

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

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

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

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

What More Could You Want?

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

Whether that makes two whole asses is up to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embr Early Access Review: Fight Fire with Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embr Early Access Review  The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what we thought of Crusader Kings 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fit for a King

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

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

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

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

Take Me to Church

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

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

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

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

Easier to Handle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GhostRunner: One-Hit Kill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wall-Running Like a Dream

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

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

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

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

Whispers in Your Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Port Royale 4 Beta Impressions: Cutthroat Strategy

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

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

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

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

High Seas, High Stakes

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

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

Ready the Cannons

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

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

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

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

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

A New Horizon

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what was shown off. 

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla

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

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

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

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

Yakuza 7

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

Bright Memory: Infinite

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

Dirt 5

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


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


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

Madden NFL 21

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

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

Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2

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

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

Call of the Sea

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

The Ascent

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

The Medium

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

Scarlet Nexus

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

Second Extinction: Reclaim Earth

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


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

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


Cowboy Bebop Spike Spiegel Jacket


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


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



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


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


Revolutionary Girl Utena Uniform


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


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


Naruto Uzumaki Jumper


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


Puella Magi Madoka Magica Mami Dress


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




Puella Magi Madoka Magica Madoka Dress


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


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


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


One Piece Luffy Shirt


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


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


Steins;Gate Kurisu Top


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


Bleach Byakuya Haori


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


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


Dragon Ball Z Trunks Jacket


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


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


Kill la Kill Senketsu


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




Konosuba's Megumin Dress


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


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


Konosuba Kazuma Jumper


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


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


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


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


Gate/stay Night Saber Dress


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


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


Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Jotaro Jacket


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


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



My Hero Academia Tsuyu Uniform


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


Download it.


My Hero Academia All Might Uniform


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


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


My Hero Academia Shoto Shirt


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


My Hero Academia Deku Top


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


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


FLCL Haruko Coat


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


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


Cardcaptor Sakura School Uniform


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


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


Sailor Moon Sailor Scout Uniform


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


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


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


Kimetsu no Yaiba Nezuko Kimono


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


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



Kimetsu no Yaiba Tanjiro Haori


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


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



Kimetsu no Yaiba Zenitsu Haori


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


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



Attack on Titan Survey Corps Jacket


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


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



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


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


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


In order to download these designs, you must:

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


Emet-Selch from Final Fantasy 14


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




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


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


Tidus from Final Fantasy 10


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


Vivi from Final Fantasy 9


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


Lightning from Final Fantasy 13


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


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


Tifa from Final Fantasy 7


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


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


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



Crystal Exarch from Final Fantasy 14


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


Yuna from Final Fantasy 10


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


Cloud from Final Fantasy 7


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


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


Auron from Final Fantasy 10


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


Y'shtola from Final Fantasy 14


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


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


Aerith from Final Fantasy 7


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


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


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




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


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


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


In order to download these designs, you must:

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

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

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

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

Stronghold: Warlords Hands-On Impressions: A Compelling Tease

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Systems Make for Deep Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hack and Slash

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

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

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

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

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

What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse

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

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

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

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

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

Lather. Die. Repeat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Gordian Quest Early Access Review: A Tactical Kitchen Sink

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

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

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

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

Planning Ahead

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

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

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

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

Common Fantasy

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

Luckily, you can click through it in a hurry.

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

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

Tricky Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordian Quest Early Access Review  The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on Bravely Default 2

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

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

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

Call of Duty Battle Royale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free-to-Play Design

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

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

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

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

Related Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition

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

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

2K Games

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

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

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

Bravely Default 2

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

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

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

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

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

Shinsekai: Into the Depths

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

Panzer Dragoon Remake

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

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Update

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

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

Catherine: Full Body

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

Ring Fit Adventure Update

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

For more on Ring Fit Adventure, check out our review

King's Bounty 2

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

Super Smash Bros Ultimate New DLC Fighter

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

Clubhouse Games

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


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

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

Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass

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

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

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

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


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

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

Outriders had no business surprising the hell out of me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more on Outriders as it develops. 

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

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

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

PlayStation 5's Solid State Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The goal is making completely open worlds the norm

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

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

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

PlayStation 5's Innovative Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PlayStation 5's Quest for 3D Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exit the Gungeon

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

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

Blue Fire

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


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

I Am Dead

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

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

Summer in Mara

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

The Good Life

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

The Last Campfire

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

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


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

Eldest Souls

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


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

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

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

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

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

Big Changes Besides the Snowy Setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updating Wasteland's Combat

Wasteland 3's turn-based combat.

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

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

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

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

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

Fists, bullets, knives, and explosives aren't the only weapons you'll be playing with, either. Taking a page from turn-based fantasy RPGs, there are some fun elemental effects available, like frozen and burning, and they usually arrive in wonderfully deadpan ways... like chucking a yellow snowball at an enemy. Yes, you have to choose to unzip and turn them yellow first if you want to use those yucky (but useful) items in combat.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, though, as there are plenty of ways to interact with the environment during combat I don't want to spoil. Instead, let's take a deeper look at more of the skill modifications available in Wasteland 3.

Skill and Perk Changes

Wasteland 3's perks menu.

If you're familiar with the previous two Wasteland games, you know that everything in and out of combat revolves around skill points and perks.

Interestingly, entire skills get wiped out and condensed. Most importantly, skills like field medic and surgeon are combined into the first aid skill; it's a very welcome change from Wasteland 2 where you needed two characters with the surgeon skill and had to ensure they kept each other alive or your game was essentially over.

On the opposite end, the deadly Mangler and similar rocket-launcher-style items now require the explosives skill to use, so you can't just load up your squad with high explosive secondary weapons to cheese through combat on easy mode.

Further enhancing combat and the game's new ailment types, perks from different weapon skill trees dovetail really well now. Increasing those interconnected options means it's no longer the best idea to just have everyone equip assault rifles. Now your ranger squad will keep busy triggering status effects with one type of weapon skill and then exploiting that weakness with a different character using a separate weapon perk tree.

The number of perks already available for both combat and exploration skills tease a wide range of possibilities, but I have to wonder if some extra perks are going to show up in a patch or as DLC. Some obvious entries seem missing at the moment, as hard-ass, kiss-ass, and lock picking all lack any perks at all.

Some Needed Tweaks and What to Expect Overall

Wasteland 3 new recruits menu.

Wasteland 3's early Beta preview shows a ton of promise for an even better post-apocalyptic adventure than we've seen from InXile before. Of course, since development is still continuing, there were a number of bugs and known issues still getting ironed out.  

Many of these are minor, like missing text strings, dialog boxes staying on the screen longer than they should, or weapon mod stats displaying incorrectly, and will clearly see fixes ahead of release.

There's one issue, though, that has me worried: Wasteland 3's exceedingly long load times. Even with an i7-8750 CPU and an SSD, starting the game takes an absurd amount of time, and I shudder to think of what it will be like on a potato computer if it's permanent.

Bugs and load times aside, there's no question Wasteland 3 is both more polished and more streamlined than the previous game. Clearly meant to have a wider appeal, Wasteland 3 is no longer aimed specifically at the hardcore, old-school CRPG crowd. If you crave the total lack of hand-holding inherent to old-school game design, the remaster of the original Wasteland might be more up your alley. But only time will tell, and we'll know a lot more once we get our hands on the review build. 

For those who want to jump in and see how Colorado has fared after the end of the world, the backer Beta starts March 17. Wasteland 3's full launch is currently slated for May 19 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Baldur's Gate 3 Reddit AMA Offers More Details on Larian's D&D 5E Game Thu, 12 Mar 2020 16:02:36 -0400 Ty Arthur

After decades of waiting, a brand new Baldur's Gate game is finally on the horizon, 20 years following the last main entry. Today fans got some interesting new tidbits about the continuation of the Bhaalspawn saga.

Last week, we saw about an hour's worth of gameplay during a Larian Studios livestream that basically looked like Divinity Original: Sin in a D&D form. While that presentation, and our pre-PAX East preview, showed some very promising footage, it also left some major questions and revealed a number of bugs that need to be worked out.

To clear up some of the lingering questions surrounding the game, BG3's creative director, producer, lead systems designer, senior writer, and writing director took to Reddit for a candid AMA. 

Baldur's Gate 3 Main Character and Companions

The previous live presentation left it unclear as whether we'll be able to re-spec companions, and unfortunately, that hasn't been answered with the latest Ask Me Anything session.

If you liked the origin system from Divinity: Original Sin 2, it will return with Baldur's Gate 3, and any Origin character you don't pick can be recruited as a companion to explore their backstory.

The main character can recruit mercenaries outside of the normal companion cast, which it seems like will have a connection to the new campfire system that was briefly shown in the livestream.

In terms of character creation, there will be no sliders, but players can freely change the face type, hair, facial hair, and skin color for the main character. That character is expected to go from Level 1 to Level 10 across the full launch, although that may change.

Unique dialog options are set to be included based on race and class, with some interesting options that may bring to mind hiding your undead nature as Fane in Divinity: Original Sin 2.

Here's a pertinent quote straight from Writing Director, Jan Van Dosselaer:

As you would expect, a drow will get different options compared to a Paladin of Tyr, for instance. For sure, the world will react to your actions, and the choices you make, since these will in some way define you.

For example, Astarion is a vampire spawn and when you play him, you can try and hide this from the party. But if they find out  because, well, you might try to bite them as they sleep  they will obviously be shocked, and unless you manage to handle the situation with the necessary tact and diplomacy, you may just find you’re left behind companionless. 

We have more diversity in creation than in any other game we’ve done before. You'll be able to mix and match a wide variety of defaults, to create something unique.

While interacting with those various companions, the main character will travel along the banks of the Chionthar to the city of Baldur's Gate. Other areas are likely to be included, but they haven't been revealed yet.

The iconic Forgotten Realms mainstay Marco Volo will also appear at some point, and yes, he will have his beard, which apparently bugged out in a previous preview look.

D&D Mechanics

Baldur's Gate 3 is primarily as a turn-based experience. That's not just to stick closely to the D&D rules, but also to be utilized for a potential multiplayer mode down the line.

5th edition character feats will be included in the full launch, but they will not be immediately available at the Early Access launch. It's unclear, at this point, how long players will have to wait for those additions.

All classes from 5e Player’s Handbook will be included at full launch, including the various paths and subclasses. In Early Access, only these classes will initially be available, however:

  • Cleric
  • Fighter
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

Multiclassing is set to be included after Early Access ends, and it will closely follow the 5e DnD base rules. Most D&D fans probably already know what to expect from any given class, but there will be some changes to the Ranger class, according to the Lead Systems Designer, Nick Pechenin:

As for the ranger, we will be implementing alternative variants of favourite enemy and natural explorer features that are not limited to specific monster and location types.

When we were working on these changes, we went to WotC for their approval and it turned out that we were completely on the same page. 

Van Dosselaer added:

Alignment may carry less weight in 5th edition, but all companions definitely have their own moral compass.

Some are fine with evil and underhanded deeds, others are not and they’ll be vocal about their approval or opposition to the decisions that you make. It’s absolutely possible to take actions that cross the line for someone and he or she will leave the party, or even decide to attack you.

In most cases, a character can take one action, reach their movement speed, and potentially employ a free bonus action in a turn. Reaction rules are due to appear in the game as well, although not in the Early Access release. Players can eventually tailor which reactions they want to enable, like disabling an attack of opportunity to enable a reaction to cast the Shield spell.

Grappling, which is usually a point of contention in any iteration of D&D or Pathfinder, will not be included at all.

Standard magic items are due for varying levels of overhaul from minor to major to make more sense in the context of the Baldur's Gate 3 story and for game balance purposes. We don't have any specific examples of how those items will change yet, however.

Finally, Larian made a point of again referencing the vertical aspect of Baldur's Gate 3 gameplay. It appears using the environment and taking the high ground will be critical to overcoming some of the more difficult combat encounters. On the flip side, enemy opponents will also utilize vertical movement and larger areas to avoid getting wiped out quickly with area effect spells like fireball.

Voice Acting

You won't need to worry about losing voice acting if you don't pick a pre-generated character. Custom starting characters will have voice acting and players will choose a voice as part of character creation.

Spells will also come with corresponding voice acting like in previous D&D games. Latin spell words are currently being recorded but weren't ready for the livestream presentation. 

GM Mode

Unfortunately, there will be no GM (or more accurately, DM) mode from the get-go, but it seems like it may be added down the line. Here's what Executive Producer, David Walgrave, had to say to get you salivating at the prospect of putting together your own 5th edition adventures:

When we built GM mode for Original Sin, we were of course thinking of D&D and how long it had been since anyone had made such a mode. So yeah it'd make a lot of sense, but we're focusing on developing the game first at the moment...

More to Come

We didn't get answers about voice dubbing in other languages, or the big question about console releases before the AMA ended. You can bet there will be more info leaked out in the coming weeks, though.

For now, we know that Baldur's Gate 3 is coming to Early Access later in 2020 on PC and Google Stadia. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for additional Baldur's Gate 3 details coming soon!

Destroy All Humans! Remake — One Small, Determined Step for Evil Alien Kind Wed, 11 Mar 2020 14:38:40 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Destroy All Humans! is a game that I've always wanted to play. Over the years, I've considered picking it up through various sales, but I've never taken the plunge for one reason or another. 

With that in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to play the Destroy All Humans! Remake at PAX East 2020. Without nostalgia clouding my vision, the demo I played was fun if not revolutionary.

To be fair, though, THQ Nordic isn't trying to be revolutionary. Instead, the studio is out to create a faithful adaptation that, according to the THQ rep at my demo, is "pretty close" to the original. 

The primary goal with the remake is adding in elements that just weren't possible 15 years ago, specifically in regards to the game's mechanics and aesthetic. Nordic has rebuilt Destroy All Humans! from the ground up using the Unreal engine in an effort to make the game more fluid, while creating a grander sense of scale. 

For better or worse, the demo I played is exactly the same as the opening levels of the 2005 original. Things begin in the cow paddock, and you're still after DNA, which plays a big role in DAH's upgrade system. You still read minds using the Cortex Scan, you still use Psychokinesis to throw cows and farmers around, and you still kill farmers with the Zap-o-Matic. 

The anal probe makes a return alongside the disintegration ray and ion grenade, though I wasn't able to test any of those during my demo. 

What I noticed most is that many of the movements and actions feel smooth, and comparing that to what I know of the original, the mechanics seem more intuitive and streamlined overall. Whereas Psychokinesis in the original required multiple buttons to activate, the remake employs just one, bringing it more in line with modern sensibilities. 

Crypto can also chain multiple abilities at once, such as extracting brains while using the jetpack, or employing Psychokinesis while frying enemies with the Zap-o-Matic. You can even shoot haybales and toss them at farmers to create hideous, raging infernos. It helps that you can now lock onto enemies and cycle through them.

As expected, flying the UFO feels powerful. Though there's obviously a bit of jerkiness to it, especially when switching between targets in comparison to the fluid on-the-ground movement. Obliterating tanks and houses is good fun, and you can fly the UFO up and down as well. 

My only early concern is the way Psychokinesis works. Pressing the right bumper grabs an enemy, and the longer you hold the right bumper, the further the enemy will be thrown when you release it. I kept wanting to press the right bumper and then press it again to hurl the object or enemy, which led to a lot of very short, unimpressive throws. 

However, it's not a huge gripe for an otherwise smooth experience, and it's a mechanic that be ironed out before release. Or, you know, people like me can just get used to it. 

Though I only played the first level, the world of Destroy All Humans! feels big. Unlike levels in the original, which seem to be a bit claustrophobic, the increased draw distance provided by the Unreal engine and modern hardware lends a nice sense of scale to the remake. 

No longer are the edges of an area hemmed in by blurry greens and blues and blacks. It's expected, sure, and something we often take for granted after a decade of playing open-world games, but it lends gravitas to an otherwise arcadey experience. As a galactic-hopping evil alien, I want to feel like I'm in a large world, and Destroy All Humans! Remake accomplishes that at this early stage. 

Another thing I love about Destroy All Humans!  and something I'm sure fans of the series do as well  is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Though some of the jokes haven't exactly aged well, other bits of humor have. Campy and pulpy, Destroy All Humans! Remake fully embraces its influences, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Outer Limits.

The 1950s Americana that dominated the original is here once again. The Army shows up to blow things up. The Men in Black control things from the shadows. Aliens are little grey humanoids. Luckily, though, the more populated world of the remake is also a more inclusive one that sheds some of the worst stereotypes of that time period, at least early on. 

Though this is positioned as a one-to-one remake of the original, THQ Nordic and Black Forest Games has seemingly made a cult-classic even better by mixing together just the right amounts of nostalgia and modernity. Destroy All Humans! Remake will even have a never-before-used stage when it releases later this summer, giving old fans something else to look forward to. 

While we'll have to wait until we get our hands on the final product, things are looking good for Destroy All Humans!. Even those that never played it can find something to enjoy.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons — Crafting the Perfect Island Getaway Thu, 05 Mar 2020 18:21:12 -0500 Jonathan Moore

I had never played an Animal Crossing game before I played New Horizons at PAX East. In retrospect, I don't really know what took me so long. 

Fans of the series already know how charming and irrevocably lovely New Horizons is. That's been shown in the screens and trailers Nintendo has released over the past nine months or so. What they might not know is exactly how some of the game's systems work to create one of the more enrapturing simulation games I've ever played. 

During my PAX East demo, I was able to play 45 minutes of New Horizons at various stages. While I can't yet talk about everything I saw, I can shed some light on a few things we already know about New Horizons  and a few things we might be wondering about. 

Let's start with getting around.

Movement in New Horizons is simple and smooth, and the map in the lower right-hand corner of the screen is clear and easy to understand. It shows the main points of interest, including your house (or tent in the early-game), Resident Services, and many of your island's other buildings. It also shows you important landmarks such as rivers and oceans. 

I particularly like that the map is fully uncovered at the beginning of the game, allowing you to immediately acquaint yourself with your surroundings. You can look at it via your NookPhone. 

One of the things we've known about for a little while is pole-vaulting, but we didn't quite know why or how we'd use it. Turns out it's one of the primary ways you cross bigger rivers and get to other areas of the map.

Honestly, it's much more fun than it has any right to be, and I spent a full 30 seconds pole vaulting from one side of a river to the other before moving on to the rest of the demo. The animation is seamless and just plain fun to watch, and I did it every chance I got. 

But the islands in New Horizons aren't all flat-land. Hills and little mountains crop up all over the landscape. To climb those and get to new areas to forage and farm materials, you'll need a ladder, which is also fun to use, even if it seems to have only a singular purpose. 

Of course, you have access to other tools as well, such as axes, shovels, and fishing poles. While I wasn't able to use the latter, the axe and the shovel come in handy pretty early on. 

Crafting plays a big role in New Horizons not just because you'll want to make new things, but because tools break, too. 

Part of making new items, such as furniture and awesome little doo-dads, entails picking up materials from the ground or gathering them from objects in the world. In a twist from games such as Stardew Valley, trees specifically don't disappear when you chop them and gather all their wood. Instead, they stay where they are and regenerate materials, letting you come back for more later.

To move them to a new location or create a new space for a building, you can use the shovel to dig trees up and put them in your pocket. You can also use the shovel to dig holes in the ground and, thankfully, refill them. You can also use the shovel to dig up fossils for the museum, though I didn't run across in any while I was playing.  

In another bright spot, the radial menu for items is accessible by way of a simple button press, and it stays up until you pick an item or close it. You don't have to hold down a button and a control stick at the same time. In a sentence, the radial menu in New Horizons is to die for. 

However, something I do wish was a bit clearer was tool durability. Tools can break, but there's no meter telling you how far along you are  or at least it's not very clear. Some tools carry the denotation of "Flimsy Axe," for example, so it's likely you'll get access to more durable tools as you play through the game.

Luckily, making new tools and items is a cinch at the crafting bench, which you can build yourself or access at Resident Services. 

One of the things Nintendo really impressed upon me during the demo was that New Horizons is a game about discovery and customization. Part of the reason I'm being so coy about some of this is that I want you to discover it just as I did, such as one little cool outfit-changing spot I don't want to spoil. 

But with that in mind, character customization is a breeze. 

Aside from unlocking them, there are several ways to buy new clothes and accessories at the Able Sisters shop. You can pick up individual items from the floor, where you can buy them one at a time, or you can try on full outfits, buying a set of matching (or clashing) items all at once. 

There are a lot of options, ranging from hats and pants to shirts and glasses. To keep things simple, you don't change the color of items on a color wheel or through a set of other color options. Instead, each item has multiple entries in the shop in different colors.

It actually felt much faster to just scan across the items for a color rather than pick an item and then choose the color from another submenu. 

I also love the fact that you don't have to go in and out of individual menus to pick different options or to see your entire outfit. Simply click on what you want and presto, you see it. I won't spoil what items you can put on, but even though items were still being added daily (some had even been added the morning I played the demo, according to a Nintendo rep), there is a wide array of options already available. 

As you perform certain actions, you get Nook Miles, which you use to unlock items like hairstyles and phone cases. There are both long-term actions and short-term actions that reward you with Miles, and you can access your Nook Miles at any time by entering the game's menu or stopping by the Nook Stop. 

Implementing short-term goals gives the player easily-achievable milestones and keeps the game from getting too daunting. You're always achieving something in New Horizons, and I really appreciate that, especially in a game predicated on player-controlled creation and discovery. I might not feel like gathering and selling a large amount of fruit, but chopping down 10 trees is a cinch. 

In essence, many of these goals are achievable through normal play, such as when you decide to upgrade from a tent to a house.

Speaking of, customization wouldn't be complete without tailor-made houses. While you start in a tent, you can build your way up to a nice, cozy house. I was able to explore two houses in the demo, and though I didn't see every decorative item, I can say there's a great variety to be had.

Toilets, race-car beds, farm-style armoires, funky lights, couches, TVs, mirrors, refrigerators, house-plants. There's something for every style and mood.

Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, houses can also act as storage units for items once your pocket gets too full. However, you must retrieve materials from your house before you can use them in crafting. Items will not automatically transfer to your pocket.  

While building up your island is fun by yourself, getting help isn't too shabby either. Multiplayer is as simple as pressing a few buttons, and if you initiate the co-op session, you're the primary player the camera follows, while the second player is the follower.

The primary player can perform all of their normal actions, such as farming for materials, picking up materials, and talking to NPCs. The second player can only perform actions such as chopping down trees. They can't store things or speak to N