First Impressions Tagged Articles RSS Feed | First Impressions RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Preview: Another Classic from the Brutal Past Returns Tue, 01 Jun 2021 09:00:01 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limitless Horizons

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

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

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

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

Grand Theft Airborne

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

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

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

Islands in the Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contract Killer

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

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

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

Cerebral Assassin

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the Longshot

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

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

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

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

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

Another Round of Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s where many of the similarities end.

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

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

Fast, Chaotic, Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuts and Bolts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inelegant Weapons for a Less Civilized Age

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

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

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

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

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

Embrace the Chaos

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

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

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

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

Make Your Soldier Your Own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diablo 2 Resurrected for Modern Players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Keyboard and Mouse vs Gamepad Controls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diablo 2 is Back

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

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

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

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.

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.]

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.

Warhammer Chaosbane Beta Impressions: Action Comes To The Old World Thu, 07 Mar 2019 16:15:02 -0500 Ty Arthur

Woah, wait, another Warhammer game?

Yep, they just keep coming, and I think we all know that many of the Games Workshop licensed titles flat out aren't that great.

However, we were able to try out the Warhammer: Chaosbane beta over the past several days and can confidently say it doesn't fall prey to that unfortunate trend, even if it does have a few rough spots to iron out. 

Based off of forum chatter, many players seem to be under the impression that Chaosbane will offer the same basic four-player co-op hack 'n slash action as the recent Vermintide 2, but that's not actually the case.

While online co-op is available, Chaosbane is very much a single-player ARPG more in the vein of Diablo.

Games Workshop's tendency to throw out as many titles as possible to see what sticks may not always work out, but it is a boon for fans of the franchise to see all of these different takes on the Warhammer universe between various game genres.

If you don't want the complexity of huge-scale battles from Total War, or the high difficulty of the online-co-op-only Vermintide, or the slow turn-based play of Mordenheim, this iteration gives you some of the same aesthetics and familiar lore but in a more fast-paced, action-oriented version.

Chaosbane Class And Skill Options

The full game will start with four main classes to choose from, but unfortunately, Wood Elf Scout and Dwarf Slayer were unavailable in the beta. That second one, in particular, was a disappointment, because playing a mohawked suicidal dwarf seemed like the most fun in an ARPG. 

Despite that, I played both of the other two classes extensively and came away with a clear favorite: Imperial Soldier.

This class is basically the Guardian from Hellgate: London. Here, you want to be surrounded by enemies while swinging wildly as often as possible. The more monsters in your immediate vicinity, the less damage you take and the more damage you dish out.

Aside from the frenzied nature of the Imperial Soldier's skills, the developers really nailed the look and feel of Old-World combatants with this class.

High Elf Mage, on the other hand, offers a somewhat unique play style because its special class skill lets you control the direction of your spells. Essentially, this turns every spell into a guided missile, although you have to stay stationary while controlling where the spells zip around the area.

That's a cool idea, but overall, Mage feels the most like the typical ARPG character and the least like a unique Warhammer avatar.


Rather than a skill tree where you pick your new skills at each level like in typical ARPGs, all classes automatically unlock skills at predefined levels. There's a twist though: you can only have a limited number of skills active at once, and each skill costs a different number of points to equip.

That's where customization comes in.

You could use the basic, non-upgraded version of your normal attack for instance, but then beef up several high damage-dealing secondary skills, or do the exact opposite. You could equip a ton of lower ranked skills for more versatility, or just use one or two more powerful versions of skills that fit your play style better.

I can see a lot of players hating this system at first because in the beginning, it feels limited. That is until you realize this is basically culling out the middle man and letting you respec your character on the fly.

Anyone who plays ARPGs knows they typically limit respec opportunities, requiring you to start a new character, use a rare item, or pay a fee at a specific NPC to swap out skills. In Chaosbane, you can instead change your abilities at absolutely any time during any dungeon by simply opening up the skill screen.

It's kind of a genius change, actually, and plays really smoothly.

The system is like combining the best features of the sorcerer and wizard D&D classes at once: you have a limited number of points to utilize, but a vast array of abilities to choose from to spend on those points.

Aside from the abilities that unlock as you level, some skills can only be learned by donating items rather than selling them, which adds another layer of management besides just hoarding equipment and gold.

Finally, the Blessings of the Gods skill tree is where you have more control over how your character develops. Multiple paths are available along the tree, with each node either giving a flat bonus or opening up a new power.

This tree opens up at Level 15, after completing a certain quest, and is essentially the equivalent of the devotion constellation from Grim Dawn, except you get shards to spend on advancement as random drops rather than by finding hidden shrines.

(War)Hammering Down The ARPG Formula

Changes to the skill system aside, Chaosbane, for the most part, sticks to the standard ARPG formula of exploring dungeons and wiping out hordes of enemies.

There are a few twists here and there, like limited-time quests (save all the kidnapped soldiers before they can be sacrificed to Nurgle) or tracking down specific locations to unlock inaccessible areas (activate shrines to get past the magic barrier), and so on.

Of course, there are epic boss fights scattered throughout the game, and in the beta, we squared off against a Great Unclean One in the sewers.

One major change from the basic ARPG style is the lack of mana potions. Instead of quaffing blue vials to use your skills, each class instead gains energy by landing basic attacks or utilizing specific energy recharge skills.

You'll notice a few other differences from your typical Diablo clones while exploring the bowels of Nuln as well, like enemy bodies remaining on the ground in ever-increasing quantities, which is a nice touch in this bloody, grim world.

Speaking of enemies, some of the monster animations are simply outstanding. The nurglings, for instance, occasionally gather together into a giant nurgling swarm (think the of the ball of mouths from Critter, but significantly grosser) before they fly apart across the screen in a green chunky spray when you destroy the swarm.

Vermintide 2 players will also likely delight in seeing larger beasts like the Chaos Spawn interpreted as a different style of mini-boss.

Areas For Improvement

There are plenty of elements to love about Chaosbane for ARPG fans, in its current state, some areas still need polish. In particular, the game re-uses the exact same sewer layout far too often in the quests from levels 1-16.

Apart from location repetition, the game could desperately use more variation in items. Loot a-plenty is to be found, but most of that loot is similar in both name and look, but features different stats. 

Armor or weaponry with killer aesthetics and legendary properties are a staple of this genre, but that seems to be lacking so far in Chaosbane.

In the beta, I never came across any distinctive items that would warrant me placing them in the personal stash while trying to build up a themed set across multiple dungeon runs.

Some of the beta's other problems are basic, obvious things that will clearly get patched. For instance, in my first dungeon, the shield and boots section of the character doll were swapped, showing the opposite item. In some cases, item comparison numbers also seemed to be wrong, but those are both relatively easy fixes.

The map and UI could also use a general overhaul. Clicking the light under a door doesn't always work well when trying to switch between rooms on the main hub area, for instance. While it's not a game breaker by any means, there's no ability to zoom in or rotate the camera, which makes some areas difficult to see. 

While many of the enemy animations are top-notch, I often felt like the High Elf Mage animations still needed work. Most of the spells don't quite match the background color scheme and don't really feel like they solidly connect with anything when they hit an enemy. 

Warhammer: Chaosbane As It Stands in Beta

There's plenty of good and some bad in Chaosbane, but the bottom line is this do you dig the idea of mowing through hordes of chaos daemons, deranged cultists, and beastmen?

If so, checking out Chaosbane is a no brainer. Chaosbane is only going to improve before full release, and fans of Grim Dawn or Torchlight 2 will love nearly everything about this new Warhammer outing.

Until a proper text-heavy, character-focused, real-deal RPG is set in the Warhammer universe, I'll be content slaughtering hordes of poor fools who gave their souls to the ruinous powers in Chaosbane.

The Division 2 Closed Beta Impressions: Endless Loot, Endless Fun Tue, 12 Feb 2019 13:57:03 -0500 John Schutt

This past weekend saw the private PC beta of Tom Clancy's The Division 2, and there was a fair bit of content on offer. Between two main campaign missions, the Dark Zone, a handful of side missions, side activities, and random world events, we got a good taste of what gameplay in the full release could have in store.

In something of a counter to the Anthem beta, and Anthem's marketing in general, the look we got at The Division 2 even gave us some of the end game.

With all of the latest details under our belts, let's take a look back on what we saw and what it could mean for the future.

Loot, and Lots of It

Like any member of the looter-shooter genre, The Division 2 will live and die by how fun it is to gather new items and grind for the best overall loadouts. I can say with certainty that there is plenty to see and do when it comes to loot in this new title from Ubisoft. 

The short version is this: new gear is plentiful and rarely useful, but even garbage-tier items can teach you a lot. Early leveling is also fairly fast-paced, making what you do find obsolete very quickly. For players that love seeing a shiny new thing drop from a foe when it dies, this game delivers.

Concept art of two fighters walking through a derelict building

You'll Never Be Want for Gear

Unlike games such as Destiny 2The Division 2 showers its players in gear from the very start. If I were to put an unofficial number on loot drops, I would say you'll get something — probably something terrible — about 20% of the time when you kill an enemy anywhere in the world.

The saving grace here is that there are so many opportunities for lootThere are numerous gear cases littered across the map; every mission gives you a number of items, every world event has a drop, you get a loot crate for actual in-game, usable gear just for leveling up. And that's just the beginning of things. 

Most importantly, as with the first Division, are the named enemies. These are your bread and butter, as they drop the good stuff, or at least they have a higher chance to drop some.

There are always downsides to an abundance of items, of course. The UI makes it a little cumbersome to sort through everything, and with so many different gear types even within the nine main subcategories, things quickly get overwhelming if you don't know what you're looking at.

 And even if you do, there's a lot to unpack.

Three fighters holding guns while looking at the Washington monument

The Loot is Complex

Also unlike Destiny 2, there was a ton of build variety on offer in the Division 2 beta. Every item had more than just a couple of unique stats or effects, and synergy went deep depending on what loadout you wanted to run. 

What impressed me most was the detail on each weapon type, and how much information the game gives you in plain words and numbers. I mean, there's even a damage falloff graph for every weapon, not to mention various armor effects and how they stack.

The gun variety, for a beta, was a little staggering. There were a lot of the weapons we'd seen in the first game, but there were also some notable additions, from the MP7 to several new bolt action rifles, a couple of new shotgun types, and some new pistols that might be usable in a pinch. 

From an armor standpoint, the gear sets available in The Division 2 beta came from the same basic formula: backpack, mask, gloves, holster, kneepads, armor.

The differentiating factor this time around was the inclusion of synergies even at trash-tier loot (uncommons and rares). The top tier equipment, of course, had a lot to say for itself, but there were plenty of chances to make something interesting even in the early game.

In a strange twist, weapon mods are no longer drops. Rather, they are static rolls earned through play that apply a fixed bonus, and accompanying detriment, to whichever weapon it's equipped to.

From what I could tell, most attachments worked for most primary weapons, within reason. If you were a fan of the extended magazines in Division 1, I don't think they'll be making a triumphant return, but that might be a good thing, if only for the sake of balance, primarily in PvP. 

Three soldiers in the division 2 looking out over a Washington on fire.

Progression is Quick... get used to scrapping or selling your old gear for parts or credits; you'll be doing it a lot. Every level you gain increases everything about the loot that drops, from its overall score to its effectiveness and its rarity. 

The biggest boon The Division series gives its players in this arena is a mass deletion feature that games like Anthem and Destiny desperately need. Just mark an item as trash, then press one button to sell it or dismantle it all.

Now, levels don't increase so fast that you won't get to use what you find for more than a minute. There's probably about a 30 to 45-minute gap between each level, so you'll have time to collect new gear, give it a whirl, and decide what you want to get next level.

Some weapons and gear are even good enough to keep around for a few extra levels. Or, at least, they are if the game doesn't give you something better, like, ever.

Which is the nature of a loot game. You could be stuck with the same two pieces of armor for hours upon hours, even if you have the crafting materials to make something better or the credits to buy something more your speed. Without a blueprint or worthwhile vendor stock to fill a void, that green-level loot might muddy your selection of blues and purples for a good while.

Two soldiers ducking behind cover while in a firefight.

The Division 2 is Fun to Play

You won't be waiting very long to have a good time in The Division 2. There are a few things you'll have to get through first, though.

  • The storytelling won't win any awards, but it's serviceable.
  • The gunplay isn't on the level of your DestinysTitanfalls, or even Battlefields, but it does the job.
  • I think the abilities lack a certain punch (not a new problem).
  • Explosions are somewhat muted.

What saves this game, at least from the beta, is how all of its features come together at the end. The storytelling in what will be a 40-hour campaign is just campy enough to be enjoyable, and because it takes itself so seriously, it has the kind of charm a classic '80s style action film carries. 

Sure, the guns aren't the most responsive things on the planet, but combine them with plenty of tactical movement options and enemy AI that makes you think before you shoot, and there's something to be said for the moment-to-moment gunplay.

And while the abilities on their own don't push the same kind of bombast we might expect from such an '80s film, they aren't meant to. Rather, they're supportive options that add variety when a fight is becoming a little to cover-shooty. 

Most of all, though, I think my favorite new thing is the armor system. Both players and NPCs now have an armor value that must be chewed through if you want to deal damage. Because armor has weaknesses and can be destroyed, focus fire or flanking to get to the chinks isn't just an option: it's a necessity. 

Yes, you can still shoot enemies in the head with a .50 caliber bullet and not kill them, so the bullet-sponge problem isn't exactly fixed, but there's at least some reasoning behind it all now.

Concept art from the diivision 2.

Verdict on the Beta

The Division 2 beta experience bodes well for a solid looter-shooter experience that will give the likes of Anthem and Destiny 2 something to think about. However, I don't think it will kill either of them.

Instead, the three (or four if Borderlands 3 suddenly appears) should all scratch the same gameplay itches in different ways.

If it really wants to stand out in a crowd of other highly anticipated titlesThe Division 2 needs to hit the ground running with an end game worth grinding, have a massively expanded gear set compared to the first game (which it looks like it does), and not stray too far from what made the first title a success.

From the info I could gather, Ubisoft Massive took most of the feedback they got and incorporated it already, plus some improvements people didn't ask for but that will be appreciated nonetheless.

In other words, I'm hopeful. I think you should be too.


Last month, Ubisoft unveiled that The Division 2 would be skipping Steam for the Epic Games Store. However, it will still be available through Ubisoft's Uplay when its March 15 release date finally arrives. 

The Division 2 will cost $59.99; it will be available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. 

Volcanoids First Impressions: Great Game That Needs Content Thu, 07 Feb 2019 22:44:53 -0500 Sergey_3847

Volcanoids is a new steampunk-themed survival game available through Steam Early Access. It introduces a cool type of vehicle called the drillship — your own private subterranean vessel that can dig through the crust of the earth and take you basically anywhere.

There is no time to waste, however, as your character has a very important mission: to uncover a mystery surrounding an erupting volcano. It is a dangerous task, and you must prepare well before getting into it.

If this little synopsis grabbed your interest, then you can find out more about Volcanoids by reading our early impressions on the game below.

Story and Setting

Imagine an island populated with an idyllic society and everything a human soul needs. However, out of nowhere, strange tracks appear on the ground. Nobody knows where they have come from or what their discovery might lead to.

Shortly after finding the mysterious tracks, a volcano that was lying dormant in the center of the island starts erupting like it's the end of the world. Everything that people built gets destroyed in the blink of an eye, and living on the island becomes impossible.

But somebody has to find out why these eruptions started in the first place, and if there is a way to stop them. This is where the game starts, and you, as the main protagonist, must go out there into the danger zone, collect resources, and build your own drillship to help you investigate.

Once constructed, you can use your weird new machine to traverse the island's underground world, entering caves under the mountains that serve as lava sources for the volcano. In the process, you'll begin to unravel the mysteries of the tracks and the volcanic eruptions.

As you progress through Volcanoids' missions, which are carefully laid out on the screen, you'll get to see the entire island of Adranos. While the world does look quite good for an Early Access game, one thing really sticks out as reminder that the title is not finished: the lack of content populating it.

Specifically, if you follow the main storyline, and don't spend too much time on exploration, the whole campaign will take only four to five hours to finish.

Gameplay Mechanics

Most of your time in Volcanoids is spent gathering resources for your drillship. Fortunately, the game kindly shows you the direction and the distance to the closest source of coal, copper, iron, and the other materials that are used to craft all the necessary modules.

On your way to these resources, you will face opponents that have their own drillships. These enemy crafts can be raided for resources, and, at times, you can find entire modules that can be used in your drillship.

Unfortunately, the weapons available for combat are lacking, as you have only a shotgun for dealing with adversaries. At least that's something though.

The journey for resources is made additionally challenging by the volcano, as eruptions happen every 20 minutes or so. You really need to find cover inside a ship before an eruption occurs, or a massive heatwave will kill you in an instant, forcing you to load your save game. The good news is that there is a timer on top of the screen showing you the countdown towards the next eruption.

In time, your drillship will grow to significant sizes, which will require more and more resources. This is where the game stumbles, and you start to feel the limits of the design. That said, it's, of course, understandable that the Early Access game is only the preliminary version of the game; an introduction before the actual release.

The crafting system is also a bit clunky. For example, in order to craft anything, a player is required to switch between different modules. This means that you will spend time and energy changing from your storage module, where you keep all of your resources, to your refinery module, which processes all the raw materials, to your production module, which is responsible for the actual crafting.

Furthermore, you need to carefully balance all the modules and maintain energy at a high level. This involves frequently switching off modules after certain operations have been executed, and, if you forget to do it, then it will keep draining your ship.

Simply, there's a lot to keep in mind when dealing with all of these gameplay mechanics. In the end, you may be left with doubts if all of them are really necessary.

The Verdict

  • Drillship is an exciting new concept vehicle
  • Managing ship's modules can be a lot of fun
  • Gorgeous environments
  • Main campaign is too short
  • Resource gathering and crafting can get annoying
  • Lack of weapons

It would be wise to wait on purchasing this game until the developer adds more engaging content and significantly expand the story mode.

The latest reports indicate that Volcanoids will have a multiplayer component in the future, which is really exciting. Also, it would be a great idea to let players drill freely under the ground, which is currently not possible. You can only travel towards given coordinates.

This wishlist can go on for a long time, but it simply shows that the game has a lot of potential. Volcanoids has many great ideas, but it is just too short on content at this stage.

[Disclosure: Writer was granted a copy of the game for the purpose of this article.]

Atlas First Impressions: An Unfortunate Series of Events Fri, 18 Jan 2019 23:37:08 -0500 Sergey_3847

After officially releasing Ark: Survival Evolved, Studio Wildcard wasted little time and created a new pirate-themed MMO, titled Atlas, that strongly resembles Ark itself. Currently, the game is available through Steam Early Access, and it has already divided players into two camps: haters and true fans.

Atlas is a huge game, which is capable of hosting 40,000 players at once. The problem is that it's not easy to deliver a smooth gameplay experience to such a large playerbase, and server lag and netcode errors are common.

The reason for these issues is partly due to the massive amount of servers required to host the game's map, and those can desynchronize and throw players out of the game. However, despite these technical issues, Atlas still manages to stay at the top of the Steam charts.

If you want to know whether Atlas is worthy of your time and money, then read our Early Access impressions below. They should help you make a final decision.

The World of Atlas

The map in Atlas consists of 225 separate regions that are seamlessly combined into a world featuring hundreds of islands, big and small. These islands can be claimed by players using flags.

The central part of the map is especially hospitable, as it offers the most comfortable climate for gathering resources and taming creatures. In contrast, the northern and southern regions of the map are too extreme to be accessed during the early stages of the game, and players can simply freeze to death in these locations.

Fortunately, when choosing what type of server one wants to play on, players are given the choice of the region they wish to spawn at. In this regard, Atlas is really beginner-friendly, as it allows new players to choose their destiny from the beginning.

The game starts in the familiar territory of basic survival gameplay. This involves collecting resources that will not only allow you to build your first ship and sail it across the great ocean, but also maintain your vessel and even hire NPCs.

If things go well in these early stages, players will begin experiencing some fantastic multiplayer battles, both on the water and in the sand. However, getting to that point is really difficult due to the chaotic nature of the game

That is, it is extremely hard to survive in Atlas on your own, because, if you can't manage to protect your belongings, everything can change in the blink of an eye. Atlas is not perfect, and even after preparing as well as you can, you can still fail. This makes it almost a necessity to form companies, the equivalent of guilds in many MMOs, with other players.

Life and Death in Atlas

The first few hours of gameplay in Atlas are rather boring, and they boil down to gathering basic resources such as stone, wood, and food. If you aren't used to playing survival MMOs that require spending hours on the most mundane of tasks, then you may get bored really, really quickly.

But is there fun to be had somewhere beyond this initial stage? Well, that mainly depends on how much punishment you can endure, as Atlas is a really unforgiving survival game, which truly rewards only the strongest and the smartest.

In the next phase of gameplay, you will be building a ship and sailing the seas. This comes at a point when you simply can't wait to leave the first island that you've spawned at, but the relief it brings only lasts for a short time, as the space between the islands is just as dangerous as it is on the land.

You can take your time and sail for a few hours searching for a perfect island to build your base on, but, most likely, you'll be attacked and killed during this search. This puts you back to square one, and then you may realize that you've spent your entire day playing the game without making any progress. This is the experience of playing Atlas.

Of course, players with a lot of free time and patience will break through this unfortunate series of events, and, after a third or fourth attempt, they may finally build a competitive ship that can protect itself in the open waters. However, you will die a lot in this game along the way, and there is no way around it.

Get Rich or Die Trying

The mindset of many players in Atlas simply revolves around making life difficult for other companies. This causes Atlas to quickly turn into a mess of a game, which is cruel to every party involved.

For example, on PvP servers, every piece of land is already occupied by extremely protective players. This means that you must agree to pay taxes for everything that you do in order to be able to play the game at all.

Additionally, Atlas's servers work 24/7, and offline raiding is possible. As such, many other companies will want to take away your stuff while you're offline, and it is optimal that at least one of your teammates always stays online to check for attackers. But how many players can dedicate so much to a game? 

Without a full-time lookout, the only way to leave your game safely is to build a ridiculously well-defended base that would take many hours of raiding just to get inside. Some players simply won't want to deal with that and may leave you base alone, however, there is another problem: ships can easily be torched and left burning. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease.

These reasons are why offline raids are so frustrating, as one such raid can leave you with no base and resources. The developers need to address this as soon as possible.

Of course, some of these issues can be avoided by playing on a PvE server, but MMOs are meant to be played for online interactivity and not as single-player experiences. While it is good to learn all of the basics on a PvE server, some players will not want to miss out on the PvP experience completely.

Final Thoughts

Does Atlas have the potential to be a great game? Absolutely, but so much needs to be done, and private servers are not the solution simply due to the huge number of players that are needed to fill the game's massive world.

The developers simply need to change the rules of the game, with a focus on making the gameplay less boring and frustrating. Additionally, people that come online need to feel good about starting another gameplay session, rather than worrying if all of their stuff has been taken by raiders while they were offline.

Until the right solution has been found, Atlas will keep suffering from a split playerbase syndrome. Players who love the chaos of Atlas will come in just to have fun, while others will be frustrated to such lengths that they may not even look at the company's next project.

One would've thought that Project Wildcard would have learned a lesson or two from Ark, but it looks like it just can't nail the right formula yet. Let's hope that the company can make some good decisions for the game this year, or else Atlas will experience the same fate as many other failed MMOs.


  • Huge open world


  • Lack of PvE/PvP content
  • Offline raiding
  • Network lags and errors
BATALJ First Impressions: An Intriguing Twist on Turn-Based Strategy Fri, 14 Dec 2018 13:57:22 -0500 Tim White

Think Final Fantasy Tactics, but with robots and timers, and you'll have a basic idea of what BATALJ is all about.

The PvP turn-based strategy game from Fall Damage studios is currently in closed beta, and it looks like it might do a good job of filling a small but largely ignored niche.


Almost without exception, I dislike PvP games. I'm just not into them. If gamers were generally respectful and capable of friendly, non-toxic competition, I'd likely be more open to the idea.

One of the first things I noticed about BATALJ is that it resolves one of my biggest gripes about PvP; you can't communicate directly with your opponent, so there's no possibility of hearing about how many preteens your mom is supposedly dating.

When you open up the Quickmatch menu, you're prompted to select a squad of robots to send into battle against your opponent's own group. There are pre-made squads to choose from, or you can build your own from more powerful units as you unlock them through gameplay.

When the match starts, you have two minutes per round to issue orders to all of your units. Once both players have issued all of their commands or the timer runs out, the action phase begins. Robots act in initiative order based on speed modifiers associated with each order that was given.

There are a decent number of buffs, debuffs, and status effects to choose from, adding another layer of things to think about when planning your actions. Powerful or highly useful abilities are generally slow and will push the unit in question farther back in the turn queue.

Of course, you can't see what orders your opponent has given, so you'll have to decide how much speed you're potentially willing to sacrifice in favor of a heavier assault.

This paradigm is really more of a gentle blending of TBS and RTS setups; as your squads grow larger, two minutes becomes a more restrictive time limit, but it never feels like it's not enough time. It strikes a good balance between creating a sense of urgency and giving each player a little bit of time to think.

The map is divided into zones, and at the end of each round, the game checks to see if each zone is occupied exclusively by one team's units. If so, that player is considered to be in control of that zone. For each round that you control more zones than your opponent, you're granted a point, and the first one to five points wins the match.

Each player also gets reinforcements periodically, so there's always an element of controlled chaos, and always a chance to bounce back even if you've fallen far behind.


BATALJ has a neat, cartoonish sort of art style that makes great use of bright colors. Each robot unit has its own distinct appearance and color scheme, which makes it easy to tell them apart at a glance.

As far as I can tell, there's only one map right now, and it's not especially interesting to look at, but I assume we'll see more variety in locations as development continues.

Music & Sound

There isn't much to say about the soundtrack, which is fairly generic (but at least not overly distracting).

The sound effects are much more interesting. Many of the robot units deliver punchy one-liners or moan woefully when destroyed. Lasers and explosions abound, and there's a good amount of variety from one unit to another.


BATALJ is (presumably) a pretty simple game under the hood, at least in comparison to much of what's being released nowadays. On a rig housing a GTX 1080 and an i-7700 4.5GHz processor, I had smooth frame rates and experienced no performance issues. Even more budget-friendly PCs should be able to handle BATALJ without major issues.

Connections to other players seem stable, although I've only been able to play a single live match against another person so far; it was early in the morning, and I don't think there are a huge number of players participating in the beta. The Quickmatch lobby may be more active later in the day.

Overall Impressions

There isn't much here yet—1v1 Quickmatch is the only game mode available right now, aside from a single-player sandbox mode designed to let you summon unlimited units and play them against each other to get a feel for how they all work. That being said, BATALJ seems to be off to a good start.

More variety in both games modes and in different robots to work with would be welcome. A greater number of maps that are more visually interesting wouldn't be amiss, either. I'm sure all of these things are probably on the developers' radar and in the works.

If you like both PvP and turn-based strategy games, BATALJ will likely be right up your alley. It's set to release sometime in 2019 for PC. Keep an eye on the BATALJ game page right here on GameSkinny for more news.

Underhero Review - I Need a Hero Sat, 29 Sep 2018 11:13:46 -0400 Kimberly Cooper

Underhero is another one of those games that you might've otherwise missed if you were not actively following its progress. More often than not, it takes a lot of perseverance and charm to get this far and Underhero is a quirky, exciting adventure that changes up the hero formula.

The Story

The game is played within a 2D side-scroller view and while it may feel compact, it's accompanied with delightful, unique characters and a solid story of trying to save the world when you weren't exactly cut out for the job in the first place.

You take on the role of an underling-turned-hero (the Underhero) and unknowingly tasked with saving the world. This puts the antagonist-turned-protagonist into quite the pickle because this obviously isn't what he planned to happen. 

The main character is another one of those silent-types, but the fluid animation and comical moments give him plenty of personality without ever really saying a word. You're paired with the former hero's sword that is capable of changing from a blade into a hammer and slingshot at will. 

The dialogue is both quirky and cute which makes listening to all the passive dialogue quite the adventure.  Each world hosts its own color scheme but they all end up coming off as vibrant and colorful instead of dull and dreary.

Going through each area filled me with excitement as I wondered what sort of enemies I would encounter and what kind of attacks they would use against me. Would I need to duck or jump when they attacked? Would I need to use my shield or bribe them with money because they were too strong? The enemy designs fit perfectly into the peculiar world of Underhero, however, at times I felt like there could have been a larger quantity of enemies between areas.

One thing that had me baffled throughout my play-through was how all of the enemies worked for the corporation led by the main boss in the game, Mr. Stitches, but they never seemed to question why one of their own was out attacking them in the field.

The Battle System

I expected to be faced with either turn-based battles or regular ol' hack and slash when going about my journey and was met with something entirely different. People that are familiar with Undertale might see some similarities in Underhero's battle system. Once you come across a monster you initiate a fight where you can talk to your opponent to get the occasional hint or even bribe them with your own hard earned cash so that they'll leave you alone.

If throwing your money away doesn't sound like your cup of tea, have no fear. Battling involves a little more thought in which you have to actually observe your opponent's actions in order to predict which move they'll use next. If predicted correctly, you're able to dodge moves by jumping or ducking.

Time your own attacks perfectly in tune with the music to get extra damage but your attacks are also based on how much stamina you have which fills back up during the battle.

You can buy potions and other items from the shop back at the HQ as well as finding potions out in the field. The game isn't overly difficult by any means but my complaint is the game occasionally experiences lag during battles which can make them go on longer than necessary or cause you to get hit by attacks. 

There's plenty of fun to be had in Underhero with mini-games, boss fights and puzzle elements with a little platforming thrown in. While you're playing, you get to experience a phenomenal soundtrack composed by Stijn van Wakeren that I found myself listening to throughout the odd hours of the day.

Underhero isn't an overly difficult game and if you ever think an enemy is too much to handle you can always just bribe them so that they will leave you alone. You'll go broke, but at least you're able to continue on your adventure.

Despite the presence of a few bugs, this game was designed by a team of only four people and offers roughly 15-25 hours of gameplay that will scratch that indie itch. If you've been needing a break from Dead Cells or Hollow Knight and just want to experience some witty comments and bash around a few monsters without a fear of losing your head, this is the next best thing.

It's available for $14.99 on Steam, Gamejolt, and

A demo for Underhero is still available on Gamejolt and for those who need extra incentive. 

Battlefield 5 Beta Impressions Wed, 12 Sep 2018 14:39:18 -0400 John Schutt

In the Battlefield 5 section of my two-part guide on BF5 and Black Ops 4, I wrote that BF5 is looking to mix up the series' gameplay and increase speed and overall lethality. And based on everything I've read, played, and otherwise experienced in and about the beta, they've accomplished both.

If I were to sum up my time with the beta into a single sentence it would read like this:

Battlefield 5 makes me feel more powerful than any game in the series since Bad Company 2

In other words, I feel I can make a difference as a solo player even with 127 other people on the server. In ways that haven't existed in almost a decade, I can create my own Battlefield moments and can regularly contribute more than an average player's worth of performance. 

Now. All that said, the Battlefield 5 beta is.. fine. It is perfectly functional, enjoyable, grindable, and playable for two or three hours at a time. These impressions are subject to change, bearing in mind we had limited access to weapons, low customization options, only two maps, and a few modes. DICE has plenty of time to implement their own changes to weapon balance, handling, and all that.

Below are the two biggest things I loved about the beta, and two things I think need the most work.

Map Design

One of Battlefield: Bad Company 2's best features was its map design. It was pared back for infantry-focus combat. There was certainly room for vehicles, but they were not essential to the metagame. Even in Battlefield 3, where jets and helicopters made a huge comeback, there was still plenty of room for the soldier to affect the outcome of a match, and infantry were necessary to completing objectives in ways vehicles often couldn't do much about. 

Battlefield 5, or at least the beta, brings that magic back by constraining the maps and limiting vehicle play just enough for both they and the riflemen to have a say. On Rotterdam (at least), the tank could only function on the outskirts of the map, providing easy control of the perimeter flags but leaving the all-important central flag uncontested. Narvik allowed it more free reign, but the tank wasn't always the smartest choice with so many nooks and crannies for rockets to come out from.

Both maps also were easily navigable with plenty of good flanking routes. Narvik was especially friendly for such play, given the additional verticality not present on Rotterdam. Adding in a small hill is one of the simplest design choices to make, but the tactical advantages offered to both sides of that equation make gunfights far more interesting that on flat ground. Though Rotterdam was very good at allowing for broken sightlines and alternate routes of attack, it was far flatter and more horizontal than its snowy counterpart. 

Which, I should add, is probably why I liked it more. I believe Narvik to be the better map, overall, but Rotterdam played into my twitch shooter sensibilities more effectively. There was only as much verticality as there needed to be, and even that wasn't necessary to capture the flag, as the zone extended beneath the train platform above the streets.

Last was the layout. Give me a circular map over a linear one any day. Constant rotation breeds additional conflict rather than needing to fight over a central point for hours before anyone goes anywhere. My strategy of breaking the backline still functions, of course, but I don't find "holding the line" as appealing as skirting it.


I played all four classes for several hours each, and while I would be remiss to actually do a full guide on each of them without a full grasp of their complete kit, but I can speak to the feel of the weapons on offer. 

Battlefield 5's weapons are satisfying to use

I played primarily assault and medic, but there's something to say about taking off someone's head from 100 meters, flaring the objective, picking up someone else's gun and then clearing said objective yourself.

The STG was, of course, the real winner of the beta, outperforming other guns at most ranges, and hampered only by the assault's limited ammo count. Still, neither the SMGs nor the LMGs were slouches and the scouts, while limited by the lack of good one-shot potential beyond the head, still allowed for some great moments throughout my playtime. 

Overall, though, it's the basic satisfaction of using the weapons that wins the day for me. The small rush that came with every kill, never a guaranteed thing with the lower TTK and the fact you had to actually compensate for recoil ensured combat felt fast, fluid, and took a level of skill I could really appreciate. 

Now for the bad news.

Lack of Autonomy

Perhaps Battlefield 5's biggest failing is its dogged pursuit of team play. Where once the assault was the ultimate frontline fighter, in this beta he was relegated to three or four good engagements before he would have to retreat to find either health or ammo. Usually both. 

The medic and support were similarly neutered. SMGs came with additional ammo, but their weakness in comparison to other class weapons forced them near their teammates even when it would be a better use of their time to scout ahead with their improved healing. Support might never run out of ammo, but two gunfights often led to a lengthy reload and a decided lack of health, forcing a retreat.

Scouts? Scouts should almost never be in the middle of anything unless it's to run up and pop a flare. 

The other problem I had was the removal of full class swapping. That is, if you pick up a weapon off the ground, you take only the weapon, not the class associated with it. The change certainly allows for more dynamic gameplay, but for me, it removed some of the playmaking and team support possible in previous games.

As recently as Battlefield 1, if I cleared a room as assault and found a medic's kits on the ground, I could quickly heal and keep going. In this new Battlefield experience, that just isn't possible.

The Backend

It's a tale as old as Battlefield. You've got a guy in your sights. He's got an oblivious teammate, too. You open fire with perfect aim and.. nothing. The bullets go straight through him, he turns around and a miracle: you die.

Alternate scenario. You see a guy running. Easy shot, but when you "hit" him, there's no damage. Then, when you dodge behind a wall to avoid his return fire, you die. Behind the concrete wall. In a game without that kind of bullet penetration.

In short, the Battlefield series has always had a problem with hit detection and hitboxes staying where they need to be. The BF5 beta is probably the cleanest when it comes to this problem, but it's still more than apparent. 

To be fair, this issue is more a problem with the franchise as a whole, or at least as far back as Bad Company 2. With each new game, though, I hold out hope they can fix it, with no luck.


Though the game didn't impress me as much as I was hoping it would, the gameplay is still the same deep and meaningful stuff I've played for going on 10 years, and a lot of the same strategies and tips still apply. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more content when Battlefield 5 releases November 20.

Mega Man 11 Demo Impressions Sun, 09 Sep 2018 10:32:48 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

The Mega Man 11 demo recently dropped in order to prepare players for it's upcoming release on October 2nd, and there's a lot of information to unpack from the one level it offers.

Let's take a look and see how much progress Capcom has made in the eight years since Mega Man 10, and see if they can promise us something worth the wait.

First Impressions

The demo only gives you access to one of the eight stages available in the full game, that being Block Man's stage. 

Upon starting the stage up you'll be greeted by the new 2.5D graphical style and some new music, both highly evocative of the classic era of Mega Man that this game evolves from. The new 3D graphics operating on a 2D plain do a splendid job of bringing the classic series' aesthetic into a new dimension. Enemy animations are a lot easier to read with newly added detail, and the world feels ever so slightly more alive around you.  

The music hasn't really wormed its way into my every waking thought the way a lot of the other Classic Mega Man tunes have, but rest assured it's still good stuff. It's difficult to get full impressions on a game through just one level, music most of all, but what we've been presented with here still sets a strong precedent.

Block Man's stage starts off with a colorful daytime temple theme, and slowly progresses to a cool evening as the level goes on.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

For anybody concerned that Mega Man 11 will be a major departure from the formula that made the series work, you can rest assured that all of the basics of the franchise are still here. Veteran players of Classic Mega Man will feel right at home. On the other hand, those who may not be as interested in Mega Man 11 because it seems too safe and familiar with little evolution needn't worry either. 

Every basic essential in the Super Fighting Robot's toolkit is still here; the mega-buster, the charge shot, the slide, Rush coil, and so on. Mega Man's arsenal is what you'd expect, but the overall controls and game feel seem just that little bit tighter, and several quality-of-life additions make everything progress more smoothly. Robot Master weapons can now be quick-selected with both the triggers as well as a weapon-wheel using the right analog stick, and the selected power is made all the more clear through Mega Man's costume changing with each one.

The biggest additions to Mega Man 11 present in the demo come in the form of the Double Gear System and the multiple difficulty settings. The Double Gear System is a new mechanic that allows Mega Man to either briefly slow down time in order to tackle an intense situation, or power-up the mega-buster in order to blast through enemies faster.

Both powers are assigned to their own triggers, and if you press both at the same time you can activate both powers at once to get yourself out of a jam. All three of these techniques fill up a special meter, and if you push the limit on these powers too hard you'll be forced to let the gears cool down before you can use them again. 

The other major addition is the return of multiple difficulty settings last seen in Mega Man 10, which this game further expands on. While the previous installment had three difficulty modes to choose from - the last being a Hard Mode that was unlocked upon beating the game on Normal Mode - Mega Man 11 has four to choose from.  

There is of course an ultimate difficulty setting dubbed "Superhero" which you can unlock upon completing the game on Normal, but there is also a "Newcomer" Mode which is intended for first-time players who have never played a Mega Man game before. Each difficulty setting has fairly major differences in how much damage you both take and deal out, though the level design itself stays unaffected, unlike Mega Man 10's Easy Mode.  

On that note, what little level design is showcased in the demo is very fun and very solid. The challenge is a fair balance on any difficulty setting 

Let's Wrap Things Up

That's about everything of value that can be extracted from the Mega Man 11 demo. I for one was enthralled with what I got my hands on, and am more than likely going to pick the full game up when it releases next month.

My only nitpick really is that Capcom seems to have changed the Mega Man's iconic audio design quite a lot in this demo. The mega-buster's shot, Mega Man's jump and game over sound effects were all among some of the most iconic in gaming, and they've all gone out the window. This is by no means a serious issue with the game, but it's definitely a thing I and many other players will be weirded out by the absence of.

The demo does make a point that the game is still in development, but we're getting pretty close to release at this point, and I doubt that the new sound effects are just place holders. Perhaps the classic sound effects could be patched in at a later date as an audio setting in the options menu, or be made into an unlockable for completing a specific challenge.

Whatever happens, Mega Man 11 is shaping up to be a solid and very enjoyable entry in the Classic series, as well as a grand return to form for Mega Man after nearly a decade-long absence.

I've already made it to this congratulations screen about six times already.

The Mega Man 11 demo is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The game will be released in full on all platforms including PC on October 2nd.

Green Hell Early Access Impressions Thu, 30 Aug 2018 13:07:36 -0400 Sergey_3847

Fans of survival games like The Forest and Stranded Deep will be pleasantly surprised by Creepy Jar studio's new game Green Hell. It offers a different view on a survival genre that really makes you meticulously think out all your actions during the gameplay.

It has everything that a survival game needs, including collecting/crafting items, hunting, and building mechanics. But what makes it stand out from other survival games is an attention to detail that makes the survival aspect of Green Hell quite challenging.

The game is currently in Early Access, so if you'd like to learn whether it's worth buying the game now or waiting for a full release, keep on reading our impressions of Green Hell's first playable version.

Story and Setting

Currently, the game has two playable modes: Survival and Challenges. There's also a Story mode present in the main menu, but it's not playable just yet. Instead, you can get a taste of the story during the first part of the Survival mode that offers a glimpse of what the Story mode can be all about.

You begin stranded on the shores of an Amazonian jungle. Two young scientists land in the unknown area to get to know the Yabahuaca tribe that resides somewhere in the jungle. Your job is to get to the first camp and search for the tribe.

In the first camp, you're given tasks that serve as a tutorial to understand the basic game mechanics such as collecting and crafting, eating and taking care of your wounds. You can read more about these aspects of the gameplay in our beginner's guide here.

The most fascinating part of Green Hell is its visual presentation. The game looks absolutely gorgeous. Well, at least the nature part is really awesome. You can tell the developers took their time to create realistic textures for the foliage, water, and surrounding areas.

The lighting is perfect in this game. You can see every glare and ray as precisely as in real life. If you wander too deep into the jungle, it gets really dark and hard to see anything -- creating the need to craft a torchlight or set up a small campfire.

Apparently, the developers have studied actual Amazonian forests and carefully recreated the atmosphere and setting of the jungle with all its intricacies.

The jungle is thick and full of various plant and animal species, which you can gather or hunt. But things aren't as sweet as they seem at first glance, and sooner or later you'll get bitten by a venomous snake or eat an unknown mushroom that will make you puke.

One more thing that makes the jungle alive is the ambient sound. It's really subtle and doesn't distract you from the game, but every little rustle or gust of wind adds to the realism. Eventually, you'll find yourself completely immersed in the gameplay.

At this point, it's hard to say how big the island actually is, since there isn't a map in the menu. The area will probably increase when the game is finally ready for the story, but right now it's still a mystery.

Regardless, the general area is big enough to explore for hours upon hours. Sometimes you'll stumble into other campsites that are likely abandoned, and the only NPCs you meet are the aborigines of the Yabahuaca tribe.

It's easy to spot them in the jungle by their characteristic songs. So if you hear tribal singing, and you're not ready to accept a fair fight, then it's better to quickly leave the area for good.

Gameplay Mechanics

The mechanics in the Early Access version of Green Hell offer enough to survive on such simple things like wooden sticks, stones, and liana ropes. Out of these three basic materials, you can craft everything from a simple axe to an entire shelter.

Building a shelter is especially important if you want to save your gameplay, as that's the only place where you can do so. The shelter also provides an opportunity to rest in order to keep your sanity levels from falling. Let them fall too low, and you'll be vulnerable to wild animals.

Another classical survival feature is hunger. Eating and drinking are absolutely required for survival. You can find food almost anywhere: on the trees, on the ground, or by hunting animals. The meat has to be cooked as well, or you might get sick.

Speaking of getting sick, healing wounds or sicknesses is also a huge part of the gameplay. One little mistake of drinking a dirty water or falling off of a cliff may result in low levels of energy and sanity. But fortunately, there are well-designed mechanisms to treat wounds in the game with the help of special plants.

All the information about valuable plant species is collected in your notebook. You can gather these plants and keep them in your backpack for further application. On all other occasions, you just need to be careful and remember what is safe to do and what isn't.

One of the most unique mechanics in Green Hell is the body inspection. If you notice that your health is rapidly reducing, you can activate an inspection tool in your menu and examine every part of your body for any possible injuries. Most likely you will see a scratch or a wound that needs to be patched.

The hunting and combat mechanics are really simple in Green Hell. Right now you have one basic attack and one basic block action when using a melee weapon. You can also throw melee weapons at any target by pressing the mouse wheel.

Most animals will run away from you, but others, like Jaguars, can be a bit more dangerous. It's better to avoid them all together since their meat isn't too nutritious anyway.

Hopefully, this aspect of the gameplay will be improved for the full release of the game, but for now, you can practice throwing hand-made axes at wild boars and birds.

The Summary

At this stage the game runs really well, no bugs and glitches detected yet. So the only thing that developers need to do is to add actual content -- because right now endless survival without any purpose gets boring really quickly.

You could try out the Challenges mode for three types of challenges that are limited by time, but when those are done, there really isn't much more to do in Green Hell. But that's probably the purpose of the Early Access titles -- to introduce the possibilities of the gameplay and nothing more.

Well, Creepy Jar managed to create something really cool and very much playable. If the Story mode will be fully realized and the game turns out to be as good as it seems at first glance, then the developers have another winner on their hands.

[Note: An Early Access copy of Green Hell was provided by Creepy Jar for the purpose of this article.]