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Five Big Surprises From Our Hands-On Time With God Of War

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 15:00

Sony Santa Monica opened its doors to the press last week, giving attendees a chance to spend a considerable chunk of time with the upcoming God of War. For about three hours, I was glued to the TV, as I got to experience Kratos' new story from its opening moments. Over the course of that time, I played through sections that resonated with me as a God of War fan, and was also pleasantly disoriented by its new direction. Read on for five of my most surprising and rewarding takeaways from the game. 

Warning: I'll avoid diving too deeply into spoiler territory, but I will describe a few events from the first few hours that particularly spoiler-sensitive types may want to avoid. 

The story is a slow, powerful burn
The God of War series is known for many things, including huge bosses, gruesome massacres of grunt enemies, and insanity stacked atop insanity. Most of the time, those elements are introduced within seconds of pressing the start button. That's not the case with this entry. I did get to see Kratos kill something with with his new Leviathan Axe, but it was a tree. And that came only after a contemplative moment where Kratos paused to put his hand atop a mysterious glowing handprint that marked its bark.

We haven't heard many details about Kratos' wife before, and the game's opening hours isn't exactly oversharing. Still, I was able to learn a bit more about this woman, who is named Faye. She's dead by the time we join Kratos and his son, Atreus, but it doesn't appear that she was murdered or faced a violent end. She had personally marked trees in the forest for her funeral pyre, which leads me to believe that she saw her own death coming. With her passing comes an emboldened enemy, the undead Draugr. As Atreus writes in his journal, these are warriors who are too stubborn to put down their weapons, even in death. The valley that Kratos' family lived in was protected by a magical circle of trees, but when Kratos felled them – at Faye's request – an opening in the barrier was created.

All of this is revealed naturally and deliberately through dialog between Kratos and Atreus as they prepare Faye's body for the funeral rite, hunt together, and explore the surrounding forest. God of War isn't afraid of taking its time to reveal where it's going, which was definitely a change of pacing. We learn that Faye was teaching the boy how to hunt, but it's clear the focus was more on tracking animals than slaying them. Atreus also makes a passing reference to his mother not wanting Kratos and the boy to go hunting together. I'm not ready to put money on it quite yet, but people may have been jumping the gun with their assumptions that Kratos had settled down with a mortal. Faye is awfully close to the word "fae," the catchall word for elves, dwarves, and giants in Norse mythology.

There's a beautiful world to explore, and reasons to do so
Sony Santa Monica wasn't attempting to create an open-world experience with God of War, but the team has made an effort to reward players who take the time to explore. The paths that Kratos and Atreus took during my demo were ultimately linear, though there were opportunities to move off the critical path. For example, in the early moments of the game Kratos and Atreus are tracking a deer. Rather than stick to following its muddy hoofprints, I veered off to explore an alternate pathway. It led to a treasure chest, filled with crafting materials.

You can certainly blaze through the critical path, but you run the risk of making things more difficult later on. Over the course of my demo my methodical slow-poke style paid off, as I collected three hidden apples and extended Kratos' life bar by a considerable amount. Sometimes these alternate routes are obvious, and other times you have to really scour the landscape to figure out how to access hidden paths. Kratos can't jump at will in this entry; his leaps are situational moves across gaps, similar to those that you see in the 3D Zelda games. 

There's a fair amount of puzzle-solving
It's been a while since I played through the earlier God of War games, but the latest game had more puzzles that I remember. Don't worry, however. I didn't push a single crate, pull any levers, or stand on any switches. Those things could pop up later, to be certain, but they were mercifully absent from the game's opening hours. Instead, Kratos' axe gets to show its versatility.

The Leviathan Axe is a magical weapon that freezes (most) enemies, and it can return to Kratos' hand at will. (If that reminds you of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, that's probably not a coincidence. Both were forged by Brok, a blacksmith in the Norse mythology that props up the game.) At any rate, the Leviathan Axe's frosty qualities can be put to good use in puzzles. An early puzzle is set around a pair of gates connected by a chain. Pulling the chain opens the inner gate as the outer gate closes. The secret is to fully open the inner gate and then freeze it in place by aiming the axe and chucking it at a target. From there, it's safe to run through, retrieve the axe, and pass through the outer gate.

One of the later puzzles had a deadly riff on that concept, with a spiked ceiling that could be raised by hitting large wooden paddles with the axe. Once again, I had to hit a target with the axe to lock the ceiling safely into place, but then had to take on a wave of enemies unarmed. Or, I could summon it back and do more damage while keeping an eye on the ceiling and ensuring it didn't drop too low. These might not break anyone's brain, but I saw these  a welcome change of pace from the rotating columns of yesteryear.

Oh yeah, the fighting is good
Sorry! With all this talk about story and exploration and puzzles, I forgot about that whole fighting thing. Don't worry! It's still a big part of God of War, and it's made the transition to a tighter third-person camera quite nicely. I understand purists may look at the new presentation and think, "I'm out." It's definitely different, but I was taken aback by how much it still feels like a God of War game, even though it's such a visual and mechanical departure from past games.

The axe has a nice weighty feel around it when you're using it as a melee weapon, but that's just part of what it can do. Yeah, yeah, I already talked about the puzzles. In addition to hitting targets, you can also aim it an enemies (surprise!). If it lodges into smaller enemies, it'll freeze them in place, giving Kratos an opportunity to move on to another target or finish that one off. It's an effective way to control the crowds of enemies. My favorite part is how you can chuck the axe at an enemy and recall it, and if any other enemies are in the way of its return flight, they'll take damage, too.

I wasn't able to dive too deeply into the skill tree during my time with the game, but I did get a technique called the executioner's cleave. It's a charge attack for Kratos' heavy attack that does an absurd amount of damage, with one caveat: You can't walk around with it charged, so you need to time it just right, or you'll end up hitting empty space. 

Atreus is fun to have around. Really
We've all been burned before by A.I. companions. When they're not getting stuck on geometry they're lagging behind, getting killed, or not listening. Atreus is different in that Sony Santa Monica has made a real effort to make sure Kratos' son isn't annoying. Well, he's kind of annoying sometimes, but from a deliberate narrative standpoint, and not because he refuses to jump across a gap.

If you don't want to worry about him, he runs well on autopilot. As you fight enemies, he'll pepper them with arrows, causing damage and drawing aggro from you. (Don't worry, he can't die.) You can also manually command him to target specific enemies. He has his own upgrade path, as well as gear that you can craft for him – if you choose to do so. It's really up to you.

Personally, I liked having him around. He was helpful in combat, and he never got between me and a target – which is huge. He also calls out when enemies are coming from behind, which helped on occasions when I wasn't paying close attention to the onscreen indicators. Kratos isn't nearly as into Atreus as I was, however. He's a grumpy dude who has little patience for a child's impulsive and irresponsible ways. I suspect that they'll get closer during their journey, however.


God of War is coming to PlayStation 4 on April 20. For more on the game, including a variety of video interviews with the game's creators, be sure to check out our hub below.

Categories: Games

The Beautiful Destruction Of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 17:13

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries developer Piranha Games has dropped an update to the title with new gameplay footage, including destructible buildings and new biomes.

You'll be battling it out in forests and canyons, and the weather will also factor into your chances in battle. All of that and more can be seen in the new video below.

The game is scheduled for a 2018 release on PC. Check out footage from an earlier build of the game here.

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Categories: Games

The Kraken Emerges In The Gameplay Launch Trailer

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 19:21

Sea of Thieves sets sail in a few days, and the official launch gameplay trailer features a lot of what we've been shown over the last few months. There's plenty of sword fights with skeletons and ship-to-ship combat. There's treasure hunting and dancing around to tunes from the hurdy-gurdy. There's even an adorable little pig running around. Adventure awaits in this colorful world.

Suddenly, the scene darkens as the waters run black and still. A tentacle bursts forth and towers above your ship, followed by another, and then another. One of the tentacles wraps around the hull and threatens to split it in half. The Kraken has been awakened and is looking to drag you down to Davey Jones' Locker.

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We've already attacked rival ships and met the world's end during the beta, but we're excited to see what the Kraken is truly capable of in the full game. Sea of Thieves launches on Xbox One and PC on March 20.

Categories: Games

Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians Casts Its Spell On Mobile Devices This May

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 18:34

The Might & Magic universe comes to mobile devices for the first time with Eternal Guardians. A free-to-play RPG with turn-based battles, this game from Ubisoft Barcelona takes the tone for a spin with a "Western anime" art style.

You can recruit up to 400 allies with some that evolve with stronger abilities. Strategy comes into play when using the four elements for effective attacks in the single-player campaign or online with PvP battles where you can test your team's mettle.

You can customize your own character by pledging allegiance to a particular House of Magic, determining what you unlock and special abilities you can use for playstyles you gravitate toward. Ubisoft is treating the game as a service, with events and guilds you can join to earn rare items. 

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While the game is scheduled to release for iOS and Android on May 31, you can pre-register to be notified when it launches. Doing so will grant you an exclusive creature to adopt in your party.

Categories: Games

Drive, Fly, And Boat Across America This June

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 17:44

Ubisoft has announced that The Crew 2 is releasing on June 29 with a special Collector's Edition.

The collector's edition, dubbed the Motor Edition, nets you the game three days early for people who just can't wait. The Motor Edition comes with The Crew 2 Gold Edition (which comes with the season pass), The Motorsports Deluxe Pack with in-game outfits and vehicles, a customized The Crew 2 license plate, a steelbook case, the official roadmap, and four stickers. The Motor Edition will run you $109.99.

The Crew sequel was revealed by Ubisoft just last year with a wider focus on different kinds of vehicles, like planes and boats, and telling a story more focused on gaining popularity through driving.

The Crew 2 releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on June 29.

Categories: Games

Latest Trailer Shows Dangerous Planetary Exploration

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 16:52

With games like No Man's Sky, Elite Dangerous, and Deep Rock Galactic still going strong, space-faring exploration is all the rage right now. Team 17 is throwing its hat into the ring later this year as well with Genesis Alpha One, an ambitious title that blends elements of roguelikes, base builders, and shooters. 

Developer Radiation Blue explains the thrust of the game: "As the Captain of a Genesis starship, you journey into uncharted space on the ultimate mission: find new homes for humanity’s DNA and save the species from extinction. To do this you will need to build and manage your spaceship, discover planets and harvest resources from them, clone new crew members, and create new lifeforms to populate new worlds… and of course, defend yourself from terrifying alien infestations on your ship! Nobody said saving humanity would be easy."

Today, Team 17 dropped a new trailer showing more of the game in action.

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Look for Genesis Alpha One on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC later this summer.

Categories: Games

Roland To The Rescue In Ni No Kuni II

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 15:06

Ni No Kuni II's young king Evan needs all the help he can get in ruling Ding Dong Dell, and when a man mysteriously appears before the king, help arrives at just the right time.

Roland turns into a mentor and protector to Evan, which is a role he relishes.

For more on the game, check out our New Gameplay Today video here.

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Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom comes to the PS4 and PC on March 23.

Categories: Games

The Witcher's Geralt Of Rivia Steps Into Soul Calibur VI

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 14:24

Bandai Namco has confirmed a previous rumor that The Witcher's Geralt of Rivia is joining Soulcalibur VI's cast of characters.

The White Wolf's complementary sword and sign skills can be seen in his intro trailer below, which also shows that Geralt is as salty as ever.

Soulcalibur VI comes out in 2018 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Categories: Games

Relive The Classic Street Fighter Games With Online Play

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 16:00

Few video game series, and few fighting games in particular, have the history and cultural cache that Street Fighter boasts. Even after occasional missteps, the series commands the attention of the entire fighting game community, carrying the banner at nearly every major fighting game tournament under the sun.

It is with this legacy in mind that Capcom is releasing Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, a bundling together of multiple versions of older sprite-based Street Fighter games, with a few having been retrofitted with online play. The collection pays homage to the venerated fighting game series while trying to bring the virtues of the older games in front of a modern audience.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection includes the original 1987 Street Fighter, five incarnations of Street Fighter II up to Super Turbo, three Street Fighter Alpha games, and three iterations of Street Fighter III. Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike have online play enabled, while the rest do not.

Each game is pulled straight from its arcade version, even including the name of the hardware on the menu when selecting the game. It does mean that, if you are a fan of any specific eccentricities of a console version, you may not see them repeated in the Collection.

All the games featured the same filters if you choose to use them, labeled TV and Arcade. Both emulate scanlines, while the arcade is a bit dimmer to represent being recessed into an arcade cabinet. Players can choose to play with borders which often differ by game, stretch the image, or fill the screen. The option to just turn off all the filters, borders, and stretching exists, too.

The Switch version also has an exclusive mode using Super Street Fighter II's tournament mode, letting players with multiple Switch units put them into table top mode and play musical chairs by physically moving to the right unit for the next fight. While this does let the tournament move fairly quickly by making the fights proceed concurrently, it can also be kind of a confusing mess figuring out which system and controller you need to be at for your next match.

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Fans of Street Fighter history will appreciate the museum mode, which features unreleased art, a timeline of all the releases in the series, and character profiles. You can even dive deep into individual characters and see their animations or comparisons of all their sprites across games.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC in May.

Categories: Games

A Fascinating Co-Op Narrative

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 18:15

A Way Out was announced kind of cryptically at an Electronic Arts press conference, a quick clip of two silhouetted figures riding in a boxcar and looking up at the stars, setting the tone more than offering any details. All that was known then was that the new title was from the people that created 2013's Brothers. As time passed, director Josef Fares and his studio Hazelight have been proactive in wanting people to know what they're getting with A Way Out ahead of its release later this month.

I got a chance to play A Way Out with Fares as my co-op partner at Electronic Arts' headquarters. After shaking hands and picking up controllers, we sat down and Fares leaned from his chair to mine to ask  "This is f---ing stupid, you know?" He looked at the Electronics Art representative we were sitting with. "I already know how to play this game, so he's not getting the full experience."

This more or less set the tone for playing the game with Fares as he explained A Way Out to me through different chapters.

The game follows two characters that have escaped from prison for reasons Fares does not want to divulge yet. The two characters are exactly the same in function, though their small bits of personality shine through in their animations and dialogue. In the first chapter, the pair are attempting to avoid a police manhunt in a mountainside forest, with stealth and stealth-knock out mechanics exclusive to that chapter. One character quietly tries to make the pursuers pass out, while the other clocks them violently.

Both players have to work in tandem to get around the manhunt and communication is paramount. There are several situations where taking out one guard without your partner ready to knock out the other one will result in things going sideways. At the end of the chapter, a choice was presented for both players to discuss. While it has no larger narrative influence, the choices can affect a personal I-told-you-so factor between players.

In another chapter, Fares, frustrated with the demo not being an ideal experience for discovery, announced that he would only follow me along as I solved puzzles, not performing actions unless I told him to perform them. Through this method, we managed to build a spear, catch some fish, and cook them for a brief scene of dialogue over the campfire.

"This is really f---ing cool," Fares said, picking the last save file from a list. The next and final chapter Fares showed me was a combination of Fares' ambition as a game designer and his experience as a film director. The two characters were escaping a hospital in a chapter Fares was happy to point out is one continuous shot, even during and despite the two characters splitting up and taking different routes.

A Way Out is so co-op focused that the game can't be played any other way. A single purchase lets you give another player online access to play with you, or as Fares suggested, playing it locally with someone on the couch next to you. The game is uncompromising in this vision, which Fares himself is unapologetic about, and the game benefits for being so stubborn in its inventiveness.

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Fares pointed out to me while playing that making a well-paced game means he can use mechanics only when they're appropriate and not need to stretch them out.

I remarked that's a thing games like Mario do, too.

He smiled. "Hell yeah they do."

A Way Out is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 23. You can read our interview with Josef Fares here on the differences between making movies and making games, working with Electronics Arts on an eccentric indie game, and why he focused on co-op.

Categories: Games

Get Your Diploma For Saving The World In Super Daryl Deluxe

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 19:47

Super Daryl Deluxe was originally unveiled as a Kickstarter project that surpassed its $5,000 funding goal with $7,861 back in 2014. While the two-man team of Dan & Gary Games have had their work cut out for them for the past few years, they're almost ready to unleash Super Daryl Deluxe on the world this coming spring.

As detailed on the PlayStation Blog, co-founder Dan Plate labels the game as an "RPGvania with brawler-style combat." It follows the new kid on the block, Daryl Whitelaw, as he awkwardly becomes embroiled in saving his high school from multi-dimensional foes. One of the most appealing parts of Super Daryl Deluxe is how players can unlock up to 46 abilities that can be earned by exploring the world, completing side quests, and bought off "Trenchcot Kids."

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Whether you want to fight enemies from a distance, deal more damage with status-based attacks, or dance around in the air, the game is designed to slowly yet surely encourage players to adjust how they tackle encounters throughout their bizarre travels, which range from deserts with flexing cacti to giant knights in space.

In the same vein as Supergiant Games' Transistor, you can't equip all of your abilities at once, but can have up to five of your choosing. This means you need to see what types of combinations of moves and combos work best, and with passives and outfits to keep in mind, there's plenty to keep you busy in this unpredictable, sprawling adventure that aims to provide a 15-hour experience.

Super Daryl Deluxe comes out on April 10 for PS4 and PC.

Categories: Games

The Park Is In Your Hands

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:12

Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment announced that pre-registration for its upcoming mobile game Westworld is now open. Based on the hit HBO show, Westworld will bring the power to control every aspect of the western-themed sci-fi park into your hands.

In the mobile game, players are thrust into the role of a new Delos employee and are given access to the Delos Park Training Simulation. The DPTS gives the new trainee access to all functions of the Westworld park, including the creation and maintenance of the A.I. hosts and pairing those hosts to satisfy every desire of the park's guests.

“This game is an opportunity to give mobile gamers a fresh and exciting way to interact with the engrossing themes and enigmatic narrative explored by the Westworld series," said Jonathan Knight, vice president and studio head at WB Games San Francisco. “We can’t wait for fans to get their hands on the game to develop their own unique strategy to orchestrate and explore the perfect park experience.”

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Those who pre-register for Westworld will receive additional in-game items, including a code to access Lawrence as a host. More information about pre-registration and the game itself can be found at Westworld's website. Westworld is coming to iOS and Google Play in April 2018.

Categories: Games

The Frost Sets In This April

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 13:57

11 Bit Studio, the developer behind the deeply moving and heartbreaking This War Of Mine, is back at it again with the survival genre in Frostpunk.This time, however, 11 Bit is taking on city-building, with you trying to keep a ragtag civilization alive in the biting cold.

If making tough decisions (like enforcing child labor to boost your city's survival rate) is your kind of thing, you won't have to wait long for Frostpunk. The game is out on April 24.

You can watch the trailer, featuring a Johnny Cash tune, below.

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For more on 11 Bit Studios games, check out our review of This War Of Mine.

Categories: Games

A Bizarre, Unsettling Game About Crowds

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 18:15

Masses of people, similar to crowds you find in metropolitan subway stations, walk forever forward. They traverse through pristine, tile floored areas, where giant falling cubes may block their way. Sometimes other humans kill them. This is the premise of a trailer showing off Humanity, an upcoming game billed as a "crowd action game" by Japanese developer tha ltd.

It's unclear exactly what the objective of the game is, but from the trailer, it looks like you attempt to guide massive crowds through different places. With an unsettling narrator talking about what it means to be human and the overall aesthetics, Humanity looks to be an unsettling but intriguing game.

Take a look for yourself at the trailer below.

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No platforms have been announced yet, but Humanity is expected to hit sometime this year.

Categories: Games

How Do You Play It, And How Will You Pay For It?

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 15:24

After watching several rounds of Valve’s new card game, Artifact, and playing a couple of my own, I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it the Dota 2 of card games. Designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield, Artifact is, like Dota, intimidating at first. Between three separate battlefields with separate health pools and positions, ten total heroes with different color-coded affinities, and, outside the game, a reevaluation of how Valve views its market economies, Artifact is hard to wrap your head around. But that’s how I felt about Dota 2 when I first started playing it, and over 3,000 hours later it’s one my favorite games of all time. Does Artifact stack up?

A Game Across Three Lanes
Artifact is dense, and the best way to explain it is probably to just walk you through a match. I wasn’t able to mess around with the deck-building aspect of Artifact during our play session (which is probably for the best, since I would have had no idea what I was building anyway), and instead played two rounds using pre-built decks. The minimum card count is 40, though you can have as many cards in your deck as you want. 

Each deck is based around five heroes, each of which has a border that’s either red, blue, green or black. Generally speaking, Red is based around stronger heroes with weaker abilities, blue is based around weaker heroes with powerful spells, green offers various stat buffs and additional creeps, and black has a host of mobility options, direct damage, and other sleights of hand. These affinities are more than a subtle nudge toward a strategy, however. Most cards you hold or draw in your hand have a matching color, and if you don’t have a hero of that color in a particular lane, you won’t be able to play that card at all. Affinities aren’t new to card games, and while it I occasionally forgot I couldn’t play a card because I didn’t have the right hero in that lane, it wasn’t too hard to figure out why. 

If you’re familiar with card games, think of Artifact as playing three matches of a regular card game at once, except these battles all interact with each other. At the start of each match, three of your five heroes are randomly assigned to a lane, along with a single creep unit. You start with five cards in your hand and draw two per round. Each round is separated into three lane phases, starting from left to right. In each lane phase, you can choose which cards to play based on a limited mana pool that increases by one each turn (just like Hearthstone). However, each lane has its own separate mana pool, so during the first round, you have three mana at your disposal in each lane phase.

For most players, the three-lane structure will be the biggest hurdle, and what will ultimately separate Artifact from other card games. Part of what makes Hearthstone so immediately appealing is its pick-up-and-play approachability; if the matchmaking gods treat you right, you can launch the client and be done with a match within in about seven minutes. Valve estimates the average match length for Artifact is 12 to 15 minutes. This makes it harder to jump in, and keeping track of three separate fights was tricky at first, since you not only have to allot your cards across the lanes, but make decisions according to how your actions will affect each fight. Pulling off deft maneuvers across three fronts felt cool, and deciding how to distribute your heroes and cards each turn based on your opponent’s actions adds a nice strategic layer.

Fighting, Shopping, And Annihilation
The lane phase itself, however, plays out more like a round of Gwent, in which the players trade moves one at a time until both players choose to pass up their turn. If you have the mana for it, you can play cards to buff your heroes, summon extra creeps or units, fire spells that deal damage, and more. Although you might recognize some from Dota, most of them have names and attributes new to Dota. There are also some new heroes, such as Rix, Sorla Khan, and Kona, which Valve says will eventually make their way over into Dota 2. Other cards will also serve to flesh out Dota’s lore in a way the core hasn’t been able to until now. As someone who prefers Gwent’s tense back-and-forth, poker-esque anteing up and baiting over Hearthstone’s more one-sided turns, I definitely enjoyed Artifact’s reactive turns.

Heroes definitely feel weaker relative to creeps in Artifact than in Dota, but they’re still the core of the game. Some heroes have active abilities they can dish out. Sniper, for example, can deal five damage to any creep or hero in his lane. Others have passive skills: Drow Ranger offers every unit across all three lanes +1 attack, while Crystal Maiden returns two mana for every spell you use. Axe doesn’t have a special ability, but compensates for by having incredibly lots of health and damage to throw around. Each hero also offers access to three copies of a specific card (though any hero can use them, as long as it’s the right color). This means across five heroes, 15 cards are immediately accounted for when you’re building a deck. But you’ll want these cards in your deck anyway, as they’re some of the strongest in the game. Luna’s Eclipse deals out massive amounts of damage at random, while Sniper’s can deal 10 damage to any unit in any lane.

After both players choose to pass, all the enemies and creeps attack each other at once according to their position. If your hero or creep is across or facing an enemy (depending on a random assignment at the beginning of the turn), you deal and receive damage based on each unit’s attack, health, and armor stats. If there isn’t an enemy sitting across from your unit, it attacks one of your enemy’s towers. If you manage to destroy a tower, it becomes an Ancient. If you can destroy an Ancient or two towers, you win the game. Towers are exceptionally fortified, however, and will take several turns to destroy. Assuming no one loses during that lane phase, the round shifts one lane to the right, until both players have passed their turn on all three lanes. This makes positioning crucial; if you’re facing an impossibly strong Axe, for example, finding a way to plant even a basic creep in his path can render him harmless. 

Once the fighting’s all done, you do a bit of shopping. If you manage to kill a unit (hopefully, an enemy hero) during a round, you earn gold you can spend on special cards that are added to your hand between rounds. This includes usable items like healing salves or teleport scrolls, as well as equippable items like the Blink Dagger (one of the few ways to freely hop among the lanes), all of which come from a second deck of nine cards you build beforehand. Because the main object of the game is to destroy towers and not heroes, gold acts as an incentive to kill heroes, and items, in turn, make it easier to destroy towers. If a hero dies during lane phase, they’ll have to sit out during the next round, but will come back after that (unless it’s Rix, who gets to come back at the start of the next round.) From there, it’s rinse and repeat.

The shopping system reminds me of the Pokemon card game, where you have a side deck of six rewards to choose from. It’s a fun nod to Dota 2’s emphasis on economy, and works as a deterrent against overwhelming odds. The right item bought at the right time can make a huge difference.

After I played a couple of rounds, Valve showed the game off by having high-level CCG players from other card games take the reins for an internal tournament. As expected, matches went by far quicker, and I also saw the kinds of decisions players who know what they’re doing will face. One aspect that emerged was turn priority; basically, if you choose to pass on your turn first, you make the first move on the next lane phase, which can be a huge factor when a lane’s tower is on its last legs and every move matters.

Like I said, it’s a lot to take in. Like in any good card game, turns only get more complicated as you gain access to more mana, start unleashing intricate spell combos, and turn every round into that much more of a minefield. Do you abandon one lane entirely for a couple of turns by blinking a hero out of it and pray you can destroy the two surrounding towers before they destroy your unprotected ancient? Do you clear an entire lane using the Annihilation spell now, or try to bait your opponent into investing more heavily into it before blowing it all up? Do you save your gold for a card that will make future purchases much cheaper, or spend what you have The Blink Dagger and Healing Salve that could save your Legion Commander from certain doom? The combination of more reactive turns, lane distribution, and hero variety make certain answers hard to come by, and it makes Artifact feel like a more open-ended card game.

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No Longer Free To Play
With most card games, the business model is as important as the game itself. Valve is incorporating a number of lessons from Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The first is a shift away from the pure free-to-play models that have defined other card games over the years. Before we played Artifact, a group of press sat down with Gabe Newell to talk about Valve’s hopes for Artifact as a marketplace. “When you’re in a free-to-play environment, you end up with this tendency that rarity equals power,” Newell said. “So you’re trying to create get this artificial relationship [between the two], and that’s not the case at all with Artifact.” Newell promises that common cards will be among the most powerful, and that the company will try to steer away from pay-to-win models as much as possible.

Players will have to buy in to receive their first few cards (what that buy-in will be Valve isn’t sure yet). From there, they can buy additional card packs. Valve sees opening card packs as a competitive opportunity through draft-style and closed deck formats. Newell thinks of every card pack purchase as part of a shared economy, one where the cards you have retain their value because they’re actively being traded. To that end, Valve is letting players treat their cards the same way they would physical ones. If you don’t want or already have a card you bought from a pack, you can just sell it on the Steam marketplace. If you’re looking for a single card to complete the incredible deck idea you just cooked up, you can go and buy it directly from someone else, without having to burn money on card packs until you get it, getting cards that are either useless along the way. This attaches real value to individual value to each card that you can trade in at some point.

According to Newell, this lets players more easily think about implementing new strategies. “Let’s say in a game where my assets are depreciating, where I can’t exchange them, I can spend a bunch of time building up stuff and then I’m stuck with my strategy,” he says. “I can’t make a technical decision and try something else because essentially I have to burn all of the value that I’ve put into the game so far.” Because players can’t easily trade in cards they already have for new ones in this model, it becomes harder for them to develop and experiment with new strategies. Artifact hopes to change this.

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Another reason for moving away from free-to-play, according to Newell, is that when free and paid-for items intermingle, the paid-for items lose their value. “If time is free, or an account is free, or if cards are free, anything that has a mathematical relationship to those things ends up becoming devalued over time, whether it’s the player’s time and you just make people pay to grind for thousands of hours for minor trivial improvements, or the asset values of the cards or whatever, that’s a consequence,” he says. Considering Valve wants to attach real value to every card, it makes sense that the entire economy would be cordoned off from free stuff. This is likely a lesson learned from their previous economies; in Dota 2, for example, cosmetic items that came from purchasable chests could wildly vary in price, making them either inaccessible to players who didn’t want to invest a ton of money or making them worthless in the long run. Unlike cosmetic items, Artifact’s cards have real gameplay implications, making it even more important to keep them valuable.

This also factors into Valve’s other marketplace, user-made items, which has become a huge part of both Valve’s pitch to players to make Valve games feel like they belong to the community and for Valve make some cash on the side. Across their other games, avid workshop devotees can stand to make money by having their custom items approved and put up for sale (Valve, of course, gets a cut of that sale). Valve has confirmed that while Artifact is not yet as moddable as they’d like it to be (so far, the biggest opportunity they see is for illustrators making custom art for cards), they plan to let non-artists contribute in some way. Following Valve’s logic, it’s possible that the move away from free-to-play would make these sorts of user-made items more valuable as well.

While the logic seems sound, it’s hard to know how this new model will play out. I wasn’t able to glean how rarity would work under this system, but as a layman I can’t help but wonder whether this leads not to a model where rarity is power, but where power is rarity – a system where the most useful cards aren’t traded as often, and thus become harder to come by, leading to instances where players may have to pay a bit extra for the best cards. This might lead to some of the price-gouging seen in physical card games. Without knowing specifics, however, it’s hard to speculate.

Polishing Up The Edges
While the idea of a card game based on Dota 2 seemed a little bit “me-too” for Valve or a side project as they work on something larger, it’s clear Valve is taking Artifact seriously.

It’s a serious card game, and whether its higher skill ceiling, dense approach, and new market economy work out remain to be seen. Although I only barely had the hang of it by the time my session was over, I’m looking forward to playing more of it when it hits closed beta later this spring. It fuses a lot of elements of Dota and card games I enjoy, and while its intricacies might make it overwhelming at first, I’m eager to dive in and just keep learning, even if I know I won’t fully grasp it for a while. After all, one of the things that makes Dota 2 special is the continual learning process that, while not always intuitive, generally leads to fun, worthwhile discoveries that reward experimentation. Let’s hope that’s the case with Artifact.

Categories: Games

Survive In A Zombie Wasteland This May

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 19:26

State of Decay 2, the highly anticipated sequel to the zombie-survival game from last generation, now has a release date of May 22 in two separate versions, according to IGN.

The game comes in a standard edition, priced at $29.99, and an Ultimate edition at $49.99. The Ultimate edition allows players to access the game early on May 18 and includes the original game, State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition, on Xbox One and State of Decay 2 DLC packs Independence and Daybreak, which have TBD release dates.

Microsoft got behind State of Decay after the first game made a huge splash on Xbox Live Arcade. The new game runs on Unreal Engine 4, switching from the first game's CryEngine. You can check out the game's trailer from last E3 below.

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State of Decay 2 is releasing on Xbox One and PC.

Categories: Games

See The Missing Chapter Even Before The Prequel

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 18:48

Deck Nine Games wraps up their run on Life is Strange with Farewell, the final episode in the prequel series Before the Storm.

The episode, which comes out today, takes the prequel even further back, when Chloe and Max were only kids. The bonus episode, which is exclusive to the Deluxe edition of Before the Storm, covers the period of time where Max leaves Chloe to move to Washington and how the two don't really reconnect until Life is Strange.

Check out the trailer for Farewell below.

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The episode is available to download now if you own or upgrade to the Deluxe version of the game.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

You Are The Monster In This Reverse Horror Game

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 22:30

Most horror games are about limited the player with scarce resources or having them evade a ferocious villain stalking them. In Carrion, an upcoming horror game from Phobia Game Studio, the roles are reversed. This time, you're a fearsome, bloody, monster blob lurking around and killing its prey.

You make your way through an industrial complex going head-to-head with various heavily armed humans, all hoping to end the terror you cause. Unfortunate for them, you have a range of otherworldly abilities at your disposal to send them to early graves. You can view a short trailer below.

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Carrion is expected to release on PC, though no release date has been announced just yet.

Categories: Games

Rare Details Ship Customization On The High Seas

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 23:36

With Sea of Thieves not far off on the horizon, Rare has released a video detailing how ship customization works.

Rare hasn't been coy about the ways in which pirate customization works, explaining that pretty much every aspect of your buccaneer is up for changing. Ship customization, however, has been pretty quiet beyond possible hints in the beta. The newest developer diary explains that you can basically build the ship from the sails to the hull.

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I'm pretty excited to spend way too long picking out a good masthead that I feels matches my personality as a pirate.

Sea of Thieves is releasing on March 26 for Xbox One and PC.

Categories: Games

Deep Rock Galactic Is A Cooperative Blast

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 21:48

Your party consists of four gun-totting dwarves. After a successful mission, you can buy them new beards. If this doesn’t pique your interest, perhaps the excellent exploration and gunplay will.

Deep Rock Galactic isn’t officially out yet, but is available to play now through Steam Early Access or Xbox One’s Game Preview program. After vesting a few hours into this unique experience – which plays out like a mix of Red Faction, No Man’s Sky, and any game featuring a horde mode, I can say it’s well worth your time – just know it’s a work in progress, and crashes, and server issues abound.

Your dwarf is employed by a mining company that is stripping an alien world of its riches. When you descend beneath the planet’s surface into its serpentine caverns, you’re tasked to mine whatever you can, although the mining company designates which mineral you should focus on to complete the mission. The caves are sometimes lit by lava-spewing geysers or glowing fauna, but most of the light either comes from your headlamp or flares that you toss into the darkness. A suffocating and ominous vibe hangs over these sprawling areas, and wandering too far from your party can lead to disaster, as you are not alone. From what I can tell, the primary foes in the game are crab-like creatures that are sometimes made out of rock. For these tougher, armored foes, you'll need to circle around them to find a weak spot (which glows). You'll periodically run across these aggressive beasts, but are mostly bracing for your commander to yell that a swarm is on the way. This is where the game shifts to a horde-like mode, where every shot matters and teamwork in a tight circle is the best way to eliminate the threat. Ammo is limited and can only be regained by calling in a drop, which costs resources that are shared by the team.

All resources are found within the mine itself. You'll find deposits of gold, and other rare minerals which can be used to purchase weapon and gear upgrades. While you'll want to work on leveling up and enhancing your starting character, you'll also want to play as other characters, as the game is class-based. You can play as a Driller, a heavily armored drilling machine that wields a flamethrower and satchel charges, a Scout, that carries a machine gun and "boomstick," a engineer, that can deploy a turret gun, and my guy, the gunner, who carries a powerful minigun and grenades. All four classes feel quite different in the field of play, and complement each other nicely.

While the combat is where the game really gets your blood pumping and demands the team work together, the basic, slower mining moments are also fun. Much like the old Red Faction games (or Minecraft), the player can use a pickaxe to dig through everything. Specific wall colors tell you that an area exists beyond them, but you can tunnel almost anywhere, and will sometimes need to to get to higher areas. You can also deploy a zipline that can be ascended or descended to stretch over caverns or access higher platforms.

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The reward look doesn't offer much at the moment outside of meaningful weapon and armor upgrades, but is something I'm sure developer Ghost Ship Games is looking to increase. The core gameplay loop is quite engaging, and shows a high level of polish for a game that just hit Early Access. The occasionally "server connection lost" moments are annoying, but I was able to rejoin a couple of games I was kicked from. Ghost Ship warns players from the outset of play that this area of the game is receiving the most work right now.

If you're in the market for a new cooperative experience, where everyone is truly working together, I can't recommend Deep Rock Galactic enough at this point. I can't wait to see what the tougher missions bring.

Categories: Games