Launching upward off a jungle floor and bursting through a thick canopy of trees, bobbing and weaving your way under a waterfall as you take in the lush landscape below you, is one of the highlights of Anthem. Flight, in these moments, is freeing, serene and exhilarating all at once. But you will eventually have to come back down to earth. When you don't have a means to cool down in the air, you have to interrupt your flight to cool off on the ground--or else your suit will overheat and send you careening downward much more violently. This is what Anthem is like as a whole: a game where promising moments are bookended by frustration, where good ideas are undone before they can be fully realized.
It can take a while to warm up to Anthem in the first place. In its intro mission, you are a rookie Freelancer--a hero type who battles threats to humanity in mechanized combat suits called javelins. But that brief mission ends in failure, and after a two-year time skip, you're now an experienced Freelancer. As a result, everyone talks to you as if you know everything about the world, even though much of the game's space-fantasy jargon is explained only in codex entries. "Shapers," "Arcanists," to "silence" this or that "relic"--all the dialogue is structured as if you already know what all these things are, so there's not even an element of mystery to it. It's just hard to follow.
The story and overall worldbuilding do a great disservice to the characters, which have elements of what you might think of as BioWare's pedigree. The main cast is well-acted and genuine, with complicated emotions and motivations that might have been interesting had they been given time to grow. Two characters are mad at you for the events of the tutorial, even though it's never quite clear why; that bad blood spills over into your relationship with your current partner-in-Freelancing, Owen, and there's enough believable awkwardness there to make you almost feel bad for him. But because the narrative is so poorly set up, the drama feels unearned, the "emotional" reveals robbed of their impact, and any connection you might have had to the characters just out of reach.
Exacerbating all of this is Anthem's loot game core, which is simple on paper. After every mission, you return to your base of operations, Fort Tarsis, to talk to people, get new missions, and tinker with your javelins using the loot you picked up from the previous mission. Missions themselves almost universally involve some quick narrative setup followed by flying, completing routine tasks, and plenty of combat (with more brief plot-related stuff thrown in via radio chatter).
But this general structure doesn't work well in practice. You're told up front that playing Anthem with others is the best way to play and that you'll get better rewards in a group, but this means asking your friends to be quiet every few minutes so you can hear a bit of dialogue or to wait patiently while you tweak your loadout. Playing solo is better if you want to take your time and talk to different characters, but doing so can make missions more difficult or tedious. Matchmaking with random people is the best option, since you'll have people with you for grindy parts but will leave you alone for the story--but even then, it's easy to lose track of what's going on, especially if someone in your team is ahead of you and triggering dialogue early.
And no matter what, you'll have to return to Fort Tarsis after each expedition, which makes for choppy pacing in both the story and the gameplay. There's no way to change your loadout on the go and no way to just continue on to another mission right away, and there are currently a number of loading screens in between leaving and returning to Fort Tarsis. It's hard to really get into any kind of flow.
When I finally took the time to talk to NPCs in between missions, I found endearing characters and brief but interesting bits of story spread between them. There's one girl who just loves animals no matter how dangerous, and she'll happily tell you all about them; there's the oldest man in Fort Tarsis, who admits to doing some shady things to earn that title; there's an old woman whose daughter has been missing for years and might just need some kindness. Though it took some patience to do it, I was glad I stopped to listen to them.
Throughout all of this, combat is the main thing keeping Anthem afloat. There are four types of javelins--Ranger, Storm, Interceptor, and Colossus--that are essentially a soldier, mage, assassin, and tank, respectively. Each plays differently, with a different pool of abilities, and you aren't locked into the one you start with; you unlock them as you level up. That, combined with a handful of new weapons and abilities after each mission, means that you're almost always experimenting with new loadouts and playstyles.
I initially picked the Ranger, thinking it would be a good all-around class while I was learning the basics. But the guns alone aren't enough to make Anthem combat's exciting; I found a lot of the weapons, especially shotguns, to feel ineffectual. The Ranger's abilities are pretty straightforward, too--you get grenades and missiles and the like--which left me largely unimpressed with combat in the beginning. But then I unlocked the speedy Interceptor, whose gymnastic jumps and swift melee strikes are incredibly satisfying, and I started to get excited about trying new things in each successive mission.
The Storm javelin became my favorite, though, because it both has interesting elemental abilities and can hover for minutes, not seconds, at a time before overheating. Its assortment of powers lends itself well to getting combos, which result in a satisfying explosion of sorts and a more chaotic battlefield. But more importantly, it's the only javelin that doesn't require frequent stops on the ground, and as a result it provides the most dynamic combat--you can go from shooting basic enemies in a hallway to floating above the battlefield, raining down lightning to wipe out five at once while scoping out the area for your team.
Generally, all of the javelins can easily jet out of sticky situations in a pinch or briefly hover in the air to gain the upper hand, and combining movement with your abilities is consistently a good time. But when fighting titans and certain other bosses, there's a catch; a lot of them use fire attacks that overheat your suit and ground you instantly, robbing the fight of much of what makes combat interesting. You can still use your abilities, but they don't do much in these fights, and they fall flat compared to the often bombastic impact they have on regular enemies. This extends to the final fight, which is especially underwhelming.
The endgame thus far is to complete high numbers of the various mission types, which amounts to repeating many individual missions. The draw is better gear, but without compelling high-level fights, you don't have anything to build toward with all that grinding. A post-credits cutscene has the most intriguing plot point in the game and serves as a preview of what might come later on--but right now it's just a promise, rather than a true incentive to keep going.
It's worth noting that the early access period saw a number of technical hiccups. Dropped audio, server issues, long loading times, missions not registering as complete--I didn't have a single session without some sort of problem. A day-one patch aims to iron much of this out, but overall, the poor structure and pacing are a more frustrating problem.
Anthem has good ideas, but it struggles significantly with the execution. It's a co-op game that works best with no one talking; it buries genuinely interesting character moments and puts its most incomprehensible story bits at the forefront; its combat is exciting until you get to the boss fights and find your wings have been clipped. Even the simple, exhilarating act of flying is frequently interrupted by the limitations of your javelin, and you never quite shake that feeling of disappointment--of knowing, throughout the good parts of Anthem, that you'll inevitably come crashing back down.
What can be said about Tetris that hasn't been said already? Well, that depends on the type of Tetris game in question. Tetris Effect changed the conversation around the classic puzzle concept last year by directly tying your actions and the flow of stages to the fluctuating rhythm of an eclectic (and all-around amazing) soundtrack. In the case of the Switch-exclusive Tetris 99, the moment-to-moment gameplay is more immediately recognizable, but a new twist helps it stand out from Tetris games of old: a 99-player last-player-standing competition. It's chaotic, which can work in your favor or lead to moments that feel practically unfair. Thankfully, with the solid gameplay at its foundation and a quick means of getting into a new match, no game of Tetris 99 feels like time wasted.
The competitive aspect of Tetris 99 is something most people are familiar with, albeit based on less ambitious setups. Clear some lines, and a batch of junk lines will appear in a queue next to your opponent's puzzle space. If they can clear lines of their own, the junk-in-waiting can be negated; if no new lines are completed, the weight of your success will bear down on their board and reduce the free space for mid-drop tetrimino trickery.
This straightforward setup has, in the past, been utilized in two-player scenarios. With 99 players competing at once here, all visible next to your puzzle space with lines appearing and disappearing between players every few seconds, your early matches will feel a little confusing.
Somewhat frustratingly, Tetris 99 offers no explanation of its inner workings nor the function of various attack modes you can pick from during a match. You can get really far by simply playing Tetris the way you always have, but an uninformed player will always be at a severe disadvantage. Even though all the info is a quick internet search away, it's disappointing that Tetris 99 is bereft of these details or explanations.
So here it goes: You can influence automated attack patterns using the right analog stick, determining whether your offensive lines get sent to randoms, players attacking you, people near death, or players who have done the most killing in the match. Playing handheld, you can also use the Switch touchscreen to target players manually. Less intuitively, when playing docked, the left analog stick can be used to cycle through the phalanx of players on either side of your screen.
The control given to you by most of these options can be used in strategic ways, but none more so than by attacking killers, AKA the "badges" option. It's named thusly because killing a player nets you a portion of a badge and, better yet, any belonging to the defeated player. These badges enhance the output of your attacks, throwing more lines per combo and making the final moments of a match a living hell for your opponents. With the increasing speed of a Tetris 99 match, manually picking your targets based on small icons is an expert's game, so these automated attack profiles are ultimately to your benefit, even if they aren't explained well and could potentially be a source of confusion for new players.
The beauty of Tetris 99 is the tried-and-true game at the center of it all. Tetris is a god among games, and competitive Tetris only enhances the rising tension of a match. Tetris 99, being a game with so many competitors and a default "random" attack pattern, means that you will inevitably enter matches where the odds feel stacked against you from the beginning with no rhyme or reason. And when that happens, you may find that you have no recourse with a screen full of junk lines.
Even though each loss isn't always a lesson learned, it's also just a small roadblock, as a new match is generally seconds, rather than minutes, away. Simply hold down a button to start a search for new players, and watch the screen fill up with opponents in the blink of an eye. There may come a time when the countdown clock expires and matches have less than 99 players, but at launch, that is a very rare occurrence.
Tetris 99 may not be a proper battle royale game, but it taps into the same emotional well, where a large number of players vying for supremacy creates an ever-present intensity that's difficult to shake. Add that layer to a game that's plenty capable of instilling tension on its own, and you've got a riveting experience that even at its worst is still a game very much worth playing. There's obvious room for improvement, but that's the last thing on your mind when the pieces start falling and the players start dropping.
The latest trailer for the upcoming open world One Piece game, World Seeker, shows off a fair bit of the combat gameplay, and it also details how you will acquire and complete sidequests, and how that will affect your relationships with your crew and the other characters you meet in the world. You can check out the trailer above.
One Piece: World Seeker is coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC on March 15. For more on the game, you can head here to read all of our coverage of the game so far.
Earlier this year Breach – a co-operative, customizable action RPG – launched into Early Access, and developer QC Games is already updating the game with new content and improvements from fans' time with the title.
The Patch 0.1: Valley of Kings (click for full patch notes) introduces the titular map, the medic class, new boss Sekhmet (the Egyptian goddess of war), and various tweaks and improvements.
The video above showcases the new medic class, giving helpful examples of how the class' microbots can be summoned to aid you and your party.
The patch also introduces requested Hero Only and Veil Demon Only queues (the title's overall gameplay premise is that four players take on one Veil Demon player), an optional ranking system, and the Onryo – a new faction of monsters for the Tokyo map.
QC Games says the plan is to put out one major update a month, with weekly updates in between.
In other Breach news, those wanting to now buy into the game's Early Access can do so for $10, which also nets them a 30-day XP/Gold boost and 2,000 QC Points. Those who've already supported the game by buying the Founder's Pack get 3,000 QC Points as thanks.
One of the most exciting aspects of The Outer Worlds is the opportunity to see the role-playing experts at Obsidian try their hand at a brand-new setting. While the gameplay of this new franchise draws comparisons to other first-person RPGs, the universe that players explore is entirely new. Set in a distant corner of the galaxy, The Outer Worlds is a fascinating mix of classic sci-fi pulp and an irreverent send-up of corporate culture and capitalism. The character you play is, in many ways, as much an outsider as you are as the player – a recently unfrozen colonist forced to contend with a bizarre culture and alien solar system – and that backdrop promises to be especially memorable.
Not As You Remember
“This is an alternate history,” says co-director Leonard Boyarsky. “There was a point where the timeline split off. It was at a certain point, around the time of Einstein. There was a first World War, but it was for different reasons. And maybe there wasn’t a second World War.” One of the defining features that set Earth apart in this new timeline is the nature of companies, classism, and the central importance of money-making. Imagine the already absurd power of corporations, banks, and billionaires in the real world, and ratchet it up several more degrees. “What if the trusts hadn’t been broken up?,” Boyarsky muses. “You have these robber barons at the turn of the 20th century. A couple of hundred years later, what if we still have that culture?”
In this twist on history, Earth is already the domain of massive and powerful companies as humanity begins to spread out across the stars. Rather than the intrepid explorers and diplomats of some other science fiction properties, it’s the reaching arm of capitalism that sends humanity hurtling into the void, and habitable planets across the galaxy are being carved up like parcels of land in the American Old West. This first installment of The Outer Worlds focuses on one particular solar system called Halcyon, and the ten companies that banded together to purchase it. “The corporations have pretty much taken over everything,” Boyarsky says. “But they want to go that last little bit and make it the perfect society for corporations. When Earth was colonizing the furthest reaches of the galaxy, they bought one of the furthest colonies and set up what they thought would be a corporate utopia, where they can control every aspect of people’s lives.”
When speaking to the developers at Obsidian, it’s especially exciting to learn how expansive this new universe really is. While Halcyon has received the bulk of the attention and fleshing out, the team isn’t shy about highlighting this one solar system as just one part of a larger network of humans across the stars. “We made a list of the other colonies,” says co-director Tim Cain. “They have names and what their major products are. There are some companies and governments that were big enough that they just bought a colony on their own. Ours is unusual in that there are ten different corporations, but it’s because it was so far away and took so much money. We also have said that there is one guy who is pretty much like the Bill Gates of the universe. He was so wealthy that he bought a colony by himself. And the first thing he did was seal it off. No one’s been there for a hundred years.”
It’s not just the path of corporate greed that has taken a different direction in The Outer Worlds. Obsidian has also spent time establishing different rules around physics and natural law; it’s all internally consistent, but it’s meant to flex to the needs of a central guiding mantra: Fun trumps realism.
The alternate nature of science is perhaps best represented by the nature of space travel, and how it feeds into the main story of the game. “In this universe they found a way of increasing your velocity discontinuously,” Cain explains. “If you can go from one velocity to another and not occupy the ones in between, you can really get really close up to the speed of light, and then jump over the light speed barrier. They found a way to do it. What’s weird is that when you do skip over light speed, you’re in some other weird space, everything’s gray, you can’t see anything, and you can’t turn.” As a result, mistakes are possible, and that’s exactly what happens with the game’s main character and the thousands of other colonists onboard The Hope, the second colony ship that had been heading to Halcyon. After coming out of skip space early, The Hope took many more years to reach its destination. And by then, this new corporate colony no longer knew what to do with them.
Home Away From Home
The Halcyon system and its colonies didn’t turn out the way the corporate board had hoped. Things looked promising in the beginning, with two seemingly habitable planets and an initial group of colonists aboard a first ship. But even before The Hope went missing, problems arose.
One of the habitable worlds, Terra 1 was a moon orbiting a massive gas giant called Olympus. Human terraforming didn’t work on the planet, and among other problems, much of the local fauna was dramatically altered, sizing it up into mega versions that pose tremendous threats to human life. In-game, Terra 1 has been renamed as Monarch, and it’s a dangerous place to live. It’s also where the board’s outsized influence has begun to fray, as many groups and individuals are rebelling against the companies.
For players, Monarch will replicate some of the expectations of an open-world space, but on a smaller scale. “Monarch has a bigger wide-open playspace,” Boyarsky says. “There’s three or four different little towns on Monarch. Because it has a big, wide-open area, you can walk between them, or just fly to the different ones in your ship once you unlock the landing pads.”
The other comfortably habitable planet orbiting the Halcyon star is called Terra 2, and it remains much more under the sway of the board. Here, the colonists have largely accepted and even embraced their roles as corporate workers, but the façade is slowly breaking down, as towns slowly fall into disarray. Marauding thugs who have abandoned the company life wander around outside the towns. And even inside, the appearance of homey comfort has begun to fray as prefab structures have begun to fall apart and jobs remain unfilled, even as the various companies try to keep up good appearances.
It’s here that players will visit one of several contained locales, including the smaller settlements of Edgewater (inside the Emerald Vale), and Roseway, the town first shown in early videos for The Outer Worlds. Terra 2 is also home to Byzantium, the gilded city of the well-to-do, where every Halcyon colonist wishes they could live. Byzantium is closed off to those without the means to be appropriate residents; it’s a literal gated community with secrets that lesser company workers will simply never learn.
While Terra 2 and Monarch are the two largest and most involved environments that players will encounter, they are not the only places that players will visit. Several other smaller destinations play important roles in the unfolding game, especially the ship that brought that first group of colonists to the system. “The Groundbreaker is the original colony ship, parked in the Lagrange point of Terra 2,” Cain explains. This station acts as a main port for the system, as ships come and go. “Freighters that come from out of the colony unload their stuff there, and go from there to be delivered around the colony,” Boyarsky says. “There’s some people there who live a bit outside the law.”
In addition to rubbing elbows with the criminal element aboard the station, players will also rocket off to some of the other less-friendly planetary bodies around the system. There’s an asteroid called Scylla, which contains some laboratories and transmitting stations. “There’s a lot of abandoned stuff there; there’s no town on Scylla,” Boyarsky says.
“We also have Tartarus, which is kind Venusian, but it’s even worse,” Cain says. “It’s just a nasty planet. It’s where the maximum security prison is, run by United Defense Logistics; Spacer’s Choice is a wholly owned subsidiary.” We don’t know much about Tartarus, or what business the players might have on a prison planet, but one of its chief exports does make for an amusing aside. “There’s a product sold called Tartarus Sauce, for dipping Saltuna fish sticks,” Cain says with a smile. “What they do is they take mayonnaise and they expose it the caustic environment of Tartarus for just a few seconds, and then put the lid back on, and they sell it. It makes the mayo really tangy, because it introduces a lot of very low-level toxins. There’s not a lot of restrictions on corporate food products.”
Some of the other “outer worlds” of Halcyon are less likely to be on-foot destinations in the game, but may play a role in an understanding of the full setting. There’ the ice-planet of Typhon, around which The Hope has been parked until the company’s governing board can figure out what to do with it. Obsidian also shared that Eridanos is a gas giant currently being mined for resources, and another celestial body is named Hephaestus, a small mineral-rich planet near the sun.
The idea is to create a believable space for players to explore as they adventure across space, and that means that not every site can be visited. But even the places you do visit aren’t likely to offer the standard space opera fantasy that the plasma rifles and rocket ships of this universe might at first suggest.
The Outer Worlds is first and foremost a rollicking outer space adventure, but like the original Fallout that Cain and Boyarsky helped create, one of the magic ingredients is a healthy dose of social commentary (often couched in absurdist humor). Any understanding of the game’s setting is incomplete without grasping the ways in which this alternate history attempts to drive home some uncomfortable truths about capitalism, bureaucracy, and the people who blissfully buy the company line without question.
“It adds something interesting, with the juxtaposition of this grand space adventure, even as we are going from corporate town to corporate town,” Boyarsky says. “There’s hopefully enough space adventure and heroics in there to satisfy people, and we don’t want people to think this a trip through bureaucracy, but there is that aspect to it.”
Everywhere a player visits, they’re reminded not just of a company culture that is governing the entirety of this society, but equally important, the people who buy into that system. The colonists are terrified of unemployed people as much as they are of monsters – what could be worse than not having a job with the company? They blithely quote company slogans like they’re maxims for good living. Even the religion (The Order of Scientific Inquiry) instills the mindset that everyone is right where they’re meant to be, and straying from your job or place in life is tantamount to heresy. “What’s good for the corporation is good for the workers, and even good for humanity,” Boyarsky says. “There’s no greater good than serving the corporation.”
“If you go into Obsidian’s kitchen there’s this thing listing employee rights,” Cain notes. “In our fictional world, you go into the kitchen and there’s a list of employer rights.” Individuals are trained from birth to put the company first, and recognize that they are more replaceable than the machines on which they work. People love their company like it’s the local sports team. The player is forced to contend with that mindset and its seeming insanity, and then accept the ways in which it echoes elements of corporate loyalty and tribalism in our own very real society.
The result is a setting that makes us uncomfortable, even while it offers an escape into world of ray guns and spaceships. Behind the adventure, The Outer Worlds pokes fun at the absurdity of such a society, while making it just believable enough to make you think. “We like to subvert people’s expectations,” Boyarsky says. “We’re drawn to deeper social commentary, even though we’re not pretending we’re profound or anything. We like to play around in that arena.”
“We’re not making colony simulator,” Cain adds. “We’re just trying to make this a really fun environment. And if we can do some social commentary along the way, so be it.”
For more on The Outer Worlds, don’t miss out on our still-growing hub of features, interviews, and videos by clicking on the banner below.
Nintendo's dino pal is back, though let's be honest here – he's never really gone away. This time around, he's romping through more cuddly, handcrafted worlds. How is Yoshi's Crafted World? Game Informer's Imran Khan got to play some of the single-player and co-op, and also checked out the same level, both front and back. Don't worry, it'll all make sense.
Don't expect to be blown away by challenging platforming, Imran says. Instead, this one's all about having a chill adventure and solving light puzzles. He probably needs a break after getting smacked around in Smash, after all.
Yoshi's Crafted World is coming to Nintendo Switch on March 29.
The latest update for Rainbow Six Siege, Burnt Horizons, is out now, which adds a little Australian flair to the action. Our own Leo Vader got a chance to play the new map and both operators recently, and came back with some pro-level footage. Ladies and gentlemen, this is gaming.
The new operators include Mozzie, who can hack drones and take control of them; and Gridlock, who can shut down roamers by deploying a self-replicating network of spiky traps. Leo is excited for how both characters can potentially change the meta, which he dives into while narrating his 4K gameplay footage.
As for the new map, it has a giant shark.
Burnt Horizons is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Bandai Namco has announced who the third of four planned DLC characters will be coming to Soulcalibur VI as part of the game's season pass.
Amy Sorel, who was first made playable back in Soulcalibur III, will be returning the to the weapons-based fighting series, the company announced at this year's Evo Japan. Sporting a rapier-wielding style similar to her adopted father Raphael, Amy has a few tricks up her sleeves, including quick mix-up strings, a rose toss, and a slide that can extend combos. You can watch her in action in the Japanese-language trailer below.
The announcement seems to give credence to a leak from data-mined info from late last year that could mean Cassandra will be the next DLC character, as that leak showed that both she and Amy were in the game's config file. Hopefully, that'll the case.