Below is a roguelike about exploring a series of descending caves on a mysterious island that seems to dare adventurers to come and see if they can survive its challenges. You can craft food and potions, hunt wildlife, and if you die, another adventurer will make their way to the island to quite literally pick up where you left off by acquiring the lamp you dropped on the ground when you died. Despite the density of mechanics and the vague story about a mysterious island that seems to draw in those courageous enough to find it, Below does not offer much on-screen text or tutorial. Alongside the challenge of surviving, figuring out the game’s myriad mechanics, and how to take advantage of them, is one of the things developer Capy Games hope players embrace.
“I am worried about it,” creative director Kris Piotrowski says, “It is a decision that has risks to it, for sure.” Piotrowski recalls the first time he played Minecraft with a wiki open nearby explaining how the game worked, and that was part of the reason he enjoyed the experience. The community was there to help. “I remember when I first played Dark Souls, there was so much to it that wasn't explained and I feel like communities can be built around players helping each other learn and figure out things out,” Piotrowski says. That of course lead to a familiar comparison.
“I think Dark Souls is a brilliant game and the comparison is nothing but complimentary from my perspective,” Piotrowski says regarding the familiar refrain that many games receive these days: it’s like Dark Souls! And in some ways it is. You open shortcuts to the islands assorted lower levels as you play, combat is precise and challenging and when you die, there is incentive to go back and picked up what you dropped, but Below certainly has an identity of its own. “This is a weird game that has a lot of weird little things in it, but it's also a game where you have a sword and shield and it has combat that sort of feels like Zelda or Dark Souls,” Piotrowski says.
Despite his worry about the ambiguous nature of the game, Piotrowski is confident players will be able to figure out the game. “There is a bit of an entry-level starting point that I think players kind of wrap their heads around. I think games have gone very far in the direction of hand-holding and telegraphing and rewarding players continuously. That kind of slow dopamine drop of gameplay cycles that are finely tuned to keep you in the game and sort of spoon feed you every little detail. I think most games do that and I think certain game fans like to just approach a game and try to figure it out,” Piotrowski says. “I think there is pleasure in trying to figure out the mechanics. When a game tells you, ‘Hey, you're on your own!’ a different part of your brain turns on.”
Yesterday, Obsidian and Private Division announced The Outer Worlds, a sci-fi RPG that looks to please Mass Effect and Fallout fans. In The Outer Worlds, players take on the role of a colonist who has just awoken from a long interstellar hibernation then sets off to explore a solar system with the ultimately goal of getting to the bottom of a corporate conspiracy that threatens to destroy everything humanity has built.
Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky are the game’s two co-directors, and both designers worked on the original Fallout as well as titles like Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, WildStar, and Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. We talked with Cain and Boyarsky and spent a day at Obsidian learning all we could about their special new project. Here are six reasons RPG fans should keep The Outer Worlds on their radar.
1) A Unique Take On Sci-Fi
The Outer Worlds is an epic sci-fi opera, but Obsidian’s take on sci-fi is a bit quirky. If you watched the game’s debut trailer, you might have picked up hints of BioShock, but Irrational’s classic wasn’t a direct inspiration. The team was initially inspired by Art Nouveau and Victorian sci-fi from the late 1800s. The Outer Worlds isn’t exactly steampunk, but its universe is filled with a lot of clunky technology and its environments feature a lot of heavy cables and piping.
“We like doing stuff that’s a little bit different,” says Boyarsky. “We wanted to make a sci-fi game, because we’re both big sci-fi fans. You can say Fallout is sci-fi, but it’s post-apocalyptic, which is a bit of a sub-genre. This seems like a good opportunity to go pure sci-fi, so we started to talk about corporations and the way they brand everything. We wanted to explore a future world in that vein. As we talked more, we were drawn to the robber barons of the late 1800s and how they controlled every aspect of people’s existence. That just felt like a really good fit for this.”
2) You Explore An Entire Solar System
Obsidian’s universe isn’t as big as a Mass Effect galaxy, but in The Outer World’s players will fly around an entire solar system aboard their own spaceship. We only got a taste of a few of these environments, but they seem sizable in their own right, and this diversity of locations gives Obsidian the opportunity to create a wide variety of ecologies.
Halcyon is the name of The Outer World’s solar system. It is the furthest colony from Earth and features two main planets humanity initially intended to colonized. However, once the colony ships arrived in the system they realized that only one of the planets as good for habitation, so while one planet is full of sleek technical marvels and gleaming skyscrapers, the other is a barren wasteland teeming with wild monsters. In addition to these two planets, players can explore several moons, asteroids, and space stations spread across Halcyon.
3) Goofy, Dark Humor
If you have any question about The Outer Worlds’ brand of humor, just know that you can play through the entire game as a dumb guy – literally, there is a dialogue option labeled [Dumb] that will let you role-play as a clueless brute. Halcyon is also filled with fat snakes that were bred for their leather, missions about diet toothpaste, and a rare weapon that works like a shrink ray to miniaturize your opponents.
“I think humor is really, really hard to do in a game, but games that go pure dark are hard to take in every night,” says Cain. “I play games that skew dark, and after a while I just don’t want to play them anymore. We like this kind of dark humor where we can put something in the game that also looks silly, but when you dig into it, you find out it’s really horrific.”
“You can actually get a lot darker and a lot deeper into things if it’s fun and humorous,” adds Boyarsky. “Getting deep into the human condition can be a little overwhelming, but if you are having a fun time and laughing and then we sneak in some of that depth and darkness, it actually resonates a little better.”
4) Open-Ended Problem-Solving
Obsidian looks to allow players to tackle The Outer World’s missions in a variety of ways. Charmers might work their way out of firefights with the right words, while thieves can bypass combat by finding a backdoor into most outposts. Those who choose to engage in The Outer World’s first-person combat will have the option to slow down time with a feature called tactical time dilation. This slow-mo feature allows players to look closely at enemies to gain information such as their level of health and other stats. Attacks made during tactical time dilation also do extra damage, but ultimately players will be able to approach every problem in their own way.
“We always ask ourselves, ‘How are people going to react in the game and what do we think they’re going to want to do,’” says Cain. “We added a lot of different playthrough paths. For combat, we have both melee and ranged, but players also have stealth and dialogue options. Then we have all the hybrids like what if you want to sneak through part of the map and then talk your way out of a jam. Or, what if you just want to kill everybody? We’re happy to say that you can kill everybody in the game and still finish the main story arc. You’d be a psychopath, but you could do it.”
5) Embrace The Fear
The Outer Worlds is constantly watching players and recording their actions. Ultimately, it will present new events that could leave lasting scares on your hero. At various times, the game will invite you to select a fear for your character. These fears are based on things that have happened to you. For example, if you take a lot of damage from a certain enemy type, you may be invited to develop a fear of that enemy, which means you will take extra damage those foes. In return to taking a fear, players will get to pick an extra perk to buff their character in other ways. This creates an interesting risk reward dynamic where players can choose to have some weaknesses in order to make themselves stronger. Once these fears have been chosen, they are locked in, but players can also choose to opt out of this fear system entirely.
“If you’re familiar with the works of Joseph Campbell – The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces – he always talks about how heroes are more interesting because they have flaws, so we incorporated the fear system,” says Cain. “The game’s flaws can be anything from a fear of heights to a fear of the dark, or you can be susceptible to different damage types. So the game might go, ‘Hey, I noticed you catch fire a lot. Do you want to be susceptible to flame damage?’ People are like, ‘Why would ever want to be susceptible to flame damage?’ But if you’re one perk away from something really cool, it can be really tempting.”
6) Companionship On The Spaceship
During your journey through Halcyon, you will meet a host of characters who will join your crew. These characters feature their own unique abilities, motivations, and ideals. As you get to know them, they will give you personal companion quests, and completing these missions could change their character. Companions will interject in the middle of conversations and buff your skills, but they might also leave your crew if they don’t like what you’re doing. We encountered one companion named Ellie, who is a tough, no-nonsense sharpshooter. Another companion, named Felix, is a sarcastic melee brute with a good intimidation skill. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to romance any of your companions.
“You encounter all the companions in the first third of the game, because it’s no fun getting a companion in the last hour,” says Cain. “They are designed to touch most of the major skills, so they are all different, but there is some overlap so there’s not just one guy who is really good at ranged attacks or one person who’s a good doctor. They also play off all the different ways a player can play. Like, if you’re playing a psychopath, we show how all these companions react to that. If you’re being really nice, not all the companions are going to be like, ‘Oh great, you’re a hero.’”
Given Obsidian’s lineage working on games like Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and the Pillars of Eternity, The Outer Worlds looks like the kind of game that RPG fans have been waiting a long time for. We enjoyed our brief taste of Obsidian’s unique spin on sci-fi and the studios bizarre humor, and we can’t wait to get our hands on the game in 2019 when it releases on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. For more, be sure to watch our New Gameplay Today video preview or watch the announce trailer.
Earth Defense Force 5 is a clear culmination point for a series that’s been around since the PlayStation 2, reaching a scale that could surprise even the most hardened of EDF veterans. While it retains many of the familiar tropes from the franchise--four player classes, a huge variety of missions, unlockable weapons and items, and obscenely terrible in-game dialogue that's so bad it’s good--EDF 5 ratchets everything up to 11 and remarkably pulls it off. With bullet-hell style action and massive, open battlefields where every building is destructible, it feels like there’s no better time to get out there and save the world from rampaging space insects and their alien masters.
You play a nameless civilian who gets caught up in the invasion as the giant bugs start pummeling an EDF outpost. As you emerge from the underground base the scale of the attack becomes apparent, with you eventually joining the EDF and rising through the ranks to become Earth’s best hope for survival. It’s a fun, if typical, premise that plays out through the cheesiest in-game dialogue I’ve ever heard. It takes numerous hard turns, culminating in one of the most outlandish and audacious boss fights imaginable. Watching the story weave as it tries to connect the dots is like watching a slow motion trainwreck you cannot take your eyes away from--it’s so brash and ridiculous that you can’t help be charmed by it. Though while the dialogue and story can have you gritting your teeth at the levels of cringe, the action is something else entirely.
Before getting out onto the battlefield, you’re given a choice of playing through each mission with one of four character types, each with different play styles and their own customisable loadouts. The Ranger is the stock standard soldier type and by far the easiest to use in direct combat, while the Wing Diver is fast, good for close combat, and can fly herself out of dangerous situations. While you can play through any missions as any player type, some choices certainly made for an easier time than others. Choosing an Air Raider, a character who can request long-range cannon fire and vehicle drops, for an underground mission isn’t the best use of its skills. But the game will let you do it anyway, happily letting you test things out and work it out for yourself. Loading times are quick, so if you make a poor choice of loadout, it’s only a quick hop back to the menu to change it up before getting back out there.
Fighting the alien hordes can be a completely overwhelming experience. The scale of everything is imposing, especially when faced with a swarm of very angry bugs that are clawing and climbing over not just themselves but apartment buildings, factories, and homes to get at you. The maps are huge, giving you a wide playspace to enact your destruction, and for the most part they use that scale and space well. Calling in a bombing run as an Air Raider will zoom the camera out to show a wide shot of the area, with the sky lighting up bright orange as the bombs carpet the landing zone. Various vehicles like tanks and armored suits can be called in or found scattered around, and although they can feel pretty loose and unwieldy at the best of times, they are at least a good way to move from one side of the map to another or to put some space between yourself and the horde.
Player movement also feels a little sloppy. Moving from a standard run into a dash feels more cumbersome than it should, as does general running about. Thankfully, aiming feels snappy and tight, so regardless of whether you’re in tight space or out on a mountain overlooking a wide-open beachside, combat always feels more rewarding than not.
Replayability is encouraged through battle. As you chew through swarms of giant ants, spiders, carpet bugs and more, blasting them apart in a flurry of brightly-colored blood and chunks, and downed enemies will drop armor as well as weapon and health pickups. While the health pickups heal both you and your nearby AI allies--who you can find out in the battlefield and enlist under your supervision--weapon and armor pickups both manifest after the mission is over, giving you access to new and upgraded weaponry and a higher base HP number respectively. The difficulty level you play will also influence your rewards, with higher difficulties giving you stronger weapons with higher base stats, encouraging you to come back on a higher difficulty level to grind out better gear.
Although the offline single player is fun, EDF 5 and the differing play styles of each character type really come into their own in the cooperative multiplayer, where up to four people can join together and take on the entirety of the 110-mission-long campaign. Although offline and online campaign progress is separated, which annoyingly means you’ll need to play through the missions twice to unlock and access them in each, blasting through aliens with others takes the core gameplay to a new level. In one session, my Wing Diver went down while I was standing atop a large tower while attacking a mob of giant hornets. My co-op partner couldn’t reach me to revive me and instead resorted to destroying the tower, bringing me down with it so I could then be revived. Similarly, a guided missile weapon they were using as a Ranger took on a whole new level of lethality when combined with my laser sight to guide it for them, increasing its range far beyond its normal capability. Classes are balanced so they can helpfully support each other in unique ways, which you simply don’t get in the single-player mode where everything is put squarely on your shoulders.
For everything that’s happening on screen, with bullets, missiles, bodies and debris flying every which way, you might expect EDF 5 to experience frame drops on occasion. But only once did performance slow to crawl during an especially busy scene involving a mothership, a crumbling city, hundreds of enemies and a rainstorm. Some of the grimier textures and character models give it a dated look, though while it’s not the best-looking game around, it has the headroom to handle the sheer volume of things happening around you without severe performance hits when the action gets out of hand.
Despite the series' long-running nature, Earth Defense Force 5 is a standout action game, revelling in its own absurdity while crafting a brilliantly fun and lively action game around it. Its huge battles are a joy to watch play out both from up close and afar, and the wide variety of weapons and play styles with each player type offers plenty of reason to come back for more after the final bullet has been fired.
After launching Far Cry 5 in 2018, Ubisoft Montreal is bringing players back to that game’s Montana setting. However, this direct sequel is far from a retread. The Hope County you explore in Far Cry New Dawn is drastically different, as a global nuclear apocalypse has destroyed most of human civilization. You step into the shoes of a new character hoping to help the residents of Hope County in a unique twist on the franchise. I recently visited Ubisoft Montreal to learn more about the game, and here are 12 key takeaways I had from my day in the offices.
Far Cry New Dawn Comes Out Soon, And It’s Cheaper Than A Standard Game
Far Cry New Dawn is priced at $40, but creative director JS Decant says that doesn’t necessarily indicate that players should expect a budget experience. “I think Far Cry 5 was a huge, tremendous experience, so this is slightly smaller in scope in general,” he says. “But if you’re looking for an action-driven adventure with things you like in a Far Cry, it’s there. If you’re someone who likes to explore and discover all the details of the previous world or if you’re into having the best weapons and optimizing, the game is going to be large.”
Far Cry New Dawn looks to be a fun spin-off entry in the Far Cry franchise with an interesting take on the post-apocalypse. With the title launching on February 15, we don’t have to wait long to find out if Hope County is truly worth saving.
New Dawn Is A Standalone Title, But You Probably Want To Play Far Cry 5 First
Though Far Cry New Dawn is meant to be a standalone title, players who worked through the campaign of Far Cry 5 will notice definite continuations from that story. Many of the cult’s structures have been repurposed in this post-apocalyptic world, and we even got a glimpse of cult leader Joseph Seed, the primary antagonist of Far Cry 5, at the end of the reveal trailer.
“The world is in the place where [Joseph] wanted it to be,” Decant says. “He wanted the world to be there so he can start something fresh, something new, something far from what we did with our societies. […] It was a tricky thing because on one hand we wanted to continue with these characters that we loved in Far Cry 5, but at the same time, we wanted to make sure this was a post-apocalyptic game that could be accessible for anyone.”
This Nuked World Doesn’t Look Dead
Rather than going for the stereotypical gray and brown aesthetic many people associate with the post-apocalyptic concept, Ubisoft Montreal researched how the planet would react to and recover from an actual nuclear war. According to their research, the first six years would be a nuclear winter featuring low temperatures, a dead landscape, harsh winds, and new biomes forming everywhere. After the first six years, the sun and rain returns, leading to a “super bloom” event that leads to vegetation reclaiming the planet beginning at year 10. Far Cry New Dawn takes place during the super bloom, 17 years after the nuclear war of 2018.
Because the planet is in the midst of this super bloom, Hope County is colorful and warm, with flowers and vegetation growing from the death and destruction of nearly two decades prior. “Everybody has an idea of what a post-apocalypse setting should look like,” art director Isaac Papismado says. “We really wanted to avoid the dark and grim environments. We saw that 17 years is the perfect time where life and vegetation could come back. That’s something we really wanted to take advantage of.”
While the vegetation is thriving thanks to the meteorological shift, the radiation has infected and mutated some of the wildlife. I didn’t see many examples of this, but I’m interested to see what the team does with this idea.
You Can Launch Saws At Your Enemies
Another theme Ubisoft Montreal is pursuing with New Dawn is the idea that nothing is being manufactured anymore, so everything from buildings to weapons has a makeshift feel. This is most evident in the series’ zaniest weapon yet: the Saw Launcher. This device uses circular saws for ammunition, launching them at your targets. It starts out shooting one saw at a time, but you can upgrade it to shoot multiple at once; the highest I saw was three saws, which all ricochet off objects and into enemies in a satisfying manner.
“We wanted to bring something to the table that would be believable, but also crazy,” says Decant. “We started to think about this thing that would throw little discs, and the team went wild, and we got the Saw Launcher.”
Far Cry: New Dawn's boxart gives us a glimpse at twin sisters Mickey and Lou
The Main Conflict Is Between The Survivors And The Highwaymen
You control a character who was a part of a group that was moving up the west coast to rebuild civilization. Unfortunately, the train they’re on is ambushed by a marauding gang called the Highwaymen and the dream of this group rebuilding the civilization is squashed for the time being.
Far Cry New Dawn centers on this conflict between the survivors, who are building a community for the future, and the Highwaymen, who don’t think the world is salvageable. Instead, they move from city to city consuming all the resources and living for today. As you might imagine, your character aligns with the survivors at their home base of Prosperity. The survivors decide that in order to survive and rebuild civilization, they need to run the Highwaymen out of town.
The Highwaymen are led by twin sisters Mickey and Lou. Their families secured the docks shortly after the apocalypse, giving them access to abundant resources. However, the resources didn’t last long, and the two fought to be at the top of the food chain. Mickey and Lou are currently in Hope County, but the Highwaymen are spread across the entire country.
You Don’t Spend The Whole Time In Montana
Since the nuclear event wasn’t localized to Montana, the bombs affected other parts of the world. If you’re in need of resources, you can embark on expeditions, which take place in other areas of the country. During a live gameplay demo, I saw one expedition take place in a Louisiana swamp. An abandoned theme park serves as the setting as I watch the character infiltrate a camp and recover resources. Over the course of the game, players can also travel to another location on the west coast of the U.S., as well as an Arizona location. These additional areas are reused throughout the game, so the Louisiana expedition I saw isn’t the only mission taking place in that region.
“We tried to pick places that felt super different [from Hope County], but also with iconic elements,” Decant says. “We even have one where we refer to another Ubisoft game. [Expeditions] were an opportunity to create areas that felt very different from Hope County.”
The Standard Activities Will Feel Familiar To Far Cry Fans
While you’re in Hope County, many of the standard Far Cry activities are at your disposal. You can embark on treasure hunts, which often involve a twist of some sort; the treasure hunt I saw has you infiltrate a wolverine nest to retrieve a key, but wolverines are the least of your worries once the barn you’re inside goes up in flames. You can also work across the map and clear outposts where the Highwaymen are stationed.
Outposts Bring An Additional Twist This Time
While outposts are nothing new to the Far Cry series, New Dawn adds a new gameplay loop to them. Once you take down an outpost, it becomes a fast-travel location for you. However, you can choose to send those in that outpost to scavenge for additional materials, essentially abandoning it and allowing the Highwaymen to retake it in exchange for resources. Once they reclaim the outpost, you can take it back, but it will be more difficult the second time around.
Enemies Have Designated Difficulty Levels
Enemies now have difficulty levels ranging from one to three to indicate how hard it will be to take them down. If you stir up too much trouble and raise the alarm level, high-level enforcer enemies will join the fight to present extra difficulty.
Using the survivor's Prosperity home base, you can upgrade weapons and train companions
New And Familiar Companions Are There For Your Support
If you need some help, you can play cooperatively or bring a Gun for Hire or animal companion into a fight. These characters unlock as you play through the story, and can learn additional abilities as you use them more. For example, one of the Guns for Hire is a grizzled, elderly woman named Nana, who happens to be the sharpest shot in Hope County. This sniper is an ideal companion for stealth missions, as she can unlock abilities like using a silencer or being able to shoot through cover. The other Gun for Hire I saw was Carmina, who is the daughter of Nick and Kim from Far Cry 5. Since she’s only 17 years old, she doesn’t know of a world without the apocalypse.
While I didn’t get to see the other Guns for Hire, Decant says there will be familiar archetypes and even some known characters among the lineup. “There is an RPG, there is a bow-and-arrow character, and a shotgun,” Decant says. “We took some of the most appreciated archetypes and some of the more appreciated characters and created some new ones.”
You Can Still Recruit Animals And Your Pup Can Ride Shotgun
Two new animal companions are also unlockable. Though Boomer the dog from Far Cry 5 is long gone, Timber fills his role as the new canine companion. Timber not only has some new takedowns, but he can also ride in vehicles and scare away larger animals. I also saw Horatio, a giant boar. This monstrous beast draws the attention of the enemies in the area and can be a tank to take down.
The Weapon Wheel Screen Is Streamlined
A simplified weapon and item wheel screen helps streamline the process of getting to the object you hope to use. Now when you open the weapon wheel, the consumables and crafting menus are listed on the sides of the screen. This means you no longer need to flip between wheels to choose the item you want.
Telling a story of the cyclical nature of light and dark and possessing both stamina-focused combat and larger-than-life bosses, Ashen is easy to compare to From Software's Dark Souls. However, Ashen establishes its own identity by delivering an experience that focuses on creating a sense of community and trust with those you meet. The weapon system can occasionally take away from some of the more strategic elements of the game's combat when playing solo, but Ashen still delivers an incredible adventure, regardless if you play by yourself or with others.
In Ashen, you start as a nameless nobody listening to the origin of your world, its three races, and how everything became blanketed in darkness after the disappearance of the Ashen--a god-like figure of immense power. When a sudden explosion briefly brings light back to the land, allowing everyone to see clearly for the first time in years, it sparks a search for the Ashen in hopes its return will push the last vestiges of darkness away. Leading the charge, you take over a bandit camp and transform it into an outpost called Vagrant's Rest. From there, you set out into the world in search of people to join your new home, as well as a means of finding the Ashen.
Your journey takes you from one fast travel point to the next within an interconnected series of open environments, and you'll find a diverse assortment of enemies along the way. Caverns and dilapidated castles entice you to explore off the beaten path and enjoy lengthy expeditions for hidden weapons, armor, and treasure. You'll need to sprint and jump your way through most of it at the start, but Ashen's controls are fairly tight and ledge grabs ensure you safely recover most of the time. It never feels like you're unfairly leaping to your death over and over again, and unlocking a fun new navigational ability halfway through the game will see you returning to old locales to search for secrets you couldn't leap to before.
There are very few options for long-range combat in Ashen so for the most part, you're in the thick of things with your opponents and trying to out maneuver each other. Attacking, defending, and dodging all use different amounts of stamina, and carefully managing how much you have left is key to survival. If you've played a good Souls-like game before, Ashen works exactly as you would expect. The controls produce a methodical approach to combat that's enjoyable to just lose yourself in.
On your travels, you'll recruit characters and send them back to Vagrant's Rest to set up shop, where you can interact with them again for side quests and special items. Most will even join you on your adventure whenever you exit camp, aiding you in combat and reviving you if you happen to fall. They can also help with exploration, too, as dungeon doors require two people to open and some ledges can only be reached if a team boosts each other up. As more people join Vagrant's Rest and you complete more quests for them, your settlement will grow. Roads are paved, structures are built, and the community becomes a thriving town. You can't manage how Vagrant's Rest grows, unfortunately, but there are fun little nods to the quests you undergo. Vorsa wears an outfit composed of the pelts from the animals you hunted for her, for example, and Eila constructs a dock so you can ride down the nearby river in a barrel--an activity she speaks of when you first meet her. In a game where enemies are constantly respawning, it's incredibly fulfilling to see your hard work actually having a permanent impact on your corner of the world.
You can forge relationships with other players, too. If you play Ashen online, you enter a shared world where you can encounter people. Other players will appear as the NPCs you've recruited to Vagrant's Rest, and whether or not you choose to interact with them is up to you. With no voice chat, actions define a person's character, and this can form powerful bonds that last for the entire game. For example, seeing a player-controlled Jokell silently step in front of my character and take a spear to the chest when I had a sliver of health has, for me, left a long-standing positive impression for the pipe-smoking explorer. I brought a computer-controlled Jokell along with me every chance I had after that, cheering for him when he did something incredible and dropping everything to revive him when he fell. It's a rather simple example of transference at work when all is said and done, but it's remarkably effective at creating trust (and I imagine distrust in some cases) with the characters you meet.
If working with others isn't really your thing, you can play offline with NPCs or use an early game item that allows you to play completely solo. It certainly ups Ashen's difficulty to play without others and it creates a more traditional Souls-like experience. However, the greater challenge of playing completely by yourself isn't worth losing out on the misadventures you find yourself in when traveling with another character. Even if you play offline with computer-controlled characters, you'll still form bonds with a one or two of them, and that improves Ashen's entire experience. If you really want that greater challenge, there's a mode that lowers your max health and stamina, which is a much better way of making the game harder.
There is one unfortunate wrinkle that becomes apparent when playing with computer-controlled characters, however, and it has to do with Ashen's weapons. Weapons can be one of three types--axe, club/hammer, or spear--but tools from the same class can attack very differently. Some axes use a leaping vertical slam animation that allow you to get the jump on your enemy before they react, while others have a horizontal slash that can more easily hit multiple targets, for example. This adds additional levels of battle strategy other than simply picking whatever in your inventory is strongest. Problems arise when you're playing with NPCs though, as you're unable to choose which weapon a computer-controlled character brings into battle. Pretty much every enemy in Ashen can be tackled with whatever weapon you want, but there are a few locations and one boss battle where a weapon's animation speed has a pretty substantial effect on you and your partner's chances of survival. Not having the choice to pick your partner's weapon introduces an unfortunate element of luck into some battles that should be entirely based on skill. It rarely happens, but it's noticeable when it does.
Despite how you play, boss battles are where most of your deaths are probably going to come from, as each are five- to 15-minute affairs that push you to constantly adapt on the fly. No two bosses behave the same way, and many have a gimmick that can transform the fight. For example, one of the mid-game bosses is a staff-wielding giant woman who uses her magical lantern to deliver devastatingly powerful area-of-effect attacks and buff her health. If you put some distance between the two of you, you can bait her into throwing her lantern at you in frustration and then destroy it. Doing so allows you to carve out larger chunks of her health, but she goes into a violent frenzy and starts attacking you differently once her precious lantern is destroyed. It's up to you whether or not you destroy the lantern, and when you'll do it if you decide to do so.
In some cases, like this example, finding a boss' gimmick makes the battle much easier, but it can also just change how it plays out--which is a wonderful thing for any fight you're struggling with. Instead of feeling like you need to implement the same strategy over and over against every boss and just do it better, you're occasionally rewarded for experimenting and trying something new. It helps dull any frustration that might arise from repeatedly losing to the same foe, too.
Ashen does more than enough to differentiate it from other Souls-like games. Although its combat utilizes the same stamina-focused mechanics, the inclusion of features that promote a sense of community with the game's characters makes for a wholly different experience. It's frustrating to spawn and see that your computer-controlled partner has a weapon that doesn't complement the one you're using. However, even when playing with NPCs, your allies' efforts to assist you in battle cause you to care about the fates of the colorful cast of people you meet on your journey. The relationships you forge define your adventure through Ashen, and helping your new friends is a powerful motivator that drives you forward through the game's beautiful world.
THQ Nordic has shared a new look at Biomutant, their upcoming action RPG starring a rodent-like protagonist. The new trailer shows a host of new environments and new forms for the titular Biomutant. Check out the trailer below.
THQ Nordic did not have much else to share for Biomutant, but advised looking forward to more in 2019. We last played the game this past August in Cologne, Germany at Gamescom, where we called it an "oddball take on the open-world action-RPG."
Biomutant is scheduled to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in Summer 2019.
Cymbals clash when you throw a guy out the window. Colors splash on the screen like Jackson Pollock himself is tossing paint onto the canvas. Devolver Digital's latest top-down shoot'em up appears to be a colorful symphony of destruction if the game's latest trailer is anything to go off of.
Following an orange-colored ape as it ascends an elevator, the trailer shows you picking up guards to be used as human shields, blowing away people with shotguns and just generally painting the walls with the blood of your enemies as you make your escape in gameplay reminiscent of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Every foe that you dispatch is synced with frenetic jazz music, making the mayhem as rhythmic as it is brutal. And with art by Bennett Foddy of Getting Over With Bennett Foddy, the game's violent, kaleidoscopic aesthetic looks like it'd fit right with Devolver Digital's wheelhouse.
To witness all the beautiful carnage yourself you can check out the trailer below to see how Devolver Digital's next top-down shooter is shaping up.
Taking nods from a number of design elements endemic to traditional trading card games and combining those with the flexibility and ease of digitized play fields, Artifact brings a uniquely compelling twist to the TCG formula. The bulk of this comes from Valve’s tentpole franchise of late: Dota 2. Artifact remixes many of the core ideas, focusing on the essentials of MOBAs to bring new layers of tactical complexity to great effect. Establishing a broad number of possibilities allows for near-limitless experimentation and development of new and complex styles of play.
Those unfamiliar with the free-to-play behemoth, Dota 2, and its competitors (League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, etc.) won’t need much additional context, but a grasp of the basics can go a long way. As with standard MOBAs, you’ll have three lanes that you share with your competitor. Monsters, heroes, creeps, and items all get funneled into one of these passages and are pit against one another. Each of you will vie for control of all three in succession, starting from left to right, marshaling what forces and powers you can to overpower your opponent and topple the tower sitting at the end.
In essence, the lanes act like as distinct play areas, though you do share a hand across them. Besides that, though what happens in one lane stays there. To win, you’ll either need to claim two of the three lanes, or manage to bring down your foe’s “ancient,” which appears only after you’ve taken a lane.
These basics are sticky to explain, but mercifully, pretty easy to grasp once you see them in action. Artifact offloads a good chunk of its calculations to computers, allowing it to be a lot more complex than a traditional card game. By taking some of that extra grunt work off of you, it broadens the possibility space beyond anything comparable. Because any number of monsters or heroes can be in each lane, it's possible that you’ll end up with 10 combat rounds or more across three lanes in a turn. That sounds like a lot, but Artifact offers up battle previews, detailing what will happen if you don’t respond. Likewise, the playable cards in your hand will glow a gentle blue, so you can save time and consider the ramifications of the play instead of burning your thoughts attempting to figure out what you even can play on top of what effect it would have.
Play proceeds in a series of rounds, where you’ll pass over each lane and resolve whatever relevant cards in sequence. Between each, though, you’ll have a chance to buy items and equipment to help in the next go around. Each creep you take down yields one gold, whereas an enemy hero yields five. Neither are necessary objectives in themselves, but creeps and heroes guard the towers, so most of the time you’ll need to be chipping away at them anyway, and the extra payout is a useful bonus that will--on occasion--affect which lane you choose to press through and when.
In truth, there’s a litany of micro-decisions like those that Artifact relies on to build itself into a fully fledged and shockingly nuanced trading card game. The fineries of play will take quite some time to master, and not because they are obtuse or particularly convoluted, but because of the tension between where, how, and when you choose to play. It can be to your advantage, for instance, to make one big push through a single lane if you don’t believe you can spread your forces effectively enough to nab two. But, even then, you’ll still need a capable defense to prevent your towers from being overrun.
All of this is covered in the tutorial, but developing a genuine sense of the game takes quite a while, simply due to the nature of its play. Normally this would be a positive trait, and the fact that learning nuances over time is encouraged is a helps create a satisfying, growth-oriented style of play. But that clashes a bit with Artifact’s pricing structure.
Buying the game gets you a starting deck as well as several booster packs to round out your starting set. But from there, you’ll either need to trade and sell cards on the real-currency marketplace to fill out your decks, or compete incredibly well to win them. Competing would be fine, too, but the number of matches you need to win and the rewards you get from there are scant enough that most new players will need to put in some extra cash.
The fineries of play will take quite some time to master, and not because they are obtuse or particularly convoluted, but because of the tension between where, how, and when you choose to play.
This has been helped somewhat by the post-launch addition of a free draft mode (previously it had been behind a paywall). Here you can play all you want and experiment with whatever cards come up in the draft. Players looking to build their actual decks, though, may be disappointed. I say may because the market’s prices are extremely variable, shifting quickly as the market gets more and more rare cards and the metagame evolves. It isn’t clear, however, at this stage, what developer Valve will be doing in terms of restricting card rarity to keep prices stable down the line--or if there are any such plans at all. It may be that in two weeks’ time, competitive decks are dramatically cheaper to field. As it is, Artifact is dramatically cheaper than high-end Magic or Hearthstone, but it may feel less welcoming to passive fans who want to avoid any significant financial investment.
In aggregate, though, Artifact works far more often than it doesn’t. While the volatility of the market is one thing, play on its own is more challenging and engaging than many of its contemporaries. Play moves remarkably fast, too, shuffling between the lanes and then back to the start sometimes in under a minute. It’s a lot to keep track of, but it’s put together well enough and propped up by enough card playability hints and subtle calculations that it rarely ceases to delight.
Production and animation help a good chunk with that, too. Play will frequently shift between the board as a whole and the specific play space on which you’re focusing. Between lanes, though, you’ll have a fluttering imp that manages your deck, carrying it seamlessly to the different play areas between rounds. They don’t affect play, only adding to the aesthetic presentation of the game and the visual language of how your deck and hand move across the board to each miniature arena, but they’re a nice touch. Similarly, the crack of a spell or the soft trickle of the stream that runs the length of the board are engrossing touches that bind the field together and give the game an added visual flair.
All-told, Artifact is a capable reimagining of modern trading card games. It plays quite a bit differently than just about any of its contemporaries--digital or not--and while the marketplace is volatile to say the least, there’s little evidence that the pricing is straight-up predatory. Just note, however, that the game is not free-to-play and be prepared to spend some additional bit of money coming in. It would be nice to see some more extensive options for those wanting to play by themselves or in non-competitive settings, but beyond that, Artifact is a great showing.