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Real Time Strategy

Review: Act of Aggression

Sep 21 // Patrick Hancock
Act of Aggression (PC)Developer: Eugen SystemsPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveReleased: September 2, 2015MSRP: $44.99  Act of Aggression's plot takes place in the near-future where political agencies are being exploitative during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The player takes the side of the Chimera and U.S. government, who believe a group called the Cartel are behind this financial crisis. There are also standalone missions that play out from the perspective of the Cartel. The campaign isn't the most interesting story, which is compounded by downright terrible voice acting. I'm honestly not sure if they were going for a "so bad it's good" angle, but the end result is just bad.  The campaign also does a poor job of acting as the game's tutorial. After completing a campaign, jumping into an online match will be mostly foreign. Personally, I recommend playing through AI skirmish matches to get used to how the actual game handles before jumping online. That way, players can take their time reading unit descriptions and getting a feel for the various factions. [embed]309347:60454:0[/embed] Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a real-time strategy game before. Players need to harvest resources, build up their base, create an army, and wipe out the opponents' base. There are four resources to keep track of: oil, aluminum, rare earth elements, and electricity. The first three are harvestable from the map using Refineries, but electricity is created by specific buildings. There are other ways to acquire certain resources, like occupying banks or constructing specific buildings.  Not everything is par-for-the-course RTS gameplay. Players can send ground troops to occupy any building that litters the map. Soldiers inside of buildings have increased defenses from that structure, with the obvious downside of being stuck inside the building. Enemies can either attack the building in an attempt to destroy it and kill the soldiers inside, or send in their own troops to fight inside. Winning battles inside of buildings seems to be a case of numbers; having more soldiers than the enemy will end in a victory. There are tons of buildings spread across just about every map, which makes traversing an area way more interesting since the enemy can be in any of them. As mentioned, large bank buildings will generate (finite) resources when occupied, so the early game usually consists of players rushing towards those areas. It's easy enough for players to take a bank next to their base, but heading directly towards an enemy bank early on can also be worth it. It's an incredible gameplay mechanic that truly does alter competitive play. Another important element involves prisoners of war. After a soldier is defeated in battle, they don't disappear from the map. Instead, they become a unit that has no action other than to move. Players can have the wounded soldiers retreat to base, but if an enemy gets there first, they can capture the POW. From there the enemy can generate resources, and even be traded for different resources. This is something that can really impact the late-game, and can easily separate mediocre and great players.  Base building is standard for the genre, and consists of three tiers of buildings. Certain structures need to be built before constructing anything from a higher tier, and many of the late-game buildings require rare earth elements, the late-game resource. It feels like a natural progression, and still allows for many different "builds" and strategies. Perhaps the best part about playing Act of Aggression is that it actually feels like war. Players, in general, need to have a well-balanced army to see any sort of success. "Deathballs" of a single unit can see mild success, but will usually fail to bring complete victory (trust me, I've tried). Having a balanced army, stationing units in buildings, and occasionally calling in airstrikes made me feel more like a strategist than any RTS in recent memory. Each faction can also build a "superweapon," which takes the form of a nuclear missile. All three superweapons are pretty much identical, with some numbers being changed like area of effect and damage. These aren't an automatic victory once they are built, and in fact can be defended against by certain factions with specific structures.  It's important to note that "actions per minute," or APM, isn't an emphasis here. Players won't need to worry very much about micromanaging their armies in the midst of an intense battle. It's more about keeping your enemy on their toes with a strong overarching strategy, along with intelligent placements and makeups of an army. Visually, Act of Aggression impresses. Players may not realize it, but zooming in reveals a nice level of detail given to each of the units. It can be hard, using the normal camera level, to discern between specific units which makes combating armies tougher than it needs to be.  It's unclear whether or not Act of Aggression will have any legs to stand on within a few months. The player count hovers around the 1,000 to 2,000 range at any given time and I've had no shortage of players to compete against online. The larger price tag is likely limiting its playerbase, and it can be hard to justify due to the lackluster single-player option.  This might not be the prophet of the next wave of "golden-era" RTS games, but it's a fresh entry to a genre that desperately needs it. It's one of the few games that has truly made me feel like a strategist, and changes the way I approach familiar situations when playing online. For those only interest in single-player, I'd recommend looking elsewhere. If online multiplayer or even AI skirmishes are all you need, Act of Aggression delivers a wonderful product. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Act of Aggression review photo
Enter the hotseat
Act of Aggression claims to be built like games from the "golden era of RTS." You know, back when StarCraft and Command and Conquer were taking the industry by storm. At least, I assume that's what they mean because...

Age of Mythology photo
Age of Mythology

Age of Mythology is getting a new expansion: Tale of the Dragon

13 years after release... sort of
Sep 21
// Joe Parlock
It’s not every day you see a 13-year-old game get an expansion, is it? Well that’s sort of what’s happening to Age of Mythology: The Extended Edition with Tale of the Dragon. Technically, the Extended ...
Tecmo Koei photo
Tecmo Koei

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII may not be coming west, but it is getting an English release

So you can import the Asian version
Sep 16
// Kyle MacGregor
[Update: It sounds like the game is also in development for Xbox One.] Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII has not been announced for a western release, but it sounds like you should be able to play the upcoming strategy ...

Total War: Warhammer's Dwarven faction shakes up the battlefield

Sep 16 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310625:60354:0[/embed] The developers have been keeping things pretty close to the vest when it comes Warhammer. While we've already seen the Empire and Greenskin armies in action, they've been very hesitant to share any details about the Dwarf and Vampire factions. As each army will have its own unique settings, politics, and overall feel from one another, Creative Assembly wanted to make sure it nailed its approach before showing it off to the world. Our session focused primarily on one of the earlier skirmishes in the Dwarven campaign. During the Ambush at the Thunderfalls Pass, the faction's underground networks have been breached by the Greenskins, and it must drive them out in order to keep its most secure and valuable asset in Dwarf hands. Unlike the other Total War titles, Warhammer has deeper ties to a general narrative during the campaigns. While you'll still have plenty of leeway into how you build the factions up, there will be several moments in the faction's plot that will affects several key characters from Warhammer lore, but will also change the course of your campaign. For the Dwarven faction, a great empire lies underground and they've built a network of tunnels to travel vast distances, transport supplies, and surprise enemies forces from beneath the earth. From underground skirmishes, to using the tunnels for trade during nation-building, the burly and stout faction will use the subterranean realm to strengthen its empire and debilitate foes. But given how valuable of a resource these tunnels have been to the Dwarfs, it's no surprise the other factions would want to take it for themselves. The Ambush at Thunderfalls Pass served as a great opener to not only the new field of war, but also to see how Warhammer made the transition to Total War. Despite the tonal shift and massive change in setting, battles should be quite familiar to those who've sunk hundreds of hours into the RTS series. Players control various types of ranged and melee units to engage the enemy and complete objectives. Along with a brand new mechanic called the Grudge system, which adds dynamic challenges based on how effective your attacks and strategies are against the opposition, the battle mechanics have evolved in this entry. With the fantasy aesthetic in full swing, the developers have gotten creative in implementing the classic Warhammer archetypes and lore into the Total War gameplay. Each faction possesses its own unique Hero classes, who are not only important to the faction's narrative, but also provide special skills and abilities to battles -- and many hardcore Warhammer fans will undoubtedly recognize a few of them. During this battle, the Dwarven units were accompanied by High King Thorgrim Grudgebearer, the ruler of the Dwarven capital city, who wielded a enchanted tome that allowed him to buff nearby units. Another Hero character with the army was Thane, a melee champion that was at his best when rushing into the thick of it. In addition to the large number of units, the hero characters add a lot of nuance to battles, as their special skills can seriously make or break a battle at critical moments. During one moment, a remote melee unit of Slayers was getting pummeled by Greenskins, but moving Thane close enough to their position allowed the Slayers to become imbued with his special melee buff which boosted their abilities and slaughtered their foes. It's important to remember that each faction always has ways to deal with the opposition, but you'll have to stay on your toes in order to keep one step ahead of the enemy. I was fortunate enough to test out the same map on two separate difficulty modes, Normal and Hard, and each skirmish field will have varying difficulties to spice things up. Hard mode makes your opposition far more aggressive and cunning, which will be a welcome option for those who want their battle knowledge to be put to the test. But of course, the thing that interests Warhammer fans the most are the faction characters. During this skirmish, we were given access to a number of unique classes from the Dwarven faction, with many more yet to be unveiled. Just as you would expect, each unit has its own special strengths and weaknesses, and they're at their best when combining efforts with different classes. From Dwarf Warriors, Longbeards with Great Weapons, Slayers, Iron Drakes (flamethrower units), Quarrelers and Thunderers (both ranged), Siege Weapons, and even Gyrocopters -- the Dwarfs' knowledge of tech and terrain are their greatest asset, and it totally comes out in the combat style and strategies they employ. I was impressed with the rich detail and visuals during the battle. With the awe-inspiring setting, and the detailed characters and animations, I had a lot of fun just watching the action unfold. Just like in previous titles, you can change camera and get much closer to the action with cinematic camera angles and wide-shots of the battlefield. It can't be stated enough at how much of a looker this game is. I spent a good amount of time just staring at the detail of Thorgrim's character model, which showed his throne being carried Dwarf servants. The developers nailed the visual aesthetic, and when Warhammer fans aren't winning battles, they'll be geeking out over the details of the world and its characters in-game. As the members of Creative Assembly stated during our session, Total War: Warhammer still has a ways to go during its development, but it's looking sharp at this point. The action was fluid, and the visuals were very impressive. The high-fantasy setting shines within the Total War brand, and with the core gameplay of the nation building still yet to be seen, more of the Warhammer universe will become unveiled in the coming months. I'm still looking forward to the day they reveal the Vampire faction, which the devs claim are very different from the others, but until then, the Dwarfs have got plenty of firepower and brute force to stand up against whatever comes their way.
Total War: Warhammer photo
Heigh-ho! It's off to war we go
Back at E3 2015, I got a special sneak peek at the upcoming Total War: Warhammer. The pre-alpha footage we were shown featured an intense battle between the Empire and Greenskins, and each side brought their largest weapons a...

StarCraft II photo
StarCraft II

StarCraft II: Legacy Of The Void arrives Nov. 10

Watch the stunning opening cinematic
Sep 13
// Kyle MacGregor
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, the strategy title's second expansion, is coming to Windows PC and Mac on November 10, Blizzard announced today during the Starcraft II World Championship Series. This expansion follows ...
Warhammer 40K photo
Warhammer 40K

Finally, some Battlefleet Gothic gameplay

Sep 10
// Jordan Devore
We've seen impressive stills from Tindalos and Focus Home's Battlefleet Gothic: Armada but no gameplay footage up until now. The Unreal Engine 4-powered real-time strategy title looks fantastic in motion, too. After hearing a...
Tooth and Tail photo
Tooth and Tail

Monaco creator reveals arcade RTS title Tooth and Tail

Formerly Lead to Fire
Aug 13
// Jordan Devore
Last year, we reported that Monaco developer Pocketwatch Games was taking on the real-time strategy genre with Armada, a streamlined game whose complexity stems from "an emphasis on improvisation and reactive play over practi...
Warcraft IV photo
Warcraft IV

Blizzard should do Warcraft IV next

Aug 12
// Jordan Devore
This is a silly story to run, but my love of Warcraft is telling me to just go with it. At gamescom, StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void producer Tim Morten told IGN that following work on the expansion, the team "will consider...
Legacy of the Void photo
Legacy of the Void

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void probably releasing in 2015

As a standalone expansion
Aug 05
// Joe Parlock
StarCraft II fans, rejoice! The final part of the trilogy is “expected to release in 2015,” according to the latest financial report coming out of Activision. It notes that pre-purchases and a beta are already cur...
StarCraft II photo
StarCraft II

StarCraft II adds confetti explosions for its fifth birthday

Workers beware
Jul 27
// Jordan Devore
StarCraft II is five years old today. Hooray? Many of us are probably more concerned with how the standalone expansion Legacy of the Void is shaping up. I was about to move onto my next browser tab, but something caught my ey...
StarCraft II photo
StarCraft II

Here's what you're getting with the StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void prologue

Three missions, par for the course
Jul 16
// Chris Carter
There's some confusion floating around regarding StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void's prologue section, so let me clear it up a bit for you. It's called Whispers of Oblivion, and it consists of three missions, which b...
Dawn of War 3 photo
Dawn of War 3

Sega registers

Surely it'd be Mid-morning of War by now
Jul 06
// Joe Parlock
It’s funny how many little ways a publisher can screw up and leak (or “leak” if you're a cynic) its upcoming games in 2015. A misworded interview here, a guy walking in and stealing your lunch there, and of ...

Review: The Masterplan

Jun 18 // Stephen Turner
The Masterplan (PC) Developer: Shark Punch Publisher: Shark Punch Released: June 4, 2015 MSRP: $19.99  It’s the start of the '70s and Richard Nixon is cracking down on crime with the War on Drugs, which means bad news for your dealing protagonist. After being busted out of jail, it’s time to stick it to The Man by pulling off a series of heists; each one leading you closer to the ultimate payday at Fort Knox. Actually, there’s not much else to say about The Masterplan’s plot, even if it does serve the funky aesthetics well. No special gadgets, here; just good old fashioned lockpicks, drills, and shooters. The Masterplan has a charming tongue-in-cheek vibe throughout, with anachronistic references, stumpy characters, and goofy violence. Presented from a top-down perspective, the hand drawn artwork is reminiscent of a board game. Each map stands out with its own detailed identity -- from stores to offices to casinos -- to the point where you’re interested in seeing the next location or need to remember for a bonus replay. As for the gameplay itself, it’s a real-time, semi-improvisational puzzler. Oddly though, for a game about heists, there’s no pre-planning at all. At a hideout, you hire crew members, buy some weapons, pick a destination, and work it out when you get there. It makes for some frustrating instances of trial-and-error runs. Plus there’s the odd design choice of having to kill a crew member to replace them and not one but two crew caps (six hires, but only four go on the heist). The Masterplan is really about fluidity and making decisions on the fly. Brute force is fine, but it comes with monetary penalties and alarms, so it’s obviously meant to be played as stealthily as possible; turn off the lights and cameras, and avoid the cones of vision. Though you’re given different objectives, every level boils down to one plan: get the grey key to get the orange key, which in turn will net you the red key and finally the loot. The maps might increase in size and complexity, but it’s always the exact same method for success. That’s not to say there’s a lack of flexibility. This is a game where you play it room-by-room, adapting to every mistake and accidental paths. As long as those major goals are completed, the next heists are unlocked. It also helps to have a choice, as being stuck on one doesn’t mean a grinding halt in progression. Each heist usually contains a useful tool for another location, like a disguise or a drill, and none of it ever feels overpowered. There’s a real feeling of relief when a plan goes awry at the last second and a previously opened shortcut becomes essential for your escape. It’s the little pressures that make it fun. The Masterplan rides a fine line between fiendish and finicky. The minimal UI, which encircles your character with a simple right-click, usually overlaps objects and characters in close proximity. When you’re on your own, it works great. When you’re moving two people together or need to multi-task, it becomes a real hassle; especially in a timed situation. Everyone walks around like they’re on ice, which makes for some troublesome encounters when you need make quick turns, fast draws, or lock swinging doors. There’s a slo-mo function meant for synchronised tactics, but it’s obviously the developers’ way of combating the negatives above. You see, there’s never much reason to have a crew working in tandem. Most heists have you donning a disguise and pulling off silent one-man robberies, as the rest of your crew idle about, acting as pack mules or lookouts. For the most part, The Masterplan feels incredibly slight. In the last third, where tactics shift from bull rushes to planning longer routes, the need for tactical complexity becomes too apparent. Though not exactly fast-paced, it works best when decisions are made on-the-fly and risks are taken for monetary distractions. Overall, The Masterplan is not a bad game, just one that misses some tricks because of scaled back designs. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Review photo
I propagate British cultural depravity
Once upon a time, I played a PC game called Heist. It was truly dreadful, but it did spark my interest in seeing more methodical crime games on the market. Sadly, the wait has been more of a slow drip, with more cancellations...

Starcraft II photo
The first hit is free
Blizzard took the penultimate spot in the PC gaming show at E3 tonight. Executive Producer Chris Sigaty and Game Director Dustin Browder started off talking about Heroes of the Storm, but eventually got to some juicy informa...

Review: Heroes of the Storm

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Heroes of the Storm (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentMSRP: Free-to-playRelease Date: June 2, 2015 Fundamentally, Heroes is still very much a MOBA experience. It's a five-on-five, top-down, click-heavy affair with various roles such as support, tanks, and DPS, and there's a variety of different characters to choose from. To help break down the barrier to entry, Blizzard has made a number of concessions that set it apart from its competition. Perhaps the biggest difference with Heroes of the Storm is that there are no longer items of any kind, and that's something I'm really, really happy about. While I definitely appreciate the "me-too" nature of adding items to every new MOBA, as it did initially stem from the original DOTA (and by proxy, Warcraft III's shops), learning new item-meta in addition to every map and every nuance for each character can be taxing. I'll often spend hours upon hours theorycrafting builds when returning to specific MOBAs just to figure out the best course of action, which can get tiring if you have to do it for every game. Potions have been replaced by healing wells, found at every fort checkpoint -- making it even easier to get back into the action without any boring moments. Now, there's still plenty of theorycrafting to be had with Heroes of the Storm as characters do get the ability to choose between different abilities after hitting certain level milestones, but you don't need to worry about that one extra crucial layer that can make or break a match. But without items, newer players will be able to pick up any hero and play. Builds are initially limited as you start to level-up within the game's ranking system, offering only a few paths for heroes you've never played as before. It only takes a few games until everything is available though, and at player level 25 (a few days of heavy sessions), every skill will be unlocked automatically. In short, it'll be very easy to come back to Heroes months down the line and learn new playstyles. [embed]292749:58760:0[/embed] The open-ended build system is also great for another reason. Even if you don't build the perfect group composition for any given team, all hope isn't lost at hero selection. For instance, you can spec your support or tank characters into a more damage-centric role over the course of the game. Healers can spec entirely for damage if there's multiple support members on the team, and warriors can go a more tanky route if there's no one to soak up damage. It's far more forgiving than most MOBAs, where you can get yelled at for picking a hero that doesn't fit the current meta, much less your group. Shared experience is the other huge mechanic that Heroes of the Storm is pushing. Basically, it allows everyone on the team to be on the same exact level as one another at all times. For example, you won't have one master player who knows exactly how to lane amassing all of the XP on your team. Instead, the worst player is just as strong as the best one. I dig this system for multiple reasons. For one, it doesn't discourage players from attempting to mount a comeback. While another team can still theoretically outlevel their opponents as a collective, everyone can now feel like they're contributing without having fingers pointed at them. The cast itself is also a huge draw, mostly because it calls upon the rich lore already established in the Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft universes. There's not much backstory in terms of the world itself (unlike Riot Games, which does a fantastic job of keeping its lore interesting and fresh), but each hero has a ton of personality to make up for it. Old familiar characters like Thrall or Raynor have a lot of the same icons and skills from their respective games, as well as updated designs and sound effects. It's a joy to play as Nova and hear the classic StarCraft Ghost phrases, running up against the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo. It sounds hyperbolic, but I really do like playing as everyone (the only hero I straight-up don't like is Tychus), and there's more than enough variation to keep everyone entertained. Abathur, for instance, is a character that doesn't directly fight on the battlefield, but instead hitches a ride on other heroes (as well as towers and creeps) to do battle in the form of a sentient spirit of sorts. The Lost Vikings are a lot like Meepo from DOTA, in the sense that they're actually three different units that can be controlled independently, all in different lanes if you can handle it. There are plenty of more traditional platstyles available, as well as more unique choices like Zagara, who summons minions from StarCraft and can create creep (that barren-esque Zerg terrain) to buff herself. Other characters like Ghost and Zeratul can go stealth to pick off enemies. Sylvanas can disable towers or creeps by attacking them. Uther can heal for a short time after his death. You've seen some of these mechanics before in the genre, but the way each style plays out is unique to Heroes. If you're bored of playing the same exact five-on-five, three-lane map over and over in every game, Heroes can offer some respite. There's tons of maps to learn (seven in all at launch, with another Diablo-themed map in development), all of which have objectives built into them. These mini-quests range from collecting coins to pay a ghost pirate to blow away an enemy base, or defending a circle that shoots lasers at opposing forts. While a lot of folks likely won't enjoy the fact that a team can come back and win because of these events, they're actually just a more streamlined and flashy way of handling the Dragon and Baron Nashor objectives in, say, League of Legends. They're also designed to expedite matches -- an average Heroes game is usually 20 minutes, which is a stark contrast to 45-60 minute matches elsewhere. It's a great philosophy, as one of the common genre complaints is the fact that games take forever. The less Blizzard copies the status quo, the better. Heroes of the Storm also provides a more relaxed environment in general. There's far less pressure in unranked matches (as there should be), and there's even an option to turn off allied chat, thus avoiding taunts from angry players -- instead, you can rely on the fairly extensive pinging system on the mini-map to communicate. "All" chat is also entirely disabled, so you won't hear enemy trash-talking either. There's a few bad apples here and there, but in my experience, this is by and large the most welcoming MOBA community. This should help alleviate a lot of the concerns people have in regards to starting up the genre. For those of you who are more competitive, there is a ranked option called Hero League. There's no bans currently, but you can solo or group queue for it, and hero selection is done by a "draft" style format, where players switch off selecting characters. From what I've played of ranked, the community is just as understanding and helpful, and in every lobby I've been in, players have suggested picks for inexperienced folk and adjusted their picks to help the team. At the highest player rank there's also a team Hero League option for all five players to enter. Currently, the ranked system needs a bit more work in terms of the infrastructure behind it. Blizzard has noted that it is building a system in line with Hearthstone's ladder rankings, but top-tier players will require a lot more to keep playing. In terms of monetizaton, Heroes is roughly on par with League (which is fine by me), but with a slightly lower earn-rate for in-game currency. Yes, it's awesome that Dota 2 has all of its heroes unlocked from the start, and I wish we could have that strategy implemented in every MOBA. But the reality is, Blizzard has created enough avenues to earn gold, and the free-to-play rotation every week will still allow you to play every role and get the full Heroes experience. To earn gold, you can complete daily quests, which will net you around one character per month (depending on the price). By playing frequently, you'll earn gold inherently through completed matches, and by leveling up heroes, you'll earn a nice gold bonus at specific ranks. It's not really hard to do any of these tasks -- they merely require you to play heroes from specific franchises, roles, or play the hero itself a certain amount. There's also a few bundles, including a $20 physical boxed set at launch, that provide a large number of characters. A handful of heroes are also very cheap, to the point where you can buy a few after only a day or so of play. Ever since the beta, I've always had a reserved take on Heroes' economy. In short, it's a bit too conservative in terms of rewards, and Blizzard doesn't put out nearly enough sales (the weekly is usually just a middling one character). That could change over time, but for now, I would like to see a higher earn-rate overall. The good news is that all real-money purchases are just that -- real-money, with dollars and cents. You don't need to wade through and calculate "Riot Points" to figure out how much something costs. Skins are only available for purchase with real cash, which doesn't really bother me as they are a completely optional affair. Plus, when you see how much work goes into making a skin, the prices feel justified, especially when they're on sale. Heroes of the Storm has unfairly been branded as a "just a casual game" due to the removal of many tried and true MOBA mechanics. With over 100 hours of play under my belt, I can say with authority that those claims are untrue. Heroes has a ton of depth, it's very well balanced (though not perfect), and nearly every cast member is a blast to play. It achieves almost everything it sets out to accomplish, so I really hope it catches on with the non-believers and continues to grow. [This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game, but Blizzard provided us with 60,000 gold to spend in the shop. A $20 retail starter pack was purchased by the reviewer. I am currently player level 40, the maximum.]
Heroes of the Storm photo
My new go-to MOBA
When people hear the term "MOBA" they usually groan. I tend to respond with, "Tell me more." I grew up with RTS games since I could grasp a mouse and keyboard, and my first MOBA was the original DOTA back in 2005. Over t...

Deals photo

Humble is bundling Relic's Warhammer 40,000 and Company of Heroes games

Step one: Play Space Marine
May 28
// Jordan Devore
There's a lot to love in this Humble Weekly Bundle of Relic games, but I have to give a special shout out to Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Years later, I'm still amazed it turned out as well as it did. Satisfying shooting, ...
Games Workshop photo
Games Workshop

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada continues to look cool

No touching
May 07
// Jordan Devore
There are a bunch of upcoming games set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Many of them look less than stellar, assuming you can even keep up with them all, but a few manage to stand out. One is Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, wh...

Review: Tropico 5

May 05 // Robert Summa
Tropico 5 (Mac, PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox 360) Developer: Kalypso MediaPublisher: Kalypso MediaReleased: April 28, 2015 (PS4)MSRP: $59.99 Tropico 5 is a learning experience. How you choose to learn is completely up to you. There is a mission and campaign mode that will certainly steer you in the right direction, but that didn't appeal to me and I suspect most will want to do more than that as well. As a Civ junkie, I don't like to be limited with my creations -- in that, when a specific mission ends, so does your island. For me, sandbox mode is where I spent most of my time and where I would imagine most players will. Sandbox is the true meat and substance within Tropico 5. Not only can you set your win conditions, but you can choose between multiple economic and political difficulty levels, starting era, the money initially available (unlimited is also an option) and the number of citizens that start on your island. But probably even more critical to your island's success is the land itself. While you will have plenty of pre-made islands to choose from, there is also a map generator that offers endless combinations of whatever creation you want -- for example, you can choose between different sized-islands and the amount of resources available. Even if you skip much of the campaign, you will still be able to learn as you go. Within the game itself is a sort of quest function where specific tasks will need to be completed. Whether it be to build a library or extra military buildings, the game does an excellent job of teaching while doing. For someone like me who hates to read directions or endless strategy guides (preferring to figure stuff out on my own), this is a perfect implementation. But it's not just the quests that will guide you. The detailed faction and happiness statistics will help you be the leader you want to be. There are various factions all vying for greatness and it's your job as leader to finely balance what you want for your island and what your people actually want and need. To help you lead, there is a dynasty system where you can name and set specific management roles to created characters that will give bonuses to buildings based on their specific abilities -- there are generic managers, but you can't level those up like you can dynasty members. For example, you can have a celebrity manager that is best suited for hotels or you can have a magnate who works well with oil and mining buildings. These dynasty members are part of El Presidente's extended family and can benefit you greatly within the game. Ignoring them or their abilities will only make your leadership that much more challenging. Of course, it's not just your island you have to worry about. Tropico 5 is also a nation builder. Within it, you'll have to juggle the trade of exports and imports and appeasing the Russians while at the same time not pissing off the Americans. As time moves on from the Colonial Era to the Modern Era, you will have even more nations and scenarios to deal with. There are many situations in your virtual island experience that feel like they mirror how a real nation and leader needs to function. Tropico 5 is a constant balancing act and a game filled with trial and error. You should be warned, if you find yourself to be a Civ addict, then you will quickly find that Tropico 5 offers the same kind of grab. Hours melt away. As you complete one task, something else comes up that you feel drastically needs your attention. The amount of management, while it can seem overwhelming, is really the draw and appeal of the game. There is a multiplayer component, but really, unless you want to build an island with a friend or desperately want to compete against others, you probably aren't going to bother. It works, so that's all most players can really ask for when it comes to multiplayer within nation builders. The game is not without its minor faults or seemingly-impossible challenges. While I do keep the pace of time in its most forward position, it never felt like I could appease or completely stop rebel attacks or uprisings. These occur when citizens are unhappy or you have specific constitution options active, but no matter what, I found myself dealing with this constant nuisance. Also, there were occasional save issues. In fairness, I played the majority of my time with Spotify running in the background, so whether or not that sometimes caused games not to be saved, I don't know. It doesn't happen often, but it can be devastating if you're not paying attention and haven't saved in a while. Even though there were no real issues with the controls themselves, perfectly placing roads can take some getting used to, but it doesn't strongly detract from the game. While Tropico 5 isn't the game-of-the-year masterpiece of a generation, it's a more-than serviceable sim and strategy title that can satisfy a grossly under-served genre within the console community. If you love SimCity and Civilization and are dying for something similar on your PS4, then there really is no reason not to have and enjoy this game to its fullest extent. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tropico 5 review photo
It's good to be the king
City and civilization games on consoles are a rare thing. I'm not exactly sure why that is, but my guess would be that traditionally, these games only enjoy their moderate success on PC. Whether it be the limitations of conso...

Age of Empires photo
Age of Empires

A new Age of Empires II HD expansion in 2015

What a time to be alive
Apr 09
// Jordan Devore
Two years later, Age of Empires II HD is still going strong. So strong that, according to producer Ryan Chaply, more people have spent 50+ hours with the game than there are actual humans living in Little Rock, Arkansas (~200...

Review: Grey Goo

Mar 29 // Patrick Hancock
Grey Goo (PC)Developer: PetroglyphPublisher: Grey BoxRelease Date: January 23, 2015MSRP: $49.99  First of all, the cutscenes in this game are gorgeous. Right from the beginning the game hooks the player with its visuals. The opening cutscene is guaranteed to bring most players right in to the plot, however whether or not they care to stay is another issue. Grey Goo's plot revolves around the three factions, Beta, Humans, and Goo, fighting for control of the planet Ecosystem 9. And so they fight. The campaign would be rather lackluster if not for the cutscenes to keep the player interested. The difficulty can be adjusted for each mission, so if a mission is too difficult, players can drop the difficulty down a level when needed. Mission types can be varied, but tend to not stray far from destroying the enemy or defending an area. The campaign does give a relatively stress-free environment to play with the units and experiment, at least. Missions generally last between 30-60 minutes, depending on playstyle and the difficulty selected. Some missions are incredibly repetitive, which is why I recommend playing on Easy or Normal difficulty and just getting through to the cutscenes and messing around with the units. There are fifteen missions total, with five dedicated to each race. While the cutscenes are absolutely stunning, the campaign unfortunately ends with a cliffhanger, perfectly setting the game up for a sequel or an expansion (my guess would be on the latter). It is disappointing to say the least, especially since the cliffhanger it uses is so clichéd in nature. [embed]289484:57958:0[/embed] The inherent problem is that logically, everyone will want to play as the Goo. They are by far the most mechanically interesting race in the game, the most aesthetically pleasing, and the game is named after them. However, while the player can jump straight into the Goo in any skirmish, the Goo campaign, which helps teach players about the mechanics and strategies, is locked behind two other campaigns. Luckily there is an in-game encyclopedia to help players understand what units do and how each race works. Matches focus around gathering resources, building armies, and then destroying the opponents. There is only one resource, called "catalyst." Catalyst exists in certain areas around the map and needs to have a structure on top of it to harvest. The Beta and Human races place Refineries down with Extractors over resource areas, while the Goo has their Mother Goo unit hunkered down on top of them. There are no "worker units," so resource harvesting is more of a "set it and forget it" situation. Just don't leave your Refineries/Mother Goos unprotected! The Beta, the race first used in the campaign, focuses on base building through "Hubs." Hubs are small square buildings that can be placed anywhere with vision that connects to the production buildings on the sides. There are small, medium, and large hubs, each possessing the ability to connect to more and more buildings. Research buildings can also be connected and will impact any unit producing buildings on the same Hub. For example, if a Factory and a Tank Attachment are both on a Small Hub, the Factory can produce new unit types. The attachments are also used to research upgrades. While it is interesting to have a base broken up into small bits, the general strategy is still to protect the resource areas, generally leaving Beta players to clump everything together. Beta can also build walls and have units be stationed on top of said walls. This again promotes a base-clumping gameplay style and also promotes highly defensive strategies. Overall, the Beta don't feel much different in terms of playstyle compared to most of what the genre has to offer. The Human race is even more defensive, since they rely on low-health power grids for their structures. This means that bases must be in close proximity to one another. Humans are incredibly good at a turtling-style of play, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's the only viable strategy. Humans also have access to walls, which allow their units to travel and shoot through while preventing enemies from doing the same. The humans are pretty standard RTS fare, with the exception being the necessary power grid. The Goo are by far the most interesting race. I mean, there's a reason the game is named after them. The Mother Goo is the main building, and she is completely mobile. The Mother Goo acts as the resource gatherer; if you plop her on top of resources, she will collect them. The Mother Goo then creates Proteans, large or small, that can turn into units on the fly. This allows Goo players to bring some Proteans with them, and decide in the moment what those Proteans should turn into. It's an incredibly unique approach to an RTS faction, and it's no wonder that most players stick with the Goo when playing, from my experience.  The Proteans, including the Mother Goo, also do damage to units when they come in contact with them. Since the Mother Goo is pretty resilient, this strategy has some serious merit to it, especially when defending from an attack. It also creates an interesting dilemma at times: do I approach with my Mother Goo who is gathering resources, or leave her be to help my economy? I will say though, watching the Mother Goo slowly blob its way over to an enemy army to devour it is really something worth watching. Unless you're the other army. One of the most interesting things about Grey Goo is the upgrade or "tech" system in place. While playing as any race, players can use certain buildings to upgrade specific units in ways that better fit their playstyle. These are more than simple stat upgrades, but can drastically effect a way a unit is used. For example, the Bastion unit for the Goo can be upgraded to go into rampage mode when almost dead, increasing damage and then exploding. The pace of Grey Goo is slower than the APM-spamming click-fest of other games in the genre. It is also not as micromanagement heavy. It's a much more macro-focused game; players need to manage their resource input and output while simultaneously being aware of their opponents'. Grey Goo matches move along at a steady, but very manageable pace that should welcome newcomers to the genre without scaring them away with fast-paced skirmishes. It's been some time since the initial release, and the player base has dwindled to almost nothing. It's near impossible to find a match online unless it's planned out between opponents. This leaves the campaign and AI skirmishes as the only viable ways to play, which is unfortunate for an RTS. Petroglyph is paying attention, at least, since it recently put out a balance patch for Grey Goo - its first yet. Replays, a common feature among RTS games, are completely absent from Grey Goo. In the most recent balance patch, developer Petroglyph mentions that it is working towards the feature, but the fact that the game released without a replay function boggles the mind. Replays are crucial to help players get better as a community and to help move the metagame forward. Likewise, an "observer" function allowing other players to watch matches is also absent. There is a Map Editor, which is a great addition, but hardly as crucial as the aforementioned features. With a hefty asking price, Grey Goo has a handful of wonderful ideas while also treading similar ground, but the community dropoff rate has absolutely killed the online aspect of it. It's a solid real-time strategy that will likely please fans of the genre, but most may want to wait for the resurgence of players with the inevitable sequel or expansion, which will hopefully come with more features. The titular Goo race is one of the freshest aspects of the genre in a long time, and I hope that Petroglyph has some more great ideas up its sleeves for the future.
Grey Goo Review photo
A sequel to World of Goo! Wait...
Like a ball of goo, I have watched the life of Grey Goo, a new real-time strategy game from developer Petroglyph, expand with enthusiasm, begin rolling, and slowly but surely lose mass as it turns into a tiny goo-ball that no...

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void seeks to conclude the trilogy with an exciting finale

Mar 18 // Alessandro Fillari
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void (Mac, PC [previewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentRelease date: TBA 2015 "Not only is this the conclusion of the StarCraft II trilogy, but also the conclusion to the StarCraft story," said lead game producer Tim Morten. "It really ties together the storylines we've had over the years, and this particular installation will focus on the Protoss." With the previous campaigns focusing on the exploits of the Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan of the Terran and Zerg factions, Legacy of the Void shifts the point of view to the Protoss and its leader Artanis. With the looming threat of the fallen one, Amon, the Protoss and the other factions must ready for battle as the malevolent being seeks to corrupt the galaxy with its powers. As the conclusion to the StarCraft II trilogy, everything has come to this moment, and the upcoming battles will decide the fate of the entire universe. Much like the previous installments, Legacy of the Void is a standalone release that won't require the other entries to play. Though players who've invested time in everything that is StarCraft II thus far will surely have a greater experience, Legacy is a title the developers at Blizzard hope will be accessible for newcomers as well. Though rest assured, Legacy of the Void has every intention of maintaining the high-level play and nuance the series is known for. However, the developers wish to offer newcomers a way to ease into the experience rather than take the trial-by-fire approach. With the new expansion, there's a larger focus on team and cooperative play this time around. Debuting in the expansion are two new gameplay modes called Archon and Allied Commander. For the former, two players will work together to build a base and defend it against enemies. This is essentially co-op mode for the standard competitive mode. While it's exciting for high-level play -- there's twice the efficiency and output -- the developers also hope it'll prove to be an effective learning tool for new players. With an experienced player working as a helping hand alongside a newcomer, they'll be able to learn the ropes much faster. In Allied Commander, players will be able to control the various heroes of the StarCraft universe including Jim Raynor to Sarah Kerrigan. The mode, which lets you take them on a unique campaign as they level up and boost their forces, seems to pull in the best parts of the story mode with the hectic action found in multiplayer battles. Of course, with the new expansion Blizzard has added a whole slew of tweaks and additions. Given such a sizable time between releases, the team was able to gather a lot of player data and make necessary changes. For instance, each faction has new units and upgrades to existing stats and attributes. As the community manages to push the game to its limits, the developers have to try and experiment with new upgrades and tweaks to gameplay. The in-game economy has been altered to encourage expansion and movement, for example, which will yield greater rewards for your base. Moreover, attack damage and range have been tweaked a bit to allow players to use existing and new units in different ways. And speaking of the new units, the folks at Blizzard went all out with upgrades for the factions. The Terran now have access to the Cyclone tank, which can link up with other like units to deal bonus damage. The Zerg has a long-range unit called the Ravager that can deal poisonous area-of-effect damage and disable Protoss shields. And finally, the Protoss can now call forth the Adept, which focuses on close-range combat. The unique thing about the Adept is its shade ability, as it allows the unit to summon a player-controlled ghost of itself to move around the battlefield. After a set amount of time, the Adept will teleport to the position that the shade was in previously. There's impressive potential for these units, and it'll be interesting to see how players experiment with new strategies. Admittedly, I'm a novice when it comes to StarCraft, but I've been an admirer of the series for a long time. I've found a lot to like with this brief taste of the expansion, which will have some of the biggest additions the series has seen in a long time. The changes I've mentioned only scratch the surface for what's been added, such as movable Siege Tanks, new abilities for the existing units, and tweaks to movement and attack damage to name a few. With the upcoming beta, Blizzard hopes to test the waters with these new changes in order to get player feedback on what they would like to see happen in the expansion. Obviously, the series owes much to its fanbase, so it's great as always to see the developers open up with invites to the beta on March 31 to give them a deep and thorough look. Although the official release date is still unknown at this point, it'll be exciting to see how the game evolves from here.
StarCraft II finale photo
Invites for beta on March 31
Where were you when that debut trailer for StarCraft II popped up online? It made its announcement all the way back in 2007 at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in South Korea. Much has changed since then. With the release ...

Let Ashes of the Singularity change your notion of large-scale RTS

Mar 13 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]288981:57764:0[/embed] While the demo we were shown wasn't playable, it was a real-time simulation of a game. The developer could pull the camera out until the various troops were nothing more than barely-visible dots. The size of everything was simply enormous. I was told that it was one of the smaller maps. If controlling 10,000 of anything sounds unwieldy to you, you're probably right. Each unit can be controlled directly, but Ashes of the Singularity gives the player to group various troops into meta-units. Meta-units are made up of any arrangement of troops the player desires. They function as a cohesive whole that are much more manageable in theory. The example given to me was that of a meta-unit consisting of tanks and artillery mortars. Without player input, that make-up will automatically put the tanks in front to provide defense, allowing the mortars to lob artillery shells from the safe cover. The player can tinker with that on an individual basis, which offers a nice sense of customization. However, it wouldn't make much sense to, given that a single unit out of thousands is the equivalent to a proverbial drop of water in a bucket. In all honesty, the demo seemed more like a boasting session for Nitrous than it did a glimpse at Ashes. Maybe, given that it's the first title on the engine, they'll become synonymous in a sense. But, it's impossible to not be impressed by the infrastructure. Thousands of units individually tracked, and creating unique shots and explosions is a solid framework for any game. However, that doesn't mean Ashes of the Singularity will necessarily be good. We have to wait a bit longer to find that out. Oxide Games and Stardock are going the Early Access route with this one, taking feedback into consideration to mold a better final product. Ashes of the Singularity will hit Early Access in the summer, and it's shooting for a proper retail release later this year. Even if we don't know how it'll ultimately turn out, we know for certain that its strength lies in its numbers.
Ashes of the Singularity photo
Strength in numbers
Real-time strategy titles often feel large-scale by design. There are a whole bunch of units on the battlefield, and the player's tasked with directing them all simultaneously. Even if there aren't that many actual parts in t...

Warcraft in StarCraft photo
Warcraft in StarCraft

Oh my god, yes! Modders are remaking Warcraft III

Thanks for the warm fuzzies
Mar 11
// Jordan Devore
"Off I go then!" "Yes, m'lord!" "Job's done!" These soundbites send my mind back to all of those magical summers spent obsessively playing Warcraft III as a teenager. The creators of Warcraft: Armies of Azeroth, a remake of ...

Very Quick Tips: Homeworld Remastered Collection

Mar 02 // Jason Faulkner
Camera and movement: You’re in full control of the camera, so if you’re not careful it can be easy to suddenly find yourself disoriented. Use the arrow keys to pan the camera instead of holding the mouse on the edge of the screen. This allows you to quickly snap the camera in another direction and lets you still use the mouse to control your units. Pressing spacebar brings up your sensors manager, which allows you to see a representation of all resources and units, both friendly and enemy on the field, and issue orders and select units. If you’re plotting long-range attacks or movements, this is the screen to use. Don’t forget to utilize vertical movement. After pressing ‘M’ to bring up the movement disc, you can hold shift and move the mouse up and down to set which height you want to move as well as horizontal movement. Waypoints are your friend. Don’t wanna move straight through a minefield on the way to your destination? Use waypoints to plot around it. Fleet management and resources: The most important concern while playing is to ensure you have a steady supply of resource units (RU). If you lose all your resource collectors to the enemy and you’re out of RU then you’re going to have to start retiring units to get enough money to build more. Your best bet is to build a few and keep them docked via the Launch Manager so that if an enemy takes your mining operations out, you can jumpstart a new RU flow. Make sure your resource collectors aren’t having to sit around with the cargo bays full waiting to land. Build multiple resource controllers and keep them as near resources as possible to maximize collector turn-around time. Researching and building ships takes a ton of time and RU. Find which ships fit your playing style and research their technologies first so you’ll have a template for the fleet you want in your head before you start the game. If you try and research and build every ship, you run the risk of having an unbalanced attack force and being overwhelmed. Spread ship construction between your mothership, carriers, and shipyards. This can make the difference between getting the jump on your enemy and getting caught with a meager force. Combat: Unfortunately, Homeworld Remastered Collection uses the Homeworld 2 engine, so you have to baby your units a little more than fans of the first game may remember. Setting formations is very important, otherwise your ships are going to head full-speed towards the location you command them to. Ships in formation together will advance towards their destination at the speed of the slowest ship in their flotilla. Use the right ships for the right job. A flight of interceptors isn’t going to take down a heavy cruiser, but you don’t want to send a heavy cruiser to take out a single frigate. Using the group command, I suggest you split your main fleet(s) into subsections that you can split off for specialized attacks. Make sure you use those carriers for what they were made for. Docking fighters and corvettes to a carrier and hyperspacing to your destination is the best way to carry them into battle to support the rest of your fleet. While in hyperspace, you can hit the “auto-launch” command and when your carrier appears at its destination it will immediately disperse your fighter and corvette groups. Have a few units that can make repairs on standby either ready to jump in, or guarded by escorts. Make sure if your fighters are getting hammered to press “D” to have them dock with a carrier, mothership, or support frigate, they’ll touch down and launch fully repaired. Advanced tactics: Your fleet will exit a hyperspace jump in the same orientation they entered it in. You can use this to arrange your units in a square and jump in surrounding your target. This will expose less of your units to the enemies firing arcs and allow you to disperse the maximum firepower you can. Hide your Mothership by either moving straight up or straight down and away from your starting position. Most players will only send their probes in a straight horizontal path to search for others and you can evade that search pattern by moving into an unorthodox location. Minelayer corvettes can be used to deny resources to an enemy. Even if you don’t plan on setting up operations in an area, send a few minelayers to saturate it with mines. That way when an enemy comes to use it, their resource collectors will be destroyed. Salvage and capture every thing you can. Every ship you salvage or capture is one ship the enemy doesn't have and one ship that you didn't have to pay for. When playing Kushan or Taiidani, I typically designate a carrier with salvage corvettes docked along with four to six frigates as escorts as a quick strike capture force. You'll want to use around six corvettes per unit to capture ships the most efficiently. The marine and infiltrator frigate serve the same purpose for the Hiigarians and Vaygr and only require a light corvette for fighter escort.
Homeworld tips photo
The Mothership is standing by
Although Homeworld Remastered Collection is classified as real-time strategy, there are some elements that set it apart from its brethren. The 3D camera and movement add another whole axis to worry about that some may find di...

Review: Homeworld Remastered Collection

Mar 02 // Jason Faulkner
Homeworld Remastered Collection (PC)Developer: Gearbox SoftwarePublisher: Gearbox SoftwareReleased: February 25, 2015MSRP: $34.99Rig: AMD FX-6300 @ 3.5 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 7950, Windows 8.1 64-bit Starting on the desert planet Kharak, Homeworld follows the tribal peoples of the Kushan. The discovery of the ancient starship Khar-Toba in one of the planet’s vast deserts confirmed what many already speculated: Kharak was not the origin of the Kushan people. The Guidestone was recovered from the ruins of the ship and carved upon its chipped face was a map of the galaxy leading to a distant star inscribed with a single word: “Hiigara.” No translation was needed as every Kushan knew it. The map was pointing “home.” Over the next hundred years every man, woman, and child worked toward one objective: to complete the ship which would carry over 600,000 of them to their ancestral home planet. It would be equipped to overcome any adversity and be the first Kushan space-faring vessel to be capable of faster-than-light travel thanks to the salvaged Hyperspace Core found on the Khar-Toba. You are Fleet Command, and the Kushan are depending on you to lead them to Hiigara. Along the way you’ll face off against the corrupt and despotic Taiidani Empire, trade with the enigmatic Bentusi, and discover the past of your race as you attempt to reclaim your rightful place in the stars. Your exodus across the galaxy is a relentless struggle against the odds and is one of my favorite campaigns in video game history. By the time you make it to the end there is a true feeling of satisfaction. Even though most of the story is told through voiceovers and the movements of starships, I felt truly connected with the Kushan as if I actually went through the journey with them. [embed]288437:57575:0[/embed] Unfortunately, Homeworld 2’s story is of less consistent quality. Without spoiling the excellent saga of the original, all I can say is that it takes place 100 years after the conclusion of the first game. Although it’s still interesting, it can’t compare to the tenacious flight of the Kushan. I found to to be a bit tangential, and the antagonists of the game, the Vaygr, don’t evoke the same raw anger that the Taiidani did. I highly recommend that if this is your first time playing the series to play them in order, as the charm of the original makes the second one shine a bit brighter than if it was played on its own. However, gameplay between the two is very similar, and in Homeworld Remastered Collection, the lines are further blurred as both games now use the same engine. Up to the release of this collection, unlike the gameplay and plot, graphically the series was showing its age considerably on modern computers. Although changing a .ini file will enable 16:9 on the original games, it’s simply not a big enough change to do the game justice. However, Gearbox’s new models, effects,  cutscenes, textures, and skyboxes have brought the series back to life. They remain faithful to the original while fitting in enough subtle changes to make them interesting. Those expecting revolutionary visuals though will be disappointed. The new textures do have a bit of a muddled look about them, but with the amount of models that can be on screen at once, it may be for the best that they didn’t go overboard. The series is played on a completely three-dimensional field. Unlike Starcraft or Command and Conquer, you’ll have to worry about enemies from above and below you as well as on all sides. Even though these games are 12 and 16 years old, no game series since has replicated this formula, leading them to still feel as fresh as any game coming out this year. Your focal point will be your mothership, and its survival comes above all else. Typically, you’ll need to concentrate on collecting and refining resources from the various asteroids and gas clouds which dot the map, and use them to build your fleet. At its core, combat depends on a rock-paper-scissor system of effectiveness and is easy to get into, yet offers quite a bit of tactical finesse. One thing I liked a lot was that during the campaign, ships you’ve built or salvaged will transfer to the next mission. It adds a huge incentive to actually shepherd your units, and I found myself giving carriers and Assault Frigates names and characterization and reveling in their victories and yelling at the screen when my favorites were blown apart because I made a mistake. Although the movement system is still top notch and unique to this series, but the A.I. that controls the ship could use some work, particularly with formation settings. Both games are in the Homeworld 2 engine which had a distinctly inferior formation and posturing system than the first and unfortunately it’s made for a ton of frustration. I found myself having to micromanage my ships when moving a large fleet because even when I put in the command to fall into a formation, they sometimes refused to stay with the group. In particular in my last session, my fleet of over a hundred ships flew together in formation perfectly except for two Support Frigates. Instead of falling into their battle line and matching speed with the rest of the formation, they wanted to race ahead towards wherever the fleet’s destination was with not a care in the world that they were the weakest frigate-class ships in the game. Although I was able to get them to rejoin the fleet if I ordered formation again after each movement command, it was frustrating to worry if my units were going to race blindly to their death whenever I had to pay attention to another situation. One of the big changes with Homeworld Remastered Collection is that the games are somewhat combined. Playing vs. A.I. or online multiplayer, instead of having to choose from either the Kushan and Taiidani, or Hiigarians and Vaygr, you can choose from all four. I was afraid that this would throw the impeccable balance that the game’s combat depends on off, but they’re all similarly matched, and the dynamic that the combination of both game’s playable races create ended up making the game more interesting. Steam Workshop support makes installing mods a cinch as well, so not only do your have the unique dynamic between these four races for the first time, but you can easily add new material. There’s quite a few of the more popular mods on the workshop for the original versions of the games, and before too long you can be sure we’ll see ports of mods and new mod. Online multiplayer is currently in beta, and requires a Gearbox SHiFT account, which is free and fairly easy to sign-up for. Once I linked my SHiFT account to Steam I really didn’t notice any interference from it when I played online. The first couple days I had the game it was shaky, with the service sometimes unavailable and a few game crashes. However, although I didn’t notice a patch, something must have been changed on Gearbox’s end because I have now played four online matches with no issues. When committing to playing online, just remember, it can take two or three hours depending on the map and number of players to actually complete a match on Homeworld Remastered Collection. Although I absolutely love the feeling of victory after facing down three other players, I hope that future updates add an option to get a match done a bit faster. The major disappointment I had with the collection is the absence of the excellent Homeworld: Cataclysm. The reason given by the developers was that the source code was lost or incomplete, but having a copy of the original or even a cinematic giving its backstory would have been great, especially for new fans to the series. Honestly, I found the fight against the Beast to be a more engaging story than that of Homeworld 2’s artifact hunt, and the changes in units and gameplay were much more interesting than the sequel’s replication of the first’s formula. Hopefully the success of these remasters will inspire Gearbox to attempt to reconstruct Cataclysm, and maybe even create a continuation of the series. Seeing these classic games back in print is wonderful. It’s always saddened me that these two titles, along with some of the best games of the late ’90s and early 2000s, are impossible to get. My adolescence was spent playing titles from industry icons Sierra, 14 East, Interplay, and Black Gate, and I hope that the recent storm of successful and well-made remasters gives someone the incentive to revive even more greats from the past. Whether you’re a fan of sci-fi, real-time strategy, or simply just video games in general, Homeworld Remastered Collection is a must-have if you haven’t played the series before. For those who spent years guarding their precious pressings of these classics, it’s time to rejoice, the Homeworld series is just as good as you remember it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Homeworld Remastered photo
Lost and found and turned around
In 1999, I was 11 years old. It was a time when every video game purchase was a gamble. The best you could do was to read a review or watch a grainy, minute-long Quicktime video that you spent an hour to download on 56k while...

We've got to go to Mars in Offworld Trading Company

Feb 26 // Jason Faulkner
[embed]288239:57517:0[/embed] I'm no math genius, but the Martian market is simple enough that it only takes a few minutes to pick up the basics. There are 13 resources that make up your stockpiles. Some of them, like power, water, food, oxygen and fuel, are required for basic operations. If you don't produce these yourself, you'll face a constant drain of funds as you're forced to buy them for a steadily increasing rate off the market. Aluminum, iron, carbon, and silicon are your basic building blocks. These are collected straight from the source and into your coffers. Steel, chemicals, glass, and electronics, must be refined in their own facilities from simpler materials, and typically give the highest return. Each resource can be bought and sold on the market, and this is how you'll be making your fortune. So without massive armies, how do you beat your opponent? You buy them out. Each company on the playing field has both a total price value, and stocks available for purchase. The easiest way to victory is by purchasing a companies stocks until you're able to get 100% owned, at which point you'll take management of their operations. The tricky part is that your company is public as well, so you have to balance keeping control of your own company by purchasing your stock, as well as attempting to take control of others. Buying stock, as well as paying off debt raises a company's price, while selling it, or getting hit by black market attacks, lowers their value. Most of the time, it pays to buy some and then lower the opposition's value before buying another batch. If another company (or yourself) own 100% of their own stocks, it becomes rather expensive to take over as you'll have to pony up the total price, cash money. I found that to really effectively control the market, I had to specialize. When I first started playing, I just tried to rake in as much of every resource as I could, but I found that I never had enough of any of them to produce a steady supply of the big selling materals. I changed my approach to work with the type of business model my headquarters was aligned with. For the expansionist headquarters, I claimed as much carbon and iron as I could to turn into steel as their need for the resource is much lower than other models. With a robotic HQ, their lack of use for glass allowed for a surplus. Scavengers high output of carbon allowed me to focus on chemical production. Lastly, scientists' ability to build hydrolysis farms directly on water hexes, and electronics plants on silicon, carbon, or aluminum hexes had me harvesting and selling food and electronics at a tremendous rate. When everyone has the same rules, to get ahead you've gotta break them. That's where the black market comes in. If you need extra claims, you can buy them here for an increasing fee. There are EMP blasts to knock your opponents buildings off line in a six hex radius, and a power surge that does the same thing but chains from building to building in a line. You can sabotage resource hexes with an underground nuke, which when used lowers the deposit level of a targeted hex by one. Dynamite lets you blow up a single building. You can also pay opposition workers to mutiny for a time which diverts the targeted building's resources to your HQ for a little while. Alas, the only defensive option is the "goon squad" which protects a hex from any of the above effects. Not all buildings are for collecting and producing resources. There are five of them that allow you to get an edge on the competition. The patent office allows exclusive access to technologies that vastly improve your ability to produce energy and collect resources. Also helping with resource collection is the engineering lab that utilizes the chemical resoures to upgrade collection rate up to four times for each material. The hacker network allows you to spread disinformation that can raise or lower the price of a particular resource momentarily. To keep your workers relaxed and spending their hard earned cash, you can build the pleasure dome which generates a steady stream of resource independent revenue. The most important of these though, is the launch pad, that allows you to launch 100 units of a particular resource to Earth at a time for massive profits. I felt that all of the buildings added to the game's dynamic except for the hacker network. Its effects were too temporary to really waste the time fooling with it. There are limitations in place though. Each player only has a limited number of hexes they can claim, and to raise them, resources must be spent on upgrading your headquarters. This is one system of the game I felt lacking. Once your HQ is level 5 and you've built out all your squares, there are times where you're going to be just sitting and waiting to be able to take your next action. There are random claims auctions, both for an extra general claim that you can use on any square, and for high resource squares, but they can be few and far between. Sure you can buy claims on the black market, but this is one part of the game that felt stifling, like it was there just to slow you down. I would have liked to see a more complex real estate and land claims system integrated into the Martian stock market. I think an opportunity was missed by not adding land valuation to Offworld Trading Company and I hope that future updates will show us something a bit more interesting in those regards. Although the beginning of a round is a bit slow, as you gradually build up funds to get that next building or mine operational the action builds with a frantic crescendo. In the late game it requires all of your attention lest you fail to sell at the right point or trigger a black market buff before your competition buys more of your stock. The problem I had though, is that the end of each game feels so anti-climatic. There's no capital city taken, or fanfare, just a pink slip if you lose, or a victory message when you win. In fact, because of the feeling of disconnect between your operations and your rival's, sometimes the game ended so abruptly it took me by surprise. I believe the primary problem with the game as of right now is the lack of information displayed about your rival companies. For a game that is basically an animated spreadsheet, aside from building management and targeting for the black market, there is a stunning lack of graph or statistics integration with the main user interface. You can access information about historical stock prices, how many of each resource you and your rivals have bought and sold, building numbers, and so on, but the menu it is held in is completely separate from the game. This makes it to where if you want to use this info to say, use the hacker network to drop the price of the resource your rival is making their money off of, you have to enter a separate menu, analyze the information, exit the menu, and then execute your action. With all the real-estate on screen, I hope that Stardock ends up integrating the user interface and statistics readouts before the game's official release. I have to admit, although I was intrigued when I first saw Offworld Trading Company, I never thought I would have as much fun with it as I did. There's quite a bit of balancing left to be done, and the whole experience is still rough around the edges, but it's got a truly unique play style. For someone looking for the mid-ground between a action-packed RTS like Starcraft and the menu driven depth of Crusader Kings, this game might be for you. For now though, unless you're absolutely sure that you want to take the plunge, a drop from the $39.99 price tag for Early Access might be worth waiting for. It's a very different game, and it's a bit too much money to gamble on something that is so hard to quantify by comparison to another title. However, with the quality of this early of a release, this title bears watching.
Offworld Trading Company  photo
Start the reactor
In a future where corporate greed has depleted the Earth's resources, humanity has taken to space to acquire the goods needed for survival. The asteroid belt was supposed to be the great salvation, an almost limitless bastion...

Homeworld Remastered photo
Homeworld Remastered

Homeworld Remastered's new vid is a modern trailer for a modern launch

The Age of S'jet begins again
Feb 25
// Josh Tolentino
My Steam clock tells me that Homeworld Remastered Collection unlocks in less than nine hours, but that just means there's just enough time left to put up this here launch trailer, which is brimming with all the bombast ...

Review: There Came an Echo

Feb 24 // Darren Nakamura
There Came an Echo (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Iridium StudiosPublisher: Iridium StudiosReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The main selling point of There Came an Echo is its real-time strategy gameplay facilitated by voice control. Taking on the role of the mysterious (and androgynously named) Sam, the player oversees the battlefield from an isometric perspective, issuing commands to the units fighting on the ground. At first, the tactical considerations are light: friendly units should stay behind cover and flank enemies for maximum success. Each of the four characters carries a standard pistol, but eventually new weapons become available for the team to spread around. These add another layer to the combat tactics. The Charge gun deals area-of-effect damage, the Screw gun lays down suppressing fire, the Sniper rifle deals high damage at long range, and the Rail gun deals high damage with a high energy cost. Each of the special weapons takes some amount of energy to fire, and that energy functions not only as ammunition, but also as shields. Once a shield drops to zero that unit is incapacitated until revived by a nearby teammate. This sets up a series of risk/reward decisions to make during each battle. Using special weapons recklessly can drain energy to the point where a few shots can take that unit down, but not using special weapons in the right situations can allow enemies to deal more damage than they otherwise would. The different scenarios across the campaign keep combat fresh. Some are frantic, putting the heroes in the middle of a frenzied battle, and others are methodical, allowing time for Sam to survey the battlefield, set plans, and execute. Stealth comes into play during a few moments, and players get to set up the always satisfying "coordinate two units to shoot two unaware enemies simultaneously in order to avoid detection" maneuver. [embed]288057:57480:0[/embed] Though There Came an Echo is most often described by its gameplay hook, it turns out the story is given almost as much attention. Over the course of the four-hour campaign, it felt like 40 percent of the time was spent listening to dialogue through in-engine cutscenes. For the most part, this isn't bad. A lot of the writing is sharp and funny, though a few lines intended for laughs fall flat. The plot shares some similarities with The Matrix, complete with the opening scene of an unknown caller guiding the reluctant hero out of an office building while men in suits try to kidnap him. Like The Matrix, There Came an Echo walks a line between providing thought-provoking questions about humans' increasing technological prowess and ham-handed science fiction mumbo jumbo. Like The Matrix Revolutions, it crosses that line a few times. The narrative is also perhaps a bit too self-indulgent for its own good. About halfway through there is a big reveal presented as a shocking twist, but only a select few will really feel the gravity of it. It's difficult to discuss without treading too far into spoiler territory, but I can say even as a member of the target audience for the reveal, it took me a while to grasp the significance. To be fair, it is a pretty cool secret to keep throughout development, but that coolness will be lost on a lot of players. The technology underlying There Came an Echo has always been impressive. The voice recognition is superb; the only issues I had with it came during heated battles when I was trying to get too many commands out too quickly. Not only does it recognize the preset words and phrases well, but it also allows players to input their own. No recording is necessary, just a typed word. I changed my phonetic alphabet to be names of famous scientists, and it worked with no trouble. One of the hidden benefits of the voice control scheme is it helps to suspend disbelief. The fourth wall is more easily penetrated when the player is asked only to pretend to be a person sitting at a computer, giving battlefield commands from a remote location. It adds a more human element to a type of media best known for mouse clicks and button presses. Though the things happening on screen are not real, the voice connection between player and character helps to convince the brain it just could be. Some special care was taken with the player's dialogue to make the characters feel human. If an unwise or redundant order is given, the fighters will let Sam know. Near the beginning, the character Val asks the player to "say 'hi,' Sam." Like any predictable cheeseball, I said "Hi, Sam," to which Val responded with a sarcastic, "Very funny." Voice control is optional, but I couldn't image wanting to play without it. My favorite battle moments stemmed from its use. There is the inherent nerdy fun of using a phonetic alphabet. There is the fluster that comes with taking on a more realistic commander role in a tense combat situation. The most enjoyment I got out of There Came an Echo's battles were with a series of rooms to clear with time to breathe in between. The system allows players to set up a long queue of commands set to different marks. After careful thought, planning, and instruction, executing it all with a few numbered "mark" commands is quite satisfying. One drawback of the voice control is that the pared-down design can instill a sense of powerlessness. Ordering units to specific named locations works well, but not every location is designated. A few times near the beginning, I wanted to unit to be in a particular spot to flank an enemy, but there was no command to get him there. Other technical issues showed up over the course of the game. The team at Iridium has been working up through release to clear out bugs, but I still found a few, including one that is locking me out from being able to use the Screw gun in the War Room -- There Came an Echo's story-independent skirmish mode. The War Room itself is a welcome addition, but it doesn't feel like it goes as far as it should. It lets players defend against waves of enemies in a simple, symmetrical arena. At that, it functions fine, but I can't help but wish for a greater variety of maps, more interesting objectives, or perhaps even some player-vs.-player action. Aesthetically, There Came an Echo has its ups and downs. The environments are visually interesting: detailed, vibrant, and clear. The character models and animations don't hold up quite so well, with robotic movement betraying the otherwise convincing human characters. The sound design is fantastic. Jimmy Hinson and Ronald Jenkees provide a great soundtrack to the sci-fi adventure. The voice cast does a good job bringing the characters to life, though there are a handful of cringe-worthy hammed up lines scattered throughout. Overall, There Came an Echo is a worthy experience, but it's lacking in too many minor areas to achieve greatness. While the voice-controlled strategy gameplay is engaging, it does lead to some design hiccups. While the narrative is entertaining and even intellectually demanding at times, it just as easily falls into navel-gazing jargon. While the technology is impressive, it feels like it belongs in a much bigger game. The proof of concept is here, and I would certainly look forward to a hypothetical There Came an Echo 2 if it were announced. The groundwork has been laid, and with more content and finer polish it could be great. But knowing Iridium, the studio's next project will be something completely different, taking its science fiction stories into another unusual genre mashup. [This review is based on an advance backer copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
There Came an Echo review photo
Say it again, Sam
[Disclosure: I backed There Came an Echo on Kickstarter.] Iridium Studios started out as a tiny developer with a humble Kickstarter for its rhythm role-playing game Sequence. It saw enough success that lead designer Jason Wis...

Homeworld trailer photo
Homeworld trailer

Homeworld Remastered Collection trailer shows off sexy-voiced cultist or something

'If you will not join, then die'
Feb 19
// Darren Nakamura
All right, I'll admit it: I know almost nothing about Homeworld. After reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia (yeah journalism!), I got the gist of how things go, but with all of the alien races involved I can't really place...
Offworld Trading Company photo
Offworld Trading Company

Civ IV lead designer's Offworld Trading Company hits Early Access

Space Truckers
Feb 12
// Jason Faulkner
Mohawk Games, formed by Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson, released its first title on Steam Early Access today. Offworld Trading Company is a real-time strategy game that focuses on economic might as opposed to gi...

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