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Strategy games

Review: Stella Glow

Nov 13 // Chris Carter
Stella Glow (3DS)Developer: ImageepochPublisher: AtlusMSRP: $49.99Release Date: November 17, 2015 Our journey begins with Alto, a young man who (surprise) has amnesia, and is found by a girl named Risette, who takes him into her mother's house. Three years later Alto encounters Hilda, a "sort of good sort of bad" witch, who is commonly referred to as "The Witch of Disaster" -- with a name like that, who wouldn't be inclined to be bad sometimes? Risette then unlocks an ancient power from one of Alto's artifacts, and becomes a witch herself -- then it's off to the royal palace, where they are tasked with hunting Hilda by recruiting more witches. You can probably guess where it goes from here. Alto is a country boy of sorts, but accepts to call to become a reluctant "aw shucks" shonen sword master. The rest of the party runs the gamut of anime tropes, and while they can occasionally get annoying, the cast is memorable enough and all sport a great set of designs. There are a few nuanced storylines peppered in, like the tale of a misunderstood witch who was doomed to live as an outcast. Another character hides her face in a cardboard box because she's shy, but wears revealing clothing. The cast is massive, and since there's no "job" switching in Stella Glow, all of them act unique both in and out of combat. Speaking of combat, much like the Arc series, it's still a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics. Utilizing chibi characters on a grid-like format, players can move about the battlefield, use items or skills, and choose to "wait" in a specific direction to guard against directional attacks. A lot of games still use the grid style because it works, even to this day. There's a certain order to it that warrants a respect beyond relegating it to "old school nostalgia," and planning out party movements and attacks is never a chore. When you're actually engaged with an enemy an Advanced Wars style miniature cutscene will play, and as expected, some characters have counter-attacks available. As previously stated, the cast really makes a different here, as some party members have access to special abilities like guarding characters they're adjacent to, which makes placement paramount. Don't expect a whole lot of depth and customization though (stats are applied instantly, and equipment management isn't all that difficult, even accounting for the materia-like socket system). [embed]320467:61085:0[/embed] Really, the game isn't all that tough in general. I feel like it will be challenging enough for those of you who don't keep up with the genre, but for veterans, you'll rarely find a taxing quest until later in the storyline. This is partially due to the fact that the AI isn't overly aggressive, and tends to hang back more, waiting for a better opportunity to strike. On the flipside, that means that there's no frustrating fake difficulty spikes for the sake of it. Like most SRPGs, Stella is hella long. There's at least 40 hours of gameplay here if you only opt for the story, and leveling up characters, locating the additional endings (over 10), completing sidequests and sidestories will likely elevate it to double that. Like most games with a billion endings, your mileage may vary depending on your affinity towards a specific character, but the ones I saw ranged from unsatisfying to sufficient. For those you are wondering, the voicework is in English, and the songs, which are heavily woven into the game's narrative, are performed in Japanese. In many ways, Stella Glow is a by-the-numbers strategy RPG, but it does have a partially interesting cast, some unique storylines, and a working combat system. Imageepoch has had some ups and downs in their lengthy career, but thankfully they can at least end on somewhat of a high note. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Stella Glow photo
Imageepoch's swan song
That's all she wrote for Imageepoch. The developer responsible for the Luminos Arc series and Arc Rise Fantasia filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and it seems like they're out of the industry entirely with the laun...

Paladins photo

Smite developer's Paladins gets a Founder's Pack, beta date

Oh yeah, this game
Nov 13
// Chris Carter
Paladins: Champions of the Realm is a thing that exists, and is the newest first-person team shooter project from the folks over at Hi-Rez who created the controversial Tribes Ascend and Smite. While there hasn't been a ...

Review: StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void

Nov 12 // Chris Carter
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void (PC)Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentMSRP: $39.99 (Standard), $59.99 (Digital Deluxe)Released: November 10, 2015 The rest of the story missions are on par with the initial set, as players delve deeper into the story of the Protoss and their attempt to reclaim their homeworld and save the galaxy. I was surprised, though, to see that the narrative not only seeks to wrap up the fate of Auir and the Protoss race, but the rest of the core cast as well. Call it cheesy, but Blizzard actually wraps up things nicely here, and doesn't leave fans wanting. Yes, there will be Ghost missions as DLC down the line, but the story of StarCraft truly feels complete, partially due to the assistance of a tri-mission epilogue. That's not to say that things are executed flawlessly, of course. There are still some odd storylines, weird choices from characters, and absolutely ridiculous phrases uttered throughout. But all told, things are far more focused. The camera is off the struggle of Raynor and Kerrigan's relationship, and more on the survival of the entire galaxy. I fully expect a lot of fans to dislike the finale for various reasons we'll be discussing for years on end once people have had a chance to finish it. Elements of customization also appear like never before in the series, with the power to change up your home ship (The Spear of Adun), and the heroes themselves. These are augmented by sidequests, which actively encourages players to reach out and do everything there is to do in each mission. While a few levels did tend to blend together (craft a base and army, and smash into another one), the story and carried progress keep things going, and I didn't find myself getting bored like I did with Wings of Liberty. [embed]319826:61049:0[/embed] Co-op allows you to select between six heroes (Raynor, Kerrigan, Artanis, Swann, Zagara, and Vorazun), all of whom carry over their experience to subsequent playthroughs. It's a lot like Heroes of the Storm in a way, where you can work your way toward new bonuses, level-ups, and upgrades over time with each character. Objectives include tasks like destroying vehicles or other units, and are rather menial in nature. It's important to note though that you don't play as these heroes -- they just provided bonuses and alter the style of your army. Also, leveling up allows you to access some of the more advanced units, like the Terran Battlecruiser. There's matchmaking support, and given the simplicity of the mode, it works well even with random players. Although I would have preferred a full-on mode with playable heroes, co-op really does the trick, and I wish it had been implemented sooner. I had a blast getting to know other players I was matched up with, trading strategies, and just talking about the game. It's a relaxed mode that will scratch that itch if you find yourself plummeting on the ladder, or failing in the new tournament system. So how is multiplayer? Relatively the same, with the addition of two new units per army. Actually, I should say the gameplay is the same, but the added bonus of all of these units seeks to change up the meta considerably. The return of the Lurkers for the Zerg is a standout unit, and memories of Brood War came rushing back within seconds. The Disruptor is probably the most unique unit in Void, as it shoots a ball of pure energy that can hit both friends and foes. While casting, it's immobile and vulnerable, so players will have to treat it as a priority target. The thing oozes Protoss inside and out. As for the other units, the Liberator is basically like an aerial Siege Tank, the Cyclone is an early-game harassment vehicle, the Adept not only looks badass but it also teleports around like a more mobile late-game Zealot option, and Ravagers are like mobile artillery, eating through force fields. As you can clearly see, all of them bring something new to the table and are welcome in their own right. The meta will no doubt drastically shift in the months to come, but as of now, I'm having the same amount of fun online as I always have. Archon Mode is another welcome addition, and while I can see people skipping out on it entirely, it will likely draw in a niche crowd. The gist is that two people will control one base, which can lead to some interesting playstyles, like one player micromanaging air units while the other hits foes from the ground. Where its potential really lies is a tool for teaching, so friends can walk newcomers through the basics of base building and combat. If you're invested in StarCraft II's story already, you likely won't be disappointed by Legacy of the Void's tale. If you haven't played any form of StarCraft II yet and are intrigued by the prospect of another RTS, this is probably the strongest the game has ever been. It's a perfect time to jump in. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
StarCraft II review photo
My life for Aiur
When I last left StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, I had completed most of the story. Having now played it all, I've walked away satisfied, not only from this expansion, but from the series as a whole. Decades after its inception, Blizzard is still at the top of its class in terms of cinematic storytelling, and the new game modes don't hurt the appeal of the overall package in the slightest.

Fire Emblem Fates photo
Fire Emblem Fates

Fire Emblem Fates will have three different versions

Birthright, Conquest, Revelation
Nov 12
// Darren Nakamura
Nintendo's Bill Trinen detailed the release for the upcoming Fire Emblem Fates. When the 3DS strategy title releases on February 19, 2016, it will come in two flavors: Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest and Fire Emblem Fates: Birthr...
Spyjinx photo

J.J. Abrams and Chair are making a spy game

Nov 11
// Jordan Devore
The director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Trek is teaming up with the studio behind Infinity Blade and Shadow Complex for an "action-strategy" espionage title called Spyjinx. The creators at Bad Robot Interactive ...

Review in Progress: StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void

Nov 10 // Chris Carter
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void (PC)Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentMSRP: $39.99 (Standard), $59.99 (Digital Deluxe)Release Date: November 10, 2015 For those who aren't aware, Legacy of the Void is a standalone release -- it does not require the first or second modules to function. Since it has a nifty "story so far" video built-in, you don't even need to play the previous two games to have a sense of what's going on, though you'll obviously benefit from having done so. If you haven't been following along at all, Void picks up with all three armies (Terran, Zerg, and Protoss) facing Amon, an evil xel'naga (read: powerful being) hell bent on destroying all life in the galaxy. There's a prologue built in with three missions in tow that set up this struggle, and for the most part, you're going to be controlling various factions of the Protoss army on Artanis' quest to unite the clans, and actually pose a threat to Amon. Blizzard pretty much has the formula down pat at this point when it comes to mission types. Every level I've played so far strikes a good balance between action and strategy, and the orchestral score sufficiently pumps you up even if all you're doing at the moment is building troops. Micro-managing one's army is a cinch with hotkeys, double-clicking to select groups, and pressing F2 to instantly command every unit -- but that's just it, you'll need to micro somewhat, especially on higher difficulties to succeed (Brutal has been greatly altered for the best to provide a real challenge). [embed]319814:61047:0[/embed] There isn't really a whole lot of room for nuance here with this black and white conflict, which is mostly a good thing as the story never really takes any turns down pointless avenues, nor does it set up new plotlines so much as it aims to close them. Instead, Void seeks to provide action-packed setpieces one after another, teeming with personality and dread, and a campaign that moves rather quickly. With all that said, having played through a good deal of the story, I think I'm comfortable stating that I enjoyed Swarm more overall, as it was more of a personal tale. It dialed back the stakes a bit to really dig deep into some characters who needed some love, and as a result, it felt very different. Void tries to balance the fate of the galaxy with Artanis' role in the narrative, and it mostly succeeds, but some personal touches get lost in the fold. The cinematics, as always, are top-notch. Without spoiling anything there's a few particularly tense moments with damn good choreography and actual consequences that span the StarCraft lore. Blizzard once again proves that it's the master of its craft here, and fans will no doubt be sharing a few "holy crap!" moments across various channels for the weeks to come. While there is some form of closure the story of StarCraft isn't completely done just yet though, as more DLC is coming down the line. I'm only early on into my time with StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, and I still need more time to finish the story, and test the game's co-op and multiplayer components before I provide a full review. Right now though, I'd probably recommend it if you're already invested and want to see how the story concludes. No, it probably won't surprise you, but it's worth playing.
StarCraft II review photo
My life for Aiur
Although I had played countless RTS games before it (Command & Conquer, rest in peace), StarCraft grabbed me like no other in 1998. Part of it was because a large group of my friends, even those who had no prior affinity ...

Nova Covert Ops photo
Nova Covert Ops

StarCraft II story will continue with DLC missions

Nova Covert Ops launches next spring
Nov 06
// Kyle MacGregor
StarCraft II's story won't be ending with the upcoming Legacy of the Void expansion. Today in Anaheim, California, Blizzard revealed Nova Covert Ops, the first in a three-part series of "Mission Packs," which the studio plans...
Banner Saga photo
Banner Saga

Banner Saga 2 will miss its 2015 window, console ports of original might be canned

We'll see what happens
Nov 06
// Chris Carter
[Update: Versus Evil, a marketing firm representing Stoic, states that the console ports are still happening, but didn't go into further detail other than noting that a launch date would be announced "soon."] What starte...
Contingency Plan photo
Contingency Plan

Invisible, Inc. gets new agents and more in next week's expansion

One of the best games of the year
Nov 05
// Steven Hansen
Six months after its release, one of my favorite games of 2015 (and also 2014) is getting its first expansion. Contingency Plan is heading to Invisible, Inc. (PC, Mac, Linux) next week on November 12. Contingency Plan offers,...
Age of Empires photo
Age of Empires

Age of Empires II HD is going to Africa this week

I hear the drums echoing tonight
Nov 03
// Jordan Devore
The team at Forgotten Empires is keeping the real-time strategy dream alive in 2015. On Thursday, Age of Empires II HD will get a new expansion called The African Kingdoms. Running down this latest trailer, you can expect to find four fully voiced campaigns for the new civilizations (Malians, Berbers, Ethiopians, and Portuguese), reworked water battles, and a Sudden Death mode.
Heck yeah XCOM 2! photo
Heck yeah XCOM 2!

XCOM 2 Dark Events offer 'dramatic gameplay changes'

You better beat 'em
Nov 02
// Steven Hansen
One of my favorite things about XCOM: Enemy Unknown was that it lets you fail, so I kind of love that XCOM 2's canon centers around the Commander having failed in the first go and now needing to oust our alien overloads off o...
BattleTech photo

BattleTech Kickstarter stomps to the homestretch

PVP for a few dollars more
Nov 01
// Nic Rowen
The BattleTech reboot Kickstarter launched a little more than a month ago and by all appearances has been a total success. Harebrained Schemes smashed through the original funding targets, and now in the final days of the cam...
Atlas Reactor photo
Atlas Reactor

Making sense of Atlas Reactor's simultaneous turn-based combat

It's tricky
Oct 28
// Jordan Devore
Atlas Reactor is a tactical multiplayer game about predicting your opponents' moves. The twist is that although combat is turn-based, everyone's "turns" play out simultaneously (albeit across distinct phases: prep, dash, blas...
Weird west photo
Weird west

Tactical weird western Hard West hits Steam soon

Supernatural strategy game
Oct 19
// Jordan Devore
I hope Hard West makes the most of its setting. It's a supernatural western with turn-based, tactical combat against cultists, cannibals, and demons. I've been keeping tabs on it since Steven's preview a couple months back (a...
Europa DLC photo
Europa DLC

The Cossacks coming to Europa Universalis IV this year

Plus free update to the game
Oct 15
// Steven Hansen
I've always liked the word "Cossack." It's fun to say, it's got two c's and two s's, it's how John Cusack's name should be pronounced, and it's basically a mashup of "cock" and "ballsack." So I was with the Cocksacks until t...
Metal Slug x Battle Cats photo
Metal Slug x Battle Cats

Metal Slug teams up with The Battle Cats

Remember Metal Slug?
Oct 12
// Jordan Devore
My experience with Metal Slug Defense is watching former Destructoid writer Jim Sterling suffer through its free-to-play trappings for a video. My experience with The Battle Cats, a similar strategy game about overwhelming yo...
Project X Zone 2 photo
Project X Zone 2

Can you sit through this 14-minute Project X Zone 2 trailer?

It's pushing it
Oct 08
// Chris Carter
I liked Project X Zone 2 well enough. It's basically another edition of the first game with more characters -- so it's going to be pretty easy to tell on paper if you're going to want to pick it up. For those of you on ...
Star Citizen photo
Star Citizen

Star Citizen developer CIG threatens to sue outlet over recent allegations

This whole situation is out of control
Oct 05
// Chris Carter
Strap yourselves in, it's time for another Star Citizen story. Depending on who you talk to, Star Citizen is somewhere in-between the most ambitious game of all time, or a complete train wreck (the answer is likely ...
BattleTech photo

BattleTech Kickstarter begins, immediately secures funding for 'stage 1'

Turn-based stompy robots live again
Sep 29
// Nic Rowen
[Correction: Contrary to what I reported earlier, Harebrained Schemes did not fund the initial $250K goal of basic funding on its Kickstarter. All of those funds came from backers. Harebrained has invested $1 million into the...

Review: Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance

Sep 22 // Chris Carter
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PS4)Developer: NIS Publisher: NIS Released: October 6, 2015MSRP: $59.99 This time around, Void Dark, an evil overlord, sparks the largest Netherworld war in history. As a result of essentially alienating the entire galaxy, a heap of rival overlords rise up in revolt, one of which is led by the stoic warrior Killia. Because of the focus on global (or universal) conflict, the narrative feels more sprawling in Alliance of Vengeance, which works both for and against it. This is more of a gradual story, building up over time, than the small-group feel of most of the series. Hell, in Disgaea 3, the main character wants to kill his dad for smashing his video games. As a result, the characters aren't quite as crazy or manic as Laharl and Mao -- they have bigger things at stake. Killia's silent archetype does get old after a while, but his style actually works from a gameplay perspective, so I never felt fully disconnected from him. Seraphina, the Princess Overlord of the Gorgeous, is a bit more annoying. She has that "hohohoho!" laugh that's popular in anime, and her jokes of dominating everyone around her get old very quickly. But like all Disgaea characters, she opens up over time and reveals more depth, particularly with her backstory. She also fills in for Etna in-between chapters, delivering the comedic interludes that are clearly too absurd to be canon. There are plenty of side-conversations to have, and an archive function in the game's hub world allows players to re-watch cutscenes or dialog bits. Ailliance of Vengeance's weakest point is probably the narrative this time around. Particularly for the first 10 hours or so, the pace is relatively slow. You know nothing of the true motivations of most of the cast, and the main draw seems to be "fight, fight, fight until we get to Void Dark." You'll get a few flashes of story here and there, but for the most part it's one-dimensional, at least for the first half. [embed]309993:60317:0[/embed] As for the rest of the cast, it's about par for the course -- you have your meathead, your subservient Prinnies, your overconfident youngsters, and so on. There wasn't anyone I outright loved like Almaz or Mr. Champloo from Disgaea 3, but no one is excessively annoying or not worth using during missions. I've always felt like Disgaea is what you make it, party-wise. Since the class creation system is more robust than ever, you can literally custom-tailor your own characters if you don't like the core cast. It helps that the animations are beautiful, as is the artwork. It's not going to push the PS4 even close to its limits, but it's far better looking than the last entries on PS3, and it's crazy how gorgeous anime-style games look on current consoles. It's all so smooth, colorful, and well-crafted. Even characters that belong to the same class look different enough, especially when they wield a variety of weapons, which yield their own sets of personality. Disgaea 5 kicks off in record time, as you're placed into the main hub in minutes. Like every other game in the series, you'll launch missions from here, equip your party, and shoot the breeze with various NPCs. The tools available are a bit more expansive than other games, most notably the crazy character creation mechanic I mentioned above. In addition to a name and color scheme, you'll also be able to hire them at your current level, alter their personality, and change every single one of their skills if you wish. For instance, you could create a fury-crazed warrior with a red hue named Immortan Joe, debuff his ranged attacks, and reapply those points into close-combat, high-risk abilities. As usual, the "all at once" player turns in combat work splendidly. If you've never played a Disgaea game before, your entire team gets to do their turn, and then the enemy team does theirs. It's an interesting juxtaposition to the alternating scheme used in most SRPGs, and it's even more nuanced when you take into account the "execute" function that lets you play out part of your turn in the order that you selected. This is on top of the crazy counter-attacks that will play out randomly (as well as counter-counters and counter-counter-counters), and team-up attacks that initiate when you're near a party member on the grid. You also need to watch for enemy "Evilties" this time, which may produce effects like making foes stronger next to other baddies, and so on. Likewise, your team has their own set of Evilties, like Seraphina's ability to do more damage to males. Combined with the Geo system (colored zones that also provide buffs or debuffs), you'll have to pay attention at all times to get the most out of a battle. Eventually, you'll unlock the power to place characters in "Support Squads," granting them special bonuses with the caveat that each squad is limited in number. Oh, and there's the Revenge system that powers up characters after the death of a connected party member, the Item World and council system return, and new classes like Dark Knights (one of my new favorites), Maids (an item-based class), and Fairies (who absorb magic) join the fray. Thankfully, there are a lot of game options to customize the experience as well, including jacking up the movement speed during hub sequences, upping combat speed, skipping animations, and auto-scrolling conversations, which are mostly fully-voiced. While I don't have access to it yet and it didn't influence this review, Alliance of Vengeance still has the contentious DLC strategy as past titles. I feel like the series has enough content to last you at least 100 hours on its own, but I still don't like the idea of selling fan-favorite characters piecemeal directly after launch. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance may not have the best story or cast in the series, but it gets the job done, and brings a ton of advancements with it in the process. I'll probably be playing this one for years to come, and I sincerely hope NIS is able to continue this series. It's still one of the best SRPG franchises in the business. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Disgaea 5 review photo
Finding The Lost
I can count on the Disgaea series. While NIS always seems to be trying to recreate the magic of the initial release, every game manages to capture the essence of SRPGs in a charming and robust manner. The story isn't as impressive as the last entry, but Alliance of Vengeance has made a number of advancements to the Disgaea formula.

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...

Project X Zone 2 photo
Project X Zone 2

Nintendo characters join Project X Zone 2 cast

Chrom, Lucina, Fiora, oh my!
Sep 19
// Kyle MacGregor
Project X Zone was a nice bit of fan service, and the sequel seems to be taking things up a notch. In addition to featuring a procession of familiar faces from the vaults of Sega, Capcom, and Bandai Namco, Project X Zone 2 wi...

Project X Zone 2 is more of the same, with new faces

Sep 16 // Chris Carter
To be clear, Project X Zone 2, so far, seems to be more of the same. Although Bandai Namco has promised advancements when it comes to the combat system, it's still very simplistic, and more style than substance. That's not to say that there's no strategic depth involved in general though, as the decision to employ defensive options at the cost of SP is alive and well, in addition to the general placement of your characters in each mission's grid. It just isn't nearly as nuanced as a lot of other SPRGs on the market. During my hands-on time with the game I was able to play a full level, which followed the mundane task of "killing all enemies," an objective typically found in the first iteration. Having completed the original it was an all-too familiar sight, albeit with the typical rush of playing as some of my favorite video game characters. During the demo I had access to Dante/Vergil, Chun-Li/Ling Xiaoyu, Strider Hiryu/Hotsuma, Kazuma Kiryu/Goro Majima teams, as well as the solo units of Captain Commando, Phoenix Wright, and and Ulala. As expected, the flair didn't disappoint. Dante/Vergil were a joy to play as, and the ninja team of Strider/Hotsuma (Shinobi) was just perfect. Seeing Captain Commando was also a treat, as he doesn't get nearly enough respect these days. Every single character is represented well, even the ones that can merely be called in by core units. It may be fanservice, but developer Monolith Soft is handling it in stride. Series producer Kensuke Tsukanaka was on-hand to talk about the game, and noted that in particular, they want people to know that this is a character-focused game, so the opening animation will not only feature every playable hero, but will clock in at just over two minutes in length. Tsukanaka went on to state, "We're aiming to look for new fans with an even bigger cast. We want people to see a new character and ask 'what game is this from?' We want them to become even more involved with the industry as a whole." The team is also stepping up the original animation with the sequel, as there will be more artwork than before both in and out of combat. I noticed this particularly during my demo session, as supers and abilities had a bit more visual flair than usual. When asked how this collaboration was even possible, Tsukanaka replied that "all of us have a mutual respect for each other. We've also collaborated for years with one another, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to create this project. The rivalry still exists, but it's a friendly one." Project X Zone 2 is still set for a November launch in Japan, and a February 16 date for the US was just announced.
Project X Zone 2 photo
Your mileage will vary
Based on the reception to Project X Zone 2, it's clear to see that it's a "hate it or love it" affair. Fans seemed to really take to the idea of playing as a cavalcade of heroes from some of their favorite franchises, but oth...

Project X Zone 2 dated photo
Project X Zone 2 dated

Project X Zone 2 will arrive overseas in February

2/16 for the US, 2/19 for EU
Sep 16
// Chris Carter
Today at TGS, Bandai Namco announced that Project X Zone 2 will arrive in the US on February 16, and in Europe on February 19. This isn't too far off from the Japanese release, which is still on track for November 12, 2015. I'll have my first hands-on impressions to share soon.
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 ...
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 ...
XCOM photo

XCOM: Enemy Unknown free to play this weekend on Steam

Buy the full game for 75 percent off
Sep 11
// Vikki Blake
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is free to play on Steam this weekend. The preview is available now and will end at 6pm (BST) on Sunday, September 13, 2015. If you enjoy your trial and fancy jumping into the game for reals...

Review: Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence

Sep 03 // Kyle MacGregor
Nobunaga's Amibition: Sphere of Influence (PC [reviewed], PS4, PS3)Developer: Koei TecmoPublisher: Koei TecmoRelease Date: September 1, 2015MSRP: $59.99 My journey began by acquainting myself with Sphere of Influence's comprehensive (perhaps a tad too comprehensive) tutorial, before jumping headlong into one of the title's nine historical campaigns. There, players have the opportunity to act as one of Japan's elite families during the country's "warring states" period in the 16th century. Whether you choose to recreate history as the Oda clan or blaze your own trail, the aim remains the same -- to unite the fractured nation. How you get there will require a careful synthesis of conflict, management, and diplomacy, as the path toward bringing dozens of warring territories under a common banner requires a multi-pronged approach. This begins with building up a small province, developing it into a rich, bountiful launching pad that can support a growing empire. The backbone of the realm is the labor force, which is, of course, limited in supply. Daimyos must allocate their workers to projects mindfully, whether that means paving new roads, constructing new buildings, improving fortifications, focusing on trade or food production, the list just goes on and on. Rest assured, manpower is always at a premium. That line of thought extends to the nobility as well as the commoners. With only so many officers to go around to carry out diplomatic missions, govern territories, lead military units, and oversee civic projects; managing the ruling class is of the utmost importance. Individual leaders have varying skills, and knowing how and where to employ them can make a drastic difference in how quickly and effectively a clan enacts the wide swathe of policies these officers must take charge of. [embed]305046:60241:0[/embed] If that sounds incredibly intricate and exacting, well, that's because it is. Despite being a game where the end goal is conquering (or subduing) an entire nation spanning dozens of factions and hundreds of settlements, Nobunaga's Amibition doesn't shy away form minutiae. No task, from appeasing the local hill tribes to planting an orchard or setting up a suggestion box for citizens to voice their concerns, is too small a concern to deal with. And in the aggregate these sorts of seemingly minuscule moves tend to pay dividends when clashing with neighboring daimyo or getting them to join your coalition. It isn't all about raising armies and sending them off to battle. Not that combat isn't a large part of the game, because it most certainly is. After players finish managing their towns, the experience switches from a turn-based affair to a real-time one, where armies will march off to besiege enemy villages or clash with hostile forces on the battlefield. The battles play out automatically (as depicted above), but can be controlled manually, with players taking control of each individual army as a unit on the battlefield. This facet of the experience might seem a little primitive in comparison to some of its genre peers, but it's not entirely without depth. While there isn't much in the way of unit variety, each commander has his or her (no, you needn't marry off all your daughters to forge political alliances) own abilities that buff their troops with improved defense, melee attack, and a myriad of other temporary strategic supplements. Skirmishes aren't always a numbers game, either. I've frequently found myself using guerrilla tactics, surrounding a large battalion with several smaller ones and harassing them from all sides. This negates their numerical superiority, since a block can only attack in one direction at any given time, while forces with smaller, more plentiful detachments possess the ability to be more nimble. Throughout the experience, players are treated to historical vignettes, which not only follow key events pertaining to your chosen faction, but other clans as well. If significant affairs are happening across the country, chances are you'll be given a front row seat. These aren't always assassinations and coups d'état, though, sometimes they're a tad more trivial, pertaining to the romantic lives of clan leaders or the arrival of western missionaries spreading Christianity in certain provinces. There's a lot going in Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence, to be sure, and much of it is done well. After pushing through some initial bewilderment associated with coming to grips with its mess of elaborate systems, I discovered an experience that rewarded the time I put into it in spades. Its pace may be too plodding for some and it certainly seems somewhat backwards or dated in relief with other modern strategy games, but Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence still remains an ornate and absorbing title that kept me engaged for hours on end and surely will continue to do so. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nobunaga's Ambition photo
Sublime Sengoku-era strategy
My first experience with Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence nearly broke me. I collapsed into a heap over my keyboard, weeping softly, wondering just what I had got myself into this time. Even as a seasoned strategy gam...

Atlas Reactor's competitive turn-based play shows promise

Sep 02 // Jordan Devore
Atlas Reactor is turn-based, but players have a limited time (30 seconds by default) to lock in their decisions, and everyone's turns are simultaneous. That goes for your allies and enemies. It's quick and chaotic and not unlike rock, paper, scissors. After committing to a strategy, your actions (attacking, shielding, buffing, trapping, moving) play out across different phases. There's an order of operations to keep things fair, in other words. During any given turn, you have to get into your opponents' heads and try to predict how they'll behave. If you're sure an enemy is going to dodge, don't plan to fire a shot that will inevitably miss -- lay a trap instead. If you're guaranteed to be hit hard and have no escape, set up a shield. It's a system that borrows from fighting games (reading your opponents), tactical games (grid-based positioning), and MOBAs (varied characters, free aiming). The end result is a promising fusion of genres that, at least to my knowledge, has never been explored quite in this way. [embed]308953:60233:0[/embed] "Once you have the basics, it's pretty interesting," said executive producer Peter Ju. "You want to play one level above your opponent. If you play two levels above your opponent, you're just going to out-think yourself and you basically are going to seem like a noob compared to the guy who doesn't do anything." Out of nowhere, another Trion Worlds employee, who was not a part of my demo, chimed in. He said he had far better results early on when he first started and didn't really know how to play. No one could predict his strategy because he simply didn't have one. I can relate. Atlas Reactor is only now entering alpha, and while the core mechanics are set and seem solid, there's still stuff to figure out. Which modes to create, for one. The match I saw was pretty standard: two versus two, first to four kills wins. Based on what players do with custom games during alpha testing, Trion will adapt to their preferences and "make more of that." I liked the sound of lighting rounds, where you have a precious few seconds to plan your moves. As for cooperative play, challenge maps of some sort are planned. "I really want to play XCOM with buddies," said lead designer Will Cook, "but I can't do that. This is the key to that." I'd be down to play with Steven. Between this, Hard West, and XCOM 2, there's a lot of love for turn-based strategy on the horizon. As long as Trion Worlds doesn't mess up the free-to-play aspects of Atlas Reactor -- I suspect it'll charge for skins and taunts -- it should turn out well.
Preview photo
I'm pleasantly surprised
Signing up to see an unannounced title at a gaming convention or expo can be risky. I've never been burned before, but I'm aware my streak could end in an instant. I went into my PAX appointment with Trion Worlds (Rift, Defia...

Banner Saga 2 is 'basically the same' as the first

Sep 01 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]308796:60226:0[/embed] It might have been a refreshing moment of honesty, you know, if the statement were actually true.  While The Banner Saga 2 may not be a drastic revision that goes out of its way to reinvent the core experience, intimating it's a carbon copy that merely continues the story might be underselling it. In my limited time with the game, I witnessed a number of notable tweaks to the existing formula that figure to go a long way in addressing players' complaints about the original being somewhat of a repetitive slog. The sequel feels like a more dynamic, varied evolution on what's already been established, thanks to little touches like how battles arise and play out. The Banner Saga 2 reinforces one of its predecessors greatest strengths -- how consequences born from player choice ripple throughout the experience like stones cast into a pond -- by having them directly bleed into combat, starting out battles with scenes that stem from your decisions, rather than have them play out exactly the same way regardless of how a particular situation came to pass. Once a skirmish begins, you'll encounter new foes, such as four-legged creatures that can cloak themselves and ambush more fragile units (such as archers) that you figured were safe behind the front lines. New support units will also force you to make difficult decisions between targeting the enemy's bruisers or the guys making them even more imposing than they otherwise would be. Even outside of battle, players will have new options to manage their caravan. Clansman seem to be of more use this time around, as they can be recruited as fighters. However, much like everything in Stoic's universe, there are drawbacks to this; these new warriors will no longer focus on collecting supplies, making your caravan's precious resources dwindle at a faster clip. At a glance, it may not seem that too much has changed since The Banner Saga launched in early 2014, but upon closer inspection, the development team at Stoic appears to be making subtle, yet impactful changes to a blueprint that already worked in an effort to take its game to the next level.
Bad PR photo
Except not really
Game previews are an inherently strange part of this business. You wouldn't read a few pages from an unfinished book and render judgement about the final product. Likewise, we don't often have the opportunity to sample a song...

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