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Strategy games

Explore and conquer the galaxy in Stellaris

Nov 24 // Steven Hansen
Stellaris (PC)Developer: Paradox Development Studio Publisher: Paradox Interactive Release: TBA So, conquest in space, again, with Stellaris. The Beyond Earth comparison isn't just based on the sci-fi theme, as director Henrik Fåhraeus explained to me last week, Stellaris, "is a grand strategy game masquerading as a 4X game." In that sense it's a departure from past Paradox successes and the upcoming, WWII-set Hearts of Iron IV. He explained in a blog post earlier this year, "The early game is thus characterized by exploration and discovering the wonders of the galaxy," until reaching the mid-game wherein, "there is not much left to colonize and your easy expansion grinds to a halt. At this point, the map stabilizes into the Stellaris equivalent of the world map in Europa Universalis." You begin as one planet directed by a set of cultural guidelines (shown off to us last week was an Individualist Xenophobic empire, which made for a good first encounter with another large empire during which the only dialogue option was, "Alien scum!") that has just discovered faster than light travel. You'll choose between slower , free-moving warp travel; hyperspace across straight lines; and wormhole travels, which requires wormhole stations to be built. [embed]322210:61231:0[/embed] As opposed to pre-canned societies, there are over 100 alien portraits that can be aligned with a variety of traits, so "you will never meet the same aliens again;" or, at least, those bug-eyed purple asshole from your third game might be an inquisitive, pacifist sect next time you encounter that alien art. There are a few other parameters to set, like how many large empires will populate the galaxy you're exploring, but there are also quick start and preset options that reflect Paradox's attempt to widen its appeal, "without compromising our level of depth and complexity." There is an in-game adviser, for example, full voiced to help guide burgeoning emperors (or democratically-elected fish-faced idiots, whatever). In fact, Stellaris is Paradox's first project with a dedicated audio director. Coupled with all the space-faring in a full-figured galaxy and it could prove a little more inviting than playing on a giant map if the grand scope of spaaace isn't too alienating itself. Other simplifications include ditching tech trees for a system, "more like a collectible card game where you draw three cards and pick one." Research into Physics, Society, and Engineering is dictated by your scientists' traits and immediate options are weighted to be most convenient to you at any given time, though sometimes rare research opportunities pop up ("space amoeba weapons" were mentioned). Game progression goes something like this. Start on your home planet, represented by squares arranged 4x4 wherein you can place population unites (and strive for adjacency bonuses, like XCOM's base-builder). Send your science ship around to survey the galaxy, including addressing strange anomalies. In the demoed instance, we were drawn to a distress signal much like our own. There was a 10% failure rate, which just means missing out on the anomaly, though there is potential for catastrophic failure. In this case, the crew of the discovered ship was dead by brain parasite and a trait of our surveying scientist is the only thing that saved our crew from succumbing. Instances like these are neatly thrown into a Situation Log and you can research them from there. Then you'll want to send out ships for colonization and build construction ships to take advantage of resources (habitable planets are rare and meant to be cherished). There's a detailed ship builder, but you can auto-build for the best, too. "I don't want the flow in this game to be too micromanagey," Fåhraeus said. Other systems will start looping back around later. The population of a colonized planet or even your native planet can splinter off into factions of warring ideology, leaving you to choose if you want to say, quash the insurrection with force or give rein to a splintered, population-supported political spin off group. Eventually you will make it to the aforementioned mid-game, where it's "more like Europa Universalis" and you're butting up against large, rival empires. If one scouts you, it has the option to research you before you research it, and make first contact. There are other, smaller civilizations you'll discover, too, some pre-industrial, some post-technology.  To counter past Paradox games' anti-climactic endings when "you reach a point where you know you won," and are just trudging along to victory, late game crises are introduced, revolving around things like dangerous technological advancements or sentient robot worker uprisings -- things that threaten the whole galaxy. And there's maneuvering to do there, too, like letting the killbots off your biggest threat while allying elsewhere, bolstering yourself for the impending man-vs-bot slaughter. Also, you can "uplift" alien wildlife and, say, create a planet of space-faring, extremely loyal dolphins to go space crusade in your name, amen. Stellaris is "coming soon."
Stellaris preview photo
In space no one can hear you scheme
Earlier this year, Paradox offered an alternative for the many disappointed by EA's botched SimCity two years earlier by publishing Colossal Order's excellent city-building-simulator Cities: Skylines. Now Paradox's internal s...

Review: Mayan Death Robots

Nov 21 // Patrick Hancock
Mayan Death Robots (PC)Developer: Sileni StudiosPublisher: SOEDESCO PublishingReleased: November 20, 2015MSRP: $14.99  Mayan Death Robots pits two giant robots against each other as a television sport for other robots, I suppose, to watch. Each season of this television show chooses a new planet, and it just so happens that this season is on Earth around the 1500s. The premise is loose and really only serves to usher the player from one mission to the next, but it's definitely cute. Mayan Death Robots is a 1v1 match that plays out similar to the classic Worms games. Players pick one of the eight unique robots and are then plopped into a battlefield. The objective of each game is to destroy the opponent's Core, which is a small box somewhere behind them. In the way, however, is plenty of terrain as well as the enemy robot. Each robot has two types of attacks, the ability to jump, and the ability to create new terrain. That last bit is interesting; each player can create terrain in the form of Tetris blocks anywhere within a certain radius of their robot, as long as it's not floating mid-air. This allows some interesting defensive play in a game that would otherwise be entirely offensive. There's a limit to the amount of blocks, and using it consecutively yields less and less blocks. [embed]321771:61215:0[/embed] Turns happen simultaneously and publicly. There's a short time period to choose an action, then another time period to aim said action, then both players' actions happen at once. However, knowing what an opponent is going to do doesn't mean it can be stopped. If a player sees their opponent shooting straight at the core, that shot will go off. Shooting the ground beneath them or the robot itself won't affect anything since both shots are fired at once. Tiny pixelated Mayans roam about on each player's side, worshiping the giant robot from the sky. Killing the enemy's Mayans will grant a bonus to the explosion size of the player, but it's rarely worth it to fire specifically at Mayans; it is usually just an added benefit of firing at something else. Mayans will also attack the enemy robot if they stand nearby. This is legitimately useful, since they are constantly doing damage while the turn timer is ticking down, and it prevents the opponent from jumping right next to the Core and blowing it to bits. Every so often, an item wheel will spin and award both players randomly selected items. These items are one-time use, but provide some variety to the gameplay that can start to feel tedious after long play sessions. The game incentivizes the player to use the item quickly, since they are lost upon death. If a player is dead when the wheel spins, they do not receive the item. The core gameplay is great. Playing against another human can lead to intense back-and-forth matches. Multiplayer supports two players locally (no online) with either gamepads or the keyboard. It's a nice feature that both players can use the keyboard, since not everyone has controllers for their PC. An odd omission is the total lack of mouse support, even in menus. In a game that focuses on aiming precise shots, it would have been a boon to be able to use the mouse. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect is that players are forced to unlock the playable robots and the more interesting items. Of the ten robots available, six are unlocked from the start and the rest are acquired through the campaign. While I understand the necessity to give the player a feeling of progression, those who buy the game and just want to play with a friend will be disappointed. Luckily, the campaign can be played through with a buddy. All of the robots feel different from each other, despite the only difference being their two attacks. Some of them have special properties, like having their attacks become more powerful the longer they are in the air, or being able to shoot through certain terrain. While they feel unique, all robots play very similarly: get into a position that your attacks benefit from, and shoot away. Each match has the potential to be an intense back-and-forth or a complete slog; it all depends on the players (or AI) involved. The campaign is set up as a series of over 30 "episodes." There is no tutorial, but players will likely pick up the mechanics quickly. Occasionally, these episodes will modify the standard gameplay by adding stage hazards. These hazards tend to be either incredibly annoying or completely useless. Only rarely do they affect gameplay in a unique, interesting way. There is also an occasional stage boss, which removes the cores from the map and asks both players to destroy the monster. This is great, if you're playing with another human. Cooperating with the AI is downright awful. You see, the boss has to be "summoned" by performing certain actions on the map, but the AI doesn't give a shit. The AI is more concerned with destroying the player's core, making it a huge pain to even get the boss to appear most of the time. If the match ends before the boss is summoned, the player must restart the level. The bosses each have their own mechanics, which are very hit or miss. Some bosses, like the map modifiers, are more annoying than they are worth. Plus, after defeating a boss, the cores come back and the match continues like normal. It's a strange cooperative-to-competitive swing that just feels random. Other than the boss levels, there is no way to lose a level while playing the campaign. Sure, the AI can win, but it doesn't matter, the player progresses to the next stage anyway. This makes sense if two humans are playing each other, since one will always win, but not when playing solo. There's no incentive for a single player to all. There are no rankings, stars, or scores to do better in, there's no leaderboards, nothing. A solo player could go through each level and lose, as long as they summon the boss in the boss levels, and progress through the entire campaign and unlock everything.  There's also a Versus mode which is as straightforward as they come. Players can only compete on the modified maps by going through the campaign and selecting that specific episode to play on, but it would have been great to be able to choose these modifiers from a list in Versus mode, potentially mixing and matching some to create some zany situations. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort exists. Versus is as vanilla as it gets. Despite my enjoyment of the game mechanically, I cannot recommend Mayan Death Robots to anyone looking for a worthwhile single-player experience. For those wanting another entertaining local multiplayer game, however, it provides some unique strategic gameplay. It likely won't keep players enthralled for hours on end, but serves as a great addition to any local-multiplayer library.
Mayan Death Robots review photo
Maybe they're friendly death robots...
I really enjoyed my time with Mayan Death Robots at PAX East this year. My buddy and I played a few matches and left anticipating its eventual release. Now that it is released, I was excited to jump in and see the final ...

XCOM 2 gallery photo
XCOM 2 gallery

XCOM 2 looks quite nice outdoors

Can't take my eyes off of you
Nov 20
// Jordan Devore
Sometimes, I just want to look at the world of XCOM free of distraction. It's quite pleasant, in fact, when you aren't obsessively worrying about the many ways in which your squad can and likely will perish. Or how your never...

Review: Renowned Explorers: International Society

Nov 20 // Darren Nakamura
Renowned Explorers: International Society (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Abbey GamesPublisher: Abbey GamesReleased: September 2, 2015MSRP: $19.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit In Renowned Explorers, the goal is to become a particularly renowned explorer among the group known as the Renowned Explorers. This is achieved by going on expeditions, recovering valuable treasures, making scientific discoveries, and navigating combat situations. Basically, an expedition is separated into two parts: resolving text-based events while traveling between nodes on a map and tactical combat on a modified hex grid. Both sections have elements of procedural generation, so there's always a sense of exploring the semi-unknown, even on an expedition to the same location as a previous run. Area maps are covered in fog of war, with only the nearest nodes visible. Combat arenas will vary the layout of obstacles, choke points, and healing zones. [embed]321138:61123:0[/embed] Indeed, Renowned Explorers is a "roguelite," meant to be played multiple times in order to truly master it. Herein lies one of the biggest hurdles I had to get over in order to enjoy it. For a game meant to be played again and again, it just takes way too long. A single run consists of five expeditions, and each expedition can take 30 to 45 minutes depending on how many encounters there are. It took me days to get through my first run because of the time commitment. This does speed up with experience, because combat becomes much faster after learning the ins and outs of it. Even so, expeditions easily last 20 minutes or more, so it's not the kind of "just one more" experience a roguelite needs to really grab somebody. This is exacerbated by the planning phase that occurs in between expeditions. Here, players spend the resources gathered during the previous expedition to purchase improved gear, recruit followers, and perform research. This is easily the densest part of Renowned Explorers for a new player. Every resource is connected to another in some way, and the game takes a laissez-faire approach; it presents a bevy of options and lets the player sort out what to do with them. Navigating the nooks and crannies of the planning phase can be exhausting at first, which makes the thought of taking on a new expedition right away seem that much more unreasonable. By far, my biggest disappointment starting off was with the combat system. It advertises multiple ways to resolve encounters; an explorer can be aggressive with physical attacks, be devious with insults and threats, or be friendly with encouragement. The three styles have a rock-paper-scissors relationship, so an aggressive approach is advantageous against a friendly enemy for instance. The problem with it is that each form of "attack" draws from the same "hit point" meter, which represents a foe's willingness to keep fighting. You could punch an enemy until he has only a sliver of health remaining, then finish him off by encouraging him to believe in your cause. Fighting and talking don't feel like they function differently. The battle system is hardly different than a simple three-element magic system at first. Only after really digging in did I spot the nuance. Some encounters will provide different rewards depending on how they are resolved. More importantly, it's the asymmetry in the rock-paper-scissors system that makes it interesting. Aggressive attack damage is a function of physical power, where devious and friendly attack damage comes from speech power, so an orator might have a stronger pair of scissors than he has a rock, so to speak. Within the speech powers, there is asymmetry as well. In general, devious skills cause debuffs while friendly skills cause buffs -- on friends and enemies alike. So while the current mood might call for a friendly attack, it is still necessary to weigh the risk of increasing the enemy's attack power in return. The point is: the combat system is deeper than it initially lets on, but it takes some effort for a player to really understand that. That basically describes Renowned Explorers: International Society on the whole. It features a set of deep systems with complex mechanics and relationships, but it places most of the burden on the player to discover it. I'll admit, I disliked it until it all fell into place and revealed itself for what it is. I'm not chomping at the bit to keep playing, but I am curious to delve deeper. Different combinations of explorers can beget different tactics both in and out of battle. That thought alone is enough to keep me from uninstalling it.
Renowned Explorers review photo
A lot to dig into
I'm glad I stuck Renowned Explorers out. For the first couple hours it was kind of a slog. Not exactly bad, but dense, unwieldy, and unexciting. I would finish an expedition and quit, not wanting to get back to it until days ...

First Valkyria trailer photo
First trailer and way more screenshots
So I jumped the gun yesterday when I said Valkyria: Azure Revolution and Valkyria Chronicles Remaster (PS4) news was petering off. Yesterday's plain, boring website is now home to a bunch of new screens, the first footage of...

Valkyria PS4 details photo
Valkyria PS4 details

Valkyria: Azure Revolution, Valkyria Chronicles Remaster get websites

Plus box art
Nov 19
// Steven Hansen
Two days ago an announcement, yesterday the first screens, and today...web pages. Well, yes, things do get less exciting after their initial release. Gotta slow the pace down to be able to blow you out of the water with the n...
Valkyria shots photo
Valkyria shots

First shots of Valkyria: Azure Revolution and the PS4 remaster

New Valkyria series game coming to PS4
Nov 18
// Steven Hansen
I don't know if it was the Valkyria Chronicles Steam release success or Sega just doing its regular couple years of apologizing with good releases before falling into a funk again, but there is a new, anime-as-hell Valkyria C...
Valkyria Chronicles photo
Valkyria Chronicles

A new Valkyria Chronicles and a remaster are coming to PS4

Next year in Japan
Nov 17
// Jordan Devore
As it turns out, Sega's recent Valkyria trademark was worth getting excited over after all. The company has a new game in the series and a remaster of the original Valkyria Chronicles in development for PlayStation 4, accordi...

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...

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