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A guided tour of Life is Feudal: Your Own's many, many loading points

Nov 23 // Joe Parlock
Our utterly fascinating journey begins when entering a multiplayer server. I chose a heavily populated one (around 60 out of 64 potential players), and was treated to a nice, incredibly lengthy loading screen. But that's alright, the loading screen taking the better part of five damn minutes isn't a problem! Just take a look at those suave jet blacks and those imposing yellows as they come together beautifully in a visual feast slap bang in the middle of the screen. Isn't it just delightful? Note how the relevant information. such as how close the loading is to being complete, is relegated to being dark grey text on the black background. It’s a bold move that screams “I’m absolutely taking form over function, but when your form is as sweet as mine who really cares, eh?” Now I know what you might be thinking: this piece isn’t technically a true loading screen. But don't you worry, we're accepting of all hangups, slowdowns, waiting periods and roadblocks here! Look at this abstract art dancing around the screen. Look at how those blues and whites gently give way to a more rustic and earthy brown. You may have mistaken this for a delicious artisinal blueberry muffin, or maybe a painting by Johan Sebastian Mozart himself. In reality, this is  actually the world popping in incredibly slowly all around you! Unable to move, all you can do is stand and absorb the waves of colour as they cascade over you. You may have already sat through the initial loading screen, but Life is Feudal loves to just spoil you with how much waiting you're allowed to do before having to play the game! With time, those lighter areas might’ve gradually become a tree or a patch of grass, but in those few minutes it was something so much more: it was a discussion of the nature of reality, and the futility of seeking perfection. All I can describe it as is ‘inspiring’. And now we come to the main event, the one I've been most eager to show you. To do literally anything within Life is Feudal, you are rewarded with this low-key progress bar, slowly scrolling from left to right. Want to chop a tree, make an axe, or even just pick up some grass? Don’t be silly, nobody wants to do that, we all just want to gaze longingly at the progress bar in all of its sluggish, beige splendor. Some critics might argue that this bar is a metaphor for the unyielding capitalist society we find ourselves in, where even the smallest and most insignificant of actions requires hard toil. Life may be feudal, but does it really need to be this difficult? Alas, the beige progress bar seems to suggest so. And so here we are at last, the very end of our tour, and the thing that I believe might well be the most exciting statement Life is Feudal's makes. Should you ever find yourself tiring of the artistic genius that is the game’s many loading screens, and should you ever want to to stumble wearily away from the deep philosophical questioning of its progress bars, Life is Feudal will leave you with one parting message: life is nothing but waiting. Our fascinating journey begins when entering a server. I chose a heavily populated one (around 60 out of 64 potential players), and so got to sit through a nice, minutes-long loading screen. Look at those suave jet blacks and imposing yellows coming together beautifully in an absolute visual feast slap bang in the middle of the screen. And look at how the actually relevant information is relegated to being dark grey text on the black background. It’s a bold move that screams “I’m absolutely taking form over function, but when your form is as sweet as mine who really cares, eh?” Now this one isn’t technically a true loading screen. However it will become clear in time why I’ve included this in our tour. Just look at this abstract art dancing around the screen, merging blues, whites and browns. You may have mistaken this for a delicious artisanal muffin, but it’s actually the world popping in incredibly slowly. Over time, those lighter areas might’ve become a tree or a patch of grass, but in those few minutes it was something so much more. A discussion of the nature of reality itself. All I can describe it as is ‘inspiring’. And then we come to the main event. To do anything within Life is Feudal, you are treated to a low-key progress bar, slowly scrolling from left to right. Want to chop a tree, plow a field, or even just pick up some grass? Don’t be silly, nobody wants to do that on this tour, we all just want to gaze longingly at the progress bar in all of its beige splendour. Some critics argue that this bar is a metaphor for the unyielding capitalist society we find ourselves in, where even the smallest and most insignificant of actions requires hard toil. Life may be feudal, but does it really need to be this difficult? Alas, the beige progress bar seems to suggest so. And so here we are at last, the very end of our tour, and the thing that I believe might well be the most exciting statement Life is Feudal makes. Should you ever find yourself tiring of the artistic genius that is the game’s loading screens and wanting to stumble wearily away from the deep philosophical questioning of its progress bars, Life is Feudal will leave you with one parting message. That is right, my most esteemed guests. Even closing the game and ending your presence in their world will give you another wonderful loading screen. Hauntingly similar to the first, yet instead of the welcoming bearded gentlemen bringing you into his world, you are given a dragon-headed longboat to guide you far, far away. I hope you enjoyed your tour of what might be the most poignant, emotive piece of digital art created this decade. Truly, Life is Feudal is an artistic cornerstone, a piece to be held up for generations to come who seek to learn how to most effectively waste a player's time.
Life is Feudal: Your Own photo
This game has to be performance art
Life is Feudal: Your Own finally released on Steam last week after a hefty period in early access. The idea is great: take survival sims like Rust and The Forest, and add a pinch of Mount & Blade to make the ambitious med...

Heroes of the Storm photo
Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm's Cho'gall is freaking weird, but feels balanced

Rolling out today
Nov 17
// Chris Carter
Earlier this month, Blizzard announced a two-player hero in the form of Cho'gall for Heroes of the Storm. In essence, the primary player would control movement and their own set of abilities with Cho, and another would take care of Gall, who is attached to the former -- almost like a permanent Abathur hat. It makes for an interesting playstyle, but of course, it has its drawbacks.
Van Helsing Final Cut photo
Van Helsing Final Cut

Van Helsing's Final Cut is the most 'Incredible' yet

Unless you've already played
Nov 15
// Patrick Hancock
Recently, NeocoreGames released The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut on Steam, a compilation of the three games in the series. Past titles have varied in quality; the first game was good but buggy, the sec...
Guild Wars 2 photo
Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns won't change your opinion of Guild Wars

But if you want more, it's there
Nov 14
// Chris Carter
My experience with Guild Wars 2 has been very similar to a lot of people I've met over the years. We all agree it's a wonderful, beautiful take on MMOs, and delivers on its promise of a subscription-free game. But at the...

Xenoblade Chronicles X is sprawling and unforgiving, and I love that

Nov 14 // Chris Carter
Xenoblade Chronicles X starts off with a straight-forward premise: humans have been pushed off Earth by aliens in the future, and only one "ark" is said to have made it to a far off new planet. It's a Macross-esque setting where humans are fairly advanced with their weaponry and warfare, including the Skells (mechs). From there, your character (male or female) awakens in a pod, is greeted by your first party member, and the adventure begins. I really mean "your adventure," because early on, the story mostly takes a backseat beyond a brief rundown of the situation on this new planet. This is something I'm completely okay with because of how Monolith Soft has crafted each gigantic map. There are hundreds of locations to find, secret dungeons to delve into, and enemies to battle -- and nearly all of it rewards you for your efforts. Seeing gigantic, screens-high enemies towering over me induced Final Fantasy XI Notorious Monster flashbacks, you know, in a good way. Your primary source of damage is by way of auto-attacks, but combat gets much deeper once players start unlocking more abilities. Flanking options, bonus effects (for those who patiently wait for double cooldowns), and the power to instantly switch between melee and ranged attacks are a few mechanics that pop up. Dashing is also enabled in combat, which makes for some awesome fights when popping off an enemy appendage with a rifle, and running in with dual daggers to slash at their exposed body. [embed]320860:61101:0[/embed] I'm over 20 hours in so far and still don't have access to the Skells. Very early on there's an option to buy one for an exorbitantly unattainable price, but you still need a "license" to pilot them, which I haven't obtained yet. I've already seen this design choice turn off some prospective players out there after hearing impressions from the Japanese release, but I have to say, it doesn't bother me. Movement is fairly swift, as players can sprint indefinitely and leap high into the air like a superhero. It's very easy to get from place to place, and fast travel -- it still exists. Stay tuned for our review at the end of the month.
Xenoblade Chronicles X photo
Our review is coming later this month
I've played MMOs with smaller zones than Xenoblade Chronicles X. The scale here is absolutely breathtaking, and a mite surreal once you realize that you're playing on the Wii U, where the development team couldn't even optimize the game on a single disc. Here's a few thoughts after spending a ton of time with the experience.

Star Wars Battlefront's full version hasn't really swayed me

Nov 12 // Chris Carter
Firstly, I have to say I'm surprised at how smooth the EA Access build has been. I've had no issues connecting to any matches, and online play has been very smooth. There's also plenty of people in the program, and nearly every match I've played has filled up immediately. Additionally, nine modes in all is enough to keep people interested without having the unfortunate effect of splitting the community. In addition to the modes I already covered, another addition really stood out -- Hero Hunt. It's a 1v7 mode essentially, where one player takes the place of an iconic hero, and defends themselves against a group of standard soldiers. Whoever kills said character becomes one next. It's pretty fun, mostly because of how formidable each hero is. I love that it's constantly changing up the hero after each kill, as it forces players to adjust their tactics The other breakout mode is Fighter Squadron, which is an entirely vehicular based affair, similar to a Star Fox skirmish. It's a far better way to handle ships than the lame "power-up" style pickups in the core modes, and there are even hero ships like the Falcon involved. AI is also built in to make it feel more full and "epic," which I'm mostly okay with since it feels more arcadey than anything. As for the rest of the modes they're pretty standard fare (team deathmatch, escort), and across all of them I noticed the same stilted animations from the beta. It feels cheap, even in comparison to DICE's recent efforts like Battlefield 4. Voicework for standard grunts and heroes alike also feels rush and hastily injected. Pop-in is a major issue, and one of my soldiers even grew hair in the intro -- it was hilarious, but when it happens in-game it's just annoying. [embed]320256:61076:0[/embed] Thankfully the offline modes have been fully unlocked as well, allowing me a much bigger taste in comparison to the one horde mode mission in the beta. As a note, all of the following supports online and split-screen play, the latter of which sees a small drop in quality as well as the framerate, but is still presented in a very much playable state. The first of the two modes is "Battles," which are essentially team deathmatch confrontations with AI built in. There are only four maps to choose from (Hoth, Tatooine, Endor, and Sullust), and both support regular or hero battles -- the latter of which allows players to control a named character (Luke, Han, Leia, Vader, Palpatine, or Boba). It's...straight-up Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty. After downing a foe they'll drop tokens, which you'll have to collect to score points. Do that 100 times and the match is over. If you want you can turn off your AI support, which makes the gametype even more like a horde mode than it already is. Sadly, the AI is a bit dull even on the "master" difficulty, so they never really take the gameplay to the next level. The same exact four maps are available in Survival mode, which delivers enemies in waves like a traditional horde experience. It's a fun distraction, but it doesn't ever go the full mile, heavily relying on nostalgia, like the classic soundtrack from the original trilogy. Ultimately, both modes feel the same. The former is framed more as a versus match, but still places multiple AI opponents in each arena with you -- it just isn't presented in a wave-based format. For those of you who were holding out hope for a more involved single-player component in lieu of a campaign, prepare to be disappointed. I obviously need more time to deliver a final verdict, so stay tuned for a full review sometime next week. In the meantime, you can download the game now if you're in the EA Early Access program or you happened to get a free token recently.
Star Wars Battlefront photo
EA Access impressions
I wasn't all that smitten with the Star Wars Battlefront beta, but today the full game launches for EA Early Access members, with a 10-hour time limit caveat. Now the game is free of content locks, with all modes available for play in addition to the offline component, which features split-screen support and bots. The final build hasn't really changed my mind all that much.

Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition is comfortable on console, if a little slower

Nov 03 // Zack Furniss
Split-screen co-op functions much like ToeJam & Earl from back in the day: both players share a screen when they're close to one another, but if they drift far enough away, the screen splits and each player has their own camera to control. This can be jarring if you separate and rejoin multiple times in rapid succession (imagine someone flailing their hands in front of your face really fast to obscure your vision) , but it otherwise works surprisingly well. I also didn't anticipate being able to wander so far away from you partner. There were multiple times in the ten or so hours we played where he would be in town and I'd be fighting enemies on a distant beach. Controlling characters works better than expected in that it actually works without making me want to throw my controller into the toilet in exchange for a mouse and keyboard. You can move your character around with the left thumbstick, or you can click it to create a small cursor. This effectively allows you to maneuver your avatars like a point and click RPG and is blessing when you want to go to the bathroom while you traverse to the other side of a map. Combat is easy enough to handle, with multiple radial menus and shortcuts providing quick-enough means to an end.  An RPG can live or die by its inventory, and Divinity: Original Sin was never exceptionally manageable in the first place. While the presentation is pleasant (little chests, barrels, and gore piles show up as a cute lil' grid when you look through them), picking up items can be a tad tedious. Holding down the X button brings up a search circle around you so that you can look at multiple items simultaneously, which minimizes minutia but still isn't completely ideal. If you hadn't played the PC version before you'd probably think it was a little slow but nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, even with hands-off experience I know how much faster that can be, and in a game as large as this one, poor inventory accessibility goes from a wrinkle to a wound after awhile. Moving items out of your way is probably the offensive activity here. Instead of just clicking and dragging it out of your way, you have to hold down that search button, choose the item, go to a separate small menu, choose move, and then determine where you'd like to place said item. That is entirely too many commas and clauses to complete an action that you'll do often. It does work better if you use the point and click control scheme, which I found myself utilizing often. Overall, I wouldn't call these controls unwieldy so much as inconvenient. But if you can manage to acclimate to these puppets' strings, there's a fantastic game underneath. Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition is one of those rare fantasy RPGs that has charm, charisma, and doesn't feel completely generic. Now that almost every NPC is voiced, the world feels even more alive and personable. The co-op conversations, in which your main characters can agree, disagree, argue, and jest with one another, eventually leading to traits that have a tangible effect, are perfect for couch sessions. Turn-based combat doesn't seem like it would flow as well, but it does. Each time my brother covered an orc in oil and I set him ablaze, we high-fived like a couple of douches. The environmental/elemental battles always find a way to remain exciting. I'm no Chris Carter, so I can't finish a 100 hour game in two days. There's still a garbage dump's worth of shit that I haven't in Divinity. So far, the extra quests and dialogue feel right at home, and the addition of dual-wielding has made my rogueish spellcaster even more formidable. Even after the little that I have played, though, I'm confident in saying that this one's worth your time. Just remember to pick up every shell on the beach and send one to your brother's inventory every time he checks his phone. See how many shells you can send before they notice. Have fun!
Divinity: Original Sin photo
Couch co-op clickiness
While playing through the lukewarm Sword Coast Legends last week, I kept telling myself there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Once I finished my slog through the Sword Coast, I could revisit Rivellon in Divinity: O...

Xbox One controller photo
Plug and play on Windows 10
Finally -- Microsoft is releasing the wireless Xbox One adapter for PCs. After years of waiting I can finally eschew all of the wires that have been sitting in my desk drawer, or more specifically, four micro-USB cables to ho...

Star Wars: The Old Republic's latest expansion marks the best the game has ever been

Nov 02 // Chris Carter
Let's start with some of the enhancements the expansion has made globally, outside of the confines of the new storyline. I immediately created a new character and found that there have been a ton of concessions to make it less of a slog. For starters, XP gain has seen a stark increase across the board, so you don't have to do nearly every mission on a planet to move on to the next one -- instead, you can essentially follow the core storyline and that's it. This is how it always should have been structured, as most of the sidequests are rather dull. It's also much easier to see what is and isn't story related (narrative quests have a purple tint). Gear statistics have now been simplified so you don't find nearly as much trash, and fast travel is enhanced thanks to instant access to flight paths. Companions have been severely streamlined when it comes to gear as well (in a good way), so you can basically choose whoever you want and fit them into any role you wish. Here's the biggest change: you can basically do everything, including required Flashpoints (dungeons), by yourself. It's silly to say since this is technically an MMO, but Old Republic has made a ton of concessions for solo players. For the most part when I embarked upon my journey to max out at level 50 years ago I played alone, but there were a ton of sections where I needed assistance or was required to grind to progress with the story. With the dawn of Knights of the Fallen Empire, that need is basically eliminated. In this way, it now truly feels more like a Knights of the Old Republic 3. In the past it was ludicrous to ask someone to pay a subscription fee to experience that by yourself, but it's much easier to swallow for free. As previously mentioned, the new narrative is actually quite good, and feels like a true follow-up to KOTOR. To start the Fallen Empire storyline (which now goes to level 65), you'll need to have a maxed out 60 character. By subscribing (and thus gaining access to the expansion), you'll net one max boost, so you can breeze past the previous Hutt Cartel (previously 55) and Shadow of Revan (previously 60) add-ons. From there it's dead simple to start up the campaign, as you only need to queue up the mission on your ship. Missions in Empire are now more pointed. They don't feel like a shoehorned-in excuse to justify an MMO and a subscription fee -- they feel like quests from a classic BioWare RPG. Everything is much more cinematic and imposing, and the dialogue feels more meaningful. They're also completely removed from the gamey elements of Old Republic, almost like a separate mode entirely, devoid of grindy, time-wasting activities. In essence, this is something worth paying for, especially if you have some free time and want to go through it in a month before unsubscribing again. Over half of the Empire chapters have been released, and others will subsequently be released over time. It's something I would normally get kind of miffed about (gotta keep people subscribed somehow), but given all the other improvements, I just took to creating another class instead. It took BioWare long enough, but Star Wars: The Old Republic's 4.0 build really feels like what the game should have been like at launch. Whether you're a new player jumping in for the first time or a disenchanted veteran who's cautiously interested in subscribing again, The Fallen Empire is worth a shot. [This impressions piece is based on subscription time purchased by the reviewer.]
Star Wars photo
'Knights of the Fallen Empire'
Man, I'm surprised Star Wars: The Old Republic is still trucking along. You have to give it to BioWare (and to some extent, EA) for staying with it after its mixed reception at launch, so-so expansion packs, and its tran...

Alienware Steam Machine photo
Alienware Steam Machine

Review: Alienware Steam Machine

SteamOS has a ways to go
Oct 29
// Chris Carter
PC gaming is in the midst of a cultural shift. No, not necessarily the "Steam Machine" revolution, which Valve is trying to heavily push, but a movement away from the tether of a dedicated platform into the living room. In a ...

League of Legends' Kindred sports a killer kit and beautiful design

Oct 28 // Chris Carter
[embed]317933:60896:0[/embed] "Kindred," a new jungler, is actually two characters -- Lamb and Wolf. Their dichotomy is rather interesting, as they symbolize aspects of death, with stark color contrasts to boot. While Riot Games could have half-assed the theme it really went all out, and the animations for Kindred are some of the best in the game, especially when it comes to Wolf's spirit tail effects. I also love dual characters as they have so much potential in terms of interesting skins. So what can they do? Well, Kindred is really more of an active Champion, more so than a lot of others currently on offer. Their W, which doubles as an area-of-effect attack, requires players to constantly move around to build stacks, which triggers health regeneration after attacking. Once you've launched a shot the stack resets, so you better be clicking a mile a minute to keep it up. Given the fact that their E is a slow and their Q is a vault that hits multiple foes, Kindred is a rather versatile Champion that can do a lot more than jungle. This goes double for the pair's ultimate, which creates an area-of-effect space where nothing can die (read: drop below 10% health), friend or foe, for 10 seconds. It's clearly situational and best used when losing a teamfight, but it can completely change the course of a match. By virtue of playing Kindred, players can select a Champion to "hunt" by clicking on their portrait. After killing that target, you'll gain a permanent stat increase, and a lengthy cooldown will be in place for the same player -- though you can switch it up at will. Jungling is also a ton of fun, as you can kite enemies with your range and vault ability, allowing for some interesting early game play. Their E is also perfect for setting up ganks while roaming. While Kindred is a beast, Riot might be gearing up for a nerf at some point. It's very easy to gain an advantage over lesser players by hunting them constantly, as all you need is roughly two or three people to pick on throughout the match to gain the upper hand, stat-wise. This stacks very well with armor penetration gear. In the meantime the Champion requires a ton of skill to play and relies on a good team to shine, so pick the duo up if you haven't already.
League of Legends photo
Two characters in one
It's getting to the point where I'm starting to get lost when selecting a Champion in League of Legends. Sure, the newest kid on the block, Kindred, has a giant floating mask for an icon and the list is in alphabetical order,...

First impressions for Blizzard's impressive inaugural FPS, Overwatch

Oct 27 // Chris Carter
First off, it must be said that Overwatch has one of the most comprehensive tutorials in any first-person shooter I've seen. Yes, it's mostly remedial, but newcomers and casual fans alike will be appreciative. It brings you through everything from basic movement to shooting, and even a rundown of the UI, which is basic to begin with. In fact, there's even an overlay on every ability that shows you the key you need to press to trigger it. At first glance, Overwatch looks like a basic shooting experience. Each class has their own type of weaponry ranging from rifles to dual pistols, and there's a melee attack. There is no ADS or iron-sight mechanic, but Overwatch does have controller support. Where the game starts to diverge from your typical formula is the class-based gameplay. The starting character (Soldier 76) has an ability called Biotic Field, which is basically an area-of-effect healing station you can throw on the ground, and a rocket power. Beyond that, there's one more power -- ultimates. This aforementioned class can use a Tactical Visor to home in on a selected target. There are also four different classifications for each character:offense, defense, tank, and support. When choosing a class at the start of a match, the game will inform you of your current team makeup, and suggest other possible choices if your team doesn't have enough firepower, for instance. This has the potential to make for a sticky wicket when it comes to the overall meta (expect lots of balancing), but for now it seems rather fair. It's also very easy to view the information chart for each class in the character select screen, and players can even switch heroes in the initial spawn area. My current favorite character, Reaper, exudes style. Instead of reloading, he throws his guns down on the ground. Instead of dashing, he goes into "wraith form" and becomes invincible for a few seconds (though this means his sprint is on cooldown). Finally, Reaper's ultimate allows for him to damage all nearby enemies. It's leaps and bounds different from playing Reinhardt, who is a slow melee character that can charge across the screen and deploy a frontal shield. [embed]317786:60888:0[/embed] In essence, there's a ton of different styles at play here. Soldier 76 operates like a "typical" shooter would play out, and Tracer (who can teleport), feels more like someone out of Team Fortress. Barring the suggested difficulty ratings of certain characters and team composition recommendations, there's a lot of leeway here in terms of how open the game is for people who don't typically like shooters. For reference, teams consist of six players each, and there are currently two game modes in tow (Payload and Point Capture). The latter is just as it sounds, with an attacking and defending team, while the the former is an escort mission on a fixed path.Although these are new characters (in other words, not based in an existing universe like Heroes of the Storm), I really started to recognize their faces and mannerisms a few hours in. I don't think everyone will catch on, but I wouldn't mind seeing most of them in other titles. Blizzard has already said that we may see them in Heroes if Overwatch is successful. Overwatch is not a "me-too" class-based shooter. Blizzard has put a ton of work into every facet of the experience, from the pinpoint fast-paced engine to the individual designs of each character. The cast is diverse, inside and out, and I'm really looking forward to diving into more as the beta progresses and the finished product hits. The beta starts today and will be rolling out in waves, but Overwatch currently does not have a launch window in sight.
Overwatch photo
I'm in
You could say I've been a long-time Blizzard fan. I was right there in 1992 with The Lost Vikings, the company's second game, all the way through the SNES era into Warcraft and Diablo. Over the years I've generally played eve...

Noct impressions photo
Noct impressions

Noct has potential but there isn't much to it yet

Just shapes in the dark
Oct 26
// Nic Rowen
Noct is a top-down survival game with a killer hook. Set in the ruins of earth after some kind of Pitch Black-like doomsday event, the action is viewed from a grainy thermal camera far removed from danger. You play the part o...

If you haven't played Darksiders II yet, Deathinitive Edition is a good place to start

Oct 26 // Chris Carter
[embed]317424:60853:0[/embed] While Darksiders II is clearly the second game in the series, you don't necessarily need to play the inaugural title to understand what's going on. After all, this is a parallel tale, where Death is on a journey to prove his brother War's innocence. From there, that's all you really need to know. Similar to the first title, Darksiders II is open world, and plays out in a similar manner to many Zelda games, or to give a more apt macabre comparison, the Soul Reaver series. Death is especially nimble as he has a fully featured dodge ability, which makes combat leaps and bounds more interactive and technical than the first game. The exploration element is damn fun, as Death has access to his trusty steed to traverse some of the larger environments, which house myriad secrets and Metroid style upgrade-accessible rooms. Darksiders II is fairly accommodating as well, with a difficulty setting that can be swapped at any time, and the power to save anywhere. It also sports memorable and challenging boss fights on top of interesting dungeons and puzzles. It really is one of the best action adventure games I've played in recent years. The only major holdup I have is the loot system, which peppers in a ton of useless items to sift through. So what's in the new Deathinitive package? For $30 you're getting a native 1080p version of the game, with "increased texture resolution," and a rework of the game's engine to be more in line with a current-generation experience (with upgrades to the metal and stone textures in particular). You'll also net all the DLC included so far, which basically includes a lot of useless items, and three missions that are roughly under an hour each. Point blank, I wouldn't recommend picking it up for the visual enhancements alone or the add-ons. Sure, the textures do look a lot a bit shinier, and native 1080p is a great feature, but it still very much looks like a last-generation title. I played both of them side-by-side and did notice an increase in quality, but not enough to spend your cash on. As for the DLC, all of it is throwaway. Again, if you already own Darksiders II and have your console or PC readily accessible, you may as well just replay your original copy. But by that same token, Deathinitive is a good excuse to dive into the world of Darksiders in general -- so if you haven't taken the plunge yet, consider it. The PC edition still exists as well.
Darksiders2 photo
Darksiders II has become a sort of joke within our community by way of the hashtag #Darksiders2, fostered by our resident funny man, Occams. To this day our readers still use that tag to denote something particularly garish, ...

AC Syndicate photo
AC Syndicate

A poor mechanic is Assassin's Creed Syndicate's greatest feature

First impressions
Oct 23
// Brett Makedonski
The magnitude of Assassin's Creed is as great as ever this year. Syndicate's London is said to be 30 percent larger than Assassin's Creed Unity's size, and it feels every inch of it. Upon unlocking the open world, simply navi...

I'm not entirely sold on the Steam Controller yet

Oct 16 // Chris Carter
I've only tested it out for a full day, but right now I'm not sure if I'll be using the Steam Controller full-time for my PC needs. For one, it feels a bit cheap for a $50 device, and I felt like I was going to snap the battery cover in half after opening it first thing. That's partially because the back of the controller houses two paddles, which are mapped to left and right clicks by default. And that's actually the best part of the Steam Controller. For the first time, it really feels like a PC-centric control method. Buttons are literally mapped to PC keys (start is enter for instance), and the right pad (which features haptic feedback) is a fully-featured mouse. When navigating through the various UIs of my PC and Steam, I had no issues whatsoever. This is also a godsend for splash screens, which do not work with a traditional gamepad like an Xbox controller and require the user to manually go back to their PC and start the game. But games are the largest aspect that I encountered troubles with, which is clearly an issue. Right now, Steam Controller support is in its infancy, and it's definitely not as easy as plugging and playing, that's for sure. Valve has enabled a new section in its client to account for the "best controller configurations," but since the thing isn't hitting its wide release until November, the options are scant. Instead, a handful of games require individual tinkering before they work -- the plus side is that the entire configuration is customizable, if you feel like doing it. Once everything was set up, my results have been mixed. For FPS games, after some tinkering, I have gotten used to aiming with the track pad. This is mostly due to the fact that you can modify the sensitivity and dead zone of the pad itself to suit your needs. It's not as ideal as a keyboard and mouse (so far, at least), but it's definitely better than a traditional gamepad and works great on the couch. [embed]315891:60757:0[/embed] As for strategy games, I would not recommend playing RTS or heavily twitch-based titles. For lower-key city-building games though it works quite well with the more relaxed pace. This goes double for point-and-click adventure games -- I was happy with the results. And this really is the high point of the Steam Controller. If you do enough tinkering, it works with just about everything. Well, mostly everything, until its design holds it back. I also tried out a number of different platformers, both new and old school, and the d-pad is horrendous. It's stiff, and arguably worse than the Xbox 360's d-pad, partially because it wouldn't register my inputs at times. I could not, for the life of me, get used to playing Sayonara UmiharaKawase on it (yes it's on Steam!), for instance. A fair number of platformers also don't support the sole left analog stick by default, so you're going to have to enable that manually. Because of the d-pad design, I would personally rule fighters right out. I need some more time to test it out for a full report (new control methods often take time to learn), but I'm not sure if the Steam Controller is a complete success. While I'm considering buying another Steam Link for another room in my house, I think I'm set for now with one controller. [This impressions piece is based on a retail build of the unit purchased by the writer.]
Steam Controller photo
First impressions
Right now, I'm happy with my $50 Steam Link streaming box. It works exactly as it should, and the quality is impeccable. It helps that the thing is first-party after all and is designed to work with Steam. The controller, on the other hand, is taking a little while to acclimate to.

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a great history lesson

Oct 16 // Mike Cosimano
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (PS4)Developer: Naughty Dog/Bluepoint GamesPublisher: SonyReleased: October 9, 2015MSRP: $59.99 Drake's Deception manages to outdo its predecessors in one area: the interplay between its characters. In a franchise known for witty, naturalistic dialogue, the conversations in Uncharted 3 still manage to stand out. It's hard to nail down exactly why this is the case (change in development staff, practice makes perfect, etc.), but I believe it has something to do with the mechanics of the story. A popular complaint in sequel-driven franchises is the perceived lack of stakes -- "We know the hero isn't going to lose/die for real, so none of this matters." This is self-inflicted misdirection. What matters isn't the particulars of the plot, it's the characters. A story is only tense if the audience cares about the people who inhabit it. Yes, Nathan Drake's gonna make it through the conflict de jour with all his limbs intact. But what kind of emotional losses will he suffer along the way? That's a reductive way of putting it, but you get what I'm going for, right? The humanity on display in Uncharted 3 starts and ends with the relationship between Nate and Sully. There are shades of this in Drake's Fortune and Among Thieves, as is to be expected with such excellent character work, but it's given a proper analysis in Drake's Deception. Origin stories for established characters are so often either redundant or blunt, so it's pleasantly surprising that the flashback sequence manages to add real, genuine depth to Nate and Sully's partnership. The knowledge that Sully was practically a father to Nate re-defines both of their relationships with the other characters, and proves that both of them are some of the most meaningful people in each other's lives. [embed]315656:60750:0[/embed] Not to say the rest of the characters get the shrift, either. Nate's team is expanded with both old and new faces, all of whom feel both compelling and rounded -- especially Cutter. Oh man, do I love Cutter. Every scene with that wonderful man was nothing short of rapturous, and when he was away I prayed to any deity that would hear me voraciously for his return. Every time he was in danger (physically or emotionally), it felt like I was on the verge of death. The big, bombastic, cinematic moments that give Uncharted its fame? They mean so much more when I care about the people involved. Although Drake's Deception is the most successful on the story front, the other two games are still worth seeing. Playing all three Uncharted games in a relatively short timeframe is fascinating. From the moderately awkward post-Jak and Daxter lessons of Drake's Fortune, to the brilliant iteration of Among Thieves, to the thematic and character evolutions in Drake's Deception, there's so much work to appreciate here -- especially in the context of Naughty Dog's history. The games also look fantastic as well, and not just thanks to the fresh coat of paint. It's amazing what a great lighting engine can do, especially when applied to a franchise that is partially remembered for pushing what we thought the PS3 could output. Bluepoint Games does fantastic port work, and The Nathan Drake Collection is another win for the studio. There were zero framerate drops and only the occasional walk animation freakout on the part of your compatriots. Nothing game-breaking. The Uncharted series is ostensibly about one adrenaline junkie (the man that gives The Nathan Drake Collection its name) and his failure to evolve. When Indiana Jones resets his love life at the beginning of every Indiana Jones adventure, it's a way of starting from scratch. When Nathan Drake starts every post-Drake's Fortune game separated from Elena, it's a commentary on his immature refusal to move past the treasure hunting that defined his childhood and teenage years, especially in the third installment. The first two Uncharted games are roller coaster rides that are a bullwhip away from a Lucasfilm lawsuit. Drake's Deception, comparatively, spends its time applying those time-worn stereotypes to some degree of reality and is all the more compelling as a result. You should play The Nathan Drake Collection if you're one of the many Xbox 360 to PlayStation 4 transplants, or even if it's been too long since you last spent time in the Uncharted world. The first game doesn't really hold up, but Among Thieves and Drake's Deception are certainly worth your time -- especially you're interested in the latter's more complex thematic work. And based on what we've seen of A Thief's End's darker tone, this history lesson might just be mandatory.
Uncharted: TNDC photo
Cutter needs to be in Uncharted 4, right?
In a sea of PS3/Xbox 360 to PS4/Xbox One ports, The Nathan Drake Collection is one of the few that actually makes sense. Many former Xbox 360 owners made the jump to PlayStation 4 this generation; as a result, they've mi...

Hands-on with Valve's fantastic Steam Link streaming box

Oct 16 // Chris Carter
The unit itself is small and light, which means that it won't be an eyesore in any location you decide to place it in. There's two USB slots on the back, one on the side (just like the Xbox One), an Ethernet slot, and an HDMI out. It comes with a power cable, three power converters for worldwide regions, and an HDMI cable. The Steam Link was incredibly easy to set up, and took me about five minutes from opening the box to access my account. Basically all you do is power it up, hook up an HDMI cable, and either use a keyboard and mouse or Steam Controller to access the UI. From there you'll either run off of your wired connection or enter your Wi-Fi password, download a few updates, and that's it. Of course this isn't a proper Steam Machine, so you'll need to be running Steam off of your core PC to stream it to the box (you can also add multiple PCs if you wish). The system uses a modified version of the Big Picture UI, which works quite well. Recent, installed, and favorite games are located on the side, along with your total game catalog, videos, music, and current downloads. You can also easily search your library or activate a product directly from the Link. Users can also readily view which games are installed (indicated by a green checkmark), so you don't have to individually check everything. Just like Big Picture proper, if you want to install something, you can do so from the Link. Also, the web and chat functionality is greatly improved thanks to the Steam Controller's added input methods if you don't have a keyboard handy. The only issue I've had so far is that the Link will sometimes have problems with the resolution, bumping it up to a ridiculously high level after my host PC pushes an update. To fix it, I just have to move the mouse a bit on my host. For now it's not that big of a deal since I have it in the living room right next to the Link, but I'm eventually planning on moving it into the basement, so I'll have to tinker a bit to see what's causing this (I would suspect my multi-monitor setup might have something to do with it). Other than that, it's been painless, and the stream quality is superb. Through a 50 Mbps connection I'm not getting any input lag. As a note, you'll want to opt into the Steam client beta (system settings panel, big picture UI) to gain access to all of the updates prior to the official November launch. Also, there is already a firmware update for the Steam Controller itself as of today -- you'll have to connect it directly to the host PC to get it, as the Steam Link cannot actually push firmware. You can, however, remotely turn off Steam Link, which reverts your host PC back to the standard Steam UI, and automatically shuts down your Link and Steam Controller. I'll be touching on the Steam Controller once I'd had more time with it, but I like how it interfaces directly with your OS. In other words, start is mapped to enter, and the right pad functions as a mouse. As for the pad itself, I'm really not digging the d-pad, especially for platformers, but I like that it's a multi-purpose unit that doesn't just cater to one genre. Valve also offers configuration options through Steam for titles that don't normally support controllers, though they obviously can't alter the hard-coded keyboard-specific tutorials. If you'd rather go the old-school route, Xbox controllers work as well (wired is best, but the current 360 wireless dongle works too). So far my Steam in-home experience has been rather smooth, which is good news since it's still technically in beta. I still need to put the Steam Controller through the paces, but I can recommend the $50 Link at this point. [This impressions piece is based on a retail build of the unit purchased by the writer.]
Steam Link photo
I'm surprised how painless it is
Although the Steam Controller and Steam Link aren't going to be available in wide release form until November 10, anyone who pre-ordered directly through Valve (myself included) is set to get them today. I immediately unpacked my shipment this morning and put them through the paces, and I'm pleasantly surprised with how the Link turned out.

Destiny photo

Destiny's microtransactions hit today, here's the full rundown

Silver = real money
Oct 13
// Chris Carter
Yes, Activision has gone and done it. In addition to charging $60 for Destiny (more if you bought either Special Edition), $30 for the Season Pass, and $40 (again, or more) for The Taken King, you're looking at $130 mini...
Amazon Fire TV photo
Amazon Fire TV

Meet the new Amazon Fire TV, same as the old Fire TV

But still worth picking up
Oct 13
// Chris Carter
Readers have become skeptical over the years regarding the blogosphere's opinions on Amazon, mostly due to partnership links and the like. I can't speak to anyone else, but my affinity for Amazon pre-dates my game writing car...
Destiny raid photo
Destiny raid

Destiny's 'Kings Fall' is the best raid yet

And hardly any bugs!
Oct 12
// Chris Carter
Raids are my favorite part of Destiny. As I sit here and write this, having killed Oryx nine times since The Taken King arrived, I'm trying to recall my favorite moments from the two raids before King's Fall, and I can c...
Cryptark impressions photo
Cryptark impressions

Cryptark is the sci-fi roguelike you've been waiting for (if you don't own a PS4)

Interstellar small business woes
Oct 10
// Nic Rowen
I’ve always loved space truckers. Working Joes plugging away at what amounts to a mundane job for them in a fantastic sci-fi setting that seems crazy to us terrestrial-bound 21st century cavemen. I also harbor great aff...
Noon VR photo
Noon VR

Noon VR is a neat home experience, but the tech is very limited

Far from true VR
Oct 02
// Chris Carter
As most of you know, I'm not completely sold on VR yet. I mean, I actually really like the tech, it's very cool, but I'm literally not sold on it. I've had a full-time job basically since I was 15, so I could genera...
Medic photo

Heroes of the Storm's Medic is the dedicated healer we needed

Not a hybrid
Sep 29
// Chris Carter
Kharazim is probably my favorite character in Heroes of the Storm at the moment, but it's about time that we got the StarCraft healer we've always wanted with Lt. Morales, the Medic. With a number of supports e...
Tony Hawk 5 photo
Tony Hawk 5

You should probably hold off on buying Tony Hawk 5 for now
Sep 29
// Chris Carter
As you may have heard, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 is a bit glitchy. Now, this shouldn't come as a complete shock. Developer Robomodo, who has handled the series since 2009, hasn't had the best track record with Ride, ...

Cities: Skylines After Dark exposes the sexlessness of being an incompetent planner

Sep 28 // Steven Hansen
[embed]312756:60532:0[/embed] 17:28 I dragged one of our cat trees -- the one with the abandoned dumbbells weighing it down -- and set a pillow in front of it so I could sit in the middle of the living room, closer to the TV. I do not have my contacts in or the energy to put my contacts in. I am sitting on an inflatable, portable seat one might take to sit on bleachers in a stadium and my lower half is wrapped in a throw blanket. My feet tap at the entertainment center and I worry I will turn the Xbox One on. Fuck. I actually just turned the Xbox One on. This isn't even even a joke (not unlike much of my humor). I started writing fearing I’d forget whatever fevered nonsense was my dreamt-up angle and I just kicked the fucking thing on. Jesus. I am a slightly less put-together city planner than whomever drew up the East Coast. 17:36 The newsfeed in the new "After Dark"-tinged menu reads: "Problems Loading/Creating Cities? Click Here for the Solution!" After turning the Xbox on I am anticipating problems and feel like preemptively asking for the solution. 17:38 All my strength is going towards not choosing the "Diamond Coast" map for a new game because its "Suitable area for building" is 69%. I already can’t figure out which map best represents Tokyo or remember what "boreal" means. Google tells me. Google also tells me Diamond Coast is a place in Ireland, which I bet is a lot like Japan, so that’s why I have picked it after all (and not for the 69). 17:43 Oh my god the tutorial text is so small. 17:45 Building roads and also not drawing penises with the roads, a good start. 17:49 Oh god, not only are there curved roads, but there are elevated roads. This has become roller coaster tycoon. This is not like Japan at all. I have built an enormous ramp to nowhere, to the end of the known world. Oh god, there are tunnels, too? I tried to connect a tunnel to the outside world but it’s just a half-mile dead end under the outlying freeway. And it connects to a giant series of roads in my town. I thought this would work. 17:55 It’s nighttime now and it looks very ominous. The people are wanting for every single basic necessity: power, water, waste treatment, internet, a fancy cheese shop. It is a miracle they found their way into town at all. The elevated road to nowhere is lit up, dotted on both side with street lamps, but they are not plugged in, there is no power grid. They must be getting power by much more arcane means. 18:06 Japan is clean and forward thinking. I erected a wind turbine. A water pumping station and sewage treatment plant sit on the fraction of coast I have available, far from the inept roads and angry citizens. I think I correctly put the waste dumping bit down stream so as to not feed them poop. The water pipes and those two facilities make an amateurish rhombus. Nighttime again and the wind turbine glows in the distance away from civilization next to...palm trees? I do not think Ireland has palm trees and I do no think that Tokyo has palm trees, but my childhood home in San Francisco did have a giant palm tree in the backyard. Things don’t always make sense. My citizen’s thirst and high-maintenance demand for electricity sated, I zoom into this mess to hear dogs barking and birds chirping. It almost resembles a suburb, just drawn up by a child with limited spatial awareness and even less Lego blocks. The "needs" bubbles hovering atop each household look like guns. No, citizens. You are supposed to be Japan, not America. Cease this gun lust. 18:13 Those were not cartoon guns; they were sewage pipes. I have messed up the sewage. Peoples' homes are filled with shit. 18:21 I fixed it. I forgot to supply power to the sewage treatment plant. Unfortunately by the time I did it was in the most roundabout possible way and I ran out of money. I do not know what is more ominous: 1) the game’s zoomed-out soundtrack or 2) the din of suburbia when you zoom into multi-level blue homes and the lives of little people who don’t know their lives are being governed by an idiot who turned the Xbox on with his foot and has a quarter-mile, below-ground tunnel leading to a dead end. The streets look like the Windows 3D pipes animated screen saver or a badly played game of Snake. 18:29 The sound design in this game is terrifying. The commercial district is a roar of trucks and storefront shutters. The yakisoba joint advertises "tasty noodles" but that is a lie. It has no water running to it as I have run out of money. The game is warning me of bankruptcy. It offers me a $50,000 bailout with 0% interest, 0 monthly cost. If only real life would be so kind. I reject it. I would rather let my citizens suffer than accept charity. 18:42 I tried to continue the road to nowhere and bring it down into a new industrial sector and, good lord, look. Cars are driving up it now and doing impossible 180 degree turns and I feel ill. 18:51 I have reached a population of 500. I am a "Little Hamlet," in that I too am poisoned by inefficacy and unable to avenge Tokyo by making it in this video game. My state is rotten. 18:53 I consider building a hospital across from two landfills. 20:01 Someone has died. I have built my first cemetery. I bleed money. I have taken as many loans as possible. I cannot seem to build enough firehouses. My city burns. Businesses demand more educated workers. It asks to build public transport, but I am poor. I raise taxes and people riot. My city of 3,500 does not have the glorious neon of Tokyo. The endless high rises and suffocating streets and touts and steep stairwells. My citizens tweet hashtags unironically, like morons. 20:12 I build a cemetery (for real this time; the bodies must have been rotting) and hundreds of green smiley faces erupt from local residences. Same. My city of 5,000 is a far cry from Tokyo's 13.35 million. And, as evidenced, I am not so competent to tell you how dramatic things like setting different daytime and nighttime budgets for utilities go on to affect your success. Really, I don't think Cities has ever been too challenging, as it has twice now accommodated my complete lack of forethought and neighborhood building by way of penciling in the margins and connecting with carets and arrows. But the day and night cycle itself is quite beautiful and the additions like prisons, taxis, bus terminals, bikers, and international airports all work towards making a more robust simulator helping you build whatever nightmare town your heart desires. Me, I'm going to dip into the mod sections and recreate High Planes Drifter.
After Dark impressions photo
More like 'shitty planning'
And here I thought being a public official would get me laid. It turns out any clout built up by being the sole city planner gets et up when the citizens' homes are filled with sewage because of your incompetence. Having just...

Assassin's Creed producer talks returning to the series' roots

Sep 24 // Alessandro Fillari
I've had an affinity for the AC series all the way back to the original. I remember getting hyped for an action-adventure title set during the Crusades, and then again for its follow-up in the Italian Renaissance period -- two settings that don't get much play from the medium. But ever since its move to the annual release schedule, I sometimes find it hard to get excited about new entries when they can come off as more of the same. While some of these games are off the charts when it comes to fun and offering an interesting setting to explore, Assassin's Creed has missed the mark a few times. Obviously, this presented Ubisoft with a challenge for how to tackle the upcoming jaunt through Victorian-era London. As one of the most-requested settings from fans, the developers felt extra pressure to get it right while making sure not to repeat the mistakes of past titles. As the ninth mainline Assassin's Creed title (yes, already), it's definitely a challenge to keep things interesting, because you can only play as an Assassin so many times without any major shake-ups before things get stale. Senior producer Jeff Skalski spoke at length about their vision for Syndicate, and how they hope the return to basics will reinvigorate the brand. "That's been a challenge for any game that's been a franchise," he said while discussing development. "Whether you're working on the second one or fifth one, but for us, we've been working on this game for two and a half years, so there's a lot of things we know about what Assassin's Creed has done in the past. We have a sense of maybe where it's going, but no one has a crystal ball. So we really evaluate what is important, where do we want to innovate, where do we want to focus, and then we kind of start building that game with that kind of mindset." The elephant in the room when talking about this series is the troubled launch of last year's Unity. While a solid entry in the series featuring  some gorgeous visuals and a stellar recreation of 18th-century France, this unfortunately, and quite understandably, was lost on many gamers who had to wade through technical issues and oddities that put a serious damper on the whole experience. While there are many reasons for how that turned out, the developers at Ubisoft Quebec wanted to ensure they nailed their interpretation and execution of the setting right at launch. "We took a real kind of fine-tooth comb and we looked at the combat, stealth, what do we change that didn't work so well, and we really evaluate it all," stated Skalski. "We've all been fans of the game, we're gamers first before we're actually developers, so these are things that for us is an opportunity. We have one shot of building an Assassin's Creed game in Victorian-era London, and it's almost a dream come true for a lot of us. And we wanted to knock it out of the park." Even though multiplayer and other online components have been present for the majority of the AC titles, this marks the first time since 2009 that a main entry in the series will be strictly single-player. With 2010's Brotherhood introducing multiplayer, along with the annualized release schedule, it set the standard for  titles going forward. So it was especially surprisingly to see that Ubisoft decided to brings things back with its focus on a pure single-player narrative. The studio made the decision early on to create a stronger narrative with denser content to back it up. "When we were conceptualizing the game and figuring out what did we want to build, but more importantly what did we not want to build -- because the more we built in the game, it means we'd have to stretch our resources thin -- we really wanted to go all in on the single-player experience. That's not to say we don't believe in multiplayer, and I think there's a place for that, but for this round we wanted to focus on the single-player. But yeah, we looked at the previous AC titles, and saw the various pillars they were built on, and thought 'How can we improve this?' [...] So it was a very conscious decision, and it was one we made very early on." For me, one of the highlights of playing Syndicate, and I'm sure many will share this sentiment, was the setting. The Victorian era was an evocative period with the old world slowly shifting into the modern era before everyone's eyes. And with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, it created many challenges for those living in the heart of the Western Empire. The devs saw this as not only an interesting setting that stands out among the predecessors, but also allowed them to open the gameplay into new areas and introduce abilities and gadgets not possible from the time period. "There's so much for us to play with in the Victorian time," explained the producer. "As you stated, it was the turning point in terms of the modern society that we live in today, so we felt that was bringing something fresh and something very new, and allowed us to kind of break the rules in places that would be exciting for players. Even today, it's a city that's a melting pot of society, so we were not short on ideas. We had to pick our top-top favorites and realize those as best as we could and work with our writers to make sure it was accurate and authentic." Despite the gloomy atmosphere and depressing subject matter, Syndicate manages to display a lot humor from the characters. In retrospect, many of the AC titles portrayed their stories earnestly with some slight scenes for humor to break up the tension.  Syndicate's dual protagonists, who are brother and sister, share a kind of sibling rivalry and make constant jokes at their expense. I'd imagine with the bleak atmosphere, they had to offer some levity. Which thankfully works quite well. "Humor was very important to us. As we were writing the game, and looking over the scripts, we were laughing, and that was a good sign for us. During mo-cap, I would laugh at lines and still find myself laughing when they came up in the game, so I hope players will enjoy the narrative, the characters -- every one of them is super special -- and the relationships they form with Jacob and Evie, and how they experience London for the first time."  Since the reveal earlier this year, the creators of Syndicate (then titled Victory), had a bit of an uphill battle to get through to ensure they were all in when it comes to creating the next big entry for the series. Fortunately, my several hours with the game got my interest piqued for what's to come. What I enjoyed most about the era is that it felt as though it was stuck between two different periods -- one from the past, the other towards the future. With many of the characters clinging onto the old ways while living in a civilization that has introduced vehicle traffic and gas and electrical infrastructure, Assassin's Creed Syndicate's interpretation of Victorian-era London should be one of the more exciting, visually striking locales the series has seen in a long time. For more info about Syndicate, check out my hands-on impressions. 
Interview photo
In a West End town, a dead end world
As the tenth anniversary for the Assassin's Creed franchise draws closer, it's hard to imagine the series has been around for so long. I was two years out of high school when Altair and Desmond first made their appearance on ...

Assassin's Creed Syndicate's London is an exciting and evocative setting

Sep 24 // Alessandro Fillari
Assassin's Creed Syndicate (PC, PS4 [previewed], Xbox One)Developer: Ubisoft QuebecPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: October 23, 2015 (PS4, Xbox One) / Q4 2015 (PC) Set nearly eighty years after the events of Assassin's Creed Unity, Syndicate thrusts players into the gritty and bustling city of London during the Industrial Revolution. With the Assassin Order struggling to rebuild, sibling assassins Jacob and Evie Fyre come to Victorian-era London during a relatively modest mission and find it under heavy Templar control. Witnessing the extent of the corruption in the heart of the Western Empire spearheaded by powerful industrialist and Templar operative Crawford Starrick, the siblings disregard the demands from their Order to abandon the city and take matters into their own hands to dismantle the Templar power structure. Using their Assassin abilities and gadgets, along with their keen eyes for scouting potential alliances with the locals, the Fryes will have to unite the criminal underworld of London in order to overthrow a common enemy, who may be in possession of another Piece of Eden. As one of the most-requested settings for an AC title, the developers at Ubisoft were keen on bringing the series to the Victorian era. London during 1868 was a period of equally great innovation and social unrest. The Industrial Revolution gave way to mass production and advanced technologies, but it came at the cost of humane working conditions, child labor, and poor quality of life for the working class. With factories peppering the city of London and smoke blotting out the sky, urban living was not what it was cracked up to be -- there was a lot of misery for those on the bottom of the social structure. This makes for an evocative setting for Assassin's Creed, and adds a greater connection with the city. While it would sound a bit cheesy to say that the city is a character itself, it does feel that way. I was impressed with not only how accurate the city looked, but also how much life exists within the game. There are several districts to travel to including Southwark, Westminster, Lambeth, Whitechapel, and the City of London (metropolitan area). Travel can be done by train, fast travel via landmarks, or even using carriages, marking the first time Assassin's Creed has an actual traffic and vehicle system to work with while in town. As the first AC title featuring dual protagonists in the same era, Syndicate does a lot to switch things up for players. Both characters serve as the focus for the general narrative. At any time in the menu, you'll be able to switch between the two while out in the open world, and each of them have unique content to tackle. Essentially two sides of the same coin, the Frye twins have varying approaches and mindsets when taking on obstacles but still seek the same result. With Jacob being the more hard-headed, brutish assassin who seems to relish his time getting into brawls and sharing a pint with commoners in the pubs, many of his ventures tend to have a more over-the-top flair to them. Evie, on the other hand, is clearly the more rational and logical twin, focusing on hatching clever plots to accomplish her long-term goals. In the end, a sledgehammer is sometimes more effective than a scalpel, and vice-versa -- so the twins will have to rely on each other to successfully overthrow the Templars. I rather enjoyed the dynamic between the Fryes. It's a change of pace for the series, and it's refreshing to have a female assassin put in the spotlight. Jacob's brash and devil-may-care attitude works well with Evie's stoic and uncompromising demeanor, which often times conflicts with her brother's spontaneous behavior. Essentially, it's a buddy-assassin plot, and it works quite well. These characters are invested, but still manage to find time to make jokes at the expense of their sibling. Given how expansive London is -- more than three times the size of Paris from Assassin's Creed Unity -- the twins will have a lot of ground to cover in the open world. Eventually, they'll gain access to a personal train which serves as a mobile command center for their operation. As the train makes its rounds, they'll be able plan their next move and ride the railway to missions. During their exploits in London, the Fryes will come across many important figures who have their own stake in the city, and they'll come to rely on the two assassins for assistance. From Alexander Graham Bell -- who builds a rope-launcher that allows the twins to scale rooftops and make zip-lines -- to Charles Dawrin, Charles Dickens, and even the infamous Jack the Ripper; the Assassins will come across many allies and foes on the streets, and they've all got their own ambitions in mind. But the twins won't be able to succeed on their own. With the many gangs and factions around London made up of citizens frustrated with feeling powerless, Jacob and Evie will have to win them over in order loosen the tight grip the Templars have over the city. As you retake areas of London from the Templars and gangs, key leaders will make themselves available and offer assistance. In Sequence 3 of the campaign, Evie forms an alliance with Clara O'Dea, the leader of a gang of children who've been used by the corrupt factory supervisors and seek their own way of life away from controlling adults. Each key figure within the different districts of London has a relationship with the Fryes, and doing missions and side-quests for them will strengthen their bond and unlock new gear and valuables. Over time, cash made by your network of gangs will be kicked back to the Fryes. It's a clever way to work key characters into the core progression. In previous titles, most of the advancement was done in menus and general side-missions, so incorporating character growth along with the related content makes the progression feel as though you're having a deeper impact. As always, the assassins will have several areas of the game world to conquer, and completing side-objectives and story missions are the best way to do so. In Syndicate, however, it feels as though there's a much greater level of variety for the side-missions. With the lack of multiplayer and co-op modes, this gave the developers resources to flesh out the world with side-events and points of interests to explore. For instance, instead of going around and tailing contacts, Jacob can compete in local fight clubs to strengthen bonds with allies. As you accomplish missions and side-quests, you'll gain experience to level up and acquire skill points to spend in the universal skill tree. Skills range from buffing melee attacks, eagle vision effective, upgrades to the arsenal, lockpicking, store discounts, and boosts to the economy. When you acquire more resources and control more of London, the assassins can spend their cash on new items, armor, and weapons. Given the era, the Fryes will have to be far more practical in their approach to carrying out their missions and assassinations. With great swords, hammers, and crossbows now considered antiqued in mid-1800s London, and many of which would get people arrested for possession, concealed weapons were a major part of self-defense in urban life. Between the standard cane sword (a short sword hidden in the shaft of a cane), daggers, brass knuckles, pistols and revolvers, bombs, poison, and the tried-and-true hidden blade, the concealed weapons add personality to Syndicate and feature an added level of customization, which also speaks to the increasingly modernized era. As covered in my last article, the combat system has been overhauled. It's now far more active. While Unity experimented with some new ideas, Syndicate advances things quite a bit. Given how easily players could abuse certain skills and rewards during combat, the developers felt it was time to try and switch things up. Here, battles prompt players to go more on the offensive, as enemies now only attack when they seen an opening and guard more frequently. Players will have to use stuns and guard-breaks to open up these defenses, all the while using parries and their side-arms (knives, revolvers, bombs) to manage multiple foes. The combat felt much more challenging this time around, and I was surprised at how tense things got. Heavier enemies in particular take a lot longer to bring down. Unfortunately, I was concerned with the overall technical performance of the game. There were several instances of texture and environmental objects fading in, along with NPC characters popping into view, and some slight frame rate dips throughout my preview session. While this title is in a much better state than Unity was last year at launch, I do hope that the devs can iron out the issues. Given how rich the setting is -- they nailed the atmosphere and tone of the era -- it would be a shame if these technical hiccups persist in the final release. Graphical worries notwithstanding, I was largely pleased with Assassin's Creed Syndicate. This is very much a dream setting for fans, myself included, and to see it all realized so vividly was great. From the bustling streets filled with carriages, to the back alleys full of criminals and roughnecks looking for their next target, the atmosphere in Victorian-era London is the strongest an AC game has had in a long time. I'm looking forward to my trip back to the foggy city, but I do hope they'll fix the kinks. This is one era that deserves the best the developers have got.
Preview photo
City of London, City of London
With October nearly here, it's about that time for Ubisoft to release another entry in its annual time-traveling trek through history. While Assassin's Creed has had highs and lows, no one can deny it's one of the few series ...

Destiny is looking better than ever after one week of The Taken King

Sep 21 // Alissa McAloon
Rather than draw background from the original hodgepodge of a story, The Taken King builds off the plot from The Dark Below expansion. After killing Crota in the Crota's End raid, the Hive prince's daddy Oryx is out for revenge. Oryx stomps into the solar system with a massive spaceship and an army of Taken soldiers. The return of the Hive monarchy also means Eris Morn is once again a major player, and she's somehow gone even further off the deep end this time around. The difficulty of The Taken King spans largely from Oryx's Taken army. The Taken are just that; familiar enemies that have been stolen and corrupted by Oryx to present new abilities and new challenges. Taken Phalnaxes now fire bursts of energy from their shields that send you flying through the air, and sometimes to your death. Taken Psyons spontaneously divide and multiply, and Taken Minotaurs are invisible. And yes, Invisible Minotaurs are just about as terrifying as you'd think. Additionally, Oryx's army has invaded Destiny's year one content. While running strike playlists, the enemies will sometimes be replaced with their Taken variants. You'll be spending a lot of your time running strikes to grind up your light level, and Taken invasions thankfully keep that from getting dull. The first few minutes of The Taken King introduce more narrative bliss to Destiny than the game saw in its entire year-one cycle. Characters that once only populated the tower and sold the occasional item now drive the story of Destiny forward. Bungie finally took full advantage of the vocal talent it had on roster by letting Nathan Fillion's character Cayde-6 take point. Cayde's screw-the-rules approach to taking on Oryx often clashes with the more uptight ideas of the Warlock and Titan vanguard. This bit of rebellion propels the story forward and makes the whole experience way more engaging than Destiny's original "select mission, shoot aliens, don't ask questions" approach to storytelling. Aside from the overhauled light level system, the best change to come to Destiny year two is how missions are handled. Before, any story mission was just highlighted on the world map, while multi-part quests were handed out as bounties. Some of the early plot missions are still delivered this way, but the majority of missions are instead given as quests. A new quest tab in the menu is home to a variety of quests that range from crucible objectives to extended story missions. Exotic weapon quests now show up here, rather than taking up a precious bounty slot. Quests are usually multi-step experiences that require players to complete an objective and then report back to a character in the Tower or Reef. The system works wonderfully to deliver a steady stream of objectives and direction without being intrusive or demanding. The new subclasses are also pretty cool. I main a Warlock and the Stormcaller class is almost too much fun. It's hard to resist cackling like an idiot when your Warlock is gliding around chaining lightning bolts between enemies. I haven't been able to Stormcall in PvP yet without getting my butt handed to me, but I'm sure someone a bit more skilled could easily dominate with it. The Titan's Sunbreaker class is just as fun. Hurling flaming hammers at enemies, both in PvE and PvP, can quickly turn the tide of battle in your favor. I still haven't rolled a Hunter, but I've been in fireteams with some using the new Nightstalker class. Their super ability, Shadowshot, allows them to silence, slow, and tether enemies to a fixed point. Used in conjunction with any of the other two new subclasses, Shadowshot is a thing of beauty. So far, The Taken King has brought a lot of improvements to the overall Destiny experience. If you haven't taken the leap and tried Destiny yet, now might be the time to do it. I know I'm a bit more in love with the game than Chris Carter, but maybe this will be the expansion to change his mind. His review will be coming in the near future, but in the mean time, check out Destructoid's reviews for Destiny and its first two expansions, The Dark Below and House of Wolves.
Destiny: The Taken King photo
Warlock is still the best class
It's almost been one week since Oryx got his claws into Destiny and things couldn't be better. The Taken King expansion, along with the 2.0 patch released earlier on, reworked Destiny's entire leveling system and quest progr...

Pokken Tournament photo
Pokken Tournament

Pokken Tournament is a fun, deep little brawler

Hands-on during TGS
Sep 21
// Chris Carter
I'm still out here in Japan to cover TGS, and even though this is just my first time in the country, I'm already itching to come back. You only need to walk a few blocks to see video game and anime references everywhere, as T...

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