Extremely Angry Pirate Cervantes Revealed For Soulcalibur VI

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 22:10

Every single returning Soulcalibur VI character so far has leaked early and Cervantes is no exception. Bandai Namco has decided to stop holding the door closed despite everyone knowing Cervantes is behind it and has released a trailer for the undead pirate's appearance in Soulcalibur VI.

Cervantes is one of the former wielders of the evil Soul Edge, which has given him everlasting life, though that matters less in a reboot. Cervantes is not DLC and will be included in the base roster of the game, making Tira the only announced DLC character so far. Judging from the initial leak that revealed Cervantes, it seems likely Raphael is due to be revealed next.

Soulcalibur VI releases on October 19 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

NBA 2K19 Review - Another Year, Another Baller

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 14:00

Every year, NBA 2K comes around to hype up basketball fans for the upcoming season and provide an avenue for living out dreams of dominating the court; this year’s iteration is no different in that regard. NBA 2K19 dishes out what you'd expect from the franchise: accessible yet deep core mechanics that often work just right and occasionally falter. Beyond that, there’s a full roster of ways to enjoy the sport thanks to a robust package of game modes. Unfortunately, microtransactions loom over everything, much like last year’s game, with a problematic system of virtual currency. Still, 2K19 remains an admirable representation of basketball itself.

NBA 2K19 is a basketball simulation at its heart. As with previous games, you're given nearly full control of footwork, ball handling, and defensive maneuvers with the Pro Stick scheme that puts both analog sticks to use. If there's a fundamental move in the sport of basketball, chances are you can pull it off in the game. Moreover, it's advantageous to understand when these fundamentals are most effective. For example, driving to the basket from the post with a quick quarter-circle on the right stick in the proper direction could help you blow by an inside defender; if a big stands in your way in the paint, knowing how to put up a floater gives you a better chance for a bucket than a simple layup. Pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops are simple to draw up and an important tool for executing plays, but they don't guarantee success on every possession; the best players have to adapt to how the field develops.

Much of the game is in your hands, from game plan customization when controlling an entire team to execution on the court when assuming the role as an individual player. It induces a high skill ceiling, especially when playing competitively. Momentum is also manifested in the new Takeover mechanic; if a player catches fire, a few extra moves become available and slight stat boosts are applied for a short time, depending on the player's archetype/position.

We're still getting used to seeing LeBron James in purple and gold.

While it's good to know that you have so much control considering the potential for challenge, it's disappointing when things break down. Of course, you should be punished for mistakes, like over-committing on defense while the opponent exploits an opening with a quick pivot or cut towards the basket. But frustration starts to settle in when there's a lack of responsiveness. Cutting across to lead the defender into a crowd is smart basketball, and if you're the defender, getting stuck on other players without controls appropriately responding to a change in direction highlights some inconsistencies and overall sluggishness in player movement. There are more hits than misses in how NBA 2K19 functions, but the times when it falls apart hold it back from true greatness.

Much of the game is in your hands, from game plan customization when controlling an entire team to execution on the court when assuming the role as an individual player. It induces a high skill ceiling, especially when playing competitively.

NBA 2K19 has the advantage of including top personalities from professional sports media; this includes renowned sideline reporter David Aldridge and the iconic voice of sportscaster Kevin Harlan. It's unfortunate, however, that while 2K has TNT's charismatic crew of knuckleheads from Inside The NBA--Kenny Smith, Shaquille O'Neal, and Ernie Johnson--their part in the game's presentation fails to capture what makes them great broadcasters (it's also missing Charles Barkley). Generally, commentary gets redundant even with specific anecdotes and callouts to players' history. The soundtrack curated by hip-hop artist Travis Scott includes a few of his own songs along with other artists/groups like SOB x RBE, Migos, P-Lo, and Toro y Moi make for a fun vibe throughout the game.

As for game modes, MyCareer takes the spotlight again, combining a personal narrative and an RPG-like progression system around a player you create. Not only do you have to choose your position wisely, but you'll pick out a primary and secondary skillset that carves out specific strengths for your player, much like character classes in an RPG. This new story, dubbed The Way Back, tries for a more heartfelt tone this time around. Your created player goes undrafted after college, and you have to prove yourself in China and in the NBA G-League--it's worth noting that the chapters in China feature authentic Mandarin dialogue and commentary. An old college teammate acts as a throughline, drama follows you everywhere, and betrayal is just around the corner. While it's more gripping than last year's journey at times, it often falls flat due to nonsensical story beats with superficial drama permeating pivotal moments. Despite this, the performances and voice acting from the likes of Haley Joel Osment and Anthony Mackie are top-notch and frequently strike a natural conversational tone; it's a good execution of a bad script. At the very least, it breathes life into your player, providing a backstory that's carried on throughout your time in MyCareer.

There's something special about having your player succeed on an NBA team.

The story mode is just an appetizer in MyCareer, and if you want to get straight to the main course, you can skip cutscenes and simulate outcomes for games. After signing to an NBA team and getting a house to call your own, you're dropped into a slick MMO-like social hub known as The Neighborhood with random players online. From here you have access to several ways to build your player and ball up. Continuing the journey through the NBA will put you through full NBA seasons that sprinkle in a bit of personality by incorporating events from The Way Back--this includes sideline interviews and faux-taped conversations that look true-to-life. You'll work your way to the starting lineup over time after riding the bench for limited minutes on the floor, and it feels pretty good to see my player work up the ranks of the Lakers roster and drop dimes to LeBron James for clutch baskets in close games. Between each game, there are also team practices where you run drills to fine-tune your ability to execute in certain in-game situations, driving home that sense of being part of the team.

Building out your player's stats and rising up in overall rating is satisfying nonetheless, especially since you can't strictly buy your way to maxed-out stats.

Outside of becoming an NBA star, you'll use The Neighborhood to customize your player with sweet tattoos, new kicks, or fresh outfits at shops. More importantly, street ball in The Playground has random roaming players or squads matched up in 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 pick up games. These are a ton of fun with a grounded atmosphere that'll feel home to amateur ballers, but there aren't sensible matchmaking tools to help players join in a snappy way. You can hop into the Jordan Rec Center, which is just as enjoyable, to get matched up, but it can take a while to get going.

The MyCareer ecosystem all feeds into character progression, so you're constantly working towards something and earning rewards whether you spend time in the NBA season or grind away in street ball. But at the end of the day, virtual currency (VC) rules everything around NBA 2K19--VC is used to upgrade stats, buy cosmetics, and purchase boost cards that provide a temporary ratings bump. Despite a slight shift towards rewarding those who grind for VC compared to 2K18, the system still feels as if it prefers you engage in microtransactions and buy VC with real money. It's also a bit tasteless that players can wager VC in basketball matches in the lavish casino-like Ante-Up building that is bordering on gambling.

Building out your player's stats and rising up in overall rating is satisfying nonetheless, especially since you can't strictly buy your way to maxed-out stats. When the general experience bar (MyPoints Cap Breaker) fills up, you unlock the potential for higher ratings in certain skills. But you're required to spend VC to actually acquire those stats, as if VC were skill points.

For something a little different, MyGM offers a visual novel-esque story experience that picks up right where 2K18 left off. It takes your player model and puts them into the role of general manager to essentially build a team from scratch (ahem, or basically bring back the Sonics). MyGM can be a nice change of pace with some hilariously hammy moments and conversation options, but be prepared to read a lot of inane dialogue as none of it is voice acted. You'll make personnel decisions and manage the team's location, but it's less than glamorous with a few inconsequential playable scenarios on occasion.

For those who are into card collecting and building a fantasy team, the MyTeam mode is another avenue to play ball. Here, you start with a modest pool of players from a few card packs to create a lineup, then use them in challenges scenarios and games against NBA teams. You'll earn MT coins, a currency only earned by playing, which is used to purchase additional card packs. But because you can buy card packs with VC, a lot of the grind can be undercut. Aside from that, an extra layer of objectives are set to earn tokens which give you options to pick up NBA stars from the past. It's another significant time investment, but it's neat to make the most of what you're given under the mode's unusual circumstances.

It's impressive that the game of basketball has translated to controllers and screens in the way it has. If you want to immerse yourself in the sport and culture, NBA 2K19 has you covered with a breadth of content. But even that has its limitations after several years of iterations. Although those willing to grind for everything will eventually get rewarded, the system of VC still comes off as exploitative. But there's a lot of fun to be had in NBA 2K19 despite its flaws, especially if you have a strong love for the sport.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 01:35

In the latest monthly developer diary for the upcoming Forza Horizon 4, developer PlayGround Games introduced a crossover with Microsoft's preeminent shooter franchise for the open-world racing game. Who says Mario gets to be the only mascot that takes to the road?

While simply adding the Warthog, Halo's most famous utility vehicle, would have probably satiated fans, PlayGround really went above and beyond with the massive amount of Halo content added. 

The Halo-themed skybox sits above you while Cortana chats your ear off about the banshees pursuing you and flying around while you drive. The race, much like the races against planes and boats from the Forza Horizon game, pits your Warthog against a Pelican gunship.

Your avatar becomes Master Chief in this mission, which I'm really hoping also carries over to the main game.

Forza Horizon 4 releases on Xbox One and PC on October 2.

Categories: Games

First Trailer For Cygames' Action Fantasy Game Project Awakening Showcases Fantasy Gameplay

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 00:30

Earlier this year, we reported about a closed door meeting where we got to see Cygames' Project Awakening for the first time. Ahead of TGS this year, Cygames has released a trailer for the action RPG title that we saw for the first time at E3, and it looks even more impressive than it did then.

The trailer shows a fantasy knight fighting a scaled beast inside a coliseum, preceded by a voice over booming platitudes in an echoed wave. The fight scenes are intercut by other cutscenes from the game and the trailer ends with the main character standing in front of a mist-filled horizon where shadows of giant armored enemies slowly approach.

Details are sparse about the game, but a previous listing of the game's staff showed talent from games like Metal Gear Solid V included. While the game has been announced for PlayStation 4, I have my suspicions after seeing it in person that PS4 would be ambitious at best.

Project Awakening currently has no publicly known target date.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 23:15

Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja have announced today that their newest fighting game, Dead or Alive 6, will be releasing on February 15. A new trailer released to announce the date shows some returning characters as scenes from the game's story mode, as well.

The trailer shows returning characters Ayane, Marie Rose, and Honoka, who will be joining the game's base roster. Nyotengu and Phase 4 will be DLC, with the former being a pre-order bonus and the latter being in the game's special edition. It is unknown if they will be added to the game as separate purchases, as well.

The trailer also shows the game's story mode, which looks to be fairly similar to Dead or Alive 5's, which the director commented to us was "very hard to understand," so it seems likely it will undergo some structural changes.

Dead or Alive 6 releases on February 15 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

Left Alive's New Trailer Showcases The Three Playable Protagonists

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 17:18

A year after its reveal at Tokyo Game Show, the Square Enix survival shooter Left Alive is still a mysterious project we don't know a ton about. The latest trailer introduces us to the characters and story driving the action.

Led by Armored Core director Toshifumi Nabeshima and former Metal Gear artist Yoji Shinkawa, Left Alive is a Front Mission spin-off set during a war-ravaged future where mechs roam the streets taking out anyone stupid enough to walk into their crosshairs. Players take the role of three different characters struggling to survive the Invasion of Novo Slava.

Left Alive comes out February 28 in Japan, but won't head to North America until later in 2019.

Categories: Games

Latest Sekiro Trailer Shows Off Tenchu-Like Stealth Mechanics

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 16:45

Amid the flood of early Tokyo Game Show trailers in advance of the show, Activision and From Software dropped another look at their punishing ninja game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. 

The latest trailer serves as a strong showcase for the gameplay, showing the revenge driven shinobi sneaking through environments with the help of his grappling hook, grabbing a badass looking sword known as The Mortal Blade, and facing off against a variety of big baddies. Check out that blood mist! 

Sekrio: Shadows Die Twice releases on March 22 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. To read more about the game, check out Ben Reeves' hands-on preview from Gamescom

Categories: Games

New Kingdom Hearts III Trailer Featuring Big Hero 6

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 15:46

Square Enix has released a new Kingdom Hearts III trailer before this year's Tokyo Game Show, and it features Baymax and Hiro from Big Hero 6, showcasing what is a theme of the game – teamwork.

Kingdom Hearts III comes out here on January 29 on PS4 and Xbox One. For more on the title, check our time talking with director Tetsuya Nomura.

Categories: Games

Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review - Soar High

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 14:30

Valkyria Chronicles 4 marks a forceful but necessary return to the franchise's strategy roots, much in the vein of resetting a broken bone. The most recent Valkyria Chronicles game in the industry's memory is Valkyria Revolution, which had a decidedly action-RPG outlook and ultimately paid the price for its experimentation. Revolution was a jagged pill to swallow, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 more than redeems the spin-off’s mistakes. It retreads the central thematic conflict of the original Valkyria Chronicles, which makes for a story that is poignant and comedic in turns without losing sight of what made the series so popular to begin with: guts.

You're deposited straight into the hot-seat of the Second Europan War as a Federation soldier, Claude Wallace, with your rag-tag bunch of friends including an adorable dog and a number of potential anime love interests. Unsurprisingly, your enemies are the Imperial Alliance, who all sport quasi-Germanic or Russian names and have an overwhelmingly burgundy color scheme for their uniforms. Any real world resemblances here are likely intentional; this is a fictional take on a world war that we've all read about in some way, shape or form in our own history books. Valkyria Chronicles has always drawn from a hodge-podge of WWI and WWII to create its own canon, and that mix is more pronounced than ever here. The timeline broadly overlaps with that of the first Valkyria Chronicles game, so be prepared to notice mentions of conflicts that series veterans will already be more than familiar with.

The similarities between the two games are much more substantial than that, however. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is alike in almost every single way to the original except in name. The series continues to stay true to its blend of classic artistic European landscapes; there's rolling hills, snowy mountains, and vast bodies of water. The gameplay is still a unique take on traditional strategy RPGs which does away with the grid movement system of stalwarts like Fire Emblem, instead preferring to rely on a mix of turn-based tactics and real-time movement and fighting, creating ample room for reactive play and tense skirmishes. You deploy your troops in advantageous positions, move them until their action points are depleted, and fire at the enemy--it's a satisfying cycle.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 also hones in on the way that the war affects a core group of childhood friends and former innocents, simultaneously decrying violence whilst also thrusting you headfirst into situations where it's unavoidable. It's in those moments, where you're backed into a corner with nowhere to go but through faceless enemy ranks, that the senselessness of the conflict really stands out, and those are some of the game's strongest moments.

Accordingly, making sure that you have a squad that will be able to survive those skirmishes is key to your enjoyment of Valkyria Chronicles 4. You'll take command of a whole host of different soldiers throughout your journey, and each of them is special in their own way. Whether it's a brash Shocktrooper who gets an attack buff when he's around the ladies, or a timid Sniper who can't quite shoot straight when she's alone, each person that you deliver orders to is unique in some way. Soldiers have a chance of activating Potentials based on those personality quirks, which are buffs or debuffs affecting anything from unit accuracy to how terrified they are in the heat of the moment. This leads to plenty of friendly chatter on the battlefield that adds depth to your interactions with troops; in the absence of a formal social link system, these moments feel honest and raw when set against their backdrop of percussive gunfire and chaos.

Chaos is really the name of the game when it comes to the broader military campaign, and your first few fights will probably feel that way until you get used to how the game's battle system handles. Valkyria Chronicle 4's first few hours serve as a lengthy tutorial, and you'll still be learning things even after you're multiple chapters into the main story. Troops work the way you'd expect them to--snipers, anti-tank units, and grenadiers do what they say on the tin, and there will be almost no surprises to those who have played similar Japanese-flavored military titles before. Mechanics are built around things like cover, return fire, and ammo management, and balancing all of those are key to victory. There are some improvements from the original Valkyria Chronicles, primarily in troop variety and quality-of-life niceties, but it isn't a significant overhaul. Getting accustomed to the way the quirks of your soldiers work in battle is the primary challenge of the game, and figuring out just how you can push the combat system to its limits is another. Those who know the system will find it easy to create overpowered combinations of troops, which can trivialize the early to mid-game experience to a point, if you can be clever enough.

The overarching chaos also comes from the enemy's single-minded pursuit of the Federation's destruction, and you'll meet this beast at every turn possible. The Alliance is both an immediate, militaristic threat and an ideological one that overshadows every encounter and every non-combat interlude. It's not just a matter of turning the tide on the SPRG field and winning. The narrative drives you into increasingly hostile and inhospitable situations with odds that appear ever tipped in the Alliance's favor.

You don't have the luxury of picking which battles to fight, and loading into a battle with flames as high as a barn licking at your troops and screaming coming through the static whirr of your communications device is confronting each and every time. On Nintendo Switch, HD rumble is employed smartly with vibration patterns changing depending on the type of weapon used, and sounding off both on impact and when you fire. Immersion can be affected somewhat by small issues with hitboxes, pathing, and line of sight displaying oddly in cramped conditions, but these instances don't really detract from the weighty atmosphere that the game works hard to perpetuate.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 really excels in those sobering moments where it makes tough choices and leaves you to pick up the pieces. You feel like a cog in the Federation war machine because you are merely a cog in the war machine, and the story does a good job of hashing out age-old debates around ethics in wartime, necessary sacrifices, and whether or not there are truly any victors. That being said, the day to day operations of the game doesn't always carry the same big-picture weight, and the pacing is stronger for it. Much of your active time will be spent embroiled in a military conflict of some kind; your superiors point your squad in the direction of something that needs killing, and you do it. Some may see this as a lack of opportunity for true role-playing, but the absence of freedom of choice is arguably necessary in a game where the military hierarchy is a key component of the history that it seeks to reinterpret.

Ultimately, this is a return to form for the Valkyria Chronicles series as a whole. It stays so true to the franchise's first iteration that it'll feel as if almost no time has passed in the decade or so since the original game first came out. In revisiting the concerns and the environments of the first, it makes the most of those parallels and invites comparison in a way that highlights its strengths. Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn't necessarily tell a new tale, but it doesn't have to; for all of its clichés and expected twists, there's a charm to the game's unwillingness to let up as it drives you and your friends forward at a rapid clip towards its bittersweet end.

Categories: Games

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Review - Guerilla Girl

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 14:00

The Lara Croft who appears in Shadow of the Tomb Raider has made a ton of discoveries, lost a lot of friends, and killed countless living beings. She has incredible drive and self-confidence, and her enemies fear her. It's taken a lot for the character to get to this point, and if you've been along for the ride since her excellent revival in 2013's Tomb Raider, you may be pleased to hear that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the same style of experience we first saw in 2013, only bigger and with more added to it. In fact, there's seemingly very little, if anything, that's changed dramatically or been discarded from the formula. But while that means Shadow retains a lot of the components that give Tomb Raider that fantastic, timeless sense of wonder and discovery, it also means that Tomb Raider's interpretation of blockbuster action-adventure mechanics is starting to feel half a decade old.

It's a little unnerving to spend time with the seasoned Lara of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, because her experience has changed her into a hardened, obsessive, and selfish individual. She's reached true colonizer form, determined to get the game's McGuffin, blind to the collateral damage, much to the concern of her lovable partner Jonah. Her demeanor is reflected in a renewed focus on stealth, where the new mechanics and the jungle setting give Lara the opportunity for Predator-style ambushes. She can cover herself in mud for additional camouflage, string enemies up from a tree, and craft Fear Arrows, which cause humans to freak out and attack each other. You're also now able to transition back into stealth after being discovered, provided you can get away and break line of sight. There's a big emphasis on these new abilities, as tooltips throughout the entire game will continually remind you that they exist. But while her expanded skillset gives you more options to confidently and quietly hunt everyone on the map, it also highlights the cracks and inconsistencies in Tomb Raider's enemy logic and the limitations of the game's relatively unsophisticated core stealth mechanics.

Sound still does not play a significant factor in Tomb Raider's stealth. While firing at someone and throwing objects will draw attention, moving through rustling vegetation and making loud footsteps don't seem to phase anyone even though the game suggests that it will, nor will taking out a soldier right behind another with his back turned, but those rules also seem malleable. There were times when my attempted stealth approach went wrong, a gunfight broke out, and after the dust settled I was shocked to discover an additional patrol of guards in the same area, only a few seconds away from the action, carrying on with a conversation as if nothing had happened.

Lara's Survival Instincts ability once again will give you information on which enemies are safe to quietly take down without alerting others, but it can also reveal puzzling inconsistencies in enemy AI. There were too many times where I was able to get away with taking out a guard with one of his coworkers staring right at us, only meters away. Other times, the game will tell you it's unsafe to take out an enemy because of someone with line-of-sight halfway across the arena. You can't always trust your own perception of the map, even if it seems obvious, and using Survival Instincts feels necessary to constantly verify that the game agrees with your idea of what is safe or unsafe--expect to be taking out a lot of bright yellow men in monochromatic environments. When playing on Tomb Raider's hard combat difficulty, which removes enemy highlights, this uncertain behavior makes stealth tougher than you might think.

The new abilities also have their quirks. Though camouflaging yourself with mud rightly makes you harder to notice, you can abuse it to the extent where you can roll right under the nose of a guard--it's thrilling for you, but makes you pity the enemy. Mud is also typically available at the onset of major stealth sections, or very close to hiding spots that require it, making the mechanic feel more like an innate ability rather than a tactical option you need to seek out. Fear arrows have disappointingly varied results, too. More than a few times I would find myself stalking a patrol of men from a tree, shoot a fear arrow at the shotgun-toting soldier, and watch as he proceeded to miss every point-blank shot.

There's still some satisfaction to be gained in Shadow's stealth, though. Waiting with bated breath for patrols to move on, and figuring out the order in which to eliminate guards like some kind of violent logic puzzle, is still enjoyable. But the new mechanics don't really add anything significantly interesting to that baseline experience--the big spotlight on them suggests a more sophisticated stealth system that isn't there. You get the feeling that Lara is a cold-blooded predator, that much is true. But it's not satisfying when the prey is so dumb and easy.

There's a cutscene in Shadow of the Tomb Raider that mirrors Lara's first kill in her 2013 outing--in both, she's caught off-guard by a soldier and is thrown to the ground. But despite being at a severe disadvantage, the 2018 Lara confidently blocks and counters his attacks, and when she eventually kills him, there's no emotion on her face. She barely even sighs. The game wants you to know that this Lara is fearsome. However, this depiction is betrayed by her actual abilities in the game's toe-to-toe combat, where it's often tough to get Lara to act like that efficient killing machine.

The game's guerilla angle calls for more close-and-personal encounters, and the greater number of small combat arenas means that when things get hostile, soldiers close the distance quickly. Additionally, there are new melee enemies who focus on rushing you down with overwhelming numbers. Tomb Raider's existing combat mechanics do not service this particular style of hostilities well. Lara's dodges are still the hurried scuttle and roll from her early days as an amateur survivor, and her climbing axe is still largely ineffective as a melee option--most enemies will simply dodge her knockdown attempts, especially on harder combat difficulties. Melee doesn't become a viable close-quarters tactic until you unlock a dodge and counter skill later in the game, and most of the weapons in Lara's arsenal are inefficient as close-range keep-away tools until the events of the story give you a shotgun.

Additionally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider still doesn't communicate damage direction--if you're getting overwhelmed and are being attacked from the sides or behind, you won't know exactly where from, meaning it's more difficult to make smart evasive maneuvers on the fly. With so few certainties and reliable tools to assist you in close-quarters combat, these encounters typically result in making Lara scurry clumsily in whichever direction doesn't have enemies coming from it and frantically trying to create enough space to effectively use your weapons.

When Shadow throws you into its few mid-range combat encounters, though, the difference becomes clear. Fighting suppressing fire, scampering from cover to cover, throwing improvised Molotov cocktails, and pinging out headshot after headshot after headshot feels empowering. The combat mechanics feel much more suited to these scenarios, as was the case in previous games, and it's only here where Lara can feel like the ice-cold killer queen she has become.

But the game keeps reverting back to close-quarters encounters, and there is one battle that's particularly frustrating and seemingly never-ending. One enemy will charge at you relentlessly, teleport if you create distance, and has a large, damaging area-of-effect attack which Lara's double dodge will only just avoid. Other enemies in this battle can also, unfairly, knock you off the side of the level, but you can't do the same to them. The environment is not your friend, and it's an infuriating way to remember a grand adventure.

What the environments are, though, is beautiful. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is nothing if not a gorgeous game, and it features some stellar level design, both aesthetically and mechanically. Exploring the impressively dense locations in Mexico and Peru is a joy. Jungles feel imposing and endless, ruined tombs are intricately detailed, hub cities are enormous and lively, and it's easy to be completely distracted by discovering new paths and areas. Hunting down the game's artifacts, treasure chests, and numerous other collectibles--however meaningless you might think they are--is also still enjoyable, as they give you a reason to go sightseeing. There's a lot of emphasis on underwater exploration in Shadow, too. And while underwater sections can be frustrating as part of story missions (instant-kill piranhas that require you to hide in seaweed get old fast), it's hard to resist swan-diving into a huge body of water when you get a chance to explore on your own.

But it's Shadow of the Tomb Raider's numerous challenge tombs and crypts that are the undisputed stars of the show. The impressive design of ancient mechanisms and the obscure solutions to using them and unlocking the path forward feel amazing to decipher after minutes of head-scratching. Some of the answers can appear straightforward if you've tackled a number of these in the past, but it's always satisfying to watch the complex parts come together regardless. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also rewards you for completing these activities with exclusive skills and gear, making them more than worth your time.

Traversing the treacherous environments in these tombs, as well as during the game's story missions, is thrilling in its own right too. Despite there always being an expected sense of peril, the designs of Lara's foolhardy paths between locations never gets old--there's always some kind of dicey maneuver at a terrifying height that makes you hold your breath.

But these exciting traversal puzzles also feature their own unique moments of frustration, because though the locations have changed since 2013, Lara's platforming ability has seemingly not. Her jumps across gaps still feel floaty and inconsistent, meaning she'll sometimes get a mysteriously divine boost in the air to make sure she latches onto a faraway edge, but sometimes she might not grab onto a ledge at all even if she's easily cleared the gap. The same goes for tool-related maneuvers--there were enough instances where Lara completely (and amusingly) whiffed a grapple axe or zip-line that caused her to plummet to her death, prompting me to check that my controller was still connected and that I still had my primary motor functions. Her jumps and traversal maneuvers still feel loose in general and lack a strong sense of weight, which makes them feel imprecise--the way she unconvincingly flops her climbing axes directly into solid rock faces after jumping onto them always raises an eyebrow.

Altogether, these elements bring a dire uncertainty to Shadow's more demanding traversal sections--every time you try and make a jump, it's a gamble. The result you get after jumping the first time might not be the one you're supposed to get. But while that adds to the perilous nature of the task, and everything works out fine most of the time, it's annoying when it doesn't. It's especially demoralizing while playing on the hard exploration difficulty, which completely removes the subtle white paint that hints at the forward path. This difficulty setting is great--having to pay such close attention to your surroundings is engrossing, and there's a small pang of delight and relief every time you discover the first step. But sometimes you'll try a jump, the right jump, and Lara won't latch onto the ledge for whatever reason. Because you don't know any better, it discourages you from trying the jump again until you've pointlessly tried every single other option and decide to come back to it. When you can't completely trust Lara's abilities to jump and grab a ledge that she's supposed to jump and grab, that's a problem. It's these kinds of moments make you incredibly frustrated that Tomb Raider's core platforming mechanics don't seem to have been refined in the past five years.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider adds so many more pieces to the formula of previous games, but there are also so many little things that it just doesn't quite land. The game's obsession with collecting crafting materials has only become more profuse--there are now 21(!) different items to gather--causing everything to seem less valuable and the act of gathering them to be more of a chore. The side quests are poorly paced, as each will lead off with roughly 10 minutes of fetch quests across the game's huge hubs and watching talking heads before getting to the meat of things, making it easy to lose motivation. The game has an option for immersive voiceovers which causes NPCs to speak in their native languages, but Lara continues to speak to everyone in English, which feels like a missed opportunity.

And perhaps most sad of all is the fact that Lara herself, with her single-minded selfishness, is a harder character to empathize with in Shadow. Her attitudes and obsessions are intertwined with the game's plot, and you might find yourself in disagreement with her a lot, which is a big deal when trying to overlook the flaws in her abilities. Jonah is the one you'll be rooting for in this game because he acts as Lara's centre, he'll likely echo a lot of your own sentiments, and he has a more sympathetic arc. It's a shame that the Lara you grew so incredibly fond of in the Tomb Raider reboot, and the scrappy skills you used to help her survive Yamatai, have both grown to be some of the most frustrating parts of her latest adventure. Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes you long for the days of a Lara that was easier to empathize with, where being inexperienced and imprecise made sense, and there was only one crafting resource to gather.

Thankfully, the parts of Tomb Raider that make it really fantastic--uncovering the mystery of ancient ruins, solving impressive challenge tombs, and exploring exotic environments--are still here in Shadow, and they are just as outstanding as they have always been. But the core mechanics that have been with the series for half a decade are starting to show their limitations. Making the journey to Shadow of the Tomb Raider's peaks is certainly an attractive goal, but like the challenging terrain Lara needs to traverse, the path there is getting rougher and more unpredictable.

Categories: Games

Mega Man 11 Introduces The Newest Robot Master Bounce Man

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 18:00

Mega Man 11 is arriving on the scene incredibly soon, to the point where you can download a demo for the three console versions right now. Now Capcom is continuing to rock and roll forward with another new robot master reveal for the game. This time, it's the clown-themed Bounce Man, who you can see in the trailer below, as well as review the robot masters revealed so far.

Bounce Man has an unsurprisingly balloon motif going on in his level and also a genuinely freakish toy frog as a miniboss that I don't want to ever see again.

Mega Man 11 releases on October 2 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Categories: Games

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider's Xbox One X Enhancements Detailed

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 16:00

Square Enix and Microsoft have released a trailer showing the Xbox One X enhancements of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft's upcoming globe-trotting adventure from Eidos Montreal.

Xbox One X enhancements include 4K at a constant 30 FPS, or a framerate mode of 1080p at 60 FPS. If you don't have a 4K TV, you'll still get general visual quality enhancements that aren't available on the base Xbox One. Check out the trailer below.

You can also read Microsoft's post about the enhancements in the game and why the team chose to focus on what they did. Shadow of the Tomb Raider releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 14.

Categories: Games

We Find Out How Star Fox Integrates Into Starlink And How Ubisoft Made The Collaboration Happen

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 13:00

This past E3, Ubisoft’s press conference was full of projects they had already announced beforehand, coming into the show with very little in the way of surprises. As the trailer for their toys-to-life space game Starlink rolled, an update from the game’s fairly featureless announcement the previous year, Ubisoft proved that they did have one more surprise up their sleeves. The beeps and boops coming over the ship’s communicator were instantly recognizable to any classic Star Fox fan, as Nintendo’s vulpine star warrior and his crew joined Starlink in a fairly extensive collaboration.

Since that announcement, Ubisoft has been coy about the game, not divulging too much about the Star Fox integration, or really much about the game itself. Was Star Fox merely a guest that leaned toward a cosmetic and superficial or would he be integrated into the storyline itself? Ubisoft gave me time to sit down with the first chapter of Starlink on the Switch and also talk to the game’s producer Matt Rose about how this collaboration came to be.

The Switch version of the game starts identically to the other versions. A CG cutscene introduces the cast of characters, a Saturday morning cartoon crew of different ages and personalities manning a spaceship and its small cadre of starfighters. The story begins with the father-figure doctor waiting on a delivery from one of their own, a smuggler named Shaid, when she begins taking fire from an unknown enemy. The Starlink crew mans their fighters to help engage, which is where the similarities to the other versions end.

When playing on the Switch, another CG scene intercedes the beginning of the engagement. The Star Fox team, pursuing his rival and criminal Star Wolf, comes across the scene and puts the idea of helping the besieged Starlink crew to a team discussion. After listening for one or two seconds, Fox rushes in anyway, and players take control of the hero of the Lylat system to fight off the enemy invasion.

The Arwing And Fox Toys

While this would have been interesting integration on its own, and certainly far more effort than I would have expected for single-console bonus content, it doesn’t end there. Fox and the Starlink crew are hurled to a foreign planet together, where the two teams work as one to repair their ships and blast off, complete with frequent voice acting and banter between the groups. As Fox blasts back into space in a scene that should set everyone who ever dreamed of breaking through the atmosphere’s hearts aflutter, he realizes that Star Wolf might have something to do with what is happening with the Starlink crew, and volunteers to join in while he pursues his own quest in another CG cutscene.

When I asked if this is the level of integration I should expect for Star Fox within Starlink, I was told it was only the beginning. Not only is Fox a big part of the Starlink storyline, he has his own missions and his own storyline to get through, as well, with some other familiar faces appearing along the way. If the developers are not overstating his role, then Starlink has the makings of being more of a crossover than a host for a cosmetic guest.

You can watch a video below of the game’s introduction and first mission in the commentary-free video below.

When I sat down with Matt Rose about how all this occurred, he was more than happy to tell the story.

“It started at E3 2017, where we announced the game and we had a closed-door demo of the game that we were doing and showing people. A small group of people came by from Nintendo of America and asked if they could see the game and of course we were happy to show it to them. The game was coming out on Nintendo Switch and we hadn’t really demoed for Nintendo people yet. So they came by to take a look and there was very much a poker face as we showed them the game. Then at the end of the demo one of them went, oh do you mind if we bring back a couple more people? And we said yeah, totally, that sounds cool.

“Then they came back and they stared introducing people and were saying, this is the director of Mario Odyssey, here’s the director of Mario Kart 8, here’s ARMs, the creator of Animal Crossing…so we did another demo for the new audience, it did well, and after that they said oh do you mind we come back with a couple more people? So we started going up these ranks and meeting all of these legends and we did four or five demos for them at that E3 and ultimately at the end [Nintendo of America president] Reggie came with another group from NOA and we showed them the game. It went really well and so we thought, okay, something’s gotta be up here, this has been pretty amazing having this kind of interest from Nintendo.

“After that, we started talking with them back and forth and we got an invitation to go out to Kyoto and discuss a potential collaboration, which was kind of a dream come true. Myself and a couple of people from the team got to make that trip to do the pitch to Mr. Miyamoto and, when we arrived, he had brought a few more people than expected. He started introducing everyone else and it turned out to be the entire Japanese side of the Star Fox 1 [SNES] development team still at Nintendo. So we presented the game to them and we presented our ideas for a collaboration. It went really, really well, they loved it, and the rest is history. We started working on that and it was unbelievable to get to reveal that to the world at this past E3.”

Fox's Arwing on the Pedestal

I also asked Rose if meeting Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the most well-known and respected game designers in the history of the industry, was at all intimidating.

“It was extremely intimidating,” Rose said without missing a beat. “He’s such a very, very sharp guy. Incredibly smart, very to the point. When we showed him the game, our creative director was asked a gauntlet of really specific game design questions. He was asking about things like how we were maintaining the sense of speed when blasting off with FOV changes and I guess we answered them well enough to get through. So, yeah, intimidating, but really amazing.”

While the toy ships and pilots are all cross-compatible across every version of the game, Star Fox and his Arwing are the exception. Trying to use them on the Xbox One version only produced an error saying that it wouldn’t work with the game. While I asked if there would be extra content on the Xbox One and PS4 versions to make up for the content the Switch version was getting, Ubisoft demurred and insisted that those versions are complete games, the Switch version just has extra content for Star Fox fans.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch on October 16.

Categories: Games

NBA Live 19 Review -- Dribbling Forward

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 05:01

With tight controls, a more engaging career mode, numerous reasons to invest in your character, and fine attention to detail, NBA Live 19 is a surprisingly big drive forward in many aspects for EA's pro basketball franchise. However, its numerous animation and AI issues and lack of significant updates to Franchise mode make the newest entry ultimately feel like only an iterative update on last year's game.

Basketball is a fast and fluid game, and NBA Live 19 excels in replicating this on the court. The game uses the Real Player Motion technology that EA implemented in Madden NFL 19, and this helps make player movement and animations look better and more realistic. There are a number of impressive details that NBA Live 19 replicates authentically, including the transition from jog to run to sprint, how bodies collide when you drive the lane, and the way a player falls to the ground in embarrassment when they get their ankles broken by a well-timed crossover. Players jockeying for position in the post or making a quick cut to get free for a shot look better than ever, while defenders closely guarding an opponent with their hands replicate the kinds of motions you'd see on TV. What's more, player-specific moves, like Steph Curry's step-back jumpshot and Joel Embiid's windmill dunk are all brought into the game with a fine attention to detail. The player models are for the most part more realistic-looking.

The animations have their ugly side, though. Bounce-passes almost never look right, with the ball zipping to the recipient at an inhumanly fast pace and sometimes at impossible angles. During some free throw animations, the player may grip the ball in a way that science says would prevent them from releasing it cleanly or at all. There are also odd sequences related to AI logic. AI players can make strange decisions like fouling on threes consistently and making obviously errant and silly passes. There were also times when AI players would stand in the paint and get called for three-second violations as if they didn't know it would get whistled. These abnormalities are unfortunately common, and take you out of the game.

On the brighter side, NBA Live 19 impressively captures the atmosphere of professional games and basketball culture in general. In professional games, the crowd noise soars when you make a big shot; shoes squeak as players enter scramble for position; players slam into the stanchion after a big play; and you hear the announcer talking about everyone getting free pizza or tacos if the home team scores X number of points. It's impressively close to what you'd see on an NBA broadcast. Street games also faithfully capture a very different subset of basketball culture. There is something special about playing outdoors, and NBA Live nails the presentation of its blacktop courts and atmosphere of fans crowded around the edges trying to get a glimpse. One of the nice new tweaks is that the camera cuts to a cell phone video of someone in the crowd livestreaming the game after big plays. These changes and improvements contribute to an impressive presentation package that pulls you in.

The controls in NBA Live 19 are relatively simple but contain enough depth to give you ample opportunity to play with your own style. Moving the ball around to create scoring lanes is a fine way to play, but there's room to emphasize more stylish and exciting moves. Ankle-breaking crossovers, behind-the-back dribbles, step-backs, and spin moves can all be performed with the flick of a stick in the right direction at the right time. It's also nice that the game recognizes when you're in the paint or when a hole opens up, and it guides you toward making the right play under the circumstances at hand. In past games, you might have pulled up for a jumper two feet away from the rack, but now the game better understands where you are in the key and turns it into a layup or dunk. Executing a play requires strategy and timing, and it all feels fluid as your teammates will, for the most part, make smart cuts to get free. It's up to you to recognize those cuts and runs and make a pass at the right time. NBA Live 19's on-the-court gameplay is the best it has ever been.

NBA Live 19's broadcast presentation is one of its strongest components. The game continues to use the ESPN license, which brings the big-time sports network's graphics, trademark music, and commentator Jalen Rose to the game for halftime highlights and breakdowns in a further bid for realism that enhances the experience. What's more, EA brought in a new commentary team for NBA Live 19 composed of Ed Cohen, who does play-by-play for the New York Knicks in real life, and former Chicago Bulls player Jay Williams. They have a natural-sounding and mostly pleasing back-and-forth, with Cohen making precise comments about statistics, positions, and schemes in his play-by-play role and Williams on color making quips that draw from his years of playing experience. The commentary eventually grows stale, sadly, and this is particularly apparent when playing in Franchise mode where you stick with the same players all the time. Did you know that Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes grew up in Australia playing rugby, and that contributes to the physical nature of his play style? You will, as Williams repeats this line again and again. As it does with the Madden series, EA plans to update NBA Live 19's commentary throughout the season to keep things fresh, and that's fortunate because new and different lines are what the game needs.

One of the most substantial and noteworthy additions to last year's game was the career mode, The One, where you create an amateur player and build them into a superstar. It returns in NBA Live 19 and genuinely feels like it has improved with a globe-trotting story, a deep new mode called Court Battles and the ability to create your own court.

Your journey in The One takes you to notable real-world street courts like Tenement Square in the Philippines, Cherashore Playground in Philadelphia, Quai 54 in Paris, and Parque De Rio in Brazil. The diversity of courts and their related aesthetics--like the Eiffel Tower in the background and colourful structures in Brazil--give you the sense that you're going on a journey as you try to become, well, the one. There are also some fun narrative choices you can make with your mentor and agents, including playful banter about your performance on the court as well as more substantial decisions, like where you want to compete next. This kind of control helps you feel more connected to the player you create and more attached to their journey.

Progression in The One is akin to an RPG where you'll spend skill to increase attributes like passing, rebounding, dribbling, and shooting. In the early stages, you'll notice deficiencies in your player; they might lack dribbling skills to blow by a defender with a finesse move or be unable to catch-and-shoot as fast and effectively as a more accomplished player could. Toughing it out and cutting your teeth in early games, then eventually upgrading your skills to become a more well-rounded player, makes The One's progression system feel rewarding. On the customization side, the character creator finally lets you make a female character, which was a notable absence from last year.

Winning tournaments in The One lets you recruit NBA and WNBA players to your team, and it's a wonderful fantasy fulfillment for basketball fans to build a team of players that can be comprised of any professional player. Another noteworthy element is The League, which sees you taking your created character through the NBA Combine to Draft Day and eventually to the NBA where you can play a full season as your fantasy character on any team you want, and it's exciting to play as your created character alongside NBA superstars.

One of NBA Live 19's deepest modes is the card-collecting Ultimate Team, which fans of EA Sports games will know well. There are a mountain of fantasy challenges available right at the start--more than one thousand in all. had fun earning new players and completing the challenges, but the overall experience feels very grindy. To build your team you can slog away at these challenges or pay real money for "NBA Points" to buy new players that you can use immediately. The Store page where you can buy NBA Points is front and center in the Ultimate Team menus, and this feels like an unnecessary and gross, if unsurprising, push towards microtransactions.

Franchise mode sees some noteworthy new updates, including a pre-draft preview, while the introduction of "Bird Rights" expands and improves on last year's shallow contract negotiation options. However, with no player editor or online functionality, Franchise remains a barebones experience that comes nowhere close to what EA's other sports games offer.

NBA Live 19 also offers numerous online modes including the standard head-to-head matches and deeper, more interesting ones such as Live Run and Live Events. In these, you team up with other players online to take on co-op challenges like winning street court games in 3v3 and 5v5 setups. In addition to acquiring more progression points for your character, you can earn customization items for yourself and your court by completing these challenges. Part of what I like so much about playing basketball in real life is the community aspect of playing together with friends--or strangers--on a court down the street. NBA Live 19 captures that feeling and delivers a rewarding experience for engaging in it.

NBA Live 19 is a capable and competent basketball game that offers a multitude of different ways to play and numerous reasons to keep coming back. Its impressive attention to detail complements the strong foundation set by its presentation and gameplay. However, the AI logic and animation problems are impossible to ignore given they're at the heart of the experience the entire game is based on. These issues, combined with a lackluster franchise mode and a push towards microtransactions, detract from what is an otherwise solid basketball game.

Categories: Games

Two Point Hospital Review - Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 22:08

Back in 1997, Theme Hospital laughed us all back to health with its acutely tongue-in-cheek approach to hospital management simulation. 21 years later, Two Point Hospital pulls at the same nostalgic heart strings, channeling Theme Hospital’s brand of brash, British humour and mixing it with some surprisingly deep economic management gameplay. Two Point Hospital simultaneously pays homage to its predecessor while surgically carving out its own place in your heart.

Two Point Hospital puts you behind the administrator’s desk and charges you with both the grander and finer aspects of managing your new hospital empire, from designing the internal layout of each building down to hiring staff and researching treatments. You’ll start out small with only a single hospital and a handful of illnesses to worry about treating and slowly build your way up towards managing larger locations with multiple buildings and a vast range of wacky illnesses that require special rooms and equipment to treat. Its goofy style--bright colours and characters with big, bulbous heads--belies the depth of its management simulation, finding a good balance between both aspects. Helpful tutorials in each mission ease you into the concepts behind new objectives at a comfortable pace, and as you complete them, you’ll earn stars to unlock new missions as well as room types.

For your hospital to run smoothly and make lots of money, patients need to be diagnosed and then treated as quickly as possible. For some that means a quick trip to the GP’s office, then a jab in the injection room. But for most, this means long stays and visits between different rooms for tests and eventual treatment. For these patients, as well as your staff, you’ll need to make sure there’s plenty of things around to keep their mood up, placing importance on how you make use of your space. Getting it right can make the difference between having the best reputation in the business, or causing an innumerable number of patient deaths, dropping your reputation and bank balance into the toilet. Helpfully, you’re given lots of colourful graphs and floor charts to work out what needs improvement, so you’re not left out in the cold trying to work out why all your patients are rage-quitting and storming out the hospital doors before being treated.

The tools for drawing out rooms and placing furnishings feel intuitive and robust; rooms are drawn out like blueprints on a floor plan, then once you’re happy with the layout you can place your items like desks, bookshelves and coffee machines. Items help add prestige to a room, and are unlocked using Kudosh, a reward currency that’s awarded for completing objectives. The larger the room and the more you fill it with items, the higher its prestige and happier staff and patients will be when using it, meaning staff work longer and for less money and patients will pay you more. This creates an interesting dichotomy between saving available space for a bigger variety of rooms, or building larger, higher-level rooms and seeing the effects that both have on your staff and patients.

Later missions go out of their way to shake up the established gameplay loop by throwing machine-damaging natural disasters like storms and earthquakes at you. You need to draw on everything you’ve learned up to that point as mission objectives broaden and your funds start to spread thin. You also have to consider the mind-boggling number of different treatment rooms to research and prioritise which to build and which patients to turn away. While some diseases only require a pharmacy to cure, others require their own rooms with expensive equipment, and putting all your money into the wrong treatments could leave your bank account reeling.

Thankfully anything that’s researched in one mission becomes available in all others, so if you get stuck somewhere and don’t have the funds to research what you need, you can always go back to a previous hospital and get them to front the research bill instead. This grander focus across all your hospitals extends to a light multiplayer portion in the form of leaderboards. All of your stats like cure rates, money earned and reputation are saved to online leaderboards, where you can compare your successes and failures against your friends. It’s only good for bragging rights, but it’s a nice addition regardless.

Part of Two Point Hospital’s overwhelming charm is its sense of humor, which permeates every corner of the game, from the fantastically funny radio station--complete with fake ads and feature segments--to the pun-laden disease names like Jest Infection or 8-bitten. Someone suffering Mock Star shuffles about with the look and swagger of Freddie Mercury, requiring a session with the psychiatrist to pull them out of it. Equally funny are the contraptions used to cure some of the rarer conditions. The Extract-a-Pan treats Pandemic and is a giant magnet on the end of a tube that pulls the pan off the top of the patient's head. The writing throughout is sharp and witty, with the descriptions of various ailments being a particular high point.

But just discovering those diseases and their often darkly funny symptoms, as well as watching your staff and patients go about their day, feels rewarding enough. Everything moves with the look and flow of a cartoon pantomime; patients will die only to come back as ghosts and haunt your hallways until a janitor can come along and suck them up with a vacuum cleaner. At one point my receptionist got up from his desk, vomited in front of patients because he was disgusted by something, then left to pour a coffee in the break room before demanding a pay raise. It nails the Theme Hospital nostalgia and is so good that even the 20th time you hear the announcer ask patients “not to die in the hallways” is hilarious.

Part of Two Point Hospital’s overwhelming charm is its sense of humor, which permeates every corner of the game.

The one area where the game does suffer is in the minor grind of starting a brand-new hospital for each new mission. After spending hours perfecting several locations, going through the early phases of a new hospital starts to feel more like a chore than it should. It’s not a long process, but it quickly becomes a section you want to rush through to get to the things you haven’t seen yet.

It’s remarkable that it’s taken so long for a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital to show up, but now that it’s here, it feels like it’s been well worth the wait. The exaggerated, cartoon look and relaxed approach to management make it inviting enough for most players, while the deeper aspects of its economy are enough to keep seasoned players engaged. Two Point Hospital not only re-works an old formula into something modern and enjoyable, it also iterates on the classic brand of irresistible charm and wit, making something that’s truly wonderful.

Categories: Games

Hands-On With Super Mario Party's Dedicated Cooperative Mode

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 21:15

When you think "Mario Party," you probably think of minigames, getting frustrated by your friends, and getting even more frustrated by the seemingly random mechanics of the board game. I guess fun is also part of that equation, too. Historically, the series has mostly been about competing with those around you, and while all the Mario Party games have featured some kind of cooperative experience, Super Mario Party's is a little bit different.


During PAX West 2018 we got to play a mode called River Survival that is about teamwork exclusively, both in the way you move across the "board" and in the minigames you play. I put "board" in quotes because you don't play on a gameboard this time. Instead, three players and I paddle down a river, holding Joy-Cons in our hands to pantomime the act of rowing. We work together to avoid obstacles, making sure the two on the right side row when we need to move left, and perform the opposite when need to movie right.

Occasionally, a balloon appears on the river and we work together to hit it to start a minigame. Playing the minigames gives us more time on the river as our goal is to make it to the finish line before the timer runs out. We play a game where we all work together to herd penguins through a gate. Another we play involves us moving a box through a maze-like cave, each of us holding on to one of the four sides. We also play a cooperative memory game, guide a floating balloon with fans, and sort a variety of sports balls into boxes in a game called "Sort of Fun."

The co-op focus of the game was an enticing one and a nice change of pace from the typical Mario Party experience. Even though I didn't get to see any of the strange arrangements of multiple Switches for specific games as was shown in the E3 trailer, I did get to see Monty Mole in action. Super Mario Party releases on Switch October 5.

Categories: Games

Get Ready For Tip-Off With New NBA 2K19 Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 17:23

Sports game season is upon us, and NBA 2K19 is showing off its moves with a new gameplay trailer in anticipation of its soon-to-be launch.

Watch the video above to get a look at sick dunks and outrageous celebrations, which also features plenty of the greats, such as James Harden, Steph Curry, and Lebron James (donning his new Lakers uniform). 

For those who pre-order the anniversary edition, you can start playing tomorrow. Standard edition buyers can get on the court starting September 11. 

If you need something to tide you over until then, check out our thoughts on the new and improved Neighborhood

Categories: Games

Destiny 2: Forsaken Review In Progress - Story Time

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 04:14

A year after Destiny 2's launch, its third expansion, Forsaken, is now live. I've played around 12 hours so far, completing the story missions, trying the new Strikes, and messing around in the new Gambit mode. Like with the base game--and unlike with the previous two expansions, Curse of Osiris and Warmind--there's a lot to sink your teeth into in Forsaken at launch. Stay tuned for updates as we go and the final review once the Raid drops.

If you played the last two expansions, you shouldn't have too much trouble coming back in. I started the Forsaken campaign at 337 power and was able to fight my way up to over 460 by the end of it, helped along by grinding Heroic Strikes and Gambit matches. As usual, the solo grind is the toughest, while Fireteams of two or three can run the story missions cooperatively to speed up the process (even if you're all underleveled). For newcomers, you'll be able to auto-level one character and start the Forsaken campaign right away, though you have to own all the previous content to actually play.

Forsaken isn't necessarily the best entry point for new players, though, mostly because you won't care about the story at all if you don't know who Cayde-6 is. His death is the catalyst for your whole journey, and the goal this time isn't saving the world; it's revenge. But if you do like him at all, it's Destiny 2's most engaging story yet. The crux of the campaign is hunting the eight Barons, powerful boss-like enemies from the new Scorn race, who helped kill Cayde. The Fallen hate the Scorn, too, which puts you in a shady partnership with a mob boss of an alien named Spider who can help you track them down (for a price). The darker motive is refreshing after taking on the objectively, obviously evil Red Legion in the base game, and the boss-focused structure cuts down on the busy work that plagues other Destiny 2 campaigns.

Each of the Barons has their own style and traits, with some being more memorable than others. The Rider is, unsurprisingly, a big vehicle fan, and you spend most of that mission and fight zipping around an open-ish area on a Pike instead of locked in an arena. The Trickster's level is rife with bombs that look like engrams and a lot of creepily playful taunting. A few of the Baron missions follow the more traditional Destiny level structure, with minions to mow down until you reach the boss room. All together, it's an interesting and rewarding campaign--it has both variety and an overall sense of cohesion, and each step feels significant in building toward the conclusion.

The new Scorn enemies are a welcome addition, too, and feel distinct from the other enemy types. They generally move quickly and can overwhelm you if you're not careful; one crab-like type scuttles around and explodes upon dying, while another charges you with a flaming mace-like weapon and is very intimidating up close. You don't have to change up your approach too much, but learning to fight them--finding their critical points and figuring out how to maneuver around swarms of them--further sets Forsaken's missions apart.

Though we haven't had too much time to dive into Forsaken's new weapons and gear, the new weapons system, which launched just ahead of the expansion, can force you to try new things. The cost of infusion is higher than before, so if you're trying to go as quickly as possible to get Raid-ready, you'll have to give up your old exotics and legendaries for basic gear that drops at the new, higher power levels. The standout addition is the combat bow; it's surprisingly powerful, versatile, and very fun to use. You can shoot accurately from impressively long distances if you hold down the trigger, and you can do decent rapid-fire damage up close, helping the new weapon type hold its own among flashier space guns.

New Strikes are always welcome for those who are tired of running the same ones, but the Forsaken Strikes (including the PS4 exclusive) aren't terribly different from any other Strike--you kill a bunch of mid-tier enemies and then fight a boss. Like in Destiny 2 as a whole, Strikes become more interesting with Nightfall modifiers that increase the teamwork necessary for success.

The better side activity is the new Gambit mode. It's largely cooperative PvE with the occasional PvP twist; you're split into two teams in mostly separate maps, racing to collect and bank a certain number of motes from fallen enemies, and if conditions are right, one team member can "invade" the other team's map to screw with their progress. I still have to play it more to see if it can really keep my interest, but it's a creative combination of elements that are usually kept separate in Destiny 2.

After being let down by Curse of Osiris and Warmind, I'm enjoying Destiny 2 again. The biggest question right now is how long that will last, but there's plenty to keep me occupied before the Raid drops.

Categories: Games

Divinity: Original Sin 2 Review - Definitive Edition Update

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/06/2018 - 00:53

Editor's note: We originally reviewed Divinity: Original Sin II in September 2017, when it received a 10/10. This review has been amended to reflect our experience with the Definitive Edition on PS4, which is (unsurprisingly) also a 10. You can find our impressions of the new content, console controls, and more at the bottom of the existing review. -- 9/5/18

About midway through Divinity: Original Sin II's campaign when it was first released on PC, I was called on to visit the family farm of a heroic colleague named Gareth. On arrival, I found him mourning his murdered parents and calling on me to help him take revenge. Pretty standard RPG stuff.

But when I went to the farmhouse in search of the killers, I was greeted by paladins who prevented me from going inside. I tried to change their minds during dialogue with the in-game persuasion skill. No dice. I was facing a brick wall with this quest. The only choice I had was to kill the paladins. So that's exactly what I did. But after I stepped over their bodies to proceed into the farmhouse, I discovered that the murderers inside were possessed innocents. No way of releasing them from this magical mental bondage presented itself. The most expeditious way of moving forward with the quest was to kill them. I did that…and then discovered a love letter from a possessed woman to one of the paladins that had stopped me at the door.

Hello, guilt. It took me a long time to get over how bad I felt about killing these people. Part of me wanted to load a save and replay it all. But my victims were already dead. Going back and trying to change what I'd done wouldn't wash the blood from my hands. I eventually moved forward and went on to kill a lot more people in even more heartbreaking ways. Still, I never forgot this scene at the farmhouse, because that was an "innocence lost" moment that opened my eyes to how affective and surprising Divinity II: Original Sin can be.

I don't know if I've ever felt so emotionally wrapped up in a game and its characters, and pulling at your heartstrings is not all that the game does well. Larian Studios has crafted one of the finest role-playing epics of all time, both in its original form on PC and in its Definitive Edition released for PC, PS4, and Xbox One (for specific comments on this version of the game, see the bottom of this review). Meaningful choices, evocative writing, and superb acting in the fully voiced script make for a wholly believable world. The detailed and free-flowing combat engine provides challenging and rewarding turn-based tactical battles that add tension to every action. Character depth includes seemingly endless options for creation, customization, and growth, making every member of your party more of a real individual than the usual collection of buffs and numbers found in most RPGs.

As with its predecessor from 2014, Divinity: Original Sin II's setting remains the D&D-infused fantasy land of Rivellon, but the clock has been moved forward centuries from the original game so you don't need any familiarity with the backstory to quickly get up to speed with what's going on. You take on the role of a Sourceror, a name referring to those that draw arcane power from a mystic material called Source. This substance is controversial in Rivellon, because using it seems to inadvertently summon interdimensional monsters known as Voidwoken. Deploy Source powers and these bizarre creatures show up to kill everyone in sight. Because of this, you're viewed as a danger to society by the Magisters, a governing body of inquisitors and warriors who claim to serve the Divine Order and protect society by rounding up and "curing" Sourcerors.

The story begins with you and the other members of your four-person party (that's the maximum--you can play with any number of companions or even go solo) being sent off to the island prison of Fort Joy with Source-blocking collars around your necks. You soon realize that you have a greater destiny to fulfill, however. Much of this is tied to your past role in a war serving Lucian, sort of a god-king whose legacy has been taken up by Alexander, his son who now leads the Magisters. Eventually, you and the other members of your party discover that you are Godwoken, demigods who have a chance to ascend and basically replace the seven gods under threat by creatures from the Void.

This epic saga is a big undertaking. Expect to use up the better part of 60 to 70 hours to complete the main quest line and a good portion of the many side quests. The story isn't just extensive, though; it's detailed and gripping, largely due to how it avoids good-versus-evil fantasy archetypes common to RPGs. Moral ambiguity is with you every step of the way as you progress from a prison boat to Fort Joy, to the sandy beaches and forests of Reaper's Coast, to the tropical Nameless Isle, and finally the besieged city of Arx.

But while you start off with persecuted Sourcerors on one side and oppressive Magisters on the other, events soon carry you into a world of unrelenting grey where most people are trying to do the right thing, yet failing miserably. Some Sourcerors are criminals. Some Magisters are conflicted about what they are doing and want to change the system. Voidwoken may have good reasons behind their actions in Rivellon. Gods have enough hidden agendas that mortals may be better off without them. Even the paladin faction that shows up in the game as heroes turns into blinkered zealots, overseeing the siege of a city, leaving bodies overflowing atop buckling wooden carts in their wake.

Basically, nobody can be trusted or measured at face value; not even your comrades, as only one of you can ascend to godhood. You're left wide open when it comes to determining a course of action, with very few moments forcing you down a particular path. Play good, play evil, play something in between. This approach is incredibly freeing. It lets you guide your character and party according to your own moral compass, or lack of one. I don't believe I've felt this attuned to a role-playing experience since I played pen-and-paper D&D many years ago.

The story isn't just extensive, though; it's detailed and gripping, largely due to how it avoids good-versus-evil fantasy archetypes common to RPGs.

Freedom with character design and development really boosts this feeling. Character depth is tremendous, and with every hero in the game comes with a wide range of core attributes plus civil abilities, combat abilities, skills, talents, Source abilities, and more. Five racial choices blend the expected--humans and dwarves--with the offbeat--elves who consume body parts and self-conscious undead who hide their faces to avoid scaring NPCs.

You can roll your own protagonist or choose from one of six predefined characters representing each race. Each one comes with a specialized storyline that immerses you deeper into the saga. Even then, you're allowed a free hand to customize everything. You're even able to tell those joining your party what sort of adventurer you'd like them to be. Next to standard classes such as Fighters and Clerics are more innovative options such as Metamorphs and Shadowblades, and a slew of talents that dictate even more nuanced capabilities. So if you want to take on, say, the arrogant lizard Red Prince or the sinister elf Sebille, you're not locked into a set class as you would be in most RPGs.

At a glance, combat is not much different from many computer RPGs. Battles are turn-based, with an allotment of action points governing your decisions. But Divinity: Original Sin II differs from its peers by consistently taking terrain and environmental elements into consideration. Pools of water can be frozen into slippery sheets of ice. High ground gives boosts to damage and low ground restricts it. And enemies turn these battlefield features into advantages, too. Hang out too close to a pool of oil and you can guarantee that an opponent will set it on fire. Evil archers and spellcasters always run or teleport to high locations so that they can snipe from relative safety.

As a result, battles are damn tough. You may have to play and lose some battles at least once in order to assess how the enemy can strike and determine a way to counter their advances. Thankfully, there are a number of difficulty options that let you control the pace of victory. The Explorer option nerfs enemies and boosts heroes to emphasize story over combat difficulty, so you get the flavor of the game without the serious challenge. Classic is the standard mode of play--tough but not insanely challenging. Tactician ups everything a little more, and Honor is the ultimate challenge, where you have just one save slot that gets deleted if everyone is killed. There is something here for just about every level of commitment and ability.

Where most RPGs let you push on and experience almost everything in a single playthrough, it is impossible to experience all that this one has to offer in one play, or maybe even two or three.

I freewheeled in Classic mode as I went, directing characters into roles and training them based on what worked best in battle. Character progression felt as if I was moulding real warriors through an adventure, pitfalls and all. I truly empathized with my party, to the point that I couldn't let any of them go later on to try one of the other heroes on offer, like the witty and talented undead Fane. There's one reason for a replay, but it's not the only one.

Quest design in Divinity: Original Sin II is closer to a pen-and-paper feel than any computer RPG that I've ever played. The biggest reason for this is that you can screw up. An NPC can be randomly killed, shutting down a quest before it starts. Sometimes you simply cannot succeed at a skill check necessary to move a particular adventure along in the way you desire. Failing persuasion checks, as noted above in that farmhouse story, is fairly routine, forcing you to figure out another way forward and damn the consequences. Where most RPGs let you push on and experience almost everything in a single playthrough, it is impossible to experience all that this one has to offer in one play, or maybe even two or three.

Quests are not perfect, though. The journal system of tracking them isn't nearly robust enough to keep up with how many you have going at any given time. You can't search it, and even worse, key elements are frequently not included in the text descriptions. As a result of this quest confusion, I got lost more often than I should have. I spent too much time not sure what I was supposed to be doing due to vague journal entries, or wandering around searching for a key location that for reasons unknown was not noted on the map. I know some will believe this to be a good thing, that we finally have a serious RPG that doesn't hold the hands of its players. But this issue seems more like a disconnect between how quests are offered up during the game and how they are tracked in the journal than any commitment to old-school difficulty.

In addition to the expansive single-player campaign, you can also play with friends cooperatively or dive into an even truer pen-and-paper role-playing simulation with Game Master mode--a section of the game that can live on potentially longer than Divinity's own campaign. This is the kind of game that you're best off playing online with friends; the involved story and the necessity to use teamwork in combat make the game too challenging if you're adventuring with uncooperative strangers.

All of the above has been enhanced with the release of the Definitive Edition of Divinity: Original Sin II.

All of the above has been enhanced with the release of the Definitive Edition of Divinity: Original Sin II, which also sees the game making its console debut on PS4 and Xbox One. Larian Studios was kind to PC owners as well, offering a free upgrade that lets you launch either the original or new versions (old saves are not compatible with the new game). This revamp makes it worthwhile to play one of the greatest RPGs of the past few years all over again. Comprehensive work has refined the plot, quest journal, interface, balance, difficulty, and more. New content has been added, like new encounters in Arx, an expanded tutorial, more informative tool tips, new battles, and a Story mode (which lowers difficulty) for those who want more adventuring and less reloading.

The console version of the Definitive Edition is an almost entirely seamless port of the original PC game. I have to admit that I had my doubts playing the game on PS4 due to concerns about navigating such a complex RPG without the benefit of mouse and keyboard. But Larian has done a superb job of moving the control system to a gamepad. Everything can be accessed readily, mostly using the left stick and the shoulder buttons to open a radial menu where you access character stats, equipment, inventory, skills, and so forth. While this control system lacks the immediacy offered by a cursor and keyboard hotkeys, it is remarkably smooth and soon becomes intuitive.

My only lingering gripe would be with using the control bars for abilities, gear, and spells during combat. You need to flip past a lot of icons over five pages to access all of the skills that your characters need to utilize in order to survive the game's demanding tactical combat. At the same time, the game's mechanics are simply too big to convert from the standard mouse-and-keyboard combo to a gamepad with just a handful of buttons and not encounter some awkwardness.

Other altered elements cut down the amount of busy work required when adventuring through this vast game. The user interface has been enlarged for TV screens, making everything clearer and more distinct. Inventories now encompass the entire party on a single screen, making it easy to check out all of your gear and handle common tasks like learning new skills from books. Items can be transferred between party members with a couple of button presses. Holding down the X button on the PS4 allows you to search large sections of the landscape on a single screen for goodies to loot.

The journal has been comprehensively rewritten with the goal of making the storyline and quests clearer. According to Larian, more than 150,000 words of text have been rewritten or added. Instructions still leave something to be desired, though. In the main quest log now, directions have been condensed to brief sentences that are more to-the-point than in the original version of the game. While it's a more direct approach, the short descriptions rarely tell anything aside from the bare bones about going to certain places, helping NPCs, delivering items, and so forth. It comes at the expense of some of the game's flavor without making quests all that much easier to follow than they were before, in that they lack a lot of specifics. As a result, I still found myself bewildered every now and then with regard to where to go and what to do.

The closing chapter in Arx has been reworked in a similar fashion to increase clarity. Where the original game sort of just threw your heroes into this devastated city with no stated goals other than to find chief villain Dallis, several plot threads have now been expanded, like the one with the dwarves and Deathfog, with new NPCs, extensive dialogue, and new battles adding to the apocalyptic mood. There is definitely more going on in the city, and I felt connected to a bigger picture. There is also a steadier narrative drive to the conclusion. Still, the Arx changes don't make a tremendous difference, as most of the city and its quests are nearly identical to what they were in the original game. And Arx still seems out of place coming after the penultimate Nameless Isle chapter. That puzzle-heavy section of the game continues to feel more like the proper setting for the finale, due to its singular focus on the protagonist's ascension to the ranks of the gods.

A lot of other little changes make appreciable differences. Persuasion appears to be easier, which let me open up quests that walled me off with failure before. This time around I could succeed in swaying NPCs to my point of view much of the time, and I felt that I was able to experience more of the game as a result. Story mode adds resurrection as a skill, includes the ability to readily flee combat, and dramatically reduces battle difficulty. The latter made it easier to tolerate lengthier encounters that I didn't want to slog through again. At the same time, Story Mode doesn't turn the game into a total cakewalk. Gruelling scraps can still be a challenge. But if you do find it too easy, you can shift back to tougher difficulty settings on the fly.

Divinity II: Original Sin will always have a strong degree of complexity, regardless of design changes. The Definitive Edition remains a complicated affair where your path has been left almost entirely wide open. Definitive or not, console or PC, this is a game that remains true to its inscrutable CRPG roots. Once again, though, even while I have to gripe about being left in the dark at times, the freeform design makes it all worthwhile. I'll accept some confusion and uncertainty if the trade-off is a wonderfully realized and almost boundless fantasy world.

From lonely farmhouses through pitched battles with gods in far-flung dimensions, Divinity: Original Sin II is one of the most captivating role-playing games ever made in both its original and Definitive incarnations, with the latter proving that even the most complicated role-players can be ported successfully to gamepad-limited consoles. This immaculately conceived and emotion-wrought fantasy world, topped by brilliant tactical combat, make it one of the finest games of recent years, and it remains an instant classic in the pantheon of RPG greats.

Disclosure: Former GameSpot reviews editor Kevin VanOrd currently works at Larian Studios, serving as a writer on Divinity: Original Sin II.

Categories: Games

World of Warcraft: Battle For Azeroth Review

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 09/05/2018 - 01:00

Teldrassil has been burned to the ground. Sylvanas Windrunner steps over the corpses of slain rangers and civilians alike who were impetuous enough to get in her way, only to seal the fate of more innocents in fire and blood as her lithe frame is backlit by an inferno of destruction. The tone of your introduction to Battle for Azeroth is as clear as day: The Horde is evil, and this is no longer a fight about old territories or grievances. This is wartime, and nothing is sacrosanct. Well, apart from the planet that we reside on, the right of foisting faction politics upon new civilizations, and the art of constant, grave misunderstandings.

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth swoops in on a plaguebat right where the previous expansion, Legion, leaves off. Everyone is ecstatic about sending the Legion back into the realm that spawned them, and people are getting on with their lives. However, in the closing moments of the last expansion, we saw the introduction of a new resource for Anduin and Sylvanas to butt heads over: azerite. This is key to the central narrative that unfolds; no one really knows what azerite does, but Sargeras left it behind and everyone's convinced that it should be harnessed for destruction. Battle for Azeroth's pre-patch content painted the Horde as warmongering and the Alliance as the bulwark against the violence, and to that end, this new resource is just another symbol for the two to take a moral stance on--a dance of power around yet another weapon that has power beyond our reckoning.

That dance of power is crucial to the initial motivations of both factions and plays out neatly in the narrative that guides you to the expansion's new zones--it's the reason that your various leaders send you out on reconnaissance missions that bring you to those areas. That said, you pivot almost immediately from the big picture concerns of your faction's war effort to the wants and needs of relative strangers. Those familiar with the World of Warcraft canon will have some insight into the motivations of the new allied races you meet--the Kul Tirans and the Zandalari. Both new allies have their own power struggles to contend with before they display any interest in assisting either the Horde or the Alliance, and predictably, this spawns the cycle of fetch quests, reputation gains, and achievements required in order to gain their trust.

The ebb and flow of questing in the zones feels very much like the experience in Legion. It took me around 25 hours to get from level 110 to level 120 on one character, which feels like it keeps pace with solo leveling from the last expansion. Regardless of whether you're Horde or Alliance, you'll get to cherry pick which one of three distinct zones you want to start in. The Horde get down and dirty with the Zandalari trolls, investigating everything from political intrigue to the wrath of blood magic. The Alliance deal with fan-favorite Jaina Proudmoore and the legacy of resentment that her father's death left behind (did we mention the pirates?). In either regard, all these zones have their own self-contained stories for you to see to fruition that indirectly speak to powers beyond our comprehension, meaning while they're equal parts comedic and captivating; they most certainly do not stray from the World of Warcraft formula.

The fact that these condensed stories are so engaging actually works against the impact of the wider expansion's narrative. After spending hours in the desert with the vulpera and the sethrak, and dealing with everything from shepherding cubs to thwarting the plans of long-sleeping god puppets, it's hard to take orders from Sylvanas' right hand. Your faction's leaders seem so far removed from the daily bloodletting and the weariness of dangerous diplomatic relations that doing their bidding starts to feel like a chore. The inhabitants of these new zones are so colorful and so full of life that you feel incentivized to do the myriad of side quests that they tantalizingly offer up to you. It's all too easy to put the main story quests on hold to just spend a couple more minutes in eerie Nazmir, or to risk scurvy in the Tiragarde Sound.

This lack of a coherent, meaningful connection to the overarching azerite panic that serves as Battle for Azeroth's main narrative tension can be frustrating. At the time of writing, three weeks after launch, we're at a point where no raids are out yet, and we're still waiting on plenty of content, so nothing truly definitive really happens to tip either faction's hand after Sylvanas' initial massacre. In the meantime, you passively hoard power and skills without really knowing what good they'll do you later on. For example, you'll power up azerite armor in place of artifact weapons in this expansion, but your armor automatically levels up as you quest, and the selections you make as to quality-of-life skills don't feel as impactful as before. You also don't have to do anything special to get your hands on this armor, which in turn cheapens the gearing experience as you're leveling. The same could be said to some extent about raising your professions; gone are the days of having to sit by a campfire to grind out every godforsaken recipe before you could learn the latest dishes. You can crack into Battle for Azeroth's crafting right away, even if you're a complete novice, which is convenient. But it's hard not to be nostalgic for the days where the trek of profession leveling brought some sense of real achievement.

Once you get to 120, it's a bit of a coin toss as to what you should do while you're waiting for the next batch of content--you're probably best served by doing world quests and improving your reputation in order to unlock the Allied Races. There are other things to cut your teeth on, but the narrative doesn't instill in you a pressing desire to do (or to know) more. At this point in time, Battle for Azeroth offers War Mode and Island Expeditions as tidbits to tide you over until its next patch.

War Mode basically paints a giant bullseye on your chest, slaps you on the back and says "Venture forth, you poor sod." This mode grants you an experience bonus, but the price you pay is drawing the attention of players from the opposing faction. If you're someone with bad memories of Alliance players performing drive-bys on you as your friends scramble to get into Shadowfang Keep, then you may want to stay away from this mode. You may luck out if you're on a server that isn't particularly bloodthirsty, but even those who embrace the chaos will find that it is too much of a double-edged sword; doing well in War Mode ups the ante by letting others know that you're a threat to be put down. If the hounds of war don't sniff you out immediately, then the game's intervention definitely speeds up the process.

Island Expeditions offer their own brand of excitement. While the name suggests that you'll be relaxing on a beach somewhere and enjoying mojitos with Genn Greymane, the reality is the exact opposite. You can participate in Expeditions with AI or other players, and the focus is to undertake a mad dash for azerite within a territory where randomness controls the obstacles that you face: everything from regular to elite mobs, enemy NPCs and players, and the main affair, picking up a whole heap of azerite. While the first few expeditions can feel like a fresh change of pace, the cyclical nature of the activity means it starts to grow old fairly quickly. There are various difficulties of expeditions which offer better rewards with each tier along with tougher enemies, but it feels a like a bandage slapped over the Mythic+-shaped content hole in our hearts.

This expansion wields its central conceit of a dying world with a lack of finesse; something is Badly Wrong but not so wrong that it can't wait for you to gallivant around collecting battle pets for a century before you deal with it. That said, the expansion is rivetingly effective at telling tales about underdogs, witches, family curses and pirate fraternities in ways that make you care. It's in the strength of these segments that cause you to see the cracks in the other aspect of the game--even though we know there's going to be a lot more content made available as the expansion gets patched over time. In the wake of the latest Warbringers visual, it's certain that we'll have some Old God-flavored questions answered sooner rather than later, and a host of new things for the factions to unite over that aren't the giant sword splitting the very realm into pieces.

Battle for Azeroth features the exciting culmination of the intimate character storylines for some of the franchise's most famous heroes and villains, the Allied Races themselves are so well-crafted that it's almost worth it for lore aficionados alone, and visually, World of Warcraft looks the best that it has been in a long time. But the expansion feels like it sometimes relies too heavily on the days when both factions were at each other's throats--the conflict now feels too manufactured to truly incite the war both leaders appear to be gunning for. It's clear that Battle for Azeroth tries very hard to balance the needs of new players with those of long-time fans, and as was the case in Legion, it demonstrates that the line between refinement and oversimplification can feel very thin. It's an overall good addition to World of Warcraft's current state, but it's a gamble as to whether its upcoming content will make it truly special.

Editor's note: This review reflects the state of Battle for Azeroth in the weeks immediately following its launch, and will be updated once we've spent sufficient time with its first major content update, including the new Uldir Raid, Warfronts, and Mythic Keystone dungeons. -- September 4, 2018.

Categories: Games