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How Sekiro Plays Differently Than Dark Souls

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 20:00

Publisher: Activision Developer: From Software Release: March 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

With Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, From Software is making a number of changes to the way it thinks about combat, level design, storytelling, and more. Although fans expect plenty of surprises when they sit down with a From game for the first time, certain aspects of the developer’s formula having been trained into players’ minds, and it might be these players who have the hardest time getting used to Sekiro’s changes.

To get a taste of how Sekiro might differ from From’s previous output we sat down with lead game planner Masaru Yamamura to get his insight on what learned players may want to rethink most when they jump into Sengoku-era Japan for the first time.

Attacks Are The Tells

For years, fans of From games have learned an invaluable instinct: If you see your opponent wind up an attack, get out of the way. That will only get you so far in Sekiro, and Yamamura predicts some players are going to think the game is harder than it actually is if they dodge at the first sign of movement. “We feel like the initial impression is going to be, ‘Wow, these enemies are really tough! They have a strong defense,” he says.

Combat works a little differently this time around; when you see an attack come your way, that’s your time to strike. “When the enemy’s attacking you, you can deal damage to them, you can wear down their posture by deflecting their momentum and their attacks,” Yamamura says. Most attacks enemies dish out can be can be countered by your own sword swings, dealing damage, but more importantly, increase their posture meter. When this meter maxes out, they’re vulnerable to death blows, which will deal severe damage, usually killing them.

It’s not simply a matter of mashing the attack button instead of the roll button, though; the window for properly deflecting an attack is fairly thin, so you’ll have to study an opponent’s attacks and learn the proper timing to counter them. “Once users have mastered the deflect technique, they’ll be dealing not only damage through their own attacks, but when they’re being attacked by the enemies, turning that to their advantage,” Yamamura says.

Exploration Is Part Of Combat

Before you engage in combat at all, however, you’ll want to do your research. The Wolf’s grappling hook lets him move to high places and get a view of where he’s fighting. This lets you survey your opponents before you fight them. Make it a point to seek out vantage points where you’ll be able to see what you’re up against and plan accordingly.

On the ground, you’ll want to be sneaky. Though past From games let you get the jump on enemies from time to time, Sekiro has a bona fide stealth option, letting you move slowly and hide in tall grass to avoid detection. This serves two functions. First, if you can take out a few of the more isolated enemies before you’re spotted, you’ll have an easier time once you go loud. Second, if enemies don’t know you’re there, they might be a little chattier, and have conversations that might be of use to you. It also helps to talk to anyone else you meet along the way. “The eavesdropping mechanic, conversations with NPCs, overhearing enemy conversations – these are ways you can learn about the world, and gain hints about combat as well,” Yamamura says. If you overhear enemy conversations before you kill them, you might learn a particular enemy is weak to fire, giving you an advantage when you finally face them.

The Answer Is Always In Front Of You (Or Nearby)

In Sekiro, every player plays by the same rules. By giving every player the same toolset, From can create encounters that may require a specific approach, attack, or tool, and trust that players will have that solution at the ready. “The game is designed in a way that we’d like users to experience all these [options],” Yamamura says. “And to incorporate them all into their toolset, and to take on challenges by thinking, ‘What could I take from my repertoire in this situation? How could I apply that here?’”

If you’re finding a particular encounter or boss too difficult, think about all of the tools at your disposal. Between your katana, prosthetic limb weapons and tools, and stealth or traversal options, you probably have an answer for your problem. If not, it might be time to go look for it, as some options are hidden around the world. Either way, you’re never “locked” out of a certain strategy simply because you didn’t build for it.

You Can Change Your Strategy On The Fly

Sekiro isn’t as malleable a game when it comes to creating different character builds. That means some dedicated From players are going to have their gameplans pulled out from underneath them. But are there ways to make The Wolf your own that let you adapt to different encounters.

Yamamura says the biggest way players most comfortable with heavy weapons, bows, or magic will find some comfort in Sekiro’s combat arts – equippable skills that offer new abilities. “If a user wants to use a particularly heavy, slow attack, then they’ll find something in the combat arts,” he says. Meanwhile, “the prosthetic tools have a variety of more, I suppose, martial arts or ninjutsu-based attacks that could be perceived as magic, as well.”

So while you won’t be able to turn yourself into an unstoppable heavy-roller or keepaway mage, players with different tastes should look into how they can create their own comfortable “build” through the combat arts, rather than having to return to a particular character to respect their stat points.

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, make sure to check out how Sekiro’s bosses work, or how From is changing their approach to storytelling, and click on the banner below to keep up through all of our coverage throughout the month.

Categories: Games

New Character Geras Revealed For Mortal Kombat 11

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 19:55
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Developer: NetherRealm Studios Release: April 23, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

At the end of the Mortal Kombat 11 event today, the team at Netherream revealed the first completely new character for the game who goes by the name of Geras. While the character trailer did not reveal much in the way of story details, Geras appears to control the power of sand, maybe in the same way Raiden commands lightning and thunder. He certainly does not appear to fear the lightning god, at least.

Check out the reveal trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded video

You can see his fatal move and his fatality in the trailer, which involves punching someone's brains out quite literally.

Mortal Kombat 11 is scheduled to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on April 23.

Categories: Games

Bloody Good Time

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 19:20
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Developer: NetherRealm Studios Release: April 23, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

During the Mortal Kombat 11 live stream today, Netherrealm Studios began the event by showing off the first gameplay reveal for the new game. In it, we can see returning and new characters, but primarily focusing on bloodmancer Skarlet from Mortal Kombat 9, Sub-Zero, Baraka, and more.

Check out the gameplay video below.

Click here to watch embedded video

The video also has a bit of the game's story mode, which picks up right after Mortal Kombat X, though creative director Ed Boon mistakenly said Mortal Kombat 9 originally. You can watch various warriors beat on each other a bit in the gameplay video above as more Mortal Kombat nformation starts to trickle in.

You can also catch the game's opening prologue, which shows off Shinnok and new character Kronika, the time-bending warrior. Check it out below.

Click here to watch embedded video

Mortal Kombat 11 is releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on April 23.

Categories: Games

New Trailer Showcases The Dangerous World

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 17:14
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: SIE Bend Studio Release: April 26, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4

Days Gone isn't far from its April 26 release, but if you're eager to start riding your motorcycle through this zombie-infested setting, maybe the latest trailer will help make the wait easier.

The video sets up the various threats and locations players will encounter out in the wilderness. If nothing else, the footage definitely makes truck stops and small towns seem much more menacing than they are in our reality. Watch for yourself right here:

Click here to watch embedded video

Are you excited to play Days Gone? If so, you can learn even more about the game by clicking on the banner below.

Categories: Games

The Division 2’s Creative Director Discusses Dark Zone Changes, Weapon Normalization, And Anti-Cheating Plans

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 17:01

Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Massive Release: March 15, 2019 Rating: Not rated Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

If you’ve read our extensive preview that launched earlier today, you know that the  developers at Massive and Red Storm have a lot of ambitious plans for evolving the dark zone and PvP experiences in The Division 2. Creating three distinct dark zones, normalizing weapon stats to create an even playing field, and still having one rotating “anything goes” region, where hardcore players can test their min-maxed gear unabated, should give the game its own identity. To explain the rationale behind these sweeping changes, we spoke to Red Storm creative director Terry Spier. 

Let's talk normalization – the community has been discussing the pros and cons of putting weapon damage on an even playing field. Can you explain how exactly you want it to work? 

I think how I described it, that's the deepest I'll go here. When we're talking about weapon damage and things like that, if you have an assault rifle and I have an assault rifle, but yours is legendary and mine is common, we're going to bring those inline. We're going to take stats, we're going to respect your build, but we're going to make sure that all the things are pretty in line, and that's as deep as I'll go because we're still working on it. We're still fixing stuff and figuring out – that doesn't work at all. But the ultimate goal is to make sure that players get what they've been asking for – at least the ones who have been asking for it: Give us a fair chance in the dark zone. 

By adopting normalization in the dark zone, are you seeing more diversity in the types of builds people use? 

Yeah, I do. I see a lot more diversity because players are able to play with their build but their output, I don't want to say it's marginalized, but the fact that it's even means you can play the way you want to play and have success. And the other player feels the same way. That wasn't the case in the original game. It was, “I'm trying to play the way I want to play, and I can't because that is too powerful,” so we're seeing a lot more parity. The truth of the matter is we have much more variety in this game already, and we haven't even hit post-launch. So, there's going to be a lot of options for players to explore and experiment with.

When you're in the dark zone fighting both A.I. and other players; are you basically running two scripts on top of one another when NPCs are in a battle with humans?

That's a good question and one I'm probably not properly equipped to answer. How our damage effect, we changed the way the A.I. scale. Maybe you noticed, but we don't display A.I. level in the dark zone anymore. The A.I. will always be equal to you. So, when you are attacking the A.I. you are doing appropriate damage, and when someone else is attacking the A.I. and they are a different level, they are doing appropriate damage. The way we work it all out in the wash, god bless the technical people. They figured out a way to make sure it all works. 

On the map, it looked like there were parts of the dark zone that were higher level, but you're getting rid of that? 

Yeah. Remember, the dark zones unlock in a linear fashion, so the player will be introduced to Dark Zone East first and then they'll go on the journey. You will experience dark zones and they will seem to get harder, and when you open them all up and unlock them, they will all be appropriate. If you're level 29 and you go back to Dark Zone East, which you played when you were level 10, it's going to be just as hard. 

Let's talk about density – the three zones on their own are obviously smaller than the dark zone in the first game. When I saw them on the map, the new zones didn't look that big. How are you controlling population? Are you trying to kill those longer, quiet moments that people had in the original dark zone?

That's a great question. We did have a lot of those longer, quiet moments, and how we've replaced that or how I believe we've approached those moments is we've given more feedback to the player. If you noticed, when a player engages a landmark, it now flashes. Little subtleties like that – how we display the rogues and manhunts on the map. How we don't display the gray rogues on the map. We want to make sure that because we have reduced player count, players can control more where they want to go based on the feedback they are getting. We didn’t have any of that feedback during the first game. My experience was people just went north. If they didn't want to see other people, they would just go north and it was generally free space. I don't think that was as efficient as it could have been, because you had a lot of the dark zone that wasn't active. The other way we approached it was the dark zone sort of lives on its own. If there are players grouped up and spending a lot of time in the southern portion of a dark zone, the dark zone will decide to spawn activities elsewhere to creation motion and movement. Players will be able to safely move around the dark zone and avoid or collide with the other groups. It's worked well so far. 

What is the player count now in the dark zones? Does it scale differently depending on the zones?

The max player count in the dark zones now is 12. 

How do you feel the density change is going to affect solo play in the dark zone? Some of my favorite moments in the dark zone were when I escaped by the skin of my teeth when I was by myself out there waiting for friends to join. Those are rewarding moments, and my initial reaction was these maps are small enough that it's going to be hard to avoid people. Are there perks or abilities that allow solo players to be effective in that space? 

Your dark-zone level now has passive perks attached to it, so you'll be able to go to the base of operations and pick and choose from a tree of things that will help you be able to play how you want to play. So, there is that, and you will be able to do that and assist yourself as a solo player. And then, I'm going to touch back on things that we communicate in the dark zone and how we hide the PvE player very subtly in the new dark zones, and the fact we normalize. All these things – they don't take away from the tension. I will admit that it will be harder to fully disappear, you can't just go up into DZ09 where no one is going. You're going to have to remain real cognizant. And I want to retain that sort of hair on the back of your neck feeling when you're in the dark zone. Bringing the people in a little bit closer, making sure people know what's going on in their zone. Pay attention to all the signs and feedback, because if you don't you could die. But to me that creates the essence of the tension that dark zone creates. I'm not going to say I'm making it any easier for the solo players, but I think I am. Especially given the normalization. 

When I visited one of the underground thieves dens available if you complete a rogue loop, there was a guy in the den who had an icon that said 0/5 MRE. What does that mean? 

MRE is a military ration. Each dark zone has a specific item that only drops from that dark zone, and the vendors in the thieves’ den are always looking for a mix and match or a specific type of item. If you can satisfy his needs, you will get his reward. We'll be able to control the value and scale of those rewards and how much you have to collect. Each dark zone has its own unique needs item that players can hunt and find. 

Do you sometimes need to farm these unique items from one place and bring it to another?

Sometimes. Absolutely. You might say, "We need more morphine and that's only in east. East is occupied...what do we do?” I don't want to say there are time-sensitive elements – players can play at their own pace – but yeah, sometimes you need to go into east, and what are you going to do? Are you going to risk it? Are you not? We'll let players make the choice. 

How did you change the manhunt system for The Division 2?

In The Division 2, we've upgraded the manhunt endgame we had in the original. Now you have three shade terminals that are going to activate when you go manhunt, and those terminals are what you'd go to if you want to clear your manhunt – essentially reboot your shade system and collect your reward. But this time, we don't give specifics to people that are chasing you. We give you the precise location of the terminals and we give players that are chasing you a general vicinity. Of course, players will learn where those are, but they don't know which one you are heading to. When you arrive as a manhunt at one of those terminals, you can choose to clear and collect your bounty, or you can choose to increase your notoriety. We're essentially letting people ante-up and increase the rewards you can earn. When you do that, the players chasing you will see you have done that and that one station goes offline and you only have two left. They still don't know which one you are going to, but there is an interesting cat and mouse game that's played by the manhunt folks and the people who are chasing them. Depending on how aggressive the manhunters want to be, they can earn a sizeable award if they increase their notoriety twice if they end up at one station where everyone on the server knows where they are going to be. It's pretty lucrative, and it's super intense. 

We saw landmarks, manhunts, hacking, and supply drops. Are there any other variable events that pop up in the dark zones?

In the original game we had contamination events that would happen in the dark zone. We did not include those at launch. So right now, we're starting with dark zone drops, landmarks, and we've changed the dynamic nature of the zone. You'll see a lot more A.I. you didn't expect. Part of that is because we reduced the player count so we can include a little more A.I. and increase the density because player characters are pretty expensive [resource wise]. So, as far as things that are calling you on the actual map, it's supply drop, extraction, and landmarks. Those are the things that are going to really ring the bell. 

But you'll see more variety within these?

Absolutely. You saw the landmarks have difficulty ratings now, so you're going to be able to pick as a solo player or a group player. I want to do the challenging one, or I want to just do normal. That's going to dictate how many waves of A.I. come out of the landmark and how much loot you get out of it. It also dictates how long you stay at a landmark, which could be detrimental depending on the other players in the dark zone, that density – how it fluctuates depending on who is playing the dark zone – is a lot different than the first one. 

I noticed not every item you loot is contaminated. Was that a decision you made so players still feel somewhat rewarded even if they aren't able to extract stuff? 

Yeah. It was kind of a two- or three-fold decision. It was in part for the solo player. It was tough as a solo player, as you said, having to extract everything. You have to ring the dinner bell every time you want to get something out of the dark zone. Quite frankly, I was disappointed that yellow bag started to mean a little bit less in the original game because players had everything they wanted, nobody really cared, and they were just killing each other for killing's sake. Making it so when you saw a yellow bag, you say, "Oh, that dude has a contaminated item!" and how we're handling the loot rolls on those contaminated items is different than it was in the original game. We're taking a look at who extracts that item, and then we're going to roll it after they successfully get it out. The likelihood that you get an upgrade is much higher. If the three of us fight over a contaminated bag for two hours, it's an M4, but that's all we know. Its roll is going to depend on who extracts it. Making that yellow bag special, making it a real thing that you care about again, and making players who don't want to care, they can avoid it altogether and farm regular loot. 

There seemed to be a lot of new crafting items like titanium and ceramic. Are you diversifying so there is more variety in the types of items users need to build new gear? 

The crafting system is insane. It's completely out of my range to talk about, but I know that Massive has put a lot of time into it. It doesn't come into play in organized PvP, but we'll have crafting nodes it the dark zone so players can gather and get all the things they need. There is a lot. 

As I gathered loot through the dark zone, I noticed that none of it was cosmetics. Is that all tied to progression, currency, or a store now? Or can I still find new vanity items in the world?

I can't comment exactly on that. What I can say is how we distribute the vanity is something that's still happening. But I'll tell you there is a whole s---load of vanity in the game. There's going to be a whole lot of ways to collect it. 

Talk about occupied dark zones. You want that essentially to be a thunderdome

Yeah, absolutely. We want a fair experience and the dark zone is a huge part of the map and the gameplay. I want more people in it, so let's make sure that people can go in it and we do what we need to do. But we have to respect the players who still play today, who still go in the dark zone today, to really blow off steam and flex and reap the benefits of all the optimization they have done on other people's faces. Give it to them, let them play as hard as they want to play. And take all the gloves off – everything. The A.I. is harder. The PvP is harder. The signs and feedback are harder. That intensity appeals to me so much. I think it's going to be crazier than the dark zone was when we launched the original game. 

How does the occupied system work exactly? It's at endgame?

It's at endgame, just as you said. When you hit endgame, the dark zone will become occupied, and it's one of the three dark zones. It's only going to happen at endgame so you're never going to see this. When you hit endgame, there is a very clear icon over the dark zone, and it's an event that occurs. If you are already in the dark zone, things will begin to happen. You'll get notifications from Isaac, and you'll notice things begin to happen in the air and on the ground. Things will change and they'll be a timer and you'll know shit is about to go down. It will stay that way, Let's say it will stay in Dark Zone West for 16 hours, and then it will go away and appear somewhere else. I'm not going to tell you what it's occupied by, but it's one and it rotates. We're never going to force anyone in it and we want it to be organic so it wasn't like a toggle. 

Let's talk PvP. How are the awards different in that mode than they are in the general game? Are there PvP specific gear that I need to play this mode to get? 

No gear. The same gear you can get doing any of our activities is the gear you're going to get playing PvP. We do have exclusive vanity that played out through the course of your PvP level, but we don't want to open up a place where people have to play PvP to get the quote “best gun” or whatever. But you'll get rewarded for playing PvP and have cool stuff that other people won't have. 

How do you get into PvP? Are there multiple ways to access it?

There are two main ways. You can go to the base of operations. There's going to be an actual person there you can talk to. Or you go right to the mega-map, and there's a whole PvP tab where you can do it right from the menu. You don't have to go to that person if you don't want to. 

Can you jump into PvP from the beginning or is it locked behind endgame?

It's not the super-duper beginning because of how we do some of the skill unlocks and the progression, but let's just say level five. Super early you can jump it, we just want to make sure players are at a baseline before we let them go. Pretty early. 

Let's talk about clans. How are you handling clan progression? What are the rewards behind that? Is that cosmetic emblems and things like that?

It's absolutely cosmetic. We want to make sure that people who participate in the clan feature can be as flamboyant as they want to really deck out their character and make sure they can be as proud as they want of their organization. There's nothing behind clans. If you were not to participate, you're not missing out on anything beyond being a part of a special community. You're not missing out on weapons or gear or anything like that. 

Are you creating an infrastructure that allows clans to matchmake and scrimmage with other clans? 

At launch, that's not integrated. But I can tell the goal is to have clans be part of all the features in the game. Right now, no, there isn't a custom match with clan, but hold tight. 

Are you locked with 4v4 in PvP or are you leaving the door open to try different populations with different modes? 

I think the goal is to try as many things as possible. A group of four is the DNA of the Division, so that was the perfect place to start. Everything works well, including the back end. All the engineers made sure we started with 4v4. But we want to make Conflict the destination for PvP, and that means new experiences. That means working on new things. I think speaking to the fact that we're going to have an eight-player raid, that's going to allow us to explore a lot. 

When you get into a battle when there are two different groups of players and your players, the HUD can get really busy. Is there and customization you can do to strip stuff away that maybe you're comfortable not having on the screen and getting more of a pure experience where you can manage sightlines better?

Yeah. We're going to allow PC and console HUD customization. You can customize in a lot of ways and pick and choose what you want.

Let's talk about toxicity and cheating. You said you are having multiple anti-cheat systems at work. 

I don't know that I've been cleared to name the third-party software, but everything we did to combat cheating in the original game is in place, and then we've got that third-party software. It's not just about us responding to people that get reported. It's about us detecting cheaters and proactively taking them out of the system. We can do that now. It's pretty robust. We've been doing a lot of work here [at Red Storm] and at Massive. I'm happy because I hate cheaters. 

In terms of toxicity, when the bullets start flying the proximity chat will be turned off. Are there any other de-griefing measures? 

That's where we're starting. I think it's going to be a very fluid thing. We really want to respond to community feedback and handle it with care because the proximity VOIP is a unique part of the DZ. The instinct was Yank that shit! because nothing good came from it. But that wasn't the case. There were so many good moments we heard about from fans, ETF members, and people who were on Reddit. But let's start with this, and then we'll see where we go from there. 

Of all the changes you have made to dark zone, which are you most proud of and do you feel enhances the experience the most? 

It's such a two-fold answer. We sat down at the table and said, “We want more people to go in the dark zone.” And at the same time, I said "I want a crazy-ass dark zone." Being able to deliver – I think we're going to do it, I think we're going to get more people in the dark zone because the intro missions are safe, and because they can explore at their own pace, and because it's normalized and we give great signs and feedback and I've got this crazy place where all these awesome people who spend a hundred billion hours playing, they can go there and kick each other's butt. I'm most proud of that, having those two ends of the spectrum and I just envision a day where there is someone who wasn't a darkzoner, and they experience it and realize they kind of like this. And one day they decide to step foot in the occupied dark zone. To me, that's the ultimate success. They've become confident in their ability to play against other players even though they didn't think they were, and then they spend enough time playing to optimize their build and realize that I'm going to try this. Then we've won. I can't wait for that. 

Categories: Games

10 Things You Need To Know About The Division 2’s New Dark Zones and Conflict PvP Mode

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 16:59

Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Massive Release: March 15, 2019 Rating: Not rated Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The Division 2 is quickly barreling toward its March 15 release date, but up to this point Ubisoft and the developers at Massive and Red Storm have still kept many details close to their vests. Some of these dark zones are now receiving the spotlight thanks to a recent event that highlighted how the multiplayer spaces are changing for the sequel. After several hours of hands-on time, we have more than a few answers to our questions. Here is everything you need to know about how the dark zone is evolving in Washington D.C., how the development team hopes to make this element of the game more accessible, and the first look at the new PvP modes. 

Washington D.C. Has Three Smaller Dark Zones

In The Division, Manhattan had one large dark zone parked in the middle of the map that players could access from all sides. Rather than replicate this layout in Washington, D.C., Ubisoft took a new approach by creating three smaller dark zones in various parts of the region. Each dark zone has its own origin story, unique biome, and emphasized gameplay style. 

Dark Zone East is located at the Capitol Train Station. This is where the military set up during the green-poison outbreak to shuttle supplies around the city. With long sightlines and open spaces, this region is ripe for mid- to long-range combat. 

Dark Zone South is located down by the waterfront. This is the epicenter of the green-poison outbreak in Washington, D.C. Over the last several months, storms, flooding, and “other terrible things” occurred in this area. Now, the waterfront is choked with overgrown vegetation. This area accentuates close-quarters encounters with its deep interior spaces more reminiscent of the first game’s Underground area and tight streets that provide cover every couple feet. 

Dark Zone West (pictured above) is found in the residential area of Georgetown. Here, you take the fight to backyards, block streets, and alleys. Georgetown was the first test-bed for a government-created compound called DC62, which was sprayed across the neighborhood in hopes of neutralizing the green poison. Problem was, it also proved deadly. Expect a lot of medium-ranged combat here. 

Each of these dark zones is much smaller than the large one in the first game, which means there are some density changes. Though you still have pathways should you want to move undetected, you’re going to have to exercise patience because all the landmarks, supply drops, and extraction points are by nature grouped much more closely together. The maximum number of human players in each dark zone is 12. Red Storm hopes this smaller player pool is offset by a greater assortment/number of A.I. threats in the regions. 

Walking Into The Dark Zone Isn’t As Intimidating In The Sequel

Those who played The Division knew that anything could happen in the Dark Zone, the dangerous quarantine area in the middle of the map where the toughest enemies and best loot was found. Even after doing all the hard work of fighting through tough defenses and acquiring a valuable contaminated item for extraction, an opposing squad of agents (or even one of your own compatriots) could decide to put a bullet in your skull during the extraction and take the spoils for themselves. This created a riveting tension that attracted those brave enough to roll the dice, but it also drove many players away who preferred a more controlled experience. 

Ubisoft isn’t content with the dark zones being play spaces for only a hardcore slice of its player base, which is why they are integrating the dark zones into the story missions. Each of the three dark zones has a narrative-driven introductory mission where you can venture into the zone with some cooperative buddies to get the lay of the land. During these private missions, you can explore the dark corners of the zones to your heart’s content, identifying the landmarks, finding the safe rooms, and locating extraction zones without worrying about being descended up on by rogue agents. Once you complete these missions, the dark zones transition into being the dangerous PvEvP space we’re all accustomed to. But having a private mission in the dark zone alone isn’t enough to tempt players to venture into the danger zone. Ubisoft also made other changes to entice wary gamers into the dark zone, most notably…

Weapons Are Normalized In The Dark Zone…

You no longer need to walk into a dark zone in fear of being destroyed by a Division lifer who has already min-maxed gear to the best of their ability. Ubisoft wants to make sure the dark zone is an even playing field no matter how many hours you’ve put into the game, which is why it has created a new weapon-normalization formula to balance out damage stats in the dark zone. 

When you walk into the dark zone, your gear still works like you expect it to. However, all assault guns, sniper rifles, etc. are balanced to output similar damage. This rewards twitch play rather than whoever has spent more time with the game. 

The weapon normalization does not happen behind a veil of secrecy. In the menu system, you can view how your weapon stats change in the dark zone at the press of a button, allowing players to make adjustments and see what happens. 

The biggest potential benefit to weapon normalization is the diversity of builds we may see in the dark zone moving forward instead of seeing so many players using the same D3FNC style equipment.  

…Except For Occupied Dark Zones

Hardcore Division players probably scoffed at the idea of weapon normalization in the dark zone – how are they going to peacock their amazing gear sets when all the gear is re-rolled to the same basic level? The good news for these players is many at Red Storm feel the same way as you, which is why the game will have rotating “occupied” dark zones that have no rules. 

Once you reach the endgame in The Division 2, one of the dark zones becomes occupied. We don’t know what this means narratively just yet (Aliens? Foreign governments? A power grab?), but we do know that it creates a no-holds-barred experience where friendly fire is on at all times, normalization is thrown out the window, and players can experiment with builds to their heart’s content. 

“We have to respect the players who still play today, who still go in the dark zone today, to really blow off steam and flex and reap the benefits of all the optimization they have done on other people's faces,” says Red Storm creative director Terry Spier. “Give it to them, let them play as hard as they want to play. And take all the gloves off – everything. The A.I. is harder. The PvP is harder. The signs and feedback are harder. That intensity appeals to me so much. I think it's going to be crazier than the dark zone was when we launched the original game.”

No players have shade icons in these occupied zones, which means you have no idea what they are up to. Are they friendly? Are they manhunters? You never can tell until they act, adding yet another layer of tension to the experience. 

Not All Dark Zone Loot Is Contaminated

If you ventured into the dark zone in The Division, chances are you worked real hard to recover some contaminated gear and marched it to the extraction zone only to have a rogue group of agents take you out and pilfer your goods. There’s no way around it – getting robbed sucks. Conversely, successfully extracting a rare item feels so goddamn good. 

Ubisoft wants to preserve this feeling of empowerment, but at the same time wants players to feel rewarded for going into the dark zone whether they can extract some rare gear, which is why not every item you recover in the dark zone is contaminated. Ubisoft hopes this makes the contaminated items you do recover feel more valuable. 

“Quite frankly, I was disappointed that yellow bag started to mean a little bit less in the original game because players had everything they wanted, nobody really cared, and they were just killing each other for killing's sake,” Spier says. “Making it so when you saw a yellow bag, you say, "Oh, that dude has a contaminated item!" and how we're handling the loot rolls on those contaminated items is different than it was in the original game. We're taking a look at who extracts that item, and then we're going to roll it after they successfully get it out. The likelihood that you get an upgrade is much higher.”

The Rogue System Offers More Varied Experiences

The rogue system from The Division operated on a simple premise – if you killed a rival player in the dark zone, you were branded a rogue. Rack up enough PvP damage and a manhunt quest would trigger for players in the surrounding area, putting a bounty on your head for them to collect. The Division 2 is making some significant expansions to this system to encourage different types of gameplay experiences. 

This time around, you don’t need to be interested in PvP play to use the rogue system. You know all those pesky locked chests littered around the dark zone? If you don’t have a key, this time around you can pick the lock and steal the goods. The same goes with the supply drops – you could share with others or hoard it all for yourself. Doing so activates a new rogue state that still opens you up to attacks without consequences for other players. But doing so has another benefit: There are several hackable computer systems littered throughout the darkzone. Successfully hack enough of them and you gain access to a hidden thieves den, where you can collect potentially valuable loot and interact with mission givers who will reward you for recovering particular items. 

The manhunt system has also been changed to reward emboldened players. When a player is designated as a manhunter, three shade terminals activate around the dark zone. One of these must be activated by the player to clear the manhunt status and claim the reward. The player knows where these locations are, but the bounty hunters only know it’s in a general vicinity.  When a player reaches the first terminal, they can choose to clear the bounty or choose to increase their notoriety. 

“We're essentially letting people ante-up and increase the rewards you can earn,” Spier says. “When you do that, the players chasing you will see you have done that and that one station goes offline and you only have two left. They still don't know which one you are going to, but there is an interesting cat and mouse game that's played by the manhunt folks and the people who are chasing them. Depending on how aggressive the manhunters want to be, they can earn a sizeable award if they increase their notoriety twice if they end up at one station where everyone on the server knows where they are going to be. It's pretty lucrative and it's super intense.”

The Division 2 Includes New Toxicity And Anti-Cheating Measures

Ubisoft is making some infrastructure changes to make the dark zone more hospitable. The reworked client/server architecture gives the developers the flexibility to handle more things server side, which eliminates the ability for users to modify data without getting caught. Both internal and third-party anti-cheat programs are being used to better identify and ban cheaters as well. 

On the toxicity front, Ubisoft is making one critical change to voice chat. You can still talk to strangers in the dark zone, but once bullets are exchanged between parties they can no longer talk to each other. This should hopefully cut down on the amount of trash talking you hear on a nightly basis.

The Clan System Becomes Reality

The oft-requested clan system is finally becoming a reality in The Division 2. Setting up a clan with friends gives you unique leaderboards where you can compare accomplishments as well as a unique progression track. Clans earn XP for completing objectives and activities together, which unlocks special collaborative objectives, special clan perks, and exclusive clan cosmetic items. 

“We want to make sure that people who participate in the clan feature can be as flamboyant as they want to really deck out their character and make sure they can be as proud as they want of their organization,” Spier says.

Clan members can communicate with each other via clan chat, direct messaging, and a bulletin-board system. The clan system lacks the ability to matchmake and scrimmage other clans, but Ubisoft’s goal is to eventually have it integrated with all the features in the game. 

The HUD Is Customizable

When multiple squads and A.I. waves descend on the same position, the user interface overlay can get very cluttered and obscure your view of the action. Thankfully, both PC and console users have access to HUD customization that allows you to reposition (or even remove) certain data points. 

The Conflict PvP Mode Lets Teams Of Four Do Battle

For squads who want to test their mettle against rivals in the purest of environments, Ubisoft has crafted Conflict. This organized PvP suite pits two teams of four against one another in two modes – Skirmish and Domination. As you would expect, Domination follows the familiar flag-capture formula found in many competitive shooters. Skirmish is essentially a team deathmatch mode that culminates in a single-elimination event. 

Ubisoft plans to have three unique maps available at launch, with plans for more maps and modes in the future. These locations are discrete instances that take place off the mega-map. 

Like the dark zone, the PvP battles use stat normalization to even the playing field. Skill-based matchmaking should group you with players with similar abilities, and the unique progression track in Conflict includes exclusive vanity awards you can’t get elsewhere. 

To learn more about The Division 2's new dark zone and PvP spaces, read our interview with Red Storm creative director Terry Spier

Categories: Games

The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel III Coming To The PS4 This Fall

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 15:52

Click here to watch embedded video

Publisher: NIS America Developer: Nihon Falcom Release: Fall 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4

NIS America has announced that it is bringing over Nihon Falcom's The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III this fall, taking over as publisher from XSEED, who published the first two Trails of Cold Steel titles here in America.

The game takes place a year-and-half after Cold Steel II, following the continuing exploits of Rean Schwarzer.

NIS' involvement is not without reservation. The publisher handled the localization of Ys VIII after XSEED, and NIS did not do a great job.

If you're not familiar with this side series, be sure to read Kim's Grind Time column on why you shouldn't overlook it.

[Source: NIS America]

Categories: Games

Long Division

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 23:50
Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Massive Release: March 15, 2019 Rating: Not rated Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The countdown to Ubisoft's next big game release in The Division 2. The freshly post-apocalyptic multiplayer shooter takes players from the wintry New York City to the contrasting greenery of Washington D.C. But why are you at the nation's capitol and what are going to be doing there? Ubisoft has answered those questions in small bullet points, but we get a better look at the story with the latest trailer.

Check out the story trailer for The Division 2 below.

Click here to watch embedded video

The video also gives a good look at the kind of weaponry you will be using in The Division 2. You can do what every post-apocalyptic video game does and equip a crossbow. Presumably it will have bows that never deteriorate despite shooting them through people.

The Division 2 will be releasing on March 15 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The PC version will be skipping Steam in favor of the Epic Games Store, the first of what Ubisoft says will be several upcoming collaborative projects. The private beta begins on February 7 through February 10.

Categories: Games

How From Software Is Changing Its Approach To Storytelling For Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 20:00

Publisher: Activision Developer: From Software Release: March 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Set in the waning years of Sengoku-era Japan, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice features a brighter, more colorful world than we’ve seen out of From Software. This lets them create environments with a different air about them than either Bloodborne or Dark Souls, as the developer tries to both elicit and play with the beauty of Japan during the Warring States period. The change in locale has also prompted From Software to make some key changes to how it tells stories, but it’s not shying away from the key methods fans have come to love.

For starters, don’t let the brighter environments in Sekiro fool you into thinking this will be a cheerier tale. “Of course, this being a From title, there’s beauty and there’s death and decay to contrast that,” says From manager of marketing and communications Yasuhiro Kitao. When choosing a time period for Sekiro, From chose the earlier Sengoku era over the more modern Edo period as its setting specifically because it fit the studio’s style. “Edo is more like Japan coming back from the brink, and really kind of revitalizing itself, and everything’s a lot more early-modern [stuff],” Kitao says. “Sengoku is much like Dark Souls and such, more medieval Japan, and allows us to play with those medieval concepts and those more mystical concepts.”

The company has taken inspiration from history before (the company looked to Victorian London when making Bloodborne), and you can expect a similar approach to Japan in Sekiro. “We decided to take inspiration from the architecture and the vegetation, but there are no actual historical people or locations featured in the game,” Kitao says. “This is a From game we’re talking about. It’s a Miyazaki game we’re talking about. You can probably expect a lot of weirdness to occur and to begin to unravel as you progress through the game.”

With its move away from RPG builds and progression, From is also leaning into telling the story of a set character rather than letting players create their own. Previous From games told the story of their worlds moreso than any individual character, delving into the history of the locations you traversed and telling stories of characters whose footsteps you were following. While your character in those games set important events in motion, you were only one small part of a grander tale. “This time we have a fixed protagonist and we have a cast of characters who we’re trying to build that story around,” Kitao says. “We’re trying to tell more of a drama, if you will, of these characters.”

The story of Sekiro begins with the Young Lord, a child The Wolf is in charge of protecting. Early in the game, The Wolf and the Young Lord are assaulted by a group of enemies led by the Ashina Commander, who defeats The Wolf, chops off his arm, and kidnaps the Young Lord. After finding himself restored to health after the battle and wearing a prosthetic limb, The Wolf’s goal at the start of Shadows Die Twice is to find and retrieve the Young Lord – and exact revenge on his assailant.

“One nice thing about basing the story around these characters is we get to play with the relationship between these characters, between [The Wolf] and the Young Lord, and how their relationship kind of evolves throughout the game,” Kitao says. The Young Lord and The Wolf will meet up several times throughout the story, and the story will place a large emphasis on their relationship. “There is one point in the early game where he is by your side, but this is not a kind of escort mission in the typical sense, and it only happens the one time.”

The Wolf is also a more fleshed-out character than the player characters in other From games. Raised on the battlefield by a character named The Owl, The Wolf will speak to other characters as he encounters them, lending his own character to the story. “Having this key protagonist allows us to build a cast of characters around him, and his personality, and his history,” says director Hidetaka Miyazaki. “We feel like, you know, not the typical NPCs that you run into during the game, but these kind of central – these core characters that are central to his presence in the world, and his story ­– are going to be playing a lot of that role of the story in the gameplay. So, we feel like you’ll be able to experience both his past, in that sense, and the here-and-now of where the game takes place.”

The main area we played through, the Hirata Estates, was couched in the story as a flashback, in which The Wolf fights against Lady Butterfly, an acquaintance of The Owl. “He sort of plays a foster father role to the protagonist,” Miyazaki says. “This Owl character picked up Sekiro on the battlefield and raised him as a shinobi and one of his old acquaintances – or part of that shinobi system of allies – was this Lady Butterfly character. So, while Owl was training the protagonist and teaching him techniques, maybe he got to spar with this character or had some sort of menial relationship with her through the foster-father figure.” 

From isn’t going to lean too heavily on flashbacks to tell its story, however. “It’s mainly focused on the present,” Miyazaki says. “It’s not a game where you’re going back and forth from present to past to piece together the puzzle, but this is a one-off flash back, if you will, to a portion of his past and that allows you to piece a little more bits together of the story. So, you get some extra detail and you can flesh things out for yourself in that way.”

While this more character and narrative-centric approach is atypical for From, Kitao is confident with how the change in direction is taking shape. “It's actually a very 'From’ way of doing a protagonist, and the way he conducts himself and the way this character kind of evolves is very kind of From-esque," he says. Although he’ll have a central role in the story, don’t expect Sekiro to be a chatterbox. “He'll say a few things here and there, but yeah, he won't bore you to tears with constant monologues," Kitao says.

At first, this character-driven approach seems to clash with one of From’s signature storytelling techniques: foregoing a traditional narrative in favor of having players build their own narrative out of vague hints from characters and item descriptions. From is well aware of fans’ love of that technique, and wants to assure them what while the story they’re telling is angled differently, the methodology isn’t changing too much. “That is very much intact in Sekiro, we’re trying to maintain that,” Kitao says. "We don't want to rob the experience of that kind of fragmented storytelling. We want it to be a user-driven story, a play-driven experience rather than [something] directed by us. We don't want to feed the user every little bit of information. We don't want to tell them straight-up the answers, or how something is. We'd like them to experience and explore that for themselves."

We found plenty of items during our time with Sekiro, and of course the descriptions for these items were more than just functional. The description for the Fistful of Ash item, for example, states it can be thrown to distract enemies, but also mentions that doing exactly that was a hobby of boys growing up in Ashina, the locale in which The Wolf was raised. As we approached a particular area, we also saw a scene of the Young Lord chatting with Emma (one of the characters who helps you in Sekiro’s hub area) play out through ghostly figures in the environment itself, similar to how certain “flashbacks” in games like BioShock occur. However, Kitao says the number of cutscenes in Sekiro won’t be out of line with the company’s past work, and that they won’t have huge info dumps, either. “We want users to pick up on these subtle hints through the cutscenes, through the dialogue, as well."

That said, From is making some changes to this storytelling approach - namely, who’s doing the telling. Although Miyazaki is handling the overall story, he won’t be doing the bulk of the writing for the dialogue and item descriptions, delegating the job to other members of the staff to “create a fresh experience and something that we hope users have never seen before,” Kitao says. Miyazaki himself doesn’t want to fall back into his old writing tricks, either, something he feels fans wouldn’t be as excited about as they have been in the past.

While Miyazaki finds the change refreshing in some ways, it’s meant getting used to a change in the overall narrative workflow. “Previously, I could have just written some stuff down as part of the text or dialog at home,” Miyazaki says. “Nowadays, for Sekiro I have to communicate this to staff and be really quite forthcoming about it. That’s quite tough in itself. But then to see them reinterpret this into their idea of what that means or that implies, this is enlightening for me, and it allows me to see this different interpretation and then to have this collaborative story building together.” This, in turn, gives Miyazaki the ability to see the story From is building from a new perspective, and for the first time, get a read on how coherent it might be to an outside reader.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes a number of tweaks to how From Software tells stories, but from the time we’ve spent with it, it looks to stay true to the company’s mantra of letting players engage with their stories in various engaging ways, even as it aims to tell a more personal tale.

For more on Shadows Die Twice: check out our deep dive into a boss fight, how progression works, and more, and make sure to click on the hub below to follow our coverage all throughout the month.

Categories: Games

One Last Look At Metro Exodus Before Launch

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 14:59

Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 4A Games Release: February 15, 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

With the February 15 release date fast approaching, Metro Exodus has already gone gold and developer 4A Games is in the fine-tuning stage of development. Deep Silver recently swung past GI headquarters to give us one last look at the game before we begin our final evaluations. 

This latest build brings us to a dusty desert region we only saw glimpses of during our cover story visit to 4A Games’ Malta studio last year. Artyom and the Spartan Rangers accompanying him are far away from the Moscow subway tunnels they once called home, and from the looks of it, they are worse for the wear. 

I journeyed through this dangerous region for several hours, by far our most expansive hands-on time with the promising title thus far. Here’s what you need to know.

Click here to watch embedded video The Countryside Is As Unforgiving As The Metro

This mission starts with the Spartans in dire straits. The Aurora locomotive that serves as the group’s home and your hub has burned through all the coal, leaving them to burn any available fuel. To make matters worse, its water tank is also dangerously empty, and many passengers are suffering from hunger, dehydration, and sickness. 

This desert is no convalescence resort, so Artyom is assigned four critical tasks – find some water reservoirs, steal some gasoline, and look for the nearby communications bunker that may have maps the Spartans can use to find a hospitable area free from radioactive fallout. 

Just because the mission takes place outside, however, doesn’t mean Artyom now has an abundance of resources. Like the underground tunnels of the previous two games, attrition still plays a central role in Metro Exodus. With the new sandbox-style world design, you’re free to wander in any direction, and exploring can yield some nice attachment upgrades. But you’ll also probably burn through a lot more ammo defending yourself, which could put you in a disadvantageous position during the more focused firefights. Expect to desperately scavenge resources and constantly deconstruct ammo for guns you aren’t currently using so you can fill enough magazines to get you through your next armed encounter. Sometimes, it’s smarter to stick to the shadows and conserve those bullets. 

The Wide Open Areas Still Have Frightful Moments 

When 4A Games announced its plans to leave the underground and head into the open Russian countryside with Metro Exodus, I had concerns. Namely, could the studio still pull off pulse-quickening moments in wide open spaces? Thus far, this quality hasn’t been lost in translation. 

When I first set off on-foot in this desert region, I headed toward a set of ruins off the path from my next objective. Rounding a corner into the rubble left from a building, I was immediately taken aback when it looked like the wall started to move toward me. That was no wall. Apparently, the hunched “humanimals” roaming the irradiated wastelands have developed camouflage skills, because the ones in this region blend in perfectly with the tan backdrop. Fighting off one of these new beasts is easy enough, but they can call for backup. If you’re not careful, you can be quickly overwhelmed. 

Humanimals aren’t the only horrors haunting this region. Mutated snakes slither through the sands and can catch you off-guard in otherwise deserted areas. The winged demons hover above and occasionally swoop down to grab you (or beat the hell out of your vehicle) if you’re spotted. Occasionally, sandstorms whip through the region as well, dramatically diminishing visibility and making it much harder to identify threats from afar. 

The Interiors Are Suffocating And Dangerous 

Though these sandbox regions have lots of open space, 4A Games includes large, detailed underground areas as well where it can inject that classic claustrophobic Metro tension. Artyom journeys to this Caspian region to find an invaluable set of maps in a nearby bunker. Enlisting the help of a local lady who owes him a favor after repelling a bandit advance on the lighthouse she calls home, Artyom gains access to the abandoned facility. 

Down here, Artyom has to deal with a lot of familiar problems – radiation zones that require he equip his facemask, dimly lit corridors, packs of lurkers and spiderbugs roaming the area ready to swarm on first sight, and dilapidated rooms that give these mutant threats the ability to emerge and attack from all directions. The dread that hangs in this underground complex feels like classic Metro. After locating and packing up the maps, the sporadic firefights leave Artyom short on ammo. The mission ends in a dramatic sprint back to the elevator while being overwhelmed by enemies.

The Game Reacts Dynamically To Your Actions

With Metro Exodus allowing players to chart their own path through the sandbox spaces, 4A Games had to design a mission structure that accommodates this newfound freedom. I saw these systems on display during my playthrough. When I showed no intentions of going to the first objective, after I journeyed far enough in another direction eventually Artyom’s handlers call over the radio to suggest he head to another nearby place of interest. But in doing so, I missed a set-piece moment where a sandstorm engulfs a communication tower and Artyom gains access to his first vehicle. Going off the beaten path doesn’t punish the player, however. I eventually gain access to a vehicle by other means. 

After I successfully recouped the map, I could have continued to find the water and fuel supplies, but instead I headed back to the train to see what my compatriots were up to. After chatting with some of the people and crafting more bullets at the workbench, a dynamic firefight broke out right outside the train against a local faction threatened by our presence. 

The Sandboxes Have A Lot Of Diversity

Desert regions are rarely the standout setting in video games – they are frequently barren and uninteresting because by their very natures, the developers don’t have a lot to work with. That’s not the case in Metro Exodus. I journeyed to most of the corners of the map and found it to be surprisingly diverse thanks to its proximity to the former shores of the Caspian sea. While most of the map is arid, you still see the infrastructure of a docking region, with a lighthouse, large crane, and several beached shipping vessels where the regional power keeps its prisoners. A change in altitude along the western part of the map gives way to an interesting cave system, and on the other side of the map you can find some gear in the air tower and hangers-on an abandoned airfield. 

We felt the same way about the thawing river region and densely wooded territory we saw in previous game demonstrations, each of which had multiple alluring points of interest.

Click image thumbnails to view larger version

 

                                                                        Artyom’s Lack of Agility Can Hinder You

Maybe it’s because he’s spent most of his life in the tunnels of Moscow. Maybe it’s because he lugs a backpack of heavy gear with him everywhere he goes. Whatever the reason, Artyom is not a limber man. Throughout my playthrough, I was surprised by how slowly he vaulted and climbed and how difficult it was for him to maneuver through tight places. Don’t expect to be moving quickly between different vertical planes. This is important to remember during firefights, where you can leave yourself mortally exposed if you make your move at the wrong time. 

To learn more about Metro Exodus, check out all the details we discovered about the game in our cover story hub.

Categories: Games

Latest Catherine: Full Body Trailer Is A Music Video Featuring A Japanese Pop Band

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 20:07
Publisher: Atlus Developer: Atlus Release: 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Although the latest trailer for Catherine: Full Body is entirely in Japanese, you won't need to know the language to enjoy it, since it also doubles as something of a music video.

Japanese pop-rock band Sekai No Owari ("End of the World") has partnered with Atlus to have their song, "Re:set" featured in the trailer. It's a good song.

Click here to watch embedded video

Catherine: Full Body is out in Japan February 14 for PlayStation 4 and Vita, and sometime in 2019 in other territories, but only on PlayStation 4. It's worth pointing out that the original, non-Full Body version was recently ported for Steam.

Categories: Games

Missiles Incoming

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 15:39

Click here to watch embedded video

Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Bandai Namco Release: January 18, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Ace Combat 7 is on the runway for its January 18 launch (PS4, Xbox One. PC on January 31), but before it takes to the skies, publisher/developer Bandai Namco has dropped some intel about the game's multiplayer modes, which include 4v4 and 8-Player play.

The video above not only shows gameplay footage of furious dogfights from the game's 4v4 Team Death Match and 8-Player Battle Royal multiplayer modes, but also gives a sneak peek of the modes' pre- and post-match screens, where you can tweak your loadout and bask in the results.

Selectable aircraft parts include amenities like a machine-gun radar-lock system, the sharp-turn skill, and various pilot bonuses, and the post-match screen reveals that pilots can earn bonus MRP experience for various Performance Evaluation accolades like avoiding the most incoming missiles by using the clouds.

For our hands-on impressions of the game, including the VR side missions, check out Imran's preview.

Categories: Games

Bursting At The Seams

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 15:00

Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Bandai Namco Release: February 8, 2019 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

For as long as they have been banging at the door of an uninterested western market, it still feels like hunting games are still fairly nascent outside of Japan. There have been stories for years about Japanese teenagers taking their PSPs on trains to get in hunts before school, but such anecdotes can feel alien on these shores. With Monster Hunter: World making a strong argument for hunting games in all parts of the world with its international success, it feels like there is room to look at other games in the genre, and God Eater 3 is eager to make an argument for its place on western shores.

While hunting fans have been championing the series for many years, God Eater has kind of flown under the radar compared to its more popular rival. The first game came to the PSP in America as Gods Eater Burst, then went missing until the Vita and PlayStation 4 versions started filtering over in the last few years. As a contrast to Monster Hunter’s extremely deliberate movement, God Eater positioned itself as a hybrid between character action games and the hunting genre. Characters moved and attacked with lightning speed and the only way to survive was to react equally quickly. God Eater 3 carries on that proud tradition at a higher fidelity than any previous game in the series.

The basics of God Eater don’t vary too much from what the genre is known for, pitting you and some friends against monsters with breakable parts and nearly-indomitable wills. Called the Aragami, the enemies in the game are just as aggressive and fast as the player. Your best defense is that the hunters in the game have the ability to "eat” energy from the Aragami, dubbing them God Eaters, that lets them power up during the fight using techniques called Bursts. Thus, battles become tense back-and-forth fights of dealing damage and stealing resources to deal even more damage.

The third game in the series is also the first game to be built primarily for next-generation consoles, no longer sharing DNA with handheld versions. While not an open world in the least, God Eater 3 is bigger than previous iterations of the series in scope, scale, and general topography of its maps. No longer are you fighting Aragami on flat ground and small closed-off circuits, your arenas are now composed of different elevations made up of craters and debris and lots of different places for the monsters to escape to and for you to give chase.

As a hunter, you have the ability to go in with melee attacks, hang back and shoot the monster, and guard at a moment’s notice. You can only shoot the Aragami for so long before needing to recharge your weapons by beating Aragami face in for a bit, which is one of several ways God Eater incentivizes you to actually go in and build some combos. Another is the Engage system, where two hunters fighting near each other can power each other up. Since God Eater often encourages you to take CPU companions, the game encourages players to throw caution to the wind and not play conservatively.

In the demo that Bandai Namco let us play, we got to take on a monster called Anubis in a multiplayer hunt. Unlike some other Aragami, Anubis also has the power to devour the energy of others, meaning that it picks up hunters and devours them to power up. When Anubis is in Burst form, it stands up on two legs and is surrounded by red lightning, meaning any momentum the God Eaters had going abruptly stops and everyone has to back off and pray they can dodge Anubis until it calms down again. Despite almost running out of lives and time, we barely managed to take Anubis down seconds before the demo’s timer expired.

For those who experienced Monster Hunter: World last year and are looking for more hunting action or were hoping for something that feels more Devil May Cry than Monster Hunter does will want to keep an eye on God Eater 3. The twitch gameplay will definitely appeal to a lot of players who are eager to test their skills on equally aggressive monsters and the larger scale should please God Eater fans that have been yearning for improvements. You can check out it out when it releases on PlayStation 4 and PC on February 8.

Categories: Games

Here's What You Can Do In Sekiro's Hub Area

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 16:59

Publisher: Activision Developer: From Software Release: March 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Although From Software is rethinking major aspects of its established action-RPG formula with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it’s sticking to a few tried-and-true approaches when it comes to the game’s overall structure by including a hub area that gives players a few things to do when they’re not slaying monsters out in the world.

If you’re familiar with From’s previous output, Sekiro’s Dilapidated Temple should feel familiar. While you won’t have access to it from the start of the game, you’ll quickly gain access to it after a certain point in the story. After that, you can access the Dilapidated Temple from any of the sculptor’s idols (which act as Sekiro’s take on bonfires). You can also use limited-stock items to immediately teleport yourself to the temple from anywhere in the world (similar to how Dark Souls’ Homeward Bone item works).

At the Temple you can talk to and offer items to The Sculptor, who helps out with character progression. Next, you can talk to a character named Emma to use your Gourd Seeds, which increase the amount of uses your Healing Gourd offers when you replenish them at Sculptor’s Idols.

You can also talk to a character named The Immortal Soldier. The Immortal Soldier acts as a training dummy who can teach you how to put all of the items, moves, and combat arts you learn throughout the game to use by, well, beating him up. He’s got a few tips for you, too, such as how to avoid enemy attacks, how the parry system works, and how to deal with thrusting attacks. Don’t worry about going on easy on him, of course – he can’t die, and he frankly doesn’t sound too happy about it.

That’s just the start, however. “If you’re familiar with the Souls games, you know how you can find NPCs in the world,” says Yasuhiro Kitao, manager of marketing and communications at From. “Maybe they’re vendors, maybe they do something with you, maybe they head back to the hub, where you can speak to them and progress their quests.” This is the case in Shadows Die Twice, as well. 

You can access different areas directly from the Dilapidated Temple, though it’s not quite as expansive as the hubs from previous From games. “It doesn’t branch out in every direction right from the start,” Kitao says. “That said, it’s not a kind of linear progression from A to B to C. You do have points with branching paths, with forks in the road.”

How many forks there are along these particular roads is still up in the air, but director Hidetaka Miyazaki says it’ll be among From’s most open areas. “We feel like Sekiro’s probably on the higher end of the spectrum in terms of the freedom the player has to explore the world if we’re to compare it to our previous games,” he says. “Particularly from the mid-game onward, the world really opens up, and you have a great deal of choice and freedom about which order and way you choose to explore.”

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, read about why it doesn’t have an online mode, and be sure to check out our hub to see all of our coverage throughout the month.

Categories: Games

Yoshi's Crafted World Arriving End Of March, Kirby's Epic Yarn Hitting 3DS Early March

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 01:25
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Good Feel Release: March 8, 2019 Rating: Everyone Platform: 3DS

In an odd bit of late-day press releasing, Nintendo has given dates to Yoshi's Crafted World and the equally-crafted Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn.

The Switch Yoshi game, which was revealed at E3 2017, has had scattered showings since its initial announcement. It re-emerged after a recent Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct as Yoshi's Crafted World with Nintendo adjusting the release date to 2019. They have now confirmed that the game will be launching on Switch on March 28. You can check out the newest trailer for the game below.

Click here to watch embedded video

Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is an enhanced port of the Wii game Kirby's Epic Yarn, a yarn-based co-op platformer released originally in 2010. The 3DS game was announced last year and adds Metaknight and King DeDeDe to the campaign. The title is releasing on March 8.

This makes Yoshi's Crafted World the first Nintendo-published Switch game to have a date after January, leaving February oddly open. The felt-textured Yoshi is also an alternate costume for the character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Categories: Games

Moscow Mule

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 00:40
Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 4A Games Release: February 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Metro Exodus is only a few weeks away, so players don't have to wait too long to venture out to the surface and feel the harsh winter on their cheeks, at least in-game. A new story trailer for the game shows you the odds you'll be up against, which aren't just environmental and monstrous, but fascistic, as well. 

Check out the Metro Exodus story trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded video

This isn't to say there aren't monsters to fight as well, as the trailer has no problem showing you some of the creeping and crawling grotesqueries ready to jump out from the darkness right in your face.  The year-long journey from Moscow is going to put the crew of the Aurora to the test.

Metro Exodus releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 15.

Categories: Games

Why Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Doesn't Have Online Multiplayer

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 17:09

After the initial reveal of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, we quickly learned it would lack online multiplayer – a first for the developer’s major titles since Demon’s Souls. As part of our visit to the studio for our cover story, we asked them to elaborate on why that was the case.

Past From games have had an idiosyncratic take on online multiplayer. Players could leave each other notes throughout the world, warning each other of dangerous surprises or goading them into hazards. One player could summon another to help them with a difficult section, but risk being invaded and attacked by another.

From Software isn’t necessarily abandoning that part of its legacy, but it is taking a bit of a detour for now. “Of course, we at From, we love those online elements,” says Yasuhiro Kitao, manager of marketing and communications at From. “We love to create our own characters just as much as everyone else. We hope players are looking forward to something in the future where we might go back to that, but for now, Sekiro is very much its own thing.”

Not having an online component has its upsides, however. For one, players who’ve longed for an honest-to-goodness pause button (who first got a taste with the Switch version of Dark Souls) finally have that option. It also means players don’t have to worry about being invaded during tense encounters. And without co-op, bosses can be designed with a single player in mind. 

Finally, it frees From up to let loose their creativity when creating Sekiro’s map. “When creating these playspaces, we don’t have to take into consideration how players will operate with one another in these maps, or how they may exploit the playspace by cooperating or something like this,” Kitao says. “So it allows us, again, to hone in on the player experience, and really capitalize on that lack of restriction that comes with creating a multiplayer-based game, and let our imagination run wild in these places.”

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, check out our breakdown on how its progression works, or head over to our hub to see all of our coverage throughout the month.

Categories: Games

How Character Progression Works In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 17:02

Click here to watch embedded video

One of the ways Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice marks a departure for From Software is in how your character becomes stronger. In other From games, you tailor your character by pouring points into different stats like strength, dexterity, and intelligence, depending on whether you want to fight as a brute, archer, or wizard, respectively. Shadows Die Twice won’t have that breadth of customization, as your character, The Wolf, is a shinobi through and through. That doesn’t mean you can’t tailor him to fit your playstyle, though.

A major departure hardcore From fans may scoff at is the lack of corpse runs. Though you gain experience from defeating foes in Shadows Die Twice, that experience is now divorced from currency; gold now drops from enemies as well, and you won’t lose either when you die. If you’re afraid that change might upset the balance of tension and accomplishment that have come define From games, there’s hope: Director Hidetaka Miyazaki says death will have a detrimental effect, but wasn’t willing to tell us what that might be.

Instead, progression in Shadows Die Twice is slow but steady, as the experience points you gain from killing enemies fill a bar that eventually provides you with a skill point that, you guessed it, you can spend in a skill tree. But it wouldn’t be a From game if there wasn’t a catch: Before you can invest in a skill tree, you have to unlock it by finding a particular item as you explore the world.

Once you’ve unlocked a skill tree, you can invest skill points at Sculptor’s Idols (Shadows Die Twice’s take on bonfires). From showed us a few skill trees for The Wolf; one based on shinobi arts, one around samurai arts, and another based on building up the prosthetic arm. Along with passive buffs and improvements to your basic moveset, you can also unlock special moves called combat arts, activated by pressing both front shoulder buttons and which must be equipped separately. These moves are meant to be periodic rewards that let you invest in a particular playstyle “just to give you something to make you feel like you’re roleplaying in a certain way,” says Yasuhiro Kitao, manager of marketing and communications at From Software.

Each of these trees is catered to a different playstyle. The samurai skill tree, for example, resembles the common warrior archetype, which relies on overt, grounded aggression. The shinobi tree is more evasive and lets you control crowds, with skills like a spinning slice attack that deals damage in an area and the ability to step over enemy spears. Finally, the prosthetic tree offers multiple more ways to approach different encounters, with the option to upgrade your shuriken throw with a follow-up attack that closes the distance between you and your opponent, or to let you throw multiple shuriken.

What we saw of these trees was fairly simple, though they weren’t final. We saw about three or four pathways to take our skill tree, with the final tier of skills requiring four skill points. How long these skill points will take to earn is still up in the air, however. The goal is to allow you to be “more creative and find your preferred ninja style, so you’ll have to specialize and think [about] which path you want to take,” Kitao says.

While the skill tree lets you build out The Wolf in various ways, upgrading his other stats will require more attentive eyes. As you venture through Shadows Die Twice, slay enemies and bosses, and find hidden rooms, be on the lookout for prayer beads, four of which will increase your overall health and posture (The Legend of Zelda’s heart pieces come to mind). You might also find tools to upgrade your prosthetic arm with new abilities, such as a shuriken launcher, an axe, or a flame vent, granting you access to new abilities to take with you on the battlefield. There might even be ways to build on the resurrection mechanic, From tells us.

All of these options make for one well-equipped character instead of several kinds of specialized warriors. From says this style of progression, which streamlines options at the cost of variety compared to Dark Souls and even Bloodborne, lets them focus on offering more overall depth to individual encounters, as From can more easily tailor encounters around your character’s skillset. “This is actually using Miyazaki-san’s own words – You could think of the previous Souls games as more expanding laterally, and adding breadth to these various options and builds,” Kitao says. “While you are a fixed shinobi protagonist, you do feel like there’s a sense of progression, there’s a sense of building your own character and finding your own playstyle, and experimenting with this throughout the game.”

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, make sure to check Game Informer throughout the month, as we’ll have stories outlining various aspects of the game, like why it doesn't have online multiplayer, all this month. Click on the banner below to see all of our coverage.

Categories: Games

Still Not Bitten

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 19:05

The odd saga of The Walking Dead: The Final Season will soon see the first episode after the closure of Telltale Games released. The series has been in limbo since the narrative games company closed, leaving hundreds of employees in a lurch with no severance, though Skybound Games has put together most of The Walking Dead's team to finish the final two episodes.

You can check out a trailer for Episode 3, titled Broken Toys, below.

Click here to watch embedded video

The final season ends the story of Clementine, who players have been following since the release of the original Walking Dead season in 2012. While the "Still Not Bitten" developer group reassembled for the last two episodes of the final season, it is not known whether they will be working on more The Walking Dead or different games or merely disbanding after completion.

A few weeks ago, it was announced that Epic Games was responsible for getting the developer team back together. As such, new PC purchases of The Walking Dead: The Final Season will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store, while anyone who bought the season pass before will still get the remaining episodes on their PC store of choice. Console versions are unaffected by this.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season's third episode will release on January 15.

Categories: Games

Even Harder Corps

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 22:50

Indie game studio JoyMasher has been working on their Contra-inspired sidescrolling shooter Blazing Chrome for a little while now and the game manages to impress at every new showing. There's something decidedly refreshing about how deliberately Blazing Chrome wears its inspirations on its sleeves, especially in this new video showing the first section of the fourth level.

Check out the video below.

Click here to watch embedded video

Unfortunately it cuts off right before a mid-boss battle, which I was eager to see, but it's clear to see that skill is important to not dying in the new game. Any damage kills your character, so most new players will probably get hit by everything. It's good to know that you can get good enough to just speed through and it looks pretty fair to do so.

Blazing Chrome is scheduled to release this year on PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC. 

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