Dragon Age: Origins, for all its virtues, wasn’t a pretty game. Its world was grubby and brown, its menus utilitarian and ugly. Good news for the aesthetes out there, then, that I found myself cycling through Dragon Age II’s spangly new skill tree for five solid minutes, cooing to myself at the crisp presentation. I’m easily pleased.
The skill trees have evolved since the previous game, letting players shape a character that fits the way they want to play while still staying useful in a scrap. Main character Hawke can be one of three classes – rogue, wizard, warrior – but can split hairs further down the chain.
On a recent playthrough, I got to test out Hawke as a rogue, the class having been reworked since its toothless outing in Origins. Dipping into the skill tree, I noticed my Hawke’s ability with dual shortswords was buffed, conforming to a super-nimble, superstabby damage-dealing archetype. If you find an ability you come to love in Dragon Age II, you won’t need to skip over it in an inexorable march to the top of the skillpile. Attribute points can be put into powers you’ve already unlocked, turning their effectiveness up and keeping them relevant throughout the game. The skill tree is set out in clumps, skills that favour a style of play sat next to each other in the same section. I hovered over the ‘archer’ abilities, looking longingly at the powers a bow-wielding Hawke could use in battle.
I ended up being happy with StabbyHawke. Dragon Age II’s backstab move is ludicrously satisfying: starting with Hawke hurling a smoke bomb, he darts forward at warp speed and somehow gets behind his foe, whereupon he injects a few inches of cold steel into their kidneys. The first time he did it, I made an involuntary grab for my own innards. The second time, I started grinning. I began playing this Hawke as he was meant to be played. Hawke and friends are a lot more mobile this time around – indeed, combat as a whole is fresher, faster, and closer to an action game than in Origins.
Immediacy is BioWare’s adopted mantra for Dragon Age II. Now dressed up in Mass Effect armour, DA2’s dialogue adopts its stablemate’s mannerisms: a conversation wheel anchors discussions and small blobs of text provide an inkling of what your fully voiced Hawke will say without spelling it out. Best of all, I was able to use my party’s abilities mid-chat to shut up unruly backchatters. Bethany, Hawke’s sister, has access to a fireball. Against a stream of Darkspawn, she and Hawke could stand and discuss the ways they were about to be eaten, or – with a conversation option – she could launch a pre-emptive conflagration and crisp half the incoming force.
Already, Dragon Age II feels more connected and vital than its predecessor, and far less stodgy.
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You’re in an aircraft, clouds rushing by. As it banks, you see a massive fleet of other craft like yours dotting the sky. You’re manning a door-mounted gun and, until an Ork with a jetpack floats past, you could easily be in a Modern Warfare game.
“This is a fresh take on Warhammer 40K,” says game director Raph van Lierop. “We’ve been looking for a way to explore aspects of it that don’t make sense in an RTS, [and] here we have an opportunity to bring it to a much broader audience. It’s about understanding what aspects to express to players that aren’t familiar with the IP. Once they get in there, they’re like, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t realise this was so fucking cool and there was so much depth here and so much I can do!’”
Space Marine is a thirdperson shooter set on a Forge World, an industrial planet that produces mountainous death machines called Titans. It’s been overrun by a million Orks, and – a sentence I write way too often in this job – your dropship has crash-landed, leaving you alone behind enemy lines.
Action games aren’t ordinarily Relic’s thing. Console-only World War II shooter The Outfit was their experimental first step in that direction, and while it mixed strategic elements in effectively, criticisms centred around the flatness of its combat. They don’t seem the most obvious choice to turn the Warhammer 40K universe into a twitch carnage game.
They’re not oblivious to that. In fact, their first move was to poach around 50 new hires from rivals and successful action studios, including people who’ve worked on Counter-Strike and Half-Life. Raph says: “We knew that we wouldn’t be able to be competitive without bringing in new talent… We have almost 100 people on the team; I’d say probably half are new since the beginning of the project.”
If you read any other previews of Space Marine, you’ll probably find a Gears of War comparison in the first or second paragraph. I ask Raph if they’re sick of it yet, and he says just the opposite: Gears of War is the gold standard of the genre they’re just starting out in. “When you’re comparing favourably to the best games in the world,” he explains, “you’re probably doing something right.”
So it’s over-the-shoulder shooting, hordes of enemies, and occasional squadmates to exchange manly exposition with. If anything, the Gears of War comparisons might be overcomplicating it a bit; that game is about using cover strategically, while Space Marine doesn’t concern itself with such trivialities. There’s cover, but a space marine has no ‘hide’ button. Rather than when to shoot, it’s a game about who to shoot first.
The main reason to care about Space Marine, really, is that it’s 40K. It’s an amazing universe, and one we rarely get to see close up. The first time you see an Ork Nob – armoured close-combat warriors – bear down on you from this perspective is the first time you realise just how big, spiky and terrifying they actually are. Despite the silly name.
The best part of seeing Warhammer fleshed out this way is the Plasma Gun. In Space Marine, you start with a bolter and chainsword, which you can purchase upgrades for once you’ve killed enough stuff. But you can also find entirely new weapons, and the plasma gun is the star so far. It has a muscular punch to every shot, and when it doesn’t rip an Ork’s arm, head or legs off, it obliterates them in a light drizzle of blood. If the game is good, it’ll be because of weapons like this.
Guns are only part of the focus of combat: with this many Orks in combat spaces this tight, your chainsword sees a lot of use. A basic attack is enough to splat the average Ork, but you can also use ‘sync kills’ to finish off tougher enemies, hurling them to the floor and stamping on their face, or lifting them up and shooting them. There’s a bull-rush move if you’re particularly eager to get to melee range, and the popular but seismologically dubious stomp move to stun enemies.
I saw three sections of Space Marine, each of which involved shooting and slashing Ork after Ork after Ork. In case it’s not clear, you kill Orks in this game. If you do anything else, ever, Relic aren’t talking about it yet. They won’t even say if the variety stretches as far as killing non- Orks – when I ask specifically if there are other types of enemies, Raph will only say, “There’s a lot more going on on this planet than just Orks invading.”
Is that enough? If the killing’s good enough, of course it is. Does it seem good enough yet? Occasionally. Space Marine feels like half an idea for a game: I kept waiting for Relic to tell me the twist, the innovation, the experiment. Some games don’t have one, and that’s fine. Gears of War is fine. Gears of Warhammer would be fine too: I’d play it. But from the creators of Homeworld and Dawn of War, I can’t help wondering if they have something else up their sleeve. And if not, why they’re the ones making this.
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Two months from now, Sony will launch its latest salvo in the first-party, first-person shooter wars, Killzone 3. While we’ve already taken a look at the game’s single-player (in 3D) and multiplayer modes, we’ve previously only see a brief video demonstration of another one of its bullet-point features: PlayStation Move support.
I spent a good part of the past week playing the latest pre-release version of Killzone 3, examining the ups and downs of using Move (with the companion navigation controller) to do so in place of the standard DualShock 3 controller. After making the initial, somewhat awkward adjustment to literally pointing-and-shooting Helghast troopers, I can say that my experience has ultimately been a positive one.
Gallery: Killzone 3 (12/17/10)
TheFeed’s Chris Monfette recently had the chance to play through the first level of Bastion, an upcoming action-RPG. The experience left him excited for the game’s fresh RPG-elements and intuitve combat. Find out why Bastion is on our watch-list for 2011.
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Defending the belt is a dangerous proposition. You can keep doing what got you there, but your movements and punch combos become predictable over time and opponents will inevitably expose your weaknesses. To avoid losing their standing atop the boxing world, champions must constantly reinvent themselves, adopting new tactics and shoring up weaknesses while at the same time preserving their unique talents that landed them atop the rankings.
The development team at EA Canada is facing a similar dilemma with Fight Night Champion. How do you improve a game that won universal acclaim? The development team went to the tape to find some hidden flaws, and the telemetry data showed players threw a considerably higher amount of left-handed punches than they did right-handed. It’s not hard to understand why – moving the right analog stick to throw a right uppercut or right hook forces your thumb to contort in unnatural ways. To bring the stats back in line with true boxing, the team decided to reinvent the Total Punch Control.
|A Turn For The Dramatic
Boxing is no stranger to drama – critically applauded films like Rocky and Raging Bull
have captured the brutality of the sport both in and out of the ring to
great effect. EA hopes to conjure some of its own storytelling mojo in
the new Champion mode. We only got a brief glimpse of the mode, but it
opens with a bang as the main character Andre gets clocked in the head
and falls to the mat. As he pulls himself together and sluggishly raises
off the ground, a voice yells at from his corner – “That’s what
champions do, they get back up” and reminds him that’s what his father
did. After he comes to his senses and his eyesight adjusts, you realize
this isn’t any old boxing match. The protagonist is going head to head
with a tattooed skinhead in a state penitentiary as inmates watch and
cheer beside the ring. Don’t expect this to be a happy go lucky tale, as
the dev team says Fight Night Champion is the first M-rated game in EA
Sports history. We hope to find out more about this imprisoned protagonist and his
gritty quest for redemption in the near future.
The new punching system still uses the right analog stick, but instead of swinging the stick with different gestures to create different punches, you now just need to flick the stick in a specific direction. Different angles determine different punches, and the new system has allowed EA to cram two times as many punch types into the stick. One punch that won’t be making an appearance is the haymaker. EA felt the over-the-top punch robbed the fights of realism, and are replacing it with a heavy punch modifier than can be used on any type of punch. Big punches take more stamina and leave you more exposed to counters, but you can work them more seamlessly into the middle of combos and even land a blow that stuns your opponent or a one-punch knockout. With all of these new punches being added to Fight Night, EA Canada went back to the mo-cap studio to recreate more signature punches from star fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Mike Tyson.
Throwing winning combos is only one aspect of becoming a winning boxer. To improve its defense, EA is implementing a new reflexive blocking system that changes the way you play defense and counterattack. Instead of holding down the block button and swinging the analog stick to the appropriate blocking location, you now can either tap the trigger to block a punch right before impact or hold down the button to rely on the boxer’s reflex ratings. This also freed up the directional control to let players to punch from the guard position for the first time in the series.
Perhaps the most dramatic change EA is making to Fight Night is the increased importance of stamina. In past games you could indiscriminately and continually throw a flurry of punches. The new stamina system drains and refills more quickly, encouraging fighters to be smarter about when to unleash a long combo. If you go for an eight-punch combo when your stamina is low and your opponent is rested, it will provide an opening for a counter-attack. The savvy boxers will develop a rhythm of throwing a few punches, jumping back to catch their breath, and knowing when to go for broke.
To better emulate the tendencies of real-world boxers and give the Legacy mode a boost, EA went to the drawing board and completely revamped the ratings system. Now each distinct punch has its own rating on a scale of 1 to 20, and created players can upgrade ratings for stamina, movement, reflexes, chin, and heart as well. Super high ratings for specific punches allow you to land those extremely rare one-punch knockouts if the opportunity presents itself. To improve your boxer, you must use your winnings to train between bouts. You can stay at your home gym, but it won’t impart big stat bonuses like other locations. Players can drop some extra coin to train in exotic locales like Germany, London, Japan, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Big Bear, California. Each location grants a different stat boost. For instance, the high elevation at Big Bear gives your boxer more stamina when he comes down the mountain to fight, and training in the legendary gyms of Philly gives your fighter a boost to his chin rating.
Taken together, the list of improvements and tweaks to Fight Night Champion is impressive. We can’t wait to go a few rounds as we move closer to the 2011 release window to see if the changes result in a more impressive boxer in the ring.
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Nothing is sacred. The developers at ArenaNet are tossing out ye olde MMO rules to make it easier than ever to team up with friends and succeed together, thanks to Guild Wars 2’s groundbreaking world events and mind-blowing class design. Witness ArenaNet’s coup on tradition and the hands-on action in this first of a five-part preview. The first two posts contain the info revealed in the PCG US December 2010 issue, and the following three are jam-packed with brand new, never-before-seen info and art! Stay tuned all week for all the Guild Wars 2 knowledge your brain can handle!
In 2005, Guild Wars busted into the MMO scene with a heretical proposition: that players could have a quality, triple-A online experience without paying a monthly subscription fee. But what seemed absurd then appears brilliant in retrospect–ArenaNet’s bold, beautifully realized and susbcriptionless MMO attracted hardcores and curious outsiders alike and has sold over six and a half million copies to date. And five years later, Guild Wars 2 looks ready to shake up the genre once again. But this time around, instead of upending business models (GW2 will also be a boxed game with no subscription), ArenaNet wants to revolutionize the way players work and adventure together.
Haves and have-nots
The traditional model for grouping in MMOs relies on three roles for players to fill: healer, tank, and DPS (damage dealers). Players design their characters to fulfill one of these roles and rarely deviate from it while in a group. If you’re the healer, for example, you wouldn’t expect to stop healing until the dungeon is cleared. This model has been in place since the birth of grouping in MMOs, and very few games have seen success when they attempt to break away from it. Would ArenaNet dare desecrate this holy trinity—the most sacred relic of MMO-land? You bet your Charr they would.
Now, before defenders of the status quo begin screaming blasphemy and rioting in the streets, let me reassure you—ArenaNet isn’t on a crusade to destroy the healer-tank-DPS tradition entirely. Instead, it intends to transform it into something even more accessible and enjoyable. As Lead Game Designer Eric Flannum explains it, “We don’t want players to take on strict roles, but there are still roles that need to be fulfilled in combat… Every character is versatile, so it’s up to you to recognize what other players are doing, what the situation is, and react to it.” The developers still want players to tank enemies, restore health to their friends and tear through enemy flesh like tissue paper as they always have in MMOs. The big change is that they want each player to do all of those things, as the situation warrants.
Think on your toes
It’s all about flexibility. Groups will still want someone to run into the thick of things and take the brunt of enemy aggression, but why should that player be locked into that role at all times? Why can’t a gun toting Charr pull out a mace and shield when he sees his friends in trouble and protect them? Why can’t a magic-blasting Sylvari use her powers to heal her friends when that’s what’s needed most? In Guild Wars 2, they can.
But it’s not all loosey-goosey–players still choose a definitive class when they create their character. The four announced classes so far are Warrior, Elementalist, Ranger and Necromancer–a healthy balance of the usual class archetypes (only Monk and Mesmer haven’t been confirmed from the first game to return).
Choose your weapon
Unlike the original game—where players could cherry-pick skills from a massive pool of options—the skills that you have on your bar in GW2 are now determined by your class and the weapons you have equipped.
A warrior who equips a shield will see two tanking skills appear on his bar, for example, and if he equips a mace in his main hand, he’ll be given three additional skills to stun and attack his opponents. Each player will have 10 skills on their bar: the first three determined by what’s in their main hand, the next two determined by what’s in their off hand (a two-handed weapon will determine all five), and the last five skills will be chosen by the player within categories—one self-healing skill, three utility skills, and one elite skill, which is very powerful but has a long cooldown.
Weapon restrictions will follow common sense logic—Elementalists won’t be able to equip shields (although Flannum told me that he ran a five-man group filled with Elementalists that fared pretty well in dungeons, such as the two revealed in tomorrow’s feature), and different classes will utilize the same type of weapon differently. For example, both the Warrior and the Ranger can equip a longbow, but the Warrior will use it for spray-and-pray AoE attacks while the Ranger will utilize it more elegantly as a long-range, single-target sniping weapon.
Out of combat, players can mix and match weapon sets to their heart’s content, but before going into battle, they’ll need to pick two sets of weapons that they’ll be able to switch between freely during combat. The one exception is the Elementalist, who can’t swap weapons during combat, but accomplishes the same thing by swapping between his or her four attunements (fire, earth, water, and air).
Flannum describes his vision for the game’s combat as “controlled chaos fun,” adding that “in MMOs, combat gets really fun when things go wrong. When the tank goes down and you have to yell at the off-tank to grab the boss’s attention—that’s when things get exciting. Our combat makes that the constant state of things, so you’re always in an exciting situation… but we try to over-communicate visually what’s happening around you, so you always know what’s going on and it’s not just mass chaos.” It sounds good to us, but can they pull it off effectively?
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My first glimpse of Columbia, the floating city where Irrational have set their follow-up to BioShock, is of a sneering caricature of a Mexican face, reminiscent of racist US propaganda from the turn of the last century. Then the camera pans to a similarly twisted Asian face. Finally, it pulls back to reveal that we’re looking at a mural of a heroic George Washington, chin up, perfectly lit, surrounded by these sketchily drawn foreigners. Below it, the words ‘It Is Our Holy Duty to Guard Against The Foreign Hordes.’
Columbia is more than just a city: it’s a floating World’s Fair, travelling from country to country on vast hot-air balloons, a shining example of American endeavour. Beautiful colonial buildings hang in the void, tethered to each other by travel rails, parting clouds as they glide. It looks peaceful, but it’s a façade. Following an unexplained international incident, Columbia’s true nature is revealed. As Irrational’s creative director Ken Levine puts it: “it’s a DeathStar.” Columbia disappears up into the sky, and becomes a twisted symbol of what it once was. Years pass, countries fear its arrival, but it remains hidden from public view. Like Rapture, the ocean-floor hugging art-deco neighbourhood from the original BioShock, Columbia is another city cut off from the world, a place where an idea has festered, infecting the population. Here, American exceptionalism has twisted into evangelical xenophobia.
It is 1912, years after the city vanished above the clouds. You’re Booker DeWitt, a disgraced former Pinkerton Agent (19th century detectives and skull crushers). He’s been asked to find a missing woman, Elizabeth. She’s in the sky. She’s on Columbia.
Same but different
At the game’s announcement event in New York, I asked Ken Levine how all this fits into an Ayn Randian world of Big Daddies, crushing fathoms of water and notions of free will? How can this possibly be the same universe that the original BioShock was set in?
“There are two things we think are essential to a BioShock game,” he said. ‘Put away all the things with Splicers and Little Sisters and all these… they’re important, and in Rapture they were important to BioShock, but they weren’t the centre. The centre was being in a world that is amazing and weird and strange and fantastical, but also grounded in the human experience and believable, and then exploring that world.
“The second thing is having a huge suite of tools and a huge range of problems coming at you, and you determining how to deal with these problems with your set of tools. To make a game and have those things – and we weren’t done with those ideas – and to put it in another city and not have it be a BioShock game would not be, I think, really honest.
“It is a BioShock game. BioShock has never been about Rapture, it’s been about those two core ideas.”
So while there are plasmid-like powers and metallic, groaning beasties to fight, Infinite is looking like a clean slate on which to write ‘fuck everyone’ over and over and over again.
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Kaos Studios’ Homefront envisions a hypothetical future in 2027, when the US is in the grips of an invasion by a unified Korea. The multiplayer component takes place during the first days of the conflict, two years earlier, in 2025. Unlike the single-player campaign’s guerrilla-based combat, the multiplayer represents large-scale war. There are helicopters, tanks, drones and plenty of other expensive futuristic technology to play with.
Been there, done that. But Kaos has something extra up its sleeve: Battle Points. It’s in-game currency that allows players to call in vehicles, resupply themselves with ammunition and deploy special attack and reconnaissance drones — and it’s entirely score-based, so you don’t have to be The Terminator to actually affect what’s going on in a given match.
Gallery: Homefront (multiplayer)
Homefront multiplayer preview: Funding the war machine originally appeared on Joystiq on Wed, 06 Oct 2010 11:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.
Dan Chiappini answers questions from the GameSpot community about teams, mechanics, and online multiplayer in FIFA Soccer 11 in GameSpot AU’s Questionarium.
A decade ago, Q? Entertainment founder Tetsuya Mizuguchi led the team that produced Rez. Its inscrutable combination of shooting action, driving electronica music, and vividly imagined cyberscapes held an almost primitive appeal for those with whom it clicked. Though there was no sequel, only the remake Rez HD for XBLA, Rez finally gets a true spiritual successor in the upcoming Child of Eden. At a special event held during TGS, I got a chance to play this new experience, both with a controller and with Microsoft’s Kinect motion controller peripheral.
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NeverDead was first announced back at Konami’s press conference during this year’s E3, and with each new trailer and screenshot gallery revealing brutal dismemberment of the immortal main character as a combat mechanic, NeverDead has certainly caught our attention. NeverDead is being developed by Rebellion and is under the direction of Shinta Nojiri, who also directed Metal Gear Acid. We got a chance to chat with Nojiri at TGS about the upcoming third-person action shooter where we learn more about the story, characters, self-decapitation, enemy types, and most importantly, how you can achieve “Game Over” in a game where you can’t die. There’s also plenty of TGS-exclusive art to feast your eyes on as well.
Story and Characters
More than 500 years ago, Bryce was a normal human being. He was a family man with a mean sense of justice and a loving wife. For unknown reasons (at least unknown to us), Bryce and his wife fought against a Demon King. The battle did not go in their favor, thus Bryce lost his wife. What’s more, the poor man was cursed with immortality without the courtesy of any super powers. Five hundred years later, Bryce has nothing left. He now works for a secret agency under the guise of the Office of Public Health and Safety that’s really called the National Counter Demon Agency that specializes in the removal of demons.
Arcadia is Bryce’s AI partner in the NCDA who will join him once in a while during the game. Once she graduated college, as a result of excellent physical capabilities, she was assigned to the NCDA.
Gameplay and Dismemberment
NeverDead’s combat system will have an ability system and XP. Players will gain XP during a fight and can spend points earned to obtain new abilities. As you might’ve noticed, immortality and dismemberment is the core focus of the game, so you’ll have abilities such as self-dismemberment, which will allow you to rip off your own limbs and throw them at enemies for both offensive and defensive purposes. Rip off your arm and toss it to distract enemies away from your position, or decapitate yourself and toss your head to a higher spot in an area to scope it out. You also have an ability called dismember explosion that causes dismembered limbs to go boom. Your free arm or leg is now a bomb that you can toss and detonate. These are the only two Nojiri would discuss so far, but says there will be more abilities to use related to dismemberment in this combat-focused game. He mentioned the ability to use guns and a special sword as well, but didn’t get into much detail.
For details on enemy types continue on to the next page.
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