Path of Exile Conquerors of the Atlas Preview

Grinding Gear Games is in a tough spot right now. Don’t take this the wrong way; the New Zealand-based games developer isn’t going through some drama or afflictive times, quite on the contrary. The tricky issue here is that the first ever ExileCon delivered in spades, and it’s not easy to see how the next edition will manage to live up to such high standards.

The announcement of Path of Exile 2 was the uncontested highlight of the convention. This nearly groundbreaking but probably not quite beast of a game defies description, being some sort of radical hybrid sitting between huge expansion and spectacular sequel. Path of Exile Mobile deserves an honorable mention as well; the earnest and slightly awkward way that Grinding Gear Games’ co-founder and managing director Chris Wilson and his team introduced the game is obvious proof that they are doing this with sheer respect for Path of Exile, instead of pushing for a quick cash grab that would end up damaging the nearly stellar reputation of the franchise.

Franchise. Until a few days ago, it would be a delusion to say something like that about Path of Exile. But now, Grinding Gear Games is finally putting the “S” in games. So is Riot Games, with its recent announcement of a League of Legends fighting game, a FPS, and a few other games. Maybe it’s something in the water.

Before Path of Exile 2, we’re getting a few expansions starting with the massive 3.9 update, officially titled Conquerors of the Atlas. The announcement trailer spawned a mix of excited and shocked reactions, and quite understandably so – after all, it’s not every day that you are your most dangerous threat.

Path of Exile Conquerors of the Atlas Preview Conqueror

You Versus You | Conquerors of the Atlas Preview

According to Chris Wilson, Conquerors of the Atlas is designed to reinvigorate Path of Exile’s endgame, a couple of years after the War for the Atlas expansion brought the Shaper and the Elder influence mechanics, and the brand-new story follows those events. Admitting that the endgame was getting “a bit stale,” Wilson is adamant that the new expansion is going to change that, adding to the flexibility and bringing some exciting fights and rewards, without compromising what fans love so much about the Atlas gameplay.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” These famous words uttered by Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight seem like a perfect fit for your role in Conquerors of the Atlas. In the trailer, Zana describes her tale of bravery in face of an overwhelming evil, and how she ended up sealing these threats in the Atlas. The five bosses that you must face can be briefly seen in their human form, and a glimpse of them as the Conquerors reveal their evolved and threatening nature, which is based off real player builds. This is a remarkable way to seamlessly bind lore and grind, in a metagame of sorts that comes as a shocking revelation to all but the most perceptive players – the Exiles are their own worst enemy. You can almost taste the bittersweet irony behind it all.

One of the most noticeable changes is straight up visible when you open the Atlas. You no longer start your quest in the corners, instead starting near the center of the map, and working out your way toward the corners. This is a change that should add more freedom to the way that you choose to explore the regions. The map is divided into eight regions, something that you’ll verify by the yellow borders. In the beginning, there are 19 maps visible to the players, and you must unlock the rest by leveling up regions of the Atlas through defeating Conquerors and earning watchstones, which you can socket to increase the tier of the maps within that region. Fully upgrading a region will reveal more maps and raise each one within to tier 14-16. You can repeatedly target Conquerors in case you want to earn more watchstones and have all eight regions at max level.

Path of Exile Conquerors of the Atlas Preview Map

With the new expansion, sextants can be applied to watchstones and affect an entire region, instead of a single map as they previously would. This gives you up to four sextants for each region, and you can unsocket watchstones between regions as you wish. Another change is that Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master Cartographer sextants now come with unique modifiers.

The support gem plus system is another feature coming with the new expansion. These gems are “very high level, super powerful versions” of the support gems that you can already find in the game. This priceless loot drops from Conquerors and there are around 35 in Conquerors of the Atlas. Wilson talked about a couple of them, Fork Plus and Ancestral Call Plus, proceeding to a short demonstration where chaos ensued, and an appropriate “RIP graphics card” comment stole a legitimate laugh from the audience.

With Conquerors of the Atlas changing the endgame and shifting the focus from the Shaper and Elder, what will happen to those items that you fought so hard for? You can rest assured that these aren’t going away, and Zana’s missions will give you Shaper and Elder guardian maps. The goal here is to keep that part of the content accessible, in case you need an item as a specific part of your build, although the focus isn’t on this system anymore.

Four new influence types named after four of the five Conquerors will provide you with new ways to change your build: Warlord, Hunter, Crusader, and Adjudicator. I feel sorry for the remaining guy, but he’s being left out because his name probably isn’t quite as catchy as the others – maybe he’s called Blayde or something? These mod pools are based on older mods but also include new additions. Conquerors may also drop orbs that enables you to enchant a rare item with a unique modifier.

Path of Exile Conquerors of the Atlas Preview Conqueror Battle

Previous Path of Exile expansions improved on various aspects of the game. Spellcasting, melee, summoning and mines were topics that deserved exceptional attention from the development team, and the 3.9 update is enhancing bows and ranged attack totems.

Ranged attack totems are now called ballistas, and you can place three of them at once even faster than before. New support gems provide additional ways of shooting arrows, with the artillery ballista shooting fiery arrows up in the air to rain down on enemies, working as a very efficient way to clear spread out enemies. The other support gem is the shrapnel ballista, which fires limited-range projectiles at your foes.

The bow is a popular weapon in more ways than one, and it saw the introduction of new skills and support gems. The Ensnaring Arrow utility skill increases ranged attack damage and restrains movement of the affected targets; the Barrage support is a treasured skill that receives a new gem allowing you to fire several arrows in sequence; finally, the Nova support gem allows you to fire an arrow into the air, which lands at a remote location and splits into a swarm of arrows that lay waste to enemies everywhere. On the other hand, you can say goodbye to the Tornado shot, which was nerfed and was “far too good for far too long”.

Path of Exile Conquerors of the Atlas Preview Bow

DIY Metamorph | Conquerors of the Atlas Preview

As if drastically changing the endgame and giving the grind a consistent reason that perfectly ties with the existing lore wasn’t enough, there is a new league coming with this update. The Metamorph league is the 28th league in Path of Exile and launches alongside Conquerors of the Atlas on December 13. Another spectacular trailer introduces the new league, ostensibly basking in its ominous atmosphere and the narration of an obsessed and scary persona. It stars a new NPC, Tane Octavius, a master alchemist that was exiled to Wraeclast for killing his teacher and is now vying to use his expertise to find the “the intrinsic darkness.” This, of course, involves a lot of killing.

As you kill monsters in each area, you collect samples from some of the corpses. The samples represent the personification of each creature’s skills, and combining five of them will result in the creation of a metamorph. When you have enough skills, you can summon Tane so that he helps you to create a metamorph. You possess certain control over the genesis of this boss, as you carefully select the five samples that blend into a menacing foe.

The resulting metamorph is a vicious boss that swiftly changes shape and offers a remarkable and unpredictable challenge. The more powerful the metamorph is, the better the rewards, so there is a clear risk/reward factor that you must consider when mixing the samples.

Path of Exile Conquerors of the Atlas Preview Conqueror Battle 3

In the Metamorph endgame, you can collect samples from map bosses and combine them to form even more lethal metamorphs. The blend of powers, difficulty, and rewards of multiple bosses yields the definitive challenge for league players. The Conquerors of the Atlas expansion brings 16 new items, four exclusive to the Metamorph league, and the rest of them will drop as you defeat the Conquerors.

Conquerors of the Atlas turns Path of Exile’s endgame on its head and is set to deliver a bold and unabashed foundation for what 2020 will bring. With a few expansions yet to release in the lead-up to 4.0, which you know by Path of Exile 2 by now, fighting former Exiles sounds like a way to close the year on a very interesting note.

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Guild Wars 2 Whisper in the Dark Press Preview

Whisper in the Dark leads us to Bjora Marches in the Far Shiverpeaks. As you might expect this is a very cold zone and visibility there is low to say the least. You might expect that because it is further north than the Bitterfrost Frontier that it is as bitterly cold and as dangerous as that zone. But it isn’t. So far we’ve not seen any signs of the Bitter Cold environmental hazard that plagued the Bitterfrost Frontier. But it is possible that this could change in the future as Bjora Marches will be with us in future episodes of the Icebrood Saga and ArenaNet has said that the zone will evolve and expand with each update. The zone as it stands now is quite significantly smaller than previous Living World zones. This is to be expected, though I was taken by surprise by just how small it is.

I was fortunate enough to play on a map that was nearly completely empty except for a few people here and there. This allowed the sinister atmosphere that you have seen in the trailer to shine through. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this atmosphere will last when you’ve got everyone and their Sylvan Hound running around. It was a problem that The Secret World faced many years ago, how do you keep the spooky atmosphere you’re trying to portray when there are 50 to 100 people running around spamming sword attacks? Funcom ended up solving that issue by reducing the zone cap to just 10 people and it worked amazingly well for their game, though some would argue that it has made the game feel abandoned and soulless. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like that in Guild Wars 2 however. That sinister area also only accounts for a small portion of the zone.


New Masteries

One thing that you see throughout Bjora Marches is the new masteries in action. There are four of them in total, Raven Attunement, and the three new essence manipulations. Raven Attunement I don’t want to talk about too much because all of my experience using it was tied in with the story. You will unlock it quite quickly though and you have to unlock it to gain access to essence manipulation.

You will have seen the essence manipulations system in action in the trailer. Enemies who glow green, red, or blue. Many of the enemies in the zone have this glow, though not all of them. You also aren’t at a disadvantage if you don’t have the system unlocked while you’re out in the zone. The impression is that these will be vital for the Strike Missions. This may also mean that they become more important as the story continues. For now, though, they’re powerful attacks that only work on the appropriately colored enemies. This means that essence manipulation is completely useless outside of Bjora Marches and I actually think that’s a good thing. My husband and I can already duo many of the champions in Tyria on an Elementalist and Engineer who are specced for fun, not for being the best. I would hate to see content in the old world trivialized by this new system. Though yes, I do agree with many that spending a bunch of time unlocking masteries that don’t work anywhere but one zone is annoying. This isn’t the first time we’ve done that though and it is unlikely to be the last.

As it stands now I worry that the enemies in Bjora Marches will be trivialized by this new system. When everyone has unlocked the various essence mastery points will people end up having to wait around for a champion to spawn again if they want to fight it because if they aren’t there at the exact moment the fight starts then the enemy is dead? Sure, I can see it coming in handy later in 2020 when we’ve moved beyond Bjora Marches to a new zone and getting enough people to fight a champion is difficult at best. Right now though, I’m not so sure about the system. It feels a bit like the Incarnate system from City of Heroes, for anyone who is familiar with that.


No More Legendary Weapons

The second generation of legendary weapons ended with the release of Exordium, a gorgeous greatsword that is singlehandedly responsible for me coming back to the game in a personal capacity after taking a year-long hiatus. As I recall, though I can’t find when and where it was said, ArenaNet has said that there won’t be any more legendary weapons after gen 2. This was a statement made several years ago however and things do change. After all, there was one point in time when ArenaNet said they weren’t working on an expansion and that Guild Wars 2 would never have an expansion, now we’ve had 2. So it is possible that a new legendary weapon could be released in the future. But it isn’t going to be in Whisper in the Dark and there has been no mention of a new weapon coming by ArenaNet so I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Still, the team had a lot of really fun uses of technology in the gen 2 legendaries, even if some of the weapons themselves weren’t all that well received. I personally don’t have any use for a weapon that gives you a giant demon hand, but it would be interesting to see other ways that technology could be applied. I would also gleefully grind for the rest of my days to have a complete set of weapons that work and look like Exordium. Anyway, the whole point is that this is the first proper update after all of the legendary weapons have been released and I’m a bit sad that there isn’t one. A weapon, possibly made of the Boneskinner’s bones would be so, so epic. Who knows, we may get this in the Black Lion store. But there’s something really satisfying about creating the weapon yourself.

Whisper in the Dark is playable right now as you’re reading this. As always, make sure you have map chat turned off and you ignore your guildmates until you’ve finished the story. Social Media, including Youtube and Reddit will be abuzz with spoilers. Have fun and don’t let the Boneskinner get you.

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Guild Wars 2 Build and Equipment Templates Press Preview

Last week I got an early peek at the new Build and Equipment Templates that are now available in Guild Wars 2. If you’re looking for a quick and dirty opinion from someone who has been playing since launch and has 30 characters at level 80…’s not that simple. I have some mixed feelings on them but, to put it simply, I don’t think they’re for everyone. Keep reading if you’d like to know more.


How They Work

By now you’ve likely seen a build swap in action thanks to the video ArenaNet released on their social media accounts. With the click of 4 buttons, you can completely swap out everything. It really is that simple if you’ve done the work ahead of time. These builds allow you to have completely different armor, different stats, different everything. And, if you set up your key bindings swapping is actually as simple as pushing two buttons. The pictures throughout this article show the whole thing in action.

Your build templates can be shared in chat and become a clickable link you can inspect. So expect chat to be filled with build links when you log in. If you see a build you like you can save and you’ll be able to access it account-wide. It’s like having Meta Battle at your fingertips.

Your build template and your equipment template are two separate things that have to be changed independently of each other. Or you can keep one the same, though I’m not sure why you would when you can do so much more.


Templates for the Average Player

One of the big things that we’ve seen a lot of in the community since the details of the templates were announced was that it wouldn’t be enough. Some people are saying they have 25 builds for every character they have and that is something I just do not understand. For most of my 30 characters, I have 1 maybe 2 builds. I dabble a bit in WvW but mostly I’m a PvE player who avoids raids. It seems that these people are a very vocal minority. But they aren’t totally SOL either. If you have more builds than you can store then simply keep a notepad on your desktop with the codes for your other builds. Yes, you’ll still have to swap out your equipment manually but it’s not like they’re taking that away from you. That’s just continuing with the way things have always been.

For the average player, there are more than enough slots. Without a doubt, the biggest benefit most players will get is the ability to use both elite specs on the same character with ease. In fact, I made my 30th character last night just to do that very thing. Anyone who uses different builds for WvW, PvP, Fractals, or Raids will also find them handy. It makes me wish we had these back when Magic Find armor was still around.

As someone who mains an Elementalist who is played exclusively with an Engineer I’m excited about this function because it finally gives us the ability to weapon swap. Though with 30 characters my version of weapon swapping is changing characters and that is by design. For others, though this gives those two classes more versatility. Equally, Revenants will finally be able to use all of the stances on one character.

One thing I’m glad they didn’t do is make Equipment Templates sharable. This would create a toxic situation where people would demand to see what equipment you’re in before they start a fractal with you and other situations like that. Though that can be faked as easily as a faked build template that isn’t a direction I want to see the Guild Wars 2 community go in.

For most people, I don’t think templates will change the way they play unless they go out of their way to change their characters. Which is very possible. Until the idea of using both elites on the same character came to mind I honestly didn’t see any benefit for myself beyond having alternatives for my WvW Elementalist. Even then, because I have so many characters I really don’t think I will ever use them very much except to swap looks. Which is something I’ll talk about more below.


How They Can Be Expanded in The Future

As a roleplayer, the biggest omission from these new templates is a wardrobe template. This is Fashion Wars is it not? You give me those and I promise you I will pay for more. I’m the sort of person who has bags of armor just to swap looks. Now, I know this isn’t for everyone, but neither are build templates.

Another way they could be expanded in the future is the ability to link an equipment template and a build template together so that you just push one button and it swaps both at the same time. It’s just one little step further that would be a big quality of life improvement.

In the end, I don’t think build templates are going to be that big of a deal, except maybe on the sale of character slots. For most people, the number of template slots that you start with will be more than enough. For others…I still question why you have so many builds…but it isn’t a total loss either. It may not be exactly what you hoped for but nothing is being taken away and it will make things a little bit easier for you. If nothing else it will free up a bit of bag space. These are just my opinions though, and I know that my experience in the game is not the same as anyone else’s. Your views may be completely different. But before you make any final decision on templates give them a try and let the dust settle. Also, keep in mind that not everything has to be for everyone and maybe this just isn’t for you. Build and Equipment Templates are available in-game right now if you want to give them a try all you have to do is log in.



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Predator: Hunting Grounds Hands-On – If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It

Multiplayer games based on thriller franchises are gaining all sorts of traction lately. Dead by Daylight has seen everyone from Evil Dead’s Ash to Scream’s Ghost Killer to Halloween’s Michael Myers enter the fray. Let’s also not forget about Friday the 13th: The Game, which recently debuted on the Nintendo Switch with solid results. Now the team behind that latter effort, Illfonic, is hard at work on its next cinematic multiplayer title based on the Predator franchise.

Well, let’s be more specific here. Predator: Hunting Grounds isn’t based on the entire franchise, since it has nothing to do with Predator 2 or, thankfully, the latest entry in the series, The Predator. Instead, it focuses more on basics, with a set-up akin to the original 1987 film that started it all: John McTiernan’s Predator. Instead of simply making it a solo affair where players can hunt down soldiers with ease, Illfonic has a four-on-one multiplayer approach in mind.

Sony recently provided me the chance to go hands-on with the game, to get an idea of what it’s like. There are two sides to the story here: the Predator, and the poor (yet well-armed) mercenaries that are assigned with the near-impossible task of taking him down.

Setting the Stage

While Predator: Hunting Grounds is inspired by the classic film, it doesn’t take place in the same timeline. Yes, your group is in the jungle and the hunting rules apply. However, it’s set more with modern weaponry, including a number of rifles and other tools you can use to your credit on the human side.

Where the Predator game differs from others is with its pacing. There are some scary moments, like when the Predator eventually collects his “trophies” after cleaning house on a team, but this is more of an Evolve sort of affair rather than the previously mentioned survival games. The Fire Team – four soldiers each with their own roles – find themselves pitted against the intergalactic warrior.

The Mercenary Side

Now, when you’re playing as one of the four human mercenaries, you’ll not just have to contend with the Predator. As you start your mission, it revolves around enemy soldiers in a nearby camp, who will stop at nothing to defend their ground. So your team will begin by taking down these soldiers. By doing this, you’ll alert the Predator to your position and the hunt will essentially begin as a result.

There are a number of objectives that become available with each new start of the game. This includes securing Intel from certain areas of the camp or disabling equipment to avoid back-up being called in. These goals change frequently with each new match, so players won’t simply depend on going to the same spots to get missions completed. That randomization can make all the difference, mixing things up rather nicely.

What’s more, each character seems to have a special role on the human side, including CQB, assault, scout and sharpshooter. Along with certain aspects to each one, this also includes watching the backs of other teammates and getting to a crucial mission point while the others clean house on the AI soldiers. This is a good opportunity to work together as a team and take out the other elements that prove to be threats, before focusing on the real endgame with the Predator.

When it comes to controls, Predator handles like a typical first person shooter. Players can rank up, even as they fail to take down the creature in a tight spot. As a result, you’re able to rank up with weapons, and change your loadout however you see fit. Sometimes different tools may work better, so it doesn’t hurt to experiment. Just don’t dilly-dally too long, or the Predator track you down and take advantage of said distraction.

Enter the Predator

Then there’s the other part of the game, where you get to play as the legendary intergalactic Predator. This feels like a completely different part of Hunting Grounds, thanks to its own unique control set-up and the variety of items available to you.

This portion of the game feels a bit like Assassin’s Creed or Shadow of Mordor. You can keep track of your Predator on-screen at all times and also have a number of options when it comes to hunting down prey. This includes the thermal vision, a trademark from the film, to follow their trail and then turning on invisibility as you’re in hot pursuit. This leaves behind a very faint invisibility figure when you move, making it tougher for the on-ground mercenaries to kill you. It’s still possible for players to make a mistake as the Predator, so maybe watch your step as you keep track of things. Don’t turn off the cloak, stay out of sight, keep tabs, and find your moment to strike within the proper time frame allotted for the match.

There’s something about being able to see what’s happening from a third-person perspective with the Predator. You get a better idea of your surroundings; and what’s more, your aiming system seems a little more open than that of a first-person perspective.

This brings us to the weapons. The Plasmacaster is a great way to blast someone from afar, though it’s likely to give away your position if you fire off too many shots in a stretch. Fortunately, you can also use stealth with your cloaking device and make the kill personal with your wrist blade, which can stab someone and take them down very quickly and quietly, unless they notify their teammates of your position while they go down.

For each kill you score, you’ll earn a skull that you’ll be able to place on your belt. This is a great way to amass a reputation with other players online, but don’t think you’re invincible, because you’re not. As the title mentions above, the Predator can bleed, and it lets out a glowing green ooze that makes it fairly easy for mercenaries to track. If you take damage while playing as this creature, you’ll want to learn how to throw your adversaries off your trail long enough to recover and get back into the killing spirit.

Ah, but then there’s the “one last gasp” approach. Once defeated – or put into a state where the player decides it’s time to die – the mini-nuke can be activated. Like the film, it covers a great distance with a huge explosion, killing the Predator and anyone unfortunate enough to be near it. On a whim, players can set this off if they feel like they’re losing the match, and (provided they can take out the mercenaries that have been hunting after him) they could end up winning after all. There’s a certain blast zone to get out of. So, once activated, anyone playing as the human soldiers needs to run for their lives.

So Which Side Is Better Thus Far?

There’s something to be said about having a good four-player squad hunt after the Predator in Hunting Grounds. If you can work together as a tightly-knit group and figure out your strategies, that means you’ll stand a chance of surviving better and figuring out where to go next, blood trail and all. However, if you’re trying to play the game as a free-for-all, the Predator thrives on that. So maybe watch your step and don’t wander too far from the rest of the group.

As for the Predator, the gameplay feels much better. Instead of first-person controls, you have better adaptability in terms of what you can do with your character. Yes, we love what you can do with the “toys,” from the mini-nuke to the Plasmacaster, but personally, it’s those up-close kills with the wrist-blade that are the best. Assassin’s Creed fans will easily relate to that.

There’s also better opportunity to observe as the Predator while the human soldiers wipe out the dullard AI camps. Not only does this distract them as the Predator tries to figure out the layout, but it also alerts the Predator to where they are, so they can start planning where to attack. Just like in the movie. It’s actually pretty neat, especially if you’re a fan of its approach.

Is It Just the Forest You Battle In?

The one level I got to try out with my hands-on time with Hunting Grounds put me in what was called the “ancient forest.” It’s a terrain that matches that of the original film, so I was happy to see it included. Thus far, Illfonic is doing great stuff with the rendering and animations, not to mention the bloodshed. Considering that these guys took care of Friday the 13th a while back, I knew they wouldn’t hold back on the red stuff.

This is just the beginning. The team explained that a number of maps are available within the game, so there’s a possibility it’ll step outside of the forest. That’s not to confirm whether we’ll see a city level akin to where Predator 2 took place, but it’d be nice to throw in some new territory that poses a challenge to soldiers and the Predator alike. Hopefully we’ll see more of this as the game continues development.

Nailing the Predator

The cool thing about Predator: Hunting Grounds is that, although it’s more fun to play as the hunter in general, it’s cool how tension really builds with a good match. The mercenaries scamper for survival and use whatever weapons and tactics they have on hand to stay in one piece. In turn, the Predator skillfully sets up his attacks, and then finds a way to win the match, even if he’s near death.

That doesn’t mean the team at Illfonic doesn’t know how to have fun with it. The developers captured a good portion of the humor that was included in the 1987 film, including winks to the crowd that remember that piece of film history. Just take a good look at the cassette tape that plays in the “choppa” while the soldiers make their way to the camp, and you’ll get a good idea of what I mean.

Despite the setting sticking close to the first film, Illfonic has promised that it’s working closely with Fox to keep everything canon with the series in general. We’re not sure if that includes The Predator or not, but more than likely, we’ll see even more references to the series. That could possibly include designs of maps that have yet to be introduced, as well as possible characters from the franchise coming back.

Hunting Grounds still has a ways to go before it arrives, but PlayStation owners can expect it sometime in 2020, since it’ll be a published Sony exclusive. It’s still too early to tell just how deep into the lore the Predator game will go, but more than likely, Illfonic will hit on all the right nerves and make it a treat, no matter which side you play on.

For now, this looks to be another fun multiplayer romp. We’ll see how it shapes up over the next few months. In the meantime…maybe watch your step the next time you’re in a jungle, yeah? Who knows what kind of fierce creature could be watching from that tree branch above.

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Tribes of Midgard Preview – Surviving Ragnarok

The looming threat of Ragnarök is something that no Norse tribe can ever ignore. It’s the kind of mythology that isn’t frequently used in video games, but it serves as a flawless setup for relentless battles involving gods and colossal entities. Tribes of Midgard is based on that premise but mixes it with survival game trappings to create a familiar but compelling game.

Tribes of Midgard is being developed by indie studio Norsfell, based in Montreal, Canada. Its backlog is mostly comprised of mobile games, but the ambition driving its upcoming game is worthy of attention, thanks to a satisfying core gameplay that motivates you to advance your character. Nevertheless, the latest open beta is proof that there’s a lot of work to be done, mostly balancing the different systems and providing additional content to keep the player invested.

Tribes of Midgard bare beginnings

Bare-naked Vikings

Tribes of Midgard is a cooperative survival game where up to ten players join forces to defend their village. At the center of the village lies the Seed of Yggdrasil, the tribe’s last hope against the invasion of the grim hordes from Helheim. Your goal is to survive the incoming onslaught for as many days as you can, something that is far from being an easy task, considering that increasingly difficult shadow creatures and colossi will invade your village every single night.

The procedurally generated maps of Tribes of Midgard are one of its triumphs, adding a refreshing stance to each new match. Each map is unabashedly huge, with fast travel shrines thankfully dispersed across the land. You will be running back and forth to your village to heal and craft superior gear, so using these shrines will save you precious minutes. Furthermore, protecting the Seed of Yggdrasil is crucial, so you won’t want to be caught amiss when your help may end up making a difference.

The bulk of the game consists of exploring the wilderness and gathering all kinds of materials. Nearly naked and only with your bare fists to protect yourself from the dangers of the wild, you pick up branches, stones, sticks, and other materials to get you started. The village blacksmith is eager to help you, with a pickaxe and a wood axe inevitably being your first tools. These are used to mine stones and minerals, and to chop down every tree in your way. Soon you’ll be handling a sword or a hammer, but you need more in the way of protection than your undies.

Being a survival game at heart, you’ll often see your objects and weapons break. Having a replacement at the ready may save you from some uncomfortable situations, but it’s a matter of balancing your future needs with your stock of materials.

Tribes of Midgard Jotun attack

Edly the tailor is glad to help, offering several kinds of helmets, chest guards, gloves, pants, and shoes. It’s not a daunting task to get yourself some basic gear; however, to wear those imposing and comfy helmets and chest guards requires some thorough exploration of the region and a sheer dose of luck. Rare minerals or jewels are necessary and hard to find, with some of the best materials dropping from the colossal and threatening Jotun.

Jotun is the giant and ambiguous entity that will occasionally show up to attack the Seed of Yggdrasil. It is a mighty challenge, requiring the concentrated efforts of every player to take it down, not to mention some well-placed and appropriate traps placed near your village. The giant will relentlessly crush any ill-prepared tribe, putting an end to your efforts in that world. Along with the objects that you gather, you also collect souls that you need to deliver to the Seed of Yggdrasil, acting as its health.

If your world is destroyed, that doesn’t mean that your developments are going to waste. Progress is seamless between worlds, so you get to keep your experience level and blessings when you start your crusade in a new map. However, you lose all your equipment and gear, having to start from scratch in your quest to get some decent weapons and armor. If you’re lucky, some better prepared player may offer you some of his loot, sparing you the initial struggle.

Blessings are the skills in this game, improving your character’s build and abilities. Spread across four classes (Ranger, Brawler, Warden and Guardian), Blessings provide several buffs and improvements that aren’t to be neglected. Increasing fog of war reveal, improving weapon durability, or increasing damage with a specific weapon, among other things, will come extremely handy when push comes to shove.

Tribes of Midgard hammer time

Fighting for My Tribe

When the night comes, the shadows roam in the direction of the Seed of Yggdrasil. Every player must make a run for the village, defending it with every ounce of their strength. Having a wealthy amount of materials may help you build a wall, delaying the entry of the mythological evil spirits. Dagny the Seeress will patiently wait for harmed Vikings to reach out, healing those who stand within her magical circle; however, whenever a player heals (alone or in a group), the others must wait a couple of minutes for the healer to be available once more.

While Tribes of Midgard already provides a satisfying gameplay loop, there is room for improvement in order to make it a full-fledged cooperative survival experience. The current lack of a player communication system undermines the tribe’s efforts, but this is said to be in the works. Even a simple ping system would be immensely welcome for teamplay and strategizing.

The durability of weapons and items is a bit on the shaky side, forcing you to repeatedly craft the same gear instead of aiming for a better one. This is one aspect that requires finetuning, along with others such as the day and night cycle. Daytime is over too quickly, frustrating your plans to go out into the wilds, exploring at your own pace – suddenly, it’s time to rush back to the village and if there is no fast travel shrine in sight, it will be a long and troubled way home.

Tribes of Midgard barbarian settlement

As far as weapon selection goes, it’s somewhat slim and I couldn’t fail to notice a disheartening lack of ranged weapons. Not having a single bow in sight is an odd omission, especially considering that some of the first foes that cross your path are bow-wielding barbarians. Combat feels satisfying, with the skills spicing up the fights, but hit detection is far from perfect.

While the sandbox gameplay set within randomized worlds is a plus, Tribes of Midgard could benefit from the addition of missions or side quests to break out of its endless loop. Escorting an NPC to a certain area or finding a specific item for someone would help with the flow of the game, adding some extra layers to its free-form gameplay.

The art is good, with a cel-shaded style that isn’t tremendously detailed, but the whole picture makes for a game that is easy on the eyes. When the snow is gently falling and you see the clouds reflecting in the pristine water, everything seems to come together. The giants are quite impressive to watch, as they slowly move towards their goal, your ultimate destruction.

Tribes of Midgard duo combat

The Tribes of Midgard open beta suffered from a few disconnect issues and another bug that cut the matches short. The day never ended, and without the usual warning to swiftly return to the village, surprise struck as the Seed of Yggdrasil was left hopeless, destroyed by a swarm of grim shadows.

This is nothing that can’t be fixed before the official launch, although there is no way to tell if the developers are going to add side quests to Tribes of Midgard to flesh out its core offering. While satisfying, it’s a game that feels extremely niche as it stands right now, and that may end up being its most gigantic challenge yet.

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PlanetSide Arena Hands-On Preview – Massive Warfare in Familiar Ground

PlanetSide Arena’s best sales pitch would probably include something along the lines of “strength in numbers” and “all-out warfare”. It’s not easy to get another battle royale game out there in such a crowded market, and so a few unique selling points are virtually mandatory.

Daybreak is trying to tap into the wide battle royale userbase with the identifiable PlanetSide brand as a starting point, but it’s likely that veterans of the franchise aren’t particularly thrilled with the new direction. However, this is a game that deserves to be played with a fresh mindset to properly judge its potential.

The long-term plan is to support up to 1,000 players in some game modes, but the Steam Early Access release is going to focus on 300-player battle royale matches. This is more than enough to give you a good taste of the sprawling map size and chaotic final minutes. The closing circle pushes everyone together, as a reminder that you are in the arena to eliminate other squads and proudly stand as the winner, not just to collect mods and power-ups ad eternum.

PlanetSide Arena Preview Drop Pod

Royale Pain Circle

During the short beta test anticipating the Early Access release, we spent quite some time hanging out inside the fleet carrier, wandering around and shooting our fellow players for some harmless fun, as we waited for the match to begin. These were the few peaceful moments in PlanetSide Arena, because as soon as we hit the ground running, it’s time to scour the land for anything that improves your build and your chances against the rival squads.

But first, you need to settle for one of the three available classes: Assault, Engineer, or Medic. Take your time to get acquainted to each one while in the headquarters, switching between classes in a last-minute bid to pick the one that will surely net you the win. Anyone familiar with battle royale and typical shooters won’t have any issues with this selection, or the customization options on offer. Everything about it is designed to get you to the battlefield in no time, including the diverse mods that you unlock and attach to your weapon, or the vehicles that you can choose while customizing your class.

The only game mode available in PlanetSide Arena during the test was the 12-player Squad mode. We could already see some hints of group strategies for the greater good of the squad, but as perfect strangers, our primal instincts told us to go forth and bravely venture into the unknown. The result was, unvarying, death. This is no game for a reckless Rambo approach, despite the temptation to break free from the slow tactical grip that your squad may force on you. Strength in numbers comes to mind once again, a motto that couldn’t ring truer when you are part of a 12-strong squad facing several teams sporting similar numbers.

PlanetSide Arena Preview Pain Circle

This streamlined gameplay approach is patent in the way that the weapon upgrades work when you are in the heat of the battle. There is no inventory to manage, you just choose to pick up or ignore the upgrades, weapons or abilities that you happen upon, always watching your back when it comes to those sought-after drop pods containing legendary items – there is no better time to be ambushed than when you are gazing at that legendary loot. You keep your primary, secondary, and pistol weapons throughout the duration of the match, upgrading them as you go, but there is a fourth slot that is saved for a special weapon. Nanites are the in-game currency that you pick up, but it is shared through the team, so it’s not a source of internal competition.

Mobility in the battlefield isn’t an issue, with so many means at your disposal. Jetpacks are your basic gear to propel you skywards and give you that edge over careless players who look no further than what’s in front of their nose. You can summon your personal vehicle when you want to move faster or, in some cases, when the team needs that extra firepower. Voice chat is of major importance for your team’s well-being, so if you don’t want to jeopardize your chances of success, setting up a team with a few chatty friends is crucial.

Part of your time in PlanetSide Arena is spent rummaging the battlefield for upgrades, while the rest of it is about spotting enemies in the horizon and shooting them before they shoot you. However, the pain field will constrict every few minutes, narrowing the active area and forcing players to come together. What started as a huge battlefield that no single player can accurately cover by himself, slowly but surely shifts into a compact space where several dozens of players have no choice but to blast away, hoping to survive the ensuing anarchy. Infantry units try their best to support the tanks, with the special weapons that you managed to grab minutes earlier possibly making the difference between victory and defeat.

PlanetSide Arena Preview First Person Shooting

Shooting from the Pocket

PlanetSide Arena feels mechanically sound, extremely responsive, fast, and fun, with a fierce competitive side to the matches. The initial minutes of a new match help convey a false sense of security, a feeling that is shredded to pieces as the shrinking circle enters the fray and urges everyone to the same area. Suddenly, there is a lot going on, shots are fired from inconceivable places, and if you manage to survive dangerous situations, you may end up with this rewarding but conflicting sense of exhaustion.

But there are a few concerns that need to be addressed. Against the initial blurb, Daybreak has decided to release PlanetSide Arena as a free-to-play game, just like its older brother PlanetSide 2. However, even with the pleasant last-minute removal of the price tag barrier of entry, it will still face the competition of extremely popular battle royale games such as Fortnite Battle Royale or Apex Legends. Perhaps players will also stick to PlanetSide 2 instead of making the switch to the new game.

If for some reason PlanetSide Arena fails to gain traction and convince a large share of players, the 300-player matches may become an issue. The massive scale of the battles is where the game shines, and if it fails to show them in all their glory, it may end up stuck in an inglorious loop. Match waiting times will be another concern in case the player base is less than satisfactory, with the subsequent addition of game modes dispersing players even further.

PlanetSide Arena Preview Quad Vehicle

Then there are the inevitable lingering doubts regarding monetization. PlanetSide Arena has a loot box or crate system where you can earn cosmetics, which is fine, but there are mods as well that affect your performance. Increased sprint speed, reduced time to revive teammates, or increased turbo regeneration for vehicles all sound like the kind of tiny advantages that may end up giving someone the upper hand. It’s the kind of mechanic that makes you wonder if the battles will be leveled, or if your skill is useless in face of your opponent’s deep pockets.

That’s a lot of “ifs” for Daybreak to consider, with the priority task of balancing gameplay and monetization in a way that pleases the community, while still being able to fund the game’s continued development. I enjoyed my short time in PlanetSide Arena and can’t wait to try more of its massive scale free form combat, but here’s hoping that I won’t have to face an enemy squad that shoots with its credit card.

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Dauntless: How Does It Measure Up On the Nintendo Switch?

It’s not like the Nintendo Switch had a dire need for Monster Hunter-related action. Capcom released Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate last year, and though it’s not quite as highly detailed as Monster Hunter World, it’s still an impressive beast all the same. However, if we’ve learned anything about the Nintendo Switch’s ever-growing library, it’s that there’s always room for one more, and Phoenix Labs has been hard at work on producing a version of its free-to-play monster hunting game Dauntless for the Switch, aiming to release it sometime later this year.

The company recently offered us the opportunity to go hands-on with a new build of the game to see how it’s shaping up, and thus far it looks to be a monstrously good time.


Loaded With Features

Like the other versions of the game, Dauntless for Nintendo Switch will feature cross-progression features that work with other consoles. Not only that, but it’ll have cross-play as well and that includes PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Phoenix Labs wasn’t able to let us test out these online components just yet, but they promised everything would run smoothly once the game launches.

For those who haven’t tried Dauntless yet, let’s just say the more the merrier. The game allows you to team up with others to hunt down large beasts, utilizing a number of attacks and defensive techniques, such as reviving fallen colleagues should they fail to use a health potion at the right time. It’s up to you and your teammates to formulate the proper plan to bring down the beast you’re hunting, a job that’s easier said than done.


The Charrogg Awaits

In this particular case, the monster we ended up chasing down at first was the Charrogg. This impressively sized behemoth put up quite a fight, thanks to his speed and size. Along with being able to charge with his massive size, he’s also able to swing around his tail, hitting whoever may be sneaking up behind him.

That’s just the start of his arsenal, however, as he’s able to generate fire attacks in different ways. To start, he can breathe fire from his mouth, making him lethal when it comes to getting up close to his face. Then he can also shoot it from parts of his shell, creating a surrounding fire attack that could cause havoc if you try and attack him from the sides.

The fire can also splash on the ground, creating lava that can effectively hurt your hunter should they come into contact with it. It helps to use a roll to get out of the way, or, at the very least, moving out of range enough to maybe try a long-distance attack. A recently posted Nintendo Treehouse video from E3 shows some of this battle in action, so you can get an idea of what the Charrogg is capable of (The battle begins at about the 4:05 point).


So How’s the Game Perform?

In spite of the fact that the Nintendo Switch isn’t quite a powerhouse like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, Phoenix Labs has balanced the port of Dauntless just about right. There are some lower fidelity visuals in some spots and a few slight details missing, like some shadows, but based on our session with the game, it runs pretty smoothly.

The frame rate for Dauntless holds up pretty well on the Switch. Even in a multiplayer group, we barely noticed any drop in quality or speed, allowing us to chase after the rather large Charrogg without breaking a sweat. The up-close stuff looks great as well, even if you’re right in the face of the beast as he spits fire at you.

Compared to Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, it does pale just slightly. Other than that, though, Phoenix Labs has packed quite a bit into this port. The environments look great, even if a few things have been removed to keep them moving steadily. The animations are superb on both the hunters and the creatures alike, barely missing a beat in the midst of each battle.

Running in docked mode, Dauntless looks pretty sharp. It’s a little easy to see some of its missing details in this mode, but it’s still a great looking game when it comes to tracking down your target and fellow hunters.

As for portable mode, we took a glimpse at a session, and the game somehow comes across as even better. It looks about right in 720p on the small screen, and its performance doesn’t seem to skimp in any way. This makes the game an ideal selection for handheld sessions, should you feel like teaming up with others for a quick monster-hunting jaunt.


A Monster Hunt For Everyone

One thing that’s great about Dauntless for Nintendo Switch is that its difficulty is balanced. If you want to take on tougher hunts, that’s definitely something available within your wheelhouse. The game doesn’t overwhelm you when you jump into battle, and provides just the kind of balance to welcome both newcomers and hotshot monster hunters alike.

What’s more, it’s free-to-play, without forcing a number of Microtransactions on you. It’s just the perfect entry point for players to give it a try, especially if they haven’t picked up Generations yet. It enables them to take the game for a test drive before they think about indulging into the items that can be purchased. Completely optional, of course.

For players that have been looking for a monster hunting experience that suits them, or those seeking a fresh challenge after conquering Generations, Dauntless looks to fit the bill. However, we’ll hold off final judgment until the final game releases sometime later this year. 

If it holds up as well as other ports of the game, though, you’re in for quite the hunt.

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Marvel’s Avengers Hands-On Preview

After several years of working behind-the-scenes on the franchise, Square Enix finally lifted the veil off Marvel’s Avengers. The company initially revealed a trailer for the upcoming action/adventure title from Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics back at E3 2019 earlier this year.

There were some who felt mixed about it. Taking control of Earth’s greatest heroes seems to be a dream come true for some players, but there are others that have come up with complaints. For instance, the character models being somewhat unfamiliar compared with those from the Marvel Studios films. Keep in mind that the game property is different than the films, despite the similarity in tone. Then there’s the concern about the first pieces of gameplay, which make the action seem more straightforward and potentially limited.

However, the publisher wanted to answer these questions properly. During our recent trip to PAX West this past weekend, it invited us to go hands-on with the game for the very first time, following a gameplay showcase the week beforehand from Gamescom. Even though there wasn’t anything new present in the demo – it was the same opening level that was previously shown – it does feel like Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have something special here. In fact, it might just go its own way when it comes to establishing a superhero hit for the teams, outside of what Insomniac Games has done with its Spider-Man property.

Avengers Day Is Cut Short

The game begins with the celebration of Avengers Day, with Tony Stark and company opening a new headquarters in San Francisco. However, it isn’t long before a terrorist attack takes place, with a mysterious benefactor looking to destroy the team with his well-armed soldiers. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Bruce Banner and Black Widow set out to stop them, by whatever means necessary.

It’s here that the game begins to rotate through each of the available characters, giving players a good idea of what they’re capable of doing in Marvel’s Avengers. Surprisingly, there’s a heaping amount of variance for an action/adventure game, instead of the usual tap-tap combo business.

It Must Be Thor’s Day

First up is Thor, complete with Mjolnir in hand. He comes crashing down onto the scene with a powerful lightning strike, as soldiers continue to be dumb enough to move in on him. It’s here that we learn about the combo system that Crystal Dynamics has implemented with the character into the game, as he’s capable of quite a bit.

For instance, he can use Mjolnir to smack a few folks around up close, and he can also break through barriers to get to other parts of the stage as needed, once he’s cleared the area of certain enemies.

The real treat here is being able to throw his hammer at foes from afar. It’s great being able to guide it just as Chris Hemsworth’s character has done in the movies. Not only are you able to hit someone as you hurl it towards them, but you can also do damage as it comes flying back. Sometimes it automatically recalls, so you’re able to continue delivering smooth combos at enemies that get close to you.

Let’s Build an Iron Man Suit

Next up is Iron Man. His gameplay segment starts pretty nicely, as he flies through the sky and shoots enemies that fly within his range with their own rocket packs. Taking them down is fairly easy, though you do have maneuvers where you can dodge incoming attacks should the need arise. This feels like a cool flight sim that puts the older Sega Iron Man game to shame, and that’s with just a few seconds of gameplay.

Once that’s done, Stark can land on the ground and deliver some punishing blows with his suit, mainly with lasers that he can fire at adversaries. For good measure, he can also fire a repulsor beam for several seconds, doing damage to tanks and other well-shielded foes with no problem whatsoever. It does need to charge, so don’t expect to use it all the time.

Overall, Stark’s got some great stuff with his toys here, and from the looks of it, you can unlock new abilities as well.


And as you might guess, Marvel’s Avengers indeed has a Hulk. Bruce Banner enters the scene as his usual calm self, but it isn’t long before Black Widow sends him flying onto the scene as the Golden Gate Bridge starts coming apart from attacks.

It’s here that he transforms into Hulk mid-air and lands on the ground. As adversaries get close to him, he can deliver a number of strikes that can make quick work of them, while taking the least amount of damage out of the characters included within the game. What’s more, he can also pick up enemies and slam them down in a number of innovative, and fun, ways.

There’s also some platforming with Hulk, though this can take some getting used to, mainly due to his size. He’s a big, lumbering guy, so it might take a bit to handle his jumping capabilities across limited platforms. Fortunately, they’re clearly marked to show where they begin or end, so you can proceed to the next section. You can land with precision with the help of his ground smash – which can also take out some unfortunate saps on the ground for good measure.

Hulk can also grab onto some sections of the stage to temporarily gain some leverage, and maybe even do a quick wall jump to another part. Again, it takes some practice, but it shows off his versatility, even for a big dude his size. It’s really cool to watch him play, and even kick some poor idiot that comes flying out of a tank that he just flipped on its head. T Thunderclap is included as a special “cinematic attack” of sorts, as you can clear the area of most foes once you utilize it.

Hulk is probably my second favorite of the bunch behind Thor…but don’t tell him I said that. I don’t need to get punched in the face.

Captain America Needs Your Help

We’ve all seen the gameplay footage by now that shows poor Captain America meeting his fate in the Helicarrier once it’s destroyed. However, before that, we get a great idea of the fighting style he possesses within the game, when he’s available for use.

First off, you can throw his shield, similarly to how Thor throws his hammer. It’s a great tool for taking down an opponent from afar or even messing up someone long enough to land a combo strike on them. His combat style is very cool, filled with all sorts of dynamic moves and suave acrobatics, just like his big-screen counterpart in a way. His shield is also handy for occasional defensive techniques, should his health need a little bit of saving. Overall, he’s a good character, but his opening segment was cut a bit short.

Don’t Mess With the Widow

Last but not least, we get a taste of what Black Widow can do. She uses stun batons and her firearms to take down enemies, along with her quick grab movements. These especially come in handy for the boss battle that takes place at the end of the level, where we’re introduced to Taskmaster.

The former colleague of Natalya pops up and introduces a “sonic bomb” that could easily tear the city apart. As the other Avengers try to keep the bridge from completely collapsing, Black Widow takes it upon herself to take on Taskmaster and stop him from detonating it.

At first, the segment is a quick-time event scene, in which Widow punches her foe in mid-air. Then it settles into a full-on brawl on the ground. She can counter and roll out of the way, and then hit back with her own techniques to throw him off. It’s a boss battle that does pretty well, to say the least, and hopefully sets the tone for other encounters with Marvel enemies later on in the adventure.

There’s one other great segment where Taskmaster comes flying in, forcing Natalya to do quick damage to him with each swoop before he lands on the ground to do one-on-one battle. She can also temporarily turn invisible, as she does in the demo, to throw him off. This adds a neat twist that we wish we had seen more of with other characters, and it’s a great way to tie up the demo overall.

A Smooth Flow, But Merely a Taste

There’s still some questions as to what’s coming with Marvel’s Avengers content following its release, but the opening demo seems to take on a whole new life once you actually take control of it. Sure, some questions could be asked about the character models, and what really happened to Captain America following the events that unfolded on Avengers Day. However, the game just feels naturally cool, giving each character a degree that we didn’t expect from a title on this level.

Thor probably relates closest to Kratos from God of War here, being able to kick opponent’s butts with majesty and grace, while still generating enough lighting and cool Mjolnir throws to barely break a sweat. I also have to give a nod to Hulk, who is just as enjoyable to play here as he was in his classic adventures, namely with The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction from the PlayStation 2 and GameCube days. Granted, the chaos doesn’t get that far out of hand, but you can feel the sheer joy of smashing and having a field day with it.

The other characters have their balance as well. Iron Man is an outstanding hero both on the ground and in the air, and it looks like the final game will offer more than enough opportunities to try both, across single player and multiplayer. 

Black Widow is cool as a cucumber here, and her boss battle with Taskmaster shows that she shouldn’t be messed with. My fingers are crossed that we see other weapons introduced over the course of the game.

Again, though, I would’ve liked more Captain America. I can understand why his role was diminished, but something tells me we haven’t seen the last of him here. He’s an iconic character, and there’s something that Crystal Dynamics in store that’s likely to throw us for a loop. The co-developer did note that we could see new heroes enter the fray, and that leaves lots of room for either the Winter Soldier or the successor to the shield, the Falcon.

The Heroes We Need

For now, though, I feel a lot better about where Marvel’s Avengers is heading. The gameplay really has that click that fits in with the visuals that we got a taste of a little while back; and the content that the developers have in mind make this sound very promising.

Also, keep in mind that it took a while for Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man to build up as well. So there’s potential here for Marvel and Square Enix to strike gold again, this time with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

They’ve still got time to get it right, since the game doesn’t ship until May 15, 2020 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Plenty of time to assure that it’s got the polish it needs to truly do these heroes…justice?

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World of Warships Submarines Preview: Hardly Sub-Par

Over the past few years, World of Warships has managed to grow into something special all its own. Hardly a World of Tanks on the high seas, the franchise has managed to create something significant with its naval battles and continues to grow each day with its available ships, online capabilities and strategies. Not to mention it’s performance on console, now that World of Warships Legends has a full release on PlayStation 4.

So what’s the next step for the PC release? How about a new layer of strategy, literally? For years, fans have been asking for submarines to be added to the game. We’re not sure if it’s just the idea of being able to attack destroyers from underwater, or just replicating the notion of being like Sean Connery in The Hunt For Red October (or, like the game’s director tells us, the captain from the legendary film Das Boot, which is well worth checking out), but the team apparently decided they would make this key addition to the game. Soon players will be able to take them for a test run. Wargaming Austin invited us down to take them for a test run.

Since players have been requesting submarines for some time, and considering Warships’ base has grown to 30 million active accounts over the past four years, Wargaming has been paying very close attention to players aspirations for the game. With 300 warships to choose from above the water, the team decided to sink to the depths to see what else it can offer. This new class does change things up a bit, as players can do quite a bit both on the surface and beneath it.

For this new addition, the developers actually had to do a bit of rebuilding with the maps. That’s because, beforehand, they actually had everything set to go on the surface, but not beneath it. So they had to create the depths below on each individual map to make this happen. It makes sense since there was no reason to go beneath the water beforehand, but it’s necessary with submarines as you’ll want to see the destroyers you’re sneaking up on and prepare your attacks accordingly.

Over the course of the next few weeks, submarines will enter beta-testing within the game, across various classes. It will start in three key countries: the United States, Germany and the USSR. You can see the available classes below, as broken down by the publisher:

  •  The United States: the Cachalot (Tier VI), Salmon (Tier VIII) and Balao (Tier X).
  •  Germany: the U-69 (Tier VI), U-190 (Tier VIII) and U-2501 (Tier X).
  •  USSR: the S-1 (Tier VI), L-20 (Tier VIII) and K1 (Tier X).

Tiers vary depending on skill set, so those that are just getting the hang of them will want to start with something on the lower set, like the Cachalot. As they become more experienced, Warships vets will want to try their luck with the K1 and the U-2501, just to see what they’re capable of. They’re really something, based on our hands-on time with the models in the multiplayer tests.

When it comes to submarines being on the surface, there’s an advantage with conserving oxygen. However, that also makes you visible to not only enemy ships, but also attacking planes from the sky. You’ll want to make sure you’re doing this only when you’ve got minimal enemy presence around you, or you need to regather for a moment while you figure out your next move. Once that’s done, you’ll want to move down to the next level, periscope.

Periscope level does bring your speed down a bit, but that doesn’t sink you too far into the depths where your oxygen depletes too badly. This also gives you the access you need to target enemies and fire torpedoes, using an effective targeting system once you get someone in range. The targeting system does take a little bit of practice, as it’s not as typical as the firing range on a destroyer. However, you’ll see how effective it is once you get used to its range and timing.

Something to keep in mind; the game doesn’t have a mode where you can attack other submarines, at least not yet. For the time being, the beta that will launch over the next few weeks will simply have submarines going up against warships, and vice versa. Wargaming did note that, in the future, there’s the possibility of an update in which it could launch full-blown underwater warfare between ships. For now however, you’ll want to keep warships firmly in your sights. Keep your periscope firmly trained on targets above water, because it won’t do any good trying to fire at anything beneath it.

Now, back to torpedo firing. When you do use a targeting system, you’ll use what’s called an acoustic pulse. This enables you to see what lands within your range, though you’ll set up shots properly so you can hit something. It’ll take time to get this down, so be patient.

One other note about the acoustic pulse is that it makes you very vulnerable. By activating it, some enemy vessels will be able to see you on the map. It’s just for a short while, but it could be just enough time for them to figure out your position, so make sure you’re ready to move.

Speaking of movement, one thing you’ll want to keep in mind with water depth is how it can affect your speed. I talked above about how oxygen can be depleted depending how deep you are underwater and speed is affected as well.

If you’re right above the surface, oxygen doesn’t run out too quickly, and you can move at a pretty moderate speed. However, if you go deeper, the oxygen does start to run out much more quickly, and you’ll be forced to go much slower. If it’s stealth you’re going for this might be a good tactic, but you don’t want to stay underwater for too long, lest you run the risk of damaging your vessel and being forced to surface way too quickly, possibly setting yourself up for a counter-attack from enemies.

Once you get used to a submarine’s movement, it can make quite the team player in World of Warships. Not only are torpedoes effective to destroyers and other ships, but you can use it to “spot” other ships and report to fellow teammates above water. It can be used to “spy” from lower depths, as well as possibly set up damage for someone to come along to finish them off.

Ah, but that does not mean that the other team won’t be ready for you. Remember earlier when I mentioned something about depth charges? The heavier warships in Warships are more than packing for this occasion. If they know that submarines are in the area, they’ll have the option to drop a few of these. If they manage to hit your vessel, they’ll do a significant amount of damage to the hull. By reading “pings” in the water, they can gather a good idea of where to drop, so don’t think it’s going to be peaceful going on the hunt.

Some warships will also have anti-submarine mortars as well. These may not be as damage inducing as depth charges, but they’re highly effective once they have you in their sights. Be prepared to get out of the area quickly if you see one of these set you up.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about lighter ships attacking subs. The destroyers seem to be the ones that can do the larger amount of damage. Do keep a look out though. They can even ram submarines if they surface, and that can leave quite a mark, as we learned from one particular skirmish during a match.

You can go fully underwater if you want to creep along the ocean floor and there’s a positive and a negative to this.

The negative is you won’t be able to see your enemies. However, you will be able to use what’s called a hydrophone. With this, you can see which way the nearest enemy ships are going as well as objects and such. From there, you can determine what their trajectory is, and figure out your next move. That could mean sneaking up to the surface and firing a couple of torpedoes, or alerting your fellow teammates to prepare for an attack.

Again, this will take up a whole bunch of oxygen, but those who literally go deep with thier strategy, or those who want try something stealthy may want to give it a go to see what it offers. It’s a pretty neat trick, provided you don’t run out of breathing air first.

As far as control set-up goes, submarines handle pretty smoothly in Warships. Steering is about the same, and you can set up a pretty moderate speed on the same level as you could with destroyers and other vessels. The main difference here is that you can utilize the C button to dive and the F button to surface. Keep in mind that like the speed buttons, these are gradual so you won’t rise or drop right away. You’re going to go slow in these situations, so if you’re beneath the water and want to get up to the surface, it’s going to take a few seconds. Likewise if you’re looking to drop on some foes so you’ll need to plan ahead. This isn’t exactly like sinking a stone. A submarine requires some time to sink to the ocean floor in reality and in game.

Wargaming took its time redesigning the particular maps for the upcoming World of Warships beta that will utilize the submarines, and it shows based on the levels that we played thus far. The ocean floors look absolutely beautiful, and blend right in with the overhead action that took place with previous World of Warships sessions. It’s almost like it didn’t miss a beat, and considering all the rebuilding that had to take place, that’s really something. What’s more, the level of design on the submarines themselves, as you can see in the screenshots, is cool as well. Here’s hoping that the team adds some classic models over the next few months, including that Das Boot model that the director was talking about. (We’ll take a yellow one too please because, well, you get it!)

As far as when submarines will be fully integrated into World of Warships, the team expects them to arrive in 2020, once beta testing has successfully been concluded. They expect the game to go through that over the next few weeks, as well as make the rounds at a few trade shows, including this week’s Gamescom event.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like World of Warships: Legends will be getting submarines. The team does have a “never say never” sort of approach to the game, but considering they set up those versions of Warships with more of an arcade style, they’re likely going to stick with above-the-surface action for now. Still, you never know.

Wargaming has something special here. While submarines do require a greater deal of strategy to soak in, and a lot more balance when it comes to survival, it’s pretty cool stuff once you get things figured out. The visual style is great, adding a layer to the game that we never thought that we’d get to see. Fans are sure to love what it has to offer as it goes into beta over the next few weeks and into full launch sometime next year.

World of Warships is available now on PC. We’ll keep you informed once a full beta schedule becomes available.

(Wargaming Austin flew us down and provided accommodations for the hands-on preview. We thank them for their hospitality!)

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Steel Circus – Speedball for the Champion Generation

Steel Circus is described by developer Iron Mountain Interactive as Rocket League meets Mario Strikers. I silently nod in agreement, but the first seconds of gameplay are enough to come up with a more fitting inspiration: Bitmap Brothers’ Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe.

Kids nowadays don’t know what Speedball 2 is so they wont know how it defined a generation. The name alone wasn’t going to help market Steel Circus, but Speedball 2 instantly comes to mind. It was your go-to violent arena sports game if your computer happened to be a Commodore Amiga or an Atari ST, but Brutal Deluxe was released in several other platforms. “Insanely fun” somehow falls short to describe it, because it truly had this special something that very few games ever managed to replicate, and none of the sequels or remakes managed to even come close. Ubisoft’s upcoming arena sports game Roller Champions is another interesting alternative.

That being said, I can play along to the above comparison. Steel Circus borrows from different arena sports games and doesn’t score many goals for originality, but the core mechanics and gameplay are on the right track.

Steel Circus Preview Winning Team

No Rules, Great Scotch

Steel Circus is a fast-paced multiplayer game of teamplay and supreme player coordination. There is no room for luck, apart from the extremely rare events where the ball tends to hit the metallic bumper and end up inside the goal, in the best pinball style. These haphazard moments will often decide a match, so it’s advised that you have a decent notion of geometry and the perks of bouncing the ball off walls. There is a significant gap between newcomers and expert players that will take some time to bridge, proof that Steel Circus has a margin for progression and that skill and split-second reasoning is what ultimately matters.

Great team combinations and eye-catching goals are incredibly rewarding. When a play tricks your opponent and results in a goal, you feel tempted to cheer and celebrate – there are emotes for that, obviously. When your adversaries take the upper hand and you’re on the receiving end of a stunning play, you feel humbled and learn from your mistakes. Steel Circus is all about tactics, improving your game and making the best of what each champion has to offer. There is never a dull moment with all the tackles and abilities going on.

While Steel Circus pits three players on each team, each player must embody a different champion. You can’t pick the same character as your teammates, which makes absolute sense. This final closed alpha test offered a selection of six champions, each one with their own unique statistics and skills. The plan is to have over 15 champions for the full release in early 2020.

Each champion has their own power, speed, sprint and health stats, but it will mostly come down to their skills and how you use them. Skills have a long cooldown time, so make sure you’re profiting from their timely use.

Steel Circus Preview Explosion

The latest champion is Acrid, a monstrous being that seems out of the Predator school of creatures. While powerful, he is extremely slow, an issue that doesn’t make him the best attacker. His rampage skill will turn him into a devastating slapping machine for a few seconds, perfect for clearing the field for his teammates. Putrid discharge is more of a damage skill, as Acrid spits a corrosive fluid that takes one health bar from whoever steps on it.

Shani was introduced early in development, but she only made it into the game recently. Hailing from Republic of Africa, this brilliant bioengineer is weak but comes with a handy spear that she can throw and then teleport to its location. She is also able to jump high in the air and strike down like lighting, stunning her opponent.

Schröder is primed to become a fan favorite, with his ability to bend reality for his own personal gain. His origins are as mysterious as he is sneaky, being capable of diving into the floor for a significant speed boost. Entering the floor and switching places with an opponent is his other skill, something that will come in handy when a player feels tempted to celebrate a goal before it happened.

Cap-x02 is a machine that was built to last… and score. It’s an all-round player with no real downsides to speak of. It is also able to summon a temporary barrier to stop other players and the ball from going through. This is very useful for defending purposes if you manage to pull it at the right time. Cap-x02 also turns into a turret for some destructive firepower.

Ellika is a powerful Pacific League officer with large experience in law enforcement. She shines through her sheer power and physical strength. Her skills include throwing her shield in bold Captain America fashion to stun her opponents, and she is also capable of creating a circular prison to incarcerate other players for a few crucial seconds.

Finally, we have the bagpipe-wielding Scottish stereotype Lochlan. Tough as nails as his physique will surely let on, he is able to slam the ground thanks to the robotic fist which replaces the arm that was crushed by a large rock – don’t ask. Playing the bagpipes will affect the players within range, preventing them from moving at full speed.

Champions in Steel Circus are neatly designed and sport a range of skills that should be enough to complicate your selection. You should get used to different champions though, as the character selection is done in a random order, meaning that the first player to pick could eventually choose your favorite.

Steel Circus Preview Score

Welcome to Dodge City

Steel Circus plays a fast and mean game of futuristic handball. Goals come in thick and fast and you can either win a game if you score ten goals or if you are in the lead when the five-minute match is over. Since there is no fixed goalkeeper, it’s up to you and your teammates to coordinate your efforts, possibly leaving one of you further back to prevent any sort of counterattack.

Health also comes into play closer to the end of the match. Suffer enough blows and you will be knocked off the game for a few vital seconds. It doesn’t take long to respawn, but those seconds may prove to be enough to turn the tide of the match. Occasionally a couple of power-ups will show up in the arena, with the players who are lucky to pick them up getting a significant health boost or seeing their skill cooldown time reset.

Tackles are the name of the game, with every player resorting to this move to stun their opponents for a second. There is even an XP reward for the player with the most tackles at the end of the match. However, you also have a dodge button which allows you to feint your opponent and leave him befuddled if the timing is just right.

The single arena currently available is a beautiful mesh of cyan and neon lights, set against a futuristic cityscape backdrop that is more detailed than it has any right to be. It’s stunning and crispy clear at the same time, making me eagerly excited for the premiere of the promised second arena. I look forward to seeing the new setting and backdrop, and the developers are aiming for over six arenas at launch. The current arena usually features three bumpers on each side of the field, but occasionally it shows up completely devoid of any obstacles, promoting straightforward play and goals scored from afar.

Steel Circus Preview Close Goal

I still can’t quite get to grips with the passing and shooting system, but I know this is a personal issue and I realize that the more I play, the better I get at it. Running and aiming isn’t entirely intuitive, and you’ll fail a lot of goals before getting the hang of it. It requires pinpoint accuracy to pass the ball to a teammate, but the best players will make it feel effortless and natural.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the introduction of a mini map. It’s not entirely obvious where the ball is when offscreen, although there is an indicator giving you a vague idea. Knowing where your teammates are positioned is also essential to get a superior overlook on the arena, so a mini map would be extremely useful in this regard.

Steel Circus will be free-to-play, but you can purchase an Early Access package giving you access to all current and future champions. An in-game store also offers several options such as champion skins, emotes and more.

Steel Circus is a game that plays well and is at its best when two rival teams show a clear grasp of the core mechanics and mastery of the individual skills. It offers an equal dose of chaos and tactics, being brutal but never violent, and suited for both a quick match and a substantial dose of competitive tackling. Early Access will hopefully reward it with the player base that it both deserves and needs to evolve, turning it from a niche game into a full-fledged eSports contender.

Will it ever reach the heights of Rocket League or Mario Strikers? It’s quite a steep challenge, but these champions may have a skill or two up their sleeves.

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