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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Paladins Gets Crossplay, Smite And Realm Royale Coming Soon

Paladins, made by Hi-Rez Studios, has started supporting crossplay between PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Their other two titles, Smite, and Realm Royale, will be introducing the same compatibility soon. 

What Hi-Rez Studios games are coming to crossplay?

Paladins is Hi-Rez Studios’ free-to-play answer to Blizzard’s Overwatch. With tons of playable characters, it includes mores like Siege, which are all about “pushing the payload”. Modes like this are very familiar to Overwatch players, alongside Team Deathmatch and the objective-based Onslaught.

Rounding out the list of “popular genres” is Hi-Rez Studios’ Smite, which tackles MOBAs, not unlike Dota 2 and League of Legends. Smite takes a unique spin to the roster, however, and has an entire pantheon of gods that are battling. From Zeus to Anubis, the character selection is incredibly thorough. Realm Royale, on the other hand, takes on the popular Battle Royale genre, using the world of Paladins as its backdrop. In any case, all three games are free-to-play.

What does this mean for the future of crossplay?

This crossplay move can be considered more of a blip on the grand scale of things. But, it shows that developers and their communities want unification when it comes to playing with each other. Sony has been notoriously stingy about sharing with other brands. Worth noting is that some games under the Epic Games mentality have found ways around it, such as Fortnite and Dauntless. Even games like Brawlhalla have added crossplay support.

It’s not only free games that are getting into crossplay. Microsoft’s Minecraft offers crossplay support on nearly any system you can think of, while Rocket League fully implemented (e.g. PS4 included) the feature back in January. The upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will even have crossplay for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. 

Paladins joined cross play this week, but Smite and Realm Royale are still in the process of being implemented. While no release date has been given as of yet, it’ll likely be in the very near future.

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MMO Business Report: Let’s Hunt Monsters, Mobile Esports, and More

In this week’s MMOGames Business Review we’re going to take a look at Pokemon Go’s biggest competition, Let’s Hunt Monsters. We also have a look at the mobile esports scene, a new location-based mobile game, and PUBG Mobile. What can we say, when it comes to business at the moment mobile gaming is the thing everyone is talking about while the rest of the world is WoW crazy.

 

Let’s Hunt Monsters is Pokemon Go’s Largest Competition

There have been many games that have tried to capture the success that Pokemon Go has had since it released in 2016. Games like Jurassic Park Alive, Ghostbusters World, The Walking Dead Our World, and Harry Potter Wizards Unite have all failed to make any significant move in that direction. But, there is one game that stands out above the others, Let’s Hunt Monsters.

Let’s Hunt Monsters is a monster-hunting AR game from Tencent that has only been released in China. It just recently crossed the $50 million mark in player spending on iOS. This is, of course, only 4% what Pokemon Go has grossed. But, it is more than double the amount of Jurassic Park Alive, the next highest-earning AR game. This is quite a remarkable feat for a game that isn’t based on a pre-existing IP and has only been released in one market while others have seen a global release.

It is important to note that Pokemon Go hasn’t been released in China yet, though there are plans for it to go forward. When it happens though it is expected to be done with Tencent’s rival NetEase. One of the complications Pokemon Go is facing in China is that Google Maps is banned in the country. Pokemon Go relies on Google Maps to function so as you can see, there’s a bit of a problem for Niantic.

 

Source: SensorTower

 

Mobile Esports Games Poised to Overtake PC Competitors

arena of valor switch

According to a new report from Niko Partners, mobile esports games generated $15.3 billion last year compared to PC’s $16.1 billion. The report also states that China is overwhelmingly the largest market for both mobile and PC esports accounting for $5.6 billion and $6.4 billion respectively. It also points to League of Legends as the biggest PC esports game, having grossed $1.9 billion last year. This is down from $2.1 billion last year. On the mobile side of esports, it is Tencent’s Arena of Valor which is taking the lead. It grossed $2.5 billion last year, up from $2.4 billion in 2017. But, while mobile esports games are set to overtake PC there were 4 PC esports titles which generated over $1 billion last year in comparison to mobile which only had 2.

The report also suggests that there is going to be a shift from spectator focused tournaments towards more open regional tournaments. “Mobile esports tournaments will engage consumers not only as spectators but as participants,” said Niko Partners managing partner Lisa Hanson. “This will create mass market participation and engagement, growing a far larger audience for esports and generating new opportunities for revenue. We will see esports transition from fewer large tournaments to the addition of large numbers of smaller tournaments that are open to everyone who wants to compete.”

 

Source: Games Industry

 

$1.75 Million Raised by Cerberus Interactive for Location-Based Games

Cerberus Interactive is working on a location-based strategy game which is said to be the first of its kind. It has grabbed the attention, and finances of the CEO of Reddit Steve Huffman and CBO of TikTok Blake Chandlee who were some of the lead investors in this round.

“We believe our marketing-driven approach to game design is a new way forward for mobile game development that has double fold benefits – players get features which are important to them, and studios are able to mitigate financial losses,” said Khan. “Premiere mobile titles require a great deal of capital, and with the funds raised thus far, we hope to not only pioneer a method that greatly reduces the risk involved, but also reshapes the mobile game development industry as a whole. We expect ‘Atlas Empires’ will be our proof of concept.”

Atlas Empires being developed in collaboration with fans and players. It democratizes the process to ensure they have a strong fanbase from development and going forward which is certainly a novel way to develop a game. Should it prove to be successful though it would be interesting to see it attempted in other games going forward.

 

Source: Games Industry

 

PUBG Mobile Now Highest Grossing Mobile Battle Royale in the World

Revenue for PUBG mobile is up an amazing 748% year on year thanks to its release in China. After just 60 days China has become PUBG mobile’s highest-grossing market, accounting for 28% of everything the game has grossed to date. But, it isn’t just China that is contributing to PUBG Mobile’s success, in the United States revenue for the game rose 565% year on year from 4.8 million to 32 million monthly. It is important to note that these numbers for China only take into account the iOS version of the game, Android isn’t included, which means that in reality, the numbers are much higher.

Revenue for PUBG Mobile last month was 5 times higher than its closest competition in the genre, Fortnite and Knives Out. The game has spent 3 months now at number one globally amongst all mobile games according to SensorTower. Superdata however, who release a list of the top 10 grossing games for PC, Console, and Mobile, didn’t list PUBG Mobile in their recent list for July 2019. It’s always interesting to see how two different companies can come to different conclusions about a game’s revenue. It is possible that Superdata simply doesn’t have the information about PUBG Mobile to include them on the list, though this seems unlikely considering PUBG is on their list for PC. It may also be that because SensorTower’s data only includes iOS that they have come to completely different conclusions than Superdata who includes Android and iOS.

 

Source: SensorTower

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Esports Isn’t Mainstream Yet, But It’s Getting Close

We’re closing the gap! Esports is finally starting to be recognized by the mainstream as more than some stereotypical teenagers binging Call of Duty in their mom’s basement all night. You know, munching Cheetos and inhaling energy drinks? Esports is starting to be seen as a real sport. While we’re not there just yet, seeing the perception of media makes one thing very clear: esports is here to stay and they’re not just “playing” around anymore.

The Fortnite World Cup Surely Was, Well… Epic

Fortnite World Cup esports

Let’s take the recent Fortnite World Cup as a solid example. Epic Games are the makers of Fortnite and the Epic Engine that runs the majority of your favorite games. They put on a real spectacle in July! During the three-day event, 19,000 fans gathered at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City to watch a bunch of kids play video games. That’s no small feat, considering the stadium and event sold out, something very mainstream.

Back in February 2019, Epic Games announced that on top of the $100 million prize pool announced back in May 2018, they were dropping another $100 million for 2019. For comparison sake, the more mainstream horse race, The Kentucky Derby, had a prize pool in 2019 that was only $2 million, while the mainstream tennis-focused Wimbledon’s entire prize pool equaled over $41 million (34 million GBP) for 2019. 

 

The New Kids On The Block

We’re not talking chump change here. In fact, 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf took home $3 million from his first-place solo finals finish. During the duos finals, Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “Aqua” Wang (aged 16 and 17, respectively) split their winnings of $3 million. These three kids won the combined spoils equaling three Kentucky Derbies. 

Let’s not forget about the viewership. What makes the more traditional sports so popular is that the average everyday person can root for their team both in-person and from home. This is the part where esports has some work to do. While the Fortnite World Cup finals peaked at the impressive 2.3 million viewers across YouTube and Twitch, the 2019 Kentucky Derby had 16.34 million at its peak, according to NBC. While the 2.3 million doesn’t include “fans watching in-game and on other streaming and social media platforms,” such as Twitter, Facebook, and within Fortnite itself, there’s no way they hit the same numbers as the horse race. Let’s not even try to compare that to the 98.2 million that watched the 2019 Super Bowl.

 

Esports Isn’t Just Another Sport, It’s Better

Esports has an evolutionary edge, though. While the aforementioned horse racing and tennis sports don’t generally change at all, video games do often, and they do so really quickly. A weapon in a game could get a buff (upgrade) or a nerf (downgrade) in the very next patch, or a new map could be released, changing the entire landscape for that game. Developers tend to make updates to their games to fix bugs, errors, or to change the way one plays their game! And what of sequels?

While Epic Games has created a truly adaptable game that doesn’t need a Fortnite 2, games like Call of Duty and Madden have yearly releases, keeping players on their toes to learn new mechanics every twelve months or so for the competitive market. The professional players at the officially sanctioned Call of Duty World League jump ship the second that a new game launches for the new season, for instance. Players that want the newest roster of NFL teams are likely to grab each year’s Madden. Even the incredibly popular Blizzard title, Overwatch, that harbors the seasonal Overwatch League is allegedly flirting with the idea of a sequel.

So, where does that leave us? Esports is still volatile, but expanding near daily. Each year, esports athletes are getting younger and younger, retiring in their 20s, and making names for themselves. It’s not going to help anyone to mince words here. Esports, as a whole, has three key points that need to be addressed to really make it big with the mainstream viewership: leveling off, camera views, and product options. 

 

What Esports Needs To Do

What I mean by “leveling off” is that the average viewer doesn’t want to learn all new rules every time they turn on the TV. The constant tweaks and patches to games are surely going to confuse fans that don’t play the game. Where football has remained unchanged for decades, a new map, mode, or changes to that sniper rifle over there would change the game entirely. 

If you’re watching a game being played, you want access to the action. That’s why camera angles and views are another key point to address here. In most traditional sports, the focus is on the player holding the ball or in a single area. In a game like Fortnite, where there’s 100 players all at once, that can get trickier if there are three big fights going on in three different areas.

As mentioned before, new games come out constantly and each have their own respective athletes. There’s no way to compare this phenomenon to classic sports either. A professional Halo player may not also be a professional Call of Duty player, even though they’re both of the same “first person shooter” genre. A pro at Street Fighter might not be any good at Mortal Kombat, even if both are considered fighting games. Each game has clear lines in the sand due to different mechanics. Sure, one could say the same about traditional sports, but we’re talking hundreds of games at an unprecedented scale, not a few dozen.

 

Where Will It Lead?

Needless to say, when I call it the “mainstream viewership”, I don’t mean the Millennials and Gen Z generations that already watch these things on Twitch or YouTube. Viewers that are used to watching know how to adapt quickly and easily. I’m talking about the main media outlets and the average everyday person. While some outlets have dipped their toes, such as the Overwatch League being presented on ABC or the TBS-backed eLeague, allocation is clearly skewed still. While we have an uphill battle still to go, it’s not all bad.

blizzard esports

More and more esports stadiums and physical places to play are popping up all the time. More schools are looking into the idea of adding esports to curriculum. Professional traditional sports stars are investing in pro gaming teams, such as NBA star Rick Fox and Echo Fox. Parents are embracing the idea that their kid may not be cut out to be a Varsity football player, but they still can be an athlete with the right training and focus. 

Plus, with big money moves like what Epic Games is working through, it’s only a matter of time before esports hits that mainstream. It’ll be no time before we start seeing the finish line. Until then, esports will continue to grow.

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Killsquad – Bounty Hunters in Space

Is it still a Diablo-like game if it stars space bounty hunters? Probably not, but Killsquad certainly qualifies as a loot-driven action RPG. The latest game from Spanish developer Novarama is a far cry from its most popular series, the family friendly Invizimals.

Killsquad is a sci-fi co-op action game where you can take on contracts solo or in a team of up to four players. Going in by yourself is far from the ideal way to enjoy Killsquad. In fact, it is detrimental to the experience and could give you the wrong impression about the potential of this game. Do yourself a favor and make some friends before playing. You’ll thank me later.

Killsquad Night Two Player Co-op

Bounty Hunters of the Galaxy

In my ill-informed mind, Killsquad was this story-driven co-op game where players would explore new planets and discover exciting new alien species, and blow them to pieces. That much I knew, or so I thought. Reality came knocking and it turns out, Killsquad doesn’t feature a proper campaign, and most likely never will. This is a game about loot and leveling up your hero, paving the way for more challenging and ultimately more rewarding contracts.

After subverting my expectations, for better and for worse, I was able to enjoy Killsquad for what it is; a fast-paced action RPG where loot matters and grinding is key. It may feel light on content during Early Access, but the core mechanics are in place and the wheels are in motion. While the theme couldn’t be more dissimilar, Killsquad feels remarkably close to Pagan Online, right down to the way that enemy waves appear out of thin air. Not my favorite mechanic, I must confess.

Killsquad features four space bounty hunters for you to choose from: Troy, Kosmo, Cass and Zero. While the selection is sparse, the heroes are diversified enough to suit most playstyles. My favorite of this bad bunch is Zero, a medical combat robot gone haywire. So much for empathy, as it is now a reckless murder machine, using its laser attacks to deal with any creatures. I’m also a fan of its ability to drop a MedPack, making it the perfect healer unit on the battlefield.

Killsquad 2-Player Co-op Zero and Kosmo

On the other hand, if you prefer to get up close and personal, Kosmo may be the right man… er, dead man for that. Wielding a massive sledgehammer, he isn’t afraid to use it to crack some alien skulls. Troy is the gunslinger and natural gambler, shooting his way to better loot. Finally, there’s Cass, the warrior nun, with her sharp sword and invisibility powers.

The grind may be strong with this one, but it’s not entirely unforgiving. You can stick to your favorite hero without second thoughts as you won’t be forced to start from scratch when you want to try the others. The support gear and prototype gear that you purchase from the shop is shared through all your characters, so you’ll swiftly find your brand-new space bounty hunter starting from Vector 31 or so. Weapons, however, are bound to each hero, so this is another aspect entirely.

Vector is the fancy name given to experience levels in Killsquad. This is a calculation based on your current equipment, which includes weapon, support gear and prototype gear. To make it perfectly clear, your overall ranking is the sum of the three gear parts divided by three, in case you find your Vector number not to be an exact reflection of your stats. It took me a while to discover its inner workings.

Killsquad Palace of Pain Co-op

Contracts Make the World Go Round

With no campaign to sink your teeth into, you must pick one contract from the available selection. Contracts rotate in real time and are currently divided in three tiers: Recruit (Vector 1-30), Veteran (Vector 35-90) and Spec Ops (Vector 120-150). There is nothing preventing you from accepting contracts above your pay grade, but don’t get too cocky or you may end up seeing your mission cut short.

Killsquad’s Early Access features 12 contracts spread across three different planets. It’s a skimpy selection that is enhanced with day and night missions, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a game in desperate need for additional content. Luckily, the maps are randomly generated, which means that you’ll face slightly different challenges. Sometimes you’ll struggle to find the right path, especially in The Palace of Pain, with a narrow pathway or two being harder to find than it should. Killsquad doesn’t feature character transparency, so it’s not uncommon to lose track of your hero or an enemy in the heat of battle.

The Palace of Pain is one of the planets filled with riches and bugs of various sizes. It’s not my favorite place, due to the industrial complex design that leaves me somewhat cold, maybe due to the endless steel walkways, or the succession of vast, empty rooms. I much prefer my trips to planet Kemmekh, where the neat sound of crystals shattering is like music to my ears. Planet Wasteland 7A is exactly what is says in the box, a devastated place with traces of a long-destroyed civilization.

Killsquad Wasteland 7A Battle

Apart from the randomized level design, Killsquad’s planets also feature a few neat touches. Environmental hazards are something you must deal with and  they come in different shapes and sizes. You have meteor storms dropping at the worst moments, or laser storms that sweep the screen and everything in their path. Both you and the enemies are affected by these hazards and taking advantage of them in an intelligent way will save you a lot of trouble and health.

Each contract unfolds in a similar manner, as the heroes earn experience up to level 10. In regular intervals you’ll unlock new upgrades, choosing a new skill from a few choices. Steadily you’ll learn the best skills for your playstyle and as soon as you reach level 10, the contract objective is activated. It may consist of destroying a boss, safely escorting a vehicle, protecting an antenna, destroying crystals, and so on. It all boils down to exterminating whatever gets in your way.

While Killsquad is described as featuring “short, adrenaline pumping missions”, these actually run for longer than I was expecting. I would say that your average mission length is around 30 minutes, with some of them going well past that. This isn’t an issue for me, but some players may be more interested in short bursts of gameplay. The addition of a few extra contracts that don’t exceed 10 or 15 minutes would be a welcome addition.

Killsquad Warrior Nun Hero

A Disconcerting Lack of Talking Raccoons

The DNA you collect during the missions is the in-game currency used to purchase a few specific items in the BioSystems Labs shop. If nothing tickles your fancy or you feel confident in your abilities, the acquired DNA will be converted to credits by the end of the mission. These credits will then be used in the main shop, where you gradually purchase better weapons and gear. Things get more expensive as you go, but in general the Vector level of each piece is superior to what you have previously acquired, so it is a good deal. This is the recurrent way for leveling your heroes and confidently taking on better contracts.

There is a secondary shop where you can purchase epic and legendary weapons. These come with significant attributes but also a heavier price. You need to grind additional materials and craft three special types of currencies if you want to lay your greasy fingers on one of those.

With my early game experience being mostly to blame, I had mixed feelings going solo with Killsquad. The pace was trite and the frequent need to destroy stationary mines to earn that little bit of experience made it feel a bit dull. It was an unexciting grind that slowly improved as I became suited for better contracts and more challenging foes.

Killsquad Vehicle Escort Co-op

Still, playing Killsquad alone is wasting the tremendous potential of the game. Playing with one friend is enough to lift the game to other standards, and the four-player mode is certain to raise the chaos and fun factor in equal measure. It gets so frantic at times that the battleground turns into a dazzling light show, and you’re left wondering how you managed to stay alive amidst all that spectacle.

Co-op is where Killsquad absolutely shines, making some of its shortcomings feel inconsequential. I didn’t care that much anymore about the repetitive enemies (30 at the moment), or the small number of environments. I was having fun handing out medkits to my partner, as he unabashedly dived headfirst into the chaotic enemy waves, while I took out the rest of them from a distance. We were having fun and boasting about our newfound abilities to survive in a deadly environment, against all odds.

I can’t fully recommend Killsquad for solo players, but it gets high marks if you plan on playing with a friend. As I said before, this is where the game truly shines. It was purely designed to be enjoyed in co-op and does quite a good job at it, too.

You should have a decent amount of fun in its current state, but Killsquad needs more content; more loot, more heroes, more planets, and more contracts, which it will certainly get in the future. I can only endure so many steel catwalks before I start longing for other, more alluring planets to scavenge. Isn’t there any lush tropical planet in need of a committed and reasonably priced bounty hunter?

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Steambirds Alliance – Birds of Prey

There is something inherently evil with cats. How they seem to follow your every move, staring at you in uncomfortable ways, as if they have full control over your life. Pouncing from unfathomable places at just the wrong time with a loud meow that scares you to death.

I’m not the only one that thinks so. Birds also consider cats to be their mortal enemies… well, so do dogs and mice, which is further proof of the evilness that lies within these furry feline creatures. However, those will have to wait for better days as now it’s time for the birds to rise against their evil cat overlords in Steambirds Alliance.

Steambirds Alliance Preview Crab Boss Battle

Toucan Play at That Game

As you may guess, there is no shortage of wackiness in Steambirds Alliance, a game that nearly defies description. This is a 60-player co-op bullet-hell twin-stick shooter where birds make a stand against their eternal sworn enemies, cats, all of this from the comfort of different kinds of airplanes. It’s a clever mix of hard-as-nails shmups such as Ikaruga or DoDonPachi with Realm of the Mad God, the cult classic retro-styled MMO that Spry Fox co-developed. Now they are back with a new game that features less pixel-art and more birds on planes.

Steambirds Alliance begins with your feathered fighter on a plane, merrily flying around the rebellion’s sky base – all of you Avengers fans can think of this ship as the bird’s very own Helicarrier. Your starter plane will be your trustworthy companion during the first hours, but your progress will unlock other, better planes. These are the classes in the game, further offering other choices of weapons and strategies – some planes are even named Paladin, Medic or Assault, in case you had any lingering doubts about their roles.

Your pilot rank unlocks skill options that you can learn using skill points. I had a hard time getting to grips with the way that the skill tree worked, and I have no doubts whatsoever that others will feel the same. You need to pay close attention to each skill row, understand how learning a skill will sometimes replace other one, and work out how some skills are tied to a specific plane. For a game that tries to evoke the feel of old-school arcade shooters, this is an area that could benefit from a serious overhaul.

Steambirds Alliance Preview Buddies in Flight

Thankfully, permadeath is one thing that doesn’t carry over from Realm of the Mad God. Or should I say that it does, but with a twist that turns Steambirds Alliance into a more accessible, less nerve-wracking game. When your plane gets blown to pieces, your current plane level resets but you keep your hard-earned overall pilot experience level and unlocked skills. This approach makes progress much more manageable, while still providing a tough-as-nails challenge that requires tactical thinking and nerves of steel in order to slowly discover new, more robust planes. However, all the loot in your possession also disappears, so make sure to thread extra carefully when you have a sweet piece of gear that you don’t want to lose.

Your inventory is extremely limited, or at least in comparison to the colossal amount of loot that you’ll find in your quest. An option to auto-equip superior items is a godsend as it saves you the trouble, and it’s also nice that you can get rid of low-level items with the press of a button.

Your home base in the skies is the place where the bird alliance decides on its next target. In theory, at least, because it’s mostly a matter of entering the dropship that will take you to the open world battlefield. But before you take the fight to the cat army, you should make the most out of the available facilities. The Pilot School is where you can learn skills; the Storage is where you can safely store some of your best loot for later; the Hangar is where your plane collection sits tight, waiting for your choice; the Workshop is where you can craft new stuff; in the Store you can buy all sorts of things with gold or scrap, from special missions to upgrades and even emotes; and the Pilot’s Pub, where you can sip a refreshing cocktail… well, actually no – this is where you accept missions that grant you special rewards.

Steambirds Alliance Preview Boss Explosion

Wake Me Up Before You Dodo

By now you’ve probably guessed that Steambirds Alliance’s pace is frenetic and hardly lets you stop for a quick breather. As soon as your firepower is one to be feared and you climb experience level after experience level, the cat menace becomes more imposing with larger ships, more erratic movement patterns and countless projectiles of different shape and size. The pure definition of bullet-hell is a mere dozen or so experience levels away.

Controlling your plane is as responsive as you would expect from a game where twitch reflexes and split-second reactions are crucial. With a gamepad you can play Steambirds Alliance just as you would with your average twin-stick shooter, using the right thumbstick to aim and fire. If you choose to play using WASD, the mouse can be used to aim and shoot, but I couldn’t get used to the compulsory circular turret movement – against all odds, I prefer the more immediate gamepad feedback. You can also give your plane a small speed boost and believe me, you’re going to need it.

One of Steambirds Alliance’s claims to fame is that 60 players can fight the war together. With a few partners you can already get a sense of the chaotic, bullet-ridden elegance of the action, but I can only imagine when a few dozen players are taking on the same boss – it should be quite a sight… if you manage to see your plane at all. There is a handy option that teleports you next to another player so that you can jump straight into his fight, cooperating and hopefully reaping the rewards faster than going alone – this is a nice, straightforward way to motivate co-op play.

Steambirds Alliance Preview Sky Base

Somewhat unexpectedly, PvP is out of the equation. The focus is entirely on co-op and while Spry Fox seems adamant about keeping it that way, they have admitted that some sort of indirect player versus player feature such as guilds may eventually make it into the game. While I reckon that a full co-op PvE game is nice for a change, Steambirds Alliance just feels like the perfect fit for some epic high-altitude arcade clashes. I’m a bit torn on this issue, but I’d rather have a competent, fun co-op experience than having to deal with a tacked-on PvP mode to please the “masses”.

Transitioning between zones is seamless, with a huge sign warning you of the recommended player level, as to prevent any erroneous wandering through deadly areas. No biting more than you can chew, slowly but surely growing in power is the strategy that will take you places.

I positively admire the graphic style chosen for Steambirds Alliance. The tiny planes and smooth animation bring back fond memories of arcade classics such as 1942, SWIV, Banshee or Flying Shark. Everything is a bit crowded but that won’t stop you from appreciating the backgrounds that change for each zone. From rocky mountains to factories or rustic villages, it’s a testament to the developers’ abilities that these never get in the way of the shooting – if you failed to spot a bullet, it’s most likely your fault. And those boss explosions… now those are some truly eye-catching fireworks.

Steambirds Alliance Preview Shark Attack

I have to hand it to the cats for what they truly are; masterminds. You wouldn’t guess that these lazy furry creatures had it in them to create dozens of remarkable ships. It’s not just about the sizes and practical use against the bird uprising; it’s the way that some ships take inspiration from other animals and objects such as crabs, sharks, dogs, centipedes, trains and much more. You’ll come face to face with some clever ship design, particularly the bosses.

Steambirds Alliance probably isn’t going to replace your main MMO; nevertheless, it is more than capable of providing some frantic exhilaration. It is both suited for short gameplay bursts and long hours of relentless evil cat shooting. While it won’t set the world ablaze, it seems to have “cult classic” written all over it, just as it happened with Realm of the Mad God. It’s a chip off the old block… or should I say, a chirp off the old block?

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Borderlands 3 Has a Stacked Deck Thus Far, and We Love It

For the longest time, we were waiting for Gearbox Software to confirm Borderlands 3. We knew it was happening at some point, but the company was taking its sweet time when it came to confirming it. However, this past weekend at PAX East in Boston, they finally caved and starting spilling the details, and fans have a lot to look forward to for the next time around.

Set to release this September, Borderlands 3 looks to bring a lot of the same goodness that fueled the previous games, but on a much grander scale when it comes to its open worlds. Plus it’s introducing a slew of new Vault Hunters that mean serious business, which is a good thing. That’s because a new threat promises to be even more dangerous than anything Handsome Jack had to offer.

So let’s break down what we know about the game thus far, leading up to its latest gameplay reveal, which is coming May 1.

 

The Story Thus Far…

The story for Borderlands 3 is shrouded in secrecy at the moment. But chances are players will be digging in deep to take on a number of adversaries as they hunt for that precious loot. This includes no shortage of psychotics, robots, mutants and other dangerous creatures that will stop at nothing when it comes to burying you.

Borderlands 3

But it’s who is leading these dangerous foes that’s the real deal. That’s because you’re going to run head on into the Calypso twins. Very little is known about this dastardly duo, but they mean business based on their hair alone. They’re attitude laden, perhaps even more so than Jack was in the previous games in the series. We’ll have to see what they’re up to, but chances are they might give Far Cry: New Dawn’s terrible two-some a run for their money, especially if they have powerful weapons at their arsenal.

That’s the rundown of the bad guys. However, Borderlands 3 also has its share of Vault Hunters to lead the charge, with four main faces introduced, just as in previous games.

First up, we have Amara, who works on the same level as previous Siren characters introduced in the series. She utilizes a set of ghost-like arms that can charge up special abilities, including a devastating ground pound that can shatter enemies surrounding her.

Then you have Zane, an eye-patch wearing Operative that can pack a gun and run like the best of ‘em, not missing a beat when it comes to jumping into combat. Next up is a beast master named Fl4k, the Beastmaster, that uses robotic abilities to his advantage, as well as calling in drones. And last but not least is Moze, a Gunner that specializes in calling in a giant mech for additional firepower. She’s a great support character that will back up the rest of the group.

We’re not done yet, as Borderlands 3 will play host to a number of familiar characters from the series. For instance, classic Vault Hunters make a return to lend a hand, including favorites like Zer0, Mordecai, Brick, Lilith and Maya. For that matter, we’re also bound to see others join the cut, including Tiny Tina (well, full-sized Tina now), Tina, Marcus, Sir Hammerlock, Ellie, and, of course, Claptrap, because he’s Claptrap.

Most importantly, we’re also going to see some lore fromTales From the Borderlands, as Rhys will make an appearance over the course of the game. Hopefully that means we’ll see some other characters from that side series pop up, just because it deserves a revisit.

 

A Whole New World(s) of Guns

It looks like the action will extend past Pandora for Borderlands 3, and that’s exactly what fans want.

Taking a cue from the company’s previously released Battleborn, the sequel will feature “new worlds beyond Pandora, each featuring unique environments to explore and enemies to destroy,” the company noted in its press release. “Tear through hostile deserts, battle your way across war-torn cityscapes, navigate deadly bayous, and more!”

This could set the stage for some epic encounters with the previously mentioned Calypso twins, as the trailer hints at such encounters as “Rupture Upon Us: Holy Is the Mouth That Bleeds” and “Children of the Vault: Give Your Flesh, Take Your Guns.” It’s going to be a wild ride to be sure.

Along the way, you apparently can unlock some great new gear for your weapons. For instance, you can purchase some attachments to extend the firepower of your already devastating goods. These include tasers (to shock an opponent long enough to finish them off), rocket tubes and other gun barrels. For that matter, you can also purchase specialized ammo to pack a punch, including reflective bullets that can bounce off walls and hit other enemies. This is particularly good if you want to mow someone down from behind cover, something that will be quite helpful.

Borderlands 3

There are also some “wacky” guns thrown in for good measure. A few, for instance, can unleash taunts as you fire them, and even go “running” after opponents if you let them. On top of that, you can also use a launcher for enemies to make them explode, which is a nice touch; and also use a tracker tag to hit enemies, even if they’re not in your normal rage. Clearly Gearbox wanted to take a cue from Insomniac Games’ Resistance series, which introduced a similar style of weapon.

The galactic spread of what Borderlands 3 has to offer is loaded with potential. It’s bound to keep you busy for hours at a time as you conquer each new area, while challenging what the Calypso Twins try to throw at you. And better still, there are options available when it comes to how you take them on.

 

Invite Your Friends, Online and Off

Previous Borderlands games have been excellent when it comes to multiplayer options. You could either hop online and get your battle crew together for co-op enemy shredding, or you could even do local split-screen co-op if you prefer.

Yes, Borderlands 3 will offer the same. Although we have yet to actually see it in action (we’re waiting for that gameplay video next month), it will come with multiplayer options galore. This includes hopping onto Xbox Live, PlayStation Network or PC network and having up to four players jump in to divvy up the loot.

What’s more important, you can also play in split-screen. Although an exact player count hasn’t been given just yet, we assume that up to four can jump in, making Borderlands 3 an ideal couch co-op opportunity if you feel like buddying up. Just don’t get too greedy with the loot, because your friend’s arm is easily within reach and they can hit you. Fortunately, it sounds like a new system will divide things up a little more fairly this time around, so one person doesn’t get everything that has to be offered.

If you prefer, you can also try going at it solo. However, judging by the strength we’ve seen some of the bosses have in the past, Borderlands 3 is likely to follow suit. As a result, you might want to have some friends on your side to help you out, lest you become a stain in the wake of the Calypso twins’ homicidal run.

 

There’s More Where That Came From

The general Borderlands 3 game will be stacked with content. We’re talking hours’ of gameplay across main and side missions, depending on what you and your friends decide to take on. So if you just stick with the core game, you’ll have a lot to do.

However, if you opt in for one of the special editions of the game or the Season Pass, you’ll find even more content where that came from. Here’s how everything breaks down:

Standard Version: If you purchase the general game for $60, you’ll get access to the general game, along with a handful of cosmetic skins and “Toy” guns. You’ll also likely get a few for pre-ordering the game, in case you feel like pouncing on it early.

Deluxe Edition: Along with the goods that come in Standard, you’ll score the following with this $80 edition:

  • Retro Cosmetic Pack: Vault Hunter head & skin, Echo Device skin, weapon skin
  • Neon Cosmetic Pack: Vault Hunter head & skin, Echo Device skin, weapon trinket
  • Gearbox Cosmetic Pack: weapon skin, weapon trinket
  • Toy Box Weapon Pack: 2 Toy guns, Toy Grenade mod, weapon trinket
  • XP & Loot Drop Boost Mods
  • Preorder Bonus: Gold weapon skins & weapon trinket

Super Deluxe Edition:For $99, you can get the above stuff, along with the following:

  • Four campaign DLC packs featuring new stories, missions and challenges
  • Butt Stallion weapon skin, weapon trinket, and grenade mod

I mean…A BUTT STALLION SKIN! Who wouldn’t want that?

Borderlands 3

And finally, if you really want to go Ultimate with collecting, you can grab the Diamond Loot Chest Collector’s Edition for $249.99. Along with the above goods, you’ll score these extras:

  • Diamond Loot Chest Replica: Featuring a functional retractable lid, this chest is perfect for storing your real-world loot
  • Borderlands 3 Character Figurines (x10): Make room on your shelf for the whole crew, including the four new Vault Hunters, the fanatical Calypso Twins, and some of your favorite characters from the Borderlands universe!
  • Sanctuary 3 Snap Model: Construct your very own Sanctuary 3 model ship and display it proudly on its included stand
  • Vault Key Keychains (x4): Because you never know when you might stumble across an unopened Vault
  • Cloth Galaxy Map: Discover new worlds beyond Pandora with Typhon DeLeon’s map of the Borderlands
  • Character Art Lithographs (x5): Unique character prints starring the new Vault Hunters and fanatical Calypso Twins
  • Borderlands 3 Steelbook Case: A gorgeous metal case for any collector’s shelf

Just a word of warning. This last edition is pretty much sold out everywhere. If you really want it, you might want to keep tabs with online retailers to see when they open back up. Good luck.

 

Something Old, Something New, All Great

Borderlands 3

We’ve only seen bits and pieces of Borderlands 3 thus far, as detailed with the premiere trailer that arrived last week. It does paint an interesting picture, though, especially for long-time fans of the series.

It doesn’t look to drastically change things as we’ve come to expect from Borderlands, but that’s fine. The fact of the matter is, Gearbox Software looks to be sticking what works (at least, thus far) with the series, in terms of lunacy, crazy battles, inventive weaponry, attitude-laden Vault Hunters and more.

The visual style thus far, though still in development, looks to be on par with other entries in the series. But it does obviously take advantage of current hardware on the market. No doubt those that own an Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro may benefit the most, though PC owners should be all set based on the specs with their machine.

As for gameplay, it’s too soon to tell how the game will operate since we still don’t have a playable built. However, this is Gearbox we’re talking about. They’ve been used to dialing in their games a certain way over the course of the past few years. Even Battleborn felt familiar, as it stood apart from its previous work on the Borderlands games. So no doubt that Borderlands 3 should follow the status quo, based on what we’ve seen thus far.

May 1 is coming. At that point, we’ll get even more details about Borderlands 3, which we’ll break down for you here. But it’s going to be a day of excitement, just like that the reveal day in March was. I mean, we got all this Borderlands info along with the surprise announcement of Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition. What more could Gearbox have for us? A lot, actually.

As it stands, Borderlands 3 could be the biggest game in the company’s arsenal to date. It should pay loving tribute to those fans that have stuck with it thus far, while at the same time inviting newcomers to jump into this crazy, crazy world. Not to mention that the game will have multiplayer options galore between online and local support. Who knows, we may even get some customization options to go along with it, so we can distinctively make our Vault Hunter feel even more like our own.

Throw in a narrative that has the opportunity to launch like a rocket, and familiar elements from the universe, and you have a game that could easily conquer. We’ll see how Borderlands 3 comes through when September 13 rolls around, as the game will release them for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

In the meantime, everybody Wang Chung tonight!

 

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Splitgate: Arena Warfare Hands-On: Now You’re Playing With Portals

Considering how well the competitive gaming market has done over the years, it’s not a big surprise that a lot of companies want in on the action. However, just because you think you have a winning formula doesn’t always guarantee you do. Case in point: LawBreakers; a game that had a ton of potential but very little follow-through, and the developer Boss Key even closed down following the game’s release.

Splitgate

Even so, it’s always great to see a new and ambitious team give a new formula a try, and there’s something about 1047 Games’ Splitgate: Arena Warfare that truly stands out. Maybe it’s due to the fact that you can use portals just as conveniently as you can weapons.

That’s right, portals. Ever since Valve introduced these innovative little doorways with their self-named Portal series, they’ve been high on the wish list of players, and why not? They basically provide an exit to another portion of the map: a quick teleportation that can provide an excellent advantage. That is, however, if you don’t go flying off the edge of the map by accident.

The general rules of Splitgate remain intact from most other shooters: take down as many adversaries as possible and help your team win the match. The fact that players can open portals at will and use this newfound physics to their advantage provides a fresh spin on the proceedings. Can’t quite get an angle on someone that’s taking pot shots at you? Open up a portal, do a quantum-style leap from another part of the map, and hit them from the other side. It can’t be that hard, right?

At first, Splitgate takes a lot of effort to fully grasp. This isn’t one of those games where you “git gud” by accident. Instead, learn to embrace the physics from jumping through portals and mastering what your weapon has to offer. The way portals open requires you to do a deep bit of thinking as you try to get the jump on your opponents. Considering that they can leap around the map just as much as you can, it becomes tough to really get a bead on them.

The multi-dimensional build of each battle stage goes a long way in Splitgate. Once you get a grasp on what you can do with the portals and platforms, then you can really get things cooking.

Splitgate

The physics within Splitgate work as expected. For instance, if you want to build momentum going into a portal, you can do so by running on the ground. However, the real treat here is opening up a portal after falling off a ledge and opening it up on a new area where you float up onto a platform. This can take a bit to master, precision is everything, but once you do, you’ll find it’s a tactic that works wonderfully here.

Along with getting the jump on opponents offensively, Splitgate can also open them up to give you some defensive purpose. When you get ambushed and need an escape route they can provide a fresh perspective on how to take down your adversaries. A shooter like this depends on quick movement to avoid getting fragged, so you’ll need a few rounds to get into the mechanics and see all the options that are on the table for you. But once you do, you’ll find that you’re in for a treat.

As for the weapons that you can use within Splitgate, they’re the general variety when it comes to what you’d typically find in a shooter. But in no way is that a bad thing. For instance, SMGs and pistols can deliver bullets at a very good range, and there are battle rifles that mix things up rather nicely as well. If you prefer a sniper class, you’ll get that with the power of a railgun that can end someone’s run pretty neatly. Of course, those of you with an explosive touch will certainly make do with the game’s rocket launchers, and that’s just what we’ve discovered from the demo that was available at PAX East last week.

In other words, it takes the arena based experience and puts it into perspective with a neat new tactic. That’s not something that’ll guarantee instant success; we’ve seen innovation in shooters before, only for interest to fall by the wayside in favor of the “next big thing.” But 1047 puts its heart right on its sleeve with the game, and there’s some stuff here that comes together pretty nicely, especially on the creative side of things.

That said, I do hope the recoil gets tweaked a little bit. It doesn’t really feel like your weapons have much heft without it, but keep in mind that the game is still in beta (you can learn more about it on Steam here), and by the time the finished release comes around, we could see all sorts of tweaks to make its play sustainable.

As far as the game’s visuals go, Splitgate runs very smoothly. It utilizes Unreal Engine technology for each of its maps, which means the frame rate is pretty sturdy. But on top of that, the Tron-esque visuals really pop to life, almost to the point that you’ll want to stay in this world a little while longer. The animations can be stiff in some places, but as a whole the game runs very smoothly, based on the multiplayer demos I took part in over the weekend.

Splitgate

Now, one thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that Splitgate wasn’t really built as a massive multiplayer shooter experience. Up to 10 friends can take part in online multiplayer at a time. While that’s not as hefty a count as, say, Battlefield V’s 64-player set-up, it is quite good for an indie-based development.

Not to mention the fact that it can be quite overwhelming when you have a gaggle of players flying all over the place thanks to portal tactics. The lesser player count actually serves as an advantage when it comes to planning tactics, and it allows the game to run at a proper speed without having to worry about all the little animations that are coming together. So far, the game runs pretty smoothly, and we don’t see why 1047 would want to mess with that by adding more players. In this case, the lesser, the merrier.

However, let’s say you’re a solo player and you want to get the hang of the action before you jump through the portal with both feet. Fortunately, Splitgate will have something to offer here. The game will enable you to go up against AI bots if you prefer, letting you master the controls and some of the weapons before attempting to thrust you into the online action. This is a welcome option, mainly because some shooters just don’t provide it. With Battle Royale games, for instance, you have to “live and learn.” That is, if you can live. Here you can tinker around, master your placements and become a lean, mean portal-taking machine.

When you do make your way online, there are various options available. There’s a fun Oddball mode that takes a cue from Rocket League, to add some competitive flair outside the norm. But if you prefer, you can also hop into the usual gamut of match-ups in Deathmatch, King of the Hill and Domination. For those thirsty for an extra special challenge, there’s also a team SWAT based mode in which you’ll fight without armor. Think you’re good? Let’s see just how good you are when you can only take so many hits before going down. Time to put those portal skills to work!

Alas, there’s a catch. For the time being, it looks like Splitgate: Arena Warfare is only heading to Steam/PC at the moment. This could change in the future, depending on the success of the game. I hope it does because something like this would be welcome on the console front, especially for the low-end $20 to $30 price tag that the developers are going for once all is said and done with development later this year. Fingers crossed.

Splitgate

For the time being, however, I like the direction that Splitgate is taking in terms of its gameplay and design. True, the long-term value of the game has yet to be weighed, depending on how the modes hold up and how much content 1047 has in mind for future updates. Currently, it has enough going for it to give it a shot, and there could be additional betas in the future that will allow you to take a test drive with it. Keep tabs on the Steam page above, and we’ll keep you informed once more information becomes available.

In the meantime, who knew that there would be someone that could handle Portals as well as Valve?!

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Play of the Fortnight: The Precarious Future of Overwatch

We’re coming up on the two year anniversary of Overwatch’s launch. No one can deny that its first year was a massive success: the esports scene flourished, Blizzard added new content on a consistent schedule, and we saw people flock to the game even if they had never played shooters before.

However, as we come to the end of the second year, the future of Overwatch seems a little less certain. Updates have slowed, new content is sparse, and we’re wondering where the game is going.

No new Overwatch events

Future of Overwatch - Events

Overwatch events have always been a highlight for players. Whether you play the game the rest of the time or only come back for the event-specific content, there’s always something to do when an event rolls around. However, we haven’t seen a new event in a long time. In fact, Blizzard seems to have happily settled into a schedule with no intentions of doing anything new.

There is something to be said for knowing what to expect. Each year, many players including myself look forward to the Halloween Terror event. Unfortunately, it does feel like the events have got a bit repetitive. While Blizzard adds new skins to each event, and sometimes revamps the game mode or map a little (such as in the Archives or Summer Games examples), it’s getting all too familiar.

With their approach of bringing out an event every few months, on a fairly regular cadence, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough scope to weave any additional events in, either.

Lack of original content

Aside from events, we haven’t actually had anything new in a long time. The hero release schedule has elongated, new maps are infrequent, and even the regular patches seem to be spaced out a lot more than they were before. It feels a bit like Overwatch is in limbo: there’s still fun to be had, but the lack of a clear future is only going to hurt the game in the long run.

Even balance patches have suffered. In the Polygon article “Overwatch feels outdated in the era of Fortnite”, they talk about the meta and how Brigitte went practically unchecked for almost a year (article by Cass Marshall). Multiple balance patches happened, yes, but it took Blizzard a long time to get her to a more reasonable place.

At the beginning, Overwatch felt like a shiny new experience, with new and fun updates coming thick and fast, along with frequent tweaks to heroes and their abilities.. The events were something to look forward to, the story was constantly evolving, and the hero-based FPS gameplay was fresh. Where did they go wrong?

Trying to please too many people

Future of Overwatch - Esports

One of my theories is that Blizzard has spread themselves too thin. The major appeal of Overwatch was that it was a welcoming game for even a casual player. People who don’t normally play FPS games but are fans of Blizzard’s storytelling and world crafting were interested in the game and didn’t feel excluded. The colorful characters, the lore, the fun and not-too-serious gameplay were all major draws.

And then eports happened. Something that, when done well, usually serves to strengthen a game’s place in the gaming world seems to have done nothing more than weaken the one thing that brought so many players to Overwatch in the first place.

Try to please everyone, and you often end up pleasing no one. I worry that this is what is happening in Overwatch at the moment. This raises an interesting question: does every game have to be an esport? And how do you balance a competitive scene with a large but now ever-shrinking casual playerbase?

We need a PvE game mode

Future of Overwatch - PvE Game Mode

I’ve said it before, and this is definitely the hill I am willing to die on: Blizzard needs to bring in a PvE game mode. Junkenstein’s Revenge remains one of the most popular event game modes to date, and it seems strange that they haven’t added a permanent PvE mode already. Another suggestion players have made is a campaign mode, where players could explore the backstory of different heroes.

Ultimately, Blizzard needs to start doing something different. While I’ve talked before about a Battle Royale mode, maybe they need to do more to highlight their strengths rather than succumbing to the current flavour of the month genre. A PvE game mode would do this wonderfully, and would cater more directly to their more casual playerbase, perhaps even drawing some who’ve already left back.

Closing Thoughts

Overwatch isn’t dead, but it has certainly seen a decline in popularity lately. A large part of this impression is due to the fact that we aren’t seeing the game evolve any more. Is Blizzard trying too hard to please too many different types of players?

Blizzard faces a huge challenge in balancing its game for regular players, casual players, and its competitive and esports scenes. Whether or not this will be possible in the long run remains to be seen, but it’s definitely going to be difficult and they’re likely going to continue losing people along the way.

Will Blizzard strike a balance that works for the majority of the community? We’ll see what happens as we enter Overwatch’s third year shortly.

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Play of the Fortnight: 5 Tips for Overwatch Solo Queue

Playing as a team is incredibly important in Overwatch, especially ranked. However, sometimes solo queueing is unavoidable. Solo queue is a daunting experience for many players. What can you do to make your experience as positive as possible? In this Play of the Fortnight, we go through five tips for solo queueing in Overwatch. We’ve included general tips as well as some hero choice advice, so go forth and have a great time in solo queue!

Overwatch Solo Queue

1. Use voice chat for callouts

A lot of players avoid voice chat, especially in solo queue, because they’re shy or worried about toxicity. However, voice chat is key for receiving callouts, and can be useful if you get a player on your team who takes on a leadership role. You don’t have to use your microphone, even just being in voice chat and able to hear callouts makes a huge difference.

If you do feel confident enough to make callouts, voice chat is the easiest and quickest way to do so. Keep the information to a minimum, point out where enemies are and maybe even whether or not you’re pushing or falling back.

That’s not to say that toxicity isn’t an issue. Angry players can be even more difficult to deal with when they have direct and instant access to you through voice. We’ve talked about it before, and voice chat can definitely make a bad situation worse. That leads us into our next tip.

2. Don’t be afraid to use the mute button

In fact, to go further than “don’t be afraid to use the mute button:” use it liberally! There’s nothing worse than trying your best only to have your entire game thrown off by one overly mouthy, frustrated teammate. If your teammate is distracting you and not providing useful information whilst yelling about how Reaper just flanked them, use that mute button.

In fact, encourage your teammates to do the same. I’ve muted people in the past and had my teammates continue to engage with them and it defeats the purpose. The best thing you can do is ask your teammates to ignore or mute the offending person and focus on the game. You can pull it back, but it’s all the more difficult if everyone is focused on the tilted player instead of the game.

Overwatch Solo Queue

3. Pick heroes that allow you to carry

While you can absolutely pick whoever you want, there are certain heroes who will be more useful in a solo queue situation. Zarya, for example, is incredibly strong. Her shields allow you to protect teammates who are out of position whilst simultaneously charging up your own damage. She inflicts a lot of damage for a tank, and can shield herself to get out of harm’s way. On top of that, her ultimate can be an absolute game changer if you’re wise about when you use it. While I wouldn’t advise picking her as a solo tank, she can be fantastic for solo queueing and excellent when supporting another tank.

Moira is a great support to pick as well. She can deal out a lot of damage, has plenty of flexibility, and has an escape that gets her out of the way if her team don’t back her up. Zenyatta is another big game changer, as an accurate player will be devastating, and his utility is also extremely useful.

If you want to be a damage dealer, pick a flanker and practice with them. This one is a bit riskier as it can be easy to get shut down, but if you get good with a flanker you can ruin the enemy team’s day. It’s also worth noting that if the enemy team has someone in the backlines that needs taken out, if you’re playing the flanker you won’t have to rely on teammates you don’t know to do it. If you need something done well, do it yourself!

4. Focus on your own performance

While it may be frustrating when your team are underperforming, you cannot control that. The only performance you have any direct influence over is your own. For that reason, we recommend focusing on your own abilities. There’s always room for improvement, so after each match think about what you could have done better. Was there a mistake you made that you could try not to make in the future?

Obsessing over what your teammates did wrong is not only unhelpful to you, but can make you more frustrated which can directly influence your performance.

Overwatch Solo Queue

5. Finally, stay positive!

Never underestimate the power of staying positive in the face of an anger-inducing match. By this, we don’t mean don’t let a bad game affect you at all. Frankly, that seems impossible. However, if you have had a few losses in a row, take a break. Walk away from your PC or console, get a drink, and take a deep breath before you get back into it.

Repeatedly throwing yourself at the mercy of teammates you have no control over can be a frustrating experience. The more frustrated you get, the more likely you are to perform poorly yourself. Going into your next match with a refreshed mindset can make a huge difference to your performance and the outcome of the match.

Closing Thoughts

Solo queue can be a fun experience, and while challenging, it can be all the more rewarding when you start to see yourself climb. Using voice chat, picking the right heroes, and focusing on your own performance while staying positive are all so important. We hope the tips we’ve suggested above help you have an excellent solo queue experience!

What are some of your favorite ways to have a good time in solo queue? Let us know in the comments below!

The post Play of the Fortnight: 5 Tips for Overwatch Solo Queue appeared first on MMOGames.com.