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Horizon Zero Dawn: how Guerrilla made open world content that doesn’t feel like checklists and chores

25 Feb

Horizon Zero Dawn is a pleasure to play to 100% completion, every step of the way. How did Guerrilla achieve this remarkable feat?

horizon_zero_dawn_2

Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the few open world game to respect the player’s time and energy.

As touched on in our Horizon Zero Dawn review, side content is carefully laid out around hubs to reduce backtracking; optional quests take you on tours of environments you might otherwise miss; and when you do step off the beaten path, it’s usually rewarding in some way – narratively or mechanically or both.

“Either we’re going to spend another couple of months and really try to get this up here, or we’ll just cut it. We don’t want something to be in there that’s mediocre.”

This makes Horizon Zero Dawn a refreshing antidote to open world fatigue, and according to senior producer Joel Eschler, Guerrilla Games made a conscious effort to avoid checklist-style gameplay.

“It’s definitely something we were aware of,” he told me at a Horizon Zero Dawn pre-launch event in Sydney last week.

“When we were building our feature set for Horizon and we got to the point where we agreed we are going to polish this and we’re going to commit to this staying in the game, we wanted everything to be up to a certain quality level. We wanted everything to be really good.”

Eschler made a series of gestures indicating multiple levels of content. “We didn’t want to have this: amazing, really good, crappy,” he said, waving a hand well below the other levels.

“If we were working on something and it wasn’t working, we didn’t like it internally or it was going to be too expensive to make right or the playtests were saying that it wasn’t working, then we looked at it really hard and decided, okay, either we’re going to spend another couple of months and really try to get this up here, or we’ll just cut it. We don’t want something to be in there that’s mediocre.”

Even so, Horizon Zero Dawn makes clear distinctions between main and side content – and that’s one of the reasons Eschler believes it works so well.

“We have our varying tiers of quests. We have our main Aloy progression story which is our big main path that everyone who finishes the game will see. We have teams dedicated to that,” he said.

“And then we have other teams dedicated to the side activities like the Hunting Grounds, which are tests of skills. And they were really, really heavily designed between quest designers, artists, the designers that built the robots, to highlight the skills of the robots and to give you the chance to become really, really expert at hunting them.”

“We have teams dedicated to the side activities, and they were really, really heavily designed between quest designers, artists and the designers that built the robots.”

This particular side quest chain stands out in Horizon Zero Dawn as proving far more interesting than the usual timed twitch-reflex tests open worlds throw in for really hardcore players; the Hunting Grounds offer more tactical challenges that work as advanced tutorials for mastering the combat sandbox.

Also of note are the Cauldrons, which Eschler described as “pure gameplay” tests of both combat and traversal as well as a chance to understand more about the origins of the machines. Other open world content includes bandit camp take overs, a modest collection of viewpoints and collectibles – but Horizon Zero Dawn also features traditional narrative-driven side quests.

“Then we have other quests, which are kind of side quests and lower in tier than the main story, but we really tried to make these more personal by telling individual stories of people who live in the world,” Eschler said.

horizon-zero-dawn-screen-10-ps4-eu-29jun15

“We spent a lot of time doing the world building and building up the lore, so we could have these side stories that don’t necessarily impact the big overarching narrative, but still impactful to these individuals. We wanted it to feel like a real, living world.”

These are also noteworthy, presenting an array of colourful characters that make Horizon Zero Dawn especially memorable. Eschler’s comments about making the stories fit into a “real, living world” aren’t just PR waffling, either: Guerrilla has worked hard to make good on this promise.

In one particularly noteworthy example, I elected to follow an NPC at the end of a quest to see whether they reverted to a generic face in the crowd, as in so many games – and instead discovered a permanent change in their behaviour and some unique ambient dialogue. Since the quest has completed and there’s no objective to find out what happens next, most players won’t even see this scene, but its existence makes the quest feel meaningful and consequential.

This sort of thing is possible because Guerrilla divided its forces on Horizon Zero Dawn, Eschler said.

“We have these multiple teams that are focused on making [one] particular part of it as awesome as possible rather than spreading the team thin spending time here and there and there,” he said.

Horizon Zero Dawn releases February 28 in the US and March 1 in Europe, exclusively for PS4.

Horizon: Zero Dawn day one update fixes performance issues, crashes, progression, more – here’s the patch notes

24 Feb

Those who have Horizon: Zero Dawn in-hand can already download a patch for the game which fixes some performance issues and also applies the small, day-one patch which includes Performance Mode.

horizon_zero_dawn_header_2

According to PSX-Sense, the Horizon: Zero Dawn release notes for patch 1.01 and 1.02 are as follows:

Patch 1.01

  • Added options to switch graphics mode and HDR rendering
  • Multiple crash fixes and progression
  • Various performance improvements

Patch 1.02

  • Multiple crash fixes and progression
  • Various fixes to avoid getting player’s stuck
  • Updated visual settings
  • Performance improvements

Together, the patches are 227.3MB in size, and while there aren’t extra details available, the notes above should give you a general idea of what’s included. Guerrilla Games will likely post more information when the game releases.

Horizon: Zero Dawn releases next week on February 28 in North America and March 1 in Europe.

The Horizon: Zero Dawn launch trailer is totally worth three minutes of your time

24 Feb

You should really take a few minutes out of your day and watch the launch trailer for Horizon: Zero Dawn. It’s totally worth it, in our opinion.

In the video above, you’re given a look at the gorgeous landscapes in Horizon: Zero Dawn, combat situations, and a really cool tribal ritual involving cave art.

It’s a rather cool video, and that’s saying a lot considering there have been so very many released. All you have to do is look at our hub page for the game and see for yourself.

Considering the game has garnered positive reviews from critics, we enjoyed it as well, SuperData might be on to something with its sales prediction: it estimates the action-RPG will sell 4-6 million units by the end of 2017.

A couple of reports from Digital Foundry make note of how phenomenal the game looks on PS4, going so far as saying it’s the best 4K title yet for PS4 Pro. That said, an updated analysis of the game posted today called out a few issues with the quality of water rendering, instances of bad lip sync, and human enemies being rather dense at times. However, Digital Foundry said what works “far outweighs the more localized gripes” of what is wrong with it. Future updates could resolve some of the issues, according to the report.

That’s just something to keep in mind should you decide to pick it up. The game has a seamless world without loading screens, and it’s massive, so if you come across a few hiccups, hopefully it won’t break your immersion.

Those with either a PS4 or PS4 Pro should prepare themselves for a small day-one patch which adds a Performance Mode for smoother framerates, and higher visual fidelity for both 4K and 1080p displays.

Horizon: Zero Dawn releases next week on February 28 in North America and March 1 in Europe.

Nioh sells over a million copies worldwide, celebrates by giving everyone free armour

24 Feb

Nioh is very popular.

nioh okatsu (1)

After just over two weeks from release, Team Ninja’s Nioh managed to sell more than one million copies worldwide.

The figure was announced by Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja, as reported by Gamer.ne.jp (via Gematsu), and includes digital as well as retail shipments.

To celebrate, Team Ninja will be gifting all players the Golden Nioh Armour in-game.

nioh_golden_armour_one_million_sales_1

The armour, seen above, is the golden version of the Nioh Armour already available in the game. It will be released today alongside patch 1.04, which comes with some fixes.

Destiny: Xur location and inventory for February 24, 25

24 Feb

As a new weekend approaches, so too does Xur.

xur_march_27_location

Xur: Agent of the Nine, the most important vendor in Destiny, has popped up again to set up shop and take your Strange Coins. Xur brings Exotic weapons and armour every week.

Find Xur by the Crucible Quartermaster this weekend. He shall stay put until 9am GMT on Sunday, February 26.

See his inventory below:

Hawkmoon is a fun weapon for sure, but not the big deal it used to be. It still has its uses, though.

The Division Last Stand, patch 1.6 out next week

24 Feb

The Division’s big 1.6 patch and final expansion, Last Stand, have a release date.

Ubisoft Massive has announced a release date for The Division‘s Last Stand expansion and the 1.6 patch. During yesterday’s State of the Game show, the studio revealed the date, and it’s surprisingly soon.

Last Stand releases alongside patch 1.6, on Tuesday, February 28. There is no exclusivity period for any platform this time, so the release date applies to PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Patch 1.6 has seen a number iterations during testing in the PTS so far, and it’s one of the game’s biggest. The number of sweeping changes to gear balance, mechanics and other items will no doubt make a heck of patch notes list. The patch notes will be deployed on Monday.

During the show, Massive also announced that PS4 Pro players will have one more thing to look forward to with 1.6. Though the game already has a Pro patch, the upcoming update will improve the resolution.

We’ll bring you more details when we have them.

Ekkorr’s Endless Frontier Is an Idle Game with Fun RPG Elements

23 Feb

South Korean developer Ekkorr released Endless Frontier last year, and it’s been gaining fans through its novel mixture of RPG and idle tropes ever since.

The back-story pits a plucky hero called Erin against the Prince of Darkness in an infinite battle between good and evil. It’s up to you to rally the troops against the hordes.

You don’t need to take a single swing on this endless frontier, though. Your job is to upgrade your warriors with the gold and gems gained from their autoquesting. As they progress through incrementally more difficult stages (1,500 in total), you’ll be swapping units around, unlocking new ones and making sure you keep kicking butt. There are in excess of a hundred units to unlock from four different character types– humans, the undead, elves and orcs.

There’s a few features to Endless Frontier that you wouldn’t normally expect to see in an incremental game like this. You’ve got a player vs. player mode, so you can test your heroes’ mettle in an arena setting against other players. There’s a guild system, too, which means you can join forces with other players to take on the forces of evil, or even rival guilds. All typical characteristics of an RPG game, but a rarity in an idle game like this.

And a feature typical in RPGs but noticeably absent in Endless Frontier is the Gacha system – those lottery-style mini games that are a gamble you lose more often than not. There are opportunities to pay to reduce the grind, though – Ekkorr has implemented a VIP option which offers a multiplier to the bonuses standard players receive.

If all that sounds like your idea of idle gaming heaven, you can download Endless Frontier from Google Play and the App Store for free.

This article is sponsored as part of Steel Media Preferred Partners.

The post Ekkorr’s Endless Frontier Is an Idle Game with Fun RPG Elements appeared first on Gamezebo.

Mass Effect: Andromeda video shows how to create profiles, slot favorites and command your squad

23 Feb

The second Mass Effect: Andromeda Gameplay Series video has dropped, and it provides information on profiles, favorites and squads.

The previous Mass Effect: Andromeda video provided a look at weapons and skills. Since there isn’t a class system in the game, all skills are available and can be upgraded with varied upgrade paths for playstyle customization.

There are over a dozen skills and 300 upgrades available available in the three main skill categories: Biotics, Combat and Tech. As skills are unlocked, the player will be able to access the seven types of profiles available. Two of these are explained in the video: Adept and Explorer.

For those more interested in Biotics, the Adept profile will provide more bonuses in that category to suit the player’s style. These bonuses will provide more damage to the Biotics chosen as well as the duration of the skill. The more the player levels these skills the more powerful they become.

For those who prefer a mixture of skills, the Adept profile is a combination of the skills Biotics, Combat and Tech. It will provide various buff and perks for all abilities chosen.

As with the loadouts noted in the previous video, players are also able to swap between profiles at anytime. To make this easier, the player can map one of the profiles a Favorite. One slot will hold three skills and one profile. There are four slots available, which means players can map up to four profiles and 12 skills to Favorites.

Squads will come in handy during battle, and each of the six members have three active and two passive abilities. Cora, for example, uses Biotics as a support character in the video while Drack acts as bruiser soaking up damage. Members of the player’s squad can also be leveled up.

Squad-mates can be ordered to various areas of the battlefield and given orders to defend, attack or rally. The player can also team up with them to use power combos which activate when a squad member to the player primes one or a group of enemies. This sets up the kill, allowing the player or a squad member to “detonate and finish the job.”

Alex recently spent some time with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and seemed rather pleased with what he was able to play. The video you see in his hands-on preview is the same as the one above, only without commentary. Basically, B-roll footage.

He also had a chat with the game’s producer, Fabrice Condominas. You should really give that a read, as it’s rather interesting.

We’ll have more on Mass Effect: Andromeda as it gets closer to release on March 21 in North America and March 23 in Europe.

Com2us & Activision Teaming on Skylanders Mobile RPG

23 Feb

Skylanders on mobile isn’t news. There have been dedicated Skylanders mobile titles in the past, as well as full-fledged versions of the console games you could play on tablets, with the latter generally more rewarding than the former.

What the industry hasn’t seen much of is an established mobile developer and publisher getting to do something different with the Skylanders IP, but that’s not going to be the case for too much longer. Com2us announced this week that it signed a deal to develop a “turn-based mobile RPG” based on the Skylanders brand and published by Activision. The as yet untitled title is targeting a release in late 2017.

“There are many mobile game companies, but very few have found success globally,” Josh Taub, senior vice president of Skylanders Product Management, Activision Publishing, said in a press release. “We are excited to be working with Com2us, as they have proven expertise in game development and live services for the global market.”

To paraphrase G.I. Joe, knowing the genre is half the battle. Skylanders already does action-RPG quite nicely in the core series, so a turn-based RPG could be a fun addition to the overall brand. We”ll keep our Skylander-sensing feelers up for more info as it comes to light.

The post Com2us & Activision Teaming on Skylanders Mobile RPG appeared first on Gamezebo.

Mass Effect Andromeda’s ship doctor is voiced by Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer

23 Feb

Natalie Dormer will play Dr Lexi T’Perro in Mass Effect: Andromeda.

EA and BioWare have announced a new Mass Effect: Andromeda cast member and the actress voicing her in the game. Dr Lexi T’Perro is the Asari doctor on board The Tempest.

Dr Lexi T’Perro is voiced by Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer, and in the video above, we get to take a bit of a behind the scenes look at what went on in the recording booth.

In the game’s story, Lexi is among the first people you meet after waking up from crysleep. The video also gives a bit of her personal relationship away, as we hear more and more about her from BioWare’s Caroline Livingstone and Mac Walters.

You may have noticed that Dr T’Perro was present in the most recent batch of screenshots. Though her name was not revealed at the time, everyone assumed she’d be a doctor of some kind given her attire.

Watch out for more Mass Effect: Andromeda coverage hitting the site today. The game releases March 21 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Mass Effect Andromeda: finally, hands-on gameplay reassures us Bioware’s sci-fi RPG is worth the wait

23 Feb

A quick trip to Andromeda leaves us relieved. Things are looking up!

mass_effect_andromeda_tempest

“Andromeda has the attitude and aesthetic of Mass Effect, the story and character execution of Mass Effect 2 and the combat of Mass Effect 3.”

I love Mass Effect. I was crazy enough to nab 100% achievements on all three games in the original trilogy and logged an impressive number of hours into its multiplayer. But I’ve been worried about Mass Effect Andromeda. EA hasn’t shown it much. It’s been quiet.

One side of that is to view it as a show of confidence, the sort of minimalist PR positioning that Bethesda managed with Fallout 4. Announce the game, release it. Don’t worry about that preview hands-on guff in between. There is key difference, mind – Fallout 4 debuted with an hour of stage demos before disappearing until launch. Why that worked is obvious. Andromeda has instead largely shown short story trailers that show cinematic flair with little context, and that filled me with trepidation. Was there something to hide? Well, now I’ve played it. I feel better. In fact, I’m pumped.

Let’s get the big, important stuff out of the way at the top: what I played. EA set us up at the start of the game on a high-end PC with either keyboard and mouse or controller input available. Because Mass Effect has a rocky history with PC controls I figured it important to note the game was good about switching between KB/M and controller on the fly, and both seemed perfectly valid. We got to play the very opening of the game through to the end of the opening mission, then could boot up saves from later in the game (around four main story missions in, I’m told) to experience some more open areas and missions not covered with tutorial assistance.

For the record: This preview will deal in basic information about the flow of what I played, but I won’t talk about any detailed story-specific spoiler information.

MEA_February-54

Part of Andromeda’s mission is to pull what its developers perceive to be the strengths from each of the main Mass Effect games and put them into one definitive package. I’m not quite sure how this breaks down for them, but I get the impression that means the attitude and aesthetic of Mass Effect, the story and character execution of Mass Effect 2 and the combat of Mass Effect 3. This is the feeling Andromeda gives to a series fan: there’s a slice of each of these on offer, the most immediately exciting to me being the return of the general ‘feel’ (a nebulous concept, I know) of the first game in the series.

The nature of the clean break the game takes is obvious even in its opening crawl. A brief story-establishing stinger is followed by the series traditional introductory text, but that’s followed by a title: Andromeda. The words Mass Effect do appear, fading up, but the emphasis is on the game’s subtitle. It feels, I thought, like a new IP.

It’s perhaps thanks to that that the intro feels similar to the opener for this franchise. Where the sequels relied heavily on established events to catapult you into an explosive opener, Andromeda is forced to give the player time to breathe for a few moments. There’s time to look around and enjoy the sights, a chance to talk to the people on your ship and read optional text scattered about as you’re funneled to an urgent mission.

Almost immediately the game encourages you to meander off the beaten path. The very first objective the game gives you comes with an optional alternative, and there are plenty of characters around to chat to, such as future squadmates and the ship’s Doctor, an Asari. I have limited time and EA encourages us to not stop and speak to everyone as “it could take you ages”. So while I can’t comment on the depth exactly, it certainly feels like there’s a lot of optional world-building conversation and context to soak up compared to Mass Effect 3’s more linear journey.

MEA_February-47

“Combat doesn’t quite feel as crisp as something like Gears of War, but it feels a damn sight better than past Mass Effect.”

What follows is a trip down to a planet that has an amazing tone of discovery as you burn through the atmosphere, and then a first mission that has shades of Mass Effect’s Eden Prime – but longer, broader in scope and with entirely optional content. The planet is easily identifiable thanks to its frequent and deadly thunder storms and floating rock formations – it’s hardly a second earth.

At one point in the opener papa Ryder chastises me for not exploring enough, noting that I’d have discovered the same things he did if I’d taken my time and paid attention. A vocal cue had tried to push me towards an optional structure which I elected to ignore due to time constraints, but the space the first mission takes place in seemed pretty significant.

After a smartly-designed first-contact encounter with alien species you’re treated to combat – and this is where Andromeda feels most like the third game. The core of Andromeda’s team worked on Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer and you can tell: it feels like it was built to deliver a snappier version of that experience, and that comes complete with streamlining of the number of actions you can use and the removal of the full powers wheel for a loadout-based power-select system. Only time is going to tell how good this stuff is from an RPG perspective (though the character progression menus showed promise, I feel), but it felt good to move and shoot.

The most significant and best new addition is the booster jet that let you jump and dash at will. This adds a whole new layer to combat, though the same basic cover-based flow remains too. Boosting and then hovering to fire over cover to hit a cowering enemy feels great in particular. EXP is now enemy and encounter based as well as action based more like the first game also, so you can level up mid-mission. Combat doesn’t quite feel as crisp as something like Gears of War, but it feels a damn sight better than past Mass Effect. The jump jets are incredibly fun to use.

There is one aspect of combat that felt clunky: cover. Cover is no longer a snap-in, snap-out system, but is something your character will dynamically hunker to as appropriate. The theory is that this makes more objects viable pieces of cover, but it made me often unsure of how safe I was from enemy fire. I don’t know if it’ll continue to feel clunky or get better as I get used to it but I hope it’s the latter, since the rest of combat feels pretty damn slick.

In the latter half of the demo when I get my hands on some biotics in a sentinel-style class build I was a happy chap indeed. Some might be worried about the fact the powers wheel is gone, but given the game makes it pretty easy to switch between different ‘profiles’ built out of different skill-sets on the fly I’m now feeling much less concerned: it all seems by design. Oh, and PC players rejoice – you’ll have much easier access anyway with full skill hotkey action.

“The smallest Andromeda zone is larger than all of Dragon Age Inquisition. The squad mate with the least lines in Andromeda still has more than Shepard in Mass Effect 3.”

Also in the ‘feels pretty good’ category sits the Nomad, the replacement for Mass Effect’s infamous Mako. I don’t have much to say about this one other than that it actually controls like a good-feeling video game vehicle rather than an all-over-the-place mess. In a cute touch it has two modes – a rear wheel drive mode that’s focused on speed and a much slower all wheel drive mode that’ll allow you to get at least some of that classic climbing up an almost vertical incline Mako action… if that’s your thing.

The Nomad is key since the environments are massive. A fact repeated by Bioware repeatedly is that the smallest Andromeda zone is larger than all of Dragon Age Inquisition. This is insane, obviously, but there’s an economy of scale involved: the nomad moves a lot faster than a horse, and so the game is larger to make up for it. It does offer a great sense of discovery all the same, with impressive vistas showcasing just how good EA and DICE’s Frostbite engine is, as if we needed more proof after Battlefield 1. It’s certainly one of the best in the business.

MEA_February-19

Less impressive are the faces, which as with the previous trilogy often have something strangely uncanny about them. One imagines this has something to do with the sheer amount of facial animation needed for the game (another Bioware factoid was that the squad mate with the least lines in Andromeda still has more than Shepard in ME3), and fans of Bioware’s games are no doubt a little used to that facial jank by now, but it still bears mentioning. Generally speaking I think the game is visually striking, however.

This preview is going on quite a way, and each extra word is probably just a deeper indication of my Mass Effect fandom. I very much wanted this game to be good, and so after months of feeling nervous as all hell about the game’s quality it’s incredibly reassuring to be able to report that it seems like everything is going the right way. Some of the little foibles and quirks of old Mass Effect somehow persist, but things like dodgy facial animation didn’t hold those games back from greatness either.

Much now hinges on how the game grows: a few hours is not long enough to get a true feel for the story, nor is it long enough to truly understand how its RPG systems will grow and expand combat. These are questions we’ll be able to answer in a month’s time when the game arrives, but for now: I’m stupidly excited again. This is a strong start, and I really hope Bioware stick the landing.

Mass Effect Andromeda: finally, hands-on gameplay reassures us Bioware’s sci-fi RPG is worth the wait

23 Feb

A quick trip to Andromeda leaves us relieved. Things are looking up!

mass_effect_andromeda_tempest

“Andromeda has the attitude and aesthetic of Mass Effect, the story and character execution of Mass Effect 2 and the combat of Mass Effect 3.”

I love Mass Effect. I was crazy enough to nab 100% achievements on all three games in the original trilogy and logged an impressive number of hours into its multiplayer. But I’ve been worried about Mass Effect Andromeda. EA hasn’t shown it much. It’s been quiet.

One side of that is to view it as a show of confidence, the sort of minimalist PR positioning that Bethesda managed with Fallout 4. Announce the game, release it. Don’t worry about that preview hands-on guff in between. There is key difference, mind – Fallout 4 debuted with an hour of stage demos before disappearing until launch. Why that worked is obvious. Andromeda has instead largely shown short story trailers that show cinematic flair with little context, and that filled me with trepidation. Was there something to hide? Well, now I’ve played it. I feel better. In fact, I’m pumped.

Let’s get the big, important stuff out of the way at the top: what I played. EA set us up at the start of the game on a high-end PC with either keyboard and mouse or controller input available. Because Mass Effect has a rocky history with PC controls I figured it important to note the game was good about switching between KB/M and controller on the fly, and both seemed perfectly valid. We got to play the very opening of the game through to the end of the opening mission, then could boot up saves from later in the game (around four main story missions in, I’m told) to experience some more open areas and missions not covered with tutorial assistance.

For the record: This preview will deal in basic information about the flow of what I played, but I won’t talk about any detailed story-specific spoiler information.

MEA_February-54

Part of Andromeda’s mission is to pull what its developers perceive to be the strengths from each of the main Mass Effect games and put them into one definitive package. I’m not quite sure how this breaks down for them, but I get the impression that means the attitude and aesthetic of Mass Effect, the story and character execution of Mass Effect 2 and the combat of Mass Effect 3. This is the feeling Andromeda gives to a series fan: there’s a slice of each of these on offer, the most immediately exciting to me being the return of the general ‘feel’ (a nebulous concept, I know) of the first game in the series.

The nature of the clean break the game takes is obvious even in its opening crawl. A brief story-establishing stinger is followed by the series traditional introductory text, but that’s followed by a title: Andromeda. The words Mass Effect do appear, fading up, but the emphasis is on the game’s subtitle. It feels, I thought, like a new IP.

It’s perhaps thanks to that that the intro feels similar to the opener for this franchise. Where the sequels relied heavily on established events to catapult you into an explosive opener, Andromeda is forced to give the player time to breathe for a few moments. There’s time to look around and enjoy the sights, a chance to talk to the people on your ship and read optional text scattered about as you’re funneled to an urgent mission.

Almost immediately the game encourages you to meander off the beaten path. The very first objective the game gives you comes with an optional alternative, and there are plenty of characters around to chat to, such as future squadmates and the ship’s Doctor, an Asari. I have limited time and EA encourages us to not stop and speak to everyone as “it could take you ages”. So while I can’t comment on the depth exactly, it certainly feels like there’s a lot of optional world-building conversation and context to soak up compared to Mass Effect 3’s more linear journey.

MEA_February-47

“Combat doesn’t quite feel as crisp as something like Gears of War, but it feels a damn sight better than past Mass Effect.”

What follows is a trip down to a planet that has an amazing tone of discovery as you burn through the atmosphere, and then a first mission that has shades of Mass Effect’s Eden Prime – but longer, broader in scope and with entirely optional content. The planet is easily identifiable thanks to its frequent and deadly thunder storms and floating rock formations – it’s hardly a second earth.

At one point in the opener papa Ryder chastises me for not exploring enough, noting that I’d have discovered the same things he did if I’d taken my time and paid attention. A vocal cue had tried to push me towards an optional structure which I elected to ignore due to time constraints, but the space the first mission takes place in seemed pretty significant.

After a smartly-designed first-contact encounter with alien species you’re treated to combat – and this is where Andromeda feels most like the third game. The core of Andromeda’s team worked on Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer and you can tell: it feels like it was built to deliver a snappier version of that experience, and that comes complete with streamlining of the number of actions you can use and the removal of the full powers wheel for a loadout-based power-select system. Only time is going to tell how good this stuff is from an RPG perspective (though the character progression menus showed promise, I feel), but it felt good to move and shoot.

The most significant and best new addition is the booster jet that let you jump and dash at will. This adds a whole new layer to combat, though the same basic cover-based flow remains too. Boosting and then hovering to fire over cover to hit a cowering enemy feels great in particular. EXP is now enemy and encounter based as well as action based more like the first game also, so you can level up mid-mission. Combat doesn’t quite feel as crisp as something like Gears of War, but it feels a damn sight better than past Mass Effect. The jump jets are incredibly fun to use.

There is one aspect of combat that felt clunky: cover. Cover is no longer a snap-in, snap-out system, but is something your character will dynamically hunker to as appropriate. The theory is that this makes more objects viable pieces of cover, but it made me often unsure of how safe I was from enemy fire. I don’t know if it’ll continue to feel clunky or get better as I get used to it but I hope it’s the latter, since the rest of combat feels pretty damn slick.

In the latter half of the demo when I get my hands on some biotics in a sentinel-style class build I was a happy chap indeed. Some might be worried about the fact the powers wheel is gone, but given the game makes it pretty easy to switch between different ‘profiles’ built out of different skill-sets on the fly I’m now feeling much less concerned: it all seems by design. Oh, and PC players rejoice – you’ll have much easier access anyway with full skill hotkey action.

“The smallest Andromeda zone is larger than all of Dragon Age Inquisition. The squad mate with the least lines in Andromeda still has more than Shepard in Mass Effect 3.”

Also in the ‘feels pretty good’ category sits the Nomad, the replacement for Mass Effect’s infamous Mako. I don’t have much to say about this one other than that it actually controls like a good-feeling video game vehicle rather than an all-over-the-place mess. In a cute touch it has two modes – a rear wheel drive mode that’s focused on speed and a much slower all wheel drive mode that’ll allow you to get at least some of that classic climbing up an almost vertical incline Mako action… if that’s your thing.

The Nomad is key since the environments are massive. A fact repeated by Bioware repeatedly is that the smallest Andromeda zone is larger than all of Dragon Age Inquisition. This is insane, obviously, but there’s an economy of scale involved: the nomad moves a lot faster than a horse, and so the game is larger to make up for it. It does offer a great sense of discovery all the same, with impressive vistas showcasing just how good EA and DICE’s Frostbite engine is, as if we needed more proof after Battlefield 1. It’s certainly one of the best in the business.

MEA_February-19

Less impressive are the faces, which as with the previous trilogy often have something strangely uncanny about them. One imagines this has something to do with the sheer amount of facial animation needed for the game (another Bioware factoid was that the squad mate with the least lines in Andromeda still has more than Shepard in ME3), and fans of Bioware’s games are no doubt a little used to that facial jank by now, but it still bears mentioning. Generally speaking I think the game is visually striking, however.

This preview is going on quite a way, and each extra word is probably just a deeper indication of my Mass Effect fandom. I very much wanted this game to be good, and so after months of feeling nervous as all hell about the game’s quality it’s incredibly reassuring to be able to report that it seems like everything is going the right way. Some of the little foibles and quirks of old Mass Effect somehow persist, but things like dodgy facial animation didn’t hold those games back from greatness either.

Much now hinges on how the game grows: a few hours is not long enough to get a true feel for the story, nor is it long enough to truly understand how its RPG systems will grow and expand combat. These are questions we’ll be able to answer in a month’s time when the game arrives, but for now: I’m stupidly excited again. This is a strong start, and I really hope Bioware stick the landing.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands open beta is live – watch Twitch streamers livestream the whole thing

23 Feb

Right on schedule, the Ghost Recon: Wildlands open beta has kicked off on all platforms.

Watch live video from MyDopefish on www.twitch.tv

Provided your download is finished, you can now load up the Ghost Recon: Wildlands open beta and start fighting crime. Servers are now live all over the world on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

A lot of Twitch streamers have been waiting to jump back in, with many of them slapping countdown timers on their channels. Since you may be stuck at work or don’t have access to your gaming system for any other reason, we thought we’d show you some of what the top streamers will experience in the opening hours.

Above, Twitch streamer MyDopefish plays the PC version in solo.

As for the one below, it’ll be the Xbox One version being played in co-op by streamer Angrysausagetv.

Watch live video from angrysausagetv on www.twitch.tv

The open beta is around 24GB in size, but you can update your closed beta client if you still have that installed. You’ll still download some 20GB worth of data, but it’s smaller than the full thing.

The Ghost Recon: Wildlands open beta includes access to two regions from the game’s 21. Itacua, and Montuyoc is what they’re called. You may recognise the former from the closed beta, and it’s where you’ll be starting again this time. Montuyoc is designed as a higher-level region than the introductory Itacua, so there’s definitely more to play this time around.

If you do end up joining the beta, and decide to also play the full game before March 31, you’ll receive an extra mission for free. The Unidad Conspiracy mission lets you fan the flames of war between the Santa Blanca cartel and the Unidad militia.

One other thing you can do before the game releases is mess around with this interactive mini-game. It’s easy to follow and it unlocks some in-game content and XP boosts.

The beta wraps up on Monday, February 27 at the same time it starts. That’s 3am PST, 6am EST, 11am GMT, and 12am CET.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is out March 7 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Horizon: Zero Dawn devs discuss lack of loading screens, creating high quality facial animation in new video

22 Feb

Horizon: Zero Dawn’s release isn’t far off, and a quick video released today by the developers discusses a couple of interesting points regarding the lovely action-RPG.

In the video for Horizon: Zero Dawn above, Guerrilla Games discusses how it had to rework the engine in order to render the open-world into a seamless experience without the need for loading screens. The team wanted this to be the case whether running around the landscape or going underground.

Guerrilla said in many RPG games, facial animation isn’t of the “highest quality”, so the team worked extra hard to improve in this area. In order to create characters which looked more realistic, and high quality, the team recorded over 15 hours of dialogue in the motion cap studio.

Horizon: Zero Dawn sure is lovely, and reviews for it have been positive. If you missed our review on the PS4 title, be sure and give it a read.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is out next week exclusively for PS4 on February 28 in North America and March 1 in Europe. The game will be forward compatible with PS4 Pro, allowing it to run up to 4K resolution.

Horizon: Zero Dawn devs discuss lack of loading screens, creating high quality facial animation in new video

22 Feb

Horizon: Zero Dawn’s release isn’t far off, and a quick video released today by the developers discusses a couple of interesting points regarding the lovely action-RPG.

In the video for Horizon: Zero Dawn above, Guerrilla Games discusses how it had to rework the engine in order to render the open-world into a seamless experience without the need for loading screens. The team wanted this to be the case whether running around the landscape or going underground.

Guerrilla said in many RPG games, facial animation isn’t of the “highest quality”, so the team worked extra hard to improve in this area. In order to create characters which looked more realistic, and high quality, the team recorded over 15 hours of dialogue in the motion cap studio.

Horizon: Zero Dawn sure is lovely, and reviews for it have been positive. If you missed our review on the PS4 title, be sure and give it a read.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is out next week exclusively for PS4 on February 28 in North America and March 1 in Europe. The game will be forward compatible with PS4 Pro, allowing it to run up to 4K resolution.

Dragon Quest Heroes 2 coming to Steam, Day One Explorer’s Edition announced for PS4, PC

22 Feb

Good news Dragon Quest fans: Square Enix announced today Dragon Quest Heroes 2 would release on PC alongside the PS4 version.

A Day One Explorer’s Edition ($59.99) for Dragon Quest Heroes 2 was also announced, and it is up for pre-order on the Square Enix Store and the PS Store.

It comes with 15 exclusive DLC items such as weapons designed from the enemies in the game. This includes the Slime Knight’s Shield, Great Sabreclaws, Golem Gauntlets and per the list below. You can see the items in the image below, and in the gallery.

  • Archdemon Arcs
  • Drackerang
  • Gem Slime Sword
  • Golem Gauntlets
  • Goodybag Abacus
  • Great Sabreclaws
  • Imp’s Fork
  • Night Club
  • Plat o’ One Tails
  • Robo-Bow
  • Robo-Razor
  • Royal Flush
  • Shadowblade
  • Slime Knight’s Shield
  • Slime Stack Stick

87Ec8gjYDQH2_Explorer_s_Beauty_795_780_KR

A reversible cover artwork of the Adventure Log is also included in this edition.

Those who pre-order the game for PS4 through the PlayStation Store will also receive an exclusive PS4 theme, a Dragon Quest 1 hero costume and a special “Healix the Hero” recipe for Dragon Quest Builders.

The latter is in-game content will allow Dragon Quest Builders players to build a statue of Healix from Dragon Quest Heroes 2.

Archdemon_Arcs_(Maya)
Drackerang_(Maribel)
Gem_Slime_Sword_(Terry)
Golem_Gauntlets_(Alena)
Golem_Gauntlets_(Carver)
Goodybag_Abacus_(Torneko)
Great_Sabreclaws_(Ruff)
Imp's_Fork_(Kiryl)
Night_Club_(Lazarel)
Plat_o'_One_Tails_(Jessica)
Robo-Bow_(Angelo)
Robo-Razor_(Terry)
Royal_Flush_(Meena)
Shadowblade_(Cesar)
Slime_Knight's_Shield_(Terry)
Slime_Stack_Stick_(Teresa)

Dragon Quest Heroes 2 will be released on PlayStation 4 in North America on April 25 and in Europe on April 28.

It will release on Steam April 25, but it isn’t listed on the store just yet.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain Review: Spectacular Re-Envisioning

22 Feb

Did you feel like Tin Man Games’s familiar format of interactive storytelling was feeling a little too, well, familiar? I didn’t (being a big fan of Fighting Fantasy et al), but I can see why others may have felt differently. If you happened to be one of those people, you’re going to be really happy with what they’ve concocted with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It’s a significant departure from their previous formula, providing a more tabletop style gaming experience.

It’s rather special.

For those who’ve played the original book version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain to death, things will seem both familiar and completely different. This time around you’re still tasked with similar choices and decisions, but they’re displayed in a completely different way than before. Taking a more stylish approach, you get to actually see what you’re exploring. Via an isometric perspective, you see the bold steps you make. At least sort of. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is fairly dark looking in that respect, but you still get a sense of the foreboding atmosphere here.

The choices you’re able to make are scattered around the screen in a logical fashion, along with the text to describe what’s happening. Refreshingly, there’s a choice of traditional dungeon-esque text or a dyslexic friendly font that’s a bit clearer to see. It’s all a pleasant change from the usual format of Fighting Fantasy games on your phone.

A bigger surprise and change of pace is combat. Combat is still ultimately assisted by how high your skill and stamina stats are, but it’s also a lot more interactive. When embroiled in a fight, you’re whisked to a different screen where you can directly move around to initiate combat.

This is still a turn-based affair, but the key here is being able to predict your opponent’s next move. It’s possible to choose to attack a square knowing that they are about to step in that direction. Such strategy works both ways, meaning you have to plan each move wisely to stand a chance. You also have different forms of attack at your disposal, giving you a few more options for how to approach any given scenario. It’s far more rewarding than conventional methods used in past releases.

Replaying The Warlock of Firetop Mountain means you’ll see certain moments repeated, but there’s a bit of a twist. By choosing a different hero, you’ll get a slightly different path. It’s not like playing an entirely new game, but it goes some way in giving you reasons to re-enjoy the experience. It also improves the chances of you paying up for a whole new bunch of heroes to try out, extending the game’s longevity.

That said, it’s going to take you a while to successfully complete this anyway, especially as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was always one of the trickier Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.

Originally a PC/Mac game, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain could have been an awkward conversion. Instead, it transfers to the small screen pretty well. It’s a fine new take on a familiar format — one that’s sure to make you hope that there will be future Fighting Fantasy games done in this manner. Tin Man Games’ releases might have started to feel a little dated when compared to Inkle’s more recent Sorcery games, but The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a great example of how to bring their formula forward into the future.

The post The Warlock of Firetop Mountain Review: Spectacular Re-Envisioning appeared first on Gamezebo.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind – here’s your first look at gameplay and the new Warden class

22 Feb

Here it is: the first gameplay trailer for The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind.

Announced in January, The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind takes players to the island of Vvardenfell. Here, they will encounter new monsters, and will collected new weapons, and armor.

In the video, you also get a look at the new Warden class and some of the environments.

Out June 6, the Morrowind expansion not only contains the large new zone and player class, but over 30 hours of main story content, a new Trial, and a new three-team, 4v4v4 PvP mode.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind will be available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

These are the rare weapons and items unlocked by the Zelda: Breath of the Wild amiibos

22 Feb

You’ll be able to get Zelda: Breath of the Wild amiibos on day one, here’s what they unlock in the game.

Five amiibos have been announced so far for Zelda: Breath of the Wild. These are the Guardian, the Bokoblin, Horse Rider Link, Archer Link, and one for Zelda.

Each of them grants you in-game bonuses, and thanks to YouTube channel GameXplain, we now know exactly what each one unlocks in-game. GameXplain was sent the full set by Nintendo alongside a Switch.

By simply checking the back of the box for each amiibo, the channel was able to find out the in-game benefits for all of them. Here’s what the back of boxes say, and some images:

  • The Guardian amiibo unlocks rare weapons and items, what looks like a unique arrow, and some crafting materials
  • The Bokoblin gives you two unique clubs, which you’ll likely see other Bokoblin use late-game
  • Horse Rider Link’s amiibo comes with a special sword and a new saddle for the horse
  • The Zelda amiibo gives your a shield adorned with the Hylian rest
  • The standard Link amiibo unlocks a pretty cool-looking bow
bokoblin_amiibo_breath_of_the_wild_unlocks_1 guardian_amiibo_breath_of_the_wild_unlocks_1 horse_rider_link_amiibo_breath_of_the_wild_unlocks_1 link_amiibo_breath_of_the_wild_unlocks_1 zelda_amiibo_breath_of_the_wild_unlocks_1

As previously announced, the items unlocked by these amiibos are attainable in-game without the need for an amiibo, they simply become available at the start of the game when using amiibos.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is out alongside the Nintendo Switch on March 3. The Wii U version release on the same day.

Horizon Zero Dawn expected to sell 4-6 million copies this year alone

22 Feb

Despite being a new IP, Horizon Zero Dawn may perform just as impressively as heavy hitters such as Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid.

horizon_zero_dawn_ps4_pro_4k_hdr_4

SuperData, the research and analytics firm, has published some favourable predictions for the sales of Horizon Zero Dawn. According to the company, the new IP could have sales numbers that rival those of other big franchises such as Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid.

“Based on our initial observations we believe that Horizon Zero Dawn can sell around 4-6M units by end of 2017, given its early in the year release,” said SuperData research CEO Joost van Dreunen (via MCVUK). “Lifetime sales will likely be around 6-8M, which puts it in the same category as Uncharted 4 and Metal Gear Solid 5.”

Van Dreunen attributed some of this to the the many excellent reviews the game has been getting this week, which creates anticipation for launch day.

The research CEO also praised the release timing, calling it a “strong strategic move” on Sony’s part to increase hardware sales for the console, which the report notes have been “softening”.

“Now that we are in the second half of the current console cycle forces Sony and its rival Microsoft into a price war for the more risk-averse consumers that typically enter the market at this stage.

“And the release of the Nintendo Switch in early March will further increase the pressure on Sony to remain the platform of choice for the current gamer generation,” added Van Dreunen.

Horizon Zero Dawn releases February 28 in North America, March 1 in Europe and the UK.