Author Archives: Paul Tassi

After Adventure Week, ‘Pokémon GO’ Promises Summer ‘Will Be Legendary’

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A hack that puts Legendary skins on existing Pokemon.

Niantic/YouTube

A hack that puts Legendary skins on existing Pokemon.

We still have a couple days left in Adventure Week, Pokémon GO’s latest monthly event that focuses on rock-types and boosts for buddies. It’s arguably the most valuable event Pokémon GO has produced to date between the buddy walking bonus and a number of rare/powerful rock-types players have access to.

But fundamentally, it’s still more of the same.

Pokémon GO is creeping up on its first year anniversary, which is more than enough time for most mobile games to lose relevance, yet it’s never dropped out of the top 20 highest grossing apps this whole time. But the game has not changed in very many ways.

The biggest additions to GO from a gameplay perspective have been the buddy system and the eventual introduction of a tracker that actually works. The biggest content addition was Gen 2, but in a full year, with all that revenue, players definitely want more.

After Adventure Week, once summer kicks off in June, it’s officially time to step it up a notch, and Niantic is promising to do just that.

Pokémon GO recently won a Webby for best mobile game, and the victory speech from Niantic’s global product marketing lead Archit Bhargava was short and sweet:

“This summer will be legendary.”

It’s an open secret that Legendary Pokémon will be coming to the game at last this summer, as Niantic stated outright they would be there before the end of the year. Gen 3 is still likely a long ways off, so that leaves Legendaries for a big feature this summer/for the one year anniversary of the game.

Pokémon GO

Niantic

Pokémon GO

Niantic has still not detailed exact plans for how Legendaries will roll out, but data miners have been gathering clues for months now. There’s been a lot of backend stuff put into the game behind the scenes focused on a new activity called “raids,” with prompts like “A raid is starting near you!” or “Defeated raid Pokémon.” If that doesn’t sound like a set-up for a Legendary activity, I don’t know what does, though some people believe that this has something to do with upcoming changes to how gyms work.

I don’t buy that, as I really do think that Niantic is going to want to fulfil their original dream of large-scale, mass-battle activities for Legendaries like we saw in the original trailer for the game years ago, when players got together to battle Mewtwo in Times Square. At the time, that seemed crazily far-fetched, but with Pokémon GO reaching heights of popularity no one ever thought possible, it’s a lot easier to believe that big groups would get together in real life in various locations to battle/capture Legendaries.

My alternate suggestion to this has been personalized quests, where players are given a series of themes objectives to complete in order to secure their own personal Legendary (win ten gym battles with a fire type, walk a 30 km egg, battle Moltres, capture Moltres), but my hunch is that Niantic has something else in mind that involves players working together.

Another thing I’ve mentioned is that if Niantic was smart, they would release one Legendary a week, in whatever format, all throughout this summer. With 11 Legendary and Mythic Pokémon in Gen 1 and Gen 2, that would take from the beginning of June to the middle of August, and keep players busy with something to work for each and every week going forward.

I have no idea how the metagame of Pokémon GO will change once Legendaries arrive. There are already hints that gyms are changing to only allow one of each type in them, so at least they won’t be 10 Mewtwos deep, but even still, if Legendaries are allowed in gyms at all, it stands to reason that most gyms will be majority Legendaries going forward, if their stats are as impressive as you would imagine, which may make GO’s current gym diversity problem worse.

Regardless, it’s hard not to get excited about Legendaries arriving at last if you’ve remained a dedicated player, or even if you haven’t. I have a feeling that after months of relatively minor events, Niantic is cooking up something pretty major for this summer. Hopefully we’ll find out very soon.

 Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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I Hate Fighting Games, But I Love ‘Injustice 2’

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My 2014 Best Performers, Looking Ahead To 2015

Injustice 2

Netherrealm

Injustice 2

I bought Injustice 2 because of a GIF.

I never thought I’d say that about a game, but here we are. It was a short clip from a cutscene showing some excellent face-capture on Harley Quinn, and between that and hearing good things about the single player story, it was enough to make me want to dive in.

Covering games for a living, sometimes you just have to skip stuff as there’s simply too much to cover. Not really being a fighting game guy, and not getting a review copy, I figured I just might let Injustice 2 go. I really don’t like non-Smash Bros. fighting games, as I find them both too complex and too boring at the same time, and I don’t dare try to ever write opinions about them because I will get torn to shreds by the Very Serious Fighting Game Community. I respect them, but they are very intense. However, in this case, I ponied up the $60 for Injustice 2 and have not regretted it over the course of the last few days.

Injustice 2 is probably the most massive fighting game I’ve ever played, just in terms of the sheer scale of stuff to do throughout various modes. I rarely think fighting games are worth the money, because they usually have somewhat anemic story modes (if they have them at all), then you play some local or online matches and move on, unless you’re a big enthusiast, which I am not.

But here I am, having just played about 30 matches in a row with Harley Quinn, and dozens and dozens more across Injustice’s expansive roster. I won’t go into depth with a full-scale review here, but here’s what I love about Injustice 2:

Injustice 2

Netherrealm

Injustice 2

Story Mode

It is, indeed, very solid. I won’t say that all characters have as great of facial capture as Harley in those select scenes, but the voice cast is stellar, and Injustice is arguably one of the most interesting storylines DC has produced in recent memory, sparked by the first game which pitted the Justice League against each other. Batman V. Superman borrowed some elements from it, but did it more poorly than the comics and the games.

Here, the two warring JLA factions are still warring, but have to come together to fight off Braniac. What follows is a typically great Netherrealm story campaign that’s twelve chapters that expertly think of ways to let you play as a bunch of heroes and former villains in a wide variety of locations. Somehow, it doesn’t feel forced, and again, the storyline of this game (and the last one) are better than anything DC has produced in years, certainly on film, and probably in the Arrowverse as well. It reminds me of the good old days of the animated series, with a harder edge to it.

The difficulty curve is pretty manageable for someone who doesn’t normally play these types of games. It took a few matches, but I got the hang of it quickly. Thankfully, once you reach the end there’s no brick wall boss like Shao Kahn who is so hard and cheap you want to murder your television, which is what turned me off from MK9 years ago, and I did manage to finish the campaign as a result. While I don’t know if the story is as good as the first Injustice, it’s still solid and very enjoyable to play through.

The Multiverse

I was expecting to drop this game more or less after the story and my first five online losses, but there’s an entirely new component to the game called the “multiverse” where rotating challenges appear on a multitude of earths. Sometimes it’s fighting 5-12 guys in a row, sometimes it’s doing it with different stipulations, sometimes there are boss battles, and objectives you need to complete in order, or with certain characters to give you bonuses. It’s endlessly entertaining and you can really never run out of stuff to do there given how it rotates frequently.

But why are you trying to do all this? That leads me to my next point:

Injustice 2

Netherrealm

Injustice 2

Diablo Loot

Oh yes, Injustice 2 has Diablo-style loot drops, and I can’t get enough of it. Instead of just alternate costumes for heroes, you open loot boxes and get drops after matches of specific pieces of gear, masks, capes, gloves, weapons, that apply to each character. They give them various stat boosts or bonus perks, and there are even gear sets in this game, where if you get enough pieces they give you big bonuses.

I thought this was going to wade into danger territory by selling power through microtransactions, but you cannot buy these loot boxes with real life money. You have to earn them by playing alone, and the only thing you can buy is currency used for cosmetics, shaders, costumes, transmorg, etc. It’s a fantastic, highly addictive system, and between that and the individual character leveling, I love it. My only complaint is that there are so many fighters that you will often get gear from characters you never play. The system is weighted to give you end of game drops for your character more often, but landing a choice epic item is reallllllly tough. I can’t imagine the sheer luck it will take to assemble a full set of epic gear for one character.

Injustice 2

Netherrealm

Injustice 2

AI Battle Simulator

This is the thing I find the most hilarious about the game as it directly appeals to someone like me who hates fighting other humans in games like this because I am terrible. You can use all your leveled heroes and their looted gear to create an AI team that you use to attack and defend against other AI times, the fights playing out automatically. It’s a good way to farm loot boxes and XP for characters, with little to no effort, though the rewards are limited. It’s just hilarious this mode exists, and I can see a lot of people thinking it’s pointless, but I sort of love it.

Seriously, Injustice 2 is a great game. I’m not even touching on the actual mechanics of the fighting, which I will just say is as good as Injustice/Mortal Kombat has been in their last few iterations. The super moves are brutal and/or hilarious, and using arena hazards and special moves is intuitive. I am missing a lot of complexity in the fighting, I’m sure (I literally have to quit tutorials when they start demanding I know how to “cancel” moves), but I’m having a blast with it, and have upgraded past pure button mashing into something resembling actual tactics, at least against my AI opponents.

Can I recommend this at $60? That’s still a tough call. You may want to wait until it drops to $40 or lower, because I am not sure how long of a tail it will have, as I might burn out soon, but I certainly don’t regret my purchase. If you’re a fighting game fan, this seems like a no-brainer, but those who stay away from the genre may be a tougher sell, even with everything I’m saying. Still, if this sounds good to you, give it a shot. And pick Harley. Harley is the best.

 Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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‘Pokémon GO’ Is Considering Move Set Rerolls After Community Feedback

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Pokemon GO

Niantic

Pokemon GO

We are one day into Pokémon GO’s big Adventure Week event where valuable rock types abound and your buddy Pokémon is positively gobbling up candy with dramatically reduced distance in play. But something slipped under the radar a few days ago before this event started that I didn’t want to ignore completely.

Responding to a sort of hilarious question on Twitter, Niantic seemed to confirm that a much-requested feature may be working its way into Pokémon GO in the not-to-distant future. That would be the ability to re-roll the move set of your Pokémon in some form or another.

The original question read “please can you change the move to Earthquake instead of Heavy Slam? Getting bad movesets demotivates me. Username: Daehyuuung,” from a reader with a Donphan he wasn’t pleased with. Obviously Niantic isn’t going to change some random guy’s move set, despite his best efforts, but this was their response:

“Thanks for reaching out. This is not currently available, unfortunately, but we are aware of the community’s interest in this feature.”

Doesn’t sound like anything to throw a party about, but it is in fact the first time Niantic has acknowledge the potential for re-rolls and the fact that it’s one of the most requested community features in the game.

There are many ways that this could work its way into the game. Such as:

– I’ve previously suggested TMs as something that could be brought in from the handheld games, and fix this problem to a certain extent. They could be ultra-rare drops from PokeStops/streaks like we see with Evolution items now, and only used in very specific occasions. I also thought they could potentially be a microtransaction, so long as there was a limit in place for buying say, one randomized TM a week.

Pokemon GO

Niantic

Pokemon GO

– A fix going forward for Pokémon is that they could learn moves over time like we see in the handhelds. Once they’re upgraded X times with candy, maybe you get a choice of moves. This would require better balancing of moves so everyone wouldn’t auto-pick the best one, however. Also there are only two moves total and all moves only do damage with no other strategic effects, so it’s a bit more simplified than the handheld version. Not sure this would work, but maybe.

– The easiest fix I can see for this is literally just re-rolling. Like you pay X candy, 25 or 50 or 100 or whatever feels appropriate and you get two new random moves based on that Pokémon’s pool. I guess this could be okay, but for Pokémon where you just saved up 125 candies to evolve them, you’re probably not going to be too eager to dump that many more in just for new moves. Though I suppose it’s being stuck with say, a Charizard with no fire moves, which is what I current own. This would be the easiest fix , but I think TMs would be more fun and strategic and a better addition to the game. But I suppose any of these would be better than nothing, which is what the game has in place right now.

We know that a big gym overhaul is coming to Pokémon GO this summer, possibly very soon. This would be sort of a great feature to debut with that, given that the only time Pokémon even use moves is during gym battles, so it would be in keeping with the theme. But my guess is that for right now it’s just an item on a whiteboard somewhere that says “things players want.” But plenty of features have made their way off that board eventually, so I absolutely believe that move re-rolls, or something like it, is coming to the game sooner rather than later. More to come.

 Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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Why Pokemon GO’s Adventure Week Is The Game’s Most Valuable Event Yet

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Pokemon GO Adventure Week

Niantic

Pokemon GO Adventure Week

Today marks the kick-off of Pokémon GO’s “Adventure Week,” a rock type-based event that isn’t centered around any particular holiday, but fulfils Pokémon GO’s quota of at least one major event per month in order to engage players and drive revenue. May actually had two events, a mini one focused on grass-types a few weeks ago, but Adventure Week is larger and longer.

For those wondering when it starts, that would be today at 1 PM Pacific, and it runs through that time on May 25th, but I want to talk about the event in a little more detail before it goes live, and why it’s one you shouldn’t miss.

I genuinely believe what I say in my title, that you shouldn’t skip this event if you still care even a little bit about Pokémon GO because this may literally be the most valuable event the game has produced yet.

Previously, I would have given this honor to the starter event around New Year’s, as it allowed players to build a Charizard, Venusaur and Blastoise with enough catches, but honestly, all the different aspects of this event combine to make it even more useful in my eyes. Here’s what I mean.

The Best Innate Bonus – Adventure Week has what I definitely think is the single biggest bonus the game offers, the ability to walk your buddy Pokémon and get candy 4x as fast, or rather, cutting buddy distance down by a factor of four. 0.25 for 1 km, 0.75 for 3 km and 1.25 for 5 km. Since the buddy system is the only targeted system for evolution or training in the game, reduced buddy distance is even more valuable than double candy in my eyes, because that still relies on random hatches and spawns.

Omanyte and KabutoPokémon GO events usually like to “fill in” what certain people may be missing from their Pokedexes. These two used to only spawn in 10 km eggs, making them pretty rare, and only recently have they moved, and they’re rarely seen in the wild. This is your shot to get Omastar (which is one of only four Gen 1 Pokémon I still don’t have) and Kabutops if you find enough of these.

Pokemon GO

Niantic

Pokemon GO

Aerodactyl – Speaking of rare, the Pokémon in the lead banner image for this event remains one of the most rare in the game. I’m lucky enough to have hatched two, but I know many, many people still do not have an Aerodactyl after all this time, even after catching other ultra-rares like Chansey or Lickitung in past events.

Rhyhorn and Rhydon – For those looking for gym powerhouses, look no further than these two, who should be spawning in this rock-based event. Rhydon, after a buff several months back, is one of the highest CP Pokémon in the game right now, so this event will serve as a good springboard to build up a powerful one.

Larvitar, aka Gen 2 Dratini – Finally, if all of this wasn’t enough, Gen 2’s equivalent of the Dratini/Dragonair/Dragonite tree is Larvitar/Pupitar/Tyranitar. They’re hugely powerful part-rock Pokémon, and while I don’t how often they will spawn in this event, it should certainly be more than usual. Tyranitar is another gym heavy hitter in this current metagame, and this may be your chance to evolve a great one for yourself, with enough of the right spawns.

“More Items” From PokeStops – Alright, I’m still a little skeptical on this. My hope is that the more items might include Evolution Items which are still shockingly rare from PokeStops (I just got my first one after about six hundred spins). But worst case scenario it’s free stuff and less Pokeballs you have to buy. For me it’s probably going to just fill up my bag with regular potions. But if somehow this does end up giving out more Evolution Items, it will arguably be the most valuable component of this event.

So…yeah. See what I mean? The best bonus in the game, a half dozen hugely valuable rock types and maybe extra evolution items, if we’re lucky. This is quite the event, and if all goes as planned, it should be pretty profitable for everyone who partakes.

Check back for my continued coverage of the event once it launches in a few hours, and perhaps there will be even more secrets to unearth after it debuts (shiny Onyx, anyone?).

 Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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Five Storytelling Fixes ‘Destiny 2’ Definitely Needs

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My 2014 Best Performers, Looking Ahead To 2015

Destiny

Bungie

Destiny

We’re just two days away from Bungie’s big Destiny 2 reveal event where at least some of our questions about the game will be answered, and perhaps more will be a month from now at E3.

I’ve been talking pretty much daily about what I want to see from Destiny 2, and so far that’s spanned in-game group finding tools and some clarity on what’s brand new and what may be getting recycled in D2.

Now I want to turn to what was arguably the biggest missing element of the original Destiny, one that only got minimally better as time went on and DLC attempted to address the issue to some degree. That would be storytelling.

We know the famous tale of the original story of Destiny 1 being torn up and replaced within a year of launch, which explains why the narrative arrived and felt pretty nonsensical. By The Taken King, Bungie was starting to get better at dialogue (thanks mainly to Cayde-6), but “story” still didn’t feel like it was where it needed to be, even with Destiny having some pretty rich lore behind it. Once Rise of Iron rolled around, it seemed like the storytelling gains had more or less been lost again.

So, what should be different in Destiny 2? I’m not going to talk about specific plot elements I’d like to see unfold (the return of the Queen!), but rather the methods of storytelling I think the game should employ.

Destiny

Bungie

Destiny

1. Conversation Trees In Social Spaces

This is something I have been suggesting since practically day one of Destiny, but we seem to be no closer to it. I think an effective way of conveying story and building characters in Destiny would be through somewhat traditional conversation trees with NPCs in social spaces.

I’m not asking for much here, not thousands of lines of dialogue across hundreds of characters where each tree ends in some branching story decision like it’s a BioWare game. But for a few essential characters? The Vanguard leaders? The faction leaders? The Speaker? Brother Vance? Absolutely.

This would be a way to convey a lot of information about the characters, their history, and the history of the lore and story of the game without Grimoire cards. And when new DLC rolls around, perhaps some of these NPCs have new things to say about the ongoing developments. Again, even if you might exhaust these conversations options pretty quickly, it’s better than what we have now, which is wandering by these characters and hearing them mumble the same three lines over and over again.

Destiny

Bungie

Destiny

2. NPCs That Tag Along

While it’s fine to have Destiny’s NPCs narrate your missions from a distance, about the 500th time this happens, you start to wonder “Why the hell can’t they get off their armored butts and come help?”

I understand that Destiny is primed to fill empty mission slots with co-op players, but at a certain point, it becomes more than a little strange that every single NPC in the game doesn’t move from a 2×2 patch of ground for years, outside of a few select cutscenes.

At least in some missions, I want to see Cayde, Zavala, Ikora, Shaxx, Saladin, hell, even Eris step out for a mission, and I want Destiny to introduce some sort of AI mechanic that allows NPC Guardians to actually come with you and shoot enemies on some missions. Given that we’ve seen AI companion mechanics in a zillion games before this, I don’t think this is too much to ask, and it would make these characters feel alive, like they’re more than just talking heads.

Destiny

Bungie

Destiny

3. Merging Social Spaces And Exploration Zones

This is one suggestion that I hear may actually come to pass in Destiny 2, and I would love to see that happen. While the Tower and the Reef and Felwinter’s Peak have been fine, I would love for explorable zones to merge with social zones so they’re not necessarily these distinct separate entities.

Or at the very least, if there still are dedicated social spaces, there at least should be mini-zones without bigger combat zones that are “chill spots,” shall we say, where you get to meet new characters and interact with them, like you see with encampments in Fallout, Horizon Zero Dawn, most open world games. I think Destiny needs to move away from having this wall between totally combat free social zones and planetary areas where the only thing to do is kill stuff.

Destiny

Bungie

Destiny

4. Your Guardian As An Active Story Participant

It’s been three years, and your Guardian, the character you’ve controlled all this time, has probably had no more than two dozen lines throughout all of Destiny. I want this to change.

No, I don’t need some individualized backstory for my Guardian, what their name is, their grudges and crushes or anything fully Mass Effect-y like that. But I do want my Guardian to be an active participant in the story rather than this passive observer who mostly stares blankly while everyone else talks. Half the time it feels like this game stars your Ghost, not you.

I understand that voicework is expensive, and with a lot of male and female voices for the different races, that could add up, but there isn’t all that much dialogue in Destiny period, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal. All I want is that when people talk at me, I want to talk back. Right now, that only happens about 5% of the time. In cutscenes, I might snag a few lines every so often, but in briefings, it’s only my Ghost talking to the Vanguard or what have you. I don’t need my Guardian to be some fully individualized hero, but I want them to feel like more than a cardboard cutout and fashion model for my armor and guns.

Destiny

Bungie

Destiny

5. In-Game Grimoire With Audio

As much as it bums me out that Destiny’s best story components are relegated to Grimoire entries that 90% of the playerbase will never read, I still think the concept is cool and that it should continue to exist. Even with all the other storytelling improvements I’ve mentioned, there’s just too much information to be put into the game through dialogue or cutscenes alone, so the Grimoire is somewhat necessary, like a codex or journal in other games.

But as ever, the core problem is that for reasons that have never been made clear, the Grimoire is inaccessible in the game. This should change with Destiny 2, as there should be some sort of “archive” function that allows you to access the Grimoire in-game. It would also be great for there to be actual narration and voicework with these entries, particularly the ones that are actual stories told by characters. This is something fans have done themselves for years now, and Bungie would be wise to implement that idea in the game itself which would help with a greater understanding of the Destiny universe, and better immersion in it.

I could probably go on, but I’ll stop there. What story improvements do you want to see in Destiny 2?

 Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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How Prey’s Mind-Bending Ending Narrowly Avoids A ‘Mass Effect 3’ Situation

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My 2014 Best Performers, Looking Ahead To 2015

Arkhane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkhane’s Prey

In what will be the concluding chapter of my ongoing Prey coverage, after my first and second impressions pieces, and my scored review, I’m here at last to talk about the ending, as I tend to do in story-driven games. Prey is a game that really hammers home the concept of an unreliable narrator, and I was curious to see where that went in the end. It did go somewhere, but in order to discuss it, we’re going to need to get into spoiler territory, as you might have guessed when you read the title.

You’ve been warned. Go finish Prey before reading this. Or admit you don’t care that much, and just want to know how it ends.

I was actually surprised that there weren’t all that many mysteries presented in Prey. Pretty much the entire premise of the story is explained from the start. You were on a station experimenting with alien life forms, using them to create Neuromods to unlock greater human potential. Things go wrong. The aliens, the Typhon, escape, and kill nearly everyone on the station. Your brother is painted as the villain in this scenario for greenlighting this project, but it quickly becomes clear that you, pre-memory loss, are just as much to blame as a higher-up in this organization. Now it’s up to you to purge and clear, and figure out whether to abandon ship or find some other way to fix the problem.

You’re set on a fairly linear path until right around the very end of the game where suddenly things diverge in a few ways. You start getting meaningful side quests, tasked with saving surviving crew members in the cargo bay, hunting down a killer on board, or getting your ex-girlfriend meds she needs. And the main story essentially splits in two. The entire game you’re told that you’re trying to blow up the station to fully purge it of the Typhon, but then your brother arrives to say there’s another way, a device you can build, place and activate that will neutralize the Typhon, but save all the research on board. Your operator, a robot programmed with your voice, and possibly your memories, advises you against this, as the Typhon are a looming threat to earth.

At this point, the side quests start to merge and become pretty elaborate and seemingly urgent. Transtar has sent a pilot and a crew of killer robots to purge the station for “safety” purposes, and there’s a winding mission where you have to remove your tracker, hunt down the shuttle, kill a specific robot, save your crew from being starved of oxygen by the Transtar pilot, neutralize the pilot and wipe his memory so he forgets he’s there to kill you, and thinks he’s there to take you all to safety. It’s a questline more interesting than the main story, in my opinion, and really makes you feel like you’re contributing toward a “happy ending,” bending over backward to do so.

Arkhane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkhane’s Prey

The main story ending is a little more abrupt. The station falls under siege from a giant Typhon, and you are given the choice to save your brother from death, and fulfil his plan about the “control” device, rather than the “destroy” ending your Operator is advising you to take (starting to see the ME3 parallels yet?). This culminates in a scene that literally forces you to execute your Operator, your guide through the entire game, if you want to go down this path.

Given that the game was practically begging me not to trust my brother the whole time, I actually decided to trust him. His argument made a lot of sense. Why nuke all this and go home before we even understand what the Typhon are? If there’s a way to erase the immediate threat, but make sure the entire crew of the station didn’t die for nothing, yeah, I’m doing that. So I blasted January with a shotgun and hit the button.

What followed next was a shockingly abrupt finale, a short speech from my brother about how we did the right thing, and the dissipation of the giant Typhon outside. Roll credits.

That’s it? I thought, sitting there blinking. Did the game really trick me into these complex decisions and endless sidequests for no actual payoff? Was this seriously pulling a Mass Effect 3 on me?

But wait!

While after-credit sequences are usually fun bonuses or at best, sequel teases, in this case, that’s actually where Prey’s real ending lies (not a fan of this fake-out, but I digress). After the credits, you wake up in a testing chair, surrounded by operators with the voices of your former crew. Alex, your brother, is there in the flesh.

The game starts rattling about how well you did to save people and help get them off board, ticking through your major sidequest accomplishments. But it’s clear whatever just happened, didn’t really happen. This was all some sort of test. But just when you start to get mad about that, your brother says.

“It probably thinks that nothing it did mattered, that this was all a dream.”

You look down at your hands. They are black, vibrating cords. You are a Typhon.

Arkane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkane’s Prey

It’s explained that you, a Typhon Phantom, were implanted with Morgan Yu’s memories of what happened on the station, only you were given the moral freedom to do what you wanted. You could save or not save, you could blow the place up, or save it and the research. The point, Alex says, is that the conflict has already start. The Typhon are already on earth, and he shows you as much, a view that showcases the “golden coral” that eventually took over the station, now threading its way through earth’s cities. The point of the experiment was that while the original purpose of the research was to give humans Typhon powers, Alex now believed that he could give Typhons “human powers,” which in this case meant emotion, empathy. The “test” was to show that a Typhon could care for humans, exhibit friendship and love and loyalty and bravery. That they weren’t just mindless monsters roving around killing things for sport.

The final choice in the game is to agree to work with Alex, or kill everyone in the room. I shook his hand, my Typhon tendrils forming up in the shape of a human hand as the final shot of the game.

Ultimately, I like this ending. It’s a good kind of twist that did manage to utilize the decisions I was making in-game, and made me feel like my choice mattered. It’s on you whether or not you want to explore a future partnership with the humans, or just keep murdering. I’m not sure I would have even been given the choice if I’d shown no compassion at all, as they might have just deemed the test a failure, and killed me where I sat. That’s something hinted at if you complete the rogue “December” plotline which simply has you make your way to an escape pod and leave as soon as you can saving only yourself. The ending of that quest implies test “failure,” and gives you a glimpse at the ending to come.

I still don’t understand aspects of this, like what happened to Morgan. It seems like he and the crew might be dead (given that they are now just Operator voices), and all the plans I made for getting myself and the crew off the station may not have been what actually happened. Perhaps this is explained, but I didn’t see a firm resolution here. Regardless, I think this works. It explains the whole unreliable narrator thing pretty perfectly, and gives you enough agency to feel like this is your story, both as Morgan, but even as the Typhon at the end. And that is why Prey avoids being Mass Effect 3, a game where several hundred hours of choices boiled down to practically nothing.

I’m not sure if story is ultimately the strongest aspect of Prey, but I really did like how the ending was handled. What did you do in the end? How was your ending different than mine?

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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There Isn’t Really Much To Say About The ‘Quake Champions’ Beta

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My 2014 Best Performers, Looking Ahead To 2015

Quake Champions

Bethesda

Quake Champions

This weekend, the Quake Champions beta has lifted its NDA, allowing the game to be streamed for the first time, and everyone can see how it plays and share their thoughts ahead of the game’s eventual 2017 release.

After playing the game for a while, and planning to do some sort of “good, bad and in-between” post about it, I find that I’m having trouble formulating terribly complex thoughts about the game past one simple one: Well, it’s Quake.

This is a compliment, I suppose. Turning Quake into an alleged “hero shooter” has in reality done very little to make the game stray from its core formula. It plays incredibly similar to past Quakes, drawing almost no influence I can measure from Overwatch, which some purists were worried about. For a more recent comparison, the speed, the health/armor/weapon/power-up collecting is reminiscent of what the DOOM reboot tried to do with its multiplayer (also by Bethesda), only here Quake Champions has refined it without the additional task of creating a single player experience (where DOOM shined).

Fundamentally, this is either a shooter concept you like or you don’t. And while there’s a lot of buzz around hero shooters like Overwatch and Paragon and the like, truly, this isn’t that. This is still an arena shooter which is an entirely different type of animal. The only thing it’s really borrowed from the other genre is the concept of differentiated heroes, but even that has minimal effect on gameplay.

It’s unclear why exactly Quake bothered with the whole hero concept, other than as a way to possibly make more money from unlocks and skins. Given that any character can wield any weapon, and there are only minor differences in passives and one core ability that often doesn’t have that much of an impact on gameplay, the hero idea seems misplaced here.

Quake Champions

Bethesda

Quake Champions

I actually sort of like the idea that Quake Champions is “optional” free-to-play, meaning you can either choose to play for free and grind for champions, or you can pay a single asking price to unlock everything. That essentially makes it the same model as Overwatch if you just pay, though I would argue that its demonic/edgy characters are far less likable than that game’s, meaning you may be less motivated to buy skins that almost always just make them even more demonic and edgy.

Is Quake Champions fun? Sure, I guess so, but this is sort of a weird era for a game like this to exist. We have to keep in mind that back when Quake ruled the world it was the multiplayer shooter alongside the likes of Unreal Tournament. But now the landscape has shifted so dramatically, the genre is barely recognizable. Not to say that Quake is now bad and has no place here, but it certainly feels like it’s going to occupy a much smaller niche than before. Quake doesn’t just have a few competitors now, it has Overwatch, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Battlefront, Halo, Gears of War, Titanfall, CSGO, Rainbow Six Siege, Battlegrounds, the list goes on and on. Can it stand out in a scene that crowded? And while mostly doing a very similar version of what it’s done for ages? I’m not sure.

Quake has a steep learning curve that I’m not sure many modern shooter players will be able to adapt to, as it’s a constant battle to manage health, armor, weapons and map positioning, all the while doing so while traveling at blinding speed. Employing a bunch of different movement mechanics from every era of Quake makes it even more complicated. I can imagine Quake making for some rousing good esports matches, but I can also see “average” players turning toward a more traditional shooter, having either not grown up with this kind of experience, or having put it down for so long, it’s tough to return to.

I don’t know, I’ll keep playing, but for now, this seems like a game that draws pretty clear lines in the sand from the start, and you’ll know right away whether it is or isn’t for you. Give the beta a shot to find out for yourself.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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‘Pokémon GO’ Should Release A Legendary A Week, All Summer Long

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A hack that puts Legendary skins on existing Pokemon.

Niantic/YouTube

A hack that puts Legendary skins on existing Pokemon. Don’t get excited.

The weather is starting to warm up, school will be letting out soon, and both of those factors will combine to present a unique opportunity for Pokémon GO to regain relevance and see dramatically increased play (and revenue) during this “peak” time of year.

But that’s only going to work if players actually have something to do that’s interesting in the game, and that’s going to need to be more than just finishing up Gen 1 and Gen 2’s limited Pokedexes. Gen 3 is clearly too far off to launch this summer, so that leaves essentially one major event that should arrive with the game this summer: Legendary Pokémon.

I’m not going to spend today rehashing how Legendaries should or shouldn’t be introduced into the game, whether that’s through personalized “quests” or global spawns/raids. Nor am I going to talk about how the game might have to change dramatically to balance these hugely powerful Pokémon with the current roster. I’ve covered both of those angles before, and there will be plenty of time to debate them more once Niantic’s plans are clear.

But rather, I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty solid timeline for how Legendary Pokémon should be introduce into the game. My idea? One a week, all summer.

That may sound crazy, as how could the release of Legendaries possibly last an entire summer, but when you stop and realize just how many Legendaries we need to “catch up on” before Gen 3, it makes a lot of sense. In all, there are eleven Legendary Pokémon that need to make their way into the game, and as such, that’s enough to fill up a huge chunk of the summer with their staggered release.

Pokémon GO

Credit: Niantic

Pokémon GO

My idea is that rather than release these in big batches, or only get through one or two releases before summer ends, is simply to do all of them, back-to-back. Whatever form their release takes, an available quest or a targeted spawn, introduce a new Legendary/Mythic each week until all of them are permanent fixtures in the game.

These would stack on top of each other, they would not be a limited time offering. By the end all 11 would be available in the game, and it seems pretty obvious to me that players should only be able to get one copy of each, and if they want to train them, they better get to buddy walking. During their “featured” week, perhaps they would be more readily available to find.

Here’s what I would imagine as a tentative schedule, stretched between early June and mid-August, when most people will be out of school and everyone will be more eager to be walking outside in nice weather.

  • Articuno – June 5th – June 11th
  • Zapdos – June 12th – June 18th
  • Moltres – June 19th – June 25th
  • Enkei – June 26th – July 2st
  • Raikou – July 3nd – July 9th
  • Suicune – July 10th – July 16th
  • Lugia – July 17th – July 23rd
  • Ho-oh – July 24th – July 30th
  • Mew – July 31st – August 6th
  • Celebi – August 7th – August 13th
  • Mewtwo – August 14th – August 20th

So yeah, essentially all summer long. This would be an ongoing event (interspersed with more targeted events, 1 year anniversary, and so on) that would give players a reason to show up and play every single week for the duration of summer. Again, the specifics of how Legendaries should arrive can be debated, but I would rather see this than say “This is Legendary Bird week” and then “This is Mew/Mewtwo week” then we head into fall skipping Gen 2 Legendaries and marching towards Gen 3 without them.

Hey Mew

Nintendo

Hey Mew

I would say this is…probably not likely to happen. Niantic seems to like more specific events than what I’m proposing as a full-summer gauntlet, but I would really like to see them somehow get through all the current Legendaries this summer, and then unlock region exclusives as well so a year after launch, people can start truly completing their Pokedex without booking flights around the world.

Hopefully we’ll get some more activities on Pokémon GO’s summer plans (and Legendary plans) soon, but until then, this is what I think would be the best, most engaging course forward.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started ‘Prey’

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My 2014 Best Performers, Looking Ahead To 2015

Arkane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkane’s Prey

Prey came out last Friday, and I’ve been doing little else but play it since. The review situation was a little wonky so I didn’t get to beat the game before it was live, but that doesn’t mean my incessant play hasn’t taught me some valuable lessons.

As I tend to always do, I wanted to impart some of my wisdom from my time spent with the game. In this case, this is a rare occasion where I have not fully beaten the game yet, but I believe I’m probably about 70-80% done, and there are so many things to talk about with Prey, I have plenty of material regardless.

This will not get into story spoilers at all, so don’t worry. This is definitely an article you’ll want to read before playing so you can avoid making some of the mistakes that I did. Here are ten things I wish I knew when I started Prey.

1. Don’t quit in frustration after the first couple hours

I’ve talked about this before, but Prey is a game that I don’t think starts out particularly strong. When you first start playing as Morgan, you are really weak, which makes this seem like some kind of survival horror sim minus the actual jump scares (other than the incessant appearance of Mimics).

But the game evolves past this in the next few hours. The skill tree looks relatively boring at first but I can promise you that A) it’s a ton of fun if you sink lots of points into the “human” upgrades, and B) there’s an entire wing of Typhon-based powers that you will eventually unlock that have the potential to make the game flat-out wild (though I’m saving that for a new playthrough). In short, this game may start really, really slow, but I’ve almost never seen my appreciation for a game pick up this much over time, so stay with it.

Arkane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkane’s Prey

2. Get the extra harvest “Necropsy” upgrade ASAP

Unlike many other games in this genre, skill points are not earned from XP. Rather, you either find “Neuromods” in the wild, or you craft them. I’ve only seen a couple games ever that actually let you craft what are essentially skill points, and nearing the end of Prey, I’ve almost created almost as many as I’ve found in the wild, so this is a hugely important aspect of the game.

The only limiting factor with Neuromods (other than one side quest you need to do to be able to print an infinite number) is materials. Exotic materials in particular are hard to come by, which is why I recommend investing 4 points in the “Necropsy” skill early. You will harvest additional materials from Typhon that will net you loads more exotic materials. As such, I won’t say you’ll never run out, but you will usually have a good supply if you’re killing Typhon at a regular clip. I’m at a point where I’m running low on the other ingredients at times, but almost never exotic materials. Also, since enemy corpses always stick around, you can go back and get the lost tumors after you get the upgrade, if you can retrace your steps (which you will do regardless many times in this game).

3. Inventory space is a skill upgrade, not an item or chip

I didn’t have too much trouble figuring this out myself, but I saw online that some people were confused by this, so I wanted to spell it out. You might think that additional inventory space will be some sort of blueprint that you craft or a chip you put in your suit, but it’s actually part of the skill tree. I don’t really know why it’s arranged like that, but I would invest in at least 2/3 inventory space upgrades if you don’t want to be constantly clearing your stuff every few minutes. This is a game where collect a lot of crap. Also, there’s a bug where certain Typhon materials and spare parts don’t always stack, but you can manually combine the piles. Check to make sure this isn’t happening before throwing stuff away.

Arkane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkane’s Prey

4. You can make screens easier to see with one button

One of the cooler small things about Prey is that you can access computers and screens without any sort of cut to an interface like you see in most games. You just tap the screen without any transition from normal gameplay. But while this is very neat from a tech perspective, it can be a little hard to navigate given that you’re zoomed out. Well, you can actually zoom in, which I learned about 20 hours into the game. Just click your right stick to get a more “traditional” view of the screen which will help when you have input numbers and things of that nature.

5. Turrets are your BFFs

Granted this is mostly specific to my non-Typhon-powered playthrough, as too many upgrades in that department and the station’s defenses won’t take too kindly to you, but if you can make them stay on your side, turrets are the best ally in the game you can have.

It can be tough sinking as much as eight points into a skill like the ability to fortify turrets, but this is honestly one of the best investments in the game. Most areas and most big fights you will have access from anywhere to 2-4 turrets, and if you’re able to fortify them so they’re not one-shot by enemies, you can kill even enormous bosses without firing a shot yourself, just through expert positioning and turret maintenance. Setting an elaborate turret trap for Typhon is one of the best feelings in the game, and I highly recommend it.

Arkane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkane’s Prey

6. Don’t be afraid to ditch the main quest for a few hours

It took me a while to realize that I was accumulating a fair amount of side quests in Prey because I was so focused on the main objective, but some of the best times I’ve had with the game so far has been to set down the main storyline and focus on going back to other areas to complete side quests.

Revisiting old areas with new powers will be a totally transformative experience for you. Seeing side quests to completion usually offer a ton of valuable rewards, and even just finding random stuff along the way will also get you a lot of prizes, so I highly recommend revisiting all the places you can even if their purpose in the main story has been left behind. Prey isn’t a traditional open world game, but like those games, it will be better if you take some time away from the main story to explore. It’s far less linear than it appears initially.

7. Don’t forget about climbing and platforming

This may sound stupid given how prevalent climbing is in most games these days, but it’s not employed very often in Prey. With that said, just because you don’t use it much, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an “oh duh” solution in many instances.

Once you get your jet pack, you can climb in some pretty creative ways. I have bypassed more than a few level 4 locked doors with a bit of creative platforming, particularly in the game’s larger areas. This is a game that mostly wants you to find keycards and door codes to get places, but I just want to remind you not to forget about good old fashioned climbing, as it might slip your mind.

Arkane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkane’s Prey

8. There are ways to get around big heavy items in your way

While I recommend investing in repairing and a few cursory hacking upgrades, I did put off the “leverage,” aka moving heavy objects, upgrades for a while because there are fairly easy ways around these obstacles.

One trick I used early is to blow up explosive canisters next to immovable objects which then, will indeed move. It won’t blow them apart, but it’s usually enough to let you sneak into a blocked area. Later, I realized the best way to get around these obstacles is to use Recyclers to literally turn them into little bits of material.

I still recommend getting Leverage level three eventually, as you can open unpowered doors with that skill and you can’t trick your way past those, but for most heavy things, there’s a workaround.

9. Be prepared for areas to be retaken by Typhon, but it’s not really “respawning”

I started to get a little bit annoyed by what I thought were respawning enemies in Prey, given how much of a pain in the ass it is to kill them. But eventually I realized that’s not what’s really happening.

In most smaller areas, enemies do not respawn. You may have not found all of them, but for the most part, when you clear an area, it stays cleared. When this is not the case is when there are larger “hub” areas like the Lobby or Arboretum. When you complete certain major story objectives and then return to those areas, you fill find Typhons not “respawned” but having retaken the area. They are usually different each time, and for the Lobby, for instance, I’m on my fourth set of enemies there, I think. Fortunately, these are usually big areas and there are turrets around to help if you, in addition to other tactics you can use to win. So understand that dead enemies don’t respawn, but Typhon will continue to make their way to certain areas. It’s a small distinction, but one that feels pretty natural and not really annoying and cheap like it could.

Arkane's Prey

Bethesda

Arkane’s Prey

10. There’s one side quest you should definitely not complete

I know I said you should do as many side quests as you can, but there’s one I think you should avoid finishing. Not that far into the game, you will be contacted by an Operator called “December” who gives you contrary instructions to your main operator, January. Not getting into any specific spoilers at all, but if you see this quest to completion, you will probably regret doing so. I do recommend that you follow the path for a good long while because there are plenty of Neuromods and other prizes along the way, but there’s a moment when it seems like you’re about to do something pretty major. Don’t do that thing. Just stop. Trust me. I know this is vague, but once you play, I think you’ll understand what I mean.

As I said, I have not beaten the game, so there’s probably still more advice to give. But I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far in the first 25 hours or so, and I do think I’m reaching the end. Hope this helps.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novel series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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China Has Forced Blizzard To Reveal Exact ‘Overwatch’ And ‘Hearthstone’ Drop Rates

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My 2014 Best Performers, Looking Ahead To 2015

Overwatch

Blizzard

Overwatch

Thanks to a new Chinese law which forces companies to reveal the probabilities of loot box/card pack drops in games, we now have official insight into what drop rates are for Blizzard’s exceptionally profitable games like Overwatch and Hearthstone.

Overwatch is probably the more interesting case, given that it’s now officially Blizzard’s eight billion-dollar franchise, based mostly on the purchase of loot boxes, in addition to its $40-60 asking price. Here’s the translated “compliance” reveal from Blizzard for China, which has the figures everyone wants to see:

Loot box content

Each loot box contains 4 items, which means cosmetics or in-game currency to unlock cosmetics

Rare quality

Each loot box contains at least one item of rare or higher quality

Epic quality

On average, every 5.5 loot boxes contain an item of epic quality

Legendary quality

On average, every 13.5 loot boxes contain an item of legendary quality

So, translating this into percentages, that’s about an 18% chance for an epic in a loot box, and 7.4% chance for a legendary in a loot box, which includes the likes of legendary currency drops, and makes no allowance for duplicates or weighted event items. But this seems like it’s enough information to satisfy the Chinese.

This seems…fine? Players have been more or less able to crowdsource enough meaningful data to get these kinds of numbers for a while now based on thousands and thousands of community drops, it’s just rare you see a company forced to divulge the exact figures like this.

Overwatch

Blizzard

Overwatch

Previously, I was operating under the assumption that it was more along the lines of 1 legendary every 10 boxes or so, and when I do my event-based 100 box openings in Overwatch, I usually beat this percentage by quite a big margin. Last event, for instance, I had 14 legendaries in 100 boxes, which is more than double the “official” rate. I usually feel like for most events, I’m above 10%, so this actually seemed a bit low to me. One possible explanation for this is that Blizzard is only revealing drop rates for the Chinese version of the game. If say, they know that Chinese players are more likely to spend money to gamble on boxes, they might make drop rates lower in that region to drive up revenue. I don’t think this is what’s happening, as that would be quite a controversy, and I’m probably just lucky, but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Blizzard also revealed these figures for Hearthstone, and it’s more or less what players have known for a while. 1 rare per pack. 1 epic every five packs. 1 legendary every 20 packs. And players have deduced there’s a 40 pack “pity timer” which will give you a legendary automatically if you go that long without one. I believe the pity timer for Overwatch may be 25 boxes, which would align with those revealed figures. I feel like I hit that timer far more often in Hearthstone than OW, however.

Hearthstone fans are less enthused with their reveal due to vague wording and the fact that Blizzard doesn’t give information about the drop rates of golden cards, though unofficial estimates put the chance for a golden legendary at about 1 in every 100 packs, last I checked.

So, there you have it, official numbers about your chances when you gamble for cards or skins, which is more than many casinos give you, I suppose. I doubt this will have any real effect on purchases by fans, but it’s interesting information to have nonetheless, even if estimates like these have been circulating for a while now.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is now in print, online and on audiobook.






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