Thursday, March 5, 2015

A New Challenger Appears

I wanted to put the word out about a new MMO currently in the middle of its funding period on Kickstarter (seemingly where many games are birthed these days).

MMOs are probably my favourite genre of games. I enjoy the massive worlds to explore, the sense of community with dozens / hundreds of other people occupying the same shared space at the same time, and the feeling that I am in a living, breathing world.

I played WoW from launch until mid-2009, and - love it or hate it - it was the MMO distilled and refined into perhaps the best example of what the genre could produce. Since I'm allergic to sunlight and people I've played many MMOs, including Rift, WildStar, The Secret World, The Elder Scrolls Online, Defiance, Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2, Allods Online, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, Lord of the Rings Online, Neverwinter, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Ultima Online, City of Heroes, PlanetSide and PlanetSide 2, and probably some others that have slipped my mind. Some were pretty good, with distinct ideas and innovations, but none have managed to scratch the same itch that WoW managed to for almost five years.

In 2015 the MMO is essentially an endangered species. They take longer than traditional games to develop (due to needing more content), they cost more, have a more nuanced potential playerbase, and - last but by no means least - every so-called "WoW-killer" has failed to kill WoW. WoW didn't do everything they did first, but they arguably did it best. Blizzard acted as a giant sponge, absorbing the best features from other games and incorporating them into their own. The fact that they've continued to do this after WoW's release is one of the reasons that the game is still the most successful MMO on the market, and that shows no sign of changing anytime soon.

Enter Crowfall.

Crowfall just passed the $1m funding mark on Kickstarter, which for a game with not much behind it is impressive in its own right. Their goal was $800,000, which was raised in a matter of days. Clearly there's a lot of people jumping onto this bandwagon - but why?

It actually goes back to probably the most mainstream MMO that I never played, called Shadowbane. Shadowbane was a PvP-centric MMO released in 2003, that had (at the time) the unique draw of making the world changeable. Powerful guilds could capture keeps and castles, construct new fortifications, and generally become their own version of a Mafia kingpin. Technical issues plagued the game at launch, and whilst still highly regarded, it was eventually shuttered in 2009.

Crowfall is being developed by ArtCraft Entertainment, with its two founders being J. Todd Coleman, original Creative Director of Shadowbane, and Gordon Walton, former Executive Director of Ultima Online, Star Wars: Galaxies, and Star Wars: The Old Republic, amongst others.

I would strongly urge everyone to take the time to watch Crowfall's pitch video they made for Kickstarter: (top of the page) as it really explains both the problem in MMOs and their potential solution better than I can. Crowfall uses the mantra "Living heroes, dying worlds". Your character lives forever, but the worlds they play in do not. There will be campaigns that may be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few months, and at the end of every campaign the rewards will be divvied up based on your contribution, the winner, and what the initial stakes of the created campaign were. The greater the risk, the greater your reward.

This does solve a problem that has existed in MMOs for almost as long as MMOs have existed, particularly in MMOs where PvP is a large part of the experience. Powerful characters and guilds snowball in their power very quickly, to where the big get much bigger, and the weak get much weaker. It constitutes barriers to entry where the end result is not many people enjoying the experience, even those at the top of the food chain. Crowfall's time-limited campaigns are meant to be a solution to this, with discrete end points that essentially act as reset buttons for the world state.

Obviously the details of this system are not exactly set in stone just yet, but the novel idea has already got me thinking, and actually quite interested in this project despite my never having played Shadowbane (though I did play UO quite extensively back in the day). Full disclosure: I have backed this project on Kickstarter.

Crowfall's alpha test is slated to begin later this year, with beta following next year, and release planned for Q4 2016. These are aggressive timetables and I'd be surprised if they were not delayed, as that's basically how MMO development works.

Twelve classes (archetypes as they are known) are planned, with all currently detailed on the official site

I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm, since I've been burned before quite extensively on multiple occasions. I do like people trying something out of the norm though, and not just attempting to make the latest in a long, long line of WoW clones. At the end of the day not even WoW offers an experience similar to what Crowfall proposes. Maybe MMO developers are starting to understand that not only is WoW unbeatable on its own territory, but that by trying to simply copy the world's flagship MMO they are just hurting themselves in the long run. If people want WoW then they will play WoW, not WoW-lite.

Maybe Crowfall will be great, maybe it won't, but they're at least defining their own terms. That's something we should all get behind, recovering WoW-addicts or not.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Upcoming Games Of 2015 - Part 2

Onto my final batch of games for this year, starting with...


Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Expected: Q4 2015

Blizzard's first new IP in over ten years, Overwatch is a multiplayer team-based shooter very much in the vein of Team Fortress 2, and has a similar "cartoony" style. The game recently made headlines for the fact that Blizzard's trademark application for the name Overwatch was suspended, due to a different company filing a game-related trademark under the same name two months before Blizzard did. Whether this will result in Overwatch receiving a name change, or Blizzard throwing a big pile of money at the competitor in order to secure the name for themselves, is unclear.

Overwatch itself looks to be a fun mix of tactical gameplay and team-based shenanigans, with twelve classes proposed for launch, each settling into the offence, defence, tank, and support quartet. The usual caveats about betting against Blizzard apply here, as their Rumpelstiltskin-like ability to turn straw into gold has been demonstrated on countless occasions over the lifetime of the company. Team-based multiplayer shooters are very popular at the moment (see Battleborn below), and it will be very interesting to see what Blizzard's take on this growing genre looks like.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: WB Games (NA), Bandai Namco (EU)
Expected: 19th May, 2015

Already delayed twice, Wild Hunt is now slated for release in the Spring of this year. The sequel to the highly regarded The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Wild Hunt continues the story of Geralt, the titular Witcher, who must battle a mysterious group known as the Wild Hunt as they threaten the Northern Kingdoms.

Based on a series of Polish novels, the Witcher games have come to be highly regarded RPGs in their own right (although I would say that the first one was quite wonky in places). Created using CD Projekt's entirely in-house REDengine, the game promises breathtaking visuals, a game world "20% larger than Skyrim", and a day / night cycle which can change monsters and the environment around you. Watch the trailer and I think you can agree that they certainly don't seem to be lying about the graphics. Hopefully the gameplay will be able to back that up.

Batman: Arkham Knight

Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: WB Interactive Entertainment
Expected: 2nd June, 2015

Arkham Knight is the latest in Rocksteady's Batman series, the first two games being Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The most recent Batman game, Arkham Origins, was developed by a different studio (WB Montreal) and as a prequel was not a direct successor to the other games. This is probably for the best, as Arkham Origins received average reviews, and is generally considered to be the weakest of the most recent games in the series, which technically it probably isn't even part of.

Arkham Knight though seems set to be a return to form for the Dark Knight, and noted voice actor Kevin Conroy reprises his role as the voice of Batman himself. The Batmobile will finally make an appearance as a player-controlled vehicle, and can be remotely summoned to appear at a nearby location whether you're on foot or gliding through the air.

The game has been delayed twice already (it was originally slated for release in June 2014, then October 2014), so hopefully the third time's the charm here.

No Man's Sky

Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Expected: 2H 2015

One of, if not the breakout hit of 2014's E3, No Man's Sky is a procedurally-generated adventure game where you quite literally have to explore the universe, discover new life forms, and boldly go where no man has gone before (sorry ladies). The debut title from British indie developer Hello Games, this is is probably the game I am most interested in, alongside Rebel Galaxy. Unfortunately it's going to be a timed exclusive for the PS4 at launch, but a PC version has been confirmed after that period of exclusivity ends. Whether that's six months, a year, or longer is unclear, but the chances of this appearing on the PC in 2015 are slim. I'm still hoping though.

The randomly-generated nature of the game means that there are over 18 quintillion (18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) planets to be discovered in the universe, each with its own unique wildlife, geography, topography, and other mysteries to be discovered. Find something new for the first time and your name name is permanently attached to it for the rest of the game, meaning that someone else who examines that planet / animal / area in their game sees your name as its discoverer, forever.

Expect to hear a lot about this game during the next few months, as it looks it could very well be the first must-own game on the PS4 - and hopefully not too long after, the PC.


Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Expected: 2H 2015

Gearbox's first new IP in a while following the success of the Borderlands series, Battleborn is a multiplay "cartoony" online shooter, in a similar vein to Blizzard's Overwatch (Battleborn was actually announced first). Similar to how Borderlands mashed up the RPG and FPS genres, Battleborn seems to be adding some MOBA action into the mix. So FPS + RPG + MOBA... that's a lot of balls to keep up in the air. And since Gearbox were responsible for Colonial Marines, they know all about balls.

As you would expect there are several different factions to play as, and several characters within each faction, each with a unique style and set of abilities. Gearbox have said that they hope to have around 20 characters ready for the game's launch later this year, with more to follow post-release.

With the phenomenal success of the Borderlands series, it's difficult to bet against Gearbox on something like this. Couple that with the fact that sci-fi games seem to be very much in vogue, and in particular multiplayer sci-fi games, and it's quite possible that Battleborn checks almost every box that people are looking for. There's no release date yet, but hopefully we'll hear something at this year E3 with regards to that.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Upcoming Games Of 2015 - Part 1

Time for my annual look at the games I think are worthy of attention this coming year. A reminder that these are in no particular order, but are just titles that have caught my eye as something to watch that could be worthy of your cold hard cash.

Starting up...


Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Epic Games
Expected: 2H 2015

The latest title out of Epic Games, most notable for the Gears of War and Unreal Tournament series, Fortnite is envisioned as a free-to-play co-op game whereby you scavenge the land and build a defensible fortress in the day, only to be besieged by zombies and others monsters at night. You can choose how to keep the bad guys away, and you can choose from several classes.

Since this is going to be free-to-play then the usual caveats about pay-to-win apply here. Done well (League of Legends, PlanetSide 2) it could be no issue, done badly (Star Wars: The Old Republic) it might be a monstrosity. I'm hoping for the former. It's also interesting to note that this will be a PC exclusive at launch, with console ports a possibility down the line.

Rebel Galaxy

Developer: Double Damage Games
Publisher: Double Damage Games
Expected: 2H 2015

The debut title from Double Damage Games, the new studio of former Blizzard developers Travis Baldree and Erich Schaefer (they created both Torchlight games too during their tenure at Runic Games), Rebel Galaxy gives you a randomly-generated universe each time you start up a new game. Build alliances, go on missions, become a trader... it's really up to you.

I will admit, this is one I am very much looking forward to for this year. I am a big fan of the Torchlight series, and what these guys were able to do on a shoestring budget is nothing short of amazing. For a long time (certainly at launch) Torchlight II was a better Diablo III than Diablo III, until Blizzard got the memo and finally fixed it a year or so post-release. Still though, these guys deserve their accolades and I am very much looking forward to seeing what they can do with one of my favourite genres. Rebel Galaxy will be a PC / PS4 title at launch, and will hopefully drop towards the end of this year.

Shadow Realms

Developer: EA Bioware
Publisher: EA
Expected: Q4 2015 / Q1 2016

Much has been written about BioWare's recent exploits (a lot of it by me), but with the excellent (although not without its flaws) Dragon Age: Inquisition it seems as if they have recaptured some of their mojo from previous years. Shadow Realms is slated to be BioWare's latest game (probably sandwiched between Dragon Age: Inquisiton and Mass Effect 4), and is a 4v1 asymmetrical co-op game that looks like it ripped off The Secret World's art style in a big way.

There will be multiple classes available at launch, each with their own abilities, weapons, and combos, and each game consists of four heroes vs the shadowlord. The shadowlord can possess any NPC mob, giving it extra health, damage, and abilities, as well as being able to change the map (break down walls, create monster spawns, etc.) and fight against the heroes directly. The shadowlord essentially seems to be the AI director from the Left 4 Dead games, but with an actual person calling the shots instead of Skynet. It sounds great, but since it's modern BioWare then it could be not-great. Time will tell.


Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
Publisher: 2K Games
Expected: 10th February 2015

The one game on the first part of this list with a definitive release date, Evolve is yet another asymmetrical 4v1 co-op game (although it is going to have an single-player campaign) in a similar vein to Shadow Realms above. A team of four players (or "hunters" as the game calls them) receive assigned missions which they have to complete, all of the time avoiding / killing a player-controlled enemy monster. The team comprised of four hunters always has the same makeup (one each from assault, medic, support, and trapper), but there are several characters available for each slot). The player controlling the monster also gets a choice between several forms of monster, and during the game can consume smaller enemies to evolve into newer forms (hence the title).

I've heard nothing but good things about this game from several sources, and since Turtle Rock were the developer behind the original Left 4 Dead then the pedigree is strong with this one. The game's only five weeks away, and has all the hallmarks of being the first big contender of the year.

Stay tuned for part two my roundup, coming soon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Ethics

It seems that a former RockPaperShotgun writer, Nathan Grayson - who recently made the switch to Kotaku - may have engaged in a personal relationship with the female developer of a game (Zoe Quinn, developer of Depression Quest) he wrote about professionally. It's not clear (a) whether this is true (although circumstantial evidence does seem to suggest that the dalliance took place - but that largely comes down to believing someone's word about it), (b) if it is true, that it happened before he started writing about the game or after, or (c) whether even if it took place, that the liaison influenced his coverage of the game in any way.

This is a story that you are not going to read on most mainstream gaming sites anytime soon because they do not seem to be interested in reporting it right now (you're certainly not going to be reading about it on Kotaku or RPS, and even parts of Reddit are censoring some links). Perhaps some of them are not reporting it because it's unconfirmed, or because it's too much like slut-shaming, or even that it perhaps shines a light on an aspect of the gaming press that they would much prefer you not to be talking about: that there can be some unhealthy relationships between writers and developers/publishers. I am also not going to post any links to the more salacious parts of the story; you can find that stuff by yourself if that's what you want to do.

What matters is this: ethically, something like this is a big problem. Even if the worst parts of the allegations are not true, and that perhaps these two people just fell into a personal relationship after the business relationship was concluded, it looks absolutely terrible from an ethical standpoint. It could taint any work Nathan Grayson has done in the past, as well as making it more difficult for people to trust his work in the future knowing that something like this has happened in the past. And that's all if it's untrue; if something more underhand did occur and it was proven that positive coverage was traded for, uh, "personal services", then his career as a gaming writer may well be over. Clearly, even if it is true then admittance of that fact would effectively be career suicide, and so that's something you are probably not going to see happen. The writer in question was listed in the credits of the game concerned under the "Special Thanks" section, that much is true and verifiable.

Ironically, if the sexes were reversed and it was a female writer and male developer, you would see this plastered all over sites such as Gawker's Jezebel. Given that something like this does not fit Jezebel's anti-men narrative though, Gawker sites will likely just try to let it blow over, and perhaps the writer in question will be quietly asked to seek employment elsewhere, or take a long break.

Ethics is not a small country in Eastern Europe, but something all of us should aspire to every day, whether we're a doctor, lawyer, writer, or a caretaker. In this case, even if the relationship took place under the most innocuous of circumstances, then Nathan Grayson still failed the ethical test that prevents the phrase "gaming journalism" from being something many people can take seriously.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Servers Gone Wild(Star)

Today marked the first day of Wildstar's pre-release name reservation system, whereby people that had pre-ordered the game (like myself) would be able to log in and reserve a name for use once the game launches later this month. Sounds cool, right? A guaranteed way to be able to get your chosen name ahead of time instead of having to race everyone else on launch day for it. Well...not so much.

Being merciful: it was poorly executed; to be less merciful: it was a shambles from beginning to end.

To begin with, the name reservation system was meant to go live at 1pm Central, but once 1pm Central rolled around with the system (a) nowhere in sight, and (b) the site running as fast as molasses uphill, Carbine pushed the time forward to 3pm Central. Oh well, these things happen. Cue 3pm Central, and the site is almost unusable still. Half the time it didn't show that you were logged in correctly, and then even when it did, the "Reserve" button did not actually do anything. After 90 minutes of constantly refreshing the page, hoping the "Reserve" button showed up and actually connected me to the system correctly, I finally seemed to get through and was able to reserve my chosen name. I was wanting to hit something by the end of it though, as the process was about as annoying as something gets without you being able to divorce it. Carbine repeated their mantra that their site was under heavy load and people should just continue to keep trying, all through the afternoon, before one of their devs posted on Reddit that there were some background issues affecting the site that they were trying to track down.

Then, a couple of hours ago when I went to double-check that the reservations were still there, I found that I had to again reserve them. What happened to the reservation from earlier? Did it vanish into the ether like some kind of electoral manifesto pledge? What would have happened if someone else had tried to reserve my names in those intervening few hours? Why am I asking you all these questions? Either way, I duly reserved them - again - and this time they seem to be sticking, for now at least.

I feel this whole situation was handled very poorly by Carbine, which is annoying because I genuinely like almost everything they have done with regards to Wildstar, both in terms of the game's development choices and the obvious good humour they have placed in the game and its promotion. As highly as I think of them though, I can't give them a pass for the sloppiness they dished out today. It needed to be a much simpler system, perhaps incorporating some kind of queue so that constant refreshing / prayer wasn't required in order to try and reserve your name of choice. Carbine knew exactly how many pre-orders they have sold up to this point, and should have been able to gauge extremely accurately the amount of load they would need to plan for in these first couple of days of the system going live. No one is looking for perfection (and if you are then you're going to be sorely disappointed, in all walks of life), but when mistakes are made based on information already known at the time, that's when my patience and good grace is tested, and judging by the Internet I am not the only one to think like this today.

Here's the bottom line: Wildstar looks like a great game, and based on what I've played of the beta, it delivers as a cutting-edge MMO experience. I like the game, and I like Carbine, but they are fast going to lose people's good wishes if they have many repeats of today's nonsense. Some people have already tried to draw parallels between the name reservation debacle and how the launch of the game will be; I for one think it's far too early to draw those sorts of conclusions. Even the best of us has a bad day on occasion, and Carbine have done too many good things for me to write them off over one incident. At the same time, if things like this happen again in the future then it becomes a pattern, not a one-off. Right now it is a one-off - and let's hope that's where it stays.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wildstar vs. The Elder Scrolls Online

Thanks to both of the NDAs being lifted on each of these games (Wildstar's first, to no one's surprise) I wanted to give a run-down of what you can expect from these if you choose to pick one or both up.

I played a few beta weekends for Wildstar, and a couple for TESO. Wildstar is very fun and innovative, with fresh twists on established MMO mechanics, and TESO, well, isn't.

I half-considered ending this piece there, but I suspect most of you will want more details, so here goes...

Wildstar is just plain fun. I've been following its development for a couple of years, (and watching the dev team's awesome Devspeak videos) so was familiar with the tone and setting of the game, and whilst there's not a great deal terribly original (other than Paths, which I'll touch on), the game is extremely polished, looks and runs amazing, and is just generally very fun to play. It's your usual MMO fare, so pick a faction, pick a race, pick a class, and uniquely for Wildstar you also have to pick a Path. Paths essentially let you play the game the way you want, and tailor to different playstyles; there are four available: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist, and Settler. The Soldier receives special combat quests, the Explorer receives jumping and cartography quests, the Scientist gets quests to find and identify new objects and species, and finally the Settler constructs new outposts and waystations that give anyone that uses them various buffs and protections. This is one of Wildstar's best features, and really sets it apart from any other MMO. I personally played an Explorer, and some of the jumping puzzles were quite devious in their own way.

Wildstar's "telegraph" system is something that's been seen in other MMOs, but not quite to this quality or scale. Essentially, every mob (and even your own abilities) will place down patterns on the ground to show where they are about to strike, and it's up to you to move out of the way before the attack completes and hits you. Different mobs have different telegraphs, and if you let some of them connect they can outright kill you in one hit, so it's best to try and avoid them when possible. This adds a bit more interactivity to MMO combat than I've seen before, and puts the onus firmly on the player to survive, instead of being able to blame the RNG for an unlucky hit. Essentially, if you die it's because you suck at avoiding being hit.

Questing is fun, if not terribly original. In addition to receiving quests from the zone you will also receive quests based on whichever Path you selected. There are group quests, which often require needing to kill a large raid-type boss with a group, or several groups if they're strong. Housing becomes available at level 14, and PvP is also something you can do, although I haven't yet. Carbine also have a lot planned for endgame (for max level characters), including 40-man raids (as well as easier 20-man raids), instanced areas, dungeons, and open PvP. Hamidon, this is not. Ok, I've talked up Wildstar enough, and it's time to turn to the elephant in the room.

So...The Elder Scrolls Online...well, it's not enjoyable, or at least it wasn't for me, nor for around five people I know who all tried it, none of whom particularly liked it. Essentially, when I was playing TESO (admittedly this was about 2 - 3 months ago; I'm sure some things have likely changed since then) it felt like I was playing an early alpha of a game that was being made five years ago. The graphics were...functional, I guess, but nothing amazing to look at. Combat was again, functional, but really not memorable in any special way. The devs have commented that their AI is "groundbreaking", but I can't say that I personally noticed much in that direction.

Beginning at the start though, the warning bells for TESO were ringing even in the tutorial. First off, the game is fully-voiced (unlike Wildstar) and the voice actors themselves are pretty stellar, including Michael Gambon (Albertus Dumbledore from most of the Harry Potter films), John Cleese (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda), Jennifer Hale (Femshep from the Mass Effect series) and Kate Beckinsale (from most of the Underworld films), amongst others. So yes, the voice acting is great. Sadly, it's downhill from there. Half way through the tutorial I found a rack where you could see various weapons, and needed to choose one for your character to start with. I clicked one, tried it out, and then tried to click another, only to find that you get to choose one and that's it. In pretty much every tutorial I've played you get to mess around with whatever weapons and abilities you want before making a final selection; not so in TESO, and this put a bad taste in my mouth right from the get-go. You can switch between first and third-person at will, which is a nice touch, but finding interesting things to do is a laborious exercise. Unfortunately, much of the game world is simply empty, marked by rocks, or trees, but not much else, not even random mobs on which to grind experience. TESO's world doesn't actually feel like one, but instead feels like a group of staging areas set one after the other.

TESO's UI's is also clunky, and was clearly designed for fans of the Elder Scrolls series. You don't get a minimap, just a compass at the top of your screen which gives you the general heading for certain quest locations. I am very anti-compass and pro-minimap, so this was particularly aggravating for me, needing to open the full map constantly to properly see where I was actually going. Some quests were interesting, but the totality of the problems were just making me not particularly enjoy the experience, and after a few hours I quit and did not look back. So, full disclosure: maybe the game gets tons better down the line (I think I was 5 - 6 when I stopped), but I kinda doubt it. It's my belief that Wildstar is going to blow TESO out of the water for sheer enjoyment. The only saving grace for TESO may be the number of Elder Scrolls fans out there, because if you loved Morrowind and Skyrim then you're probably going to like TESO a lot more than the average person, such as myself. Still though, I don't think there are enough Elder Scrolls fans in the universe to be able to keep this subscription-only game going; at this point I think Zenimax are attempting to recoup as much of their development expenses through box sales and subscriptions as they can, before converting the game to free-to-play down the line. I will be stunned if there has been no free-to-play announcement for TESO within a year of its release.

This will be the World of Warcraft vs. EverQuest Star Trek Online vs. Star Wars: The Old Republic Guild Wars 2 vs. The Secret World of our time. Two big MMOs enter, but who will be left standing at the end? It's my sincere belief that Wildstar is the superior game, and the one worthy of spending your hard-earned money on. The release dates are right around the corner (4th April for TESO, 3rd June for Wildstar) so it won't be a guessing game for much longer. Go Wildstar!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Upcoming Games Of 2014 - Part 2

Getting back into it, we begin with...


Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 11th March 2014 (NA), 13th March 2014 (EU)

This may be Respawn's first game but don't be fooled, this was the studio formed by Jason West and Vince Zampella following their firing from Infinity Ward by Activision in 2010. They formerly masterminded the Call of Duty series, including Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, before the unceremonious break-up which resulted in them taking legal action against Activision (the suit was later settled, reportedly very much in West and Zampella's favour).

At first glance Titanfall might seem like your average sci-fi space mech combat fare, but dig a little deeper and there's more going on here. It may not be exactly re-inventing the wheel, but Titanfall looks to combine the best elements of the most popular shooters in recent history, incorporating elements of Tribes (wall-running), Mechwarrior (the, er, mechs, aka Titans) and utilising Valve's Source engine (that powers games such as Portal, Portal 2, and Team Fortress 2) to boot. March is only a couple of months away, so it won't be a long wait to see whether their Call of Duty success was a flash in the pan or an indicator of grander things to come.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: CD Projekt / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Expected: Q2 2014

The latest title in The Witcher series, Wild Hunt continues the story of Geralt, protagonist of the first two games. Sporting the all-new REDEngine 3, the game looks phenomenal in the screenshots and videos released so far by CD Projekt RED, and certainly seems to rival The Division for best-looking engine of this new generation of games.

The Witcher 3 is said to sport the largest world of any open-world game released to date, with the developers boasting that its environment is "20% bigger than Skyrim", which is certainly noteworthy. Hopefully the title will have the gameplay to back that up. Wild Hunt is also said to be 64-bit only due to the new game engine; given that most PC gamers worth their sodium are already using 64-bit CPUs and OS' then this shouldn't be a problem, and is likely one of the big reasons why the visual fidelity of the game looks so exquisite.

Expect to see a release date announced for this very shortly.

Watch Dogs

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Expected: Q2 2014

The game that took 2013's E3 by storm, Watch Dogs looks to combine an open world (in this case: a near-future Chicago) together with open-ended gameplay, with an emphasis on technology. Hacking traffic lights, cell phones, reading people's emails and obtaining personal information, this is what Watch Dogs is about. Essentially it seems like a slightly lower-tech Deus Ex: Human Revolution, although not linear.

I'll come right out with it: the game looks amazing.

We were already meant to have our hands on it, but the original release date of November 2013 was delayed by Ubisoft, with a spring 2014 now promised, and the extra time being used for "additional polish". I have a hard getting angry with developers and publishers when they are going to use the time to improve the game, especially when it's something like Watch Dogs which from everything I have seen and read looks like it could be something truly spectacular.

Hopefully we'll see a concrete release date going up for this in the very near future.


Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Expected: 25th February 2014 (NA), 28th February 2014 (EU)

Last but not least we have the reboot of Thief, the stealth series popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. The protagonist from the original games, Garrett, returns in this new title, and he must again satisfy his Robin Hood-esque compulsion to steal from the rich whilst remaining undetected, and using shadows, stealth, and subtlety to his advantage.

Following the success of Dishonored, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and even indie games such as Mark of the Ninja, stealth seems to be back in fashion, and Thief was one of the genre's original progenitors. Hopefully it can make a welcome return after a decade's absence, as I know many people think of it rather fondly.

And that's about it. No doubt there will be surprises from left-field in gaming this year, but hopefully there will be more than a couple on this list which actually turn out to be worth the wait.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Upcoming Games Of 2014 - Part 1

Time once again for my round-up of the best looking games that aim to be gracing store shelves in 2014.

In no particular order, we begin with...

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Developer: EA BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: Q4 2014

The third game in the Dragon Age series, Inquisition is looking to roll back some significant mis-steps BioWare made with Dragon Age II, generally considered to be a lacklustre sequel to one of the best RPGs of all time, Dragon Age: Origins.

Highly reused environments are out, replaced by a large open(er) world with a much greater emphasis on exploring, rather than being shepherded down a tightly-controlled linear path. The overhead camera, sorely missing in DA2, makes a welcome reappearance, as will being able to give item drops to party members, rather than most of them being locked solely to your main character.

It's been a rocky few years for BioWare, with Dragon Age II, The Old Republic, and Mass Effect 3 all under-performing, both in terms of sales and quality. Can BioWare turn it around? I hope so, but my phasers are set to "cautiously optimistic" on this one.

Tom Clancy's The Division

Developer: Ubisoft Massive
Publisher: Ubisoft
Expected: Q4 2014

A title that seemingly came out of left-field at 2013's E3 but went on to win many Game of the Show accolades, The Division is a tactical third-person shooter set in New York after a rampant pandemic has left the city a wasteland. You'll need to find friends, gather supplies, neutralise threats, and find a way to survive in harsh environments following the catastrophe.

The Division is probably the single most beautiful game I have seen so far of all the next-gen engines. Running on Ubisoft's Snowdrop engine, from the video I will link at the end you will see it looks absolutely stunning. The multiplayer operates in a persistent world, so grouping up with friends might be the way to go to maximise your returns here, since soloing may be challenging.

My only concern is, given how ambitious this title seems to be, will it be ready by this time next year? I'm hopeful, but wouldn't be surprised at all to see this slip into early 2015. Hopefully we'll find out more in the months ahead.


Developer: Carbine Studios
Publisher: NCsoft
Expected: Q2 2014

The only MMORPG to appear on my list this year, Wildstar looks to be a fresh take on a stale genre. Frankly I'm tired of the WoW clones by this point, and Wildstar's art style has minor similarities with WoW, but the comparisons basically end there. Set on the planet Nexus, Wildstar is a sci-fi themed RPG which has some novel ideas about customisation and combat, namely that it should be fun. Unique combat mechanics, coupled with the Path system which basically lets you further customise your character beyond race and class to deliver precisely the kind of gameplay experience you want, make this the most exciting MMORPG I have read about in years.

Sadly my beta invite got lost in the mail, but I hear through the grapevine that the game plays as good as it looks. Carbine are also doing social media right, and their "Devspeak" videos are absolutely worth looking at as they detail the game's humour and mechanics in ample measure. The only concern I have is with its payment model, since the game will be subscription but you'll be able to buy an in-game item called CREDD which will act as a one-month subscription. I'm not sold on this, but I'll wait to see how it actually all works before making a final judgement.

No release date has been announced yet, although the beta has been going on for about six months now, so it can't be much longer until release. Expect this to hit store shelves around the Spring.

Lords of the Fallen

Developer: Deck13, CI Games
Publisher: CI Games
Expected 2H 2014

Unfortunately there's not a lot of information about there about LotF yet, but the little there is looks very interesting. Tomasz Gop, former senior producer for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, is the executive producer here, and comparisons have been made to Dark Souls when it comes to the game's setting.

Three classes have been announced (warrior, rogue, cleric) with skill trees devoted to each, and the game's art style certainly tickles my fancy. Again, details are scarce, but I have it on good authority that new information will come to light in January, with more to follow later in the year. This one's flying under the radar, but worth keeping an eye on.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft
Expected: 4th March 2014 (NA), 6th March 2014 (EU)

After a year's delay following original publisher THQ's implosion, The Stick Of Truth will finally be released in March. South Park Studios are extensively involved in the game's development, and South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote the game's script and provided the relevant voices. Expect bathroom humour, pop culture references, and swearing aplenty. This one will definitely be Not For Children (although no doubt many will buy it for their kids).

Basically, if you like the show you'll like the game, and if you hate the show then you'll hate the game. Hopefully there'll be enough content here to justify a full-priced game; god knows they've been working on it for long enough if that's any indication.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my 2014 wrap-up, coming as soon as I have the time to write it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Next Big MMORPG?

It's been a difficult period for MMOs these past couple of years in the gaming industry. We've seen Star Wars: The Old Republic crash and burn, although BioWare continue to poke its corpse; we've seen The Secret World not become the breakout hit that Funcom needed it to be, although it's doing a little better these days following its free-to-play conversion; and we've also seen Guild Wars 2 have probably the best launch and post-release period of the three. I've already written about NCsoft's forthcoming Wildstar, and Bethesda continue to beaver away on The Elder Scrolls Online, but last week saw perhaps the biggest pretender to the MMO throne partially unveil what it has in store, and boy was it interesting.

I am speaking of course about SOE's EverQuest Next, revealed to the public last weekend at SOE Live, Sony Online Entertainment's version of Blizzcon.

First thing first: the game looks amazing, hands down the best-looking MMORPG that I have seen to date. This is due in no small measure to SOE's proprietary ForgeLight engine that currently powers PlanetSide 2. It's not all about the visuals though, EQN has a lot going on under the surface to where this might actually be the prophesied "WoW-killer" foretold so long ago.

At first glance, perhaps the most eye-catching feature is the destructable environments. The entire game world is made up of voxels (think three-dimensional jigsaw pieces) which can be broken apart at will by the game. Of course, some areas will always be safe (certain outposts, towns and cities, most likely), but even just in the conception stage this opens some tantalising avenues for gameplay that really haven't been seen before. Fencing a bunch of mobs together and then blasting through the ground so they fall to their deaths below sounds appealing, as does actually digging into the ground in order to mine mineral deposits in certain areas, or even finding new areas underground to explore.

Another interesting snippet is that at any one time there will be one primary world quest for everyone on a particular server. These "rallying calls", as they're known, will advance in stages, at a pace dependent on how many players are participating and how much everyone is doing. The example given by the developers so far is to create a new settlement off the beaten track. Initially the area might need securing from wildlife, so that would need to be taken care of first. Then materials could be needed to actually construct the settlement, and bandits may appear that need to be repelled, defences might need to be constructed, etc. Each server would advance at its own pace, and (presumably) rewards would be handed out proportionally to those players who have contributed the most to the various stages. On paper, this sounds like an more advanced version of public quests, initially seen in Warhammer Online and refined in Guild Wars 2, but worldwide across the entire server, not delineated by zone, as is usually done in MMOs today. Provided these are varied enough, and there is enough to keep players interested in contributing to the objectives, I can see this kind of system being somewhat of a metric used to "score" your server against others (similar to WvW rankings in Guild Wars 2 currently).

Developing from an idea first used in Guild Wars 2 (again!), the class and skill system is unique, too. There will apparently be 40 classes (!), and, as seems to be becoming the norm these days, you will be able to have eight skills equipped at a time. Four of these skills are derived from your class, and four are determined by the weapon you are holding at the time. SOE's twist here is that you will actually be able to learn abilities from other classes and add them to your own repertoire; this will lead to your class actually becoming your class, completely tailored to the skills you want to use and the weapons you want your character to wield. Speaking of weapons, crafting also looks to be significantly different. Instead of having to start with common materials, make hundreds of crappy things and then selling them or breaking them down for materials, then rinse and repeat with higher-level materials, SOE have said that each material will have specific uses that will remain useful for the entirety of the game, rather than the usual Copper -> Tin -> Iron progression for mining, Linen - > Wool -> Silk for tailoring, etc. This is reminiscent of Ultima Online, where certain materials had certain properties, such as silver weapons doing double damage to undead monsters. In addition, SOE have said that crafted weapons and armour will actually look like the materials they're constructed from, so you won't need to inspect another character's paperdoll to see what they are using, you will just recognise it by how it looks.

Perhaps one of the biggest announcements by SOE, and I'm surprised they were able to keep a lid on this up to now, was that there will be a second EQN-based game - to launch this year - called EverQuest Landmark. Think Minecraft but in EQN gamespace. Players will be able to claim particular areas of land, construct buildings, points of interest, etc. They will be able to sell their creations on SOE's Marketplace for real money, and if their works are used in other buildings (the example given is that if you make a tower and then someone constructs a castle that incorporates your tower) you will automatically earn a cut of that castle's earnings. The very best areas and buildings stand a chance of making it into the full version of EverQuest Next. This sounds like a very interesting way to both build up interest in the EQN brand, but also appeal to players' artistic interests, as player-made content is very popular right now in several Valve games (TF2 being the most popular) and moddable games such as Minecraft and even Skyrim. EverQuest Landmark will be free-to-play and is meant to be released before the end of 2013, so expect to hear news about this in the very near future.

All in all, I am very interested in EverQuest Next. I enjoy MMOs and have played most of the major ones on the market today, but too many are content to try and make WoW 2.0, forgetting that the original World of Warcraft was released in 2004, almost a decade ago, and that the gaming industry of today is very different from the gaming industry of back then. The fact that WoW's subscriber numbers drop seemingly every quarter is just more evidence that people are looking for something fresh and original, and EverQuest Next could well be it (because god knows it sure wasn't TOR). SOE have apparently rebooted EQN twice, abandoning much of the work they had already done and starting over, because they felt that it wasn't of a high enough quality. That a company is willing to keep iterating like that, and eat what must be significant financial costs every time they do so, makes me very interested in what is to come. If SOE can deliver on even half of what they have unveiled so far then expect EverQuest Next to be a significant shake-up of the MMO sector - and perhaps even as big a shake-up as the original WoW created, all those years ago.

EverQuest Next will be a free-to-play title and is expected to be released sometime in 2014. Anyone interested can sign up for the beta by clicking here.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A New Challenger Appears

What will be the best MMO that launches this year? If you said The Elder Scrolls Online, or even Neverwinter, then you'd probably be right, but you might not be...

WildStar is an MMO that's flying a little under the radar right now, which puts it right up my alley. It's a sci-fi / fantasy MMORPG in development at Carbine Studios, and our old friend NCsoft are the publisher (since they own Carbine). I'll link some videos and screenshots through this post, but I already know the first thing that will come to mind is, "This looks like WoW". Well, no surprise there, since Carbine has a bunch of ex-Blizzard devs on its payroll, but if you think it's going to be just another generic WoW clone then I believe you will be sadly mistaken.

At first glance, the story seems fairly ordinary: the location of the planet Nexus, home of the long-dead alien race the Eldan, has been discovered once more, and everyone heads there to grab as much treasure and alien technology as they can find. Ok, not the most original, but no mention of elves yet so I think overall we're ahead.

There are two playable factions, the Exiles and the Dominion. Each have four races available (only three of which are announced right now, so each faction has one more race to come), and there's none of that any-race-can-be-any-class nonsense you found in Guild Wars 2, classes are tied to certain races only.

On the Exiles bench we have:
  • Humans - Two hands, two feet.  The usual.
  • Granok - Beefy rock-monsters.
  • Aurin - Space Elves.  Goddamit.
  • TBA
And on the Dominion side:

And for classes:
  • Warrior - A melee damage dealer, they hit things with large weapons.
  • Spellslinger - A ranged DPS class akin to a Hunter from WoW or Ranger from GW2.
  • Stalker - A rogue-type class which can stealth and uses sharp blades.
  • Esper - A caster / support class that seems similar to the Mesmer from GW2.
  • TBA
  • TBA
Where things get really interesting is the Path system. Paths are almost like vocations / super tradeskills for your character, that change the way you play the game depending on which you have selected. They are based on the Bartle test, which was an attempt to ascertain what type of gamer people are in four key areas: Killer, Explorer, Socialiser and Achiever (those interested can take the Bartle test here, it will give you a random selection of thirty questions). In WildStar you can choose one of four Paths:
  • Soldier
  • Explorer
  • Settler
  • Scientist

Any class can choose any path, and they change the way the game plays for you. Soldiers, for example, get special missions to kill enemies, protect allies, destroy areas, etc. Explorers can unlock new areas and mini-zones where they will receive specialised quests of their own, and can even link remote areas together in a personalised fast-travel system. Scientists examine and manipulate wildlife and discover aliens relics to unlock new abilities. Not much has been announced with regards to the final path, the Settler, but you are said to be able to create and upgrade outposts in order to expand the frontier for your faction. Paths really sound interesting, and I can't think of any other game which has does something like this previously. The fact that you can bring along friends to mix and match different playstyles could really bring this Path system to the fore.

Unusually, Carbine have already stated that both player and guild housing will be in the game, not just envisaged for an expansion but actually at launch. This makes it something of a rarity among MMOs, which often pay lip-service to the concept (I know WoW devs have been talking about it for, oh, six or seven years now) but rarely follow that up with actual action. Heck, I think the last MMO I played that had player housing was Ultima Online back in the day, and that was a looooooong time ago.

The private beta is ongoing at the current time; those interested can sign up for beta consideration, with the game currently slated to be released later this year. No word yet on what kind of subscription model WildStar will use, but since it's an NCsoft-owned developer and is being published by NCsoft themselves, I think it's likely the game will mirror Guild Wars 2's system of buy-to-play, where you pay $60 for the game and there are no recurring subscription fees on top of that. I personally am very much in favour of that system, and so I hope that is what they choose to go with.

With the ability to include both sci-fi and fantasy elements, WildStar could well be the game that gives TESO a run for its money as the most eagerly-anticipated MMO of this year...