Tag Archives: destiny

PlayStation E3 2015 Recap

PlayStation E3 2015

Sony this year came out with some heat. We all thought most of it would just be rumors because—let’s face it—a lot of it sounded absurd. A comeback? A remake? Oh come on. We should know better by now. Go back to your village and take your pipe dreams with you.

But wham, bam, holy shit. We really shouldn’t be calling out “winners” for this sort of thing, but this press conference did actually bring down the Internet. Feel free to read on or rewatch the entire thing.

The Last Guardian

Ummm, what? I guess sometimes vaporware comes back from the dead. After being in and out of development and existence for the past 2007, it was pretty safe to assume the long awaited project was simply dead and buried. After the trauma of numerous rumors, the latest rumblings that we’d see The Last Guardian at this E3 seemed to only freshen up old wounds.

But it’s all true. Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida confirmed it would release for PlayStation 4 in 2016. Coming from Team Ico and director Fumito Ueda, the same combo that brought you Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, its expectations were high. After all these delays, are they just as lofty?

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games, developer of the Killzone series, is throwing quite the delicious curveball here. Going from a stock FPS to this is rather incredible. Perhaps filling the PlayStation 4’s required space marine quota earned them some laterality.

But Horizon: Zero Dawn has a fascinating premise. Something along the course of humanity’s development caused them to plunge back into a pre-civilization structure except machines are still rampant and necessary. So instead of hunting for food, they hunt for parts. Sure, the gameplay looks fun enough, but that setup is incredible.

Hitman

Even if you don’t care for the Hitman games, this is a well put together trailer. It finely composes the idea that he’s a killer of tactics, brutality, and skill. Also, the backing track that surreptitiously features ragged breathing slowly sinks in and is reinforced by the kill shot.

The trailer itself, however, doesn’t reveal much except that the series still animates people a bit too cartoonishly. I guess Square Enix assumes we already know what to expect from the game, which is kind of a sad notion anyway. Hitman lands on PlayStation 4 and PC on December 8. (Franchise reboots that simply start off with the same name is an organizational nightmare, by the way.)

Dreams

Media Molecule is still very much about games in which you create, if you were wondering. The latest is Dreams, and while the trailer is very obtuse about what you’ll actually be doing, you’ll definitely be creating…something.

It looks like you’ll be using your controller to sculpt out characters inside of scenes. The “dreams” motif comes in where everything is fast and impressionistic rather than details and builds upon a previously known (read: made) lexicon of items. You can then grab your creations and puppeteer them to life. (The short demo preceding the trailer shows more than anyone could ever say with words.)

Destiny: The Taken King

While I found Destiny to be somewhat lacking in its original release, the more that Bungie puts out for the game, the more I want to go back and play it. It seems like they’re solving the two biggest problems simultaneously with each DLC, being the lack of content for a massive world and a refinement of how to use that world in interesting ways.

Coming September 15, The Taken King will cost $39.99 for the regular edition and $79.99 for the collector’s edition, both of which will also include Destiny itself. The expansion will include new Guardian subclasses and super moves.

Final Fantasy VII

Part of the crazy heat Sony threw around yesterday. Even more dubious than The Last Guardian comeback rumors, we heard voices on the wind talk of a Final Fantasy VII remake, something fans have been clamoring for since dinosaurs walked the Earth.

And now it’s happening. This isn’t a tech demo or a PC version or an upgraded PC version for PlayStation 4, but this is a remake. At this point, it’s unclear as to what that means. This could end up just an HD remaster for all we know, but hopefully they’re not just misleading us with the word “remake.”

The bigger question, however, is if anyone still cares. Tetsuya Nomura is coming on as director after guiding the Kingdom Hearts series (and directing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children) while Yoshinori Kitase, original director of Final Fantasy VII, will be returning to produce. Is that enough to garner interest beyond the 18-year-old fan base?

No Man’s Sky

This is the first lengthy gameplay demo anyone outside of the press has seen from No Man’s Sky. Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray hopefully imparted upon the audience the sheer size of what they’re attempting with this procedurally generated universe simulator. (If you still don’t get it, read this piece over at The New Yorker.)

Still no release date, but we do learn that every world is fully destructible. Plus there are fish!

Shenmue III

And here’s the real surprise of the event. No one was even expecting this, but Yu Suzuki, creator of an immense number of classics like Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, and Virtua Fighter, came out on stage to announce that he’d like to revitalize the Shenmue franchise through Kickstarter.

And then everyone lost their god damn minds. Which is the appropriate response, I might add. It brought down Kickstarter itself for a brief time as it rocketed up hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes. It’s already hit its $2 million goal in its first day. If you’re not jacked for this, then you’re a fool. Or you were too young to have played the first two.

Call of Duty

Now we know why Call of Duty was mysteriously absent during Microsoft press conference. PlayStation CEO Andrew House announced that Sony will get all of the military shooter’s map packs first. The deal will start up with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, coming to PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One November 6.

Map packs have traditionally gone to Xbox platforms first since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare back in 2007. While not necessarily everyone’s thing, this is a huge move for PlayStation.

Firewatch

Firewatch is pretty much exactly the kind of game I love playing. Or at least it’s the kind of game I love thinking that I would love playing based on the trailer because the trailer sells a very particular kind of game.

The adventure game from Campo Santo and director Jake Rodkin (co-host of the Idle Thumbs podcast) tells the story of a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989. Numerous mysteries begin to unfold as he goes about his patrols.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

While the return of the Uncharted series still doesn’t seem like the best creative decision, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still looks pretty incredible. Like, visually, I mean. It seems like it’ll play like the other games, so you probably already know if you’ll be into that or not, but there’s certainly something to be said for a masterful refinement of a craft.

After a little technical hiccup where protagonist Nathan Drake froze in front of a still animating crowd, we go on a classic Uncharted whirlwind ride of shooting bad guys, running from overwhelming odds, shooting more guys, and (as a franchise first) driving a vehicle. Oh, and crackin’ some wise. Don’t forget that.

There are some other odds and ends that came out of the conference (like a new Street Fighter V trailer), but that’s the gist of it. There were several genuine surprises, capping off a rather momentous start to this year’s E3. Look for more coverage as the show continues the rest of the week.

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The Year in Review: Not Angry, Just Disappointed

The Year in Review: Not Angry, Just Disappointed

This year has been a rough one. Compared to the past few years where you could go into January with high hopes and a belief that this industry was headed somewhere good, leaving 2014 also leaves an aftertaste. There are some usual suspects that always make us shift uneasily in our seats, but when they stack up high like a plate of endless pancakes, it’s cause for concern.

Concern and indignation, really. First let’s consider that this holiday season looked like a banger back at the turn of 2014. We had games like Batman: Arkham Knight and The Order: 1886 coming at us hard and fast. But Arkham Knight‘s October turned to 2015, as did The Order. The same goes for Mad Max and The Division. (Technically aimed at the next year anyways, even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt suffered yet another delay, breaking promises and deadlines.)

This turned the end of the year from a gangbusters gameapalooza to a rather tepid end to a depressing year. (We’ll get into that in another TYIR.) While not terrible games, we are left with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Lara Croft: The Temple of Osiris for December. November was a little better off with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and LittleBigPlanet 3 along with Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition (and the obligatory Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed releases), but still not the fresh bounty we’d been promised.

The Last of Us Remastered

Perhaps worse than that, we were fed stale (if refined) bits of bread and told they were good as new. This year was rife with HD rereleases, an invitation almost too obvious with the nascent years of these new consoles. The biggest and more recent titles of yester-generation came back like Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us, both of which proved their objective quality and impressive aesthetics.

As devs figure out how best to milk the hardware of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, we further received the announcements of rereleases of DmC, Saints Row IV, and supposedly Borderlands. It’s a marginally improved concession for convenience if you want to play these games, but the draw of playing on our infant nostalgia is wearing thin. It’s almost becoming annoying—insulting.

You probably noticed that there’s a big HD rerelease missing from the aforementioned 2014 litany: Halo: The Master Chief Collection. That’s because it leads right into the biggest trend of disappointment for the year. Case in point, one of the biggest components of the Spartan anthology—the online multiplayer matchmaking—simply did not work. This lead to both Bonnie Ross, head of 343 Industries, to writing a personal apology to players and throwing an offering to the voracious wolves.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

The biggest and most advertised portion of the collection was, in a word, useless. It’s still a lovely and centralized way to play the campaigns of the main Halo series of games, but all that marketing about playing every map with all your Xbox One buddies just couldn’t be made true. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one with that problem.

Driveclub didn’t have its full capabilities until this month, a chasm of lacking features including weather and, most importantly, online play. Its launch popularity broke its own server infrastructure, rendering much of it useless to its players, which then drove Evolution Studios to delay the Driveclub PlayStation Plus Edition.

Then there was Assassin’s Creed Unity, a true debacle on almost all counts. Frame rate often fell to nightmare status and crashes were strewn about like sprinkles at a Baskin-Robbins. Missing faces were commonplace enough to question the veracity of general healthcare during the French Revolution. It was so bad that Ubisoft offered free DLC and a free game so as to surreptitiously attempt a legal dodge.

Assassin's Creed Unity

Ubisoft, actually, just hasn’t had a good year in general. It had a solid highlight with Far Cry 4 and South Park: The Stick of Truth, but its highly publicized and anticipated Watch Dogs turned out to be somewhat of a dud. The Crew also turned out to be quite the uninteresting product and not without its own fair share of technical issues.

Combined with putting out the single most broken game of the year in Unity, Ubisoft has a lot of ground to make up in 2015. (They do get credit, though, for putting out Child of Light and Valiant Hearts: The Great War.) Quite a few studios coming out of 2014, actually, have a long road of ahead of them.

Bungie put out a similarly mediocre but functional game in Destiny. We thought they were just Halo developers and this would prove they could do more, but we ended up with Halo with odd bits of MMO mixed in and a mild proof that they do absolutely love pseudo-robotic space warriors with flying AI buddies.

Destiny

While not a broken or a bad game, it was disappointing. Much of the big, triple-A roster this year, in fact, was disappointing. Thief, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, everything just mentioned, and so much more failed to live up to expectations either set by studio reputation, past franchise titles, or even just good demos as past trade shows. You have plenty of reason to be mad about some of these and many other things, but really, I’m just disappointed at this point.

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The Loot Cave Situation

The Loot Cave Situation

If you’ve played Destiny, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Loot Cave. Or maybe it’s successor, Loot Cave 2.0. (Not very creative with names, are they?) The gist is this: the way Destiny‘s loot system works is primarily based on Engrams, or little bundles of categorical rarity that you have to have decoded into actual loot. The color scheme should be familiar to nearly all of you, starting with white and going to green to blue to purple and finally to gold.

Destiny, in its pseudo MMO-ness, has a similarly standard respawn structure. There are particular entrance points into the world where enemies can enter. Sometimes they are dropped by massive teleporting alien ships and other times they seems to blip and bloop simply into and out of existence. And then there are the times they come scurrying out of a literal hole in the ground. But they will only appear if the game thinks no one is watching.

This is where the Loot Cave comes into play. The first was located in the Cosmodrome area of Old Russia. With a legion of Guardians huddling around a slab of rock and shooting into a cave, it was a puzzling sight. But combine the two aforementioned aspects (loot drops and enemy respawns), and you have a Loot Cave. From that rock formation, you are far enough that the game thinks you can’t see the furtive birthing of foes. But with a zoom scope and a few friends, you can fire endlessly into that hole and be massively reward for your efforts. We’re talking kaboodles of blues and purps here, guys.

Destiny

In a recent patch, though, Bungie saw fit to nerf the honey pot—among other things. But just as quickly as they did so, another cave popped up. Also in Old Russia, this was even easier because the enemies had a tendency to seek you out if they got past your wall of hot death. And something tells me it’s only a matter of time until they patch this one as well.

The interesting thing, though, is that Bungie seemed to genuinely understand the grassroots thing borne by their game. From a blog post regarding then-impending changes: “The social experience of a cave farming run is amazing…The speed at which the community organized around this activity was inspiring and humbling to us.”

But then further along, they also say, “shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played.” These words very literally translate to the fact that players broke the system, counter to some opinions that it’s a feature and not a bug. While making good points and well written, the developers are straight-up saying that this was not intended.

Destiny

Of course some people will always choose the path of least (interesting) resistance. Shooting into a dark cave that spits out goodies? Bingo bango. But really the problem here is that the progression after level 20 is so incredibly boring that the best option all around is to join the ammo dump fest into a Loot Cave. That’s why you are so rarely alone at the caves. Even when instanced into separate realities of a handful of players, you will still find people at the caves.

There are other influencing artifacts to this treasure hunt, though. Namely the formerly cryptic rewards coming from the Cryptarch (the guy who decodes your Engrams for you). Bungie had to deliberately drop an injected element of randomness to the decryption, a choice previously made seemingly to only obfuscate the value of any given piece of loot.

The color of the engram didn’t always coordinate to the item it would result in, bringing about many bouts of frustration and rage and tweeting, especially (and usually) when a legendary drop only ended up being a rare piece of armor. The patch that removed the first Loot Cave also forced every engram to decode to its colored value or higher. It additionally forcibly downgraded all legendary engrams to rare ones, with the patch notes suggesting players decrypt before the patch while admitting “but let’s be honest–even if you don’t, we all know they were blues already…”

Destiny

Strangely enough, neither of are the true wrench in the works of Destiny, merely symptoms. Truly, the main problem that sprouts these smaller albeit more visible problems is that Bungie missed a vital part of designing an MMO: communication. It’s fine and well that your mission’s objectives are always delightfully highlighted on your screen but the game lacks communication in regards to how it should be played.

Alternatives to the intended design are usually taught to be less-than-viable. Dark Souls, for instance, teaches you that lesson through severely brutal deaths. But the alternative to Destiny‘s proper way to grind for gear is entirely too sustainable, which is to say shooting for hours on end into a dark Russian hole. Nothing teaches you otherwise because you are rewarded for you efforts eventually. The science checks out.

But much like World of Warcraft, the preeminent product of effective MMO design, late-level progression comes easiest in the form of faction alignment. You earn reputation and currencies and then you get your big rewards. That concept is rather alien to a console game and fighting an uphill battle against the ever so inviting fallacy of uncertain but immediate rewards. Turning in bounties gets you substantial gains in experience and faction points as well as afford you the occasional opportunity to engage with exotic bounties for exotic-level loot.

Destiny

While Destiny intends for you to earn Vanguard and Crucible points to buy gear from the respective charter’s dealer, it doesn’t really communicate to you that is the end game of this point gathering. From the outset, it appears as if you are collecting points for each faction just to collect points. And then along the way you chance into access to engrams and special quests and the like. But through hyperbolic discounting, you trick yourself into playing into the Loot Cave’s hands.

It’s clear that Bungie has its shooting down. Destiny feels as good as Halo ever did. (The similarities between the two games are striking and honestly somewhat disconcerting, but we’ll get to that later.) But it’s also clear that in all that time of hewing one hand into a finely tuned gun, Bungie forgot to shape the other into an MMO, driving you to both loot and understand the loot. Maybe it’s something patchable and maybe it’s something too base to be smoothed over. We’ll soon find out.

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Destiny Review: Bun Gee Whiz

Destiny

There’s no way around it. Bungie is Halo, and the other way around. Despite the Marathon series and Oni, the two are inextricably tied to one another. Even after their last involvement in a Halo title way back in 2010, the storied franchise has left a lingering space marine taste in all our mouths when the word “Bungie” comes into and leaves our ears.

That means even as an exercise of critical analysis, it’s an irresponsible task to remove Destiny, the studio’s latest release, from the context of Master Chief and his multi-planetary shenanigans. Destiny, if it hasn’t been mashed into your skull with marketing over the past few months, is a game that actually takes place well within our world, if several centuries in the future. We, as humanity, live in a Golden Age.

This era of prosperity and peace was brought about by a giant floating planetoid known as The Traveler a few hundred years prior, empowering us with a longer lifespan and the ability to reach out into the cosmos and colonize faraway worlds. There is a thing, however, known as The Darkness, following The Traveler, ostensibly hell-bent on destroying our beneficence. Luckily, The Traveler has created and sent out little autonomous and intelligent robots known as Ghosts to find Guardians to fight back.

That’s where we step in as players. We are the collective Guardians, spread out all over the world in this pseudo-MMO setup. You see, the entire universe of Destiny is structured as literal worlds containing hundreds of instances, each one of which contains several players at a time. It’s all fairly seamless—even remarkably so—where you don’t even notice leaving one area and a batch of friendlies only to enter another with a new set, intellectually understandable as a new load but visually (and impressively) indistinguishable as the sizable landscape unfolds before you.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make a sizable impact on the game either way. Much of your time in Destiny will go something like this: 1) start mission, 2) see another player icon, 3) ignore it and continue with your mission. Bungie attempts to combat this obvious and solitary loop by adding world events. For instance, drills may drop into the ground and you have to eliminate them before they finish drilling. Or you have to kill a miniboss-sized tank thing within 10 minutes. It’s rare, though, that it feels like anything more than adding another hose to the firefight.

The aforementioned landscape, however, is definitely worth mentioning again and more thoroughly. Destiny, through and through, looks exceptional. It sports wide, rolling vistas of both old Earth and distant planets, all of which appear meticulously sculpted and realized to look as close to living digital art as possible. Almost all that you see invites you to go there and touch it.

Destiny

That doesn’t really get you anywhere, though. For as beautiful as the container is, the contents are exceedingly bland. While the player interactions are structured to be an MMO, the moment-to-moment gameplay is all shooter. And I do mean all shooter; your actions are largely limited to those centered around shooting, throwing grenades, punching things, and jumping. That’s not a terrible setup considering that the mechanics of those actions are well within Bungie’s wheelhouse, many of which were nearly perfected over the course of the Halo games.

What comes packaged with the shooting is the problem. The missions are distinctly MMO-ish: fetching any number of a certain thing over a huge territory, killing a certain number of bad guys over a huge territory, delivering an object across a huge territory, etc. I never felt all that accomplished from any particular task I completed. It all just seemed so hollow.

That has a lot to do with the story, which is especially disappointing when the opening moments and establishing lore are simply rife with potential. Humanity’s struggles, its fortuitous encounter with an alien entity, our immaculate growth, and now the inevitable and dramatic decline. It’s all so delectably sci-fi. And the way it’s presented is topnotch, from the distinctly Marty O’Donnell swelling score to the haunting visuals.

Destiny

But that’s all it achieves. Those first 10 minutes are the best the game has to offer from its mythos. With each mission completed, you have the potential to see more of the story unfurl, but it’s usually The Speaker (the appointed proxy for communications between humans and The Traveler) narrating your goals. Just the goals, though. Your impetus rarely surfaces. (And then the ending confusingly arrives and leaves just as strangely.)

I wish I could say at least the other half of the equation was engaging to make up for the intellectually unstimulating narrative. But many of the encounters with enemies take place in MMO mob-style setups, where they hang about a certain area in predetermined numbers with generous respawns. They obey a patrol fence, too, where you can engage them and retreat and they won’t follow, allowing you to take potshots over and over again. It’s a loop you’ll find yourself in, like, a lot.

This is because there are sections of missions that are arbitrarily labeled as “respawns restricted.” Anywhere else, your death means you respawn somewhere nearby and continue on your merry killing way. In these parts, justified with the presence of The Darkness, your death means you have to start the mission over from the beginning.

Destiny

This compounds multiple problems. The first, which was present in all the demos as well, is that boss battles already take a long time (think somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, owing to the fact that everything is a god damn bullet sponge). Now, however, with the added punishment of having to start the lengthy mission entirely over, it makes a lot more sense to take the cheap route than the heroic route, adding to the exhausting battle time. (The latter, however, doesn’t feel that much more accomplished anyways.)

The second problem is actually quite symptomatic of a systemic issue. Or rather, it’s a problem with the systems of the game: it’s bare. That’s not to say there are enough to weave an economy of systems together to make a game but that there’s nothing disguising and layering them. There’s no discovery. After your opening missions and you make your way back to The Tower (the social hub of the game), you will have experienced the maximal range of mechanics and systems Destiny has to offer.

The only thing you have to look forward to is latent confusion. Distilled in a single parody Twitter account, the underlying spinning cogs that power loot drops is nigh inscrutable. And in-world elements have collisions with the naming schemes of systemic parts of the game, e.g. The Crucible, which can either be the PvP portion of Destiny, a source of bounties, an area in The Tower, or maybe even something else I’ve yet to discover.

Destiny

And as what seems like a grasp at redemption, there’s the Thrall. They are a particular class of enemy of the Hive species, which are undead aliens looking to, well, I’m not sure. But they’re there, and they are essentially the Flood from the Halo games. When they first show up, it comes across as a yell from deep within Bungie. “Look, we can do this right!” But you only whisper back, “no, you can’t.”

There are a lot of disappointing components to Destiny’s gestalt form. Peter Dinklage’s phoned-in performance as the Ghosts, the poor writing (yes, Speaker, tell me more how the children no longer need horror stories to be scared), uninteresting enemy encounters. It all combats the promise of the game, from the backstory to the continued excellence in Bungie’s shooting mechanics.

But really it comes down to the fact that Destiny is nothing more than a barebones shooter combined with a barebones MMO with not enough of either to make the whole anywhere near compelling. Few parts of it are terribly constructed, but few parts are exceptionally built either. Destiny, such as it is, has found its own fate: mediocrity.

Destiny

+ Gorgeous landscapes of dilapidation and alien worlds
+ The mechanics of shooting and moving are still a strong suit for Bungie
+ More fantastic music from Marty O’Donnell
– Enemy encounters are bland and bosses are predictable bullet sponges
– Systems are shallow and uninteresting (and some are even confusing)
– Categorically poor writing and an uninteresting/unmoving story

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Game Review: Destiny
Release: September 9, 2014
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Bungie
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Players: Online-only multiplayer
MSRP: $59.99
Website: http://www.destinythegame.com/

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Highlights From the VGX 2013

Highlights From the VGX 2013

This Saturday saw the first VGX, the successor to the VGAs, or Video Game Awards. Or it’s just a rebranding. Whatever. It’s the video game awards show trying to be the Oscars of the industry, but since it’s coming from Spike TV, expectations are, quite honestly, low.

Regardless of the show’s successes and failures from this year, there was quite a bit of news streaming forth from our computers and televisions over the course of three hours. (That still seems ridiculous to me, but here we are.) Here are the big ones.

No Man’s Sky Blows Minds

Let’s start off with the biggest of the big. This absolutely blew up my Twitter feed as well as my mind. No Man’s Sky comes from UK studio Hello Games who you may know best for Joe Danger. In fact, that is the only thing you’d know them for since that’s the only thing they’ve put out.

But here comes this game that we’ve only heard buzzes about (namely from Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker), one that you should, from this point forward, pay extremely close attention to. No Man’s Sky is an exploration sim that procedurally fills an entire universe. I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a moment where you just might go OH FUCK YEAH. Managing director Sean Murray calls it a “huge game.” To that, I say, “No fucking shit.”

Elijah Wood Joins Broken Age

Even if you don’t like adventure games, it’s worth watching this new Broken Age trailer just to see the art. Seeing it all in motion is absolutely beautiful. Lead artist Nathan Stapley has quite the eye for making fantastical yet realistic worlds in a painterly style.

And then if you’re into it anyways, you’d be happy to learn that Elijah Wood is joining the voice cast of the likes of Jennifer Hale, Jack Black, and Wil Wheaton. He’ll be playing the male half of the two protagonists, a boy held captive by a ship originally intended to save him from his dying homeworld. Apparently Wood also loves to make Rice Krispies treats. Look for (hope for?) the game to finally launch in January.

Telltale and Gearbox Confuses Us All

The first announcement of the night was also the most befuddling. It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t…desired? It’s hard to explain. Telltale Games, developers of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, is teaming up with Gearbox Software, the studio behind the Borderlands series and taking Duke Nukem Forever to the finish line, to make an episodic adventure game called Tales from the Borderlands, the first episode of which will come 2014.

Yeah, right? Unexpected, but not unwelcome. I’m just not entirely sure anyone was asking for this to happen. Are people really that invested in Pandora and its mythos? It’s not a bad thing if there are; I just always went into Borderlands to shoot guns and loot corpses. It also begs the question of how many teams are going on at Telltale at the moment. They’ve still got The Wolf Among Us going and the next season of The Walking Dead coming up. Will we see the A-team or will we see the Jurassic Park: The Game team?

Game of Thrones Game from Telltale

Oh yeah, Telltale is also making a Game of Thrones game for 2014. Aaaaaaand that’s all we know.

New Destiny Trailer

From Friday, we know that we have quite a ways to go before Destiny actually comes out on September 9, 2014. To tide us over, Bungie has given us a new, sprawling trailer that includes highlights on music, weapons, characters, and the world of the game.

Two New Titan Classes for Titanfall

You know what? I really can’t wait for Titanfall. I played it at PAX Prime and E3 and then and now, all I want to do is play Titanfall. It is quite the game from what I’ve seen, though more extensive play once it releases only can tell if it is good as whole. But seeing these two new trailers for the heavy Ogre and the nimble Stryder class Titans just reminds me of what excites me about the game. Look for it on March 14, 2014.

Time Control in Quantum Break

Aside from all the buzzwords Remedy Entertainment creative director Sam Lake throws around, this look at Quantum Break actually seems kind of interesting. I’ve been marginally tepid on the game for the longest time, but seeing that the time manipulation looks nothing like Max Payne‘s bullet time has me looking forward to seeing more.

Oh, and Naughty Dog is the Best

To accept awards for the VGX, studios got to create videos instead of having to go up and awkwardly say words out of their mouth holes. Irrational Games may have had the most endearing and charming, but Naughty Dog went full Banderas. It’s amazing.

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PlayStation 4 Launch Event Recap: Uncharted, The Last of Us, and More

PlayStation 4 Launch Event Recap: Uncharted, The Last of Us, and More

How was your night last night? Go out anywhere? Maybe stand in a big line and get a $400 piece of technology? I didn’t, but I did go check out a couple of midnight launches of the PlayStation 4. For one of the biggest metroplexes in the country, Dallas didn’t really have anything crazy to offer, although a couple of dudes offered me some queso, so there’s that.

UPDATE: just kidding. Apparently I missed Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant buying five lucky line-standers their PlayStation 4s.

Of course, it (and whatever was happening at your closest GameStop) didn’t compare to Sony’s big launch event in New York. It was just a big ol’ celebration for Sony’s step into the next generation, but they still decided to throw some news in there. Geoff Keighley even asked about The Last Guardian! (We’ll get to that in a second.)

New Uncharted for PS4

In perhaps the teaseriest tease of all teases, we see nothing more about the upcoming Uncharted for the PlayStation 4 except that 1) it exists, and 2) it has betrayal. Oh, also, I guess that is has a super high resolution logo?

At least it tells us what Naughty Dog has been up to since putting out Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and The Last of Us. And over on the PlayStation Blog, it has been confirmed that creative director Amy Hennig and game director Justin Richmond are both attached to the rather green project and that Todd Stashwick of Heroes fame provides the excellent voiceover.

The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC

Speaking of Naughty Dog, we see them release their first single-player DLC with Left Behind. The teaser is short and poised for a lot of emotional drama as the franchise is wont to do: Ellie and Riley Abel, her school chum from the Quarantine Zone, happen across a carousel.

Like, nothing happy can come from that, right? But it will hopefully at least be a fantastically sad. It’s based somewhat on the Dark Horse comics The Last of Us: American Dreams (which are pretty great) where it shows Ellie and Riley meeting, but this is Ellie telling Joel what happens after that.

Don’t worry, I’ll bring the tissues. Look for it in early 2014 for $14.99.

Destiny Beta

Along with the above trailer, Bungie COO Pete Parsons (what a comic book superhero name) announced that the beta for their upcoming online first-person shooter Destiny would be coming first to the PlayStation 4.

“We’re going to give first access to the PlayStation nation, PS4 and PS3 owners,” he said. If you want to get in on it, you’ll have to have preordered before October 1st, though I’m sure there will be other avenues available as it creeps closer.

Classic Snake in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

I guess not everything old made it out when the new stepped in. In a confusingly nostalgic move, Konami will be including Classic Snake as a skin in the Sony-exclusive mission “Déjà Vu” for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. So yay next-gen graphics? Whatever, as long as I get to choke dudes.

Dammit

Geoff Keighley asked Sony’s Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida and Vice President of Publisher Relations Adam Boyes about Team Ico’s mysteriously missing The Last Guardian. God dammit. JUST GIVE IT TO ME.

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What to Expect from E3 2013

What to Expect from E3 2013

I’m filled with dread. And excitement. I’m anxious and paranoid. I’m filled with a glut of emotions that I reserve for times when I’m under prolonged duress, and in this case, it’s because I’ll be in Los Angeles for a week for E3. I feel like a hot little turnip of feelings because for six solid days, I’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of other people in downtown LA (probably more due to the Kings playoff series once again looks to ravage the bustling, hotel-filled area) and set to meet dozens and dozens of them as I talk about and play almost as many games. And for some reason I do this voluntarily.

And that’s because there will be just so much to see. Outside of the tremendous networking opportunities, there’s just a lot of games to get my hands on and share with all of you. If there’s something in particular you want me to investigate or check out, just let me know in the comments or tweet at me and I’ll do my best. Last year, I tracked down Tokyo Jungle for some folks, an adventure that led me to faking a British accent and landed me square in a room full of European press I didn’t recognize. This year, well, who knows.

But here is what I’m looking forward to most.

Xbox One/PlayStation 4 Drama

PlayStation 4 vs. Xbox One

Word on the street is that the Microsoft press event is going to be…aggressive, which makes sense; they were the last next-gen console to be revealed and now they’re going to be the first out of the gate at E3. By all counts, the initial announcement seemed more aimed to appease partners and shareholders, so let’s so what happens when they have the opportunity to set the tone for an entire week of video game coverage. I’m expecting more games (probably some actual gameplay from Call of Duty: Ghosts this time) and “surprises,” as Geoff Keighley put it. Microsoft did, however, cancel the post-conference press Q&A, so who knows what that means.

As for Sony, well, a lot has happened since the Xbox One announcement. They’ve since been able to cultivate a strategic response to the kerfuffle surrounding used games, always-online requirements, and all that goodness, but they will also have to follow Microsoft (and everyone else seeing as how they’re the last presser to take place) next week. How well will they be able to execute a proper PR message turnaround if something unexpected happens? We’ll probably even see the actual hardware this time, too. This will, undoubtedly, be the most exciting pre-E3 press conferences in recent memory.

Saints Row IV

Deep Silver will be there repping Volition’s Saints Row IV and I have two hours set aside to bask in its glory. I don’t know if I need to say anymore. Just look at that trailer!

Nintendo’s Unusual Tact

Nintendo E3 2012 press conference

Nintendo won’t have their usual press event and is instead opting for a Nintendo Direct streaming thing. This isn’t unusual (big news dropped last year in the following online videos while their event skimped on the goods), but it does beg a lot of questions. Has Nintendo given up on mainstream marketing for the Wii U? Do they have latent plans for taking up the E3 news cycle that no one knows about? Last year they had one of the biggest booths with an entire second floor dedicated to appointments and private demos. The Nintendo Direct is also at the same time as a Square Enix Final Fantasy thing, so, um, yeah.

Plus they’ll have all those games demoed at 100 Best Buy stores across the country, saying they’re “making an E3 for the people.” That’s a smart ploy to put games in more gamers’ hands that won’t be at E3 (which is to say the vast majority of people), but it also feels like a concession in the console battle at a pivotal point where giving an inch anywhere is costly.

Franchises, Franchises

We’ll see more of Call of Duty: Ghosts, for sure, along with Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. There won’t be any sign of Grand Theft Auto V at the show, but there will be Super Smash Bros. Wii U, which obviously has a lot of people excited. Rumors have hit an all-time high for Mirror’s Edge 2 and Rare has been teasing a revival of a “historic” franchise (I’m hoping Viva Piñata, but I’m expecting Perfect Dark or Killer Instinct). We’ll see how Batman: Arkham Origins is shaping up and if Bayonetta 2 is just as ridiculous as the first.

Fresh-Baked Games

And then there’s the new IPs that we hopefully get to learn more about. Watch Dogs will be Ubisoft’s ace, probably, as it will likely take over its mantle for new annual franchise. Harmonix recently dropped the news that they are working on Fantasia and Double Fine will be talking about its latest Kickstarter endeavor Massive Chalice (and might show off Broken Age). Sony will also be showing off Puppeteer, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in a long time, and we’ll finally see some of Bungie’s Destiny. Of course, there’s much more to E3 than that, but you’ll read about it all next week.

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Not So Born For This

Heroes generally fall into two categories: Marvel and DC. Just kidding, this isn’t that kind of article. I’m more talking about how heroes are usually portrayed as either a destined savior or just an everyman that happens to succeed (in the face of insurmountable odds and multiple real and/or pseudo deaths, but we’ll address that later). You’re probably more familiar with the two concepts than you realize; in just about any game that involves you defeating some world-conquering villain, you’ve played as one of these two archetypes. And given how many video games you’ve played in your lifetime, you’re probably a god damn scholar on the topic.

A pre-destined hero is one that—if prophecy or history or power from on high is to be believed—will succeed no matter what. So long as he makes an attempt and isn’t a total dum-dum, the hero will defeat the villain and save the universe or whatever. He may or may not survive the ordeal, but that’s not really part of the “success” qualifications anyways. He just needs to save his constituents as The One. Everything in his life has led to this moment, whether he knows it or not.

This is usually found in fantasy stories where a noble warrior with some hidden lineage must take the throne to fulfill his destiny or something along those lines. It can also happen in sci-fi, but since fantasy stuff is much more open to the occult, that’s usually where all this destiny stuff happens. Take for example The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. You play as a Dragonborn, an individual born of mortal flesh but with a dragon’s soul. By extension, he or she is able to speak with dragons and learn their language, which then enables them to use dragon powers. You, in particular, play as the prophesied one from Alduin’s Wall, a large sculpted mural depicting you defeating the World Eater (which is as bad as it sounds).

An everyman hero is something more about an ordinary person that finds himself in extraordinary circumstances as opposed to the extraordinary-on-extraordinary of destiny. This doesn’t necessarily exclude anything involving the supernatural; it’s just that the protagonist has to be just as likely to fail as he is to succeed since he’s not meant to succeed. He’s just some dude trying his best, and that’s the key.

Imagine someone along the lines of Nathan Drake. He was just some relic-robbing charmer with a sordid past, but he’s found himself in some exceptionally extraordinary situations. Hell, he fought zombie Spaniards and giant blue furry ape things, but he’s still no different from you or me. I mean, all right, he has seemingly infinite finger strength and an amazingly high bullet tolerance, but he’s still just some guy. He’s was never destined to be a treasure hunter or fight vaguely European villains. That’s just how his hand played out.

The important thing is that you can relate to that. Taken as an analogy or some less wisdom-imparting parable, we’ve all found ourselves in similar predicaments. We are by definition just regular people. As far as I know, no prophecies exist detailing someone reading a thousand words on video game heroes or anything, but we’ve definitely all felt pushed out of our element at times, pushed into doing thing we didn’t think we’d ever have to do or would need to do. It highlights the serendipity—the happenstance—of life because things just happen and we can’t control it. It’s relatable in that way and as it turns out, we like to relate to things.

Destiny is a bit…stranger in that way. We’d all like to think we’re destined for greater things, that those odd, random encounters were mile markers along your path, showing your progress to your future. It was all meant to be! That is a feeling that we can all relate to, wanting to believe you were meant for something greater.

But then somewhere along the line, perhaps at a certain age or a lifetime milestone, you realize that particular notion is a bit selfish. Perhaps you are destined for something, but that something just might be being the stepping stone for someone else who is on the way to making it big. That little nugget dawns on you—dwells and festers within you—and you begin to opt for the belief that there is no preordained life for anyone, that everything is up in the air up until the moment it happens.

That disenchantment is where destined heroes, the ones that can’t fail because everything in the universe is in cahoots with them to succeed, fall apart. We as players and human beings understand the feeling of wanting that to be true but nowhere do we tangibly appreciate anything of the sort coming to fruition. Worse yet, we eventually come to refuse (and possibly resent) that idea, leading us to refuse and resent the hero that we play.

If you look at Desmond Miles of the Assassin’s Creed series, you can find that entire arc played out. Desmond starts out as the present day ancestor to Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad of the High Middle Ages. Altaïr is a cold, calculating man with little in the way of character that helps us sympathize with him. We fall more in line with Desmond, a guy who just happens to have a valuable bloodline. A stroke of bad luck and he’s kidnapped for, well, something (it’s all very vague in the first game).

Once things begin to get a bit supernatural, though, we see that Desmond is destined for greater things. He is the man that can single-handedly save the world from a lingering cataclysmic event from the First Civilization. Ezio Auditore da Firenze, however, is for all intents and purposes a pawn. He is played but not necessarily destined for anything in particular beyond being a utility. Ezio then becomes the more relatable character and over the course of three games, we begin to drift further and further away from the preordained heroics of Desmond and towards the largely immaterial Italian nobleman. It was a combination of the fact that the role of Ezio is much more easily understood by us and that he’s a much more likable dude that Desmond. I mean, come on. He’s one charming rogue.

Assassin’s Creed III kind of cements the notion that we have been evicted from the Feels of Desmond and side with the history-pokers as most people find Connor still more appealing than Desmond, and Connor is kind of a dick. I understand he had a rough childhood and was betrayed a solid number of times, but can’t he at least just once thank Achilles? Or anyone who helps him for that matter. Altaïr was reserved by nature but it seemed like Connor was off-putting by choice. And despite this, we still side with the self-serious Native American over the destiny-ridden Desmond. Why? Because we find the preordained even less appealing than the dickish (mostly; Connor did have a fair amount of redeeming qualities).

Then again, it’s not always so cut-and-dry as this, nor is this emblematic of every story in video games (or books or movies). The one-man army shtick, for instance, falls somewhere in between these two archetypes, and favor falls all over the spectrum of relatable characters for that and the destined and the everyman. I’m just saying that the inherent storytelling qualities of the latter two fallout with relatability on the “just a dude” side of things, and since we like to feel like we’re understood and that we can understand things greater than our vocation, it’s a great boon towards likability as well. Hmm, maybe the Marvel and DC crack was more apropos than I thought.

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Free and Clear in a Fated World

Sometimes you know something is wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s not like standing at the box office of a seedy theatre in Tijuana, crumpled bills clenched in your sinful hands as a deluge of guilty sweat runs from your forehead to your unshaven face; you know what you’re about to do is wrong and you can pinpoint exactly the reasons why.

No, this sort of wrong is a bit more elusive, something more akin to a cognitive dissonance that takes you days or weeks to reconcile. Suddenly, though, it clicks and you realize what made you feel so off, why it’s as if you’d been wearing your pants backwards all day and just now noticed.

This happened while I was playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the debut title from Ken Rolston & co. at Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios and its subsidiary Big Huge Games. It’s an action RPG that features you as a mortal who has broken free from the bonds of fate (and is thenceforth creatively referred to as the “Fateless One”). This really wouldn’t be all that big of a deal except fate actually turns out to be a pretty big deal in the world of Amalur.

Everyone has a predetermined destiny spun by the Fateweavers and you had just recently fulfilled yours by dying. However, you are resurrected by the Travelocity gnome’s big brother and have fallen from the path previously set before you. This, as it turns out, has some pretty nice perks, such as being able to change the fates of anyone around you and getting discounts at the corner store.

And here is where the dissonance begins. The entire game is based on the concept of fate and it continually hammers into your gamer-sized brain (lest it leaks out while you petition to change the ending of Super Mario World for not having enough Yoshis) that the destiny laid at your feet prior no longer exists. Your path had ended but your journey did not.

You are free.

The problem is that I am still playing a game with a predetermined ending and predetermined plot. Worse yet, there is a single ending that bursts forth with the uplifting revelation that we are all unfettered by fate and have been granted full agency of our own lives by way of simply existing. How am I supposed to feel free when I know the hundreds of thousands of other players are plodding along the exact same path as me?

It’s an odd concession you make when you play video games, more so than when you watch movies or read books; you are participating in an interactive medium. Films and novels are wholly presented to you as a story and you are never once put in a product designed to make you connect with a fictional world through a controllable conduit. In games, the immersion provided is just as important as how the game plays and how it looks. In the moments you are playing, you should lose yourself as the character and not simply watch or read a story. You should believe you are this man destined for death but living in defiance.

You are fateless.

That, unfortunately, is not the case. In fact, you are operating in a reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is only one path and only one way this game will end and that is the way 38 Studios has deemed fit. Being freed from a destiny that has already been fulfilled only to be put on the road towards another one? The contrast is stark and highlights this unfortunate dichotomy in an otherwise excellent game.

This isn’t a problem that is unique to Reckoning, but it’s easier to sweep under the rug when every other game isn’t focused on the importance of free will and the power in recognizing your ability to not lie down and die. This is only the story of a man who is unshackled, unrestrained, and unequivocally autonomous in a kingdom of marching ants, but you are not him.

You are not free. You are not fateless.

You are bound.

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