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  • Game Informer News Feed: A Modern 2D Adventure For The Heroic Duo

    Publisher: Team 17
    Developer: Playtonic Games
    Release: 2019
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

    Playtonic Games' stable of veteran developers made its debut two years ago with Yooka-Laylee, a faithful spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. Since Playtonic consists of many former Rare employees who created Banjo-Kazooie, the team effectively captured what many fans loved about that series. Now, that same team, which also features former members of the studio behind the original Donkey Kong Country games, is tackling the 2D platformer genre in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

    Much like the platformer duo's debut adventure, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees the eponymous chameleon and bat combo working through 20 2D levels with the hope of getting enough help to defeat the ultimate challenge: Capital B's Impossible Lair, an extremely difficult level that's four times as long as any other stage in the game with no checkpoints. Yooka-Laylee can take just two hits – the first hit sends Laylee the bat flying off, and Yooka has to try and recover her before she vanishes (much like Yoshi in Super Mario World) – so I didn't last long in the early version I attempted. Thankfully, you're able to bolster the heroes by finding 40 bees scattered throughout the 20 levels.

    You can actually go straight to the Impossible Lair at the start if you want, but you won't have much luck. Unless you're a masochist, you're going to want to collect as many bees from the various stages as possible. Each bee you find joins you in your Impossible Lair run, absorbing one hit for you. In the early version I tried (Playtonic tells me it may change by the time launch rolls around), the lair starts off with a difficult boss battle before dumping you into a moving-platform hell full of enemies, laser-focused flamethrowers, and other deadly obstacles. I didn't even make it out of the first room, even with the six bees that joined me.

    Over the course of the 20 stages, you travel across diverse locales like forests, towns, and even a blimp in the sky, and encounter all sorts of obstacles and baddies. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee attacks these challenges with a strong moveset inspired by the 2D platform superstars of yesteryear. Yooka the chameleon can jump, roll, and lash his tongue out to grab objects. Laylee the bat can do a twirl-jump, a ground-pound, and boost Yooka's roll. You always control the two in tandem though, as I mentioned before, Laylee will fly off if you take a hit, leaving Yooka without Laylee's special abilities if he can't catch her in time. 

    Between stages, you can explore the overworld. While normally just a hub to get you to your next level, in true Yooka-Laylee fashion, the overworld map, which changes the view to an isometric perspective, is dense and full of secrets. In one sequence I saw, Yooka blew up a wall with a bomb to open a new area. Though there is much to do in the overworld, Playtonic intends this area to be a chiller experience than the mainline 2D levels. Still, however, exploration is greatly rewarded.

    In addition to finding quills, the main form of currency in Yooka-Laylee that can be used to buy items to bring into the 2D stages, you can also unlock special second states of the stages. These new versions of the stages fundamentally alter the level you've already beaten, and offer up a new bee to find within that course. One second-state version changes the orientation, so you're climbing vertically instead of going left to right, while another floods the forest so it becomes a water level. These add new twists to the game, and I'm excited to see what else Playtonic can dream up to mess with players hoping to collect all 40 bees.

    Of course, it wouldn't be a Playtonic game without collectibles. The original Yooka-Laylee went a little overboard with its collectibles, and often frustrated players with how hard it could be to grab everything. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair tones down the overall number of collectibles, with quills and bees found in the stages serving as the most important ones. While old-school fans of Banjo-Kazooie may lament the death of the collectathon elements found in the first Yooka-Laylee, I greatly welcome this scaling back.

    Playtonic, despite having its DNA rooted firmly in the original Donkey Kong Country, sees the game as inspired by modern games, directly mentioning Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as inspiration. After playing through three levels and attempting the Impossible Lair, that's obvious; Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair plays tight and modern, with challenges that feel new and exciting, rather than ripped out of the '90s like the first Yooka-Laylee game sometimes did.

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    Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is set to launch sometime this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

  • Game Informer News Feed: An interesting multiplayer premise that needs to clean up its rough edges

    Publisher: Improbable
    Developer: Midwinter Entertainment
    Release: 2019
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PC

    When we first learned about Scavengers from the team at Midwinter Entertainment, it was hard to understand exactly what kind of game it was without getting my hands on it. Midwinter’s goals certainly sounded ambitious; the idea of creating mutual goals in a multiplayer match that would create more nuanced multiplayer scenarios (ones where players wouldn’t always immediately shoot at each other) sounded promising, as did the mix of PvP and PvE elements. After finally having a chance to play a match at E3 this year, however, I have a good idea of what Scavengers is and while its premise is interesting, some of its ideas don’t live up to their promise right now.

    The easiest way to think of Scavengers is to use battle royale as a base. Four teams are dropped onto a single, giant map that takes place on an Earth that has become an eternal wasteland after a meteor crashed into the moon. Without supplies, you’re forced to scrounge up resources, weapons, and items in the early minutes of the game. One major difference between Scavengers and battle royale games, however, is that you’re not fighting to be the last person standing, and there’s no circle closing in on you. Instead, you’re collecting DNA samples for Mother, the A.I. which sends you into the eternal tundra in the first place. 

    It’s a mutual goal, too; every squad was working to gather a total of 60 samples in our match. Once those have all been collected, Mother sends down a dropship. Your goal is to board that dropship and get out before you’re overtaken by the cold. There’s also hunger and cold meters to contend with, which you have to fill by finding warm areas and feeding off wildlife. Storms also roll in from time to time, giving matches some natural urgency. These factors give you a constant motivation to move forward; hiding out in a settlement and waiting for the player count to drop isn’t going to do much for you here.

    Although your three-person squad is made up of individual character classes with distinct roles and weapons, you still need resources to unlock your class’ true potential. I played as the melee-oriented Jae, who could use his character ability to disrupt groups of enemies from up close, but in order to unlock my signature weapon (a halberd-like blade) and reinforce my armor, I needed to collect a certain number of materials to craft them. I like that you’re working towards a static goal instead of praying you get a lucky drop; it reminded me of a MOBA in the way that you’re working your way through a character build each match.

    Another aspect of Scavengers that might feel familiar to MOBA fans are encounters with A.I. opponents. Littered across the map are camps of enemy factions, who act as a way to build yourself up before you find and take on human opponents. These encounters are akin to killing creeps in MOBAs; they don’t pose much of a threat, but you need to mow them down if you want to stand a chance against human foes later on. You do have a more solid motivation for attack them, however; these camps usually host the samples you need to collect before Mother will let you back on the ship, so it’s a primary goal.

    As a gameplay loop it works, since you slowly start to feel better equipped and ready to take on other players, but fights with A.I. opponents doesn’t reinforce the harsh, survivalist tone the game is going. Some enemies packed more of a punch than others, but I never felt threatened by these foes, who were completely oblivious to obvious flanks and simply stood there as I wailed on them. Enemies don’t seem to react to being shot and don’t put up much of a fight, either, which made working them over and raiding their encampments for supplies feel more like a ritual than a fight. 

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing; neutral enemies in MOBAs work the same way. These fodder enemies also introduce a bit more flair the looting aspect of a battle royale game. Considering there’s only a handful of squads on the field, they liven up matches, too. I just wish these encounters were more interesting; the gunplay is functional, but not all that exciting on its own.

    Fights with human foes are different story. Our team didn’t have a real encounter with another squad up until the very end of our match, after we’d collected all the samples and Mother had sent down the dropship and a powerful storm began to roll in. They came at us as we were clearing out an A.I. hideout and the storm came in from the direction of the dropship. Pincered, we decided to stand our ground atop a hill a few feet away from the camp. The high ground didn’t give us the protection we might have wanted, however, and we wound up backed into a corner and wiped out. 

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    We could have made our way to the dropship instead, however, and I’m curious about how the match would have turned out had we made a run for it. But because our confrontation came at the end of our match, with a storm barreling down on us, the tension and stakes were high, so I didn’t get a good sense of how Scavengers might let you engage with other players beyond combat. It’s hard to know if things might have been different if we’d encountered another squad earlier on, but I still think it’ll be hard for most players to get over their shoot-on-sight instincts, and I never felt the motivation to do so.

    Still, Scavengers offers enough deviations from what we’ve come to know about battle royale games that, despite some rough edges and some lingering questions about whether this setup can deliver on its promises to offer something new in the multiplayer arena I’m intrigued by what it has to offer. There are some fun ideas at work here, and with a playtest rolling out this year before the title properly releases in 2020, there’s plenty of time for Midwinter to iron out the kinks and mold the game into something unique.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Exclusive In-Depth Profile On Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s New Droid, BD-1

    Publisher: Electronic Arts
    Developer: Respawn Entertainment
    Release:
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    One of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s early standout characters is one that never says a single line of dialogue throughout the course of Cal Kestis’ adventure. BD-1 is a small bipedal droid that assists Cal in his journey in a number of ways. He can hack into electronics and control them, scan elements of the environment and defeated enemies to build out an encyclopedia of knowledge, display holographic maps, and dispense health canisters when Cal needs them. We spoke with the art and sound team at Respawn about what it takes to add a new, unique droid to Star Wars’ canon and find out what it’s like to work with legendary sound designer, Ben Burtt.

    In our cover story, we touched briefly on BD-1 and how his original inspiration came from Snoopy and Woodstock. His code name was even “Bird Dog” before he became “Buddy Droid,” but that was just the starting line. “Originally, we had the idea that Cal was a tinkerer, so maybe he kit-bashed this little droid together and originally the little droid was going to work like a backpack to hearken back to Yoda on the back of Luke,” lead concept artist Jordan Lamarre-Wan says. The idea of Cal building BD-1 was abandoned, but the element of him traveling on Cal’s back remained. “A lot of mechs and droids in Star Wars are a very simple silhouette. Very simple shape, but then there are a lot of details within the silhouette to make them very readable,” Lamarre-Wan says.

    R2 is a cylinder with a dome, for example, so many of BD-1’s early designs followed those ideas. “Some of our original sketches were actually following those same recipes, so we actually landed on a place that was really close to BB8. And then we saw the trailer revealing BB8, so that was kind of a no-go,” Lamarre-Wan says. Other early ideas gave BD-1 boosters so he could fly around, but the team eventually landed on the bipedal design we see today because BD-1 is meant to help with exploration, both from a gameplay perspective, and within the fiction.

    BD-1 is a droid meant to assist explorers and archaeologists, which was a result of the gameplay functions the team wanted for BD. “He didn’t start from a strictly visual, or narrative standpoint,” art director Chris Sutton says. The team knew how they wanted BD to assist Cal and they worked backwards from there. BD-1 has two big eyes, an atypical asset for a droid his size, because he needs to be able to scan things, and he needs to be able to make 3D projections for Cal, and he has legs because he needs to be able to crawl around and explore tight spaces. “BD-1’s not one of a kind – but he’s not common,” writer Megan Fausti says. The general idea behind BD is that the company that manufactured him went under, so you will never see new droids like him, but there are a few out there in the universe. Once the gameplay functions and fiction were in place, his character design began to take shape.

    “We try to make BD-1 very human and very personable and like a best friend for Cal,” Fausti says. Along with gameplay and archaeological functions, Respawn also imagined that buddy droids, like BD-1, would be used by lonely explorers. “Part of the function of the [BD] droid is to help [explorers] not get lonely and not get sad, so he can be cheerful or encouraging and express a lot of emotion as a core function to help the person not lose their connection to society,” says narrative designer Aaron Contreras.

    “Some of the inspirations visually… we were talking about the manufacturing process of like where the droids come from fictionally, and some of the lines you see on BD will evoke things like a snow speeder, like the way there are diagonal lines on the visor.” Lamarre-Wan says. “The graphic patterns, even the heat sinks on the back. It also evokes the binoculars that Luke uses.”

    BD-1 is also very cute, which plays into all these ideas. “Cute wasn’t the pillar, but it helps,” Contreras says with a laugh. “I would say his defining trait would be bravery, but he is cute just by virtue of who he is and what he is to Cal and to the player,” Fausti says. He has a pair of antennas on his head which animator Laure Retif says she tries to use like dog ears. “He’s got a big head, like a bird, and two legs, like a bird, but the emotion of a dog.” Lamarre-Wan says. Retif has to lean on body movement in general since BD-1 is a droid and doesn’t have facial features that can be used to express familiar emotion. He may not be able to move his eyebrows or change the shape of his eyes to get across his personality, but he does have a voice, which is being created by Ben Burtt.

    Burtt created just about every iconic Star Wars alien or robotic voice and sound effect that we take for granted, and he also provided the voice for Wall-E. Early in the process, Burtt gave Respawn about five different voices to choose from that ranged from R2-D2 and Wall-E, to voices that sounded close to human speech with layers and layers of processing on top of them. Respawn told Burtt what they liked, and he began the recording process.

    Burtt recorded complete cutscenes, but he also recorded all kinds of “dialogue” for various moments outside of specific narrative moments. Early in the process, Burtt received actual dialogue to be translated into BD-1 speech, but over time, the team found more success in just making specific emotional requests of Burtt.

    In terms of how it works, like whether or not Burtt is actually making bleeps and bloops into a microphone with his mouth and then tweaking those noises in post-production, Respawn’s sound designers admit they don’t actually know. “I can only really guess at that,” audio director Nick Laviers says. “Yeah, he doesn’t reveal his secrets,” audio director Rhonda Cox says. Laviers and Cox spent time with Burtt at Skywalker Sound touring his studio and even looking at his Star Wars props, like his original Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope script, and they connect with him regularly, but for the most part, they just let him work his magic. “I do think he likes to speak the part,” Laviers says regarding whether or not Burtt speaks actual lines of dialogue. “I think when there aren’t any, Ben kind of makes them up, because he likes to kind of get into the character. My theory is he will perform it in his words first, then he will take a synthesizer and try to kind of create the intonations… but that’s just a theory.”

    EA commissioned a robotic puppet version of BD-1 to take to E3, and it’s easy to understand why it went through the marketing expense. “He’s not just a robot. In Star Wars, droids are characters,” Lamarre-Wan says. Respawn wants BD-1 to be just as much of a character as any human, Wookiee, or other alien in the game, and our time with the game shows he has a lot of promise, both from his gameplay applications and his personality.


    For more on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, you can head here to read the full cover story, and click the banner below to check in on all of our exclusive coverage throughout the month.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Id Talks Mod Support, Integrating More Traversal, And The Controversial Neon U.I.

    Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
    Release:
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

    Building on the success of the fantastic 2016 Doom reboot, Doom Eternal has a lot riding on its shoulders. The shooter that put the genre on the map has restored its sterling reputation, and fans have lofty expectations for where the series can go next. 

    At E3 we played an extended combat sequence that confirmed Doom Eternal is shaping up quite well. Afterward, we sat down with creative director Hugo Martin and executive producer Marty Stratton to talk about the changes we noticed in the demo. 

    Demons Are Your One-Stop Resource Shop

    Doom Eternal still has ammo, health, and other power-ups littered around the battle arenas, but these supplies won't be enough to mow through the entire pack of bloodthirsty demons barreling down on your position. To make it through the fight, you need to take resupplies directly from enemies by killing them in various ways similar to the way you received a generous drop of ammo after using the chainsaw to slice apart an enemy. 

    "We felt like ultimately, [using the chainsaw] was so much more satisfying than just overfilling the levels with resources everywhere so you're tripping over them," says creative director Hugo Martin. "We decided to steer into it with this one and say, "That felt really good. What else can we do to kind of allow you to take what you need when you need it from the bad guys that you're killing?"

    Chainsawing enemies still procures a healthy ammo resupply, but now you have three other techniques for collecting specific drops. Glory kills reward health, using the flame belch shoulder attachment to burn enemies yields armor, and stringing together glory kills powers up your Blood Punch super, a new rune-activated skill that lets you take down an enemy with one brutal punch.

    The Corruption Meter Tracks Your Level Progress

    Doom Eternal's levels are packed with collectibles, secrets, power-ups, and demons. To give players a clearer sense of if they've seen everything they need to see, and shot every demon that needs to be shot, id added a new corruption meter in the upper righthand portion of the screen. 

    "We think of the player like an exterminator – you're cleaning out this facility full of cockroaches," Martin says. "There are still some tucked in closets but you want to kill everything that was in that level before you leave to get all your combat points. Your current demonic corruption meter is an indicator at a quick glance."

    Explaining The Neon U.I. Overhaul

    One of the more controversial new elements to Doom Eternal is the bright neon user interface, which pops off the screen much more so than the one used in Doom. When I asked Martin about it, he said they are still iterating to get it right, but they felt it was essential to make these elements more visible when you're flying around the arena in the middle of a dozen demons. 

    "Doom is not trying to be an immersive game; it's not trying to be a cinematic game," Martin says. "It's a video game with the capital V that's dripping with demon blood. Because it's really fast, we're putting a lot of pressure on the player. It's speed chess. You've got to make decisions really fast. If I'm driving around a race car 200 miles an hour, I need all the signage and the game to be big and bold. Otherwise, I'm going to get killed. We want death to be a result of the player making a mistake and not the game screwing them. If stuff is subtle, it's the game screwing me... It's like in this game, I'm in a race car. Dude, if you have something to tell me, tell me loud and tell me fast. That's really why we do everything with the glowing one-ups, the floating question marks, and the huge health packs." 

    Martin encourages players to experience the game before knocking the U.I. too hard because it is a functional decision, not an aesthetic one.

    Slayer Gates Replace Rune Trials

    The Doom reboot featured 12 unique trials players had to complete to receive equippable upgrades to the Doomslayer. These aren't returning in Doom Eternal. Instead, id introduces Slayer Gates, secret, giant arena encounters. "They are really f--king hard, but they give you a lot of resources," Martin says. 

    To open a Slayer Gate, you first need to find a key somewhere in the level. 

    Doom Eternal Rewards Exploration

    Doom 2016 featured several collectibles like trophy figurines, data logs that fleshed out the backstory, Argent Shards for upgrading your base stats, and even hidden places themed like classic Doom maps. The studio doubles down on this concept in Doom Eternal.

    "We are busting our ass to make sure that every aspect of the game has real meaning for the player," Martin says. If you see like a ledge down there, leading to a little tunnel, you're like, 'I bet you there's something down there.' When you go in there, it's going to be worth your time." 

    The Rune Lineup Includes Old Favorites And Powerful New Options

    Just because Rune Trials are gone doesn't mean runes are a thing of the past. The Praetor Suit still includes several slots that allow the Doom Slayer to equip runes that impart a variety of skill bonuses, and you can find runes by exploring the environment. Many popular options return for Doom Eternal, like the Blood Fueled rune that speeds up your movement after performing a glory kill. Id Software also designed some new ones it is excited about. 

    "There's one called Target Strike. It's awesome," Stratton says. "When you use mods, it slows time. It's really cool when you're doing things like using the scope on the HAR. Using the meat hook with it is fantastic." 

    This power is especially helpful when trying to do specific damage to a demon, like shooting the turret mounted on top of the Arachnotron or the guns on the Mancubus.

    Traversal Plays A Bigger Role

    The Doom Slayer has a lot more agility this time around thanks to some new tools that build on the double jump. The meat hook allows him to swing from enemies like a grappling hook, the new gloves let him scale particular walls, and the dash button helps him cross wide expanses. With all these new traversal mechanics at players' disposal, id is making much more diverse and vertical environments that require some platforming skill to navigate. 

    "This time around, I think level design takes a big step up," Martins says. "We got criticized that [Doom 2016] was just too many arenas and hallways."

    The E3 demo had a major focus on wall climbing, but Stratton says they have many different ways to mix up the traversal from level to level. One might require you to bust chains to open levels, where another has you punching moving blocks to give you access to new areas. It almost sounds like a Mario game with bloodshed mixed in between platforming sections, but Martin insists it will still feel like Doom. 

    "We can knock your socks off with a killer arena, But we can't have like killer arena then another killer arena – there's only so much you can take.  We gauge it from a pacing perspective, kind of like a piece of music. The arena is like a guitar solo, yeah, so let's do something else for a second. But it's always combat. It's always aggression."

    No RTX Ray Tracing Support At Launch

    Ray tracing is the cutting edge visual tech on the PC scene right now. This new tool allows developers to make lighting systems where the light behaves as it does in real life, bouncing and reflecting accurately off many different types of surfaces. Graphics-intensive games like Battlefield V and Metro Exodus have already added support for the technology, and id Software plans to do the same for Doom Eternal – just not at launch.

    We've spent some time with that, but it is not at the top of our priority list," Stratton says. "Finishing the game, we want it to run flawlessly at 60 frames per second in 4k and we also have our streaming initiatives both with Google and the Orion stuff. Making it unbelievable with ray tracing is definitely up there [on the to-do list], but we're getting the game done first and foremost."

    No Arcade At Launch, Either

    The popular arcade mode, which id Software added to Doom via a free update last time around, added a lot of replayability to the campaign, so it would have made sense for id to include it in Doom Eternal. No such luck just yet. 

    "We're not shipping with arcade mode, but there'll be a lot of challenges," Stratton says. "But you'll have a whole track of things that you can do to earn XP. We'll probably talk a lot more about that stuff at Quakecon."

    Though Arcade mode may not be in the plans right now, id has an aggressive plan for supporting the game post-launch. "When you look at Doom 2016 and look at the number of people that still play the game today, it's mind-blowing," Stratton says. "This time, we're really going to support it, we're going to give players new ways to play, fun ways to play, new challenges, new content, and keep them engaged. Engaged when they play the campaign right off the bat, and engaged long term as well. It's a big focus for us."

    No Mod Support... Yet

    Doom has always been associated with the mod scene, but last year's attempt to appease creators with the rigid Snap Map system fell flat. Id is rightfully moving away from Snap Map with Doom Eternal, but the game isn't quite ready to integrate mod support. However, that doesn't mean id isn't thinking about it.

    "We've actually done things technically that are getting us closer to doing mod support, but it won't be immediate," Stratton says. "I think longer term. We made technical decisions years ago that we're still moving away from, and they're getting us closer to those kinds of things." 

  • Game Informer News Feed: Meet Nyoka, Your New Companion

    Publisher: Private Division
    Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
    Release:
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    We spent a couple days checking out The Outer Worlds earlier this year, but after seeing it again at E3, our anticipation has only increased. The team at Obsidian prepared an impressive demo that highlighted many of the game’s pillars, like entertaining combat and meaningful player choice. Plus, we got to meet a new companion named Nyoka, and she seems to be a fun addition to your crew.

    The demo took place on the planet Monarch, which is home to a wildland area that is the largest single zone in the game. The player was joined by two companions: Ellie (who we have met before) and Nyoka. Nyoka is a big game hunter, and while that fact figures into her personal quest, the team at Obsidian isn’t saying too much about her backstory right now. However, we know a few things about her personality. She’s a big fan of alcohol, and she’s tough (and a bit jaded). Having her along should make you feel like someone has your back – especially since her special attack involves a furious hail of fire from an enormous gun. Like other characters you meet, Nyoka may seem a bit distant when she joins the crew, but she can become more attached over time.

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    If you’re a big fan of Nyoka or any of the other companions, you might want to consider delving into a leadership build for your character. Obsidian had discussed this option before, but this time we got to see the archetype in action. This development path involves investing in abilities that improve your companions more than they directly impact your own skills. Not only does this make companions more effective in combat through things like health boosts, but it also means that they can lend you additional expertise based on their specialty skills. For instance, Nyoka provides bonuses to stealth and weapon skills, since she is a huntress.

    The events of the demo take the hero to a boarst (a hybrid meat) factory with the goal of taking it out. That could mean sabotaging the machinery and killing the “cystypigs” that provide boarst, or taking out the man in charge of operations. You can make this call in the moment; you aren’t bound to keep your promises to anyone about how you will (or won’t) approach a situation. And in addition to making choices about to handle key moments, you also decide what kinds of gameplay tactics to employ. One option to gain entrance to the factory is going through the front door with guns blazing. However, in the demo we saw, a stealthy approach resulted in fewer direct confrontations.

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    Despite evading detection most of the time (which is easier since your A.I.-controlled companions won’t tip off enemies when trying to sneak), we still saw some combat. This gave Obsidian a chance to showcase weapon modifications like a gun that shoots electrical bullets, not to mention the tactical time dilation (TTD). Like the V.A.T.S. system in the Fallout series, the TTD effect slows your perception of time and allows you to target specific areas on your foes for certain advantages. For example, if you shoot their legs, their movement is impaired and they may not be able to close the gap before you finish them. If you shoot their arms, they may drop their weapons. The goal behind the TTD system is to provide a more deliberate and strategic layer for players who are less interested in combat strictly as a skill-based shooter – though most players are likely to use a combination rather than stick to one side of that spectrum.

    Balancing playstyles and accommodating different choices in a complex RPG is not easy, but from what we’ve seen, The Outer Worlds seems to be sitting at the sweet spot. It doesn’t aim to provide a world that says “you can only do one of these three things: stealth, action, or persuasion.” Instead, you play in a way you think is fun, and then you get to see how the world responds. As the list of companions continues to grow, we look forward to seeing even more personalities who can react to your actions. 

  • Game Informer News Feed: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Is A Total Game Changer

    Click here to watch embedded media

    Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
    Developer: TT Games
    Release: 2020
    Rating: Everyone
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

    If you’ve played one Lego game, you’ve played them all. As much as I love the Lego games, I usually know what I’m in for when they boot up. That all changes with The Skywalker Saga. TT Games has completely rebuilt its engine and reimagined its classic Lego formula, and the results speak for themselves. (Actually, results can’t speak, so I’ll do that for them. The results say: This game rules.)

    One of the biggest changes for this new Lego game is the camera, which now sits behind the shoulders of each character. The game looks great, the worlds are highly detailed, and the Lego characters have a nice fluid animation.

    The Skywalker Saga not only looks different, it plays different. Have you heard of combos? Because TT Games has. Now characters can perform a series of attack combos. Of course, you can still button mash your way through most encounters, but you’ll also have more attack options in combat. The behind-the-shoulder camera also highlights the new shooting mechanics, which are now more precise and feel more like a third-person shooter (think of an adorable Gears of War).

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    The entire game includes all nine episodes of the main Star Wars franchise – from The Phantom Menace to The Rise of Skywalker. Our E3 demo jumped into Return of the Jedi, but players can tackle each movie in any order. Once you jump into a movie, you’ll have the freedom to tackle objectives at your own pace. During the demo we watched the Millennium Falcon fly through outer space. During these open-ended sequences, players might randomly encounter roving bands of enemy fighters, and we watch a capital ship warp into view. If you avoid this combat, you can fly to a variety of planets within the Star Wars universe (at least 20 will be fully explorable in the final game). We watched the Millennium Falcon touched down on Tatooine. However, even when you’re planet side you’ll have multiple docking stations to choose from.

    This sense of freedom extends to the ground-based levels. Once you've landed on Tatooine, you’re free to explore the space at your own pace, find hidden bricks, or complete various story missions. We watch Luke talk with a droid and use C-3PO to translate the droid speak. Each hero still has character-specific powers that might come in handy from time to time. We also saw familiar sights from the films, such as Tosche Station, Jabba's sail barge, and the Sarlacc pit.

    I haven’t been excited for a Star Wars game in years, but The Skywalker Saga definitely caught my eye. The game looks to appeal to long-time Star Wars fans, but also looks unique enough that newcomers could have a good time.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Following In The Footsteps Of Journey And Flower

    Developer: thatgamecompany
    Release:
    Platform: iOS

    Over the years, I’ve learned to really look forward to my meetings and demos with Jenova Chen. The chief creative voice behind games including Journey and Flower, Chen approaches game development from a different perspective than many game makers, and talks about the process in a different way than many other developers, as well.

    After a long development process, Sky: Children of the Light is targeting release in July, first on iOS, but eventually across the spectrum of mobile phones and tablets. Like all of the games previously released by thatgamecompany, the core concept of Sky is quite easy to grasp. You play an adorable individual, given life and energy by light and fire, and you explore a world of fallen stars, attempting to rediscover them and place them back into the sky. Along the way, you explore a variety of unique realms or lands, reachable through portals from a central hub, and most locations feature a mix of on-land exploration and grand elevated flight sequences, where your character can float and wing freely across a beautiful landscape of clouds and sunbeams. And all of it is meant to be played with others at your side.

    That description isn’t how Chen describes his game, but simply what I can gather as he and I wander together through the playspace, even as he speaks to me about the more philosophical and artistic goals that fuel the project. Where Journey explored themes of loneliness, and the way a single other person could be a lifeline and companion, Sky: Children of the Light is about the broader webs that connect us as families, friends, and strangers. Chen hopes the game design simulates many of the brighter aspects of human interaction, like friendship, generosity, cooperation, and community. He’s interested in the way that people connect and build relationships, and how those relationships only truly form through non-selfish acts and discovering the world together.

    Click here to watch embedded media

    While flight and exploration of the various realms is certainly important, an equal effort has been put into the ways in which players can interact with one another, usually in loving and relationship-forming ways. Emote options let you shake hands and hug, celebrate successes with each other, or sit quietly on a bench and have a private chat. You can collect musical instruments in the game, like pianos and harps, as well as musical notation sheets, which can be played by tapping in-time with on-screen prompts. Once you sit down to play some music, other people can sit down and join you with their own instruments, and you can make music together.

    The game is also explicitly built to allow for dedicated gamers to play with their non-gaming friends, partners, or children. Controls defy the traditional “two analog stick” move and camera rotation pattern, and instead you simply swipe with one finger to hop in a direction, or drag with two fingers to change the camera position. In flight, intuitive motion directions let you swoop and dive naturally. If even that level of 3D navigation is too involved for some, the game allows literal hand-holding with other players. Want to guide your non-gaming spouse to that cool new island across the way? Offer them your hand, and now you simply take them with you wherever you go. Up to eight players can hold hands and move as one.

    From the central hub, you’ll move into one of six distinct realms that each offer different tonal experiences of play. Among the six there’s a valley that allows for competitive flight racing with your friends, a mysterious forest filled with moments of exploration and discovery, a romantic dim-lit vault filled with secrets, and a daylight-suffused prairie of interconnected islands, filled with opportunities to meet strange creatures, almost like an alien petting zoo. In addition to these and other lands, there’s also a seventh realm that only opens up once a week, and offers more challenging “endgame” content that Chen equated a bit with a raid in an MMO.

    Throughout it all, you’ll be finding and collecting fallen stars, which once discovered transform into individual NPCs with whom you can also form relationships, learn new things from, and acquire new hairstyles, masks, and all sorts of other items with which to customize your character. These fallen stars each have their own personality and things to share with you, and they slowly help to pull the curtain back on what has happened in this unusual universe.

    During my time wandering the game world with Chen, we played some music together, and then he led me by hand into a realm where we had to act together in order to make a giant flying manta ray appear. Once it was flying along the wind currents, we could float down onto its back and ascend to as-yet unexplored areas of the realm.

    Sky: Children of the Light is clearly a game interested in letting players discover its charms for themselves, but I have little doubt that fans of the developer’s previous work will find a lot to love here. There are elements of play that seem to directly reference aspects of Journey and Flower. However, this game is a far more social and interactive experience, and clearly one meant to have players return to on a more regular basis over many days, weeks or months, and with greater options for customization and personalization.

    Mobile games have a reputation at times for shallowness or flash for the sake of flash. Whether that’s always deserved or not, Sky is a game that is set to offer something decidedly different for players when it begins to roll out this July. While there’s a lot I still don’t understand about how it all fits together, I was immediately charmed by the game’s heartfelt messaging and quiet moments of joy, and I suspect there are a lot of other players who are similarly ready for a mobile release that offers this unique breed of meditative, joyful, and socially connected experiences.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Bloober Team Talks Blair Witch, Psychological Horror, And Similarities To Alan Wake

    Developer: Bloober Team
    Release:
    Platform: Xbox One, PC

    I remember being a young teenager when I watched the original Blair Witch Project for the first time. I was in awe and completely absorbed in the façade that the whole concept could be real. Sure, we know now that Blair Witch Project is a piece of fiction, but the video camera aesthetic and found footage genre helped sell that realism.

    One of the big announcements during Microsoft’s press conference had me completely floored: The Blair Witch Project is receiving its own first-person psychological horror video game, and it’s being created by the Polish developer behind Layers of Fear and Observer.

    At E3, I sat down with Blair Witch’s writer Barbara Kciuk and developer Maciej Jacek to gain more clarity about the project. Read on below to find out why Bloober Team decided to tackle the license, their dedication to psychological horror, and what you can expect gameplay-wise.

    A lot of people were surprised to see a Blair Witch game announced at the Microsoft press conference. Why did you want to tackle that license?

    Kciuk: Well, our company and Lionsgate (the owners of the IP), already knew each other. It wasn't like we approached them or they approached us, it was a mutual discussion. The style of games we create is very much in the [style] of Blair Witch. So why not try this one? It's an iconic IP and having this chance was huge. We just needed to take it.

     

    So, it's set in 1996. Why specifically that time period? Do you feel like you're sidestepping some of the mediocre film sequels that way?

    Kciuk: No, that wasn't the intention. To be honest, modern technology is a problem in video games. [The ‘90s] time period is really popular in general in horror, not only in video games, but also movies and even books, because you don't have this problem like, 'Yeah, okay, I will just check the GPS and get the hell out of here.’ So it's about the technology and also because of where and when the movies take place. So it wasn't sidestepping anything. It was just, 'This is cool. Let's do it.'

    Is it taking place in the same setting as the original film?

    Kciuk: Yeah, but it's a totally different story. It's our original take on what can happen in those woods. But yes, the players will probably recognize some places and situations from the movie.

    And this is single player only?

    Kciuk: Yes. It's the best way to experience horror without someone constantly chatting in your ear. [It’s best played in a] dark room, alone, and with headphones.

    What made you guys interested in the Blair Witch license to begin with?

    Jacek: I think what was really cool for us is that with Layers of Fear and Observer, we really tried to [create mystery]. We always try to shift the environment around the player. What was really fun was that Blair Witch pretty much does the same thing. The characters are trapped in the forest, and trapped in this space or time loop. You're never sure what it is, to be honest. This is a thing that we had in common with the Blair Witch franchise and we can make a more psychological take on the movies from this. Not much survival, because that is not really what we do, but we made this original story in the Burkittsville Forest that’ll be more psychological and more emotional. It’s also because we don't have [several] characters like movies do. We have Ellis and his dog Bullet. We wanted, for the first time in our history, to show this process of bonding with an A.I. or NPC in the game. We think that, on one hand, it's really cool that you have someone in the forest [with you] because you're not so alone or separated from everything. At the same time, we give players a reason to care for the dog. If something bad happens to him, it’s going to affect your character and your gameplay.

    Is the dog really the only other being you interact with?

    Kciuk: There are a few other characters, but it would be a spoiler [to say more]. But there is a lot of dialogue in the game.

    Jacek: The game starts off with you joining a search for a missing kid called Peter. But you are late to the search party, so the search party starts without you and you have to catch up with them. You have ways of communicating with them through your walkie talkie.

    Kciuk: Without spoiling too much, yes, there are other characters, although you have different ways to communicate with them, because you need to remember that you are in the Burkittsville forest, so strange things will happen.

    How involved are you with Lionsgate in terms of bringing this project to life?

    Kciuk: We got great help from Lionsgate. They are really helping us with some insight and they are very supportive. But they're giving us a lot of creative freedom too. We are still in contact, because everything we do will be canon. So basically, we just need to keep being consistent, and we need to make sure that both of our visions match. But other than that, yeah, they've been great to work with because we can basically do what we believe is best, while still having a lot of support and a lot of help on our side. Our relationship has been very good through this whole process.

    I'd like to know a bit more about the mechanics of the game. I see that you can equip a video camera. But what about enemies? Do you run from them? Can you fight them? Give me a rundown of what we can expect.

    Jacek: We wanted to base it off of what we already did in Layers of Fear and Observer. The core gameplay will be pretty similar in that you will have a lot of spaces to explore. [You will] have time for this, because we don’t want to rush players through our games apart from a few sequences when we want the player to be stressed or be scared. We felt that the video camera is a really iconic item in the Blair Witch universe. We wanted to include it in the game for sure. At the start, we used it only to show the player what happened before, or to give them clues about the story. But we felt it's not enough for the game. Because you know, the game isn't like 90 minutes long; it's almost six hours. We wanted to give players some more uses of the video camera. That's why we will be using it to solve different puzzles along the way. Puzzles are directly tied to the story and to the narrative. There will be combat for the first time in one of our games. The combat won't be conventional. We won't have a shotgun or a chainsaw. This will be pretty similar to Alan Wake's combat. You'll have a flashlight, and you will be able to scare off most enemies with the flashlight.

    Kciuk: But you are scaring them instead of killing them. Although, yeah, you can say that using the light is pretty similar.

    Jacek: One of the most important themes in the game is your dog Bullet. He was created from scratch so it was a really big challenge for us to do this. Because you know, you have to kind of balance A.I. because it can’t be too dumb or too clever to work properly.

    Kciuk: It was hard to really do this because well it’s a dog and you can't make him too doggy because he would get distracted very easily and the gameplay function won't be fulfilled. At the same time, he cannot be this this all-knowing A.I.; he has to behave like an animal. It was probably one of the biggest challenges to balance the animal A.I. so that it feels natural and very, very helpful at the same time.

    Is the dog often leading you to certain clues or story moments?

    Kciuk: Basically, you are given a certain [amount of] control over him. You can give him commands to perform some tasks, but he also has a mind of his own. Sometimes he will just support you. For example, he may lead you towards something, show you something, or bring something back. There is a lot of stuff he can do.

    What was so iconic about the original Blair Witch film was that people weren't always sure what was real and what wasn't. I think that's really what made it such a profound horror experience. Do you feel like you want to keep those themes in the game?

    Kciuk: Yes, they are important for us and I can't explain too much because I’ll go into spoilers, but the character really has a reason to question whether [he’s seeing] the witch or if he's just going crazy. I can't explain more, but you get what I mean.

    So, the found footage horror genre – we don't really see that a lot in video games. Is that the genre that you are still going to have here? Or is it going to become a different take on it?

    Kciuk: It's more of a first-person perspective. We are the character and we are perceiving the world through his eyes. But the found footage is also very important. Although, we used it a little different than, for example, Outlast or other games that constantly [require you to] watch the world through the camera. It's not what we've done. We are watching the world through the eyes of the protagonist, but like Maciej mentioned, found footage is part of our gameplay. It's part of the puzzles and it will affect the game.

    It's a way to convey a story, because it's showing you what happened. You can also manipulate the world around you by using found footage. Basically, by using the camera, you can change certain things in the world.

    You mentioned puzzles. Is there any chance you can give me some examples?

    Jacek: Well, for example, when you fast forward or rewind [video] footage that you find, you'll be able to alter the environment around you. A tree might fall in the video, and then when you look around you [in the world] the tree might fall too in the environment. It might block your way or let you pass depending on where you [pause] the footage.

    So that'll change the actual environment?

    Kciuk: Rewinding kind of rewinds the time, at least for what you think you're seeing on the footage.

    Were you fans of Blair Witch beforehand or did you become fans once you received this opportunity?

    Kciuk: I would say both. I remember the movie, and well, it was really terrifying. Especially for a writer being able to work in such a deep universe is such a great chance.

    I was a teenager when I watched the Blair Witch Project. My friend did not dig it at all. She was just like, ‘This is boring. I'm bored the whole time. They're not showing anything.’ And I said, ‘No, I love that they're not showing anything! I'm terrified!’ I adored that. What really terrifies me most is the idea of an invisible enemy or unexplainable entity. It just lets your imagination run wild. Is that something that you want to achieve in the game?

    Kciuk: Yeah. Well, we don't believe that the Blair Witch is one single entity or some creature. We believe it's more like an overpowering force. You won't really see her but you will definitely feel her all around you, like she will have a great impact on the game, on the world, and what's happening to your psyche.

    Blair Witch comes to Xbox One and PC on August 30.

  • Game Informer News Feed: A Great Risk For Greater Reward

    Publisher: Nintendo
    Release:
    Platform: Switch

    Fire Emblem isn't what you would call a risk-averse series. Even in the 90s, its brutal difficulty set it apart from the pack, punishing players' foolhardy mistakes by permanently killing off units when they died in battle. Awakening, the most well-known entry in the series, took a risk when it combined that difficult strategy gameplay with dating-sim aspects, letting you play matchmaker with your units. This created fantastic (and sometimes heartbreaking) stories where your characters would meet, fall in love, sometimes have children, only to be vanquished forever in a sizable battle. With Three Houses, Intelligent Systems is once again taking some major risks by throwing out beloved staples of the series in favor of new systems and compelling twists.

    During E3, I was able to watch an hour-long demo of Three Houses in action and play a single battle. I came away from that demo highly impressed with what saw I and confident this entry in an already well-loved series will be something special.  Here were some of the biggest noteworthy changes and features Three Houses is bringing to Fire Emblem and why I think they're promising.

    Warning: If you want to go in to Fire Emblem: Three Houses completely blind, do not read this. There are some spoilers that have to be discussed in order to talk about features. Nothing that the latest trailers haven’ already revealed plot-wise, but again, don't read this if you want to go in blind.

    The Structure Borrows The Right Elements From Persona

    Fire Emblem: Three Houses is structured in a fascinating way. The first half of the game has you playing a professor at Garreg Mach Monastery (think Hogwarts for knights, archers, and mages), teaching students. You pick one of the three houses at the beginning of the game and become responsible for the education of the characters belonging to that house, though all the houses attend the school.

    Educating them ultimately means you're teaching them lessons that will decide what class they are, what proficiency they have, and which of their peers they build strong supporting relationships with. The whole first part of the game plays out like the social simulation aspects of Persona, with you managing your relationships with your students and living out your day to day life, choosing which activities to partake to boost certain skills or relationships.

    At an unspecified point in the game, the second act jumps ahead five years in the timeline. The three houses are at war. You've automatically sided with the house that you selected at the start of the game. However, you'll still be confronting the fact that many of your 'enemies' are the classmates of your students, and may even be former students you have interacted with. 

    It's a fascinating twist that could put the horror of war into perspective in an engaging way, as you watch men and women who you ostensibly helped mold, square off against one another in deadly combat. If the first part uses its time well, emotionally tethering you to your characters, then the second could result in some devastating Game Of Thrones-like moments (especially if you've got Permadeath turned on).

    Your Hub Is Much More Impressive This Time

    Awakening and Fates both gave you bases where you could interact with your units as they rested. However, this was all done through a visual novel set up in spaces that were pretty simple to navigate and didn't offer that many sights to see. Garreg Mach Monastery is massive, a stone castle with three floors filled with classrooms, cafeterias, gardens, and various activities and quests for you to pursue. 

    Garreg Mach Monastery also, thankfully, has a fast travel option, so you can hop from room to room to get where you need when you're feeling lost.

    There Is No Multiplayer

    During the E3 session, Nintendo revealed there is no online or local multiplayer for Fire Emblem Three Houses. The company didn't delve into specifics when I asked why, but I imagine it was to devote all of its available resources to creating an ambitious, narratively-contained saga.

    You Have Much More Flexibility With Classes This Time

    In Awakening and Fates, units had a fair amount of maneuverability when it came to upgrading them or changing their classes completely. However, there was a point where that flexibility ended: you could make a warrior character into various knights, skilled swordsmen, cavalry units but into a mage, for example. With Three Houses, you can make any of your units literally any class if you're willing to do the work.

    Some characters will have proficiencies that make certain classes come to them naturally. However, if you invest in teaching students certain skills, you can change mages into dragon riders. You can even create an army of one kind of unit from your entire house if you want a clan barbarians or a coven of spellcasters at your disposal (but that's probably a bad idea).

    You also don't have to worry about your unit's level resetting if you decide to change their class, something that was a huge pain in previous Fire Emblem games.

    You Can Recruit Students From Other Houses

    Really like that one sassy student who's part of another house? Don't want to kill them in the inevitable war? No worries. You can speak with students from other houses at Garreg Mach and invite them to join your house. If you have high enough skills in the attributes they respect, they'll join you. If not, you can always beef up those skills and come back later to try and convince them to join your cause.

    Bye Bye Weapon Triangle

    Fire Emblem's weapon triangle is, in many ways, the foundation on which the series' combat lies. Though the triangle has evolved since the beginning of the series with new weapons introduced to it, it basically is as follows: Sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword. There's always been a neatness to this simplistic system that players have long appreciated about it, with Fire Emblem continuing to build other systems on top of it. An example: the support relationships, with units situated next to each other on the battlefield receiving stat boosts if they've fought in another battles together.

    Three Houses throws the triangle to the wayside. Instead, the power of your attacks will be determined by your units' Combat Arts, which are essentially their special moves that they learn as they level up. One Combat Art might be useful against beasts while another might hurt archers more, and so on.

    I'm a fan of this change because it means you can't buck the system if you're familiar with it. Removing the triangle means removing the comfort that many Fire Emblem fans have built up over the years and exposing them to a new system to master.

    Bring it on, I say.

    The Kids Are(n't) All Right

    Nintendo confirmed that romantic relationships would be returning in Three Houses on a livestream on June 12.  The company also explicitly said that there would be no offspring mechanic in this game and while some matchmakers might be disappointed by that news, it makes sense within the thematic ambitions of Three Houses' narrative, so I'm not bummed by it.

    Battalions Are Your Best Friend

    Another new feature in Three Houses is battalions. On the battlefield, battalions surround your unit as his/her own personal fighting squad. Each battalion has a unique effect that they can grant that unit and the units around them. For example, the battalion I saw during my battle was capable of cheering on my units. That might sound dumb, but it gave all the units nearby a 2+ move bonus, meaning they could move more spaces that turn to reach foes. Not bad.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what other bonuses battalions give you.

    Tender Mercies

    Like Fire Emblem Echoes, Three Houses has a mechanic that lets you rewind turns for a certain amount during battle. This means if you screw up, and one of your favorite characters bites it, you have a redo button to help you out called Divine Pulse.  Once you use your set amount of rewinds for a battle, they're expended until said battle is done. In casual mode this mechanic probably doesn't matter too much since your characters won't perish. However for those playing on classic with permadeath turned on, that last chance could make all the difference in the world during a battle. 

    For more on Fire Emblem, check out our review of the previous game, Fire Emblem: Echoes, here.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Choice And Consequence Is Everything

    Publisher: Square Enix
    Developer: Techland
    Release: 2020
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    Dying Light delivered on its promise of giving fans a fun, parkour-packed post-apocalypse, but with Dying Light 2, Techland is striving for much more. In addition to improving parkour and polishing combat, Dying Light 2 promises unprecedented impact stemming from players' decisions. Choices you make may have consequences both telegraphed and unforeseen, with your decisions having potentially sweeping implications for entire regions of the city, and entire branches of the narrative.

    In fact, according to Techland, players might miss up to half of the game's overall content based on the choices they make throughout the game. The consequences reach far beyond multiple endings on the same track. In the gameplay demo I saw, the player has multiple choices to make over the course of a mission. Do you stay with your friend who was shot or do you chase down the alleged assailant? When you catch him, do you kill him or hear him out? These choices have immediate implications for the mission at hand, but it's potentially much further reaching than that.

    Your decision to stay and help Frank, or chase after the shooter kicks everything off

    According to narrative designer Chris Avellone, Techland sees these kinds of consequences as an integral part of creating a great open-world experience. "The push for the game when Techland approached me with the narrative, they realized they already had a really strong open-world game, but what they really wanted to do was have an open story as well," Avellone says. "It's one thing to say, 'I have this great open world,' but if there's only one linear storyline that every player follows, that's kind of contrary to the world that's set up. This is about giving the player more freedom to explore the story as they make their way through the game. It's more agency."

    I see one such consequence play out later on in the mission, as the demoer decides to leave their wounded friend, Frank, behind and hunt down the assailant right before the group embarked on a quest to convince The Colonel, a powerful man in a stronghold, to share his vast supply of water. The resulting sequence sees protagonist Aiden Caldwell take off as an NPC tends to the wounds. The demoer warns that every decision has the potential for consequences. Decisions are often required to be made in the moment, meaning you just have to act on instinct.

    "There are no good choices in Dying Light 2," lead designer Tymon Smektala says. "These are you choices and that's your ending. You have to live with it, whatever it is. It comes from you, what happens in the game."

    Combat now looks smoother and more polished

    This choice kicks off a chase sequence. Much like the first Dying Light, the protagonist relies heavily on parkour. Dying Light 2's Aiden Caldwell has a much more impressive moveset than the first game's protagonist, Kyle Crane. This chase effectively showcases this as Aiden sprints across the rooftops. Standard moves like sliding, climbing, and mantling return, and Aiden can still ride along ziplines, but he has a few other tricks up his sleeve. The Dying Light 2 protagonist can wall run into a jump to adjacent platforms. Aiden can also parkour off zombies and even use them to break a long fall. He can even ride on doors as they open and thread the needle through holes in doors and walls.

    If the standard moveset isn't enough, you have a few traversal tools to aide you. As Aiden comes to a long gap, he breaks out a grappling hook so he can latch onto a nearby rooftop and swing across the big drop. He spots the truck he's been chasing in the distance, but it's just too far away. Thankfully, you also have access to a paraglider, which the demoer uses to drift softly onto the roof of the truck.

    Zombies are sensitive to light, so they congregate indoors during the day before flooding the streets at night

    Watching an expert player chain these free-running moves in rapid succession is entertaining as hell, but Smektala wasn't satisfied with only catering to the best players. "We wanted to create the most immersive parkour game out in the market," Smektala says. "The important thing is anyone can pick up the game and play it. As soon as they [learn the controls], they'll be able to feel like this really agile guy and just fly through the environment. Then, if you are a skilled player and you start thinking about the skills that we give you and how these skills interact with different parts of the geometry, you get faster and faster and faster. There's a really obvious difference between a novice Dying Light player and someone who is very skillful."

    Once inside the truck, Aiden comes face to face with the man he was told killed Frank. You can either kill the truck driver and exact revenge, or keep him alive and hold him hostage. In this playthrough, Aiden keeps the truck driver alive as the two drive to the compound together. Because the driver knows the correct signal to open the gate to The Colonel's stronghold, we're invited right in; if we killed the driver, we would have had to find another way.

    After stealthily infiltrating the Colonel's stronghold and making his way to The Colonel's residence, Aiden learns a sad truth: his friend Frank died as a result of his injuries. Techland says that things may have played out differently had Aiden stayed with him, but there's nothing that can be done now; all that's left to do is complete the mission.

    The Colonel sounds reasonable, but something is shady about him

    The gameplay demo culminates with a choice: Do you carry out your mission of turning on the water pumps to bring fresh drinking water to a region in dire need of it, or do you trust The Colonel, who promises he can help you find a better way? The demoer follows the path of carrying out the plan against the Colonel's wishes. The Colonel isn't happy about that, so an intense gunfight ensues.

    Aiden quickly dispatches two nearby guards with his gun, then gets up close and personal to another henchman with his modified knife that electrocutes and dismembers with every slash. Things are going as well as can be expected given the uneven odds. That is, until a heavy enters the room. Bullets and knives are no use thanks to the thick armor, so Aiden has to be a little creative. Using grappling hook we saw during the parkour sequence, Aiden latches onto the ceiling and swings into the heavy with full momentum. The impact stuns the enemy long enough for Aiden to get in and deliver a killing blow.

    Aiden turns the nearby valves to drain the reservoir around the compound, delivering fresh drinking water to the drought-stricken region of the city. His mission is accomplished, but the consequences don't end there. You now have access to an entirely new gameplay area that would have stayed hidden underwater had you not drained the lake, but the consequences are further reaching than that. Not only is the compound vulnerable to attack from a nearby faction with a plot against The Colonel, but something long-dormant in the lake bed is now free to awaken. The final cutscene shows a mutated zombie clawing its way out of the muck at the bottom of the now-drained reservoir, with razor-sharp spikes on the side of its arm.

    Avellone loves the idea of telling others about your story by inviting them to your city in co-op sessions. In multiplayer, the host city is the one both players see, so showing your friends how your decisions have affected the city is simple. "When you're able to see the reactivity mattering that much, and you realize it could have gone differently, but now all these other opportunities popping up because of your choice, suddenly it makes all the other choices impactful too," he says. "One thing we noticed with RPGs is that people would compare their storylines and builds, and then brag about it like, 'I feel really good that I made this choice!' When the game showcases the differences like that to such an extent... it's going to be a good thing."

    Avellone says that with RPGs, you often see how your choices affect others through interactions with NPCs. He wants more with Dying Light 2's choice system.  "Dying Light 2 has that [NPC interactivity with your choices], but then they kind of went one step super far and went, 'And the environments will change!' and the scope to which they do that is impressive," he says. "It's like new gameplay spaces and new enemies completely. I was very impressed."

    Dying Light 2 impressed me from the very beginning of the demo, and set up high expectations. With a gorgeous world, smooth combat, impressive parkour, and lofty choice-driven ambitions, Dying Light 2 has quickly become one of my most anticipated games of 2020.

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