When Activision shuttered Bizarre Creations back in 2011 the publisher attributed the decision to the fact the “fundamentals of the racing genre” had changed significantly during the three years that had elapsed since the company had purchased the UK developer.
Unfortunately the racing genre had changed. Robust racers like Blur and Split/Second had failed to find large audiences and the closures of well-established developers like Bizarre and Black Rock Studio followed. Category leaders like the Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport series remained viable but the market for everything else just didn’t seem to be there anymore. Just three racing games made IGN readers’ top 100 games of last generation, compiled in June this year, and one of those was Mario Kart Wii. It was the highest-ranked racing game, actually. At #59.
The song you hear calling from the center of Lichdom: Battlemage is one of ice and fire. A chorus chants from within, urging you to chill your personal demons with the ray of frost you blast from your fingertips, and to burn them with showers of brimstone. Elemental powers aren’t the only ones you command in this magic-driven action game, but they are the two that define the initial hours of Lichdom’s overlong campaign, which hobbles to a close long after it milks the joy out of its excellent but single-minded combat.
Let’s return, however, to those initial hours. Lichdom: Battlemage is built around the most satisfying spellcasting this side of Kingdoms of Amalur, and it’s this one system that drives the adventure from beginning to end. There is no mana bar obstructing your access to deadly magic. The only cooldowns you need consider are the intrinsic casting times of the spells themselves, not additional timers that dole out casting permission at specified intervals. Wizards and skeletons spawn into the level from nowhere, and you fling icicles at them or soften them up with a hive of buzzing parasites that floats above your head.If you want to keep your distance during rough battles like this, craft shields that give you unlimited access to the short-range teleport called "blink."
Casting these spells from Lichdom’s first-perspective feels oh so good, and they come in three types of magical flavors, called sigils. Each sigil allows for three casting techniques: a focused attack, an area-of-effect attack, and a parry--termed a nova--that typically offers its own kind of offensive enhancement. A focused spell might take the form of a continuous ray of elemental energy or a ball of filth, though I was most taken by homing missiles, which I could fire off in quick succession or charge up for a more thorough display of destruction. To turn an archer into a pile of ash is simple enough with such a missile: hold a mouse button, then release that flaming projectile and watch your target skeleton dissolve into the wind when it hits.
Forgive my focus on fire and ice. It’s easiest to describe these types of magic in light of the more complex sigils, such as kinesis and delirium, which allow you to control the battlefield in various ways, turning enemies against each other or halting them in their tracks. I grew fond of a slaughterous trio comprised of necromancy, corruption, and ice. Necromancy does what it says on the tin, turning fiends into friends when the grim reaper comes to visit, while corruption allows you to spread an epidemic of tumorous growths and ravenous parasites. These sigils often work in tandem with each other, turning a sequence of properly-timed blitzes into a colorful spectacle of frozen sorcerers shattering into a trillion pieces. This may be magic, but I am more than a mere magician: I am a demigod.Mr. Freeze would have an excellent ice pun to accompany this image.
More specifically, I am a Dragon, capital-D, and a significant figure in Lichdom’s baffling story, which stars you--a battlemage of the gender you choose--and a scout of complementary gender whose role would best be described as "exposition faucet." He or she flits in and out of your travels to share the details of a story that’s never properly established, making every line of Lichdom’s dialogue a mess of white noise. "Here’s a story about something cool you’ll never witness for yourself," says the scout, in essence, and you move on to making your own story. The beautiful environments thankfully have stories of their own to share; twisted tree trunks and tarnished temples rise from a fetid swamp, and you see massive sea vessels encased in ice, as if they were frozen in time before their captains were aware of such an unlikely danger. CryEngine 3, the same graphics technology that humbled many a PC in 2013 in Crysis 3, has returned to remind you that your machine really needs a new graphics card. To be fair, however, the game looks great even with medium-ranged setting activated, though the game’s liberal use of motion blur will have you rushing to tweak its visual options to diminish the discomfort.
As tempting as it is to compare Lichdom: Battlemage to Skyrim, what with the early snowy environments and all that magic, this is no role-playing game--at least, not in the traditional sense. Lichdom does, however, grant you plenty of agency over how you exercise your magical talents. Your spells are not assigned to you as if they are medicines prescribed by a doctor (burn two brutes to a crisp with this bog-standard fireball and call me in the morning). Instead, you drive your own destiny by designing your spells using the various materials that occasionally rush to your body after a kill as if drawn to your magnetic personality.
Elemental powers aren’t the only ones you command in this magic-driven action game, but they are the two that define the initial hours of Lichdom’s overlong campaign, which hobbles to a close long after it milks the joy out of its excellent but single-minded combat.
I couldn’t possibly begin to detail Lichdom’s convoluted spell creation, which isn’t ungraspable, but requires that you make sense of various terms--mastery, control, critical effect multiplier, apocalyptical chance--and interpret the results of each step of the crafting process. At first, it’s difficult to tell why spells behave as they do, especially when there are countless statistical minutiae differentiating one spell from the next. ("These two spells are the same except one offers a slightly larger attack radius and the other does slightly more damage. Is it worth spending time on a decision that won’t likely matter much on the field of battle?") It’s both empowering and somewhat tedious to have so much control over so many magical attributes, but whether or not you fall in love with this system, you’ll spend plenty of time attending to it: more powerful demons shall arrive, and you will have to create higher-level spells to destroy them.
After several hours of winding your way through Lichdom’s linear levels, it becomes clear that developer Xaviant relied on this combat system to the detriment of other basic aspects of game design. One by one, combat scenarios appear, each one exactly like the last. Enemies spawn into being out of nowhere--and should you die and have to relive the battle, they always materialize in the same locations with no concern for your position relative to their spawn points. You wave your hands about, spreading disease and death, until every demon has fallen--or until you are wholly annihilated. You then interact with a floating sphere that generates a purple hologram depicting two or three characters talking about apparently vital story events you never get to witness for yourself. And then you repeat this scenario, with only boss fights and the occasional appearance of your opposite-gendered exposition vessel to disrupt the flow. Necromancy, ice bolt, ice bolt, fiery aura--once more, with feeling.Click above for more Lichdom: Battlemage images.
To be fair, the flow is also disrupted by frequent deaths, an annoyance that’s sure to hound you when you enter new areas with spells that no longer adequately protect you, but without the components that would allow you to create stronger magic. Some battles are teeth-gnashingly, hair-pullingly grueling, particularly those with enemies that enjoy freezing you in place, and Lichdom almost takes a perverse delight in how far apart its checkpoints occur. And so you take part in a tedious video game version of Groundhog Day in which you perform the same amazing supernatural feats so often, and in the same repetitive scenarios, that those feats become as boring as collecting Gandalf the Grey’s dry cleaning.
That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the inherent diversity of Lichdom’s spellcrafting; a ray of focused flame behaves differently than the necromantic conversion of dead demons, after all. But the game's general approach takes the burden off the design and transfers the impetus of creating variety to me--and without innate structural variety, Lichdom stretches its one excellent idea to the point of tearing. The game’s inordinate length only reinforces the monotony. I hesitate to suggest a game should be shorter than it already is, but Lichdom itself makes an excellent argument for brevity. Xaviant miscalculated the formula. (Great spellcasting) - (mana bar) + (meaningless story) + (unvaried battles) is not, in fact, equal to 15 or 16 hours of consistent enjoyment and $39.99 of your money.The most important consequence of Lichdom's impenetrable story is that you always know when it's safe to go make a sandwich.
While Lichdom makes a strong case for a shorter game, it also makes the case for another Lichdom game. If there is any game this year deserving of a sequel, it’s this one. With a steely backbone of meaningful world-building, sensible storytelling, and proper pacing, a Lichdom 2 could have an unassailable place to hang its best asset. The game at hand is concerned only with the magic. A few hours in, I was convinced that it might be enough. The love affair didn't last, but I’ll always have those golden memories.
In what is more than likely a pricing error that will be fixed very soon, the Dell Store currently lists the Collector's Edition of Assassin's Creed Unity for PS4 and Xbox One at the budget price of $60. The tip comes from the deals site Dealzon, and the Dell listing says you get:
- 2 Bonus In-Game Missions
- 16 Inch Arno Figurine
- Official Soundtrack
- Music Box
You can read more about the Collector's Edition and other pre-order bonuses here. The edition is currently listed as unavailable on Amazon and GameStop, but Best Buy is still selling the same version for the standard price of $130. So, that's a pretty good discount if you were thinking about picking up a current-gen version of the game and wanted a few fancy extras.
Unity launches November 11 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, alongside Assassin's Creed Rogue for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And we also recently learned about Assassin's Creed: The Americas Collection, which is a bundle coming October 28 that collects Assassin's Creed III, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, and Assassin's Creed III Liberation HD for Xbox 360 and PS3.
Justin Haywald is a senior editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @JustinHaywaldFor all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
As toy franchise lifespans go, Skylanders entering its fourth year is no small feat. Creator and main developer Toys For Bob has managed to avoid stagnation partly due to the series’ ever-evolving roster of new characters. Every year sees a roster twist, whether it’s extra large figures or creatures with swappable halves. Fans now expect that the fall season means something different with each new cast, although Toys For Bob has always added some first year-style “core” characters as well. These are the smaller, basic characters who lack enhancements but are no less useful in the battlefield. This mix of new and old figure styles complements the series' "forwards compatibility" value, where you can use older figures in all future installments.
Skylanders Trap Team’s theme compels kids and adults to dabble in the dark side. Fans got a taste of this last year with the GameStop-exclusive Dark Edition Starter Pack, which was a reskin of five fan-favorite characters: Dark Washbuckler, Dark Blast Zone, Dark Stealth Elf, Dark Spyro and Dark Lockjaw. They were enhanced with dark powers, but they nonetheless still fought for good. With Trap Team, fans now get the opportunity to play as actual Skylanders bosses. That’s where the 16 Trap Masters and their Traptanium crystals come in. The crystals are needed to capture bosses, provided a given villain is elementally aligned with one of the crystals you own. If you defeat the water elemental Cross Crow, you can only capture him if you have a water elemental trap crystal. While that might mean completionists will be spending more money this year, Activision’s packaging plans doesn’t seek to alienate the Skylanders fanbase. You can get different styles for each crystal, but you only need one crystal for each element. So if you manage to complete the foursome of air elementals (Dreamcatcher, Buzzer Beak, Bad Juju, Krankenstein), you only need one air crystal, since you can only use one villain at a time. Activision, given their prerogative to make money, could have forced consumers to buy one crystal for each boss. The current set up makes Trap Team appealing, especially since you can still complete the game using everything in the Trap Team Starter Pack, which includes two starting crystals.
I was recently given the opportunity to engage in a Trap Team mission that pits the Skylanders against a zeppelin. This was a two-phase level that began with an on-rails shooter sequence where you’re thinning out the ship’s exterior defenses. The second half of the mission involved infiltrating the zeppelin itself and the inevitable boss fight. The owner of this zeppelin is Chef Pepper Jack, a living jalapeno who can also be mistaken for a deformed lobster. Transitioning from the outside to the inside of the flying ship is a superb trick in level design, where the interior feels much more expansive than the exterior implies. In between brawls--of which there are many--you’re tasked with typical Skylanders problem solving: puzzles that are hardly brain teasers for teenagers or older. If your progress is blocked by a sturdy wood barrier, there’s a good chance a barrier-breaking cannon is nearby.
In a ship stocked with giant forks, kitchen tools, and Norwegian chefs, I had to ask a Toys For Bob spokesman if most of the game’s art direction is centered on food. He replied that, “Food is just one of many visual themes in a game of many themes.” True, none of the other villains in Trap Team give off a foodie vibe like Chef Pepper Jack. The notable exception is a new core Skylander named Food Fight who happens to be a living artichoke. It is both amusing and disturbing that a walking, sentient artichoke is wielding a gun that fires tomatoes. To draw a mammal analogy, this would be like a human firing a gun that shoots monkeys, or the other way around depending on your fondness for tomatoes over artichokes.
It is both amusing and disturbing that a walking, sentient artichoke is wielding a gun that fires tomatoes.
Toys For Bob’s wild imagination is on full display even beyond Trap Team’s partial food theme. The oversized horns of the Valkyrie-inspired Head Rush Skylander is emblematic of the studio’s talent for abstract character designs. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the plain-looking Bushwhack, who stands out for looking like the most human Skylander in the series’ history. Then there’s Hood Sickle, a villain who is sure to be a fan favorite since he’s the possibly the cutest sickly-wielding executioner you’ve ever seen.
Going back to the Traptanium crystals, one has to ask: Can you replay a previously-beaten area using the boss you’ve just captured to beat the same boss again? Absolutely. Chef Pepper Jack doesn’t blink an eye in having to fight against Chef Pepper Jack. It’s easy to see these playable villains enhance Trap Team’s replay value, especially if they can access previously locked areas. Skylanders has always felt inspired by Pokemon, but with Skylanders Trap Team, it’s as if the pocket monsters finally get to catch other pocket monsters themselves.
[UPDATE] Following the publication of this story, Bungie confirmed that the raid has been completed.September 16, 2014
The original story is below.
The first six-player Raid has gone live Destiny, with expert players in a race to be the first in the world to finish the challenge.
The requirements for playing are high, as those at anything less than level 26 will not be permitted entry. It also requires six players to form a group and join the game together at the same time (there is no matchmaking).
Developer Bungie says the Raid challenge, called Vault of Glass, is "the most elaborate mission ever created by us".
If you won't be Level 26 to start the Raid, you can see who might complete it first (or not at all) on Twitch. http://t.co/Sd9LP6rJ3s— Bungie (@Bungie) September 16, 2014
Numerous Twitch streams have gone live, showing advanced players trying to accomplish the feat. The most watched at the time of writing is StreamerHouse, which can be seen in the video above.
The studio says The Vault Glass "is a mystery as much as it is a challenge--a puzzle and a gauntlet. The race to see who can be first to solve it, with their cunning and their skill, is about to begin."
"Not everyone will qualify," Bungie wrote on its website, "and among those who do, not everyone will succeed."
The studio added: "It’s very likely that you will not finish the Raid in one sitting. Your Fireteam leader is crucial to your eventual potential success. Your progress will be saved for one week. To resume your mission where you left off, you’ll need to follow the same Fireteam leader back into battle."Rob Crossley is GameSpot's UK News Editor - you can follow him on Twitter hereFor all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email email@example.com
Microsoft has announced this week's Deals With Gold sale and, as usual, there's not a ton to be had on Xbox One. However, a handful of quality games are discounted for the next week--provided you're an Xbox Live Gold member.
Xbox One's three deals include only a single game: Valiant Hearts, the World War I puzzle-adventure game, is just $10. The other deals are for a pricey retro costume pack in Killer Instinct and a shortcut kit for Battlefield 4's engineer class (which is to say, you can pay to unlock various upgrades and weapons rather than needing to play to earn them).
Xbox 360 is where the week's best deals are. Valiant Hearts is even cheaper on last-gen hardware at $7.50, while Metro 2033, Eternal Sonata, and Tales of Vesperia can all be had for only $5 each. (If you like 2033, Metro: Last Light is only $10, but keep in mind both of these Metro game are not the HD remakes.) Also of note are the first two Monkey Island games, which are just $2.50 each--a real steal for such seminal adventure games.
You can check out the full list of deals, which run from today through September 22, below.Xbox One:
- Valiant Hearts: The Great War -- $9.99 (regularly $14.99)
- Battlefield 4 Engineer Shortcut Kit -- $4.68 (regularly $6.99)
- Killer Instinct Season 1 Retro Costume Pack -- $15.99 (regularly $31.99)
- Eternal Sonata -- $4.94 (regularly $14.99)
- Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game -- $9.99 (regularly $19.99)
- Metro 2033 -- $4.99 (regularly $19.99)
- Metro: Last Light -- $9.89 (regularly $29.99)
- Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge -- $2.49 (regularly $9.99)
- Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures -- $4.99 (regularly $19.99)
- Soul Calibur II HD Online -- $6.59 (regularly $19.99)
- Tales of Vesperia -- $4.94 (regularly $14.99)
- The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition -- $2.49 (regularly $9.99)
- Valiant Hearts: The Great War -- $7.49 (regularly $14.99)
- Battlefield 4 Engineer Shortcut Kit -- $4.68 (regularly $6.99)
- Disney Universe Neverland level pack -- $0.99 (regularly $4.99)
In a trailer released today, Bioware teased the return of Revan in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Revan originally appeared as the amnesia-ridden protagonist of Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic for the original Xbox. He wouldn't be seen again for some time, with only some brief appearances in the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG for PC, most notably a mid-level Flashpoint (an instance-based, short adventure for four people). This new trailer shines a light on him however, which leads us to believe he will play a major role in the upcoming 3.0 update for the game.
This is only the beginning of what will be the 3.0 content update for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Last week we reported that they would have a full announcement by the end of September, detailing the upcoming expansion.
Damn, you missed the ledge. And the water is much deeper than you thought. FIVE. Must get to the surface. Will you make it out in time? FOUR. There are no air bubbles in sight. Panic sets in. THREE. Bells chime at steady intervals. A melancholic jingle gains pace. TWO. Your palms begin to sweat. A burgeoning sense of dread does battle with the unrelenting undercurrent. ONE. It’s too late. You sense the inevitable. ZERO.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s wide-eyed, outstretched body sinks below the screen, his last gasping breath forming tiny bubbles as his little head tilts back. This one’s on you.
At five years old, this was the first time a video game had made me feel truly responsible for my actions. Here, Sonic’s demise hadn’t come at the hands of a ring-snatching Burrobot, Buzz Bomber, or Orbinaut: it was me; it was my inability to reach the surface of a submerged Labyrinth Zone catacomb against the clock, thus drowning our hero. My actions, or lack thereof, had a direct influence on my game, and I suddenly felt a great responsibility for the blue hedgehog’s well being - one which wasn’t felt quite as strong before.
The medium of video games is "far more powerful" than film in terms of storytelling potential. That's according to Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson, who said this week during the GamesBeat conference in San Francisco that the power of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will allow developers to create richer and deeper characters and narratives.
"We're going to start to see much more believable characters and much more immersive storylines in the games that we make--even in sports games--by virtue of what these boxes can deliver," Wilson said. "And I think you start to see things that would have traditionally only have manifested themselves in film start to manifest in interactive, which is a far more powerful medium to tell a story."
Wilson went on to say that the three "core components" of building an immersive virtual world are: "A world that reacts like you would expect it react; believable characters that emote like you would expect them to emote; and then how you interact with them."
"We're going to start to see much more believable characters and much more immersive storylines in the games that we make" -- Andrew Wilson
Also during the talk, Wilson was asked how virtual reality and augmented reality could affect the way in which gamers become immersed in what they're playing. Wilson said both technologies are "multipliers." For consoles specifically, Sony is working on Project Morpheus for PS4, while Microsoft is tinkering with VR prototypes, and maybe even AR.
Despite his optimism for VR and AR, Wilson cautioned that developers need to be careful about how they approach the uncanny valley--the "creepy" psychological effect that occurs when graphics get too real. Wilson isn't deeply worried about this becoming an issue, however, as it represents yet another area that video games are better-suited to address than film, he argued.
"How we bridge that gap is going to really tell a lot about how creative our industry is," he said. "And I think we are better positioned by virtue of where we've come from to do that better than the film industry has."
What is your reaction to Wilson's comments about video games vs. film? Let us know in the comments below!
Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch
A new update for Borderlands has been released this week which replaces GameSpy with Steamworks. This means you'll now need Steam in order to play it online, and while some will be unhappy with that requirement, it's certainly a preferable solution to not being able to play online at all. That's been the case since May 31, when Glu Mobile shut down GameSpy's servers, rendering certain PC and console games unplayable online.
Anyone with a retail copy of Borderlands can go through a slightly convoluted process for requesting a Steam copy. This involves installing the Borderlands Granting Tool on Steam, which requires that you have the original disc the game came with. In order to get any DLC you've purchased (or gotten from the Game of the Year Edition), you'll need your original activation key. Instructions for how to do all of this can be found on 2K's support website.
Other 2K games are being transitioned off of GameSpy in addition to Borderlands, according to 2K. Civilization IV and its expansions have already been moved to Steamworks, while Civilization III and its expansions are expected to be migrated off of GameSpy. Other games, meanwhile, have been abandoned, such as Stronghold 2 and Top Spin.
2K's games weren't the only ones affected by the GameSpy shutdown; some of Rockstar's games were impacted, as were the PC versions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Star Wars: Battlefront II. Fortunately, in the case of games like the latter two, third-party service GameRanger stepped in to offer a way of continuing to play them online.
Has the GameSpy shutdown prevented you from being able to play any of the games you enjoy online? Let us know in the comments.Chris Pereira is a freelance writer for GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @TheSmokingManXFor all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, Codemasters delivered the "Touring Car Legends" expansion pack for GRID Autosport, the latest installment in the Grid franchise. The pack features two new circuits with multiple routes, new single player championships, and five classic Touring Cars.
Two new circuits, Silverstone and Donington Park are included in the expansion. Vehicles include the 1994 Volvo 850 Estate Touring Car, 1994 Alfa Romeo 155 Touring Car, 1996 Audi A4 Quattro Touring Car, 1991 BMW E30 Touring Car, and 1989 Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth Touring Car.
All tracks are playable in offline and online mode, including three single player championships: the British Championship, International Championship, and Euro Championship.
In the wake of Mojang's sale to Microsoft for $2.5 billion, some have criticized Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson for "selling out." Facepunch Studios founder Garry Newman says he would have done the same thing in that position, and not just because it would mean becoming fabulously rich.
"Once you start hiring people your whole attitude changes," reads a blog post by Newman, who is best known for Rust and Garry's Mod. "You're not just f***ing about with your life anymore.. you're f***ing about with other people's lives--and the lives of their families. You can't just sell out and f*** everyone over."
"... it really isn't in [Microsoft's] favor to pay a s***load of money for it and then completely f*** it up" -- Garry Newman
"Companies like Blitz that go bust, don't pay people what they were owed, let 175 staff go, then started up under another name almost straight away," he continued, referencing last year's closure of Blitz Games Studios. "Those are the guys you don't want to be. I am sure more than the top guys at Mojang became very financially rich due to this deal and that's something that should be admired--not seen as a bad thing."
Were Newman put in the same position as Persson, things wouldn't have gone differently. "Long story short. I'd have done the same thing," Newman said. "The money is enough to very much take care of all the staff. The game is in relatively safe hands. Mojang's legacy is as a huge success story instead of a one-hit wonder. Everyone wins. Can you seriously say you'd have done it differently?"
In addition to the criticism over Persson's decision, some have openly wondered whether Microsoft is poised to now ruin Minecraft. Newman says this is "debatable," making a salient point: "I'm sure Microsoft didn't just buy it because they're struggling desperately to stay relevant and some of their kids play it a lot. But even if they did it really isn't in their favor to pay a s***load of money for it and then completely f*** it up. That wouldn't make any sense."
We don't yet know exactly what Microsoft's plans for Minecraft are, though we do know it doesn't plan on pulling it from competing platforms like iOS and PlayStation.
Yesterday's news that Microsoft was acquiring Mojang sparked a great deal of discussion in the games industry, some of which we've collected for you here. For more, check out GameSpot editor Rob Crossley's thoughts on the deal.Chris Pereira is a freelance writer for GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @TheSmokingManXFor all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email email@example.com
Daily Deals: Xbox One Controller With Free Play and Charge Kit, PS Plus for $40, Save $6 the Master Chief Collection
Update: Sold out!