PC Gamer

Google's VR painting program, Tilt Brush, allows HTC Vive users to create 3D paintings with the system's headset and motion-tracked controllers. Today, Google officially introduced Tilt Brush Toolkit (though it's been around for a few months), an open source library that helps artists work with their Tilt Brush paintings in the Unity game engine.

"The Tilt Brush Toolkit includes Python scripts and a Unity SDK with everything you need to make movies, interactive stories, video games, music videos, or other projects using assets created in Tilt Brush," reads the announcement.

Toolkit is available now on Github, and Tilt Brush itself is $30/£23 on Steam. It'd take more expertise than I have to make anything of value with Tilt Brush and Unity, but I look forward to seeing how experienced hobbyists and developers marry the expressiveness of VR painting with animation and interactivity. Check out a few project examples from Google below:

 

PC Gamer

Ubisoft has a surprise: not only has it just announced Might & Magic: Showdown, which I was able to preview last week, it's also releasing it on Early Access today. Showdown is a 1v1 PvP game set in the in Might & Magic universe, but plays out on a virtual tabletop with digital figurines that can be painted however you like. The level of detail possible with Showdown's virtual painting tools is impressive, but unfortunately they support one of the dullest PvP games I've played in a long time. Watch the video above to see it in action and hear my thoughts, or read on.

The painting tools—which are also being released as a free but limited standalone game—are some of the best I've ever used. There are dozens of unlockable paints, categorized by their sheen and finish, and you can even adjust the opacity to make new colors. Your brush size can get as small as a single pixel wide, and things like shading and highlights are kept on separate painting layers so you can easily add fine details. Or, if you're lazy like me, large sections of a figurine can be painted at once to make the whole process less daunting. It's truly impressive, and I highly recommend you play around with the toolset in the free painter releasing alongside Showdown.

The tragedy of Showdown's painting tools is that the game they are part of doesn't take advantage of the creativity they allow. The game itself has a camera pulled so far back, you can basically only tell how a unit has been painted in its static portrait at the top or in the post-game victory screen. In fact, as shown in the video above, you could pretty much black out the entirety of the action in the center of the screen and still successfully play the game. 

(3v3) Not quite the best showcase of that one pixel brush you fine-tuned your figurines with.

This is because each player brings four units into a battle—there's also 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3, but 4v4 is the primary ranked format—but you only directly control one of them. You select targets and switch between abilities for your Hero character, but the other three are Creature characters, which are AI-controlled based on behavior patterns you "program" into them before a fight. Things like "Attack the lowest health opponent" or "If an opponent is next to two others, use X ability." It's not a bad system on paper, but it's aggressively uninteresting in practice. 

During a match, I was just staring at cooldown indicators and making sure my Hero had the correct target selected while my Creatures did their thing. It's not very engaging at the best of times, and became even worse if either player's Hero was killed early in a fight, leaving their pre-programmed Creatures to helplessly defend the fallen player's honor. If Showdown had a mode that gave you control of all your units, it could be an engaging, challenging PvP game. But, as it stands, it's hard to shake the feeling that mechanical skill was sacrificed for wider accessibility. 

We'll have to see how Might & Magic: Showdown changes over the course of its Early Access life, but currently the painting is the only part of it worth playing. Both the $20 game and the free paint workshop are now available on Steam, and I'd definitely recommend giving the latter a shot—especially if you own a Wacom tablet or similar drawing pad. I imagine some cool (and wildly inappropriate) paint jobs will start popping up, it's just a shame the game they'll be used in isn't more interesting. 

PC Gamer

The word 'mod' undersells The Long War 2. 'Mod' implies an aesthetic tweak, a UI correction, a new weapon perhaps. In fact this is XCOM 2 as developed in a parallel universe. The Long War 2 does add lots of new weapons, classes and skills, but all these service a set of bespoke design aims that turn XCOM 2 from a survival strategy game into a gradually paced army and territory management sim with expanded combat encounters.

For players that have mastered XCOM 2's story and power arcs, or now find them predictable, Long War 2 is an essential download. The mod forces you to break out of your habits and re-engage with the game again at the most basic level. Even soldiers are valued differently. You can field up to ten in a mission, and you start with a large roster. Consequently, losing agents isn't the body blow it can be in trad XCOM, and you have more room to experiment with ability and weapon combinations across your force.

Your whole stance as resistance commander feels different to ordinary XCOM 2, which forces you into a reactive position with must-fight emergency missions. In The Long War 2 missions are more like leads that you can choose to spend time and resources to follow up. Ordinary missions are precluded by an infiltration period that asks you to devote a squad to a location for a variable number of days. If they achieve a high degree of infiltration (represented by a percentage marker that ticks upwards with each day), they face weaker forces in that mission.

This introduces some new opportunities to XCOM 2. Firstly, you can take a pass on missions. Second: it's entirely viable, and often useful, to send an under-strength squad to a mission, because smaller squads can infiltrate more quickly and effectively. This creates an interesting separation within your roster, between large teams of newbies and small teams of highly-levelled, well-equipped crack special forces operatives. Moving between sub-squads introduces more variety to combat encounters as well. In XCOM 2 you're likely to develop a small team of very precious warriors. In the Long War you nurture a broad, diverse stable over a longer period.

Even if you decide to deploy a small squad, combat encounters tend to be busier. Enemy reinforcements can drop in while you're waiting for extraction. If a mission is going badly and you choose to extract, you have to wait longer for your ship to arrive, and thus fend off more enemies. There are new enemy varieties too, such as colour-coded versions of ordinary advent soldiers with different loadouts and behaviours. These expanded firefights have an interesting effect on the way chance operates. By growing the number of chance rolls the game makes, the effects of variance are reduced over time. You will still see massive swings of good and bad luck of course, but the length of the campaign and the reduced value of soldiers softens XCOM 2's harshest elements. The extra bit of ablative armour that recruits wear also helps.

The extra soldiers and the glut of missions gives you more room to enjoy the new classes. The sword-wielding Shinobi shares some similarity to the assault class, but with a much greater emphasis on stealth and ambush tactics. At high levels, with the right skills, Shinobi can break stealth, attack multiple enemies and re-enter concealment, or mitigate damage with buffed evasion rolls (dodging an attack means you take a small amount of 'graze' damage, far preferable to the full-whack when fighting mid-tier enemies upwards). They are supported by knives and swords, and benefit from the new SMG weapons, which let you sacrifice mid-range accuracy for speed. There's also a new Technical class, members of which wields a wrist-mounted flame-thrower/rocket launcher secondary combo weapon, which is as amazing as it sounds.

There are plenty of new mission types for these new soldiers to tackle, including prison break-outs and enemy base assaults. The rewards for these missions have been redesigned to affect the heavily reworked map layer. You still fly the Avenger around the globe to camp on spots and suck up resources or activate missions, but The Long War 2 introduces an additional layer of territory management. Once you've made contact with the resistance in an area you can assign resistance members based there to different jobs that generate supply and intel. You can assign engineers and scientists to regions to supply additional boosts. Resistance members can also fend off alien influence in an area, and Advent moves troops around on the map in an effort to install new alien bases and move the Avatar project forward.

The changes bring a dose of 4X strategy to XCOM 2. This slows the pace considerably—this is the Long War, after all. This dilutes the impact and drama of an XCOM 2 campaign to an extent. The way the core game gives you a narrow stream of high-stakes decisions is one of the reasons I loved it so much when I reviewed it last year. However I've found it fascinating to see how XCOM's core mechanics work in this new context. The Long War 2 is a thoughtful and effective reworking of the XCOM 2 formula, and the new weapon, class and mission additions are slick and well-integrated—they could have come from Firaxis.

Speaking of Firaxis, it's great to see studios work with modders, particularly in instances where the mod team wants to substantially rework the studio's original vision. The result is a neat Earth-B take on the concept that unlocks hundreds of hours of extra playtime. The Long War 2 is out now, and it's free.

PC Gamer

Duelyst found its roots in tactics games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics, so singleplayer content has always been one of my biggest hopes for the free-to-play card game. Now that dream is coming true, as developer Counterplay Games announced today that Duelyst will be getting singleplayer boss battles.

In its 1.79 patch notes, Counterplay said it would be "testing out" the first two bosses over the next few weeks. Each one will be a limited time event—a week long each to start—during which period an AI-controlled boss will be available to fight. Each will have "a unique deck and starting board state," and defeating them will earn you a Spirit Orb (card pack) and a new Boss Crate. The Boss Crates are part of Duelyst's optional crate and key system, and can be opened for $5 within 48 hours of earning them for the following goodies:

  • A Common Chest Key (usually $2)
  • A Gauntlet Ticket (usually 150 gold, or $1.50)
  • Three Shim'zar Spirit Orbs (usually 300 gold, or $6 for four)
  • A random Legendary card

While the first boss won't be available until next Monday, the 1.79 patch is expected to arrive tomorrow and will bring other changes as well. Most notably, the Daily Challenges—single-turn 'lethal puzzles' that would earn you 5 gold and refresh every day—are being put "on a break" as Counterplay looks to "regroup and explore a better vehicle to deliver challenges." Instead of the 5 gold, you'll be able to login each day and get a free random common card. 

Additionally, Counterplay announced it will no longer be adding four new cards each month. While the constant trickle of cards did a nice job of keeping the meta on its toes, the main reasons for this change were an over-inflating Core set and pool of neutral cards, as well as Counterplay's desire to make cards that "make sense as part of a cohesive expansion theme." You'll still earn cards at the end of each season depending on the rank you've achieved, but they won't be new to the game. 

Finally, Counterplay gave a sneak peak at an upcoming mode called Continuous Draft. In it, you start with a basic deck which you upgrade by 'leveling-up' and adding new cards. One of the biggest appeals of this new mode, however, is that you'll be able to add cards of any faction to your deck, the first time this has been possible in Duelyst. It should be an exciting alternative to the current modes in the game, and will surely be full of OP combos not yet discovered.

You can read the full 1.79 patch notes here, and download Duelyst here

PC Gamer

While League of Legends has evolved over the years, one thing has remained relatively steady: the picks and bans system. Sure, the champions that get picked change from season to season, but the structure itself has remained familiar.

Each team trades off three bans, for a total of six, and then they take turns building their team, one pick at a time. It’s a simple and efficient system... that’s about to go out the window. Six bans, when there’s a total of 134 champions, has started to look a little inefficient. Riot Games have added more bans, and overhauled the entire draft system while they’re at it. As we head into Spring, teams are going to have to contend with a whole new pick/ban process.

Breaking down the basics

Riot have published a piece that sum up the basics of the piece and how it’ll work. Essentially, there’s still the initial ban system of three bans from each team. After the first pick phase, there’s a second ban phase, which allows four more alternating bans, and then a second pick phase.

Adding more room for teams to maneuver and outplay each other is exciting for viewers

This has huge implications for competitive play and adds a new depth of strategy to picks and bans. This stage has always been an important part of pro play, with teams managing to get advantages by banning out an opponent’s niche picks or building a careful composition. Fans may remember the “protect the Kog” comp of yore, where a Kog would be protected by four utility picks, and ultimately burn through the late game. Teams would carefully weigh the merits of banning Kog over a less niche pick, or grabbing away a key support that would enable the little void puppy to be such a monster.

While the meta has evolved, the same level of careful decision and weighing choices makes this phase a fascinating thing to watch. Adding more room for teams to maneuver and outplay each other is exciting for viewers, and rewards teams who have done their research and prepared for the meta.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Champion pools and pro picks

There’s one problem with the new system: one-trick ponies are in dire peril now. Consider a player like Counter Logic Gaming’s Huhi or Liquid’s Lourlo are known for being comfortable on a small pool of champions. Lourlo mostly played Gnar and Nautilus. Imagine if, especially in the current Split of top-tier Korean champions, they focused on knocking him off those comfort picks. Is that a weakness in a team being fairly exposed, or is it a system that allows one player to get cut off on the knees?Huhi may be an even more relevant example of this; the mid laner popped off at Worlds on Aurelion Sol, tearing through the ROX Tigers in an incredible upset that was carried almost entirely on the space dragon’s shoulders. Huhi finished 11/1/6, and was awarded player of the game, but he was never quite able to replicate that success. Other teams banned Aurelion Sol away, forcing him to fall on less comfortable picks, and the story ends with CLG falling out of groups entirely.

Huhi has continually been considered a weak link in CLG’s lineup. What happens if he can be banned out entirely? Five bans allows a team to relentlessly target a team—or force them to pick up their mid lane pick in the first stage, showing their hand and allowing a counter. As the Spring Split kicks off, we’ll see how teams adapt to this, and whether it’ll force certain players out of the game entirely.

Opening up diversity 

Earlier, I discussed about how certain compositions are somewhat risky, but allow for an extremely honed strategy in game. 10 bans and multiple pick phases adds to the strategy surrounding these comps, allowing teams to cut off strategies in the middle of a draft. If one team has half a poke comp encountered, they can ban out a Braum or Camille to ensure that their draft stays intact. Or their opponents can take away the remaining champions on the board and force them to fill the remainder of their team with picks that don’t synergize with that purpose.

Teams are investing in coaching infrastructure more than ever, and we’re going to see that pay off on the LCS stage. Organizations that can adapt on the fly will survive, and we may see more champion diversity as a result. One thing that Dota 2 has over League is the wide range of heroes selected—nearly all of them see play during tournaments. League, by contrast, has a small pool of elite picks for each role.

The most important person on the stage might end up being the coach who s calling the shots during picks and bans

Five bans may allow teams to clear the board of those elite tier champs altogether. The response will have to be picking up new champions to make up for the void filled by permabanned favorites. If the usual crowd of CC heavy tanks are banned out, will Leona suddenly show up? If you ban out Poppy, will Sion make a resurgence? Will we see lower tier ADCs like Kalista hop back into the meta if you’re able to eliminate the A-tier regulars?

The 10 ban system is an experiment, and as such, it won’t be rolled out to all tiers of play. Us regular folk are going to have to watch and see how it unfolds in the LCS. While there are risks to the system, especially in how it allows one player to get targeted, there are reasonable counter balances in place. The break in bans and picks mean that it’s not overly punishing, and it can be argued that this system effectively forces players to step up.

The LCS will be starting on the coming weekend, 10 bans and all. It’s a new year, with new rosters and faces. While it’s super exciting to see Korean legends coming to NA or a new Fnatic, the most important person on the stage might end up being the coach who’s calling the shots during picks and bans.

PC Gamer

When Chris got to grips with Xaviant's Early Access-dwelling first-person shooter-cum-slasher The Culling last year, he described it as "sloppy but fun"—noting that while the action was often tense and relentless, there were also stretches of quiet as players were killed off and battles thinned out. The game's latest update—named The Big House—looks to flesh out some of these issues by virtue of a new map, more ways to play, and "tons of other changes". 

The Cul County Correctional facility marks The Culling's new zone—a prison yard arena filled with multi-levelled plains, vantage points and hidey-holes; while new weapons take the form of Yaris, Pitchforks, Pikes, Steel Punji Sticks, Steel Caltrops, and Survival Axes. New events include the Golden Crowbar, Shake & Bake, Drop Your Bridges, and a Lightning Round - which includes solo and team-play. Full details on the minutiae of all of that can be found this way

And here's some of it motion: 

The Big House update brings with it an extensive list of changes, adjustments and bug fixes to The Culling and, although still living in Early Access, marks its shift from alpha phase to beta. A player XP system is also now in place, so too is player levelling. 

"Although we’ve addressed many known issues, this build is not an exit from Early Access. Instead, it represents our transition from Alpha to Beta. This is an exciting milestone that ushers in a new era of The Culling," says the developer in an update post. "At the same time, it doesn’t mean we’re quite out of the woods, or the tropical island—see what we did there?—just yet. There’s still plenty of bug fixing, optimizing, and polishing to do."

As a result of the update, The Culling's servers will be down today, Wednesday 18, from 8am ET/1pm GMT for up to four hours.

PC Gamer

First Pokémon, now Monster Hunter. Modders continue their noble work to combine every game with every other game, as showcased by the efforts of garuga123, whose Monster Ark: Hunting Evolved allows you to play Ark alongside some of Monster Hunter's most iconic beasts including the Rathalos, Deviljho, Barioth, and more.

It's surprisingly fleshed out. Originally I figured garuga123 had simply reskinned some of Ark's dinos to look like dragons, but they've actually imported the animations as well. Any Monster Hunter fan will tell you that these creatures' personalities are defined more by how they move than how they look, so being able to run around with a Rathalos and have it act like it does in a proper Monster Hunter game is fantastic. An interesting twist is that you can't actually ride any of these creatures but control them directly. The original intent of the mod was to roleplay as them—which I never realized was a thing that people wanted to do.

Along with the animations, each monster also has access to a few of their signature abilities. As a Rathalos, you can shoot fireballs from the sky. Uragaans can form up into a ball and roll around the island, and the Lagiacrus can charge up a blast of lightning and devastate anything nearby. If you bump into a wild Qurupeco, it'll even mimic the call of other animals so that they come to its aid—just like the bastard does in Monster Hunter. 

Aside from some problems with clipping into the environment the only drawback is that the mod will take some effort to get working fully. Right now the only way to encounter these beasts is to spawn them in using the console commands listed in the Steam Workshop description. That's a bit disappointing if your goal is to, well, hunt for one in the wild. Fortunately, players have conjured up some code you can easily paste into a game file which should cause the creatures to begin spawning naturally in any of Ark's maps. Instructions on how to do that can be found here.

If you want to play multiplayer but don't have the patience to set up a server, this one uses it. There's even more listed in the discussion forums if that one doesn't work. Consider joining the Discord chat server so that you can give any feedback or find others to roleplay that love story between a lonely Rathalos and Rathian you've had in your head for so long. 

PC Gamer

There aren't a lot of space games that let you fly a giant cat outfitted with thrusters and lasers into a dogfight, but that's exactly what Galactic Junk League has sold itself on. Launching on Steam Early Access today, Galactic Junk League is a free-to-play space game where you assemble blocky ships in Minecraft/Space Engineers fashion, then take them into a PvP arena.

While flying a space cat is sure to be aesthetically appealing, it may also have tactical disadvantages. Ships take structural damage depending on where you shoot them, and whole chunks can be broken off by carving through its supporting structure with your lasers. That means you'll have to be careful while designing your cosmic pirate ship, making sure you spread out weapons, engines, and special blocks that grant abilities like speed boosts so they aren't all blown up at once. 

Galactic Junk League has fairly simple flight controls, leaning heavily toward the arcade side of space games instead of the sim side. It feels like it might be targeted towards a younger audience (if the Minecraft influence wasn't enough of a giveaway in that regard) but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You move and turn with WASD, go up and down with Space and CTRL, and aim with the mouse. The physics of space flight aren't really simulated, but it does make the game easy to pick up fast. 

The free-to-play aspects of Galactic Junk League seem to be the standard fare. You can spend real money to buy boosts that double the XP and Scrap (in-game currency) you get, similar to League of Legends or pretty much any other F2P game. New weapons and attachments are locked behind account leveling, so I imagine you'll have to play a bit to get the good stuff. Paying for boosts will certainly help with that, but there doesn't seem to be any way to outright buy power. Certain skins and decorative blocks are also locked behind real money, but not all of them.

You can download Galactic Junk League from its Steam page here, which doesn't specify how long it will stay in Early Access for as more content is added. Now it's only a matter of time until every match is filled with giant metal space dicks. 

PC Gamer

With Hitman: The Complete First Season, the disc-based release of IO Interactive's successfully-rejuvenated stealth/assassination/goat rodeo game, now just two weeks away, the studio has released a new "Hitman 101" gameplay trailer examining some of the many ways you can get your dirty work done—and how easily it can all go a bit wrong. 

What I like most about this trailer is the way it immediately acknowledges how Agent 47, especially in the hands of a newbie, isn't especially good at his job. He's dangerous as hell, but more in the way of an out-of-control Greyhound bus than a deadly ninja hiding in the shadows: It gets the job done, but it's not exactly professional, and certainly not worthy of an intimidating, bar-coded man dressed in a fine suit.   

Of course, it's not a start-to-finish gong show, and 47 does demonstrate some elegance in the trailer, such as when he snipes a man through the telescope he's looking into. As a player, I'm sure that sort of skilled kill is much more satisfying than, say, setting up a toilet-bomb and hoping the right person sits on it. But as a spectator, I'm all about the shenanigans, and the uglier, the better. 

Hitman: The Compete First Season will come with everything released during the game's episodic first season including new content and updates, plus three bonus missions, the original soundtrack, a "making of" documentary, and the Requiem: Blood Money Pack. First season elusive targets won't be accessible (they have eluded you), but a new batch are on the way for season two, so you can try your luck with them instead. It will be out on January 31. 

PC Gamer

A patch seven months in the making, free-to-play action RPG Marvel Heroes is getting its "biggest update ever" this Thursday, January 19th. First announced last September, the update will overhaul all 59 heroes, as well as tweak its items, replace the current endgame progression system, and introduce a new difficulty slider that lets you increase difficulty for increased reward.

The core of the update is really the changes being made to Marvel Heroes's entire roster of characters all at once. Every hero in the game is being touched in one way or another—some simply being moved over to the new talent tree system (which, in itself, will add ways to modify each hero's abilities) while others might be getting more major revisions to their kit. Developer Gazillion is also using this as an opportunity to revamp older characters with some of the tech they've developed for newer ones, which makes sense as the game nears its fourth birthday.

Gazillion game designer Brian Waggoner told me another one of the main drives behind the hero changes was about removing "false choice," or the illusion that you have options in how to level-up your character when really there's an optimal route that would be a mistake not to use. The new talent system is more about giving each hero different playstyle options, rather than transparent power spikes. 

The game's previous endgame progression, the Omega System, is being scrapped entirely and replaced with the Infinity System, the goal of which is to create a more streamlined, easier to understand way to progress. The Omega System had roughly 170 different upgrade options you could put points into, while the Infinity System has just 30. Once you hit level 60 with any hero you start gathering Infinity Points, which can then be used to improve the stats of specific heroes. Players who still have Omega Points from the old system will see them converted to the new one when it switches over later this week.

Waggoner said Gazillion generally prides itself on very frequent updates, but felt it was important to get all of these changes done at once. Gazillion slowed its usual updates for the last seven months to work on this patch and during that time built new heroes with the changes in mind, so Thursday has been a long time coming for fans of the game. 

Marvel Heroes is available to download free.

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