PC Gamer

Word of J.J. Abrams-led Portal and Half-Life movies first surfaced three years ago when the esteemed film director and Valve's Gabe Newell floated the idea at the DICE 2013 summit in Las Vegas. In March of this year, Abrams confirmed both films' existence "they're in development", he said however information has been thin on the ground since. When pressed by IGN at Wednesday's Westworld red carpet event, Abrahams confirmed he's meeting with Valve next week.

"We have a meeting coming up next week with Valve, we re very active, I m hoping that there will be a Portal announcement fairly soon," Abrams told IGN. "We are having some really interesting discussions with writers, many of whom...once you said you re doing a movie or show about a specific thing that is a known quantity you start to find people who are rabid about these things."

Which is pretty reassuring, given the fact Newell has spoken before about the poor quality of pitches he's received from Hollywood production companies over the years some of which were "brutally, the worse", as a result of "not understanding what made the game good."

Abrams continued: "As someone who loves playing Half Life and Portal, what s the movie of this, it s incredible when you talk to someone who just gets it, it s like, oh my god, it s really the seed for this incredible tree you re growing.

"I look forward to being able to talk about it and announce who's working on it."

As do I. Now, which Hollywood actors would best suit these roles, I wonder?

PC Gamer
Need to know

What is it? The fifth Hitman level, this one set on a farm full of bastards.Reviewed On Windows 10, i5-6600k, 16GB Ram, GTX 970Price $10/ 7Release Date Out nowPublisher IO InteractiveDeveloper Square-EnixMultiplayer NoLink Official Website

The trouble with reviewing each individual Hitman level and I'm definitely not saying this entire endeavour has been a waste of time is that so much of what makes Hitman good happens in its systems. The levels are important, particularly in regards to the guard placement, disguise flow and creative opportunities. But all, so far, have been variations on the same theme. That it works is because, at its core, Hitman's stealth and AI manipulation systems are satisfying.

Episode 5's new level departs from the template set over the past four episodes. And yet, this is still a competently constructed space in which to cleanly and creatively kill some people. It's good, because, like past episodes, it's attached to a good game.

What makes this new mission, Freedom Fighters, different, is that 47 is operating in hostile territory. Previous episodes, much like Blood Money before them, feature an area of public space to explore, giving the player chance to watch, learn and plan. Here, 47 is infiltrating a Colorado farm occupied by a patchwork militia of hackers, explosive experts and assassins. If you're spotted, you're in trouble. In that sense, Episode 5 features a style of challenge reminiscent of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin.

The shift places a bigger emphasis on sneaking, at least up to the point of securing your disguise. Still, while Colorado eventually morphs into a more familiar style, the change in atmosphere keeps things feeling fresh. We've infiltrated a lot of mansions in Hitman up to now. It's nice to try something a bit different.

Episode 5 features a style of challenge reminiscent of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin.

This episode also brings stronger ties to the overarching story that, up until now, has been told almost exclusively in the cutscenes that play after each mission. It's still just a small part of the level, but, ultimately, that's all it can be. Because of Hitman's release model, each mission must stand alone to preserve its replayability over the life of an episode.

The farm is broken up into distinct sections, some with specific restrictions on who is allowed inside. A basic grunt can't enter the patch of land used for creating and testing explosives, and the main house is off limits to all but the elite guards. Freedom Fighters features four targets, each doing their own thing in a separate part of the compound. The structure creates lots of small-scale stealth challenges, reinforcing the hostile theme.

Normally, I prefer the more open, public levels. But Hitman needed to mix up its formula, and Colorado does the job. In terms of murder methods, it's a little less interesting than previous episodes only a few Opportunities exist spread over all four targets. But there's plenty to try, and the layout of the farm, and the nature of its restrictions, opens up the possibility for a satisfying series of contracts, escalations and elusive targets.

Colorado isn't the most visually appealing or intricate level in Hitman. But it provides some much needed variety a change of scenery and challenge that rounds out the Hitman experience. It feels as if IO has spent most of this season demonstrating that it can still get Hitman right. It's nice to see they're now confident enough to move away from the template they've created.

PC Gamer

The brilliantly weird, and largely unintuitive, Tribes: Ascend has endured a chequered past. It s on-off-on again legacy mirrors that of an afternoon soap opera romance having been brought back from the edge of extinction in late December last year via its first update in two years however its latest update, named Parting Gifts, marks its curtain call.

We caught up with developer Hi-Rez following last year s rejuvenating patch 1.1, where the studio told us its mismanagement of Tribes: Ascend was like death by a thousand cuts . The latest appropriately-named update brings the game to version 1.4 and signals the end of the line.

Full patch notes which include tweaks to gameplay, equipment and vehicles, among other things can be located over here, and a pretty comprehensive weapons statistics spreadsheet can be perused this way.

In conversation with Chris at the start of this year, Tribes creative director Sean McBride who was a member of the original team that pushed for Hi-Rez to acquire the license in the first place spoke of how relaunching in 2015 was more about steadying the ship, not necessarily about turning profit.

We all know that player counts are not going to be super high, he said about the game s diminished community The intention is to at least stretch it out over a longer tail, so, if we do need to leave it, we ll have a planned date, so we can make sure everything s in order. We didn t do that last time. It was like we all need to go onto Smite, right now.

Over on Reddit, it seems the community, what s left of it, is already making peace with the fact Tribes: Ascend is no more. One user, Regginator12 , sums up his or her feeling thusly: This game was so good while it lasted, such a wasted opportunity, I ve never seen such a high speed FPS since with huge maps and no hitscan. RIP.

PC Gamer

For reasons I will never fully understand, it took roughly four months for Doom, the game that pioneered deathmatch combat in its original iteration, to get its own deathmatch multiplayer mode. And it took even longer than that for the new soundtrack to be released. But it has very quietly slipped out, and you can listen to it for free right here.

What's really unusual about this is that the release of the soundtrack wasn't announced by Bethesda, or id, or on the Doom website, Facebook page, or Twitter account. The only word of it as far as I've seen came from soundtrack composer and producer Mick Gordon, who posted the second track, Rip & Tear, on Twitter, and shared the rest of it on his YouTube channel.

There are 31 tracks in all, threading through hard rock, synth rock, some up-and-down ambient and more: It's all quite reminiscent of the original Doom soundtrack, alternating between bang-your-head and creep-you-out, and very much listenable entirely on its own. Rip & Tear is probably the most obvious stand-in for E1M1, but I think Rust, Dust & Guts is more representative of the soundtrack as a whole.

The Doom soundtrack is available from iTunes for $10 or Google Play for 50 cents more than that, and if you want to try before you buy, Spotify has you covered.

PC Gamer

I remember the first time I played Dota 2 also the first time I'd played a MOBA having just come off a years-long MMO PVP habit. Only, four abilities? I thought, thinking of screen-spanning hotbars packed with powers and items. This is easy.

It wasn't.

Four years later I no longer play MMOs and Dota 2 is a regular part of my life. I've become much more sensitive to the complexity that can be packed away in a few active powers, able to appreciate the complicated dance of decisions that makes the difference between a fight won and a fight lost. There's drama in cooldown timers, plays and counterplays.

Battlerite is all about that drama. It's a spiritual successor to Bloodline Champions, but if you didn't play that game (and I didn't) then it's best understood as MMO arena combat executed with a good MOBA's design finesse, a kinetic game of careful ability management within an elimination framework. The last team standing wins the round, and the winner of three rounds takes the match.

It's such a simple idea, and I came to it expecting a stripped-back version of Dota: a sort of 'just add water' teamfight solution, something I could dip into when I didn't want to worry about map strategy but that probably wouldn't hold my attention for very long.

Wrong again. Battlerite is an extraordinarily well-designed game, and digging into each of its heroes reveals a skill ceiling that I can just barely glimpse from my position down here in the trenches. Where once I looked at a MOBA's compressed action bar and thought 'easy', now I'm looking at six abilities and their EX variants plus bespoke conditional effects and seeing the long road to mastery stretch out in front of me.

It's much more than I bargained for. More than just a pocket-sized teamfight generator, Battlerite reliably hits a sweet spot that you only encounter every now and then in other games, where players on both teams have just enough levels and items to allow for meaningful play and counterplay.

Combos mean something very different in a isometric game of action bar combat, but the essence, the visibility of talent, is there.

If I had to explain it to a Dota player, I'd put it this way: you know those moments when you're under attack, but you know that there's a chance to outplay your opponent if you do everything right? That you can lose them in the trees just so, manipulate line of sight just so, nail that one skillshot, buy yourself time to get that one crucial ability off cooldown? That's Battlerite pretty much all of the time, and it's awesome.

Yet Dota is only a useful comparison up to a point. This isn't really a strategy game, crucially, and every player earns power at the same rate. The other game I'm reminded of is, strangely, Street Fighter. That's down to the skill cap there's something about watching a player who really understands a particular character that reminds me of people who have complete mastery over their fighting game main. Combos mean something very different in a isometric game of action bar combat, but the essence, the visibility of talent, is there.

I'd thoroughly recommend it to anybody who enjoys this kind of combat in other contexts, whether your regular poison is Dota 2 or Smite or League of Legends. It's even, arguably, a good way to introduce this passion to your friends who've never 'got' it: rounds are short and exciting, and if you avoid using the 'M' word then you could probably convince a MOBA-averse gaming pal that they're actually playing an isometric action game.

The only downside I've encountered so far is (as ever) the in-game community: there's a reason that Battlerite's chat function is disabled by default. I recommend leaving it that way. This is a good game, but it's not good enough to fix people.

Battlerite is a very pleasant surprise: a quality early access game at a bargain price point that meaningfully fits into one of the most hotly contested design spaces in online gaming. I'm struck by how much the developers have got right, particularly for a first release. It could be light on characters and environments but it isnt, offering plenty of heroes to try out of the gate and an impressive array of arenas each with their own character.

After a week of Fractured Space and fresh off a Duelyst kick, Battlerite confirms the importance of independent studios in what was previously a part of gaming dominated by the big dogs. We're entering a golden age of lightweight, well-designed online competitive games and, if you've been buried in the same handful of genre-leaders for the last couple of years, it's time to start exploring.

PC Gamer

Something always goes wrong when you launch a game, says Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke. You wouldn t know it by looking at Divinity: Original Sin 2 s Steam page a week after it launched in Early Access, where it s sitting at 96 percent positive reviews. But something did go wrong when Larian released Original Sin 2 on September 15: they all forgot to press the launch button.

For some reason we forgot to push the button, literally, Vincke said, laughing over Skype. That s no joke. In the past you had to ask Steam to release it and they d release it for you at the appointed time. Now they have a system where you put in the date and time, and so we thought it would just release automatically. But apparently you have to still type in that you want to release. So we were waiting there, together with everybody, waiting for it to release, and nothing was happening. We felt really stupid. [laughs] Goes to show, you should always read the fucking manual!

Still, things were looking good after that minor setback better than expected, according to Vincke, with hundreds of positive reviews coming in alongside lots of player feedback. From the point of view of a game developer you can t wish for better, actually, when going to Early Access, he said.

Larian is no stranger to Early Access. A lengthy beta period was crucial to the first Divinity: Original Sin s success, even though working on the game for so long nearly led Larian to bankruptcy. But the gamble paid off big, and Vincke attributes much of that success to the feedback they got from Original Sin s Early Access players. Now that Larian is starting that process all over again, I wanted to know how the players would help them shape Original Sin 2.

Below we talk about balance changes, VO plans, the most surprising feedback, and more.

How Larian collects feedback

PC Gamer: Let s start with things that you already had in mind that might need to change, and the feedback that s influencing you in one direction or another.

Swen Vincke: There s two parts to the question: What feedback are we looking at, and what do we do with it?

We obviously have the channels like forums and Twitter that we re reading. Everybody s reading a lot of it. We re filtering things that we think are useful out of that. On one side that s bug reports. Things are going wrong, there s so much you can do in the game. On the other side there s opinions and suggestions. Lots of good suggestions. Those go in a database and we go through it and say, that makes sense, that s actually better than we were planning.

At the same time we re also doing qualitative analysis. We have a little tool that s shipping with the game, so people that want to can send data back to us. The data contains, Where did you go in the game, what skills did you pick, what tags did you select, which dialogue options did you do? So it gives us more analytical data about what people are doing in the game away from the subjectivity of an opinion. That is dominantly being used for balancing, so we can see that if nobody s managing a certain fight, then we probably overdid it on that fight. But also, if nobody is using a certain skill, it means we probably should do something about that skill.

Tweaking game balance

Are there any specific changes to the combat system that you already have in mind to balance from the data you ve collected so far?

Vincke: I m actually waiting for the full [qualitative analysis] report, so I m very curious. From what I ve seen in the customer reviews, I think it s already pretty on point. We get a lot of people complaining that it s too hard, so that s a good thing. [Laughs] Some fights are too hard, I know. The thing that s still going to evolve tremendously over the next couple of months is the AI. We have a lot of plans for improving the AI, so that ll be interesting to see, how that s going to affect what people think of combat, if it s too hard or too easy.

We want to make it challenging, so we changed systems so that it would stay challenging throughout the entire game, something we didn t really succeed with [in Divinity: Original Sin]. This is actually one of our big ambitions. So that once you think you ve mastered it, something new kicks in and you think, Shit, now what am I going to do? So if you have that sentiment continuously, you ll have that sense of character growth going on continuously, so that s really a big ambition of Original Sin 2. We re going to be experimenting with tweaks and doing things, but overall, from what I m seeing so far, it looks like it s being picked up and enjoyable for players. But I haven t seen the data, so everyone could be rage quitting after two hours, you never know.

This is the hard part with analyzing Early Access data. A lot of people are forcing themselves to quit after two hours because they don t to spoil themselves for the full game. But I think we have sufficient people finishing it to at least be able to draw our first conclusions.

Vincke expected the new magic and physical armor system to be unanimously popular, but a few players have complained.

Choosing who to listen to

How do you balance the minority voice against the majority of responses?

Vincke: It s not a democracy. There s still direction going on. In this particular case, I m the director of the game. I will do as I feel makes the most sense. Obviously I ll let my choices be influenced by seeing people having fun, which is a thing that interests me. Even if I may agree with a one percent opinion, I m not necessarily going to change it if I think it will change other things or be wrong for the production. You can t ever have everything perfect in one game, so you ll just take something to the next game.

Sometimes you do read posts of people that are going against the majority, but are actually right, and if you did it the game would be better, but you just can t do it anymore. You know as a game developer that if you do that, even if 98 percent say no, it s a bad idea, once they see it they would say oh my god, this is a really good idea. That s how innovation happens.

Another rule you have when dealing with feedback from players: if they re making a lot of noise about a certain thing, they re not necessarily going to offer you the right solution to it. It might be a symptom of something else that is wrong, potentially in a completely other system, and they don t see what the connection is. If you start trying to test every single idea against what the audience is thinking, you re not going to make anything anymore. That s why choice has to be made.

Changes throughout Early Access

Are you going to be adding whole acts eventually over time until you hit the final game, or is Divinity: Original Sin 2 in Early Access a testbed, and you ll drop the full game when it s done?

Vincke: We re going to be adding in features for sure. Extra skill trees are going to be added in. The super-secret Game Master mode is going to hit in Early Access also. That s a very new thing, so we need to do a lot of testing with it. We re really trying things there. But content-wise, we re going to keep it on act one. I m pretty sure we ll add some things on top of act one. There s this tutorial opening section that s missing right now, just before you arrive on the island. We don t want to spoil it too much for people that are participating in Early Access, so we want to give them sufficient content the large majority of content, actually on release.

Sometimes you read posts that are going against the majority, but are actually right, and if you did it the game would be better, but you just can t do it anymore.

Swen Vincke

We have people that are going to be participating in closed betas also for the latter parts, so what you re going to be seeing is Game Master mode, new skill trees, lots of extra permutations on systems, probably some surprises that I don t even know myself yet. New things that we re trying in the arena mode also, because that seems to be picking up quite well. We ll see what we do with that. That will probably take us close to release.

What you re going to be seeing in the foreseeable future is permutations on the character system we have. We re not afraid we did that in Original Sin 1 also, by putting system A in one week and system B in the next week, and see what works best for players that s how we ll try to converge to a better system than what we ve concocted while we were working in isolation. This is the cool part about Early Access, you can do these kinds of things. It takes some effort, but it s rewarding for the players that are not participating in Early Access, or just try it out a little bit and will be playing it later, they ll get a lot of benefit from this phase of experimentation.

A/B testing systems

You mentioned putting in one version of a system, see how it works, then swap it out for something else. Can you talk more about that?

Vincke: There are a couple stats and abilities we re experimenting with. Memory is a very big experiment. We re getting lots of opinions on Memory, so you ll probably see Memory in different forms inside the game, to see what works better. The same with how skill abilities affect the skills, there s going to be things we change there. When we did the original game, if we didn t change it 20 times, I don t know. We changed it a lot as we were experimenting.

But it s good, because there s players out there that play so many games, and the feedback you get from them is sometimes really good ideas. We gave them a couple new mechanics, so they re fooling around with that now, they re starting to learn them, form their opinion of them, so based on that feedback we ll see what happens when we put it in there.

The goal is to create more fun. It can be something as stupid as increasing the drop rate of treasure by 1 percent or decreasing it, even.

There s no objective quantitative measure of fun, but when you do this job for quite some time you can see if players are having more fun or less fun. The goal essentially is to create more fun. It can be something as stupid as increasing the drop rate of treasure by 1 percent or decreasing it, even, that can create more fun. How do you balance loot? It s essentially a bunch of numbers in an Excel file. You see people complaining they re not finding enough, then you give them more and people say the loot is so boring. You just iterate.

There s a fine balance to be found. Even the version that s out there right now, there s two tests going on. One is at the very opening you almost get nothing, so you have to scavenge, and then afterwards you get quite a lot, so we ll see what it does to players.

One real good measure, and this one we can measure objectively, is: do people put points in their stats? The moment that they stop putting points in them, it means they don t need them anymore. That means we have to change something. The moment I stop caring about putting a point in an ability, something s wrong with the balance. I should always be looking forward, I need that point, I need that. The moment people stop bartering, something s wrong, we re giving too much. That we are measuring.

The third-person dialogue is a departure from Original Sin.

The most surprising feedback

What s surprised you, so far? Anything specific you can call to?

Vincke: There were some people that didn t like the physical and magic armor, and that surprised me. I thought it was a major improvement to the game. But they had a particular tactic that they had in the previous game they can t anymore, now. What also surprised me, I thought what we did with the skill abilities made a lot of sense, and that the previous system was very confusing, but a lot of people apparently were very attached to the previous system. I thought that was going to be universally liked, but apparently it s not the case. Goes to show.

There s a lot of VO work being evaluated right now. The success in Early Access, together with the almost universal demand for VO, is definitely making us look at VO in a more extensive way than we originally planned. We always planned to have some of it, but I guess we spoiled them with Enhanced Edition, and didn t realize that spoiling them with Enhanced, now we re bound to do the same stunt with Original Sin 2. We re looking at it. We didn t plan on it, but it s a complicated option.

Here s another bit of surprising feedback, by the way. The third-person [view] that we re using in the dialogues, it fits well with roleplaying and the origin system we re doing. We re getting resistance to that from certain corners. I m interested to see if that is universal resistance or just a couple people who don t like it. When we were running tests and playing it, some people thought it was strange but after five minutes decided they liked it more because there s more expressivity, more stuff you can do in the dialogues. Now when you start talking about voiceovers, life gets really interesting with a system like that. So we ll have to see.

PC Gamer

And so the No Man's Sky saga continues. Beyond the hype, the promises, and the prolonged silence from developer Hello Games and head honcho Sean Murray, it appears the UK s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) an independent regulator whose role is to regulate the content of advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing in the UK [by investigating] complaints made about ads, sales promotions or direct marketing is now investigating the game s seemingly misleading promotional material.

Frustrated with the disparity between the game s trailers, screenshots and general information used to advertise No Man s Sky on its Steam page and what actually features in-game, Reddit user AzzerUK issued a formal complaint to the ASA. Ultimately, he or she feels the game s advertising is misleading and misrepresenting of the features found in the actual game.

I can't speak about other countries, but in the UK [there] are regulations about providing advertising material that could mislead a consumer in some way [for example] displaying things that do not, in fact, exist, says AzzerUK. The ASA say they have received a number of complaints, and so the points below are not necessarily all related to things I personally took issue with, but are the issues they have picked out at the most clear-cut problems from amongst all complaints.

In the ASA response, they say that both Hello Games and Valve have a joint responsibility, and so both organisations have now been contacted by the ASA and have been told to respond to the following issues which the ASA picked out as the primary issues (compiled from a number of complainants that contacted the ASA).

The points AzzerUK details can be found in full here, however the list takes issue with: UI design, large-scale combat, flowing water, size of creatures, behaviour of ships and sentinels, and aiming systems, among other perceived discrepancies.

Although the ASA is a non-statutory body (which means it can t interpret or enforce legislation), it does have the power to have advertisements which breach its code of advertising practice removed a process which of course prevents them from being used again.

This process has now been put in motion, and, should the ASA deem any of the promotional material to fall foul of said codes of conduct, Valve and Hello Games will be required to respond. Sanctions could follow if offending material is not removed.

A section of the ASA s reply to AzzerUK reads as follows:

"We will ensure the advertisers are made aware of any points relating to other marketing material under their control (such as the Hello Games YouTube channel and website).

The outcomes of ASA investigations are cross-applicable to other marketing making the same claims, so any decision reached in relation to the Steam page would apply to other advertising for No Man s Sky where the same (or materially similar) claims appear."

Speaking to Eurogamer, AzzerUK also notes feeling personally misled and while not necessarily harbouring ill-will towards Hello Games and/or Steam, felt obliged to contact the ASA after seeing just how vastly different the trailers for No Man's Sky were from the actual released game .

The investigation is ongoing, however we ll update as and when we know more. This latest twist in the No Man s Sky tale comes off the back of Sony president Shuhei Yoshida declaring Sean Murray "sounded like he was promising more features" than he could deliver, at this month s Tokyo Game Show.

PC Gamer

The sci-fi 4X strategy game Endless Space 2 was, developer Amplitude Studios said in August, aiming for an Early Access release this summer. It missed. Hey, these things happen. But here's some better news: The studio today nailed down an exact and for-sure Early Access kickoff date of October 6.

We did our best to hold the September release we had in mind and that we announced at Gamescom. However, this turned out a bit difficult in the end, Amplitude explained. With the feedback we've collected from our VIPs who played the pre-alpha version of the game, we knew we had a fun game in our hands but it still needed some adjustments which we ve worked on these past few weeks.

The studio warned that the Early Access release will be an alpha version of the game, and as such it will be missing some features and also include mechanics we want to improve with your help, which is basically a nice way of saying that they aren't fully implemented just yet. But the core gameplay will be there, so you ll get a good idea of what the game is about already, the studio wrote, which is really the point of Early Access releases anyway.

Amplitude recently released a gameplay overview trailer that neatly sums up what Endless Space 2 will offer in its initial release, and Wes and Phil whipped up a deeper preview that you can dig into right here. There's also a website that may have some useful information at endless-space.com.

PC Gamer

Devil Daggers remains an enigma. We were taken with its opaqueness when it was released back in February: you stand in an arena and fight waves of hell beats by shooting energy out of your hands, there's no plot, and most only survive a few seconds. Death means restarting. The idea that there might be more to Devil Daggers that we haven't seen because no one's survived long enough to see it is pretty compelling.

The leaderboards smartly include replays of the best runs so you can watch them for yourself if, like me, you'll never survive longer than a minute and we've been keeping track of the players' progress since Devil Daggers released. Back in March we posted an impressive 10 minute world record run.

Six months later, the world record isn't much longer not that it isn't an impressive and hypnotic display of FPS skill. The current best run is 872.4143 seconds, a little over 14 and a half minutes, and was achieved by player Sojk a couple days ago (watch it above).

Devil Daggers is still being updated, with top-down replays and new enemies added just last week enemies most of us will never see outside of a replay, of course.

PC Gamer

No Man's Sky wasn't the space exploration game I hoped it would be. Amid the supernova of negative backlash and disappointment, it's not surprising that so many feel frustrated that their journey to the stars was cut short by tedious inventory management and procedural generation that was pretty but boring. But some players are finding an unexpected discovery in the wake of No Man's Sky, and its name is Empyrion - Galactic Survival.

Take one look at Empyrion's Steam reviews page and you'll find an endless stream all summarized by its most rated review: "No Man's Sky with actual content." But can an Early Access game really deliver where Hello Games couldn't?

To its detriment, Empyrion starts out very much like other survival sandbox games: I punch things to get things to build things so I can punch things better. After doing this in so many games, I was a little underwhelmed, but after stumbling through the in-game guide (a wall of text) I assembled my first spacecraft, designing it from scratch where each module would impact the physics of how it handled and accelerated. I seamlessly took off from the planet's surface and found a whole solar system full of things to explore and build. What's better, unlike No Man's Sky, I can do all of this with friends or strangers in servers that hold up to a hundred players. Empyrion might not have 18 quintillion planets to explore, but after a few evenings of playing, I actually think that's a good thing.

The journey is the reward 

"A lot of features that are not found in No Man's Sky can be found in Empyrion," project lead Marcus Lucas says. Sandbox survival games are a dime a dozen these days, but Empyrion stands out with its blend of RPG progression systems, space sim elements, and voxel-based crafting all wrapped up in a procedurally generated solar system.

When No Man's Sky first released, I wrote about how I was disappointed with one of its fundamental flaws: The satisfaction of its exploration relied on the destination, not the story of how you discovered it. The problem being destinations in No Man's Sky are as exciting as a gas station on a road trip. Hello Games' take on exploration feels like walking through a house of mirrors at a carnival. Though at first I was awestruck by the infinite space before me, I quickly realized that it was all just a subtle distortion of the same thing the same planets and the same discoveries. That seemingly infinite space was just an illusion.

Our aim is to get it right in one solar system, and then we can expand the whole thing to an infinite number.

I ask Lucas and community manager Christoph Edelmann about what it takes to make exploration exciting: "Doing this right is a very difficult task," Edelmann responds. "No Man's Sky showed that it's not the sheer amount of planets you can put a number on them and say that's exploration, but planet-hopping isn't exploration. Exploration needs to be something that players can feel, they need to feel progress and that they have done something special, not just scanned the 270th life form on a planet. You can't only have a lot of a planets, biomes and interesting creatures, but the process of exploration needs to be interesting also."

Edelmann tells me that, for Eleon Game Studios, Empyrion's developer, their guiding philosophy has always been the German phrase "der weg ist das ziel" which roughly translates to "the journey is the reward." And for me, Empyrion has been quite a journey.

From the ground up 

Part of what makes Empyrion exciting is that, unlike No Man's Sky, there are complex and nuanced systems to play with that make any objective I achieve feel noteworthy. Instead of just starting on a planet and hastily repairing my ship before taking off onto the endless and simple treadmill of discovery like I did in No Man's Sky, I was excited to spend hours on my home planet. I had to learn how to build a proper base and assemble automated systems to aid in my survival. I had to cook food, filter water, and level up my character to access more advanced technologies and recipes.

Once I began work on my first spaceship, it's where that philosophy of "der weg ist das ziel" began to come alive. Ships in Empyrion are voxel-based, meaning you can customize nearly every aspect of them, and those decisions have an impact on how that ship will fly. Elements of physics, like drag and acceleration, come into effect and require intentional placement modules like engines. What amazes me is how that same system is blown completely out of proportion later in the game, with the ability to build massive capital ships that can house entire fleets of smaller vessels, or space stations that, on multiplayer servers, can act as hubs for everyone in the solar system. Steam Workshop integration also makes sharing the blueprints of these designs a snap. You can easily forgo designing your own ship in favor of someone else's. There's over 14,000 designs for bases, ships, and space stations, including everything from TIE fighters to the Winnebago from the movie Spaceballs.

From there, you can begin to explore the varied planets of each solar system which tend to follow basic archetypes like lush forest worlds or arid desert ones. Like No Man's Sky, these worlds feel diverse and alien, but they keep my interest far longer because they're actually meant to be lived on, not just visited. Elements like hostile creatures and environmental hazards feel more impactful because surviving them isn't as easy as finding a nearby resource and plugging it into my suit. That said, Empyrion is still rough and unfinished in many areas and that's a reason to be skeptical about whether Eleon Game Studios can tie it off into a complete package. While its potential has yet to be fully realized, it's how Empyrion is being developed that has me feeling optimistic.

"I don't want to criticize No Man's Sky, but it's not more fun for the player to discover other solar systems if it's not fun in one solar system. Quantity does not replace quality. Our aim is to get it right in one solar system, and then we can expand the whole thing to an infinite number."

Edelmann adds: "If we manage to make this game interesting with just 11 planets, it's a much easier task to expand on that because we already have the necessary techniques ready. We are building this from the ground up, we're not adding a billion planets and then asking 'how can we make this interesting?' We are trying to do this the other way around."

Contrasted with the way No Man's Sky seems to have been designed, Eleon Game Studios seems to have the right perspective. And though the scale is considerably reduced, Empyrion does have a sense of infinity comparable to No Man's Sky thanks to its open-ended design. Like in Minecraft, the solar system is created using a 'seed' that players can tailor to their liking, shaping it to create new and interesting sights. Where No Man's Sky's procedural generation is locked off and opaque, Empyrion opens up some of its inner clockwork for players to tinker with.

Shooting for the stars 

People know what they can expect from Empyrion, and they can see that the game develops according to the players.

Talking with Edelmann and Lucas, part of the reason they're convinced Empyrion is able to stand toe-to-toe with No Man's Sky is due to one thing: community involvement. They both tell me that, from day one, Empyrion benefitted from being a niche Early Access game because that allowed them to listen and respond to community feedback much quicker. They point me towards a survey they've been running to help determine which are the most important features to the community so they can prioritize them, but that involvement goes even deeper. When I first started playing, the blueprints I had for a basic starship and base were also plucked from community designs, and Lucas tells me they rotate those blueprints every few months to officially feature new creations. While Eleon Game Studios is building the framework, it's the players who get to fill the world with their creations.

Edelmann believes that, in a marketplace where Early Access games are being treated with increasing skepticism, it's why players are responding so positively to Empyrion. "This supportive community we have is because we don't make promises that we cannot deliver," he says. "We are not marketing one feature that is irrelevant for the game just because it sounds like a good thing. People know what they can expect from Empyrion, and they can see that the game develops according to the players."

From my own experience, Empyrion - Galactic Survival is quickly making me forget those No Man's Sky blues. Space feels like a frontier that developers are exploring with renewed interest some more successfully than others. But amid the Star Citizens and Dual Universes dotting the horizon, it's exciting to see that there's plenty of options, and Empyrion might just be my favorite right now. While there's still the long journey to release, it's good to know there's at least one exploration game that understands it's not just about where you're going, but how you get there.

...

Search news
Archive
2016
Sep   Aug   Jul   Jun   May   Apr  
Mar   Feb   Jan  
Archives By Year
2016   2015   2014   2013   2012  
2011   2010   2009   2008   2007  
2006   2005   2004   2003   2002