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.

PC Gamer

Jotun developer Thunder Lotus Games announced Sundered last year as a "replayable Metroidvania, close to Rogue Legacy and Super Metroid," set in a Lovecraft-inspired world of eldritch horrors. Neither the Thunder Lotus website nor the Steam page had much to say about it at the time (although they've both since been updated), but last week the studio announced that a Kickstarter campaign would get under on January 16. So it did—and less than 24 hours later, it has easily surpassed its goal. 

Unlike a lot of Kickstarters, this one is focused on polish and balancing, rather than the full development process: The total budget for Sundered is $700,000 CAD, Thunder Lotus said in the Kickstarter pitch, while the Kickstarter goal is just $25,000. Elements the studio hopes to improve with the extra funding include overall balance and pace, special skill tree nodes, new perks, and "what exactly defines the core gameplay experience and how we can improve it." 

"We know how important feedback is and Jotun’s alpha and beta backers transformed the game into something special. We need you to tell us what we can do better," the studio wrote. "It's about polish, feedback and using Kickstarter funds to make Sundered the best it can be." 

The Kickstarter page also provides quite a bit of information about the game itself, which will feature both hand-crafted and procedural levels, six "massive" boss fights, "hordes of dynamically spawned eldritch monsters," exploration, secrets, character upgrades, multiple endings, and frequent death. Players will have seven major abilities, such as Double-Jump, Hook Shot, and Wall Run, each of them "corruptible" into a more powerful (but not necessarily desirable) version. "Ultimately, corrupting your abilities has important gameplay repercussions and even changes the game's ending, as how corrupted you are defines which boss you'll face," the studio said. 

The campaign, estimated at about ten hours in length, tells the tale of Eshe, a scavenger who discovers the source of power behind the Terror, a cataclysmic event that brought about the end of the world centuries ago.

"The backstory tells the tale of how this strange power attracted the Valkyries, an armed group of scientific revolutionaries, and the Eschaton, mad cultists following the teachings of an obscure god, to this place," the Kickstarter page says. "As she picks up the pieces, the player uncovers the conflict that sundered the world." 

The Kickstarter campaign, which at this moment is approaching $43,000 in pledges, runs until February 16, while Sundered is expected to be ready for launch in July. That could change, however, depending on how things unfold. "With Sundered, the complexity and amount of systems we're bringing together can cause our heads to spin, requiring a ton of balancing and polish," Thunder Lotus warned in the "Risks and Challenges" section of the Kickstarter page. "The amount of feedback we get from you guys can also impact our timeline, as we want to make sure that our backers are happy with the game before we ship it to the masses."  

PC Gamer

Overgrowth features procedural cuts and bleeding effects.

David Rosen has poured more time and energy into developing a game about kung fu rabbits than most novelists put into writing sweeping statements of our time. This isn’t to say Rosen isn’t also trying to say something new with Overgrowth, the successor and final iteration of freeware hit Lugaru. Like any artist, he’s trying to push the medium forward. His grand statement comes by way of complex bullet points, like “skeletal animation blends” and “damage simulationerse kinematics”—all to make a fighting system that feels different each time you play.But Rosen didn’t just live in a development vaccum for eight years—during that time, he put out several complete games within a week during focused game jams (see Receiver) and started the Humble Indie Bundle, which quickly ballooned into a popular digital storefront.Despite everything, Overgrowth is finally on the path to release, beginning with a beta and week long sale at 27% off—starting today. The entire Lugaru campaign has been ported over to Overgrowth’s engine, entirely rewritten, and includes a multiplayer arena mode and extensive mod support. Now, all that’s left for Rosen is to finish the Overgrowth campaign, which he plans to release within a few months.

It’s been a long road to the finish, but Rosen isn’t too surprised. He says he’s always had a tendency to “dive into rabbit holes.” I didn't ask if the pun was intended. He'd no doubt heard them all by now.

Bunny beta

The work hasn’t been the most difficult part. Rosen is an extremely talented programmer, taking on challenges entire teams are dedicated to in big game studios. But working alone isn’t easy, especially with no one to tell you how to spend your time. “It's been a psychological journey of sorts. Because I never had a background in project management and would always just get by with brute force of programming, so it's been an experience how to actually balance everything,” said Rosen, “That's why it took so long, everything was in a weird balance.”Before making a campaign, Rosen first had to make the fighting systems, which were far more ambitious than he anticipated. He wanted to avoid making a scripted, tightly animated combat game in favor of something more improvisational and surprising.

Figuring out how to accurately simulate a rabbit skeleton to procedurally and naturally animate after getting round-housed by a wolf took a bit of research and development.

“Often if you have [combat] look really good, you'll just press a button and you'll play this motion captured combo finisher move that takes five seconds, and I wanted to break it down into much smaller pieces,” said Rosen, “That took a lot of work, to make sure that the characters were attacking the right area and that it looked like they were hitting, and if they got hit, then they got knocked into ragdoll as if they were hit at the correct point, and then while they're in ragdoll they're not just like limp noodles. They're trying to protect themselves and flail around if they're falling too far, and so on.”As it turns out, as one man, figuring out how to accurately simulate a rabbit skeleton to procedurally and naturally animate after getting round-housed by a wolf took a bit of research and development. About eight years, to be precise.

Concept art for an elder rat

Soon, cats, dogs, and rats will also join the fray, each with their own fighting styles and traits. Cats are more aristocratic. They fight with poise and agility, tending towards weapons like rapiers. Dogs are brutes—though not as big as wolves—and prefer larger weapons and heavy armor. Rats are the more improvisational group of the bunch that attack in packs to overcome their tiny stature. I can’t wait to drop kick one. 

They’ll appear in the new campaign, which continues directly where Lugaru’s leaves off. In classic kung fu fashion (and without spoiling the plot) protagonist Turner continues his quest for revenge. Rosen hopes to include more variety this time around, leaning less on combat in favor of playing around with level design and mobility. “I want to experiment with more climbing, jumping, wall-running kinds of puzzles. And stealth elements, like sneaking through bushes. You can also have allies—the AI system supports any number of factions.”

We won’t know what the final version of Overgrowth looks like for a few months yet, but now players can finally rest assured that it will eventually be complete. Until then, players can check out the growing library of mods already available, including one that increases running speeds for Sonic-like races, another that turns players into an acrobatic bat, and any number of character models replacements—including some for the Overwatch heroes.Rosen is exhausted with the project, but feels like he’s finally completing what he set out to do. “I think it does now look pretty much like choreographed fight scenes. The fights still look totally different than in any other game.” He’s right. Overgrowth is an improvisational, energetic, ragdoll kung fu playground that feels like a mix between the quick, tightly controlled encounters of Quake with the rock-paper-scissors move set of a 2D fighting game. It feels great.Now, to build something around it.

PC Gamer

It's not often we have a reason to write about consoles on PC Gamer, but we now write about this Super Mario Odyssey trailer to alert you that, no, you do not need to preorder a Nintendo Switch. Why? Because Super Mario Odyssey, the next Mario game recently announced for Nintendo's new console, has been perfectly recreated with a few simple mods in Grand Theft Auto 4. 

YouTuber CrowBCat used a combination of skins, parkour animations, and iCEnhancer to beat Nintendo to the punch. Sure, Liberty City isn't New Donk City, but just give the modders some more time. We'll get there. 

So pat yourselves on the back, PC gamers. We're still the best platform to play on, even without Nintendo's official support. 

See the original trailer below for easy comparison. Which one looks better to you? The choice is obvious.

PC Gamer

Two soldiers, on the lookout for a sneaky band of heroes, patrol a stretch of road. They see nobody. Then, a sound that can only be described as “adorable” inspires one of them to wander off. It’s an improbably cute tanuki. Entranced, the soldier doesn’t notice the rock hurtling toward him from above. As it turns him into a smooth paste there’s a flash and a bang, the sound of a matchlock pistol, and soldier number two goes down. I exhale. Another pair of foes fallen to Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun’s heroes. Another notch on my belt. 

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of playing the Commandos series then you know what you’re in for with Shadow Tactics. Contained within this tale of an unlikely cadre attempting to stop a civil war are 13 elaborate and complex stealth missions where the odds are seemingly stacked against you.

Thankfully your quintet—made up of a sake-loving samurai, three ninjas, and an old man with a gun-leg and pet raccoon dog—have all the tools they need to overcome even the most insurmountable of challenges. Mugen, the gang’s gregarious patriarch, can rush in and cut down a trio of enemies in a second, while the group’s most precocious member, Yuki, can beckon guards towards her traps with her bird calls. Each of them has skills to distract and kill along with more specialised tricks in their bountiful toy boxes, ranging from geisha disguises to not-so-subtle explosives.

Every enemy encounter is a piece of a huge clockwork puzzle, all orderly and repetitive. To succeed, you need to disrupt the pattern. The fun part is creating chaos with the toy box of abilities and experimenting with them. There’s a lot of joy to be found in playing around with different strategies, tearing out the best parts of failed attempts and stitching them together until you have one that finally works. The ability to save anywhere makes experimentation easier, and a timer lets you know when it's been a while since you last saved.

Sometimes a problem requires lateral thinking. In snowy areas guards take notice of suspicious footprints, which can ruin a plan if you're not careful. However, you can can also exploit guards' inquisitiveness and lay ambushes for those that blindly follow trails into empty corners.

Some problems demand teamwork, and that’s where Shadow Mode comes in. This lets you assign each character a job and activate them all at once. Used correctly, Shadow Mode lets you sweep away large groups of enemies in swift, decisive moves. It’s a thrill to hit a button and see your minions move in tandem.

Each mission contains unique objectives, and the number of characters you control changes. This rather effectively stops you from getting too comfortable with a tactic, because you never know when you might find yourself unable to rely on it. In a whirlwind tour of Japan, you plan prison breaks, assassinations, burglaries and even army sabotage. Missions are designed to be replayed, as they’re essentially sandboxes rich with possible solutions. Unlockable challenges such as speed runs, offer added incentives to experiment.

Shifting art and themes support Shadow Tactic's diverse mission design. During the infiltration of Lord Yabu’s ostentatious palace, the area is painted in dark red and orange, matching the heroes’ thirst for revenge and their hope that the sun is about to set on the rebellion. That's in stark contrast to the rescue attempt in Suganuma Village, where the rain never lets up and the once lively fields are now accompanied by rows of corpses. It’s a grey and dismal location for a desperate mission. 

The story has also been given a a lot of attention. It’s a simple, but well-spun, yarn that manages to explore its heroes and give them meaningful arcs without overbearing exposition or lengthy cutscenes. Through mid-mission banter you learn the most about the band and see them grow.  

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun evokes the stealth escapades of decades past, but it’s an exceptional addition to the genre in its own right. It’s tricky, complex without being too complicated. It's characterful and user-friendly enough that even the stealth-averse might find something to tempt them into the shadows. Also, did I mention you get a tanuki?

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