SAVAGE: The Shard of Gosen

There are a lot of modern reimaginings of classic games happening nowadays, but Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link for NES is a game I never thought I'd see get that treatment. Widely considered one of the worst Zelda games in the series, most would be happy to forget it altogether, but solo indie developer Matt Fitzgerald thinks there's something in it worth revisiting. You can watch the interview above to hear him talk about his upcoming RPG Savage: The Shard of Gosen, and the video below to see it in action.

Fitzgerald has been working on Savage for over three years now after a modest but successful Kickstarter in 2014. It's a sidescrolling action game with some distinctly RPG elements. You can collect and swap out different equipment which will level up as you use it, and can also improve specific stats of your character as you progress. It's not hard to see the Zelda 2 influence, but I am happy to say it's a much better game at its core thanks to the extra systems.

Savage also has occasional dialogue options, and Fitzgerald told me you can subtly impact the story with your choices. For example, the game starts out with you finding your village under siege. While you'll always end this encounter by being captured, how you get there can change. When I played, I almost immediately got beaten to a pulp, but Fitzgerald showed me what can happen for a more skilled player. In the video below, you can see he makes it all the way to a boss, who he defeats by cutting off his arm. Doing so was his choice, and means that character will look and act differently when you see them again later in the game.

Fitzgerald is making all aspects of the game himself, from code to art to sound and so on. I'm not a huge fan of the game's pixel art, but the regular sidescrolling levels are broken up by a visually distinct pseudo-3D overworld screen. It's not a bad looking game, clearly going for a retro style, but I think it's a more interesting one than its relatively simple character sprites would otherwise let on. 

Savage: The Shard of Gosen has already made it through the soon to be defunct Steam Greenlight, and is set to release on Steam for $10 sometime later this year.

What Remains of Edith Finch

THE HIGHS 

Tom Senior: Home again‘Oh another twee game about walking around a sad house’ I thought as I started up What Remains of Edith Finch for the first time. For five minutes the game stuck to type. The narrator spoke evocatively of old memories and family secrets. Cold sunlight fell artfully through leafy branches. There were violins. It was familiar.

But then I looked up and saw the house itself—a demented construct that looks like a country mansion mashed into a vertical shanty town. Then I looked down and realised ‘oh snap, I’m pregnant!’ Fifteen minutes later I was diving into the diary of a lost family member, zooming into her world and exploring the house and the surrounding countryside from her perspective. It was still sentimental, sure, but it was also sinister, and intriguing. The beautifully modelled house is full of trick doors and hidey holes. The game is resolutely linear, but I still felt like a trespasser sneaking into locked away memories. I won’t spoil any more, but it’s the best entry in the sad house genre since the sad house genre was invented by Gone Home a few years ago.

Joe Donnelly: Into the wilder-yesSort of similar to Tom, I was sent a copy of Marshlight Software's narrative adventure game The Edgelands this week and wasn't immediately taken by it. As one of Failbetter's fundbetter initiative games, I'd had my eye on this 'un for a while but was immediately disappointed in its well-worn amnesiac protagonist introduction. Before long, though, I was out exploring its fantastical world, conversing with its bizarre and outlandish characters, and fumbling through its narrative-led puzzles. Against some striking visuals, and a killer soundtrack, my initial disdain was quickly reversed and I'm now very much looking forward to spending some more time with it this weekend.

As I mentioned in my news write-up, its creator cites Infocom-era gamebooks as a central source of inspiration, but its offbeat world also echoes that of Kentucky Route Zero's—which is easily one of the best modern examples of the genre. The Edgelands is due on May 9, and while I don't know how much it'll sell for yet, I'd certainly recommend it as one to watch out for—particularly if, like me, you're of the adventure game persuasion. 

Wes Fenlon: Old questionsI love digging into the minutiae of game history, and I got to do a lot of that, recently, in the process of writing about Final Fantasy 7's 1998 PC port. I initially planned to write something about the difficulty of porting a console game to PC 20 years ago, but after researching the port's differences from the PlayStation version, I became obsessed with one particular feature: the mouths added to the characters. Nothing else about the character models or designs was changed, but everyone got a mouth! Weird, right? I thought so, and I tracked down some of the developers to find out why. Curiosity is the best research fuel.

Tyler Wilde: Farm lifeThis guy bought a farm to live out his Stardew Valley dreams. I don’t have enough money to buy a farm, and obviously many don’t, so I’m not going to say this is some universal inspiration we should all follow. But I will say that it rules. If you could, how would you live your videogame fantasies? I’m not that into farming games, so I’d probably just buy a car and strap rockets to it and that would be the end of me. It’s probably best that I don’t. But farm guy, he’s still onto something.

Tim Clark: Go into the lightNormal service resumes this week, which means brace yourselves for more Hearthstone talk from me. It’s a relief to have finally published my thoughts on Un’Goro, which I like a lot, despite some concerns about the cost of staying competitive. I also notched up my fourth golden hero, and despite being the wrong side of 40, still get a dumb thrill from playing with Uther’s animated portrait. (Even if it wasn’t quite the as good as the first time.) Really though, I’m just pleased that Paladin is good again. I have long been of the view that Midrange Pally is the only honest and true deck in Hearthstone, so it was painful seeing the class reduced to a shadow of itself prior to Un’Goro. But cards like Hydrologist and Sunkeeper Tarim (my new favourite legendary) have helped Paladin’s board-centric game massively. If you’re looking for a good version to try, check this list out from Jab. Just beware of all the crabs.

Chris Livingston: Far High 2 Yeah, I'm back playing Far Cry 2 again. I needed a screenshot of something for a feature I'm working on, so I reinstalled it and hopped in for what could have been a quick thirty seconds but instead became about two hours. And damn do I love being in that harsh, deadly, unforgiving world once more. I'm aware of—and agree with—most of the complaints about the open-world FPS, but it's still one of my favorite games and favorite places to be. I didn't even do much—just drove around and got into a few firefights, but I loved every second of it. Also, I forgot to get the screenshot I went there for in the first place, so looks like I'll have to play some more this weekend. Not a problem. 

THE LOWS

Tyler Wilde: Duty callsAs a shooter fan, I’m glad Call of Duty is returning to World War 2, and I hope the shift means less focus on gadgets and more on basic level and weapon design. But as a person who regularly has to parse marketing speak, I’m exhausted. The reveal livestream was one of the more embarrassing I’ve seen in a long time, not because it wasn’t well-produced or Call of Duty: WWII doesn’t look good—though I haven’t really liked a Call of Duty for a while—but because Activision has pre-emptively decided that it’s a cultural achievement, a documentary of sorts with such attention to historical accuracy that it has the power to prevent future wars. I’ll call bullshit on that in more words elsewhere, but the short of it is: No, I don’t think Call of Duty: WWII is those things.

Tim Clark: Souls outAnd so it’s over. My buddy Dave and I carried each other limping, crying, and arguing about strats over the line in Dark Souls 3’s The Ringed City DLC. Now there is no more. (For the record I landed the final blow on the boss both times, you’re welcome Dave.) The Ringed City  was a decent send off for a sensational game, even if the ending didn’t resonate especially deeply with me. I think the weight of having to wrap up such a big series was always going to hang a little heavy on what is, after all, an addendum more than an expansion.

For Dave and I, co-op play was primarily a way of catching up, because both of us prefer to talk on Skype while playing something rather than endure the awkwardness of actual phone calls. For me it also meant a relatively easy way into a game that prides itself on not babying new players. If Miyazaki is to be believed, and this really is the end for the series, (he probably isn’t, it probably won’t be), then I’m going to need a new game to stay in touch with Dave. Suggestions below, please.

(Hey everyone, it's James. Tell Tim to play Bloodborne already.)

Chris Livingston: Language, pleaseI played Pinstripe this week, an adventure platformer about trying to rescue your daughter from hell. It's pretty darn spooky in parts, and more than a bit morbid—I might even categorize it as horror. Mr. Pinstripe himself is unsettling and genuinely scary the first few times you encounter him, until he very suddenly isn't because he calls you, and I quote, "douche."

Douche? It's a weird thing for a hellish spectre who has stolen your daughter to say and completely deflates any fear I had of him as an adversary. Perhaps it was an attempt at humor—and there's nothing wrong with adding some levity to horror now and then—but it really shattered the mood and the moment. It's like if Anton Chigurh, instead of saying "Call it, friend-o" had said "Call it, fart-breath." Menace can evaporate instantly, simply due to a poor choice of words. Or, in this case, word.

Wes Fenlon: Net not so neutralI have a feeling this is going to be a recurring low for me for the rest of 2017. The FCC recently rolled back privacy protections for internet users, and it's now proposing to kill net neutrality under the guise of a proposal named "Restoring Internet Freedom." What it really aims to restore is more freedom for the multi-billion dollar corporations that already have a stranglehold on the internet infrastructure of most of the US. The creator of the world wide web has already spoken out against the proposal. Hopefully thousands or millions of Americans adding their voice to hise might make the FCC reconsider. 

Tom Senior: How games dieHow many virtual trees have been made by game artists in the history of the medium? How many brick wall textures? How many longswords? Imagine the millions of hours that people in different studios have funnelled into making the same objects over and over. It’s incredible how much work is repeated and wasted during the creation of the game worlds we enjoy.

So much of it ends up in the bin. This week Diablo 2 mastermind David Brevik worried that many of the original Diablo 2 assets may have been lost, making a remaster more difficult. It reminded me that for every little piece of art, modelling or music that makes it into a published game, more are lost to cancelled projects. Even in successful games, the original files vanish—why spend money to sustain legacy servers for assets that are unlikely to ever be used again? Digitisation has saved old film, music, television and literature from the degradation of physical media, but in the digital environment games can easily fade and die, becoming incompatible as software moves on. Perhaps one day all that will remain of the games we love today will be the words that celebrated them on sites like PCGamer.com. Hopefully not, though.

Joe Donnelly: Punch drunkIn this week's more bizarre-leaning news, it seems boxing kangaroo Roger Jr won't feature in the incoming western interpretation of Tekken 7. Why? Well, I'm not entirely sure. Speaking to VG24/7 it seems executive producer Katsuhiro Harada is preempting "animal activists" from complaining by omitting the fighting macropod, yet is leaving Kuma the bear in place because he’s "obviously stronger than a human being".

Here's Harada's rationale for Roger's removal: "There was a video of a man’s dog being headlocked by a kangaroo, and he punched it in the face. It turned into a big problem. People were complaining about him punching a kangaroo. It seems that in the last few years there’s a lot more animal activists—even though they probably wouldn’t play our game they would still hear about that, about a kangaroo in our game being punched, and would complain about it."Now, I'm by no means supporting organisations like PETA's involvement in videogames over the last several years, but in their defence it seems Harada et al have jumped the gun in this instance. What's your take?

PC Gamer

My name is Edith Finch, and I'm a 17-year-old girl with a problem: My family, going back at least three generations, has a habit of dying young. Really young. Most don't make it out of childhood; my mother Dawn, who lived to 48, was an outlier. Only Edie, my great-grandmother, bucked the trend. Coincidentally or not, she was also the chronicler of the Finch family history, whose strange stories are irrevocably intertwined with the sprawling, bizarre estate that housed the clan for decades. And now, at the beginning of What Remains of Edith Finch, I'm the last one left—and I've come home to suss out their secrets, and learn the truth about the Finch family curse.

The game begins as a Gone Home-like exploration into an empty Pacific Northwestern home. The most striking thing about the Finch manor is how normal it all seems. It looks like a house that people actually lived in, built to proper proportions and furnished in an entirely mundane manner, albeit with more books than you might expect. The sealed rooms, courtesy of Edith's mom, are admittedly strange, but in a way that speaks of eccentricity rather than anything sinister. As I roamed, Edith reminisced about the mountains of canned fish in the kitchen, or the origin of the bricks in the fireplace that dominated the living room. It all seemed safe and unremarkable, like the first steps in a coming-of-age tale about a young woman seeing her family for the first time as an adult.Then I discovered the secret passage, and the shrine to Molly Finch, who died in 1947—nearly 70 years ago—at 10 years of age.

Skeletons in the closet

Molly's story is as out-of-left-field as anything I've ever encountered in a videogame.

My god, what a ride. Molly's story is as out-of-left-field as anything I've ever encountered in a videogame, and it ended on a note of completely unexpected, and thoroughly disturbing, darkness. By the time it was over, I honestly believed that I'd been faked out, and that What Remains of Edith Finch was in reality a straight-up horror tale about a 'real' family curse that only comes out at night. But that, like so much of the game, was a deft bit of misdirection.

The family stories told in What Remains of Edith Finch are filtered through the lens of time, and the closer they come to Edith's own life, the less fantastical they seem. Early tales like Molly's may have only the thinnest basis in reality—or maybe not!—while those of her uncle Gregory or her older brother Lewis are firmly rooted in fact. Yet while their demises grow less fanciful as their lives become more familiar, the impact of their losses strike much more powerfully. Most of us probably know someone like Lewis, a kind young man with a keen mind who just couldn't find his way in this world. And even when the story moves into unambiguously dangerous territory—the death of an infant, which you will not just witness but participate in—it does so with remarkable grace and sensitivity.

It was amazing to see so many different styles incorporated, and handled so well, into a single game.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a very guided tale—a 'walking simulator,' as they say—with few opportunities to explore off the beaten path, and very limited interactivity. Special movements like climbing and crouching happen automatically when necessary, and you'll be prompted to interact with the environment where, and how, appropriate. There's no inventory or choices to be made, and while some hotspots require a little bit of exploring to find, nothing is really hidden.

But the stories of the Finch family tree that are interspersed through Edith's journey more than make up for that narrow focus. Reading each of Edie’s memorials to a deceased family member took me on a unique adventure through different first-person formats: I got to know Grandpa Sam through the lens of an old, manual-focus camera, I flew a kite with Gus over a wedding on a beach, I even became the ruler of a brightly-colored videogame kingdom. None of these interludes are mechanically complex, but it was amazing to see so many different styles incorporated, and handled so well, into a single game.

I was frustrated at first by the checkpoint save system, but they come at a decent frequency, and the 'saving' indicator is easy to see, with bright, bold letters, so I was never unsure about when it was safe to pack it up and take a break. And once I was into the game it became irrelevant anyway: What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t a very long game—I logged about a half-dozen hours into it, and that’s with plenty of poking around—and it was so enthralling that I had no interest in stopping anyway.

There are a decent number of video settings to fiddle with (and it's a very pretty game), but the options to adjust the game's controls are almost completely non-existent. The mouse sensitivity can be changed, although even at maximum it's slow and sluggish, and the WASD keys can't be remapped. On the upside, there are no other controls, so you're not likely to break your brain trying to figure it out.

The end game

What Remains of Edith Finch is a masterful piece of storytelling: gorgeous, skillfully told, uplifting in places, and devastating in others.

As the branches of Edith's family tree grow closer to her own life, and more familiar to her experience, it enables her to speak more personally about them—a shift in perspective that gives her words an emotional heft that's lacking when she's reflecting on a grandparent or uncle she never met. About Lewis, whose room still bears a very familiar, pungent odor when she enters, she says, "Everyone told me to stay out of Lewis' room. Except Lewis." The shift in tone can be seen in the house itself, too, but very cleverly in the opposite direction: Barbara, who died in 1960 under perfectly mysterious (and grim) circumstances, lived in a very humdrum room on the second floor, where she pressed her laundry and did her best to cope with memories of better years. Lewis, who died when Edith was 11, literally lived in a boat in the sky.

The end of the game was intensely sad, not because of the lost family members, but because of the lost family: I could feel the inevitability of Edith and Edie's looming last day together, and it was a right kick in the guts when it came. I was filled with anger, because it was so damned unfair, but I also knew that everyone was doing their best—doing what they believed was right. Knowing that didn't take the edge off. It still doesn't.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a masterful piece of storytelling: gorgeous, skillfully told, uplifting in places, and devastating in others. Avoid seeing too many spoilers— seriously, I can't think of a game more in need of being unspoiled than this one—and play it.

Awesomenauts

The three-on-three platformer-MOBA Awesomenauts has been around for nearly five years now, and has done quite well for itself in that time. But with all that water under the bridge, and player numbers not quite what they used to be, developer Ronimo Games has decided that it's time to switch things up by making the game free to play. 

"Going free-to-play has always made sense for Awesomenauts, as more players simply means it’s a better game for everyone," the studio said on Steam earlier this week. "It greatly improves the matchmaking and networking experience, and brings more people to community events and the amazing community-made mods." 

The full changeover won't take place until May 24, but the free-to-play beta for existing players went live on Wednesday with the release of the 4.0 update, cleverly called "Going Free-to-Play." It includes a new tutorial and "beginner experience" to help ease new players into the game, a new progression system for both player profiles and individual characters, an "Awesomepoints" in-game currency that can be used to unlock characters, portraits, and "droppods," and medals that will showcase various in-game achievements.   

Real money will remain the only way to purchase character skins, but it can also now be used to acquire individual characters and droppods as well. There will also be a new "Awesomenauts All Nauts Pack" available for purchase that will grant access to all current and future characters, as well as an exclusive "Collector" medal and skin. Existing players will keep all the content they currently own, and everyone who owns the base game and the Starstorm and Overdrive expansions will be automatically upgraded to the All Nauts Pack.

Ronimo rolled out a 4.0.1 update today that takes care of a number of gameplay issues that surfaced in the 4.0 update, which you can read about here

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III

Dawn of War 3 launched on April 27, and you can read our review for our verdict. Prior to release, Relic provided us with a near-final review copy, which includes a benchmark tool, so naturally I wanted to find out what sort of hardware Dawn of War 3 requires.

Note that while there was an open beta this past weekend, it was slightly different than the review copy. This is an important distinction as both drivers and the game engine will likely improve over the coming weeks, but I'm looking at how the game runs right now using the review code (we've also checked some of the features against the release build).

Quickly running through the features checklist, Dawn of War 3 is more limited than many games that I've tested. Resolution support is good, including ultrawide resolutions and even multiple monitors—though there's a quirk to that I'll get to later. And many of the other items like FOV don't really apply, since this is an overhead RTS game.

As far as the settings go, for the performance testing I'm using two options. For the 'medium' testing, I use the 'medium' setting on image quality, texture quality, and physics, with anti-aliasing set to 'off' at 1080p. These are settings that most PCs should be able to handle and it represents a base level of performance.

For the 'ultra' testing, image quality is at maximum, texture quality is set to 'higher,' physics is at 'high,' and anti-aliasing is set to 'low.' Why not 'medium' or 'high' on anti-aliasing? Both of those modes use super-sample AA, which can look nice but is basically the same as running at a higher resolution. I'll discuss the settings more below.

Be sure to check out our performance analysis video as well. Along with the usual suite of benchmarks and charts, the video provides real-time framerate comparisons. I've included three or four cards at each test setting that are reasonable options—so while I did run benchmarks with low-end graphics cards at 1440p and 4K, the video will focus on budget cards at 1080p medium, mainstream cards at 1080p ultra, and high-end hardware for 1440p and 4K ultra.

Dawn of War 3 includes a built-in benchmark, which is great as it means others can use the same tests I'm running. But there's a catch: the results collected by the benchmark include extra frames rendered before and after the actual gameplay, which can radically skew the results. To get around this, I've captured the 30 seconds of simulated gameplay using FRAPS. If you're wondering, at 1080p medium with a GTX 1080, the internal benchmark reports 190 fps average compared to just 135 fps for FRAPS.

For more information on how I'm testing gaming performance, check out our performance analysis 101 article.

MSI provided all of the hardware for this testing, mostly consisting of its Gaming/Gaming X graphics cards. These cards are designed to be fast but quiet, and the fans will shut off completely when the graphics card isn't being used. Our main test system is MSI's new Aegis Ti3, a custom case and motherboard with an overclocked 4.8GHz i7-7700K, 64GB DDR4-2400 RAM, and a pair of 512GB Plextor M8Pe M.2 NVMe solid-state drives in RAID0. There's a 2TB hard drive as well, custom lighting, and more.

MSI also provided three of its gaming notebooks for testing, the GS63VR with GTX 1060, GT62VR with GTX 1070, and GT73VR with GTX 1080. The GS63VR has a GTX 1060 6GB with a 4Kp60 display, the GT62VR has a GTX 1070 and a 1080p60 G-Sync display, and the GT73VR has a GTX 1080 with a 1080p120 G-Sync display. For testing higher resolutions on the GT-series notebooks, I used Nvidia's DSR technology.

Jumping into our entry level settings, 1080p medium is a good target for moderate graphics cards. I've tested the GTX 1050, 1050 Ti, and RX 460 as budget offerings, but if you're looking for older equivalents, the GTX 950, 960, and R7 370 should be similar. By popular demand, I've also included older generation GTX 970, R9 380 4GB, and R9 390 hardware in the testing, though those cards slot in above the budget cards. If you need to boost performance even more, dropping settings a notch or two can potentially double framerates.

Nearly all the cards break 60 fps averages at 1080p medium, though minimum fps is currently well below that mark on many GPUs. Initial testing was done with a preview build, and there's some odd stuttering and fps drops that come into play, but looking at the now-public release this has been corrected. The average fps didn't change, but the minimums have been smoothed out, particularly on faster cards.

Cranking up the image and texture quality while staying with 1080p is what I'll call 'ultra' quality. Anti-aliasing is at low (FXAA), and the performance is still good for mainstream cards. The 1060 3GB and RX 470 4GB both clear 60 fps, and only the 1050 and RX 460 cards (or similar) struggle. Faster cards like the 1070 and 1080 start pushing above 120 fps, and interestingly the Fury X beats the 1070 by a small margin.

With the higher quality textures in play, 2GB cards can also run into VRAM limitations. AMD's RX 460 2GB has a bad showing here, though future drivers will likely improve the situation. AMD did just release updated 17.4.4 drivers, which should improve the situation, with up to eight percent better performance (on the RX 580). I haven't had a chance to retest all of the AMD cards, unfortunately.

Keeping with the 'ultra' settings and cranking up the resolution definitely requires beefy graphics hardware. At 1440p, we're focusing on high-end cards, and the 1070 and above from Nvidia all continue to do well. AMD's previous generation R9 Fury X also performs well, but it's due for retirement. The RX 500 series cards are now available and RX Vega is coming soon, so until that happens Nvidia is basically unchallenged at the top of the performance stack. Everything below the GTX 1070 and Fury X fails to hit 60 fps, though opting for high/medium instead of maximum/higher settings may be enough to get you there.

For anything less than a 1080 Ti, 4K will require either lowering your standards for 'playable' from 60 fps to 30 fps, or else you'll need to drop to minimum/low settings.

Gunning for 4K means bringing the elite units into play. The GTX 1080 Ti does manage to hit 60 fps average, but only barely. You can see in the performance analysis video that some areas will run at close to 70 fps while others sit at 50 fps. This is where technologies like G-Sync and FreeSync are useful, as they link your display's refresh rate to your framerate, avoiding tearing while still delivering smooth gameplay.

For anything less than a 1080 Ti, 4K will require either lowering your standards for 'playable' from 60 fps to 30 fps, or else you'll need to drop to minimum/low settings. This is why I continue to look at 1440p as the sweet spot for high-end gaming, though I won't deny 4K on a larger screen looks great.

You might also be thinking about multiple GPUs. I did some limited testing with 1080 cards in SLI, using Nvidia's latest 381.89 drivers. The best scaling was at 4K, where the second GPU improved framerates by a mere 28 percent. That's just about enough to match the performance of a single 1080 Ti. Hmmm…. Relic's Company of Heroes 2 never got functional SLI / CrossFire support, so at least SLI is doing something here, but at lower resolutions it does very little, and a single faster GPU is the better solution.

I've only focused on the GPU side of the equation so far, but how much CPU will you need to run Dawn of War 3? Your graphics card is the primary consideration, but if you have a fast GPU you'll want a potent CPU backing it up. I ran a collection of seven CPUs through the benchmark, using the GTX 1080 Ti. This shows the worst-case situation for CPU scaling, and mostly things aren't too bad.

At 1080p, there's some clear separation between Intel's Core i7 and i5 parts, as well as from AMD's Ryzen chips. Is it enough to really matter? Only if you have a 1080 Ti—with a GTX 1080 or lower, everything from a several years old i5-4690K through Ryzen and Core i7 is fine. The only CPUs where I'd be worried are Core i3 parts, along with older AMD APUs and FX-series CPUs.

With Core i3 (and a hypothetical 2-core/4-thread Ryzen chip running at 3.9GHz), DoW3 is limited to around 75 fps—and that's in the benchmark sequence. If you were in a highly competitive multiplayer map with potentially two or three times as many units onscreen, those slower CPUs will seriously bog things down. But going from 4-core/8-thread to 8-core/16-thread (the Ryzen 1500X and 1700 lines), the extra cores only help a little bit. Pure quad-core i5 parts (or Ryzen 3 when that arrives) get you almost all the way to the top.

Again, most of these CPU limitations are only visible with an ultra-fast graphics card. Using a slower mainstream card like a GTX 1060 3GB or RX 470/570 4GB, Core i5 and Ryzen 5 are definitely sufficient. I didn't run a full set of benchmarks, but as a point of reference, there's only a five percent difference between the overclocked 4.8GHz i7-7700K and a 3.8GHz Core i5-7500 at 1080p ultra when using an RX 470. At 1080p medium, the gap is 13 percent, while at 1440p the difference is only three percent.

Moving over to the mobile side of things, MSI's gaming notebooks are very nearly the equal of their desktop counterparts. The GT73VR has a GTX 1080, with clocks that basically match MSI's factory overclocked GTX 1080 Gaming X 8G. The differences you see in the charts at 1080p and 1440p are due to the slightly slower i7-6820HK processor in the notebook, and at 4K testing you can see the mobile and notebook 1080 GPUs are tied.

The GTX 1070 and 1060 6GB mobile options aren't quite as fast—they have clocks that are about 10 percent lower than the desktop variants. If that sounds like a big deal, keep in mind the old mobile graphics solutions used to use a lesser GPU with fewer cores, along with lower clockspeeds. It was usually a 30-40 percent difference compared to desktop cards.

The GT-series notebooks also include G-Sync displays, with a 120Hz panel on the GT73VR and a 60Hz display on the GT62VR. The higher refresh rate is the way to go, as it means the performance potential doesn't go to waste. The GS63VR meanwhile has a 4K IPS display, which looks beautiful but unfortunately proves a bit much for its slower GPU when it comes to gaming.

I skipped over the discussion of settings to get to the interesting stuff, but I wanted to cover a few things before wrapping up. Unlike many other games I've tested, the graphics settings in Dawn of War 3 are quite limited. Resolution support appears, but at present it doesn't do what you'd expect. Instead, the game runs at your desktop resolution (as a borderless window), and any resolution you set in the game is rendered internally and then scaled to your desktop resolution. That means alt-tabbing won't usually cause problems, but it's a bit weird to not have direct control over the game resolution.

There's a scaling option that also overlaps this functionality, with three scaling factors: 100 percent, 67 percent, and 50 percent. If you have a 4K monitor, those will cause the game to render at 4K, 1440p, or 1080p respectively, but you get the same result by setting 1440p or 1080p. Note also that if you have a high resolution display like 4K, that still uses more video memory, so you lose a few percent in performance.

In my experience, rather than running at 4K with 50 percent scaling (or setting the internal rendering to a lower resolution), you're much better off running at 1080p via the desktop resolution setting, with 100 percent scaling. That's what I've done for all of the performance results today.

The only options for modifying graphics are the overall image quality, the texture quality, anti-aliasing, and physics. The above gallery shows the difference between the six Image Quality settings, though it's hard to spot the differences once you've moved past minimum and low.

There's a pretty healthy jump in performance going from low to the minimum image quality setting (about 50 percent), but minimum image quality also turns off most of the lighting, shadows, and other graphical effects. Going from maximum to low meanwhile only improves performance another 30-40 percent. Texture quality causes the game to use higher resolution textures, though I didn't see a massive difference between low quality and 'higher' quality. If you have a graphics card with only 2GB VRAM, you'll probably want to stick with the medium setting.

As noted above, anti-aliasing can have a huge impact on performance at the medium and high settings. Medium uses 1.44x SSAA and high uses 2.25x SSAA, the net result being performance that scales just like it would with higher resolutions—4K with high AA is like running at 5760x3240 with Low AA.

Finally, let's talk about the benchmark itself. The built-in benchmark has a moderate number of units onscreen, giving a decent look at performance. If you put as many units as possible on the screen at the same time, it can drag performance down, but that doesn't represent typical gameplay.

Another item to note is that the benchmark runs in a letterboxed mode with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen (at least when using 16:9 aspect ratios). That means fewer pixels to render, so there's a slight difference between the benchmark and actual gameplay. But performance can vary widely depending on what's happening onscreen, and any benchmark is merely a snapshot of performance. Other areas may run faster or slower, but framerates generally scale the same across the hardware configurations.

Real-time strategy games are a bit different compared to first-person shooters. With the overhead view and mouse-driven interface, extremely high framerates aren't quite as critical as on shooters. Unless you're a 200+ clicks-per-minute pro looking for every edge you can possibly find, in which case higher framerates can only help.

As far as AMD vs. Nvidia, AMD's previous generation R9 300-series and Fury cards perform well, though the RX 480 is faster than the 390, indicating Dawn of War 3 benefits from the architectural improvements. For Nvidia, previous generation 900-series GPUs aren't radically different from the 10-series parts, so the GTX 970 occupies its typical middle ground between the 1050 Ti and the 1060 3GB.

Overall, the GTX 1080 and 1080 Ti obviously rank as the top performing cards. Until the RX Vega cards come out, that's not going to change. Just be aware that if you're using such a fast GPU, you'll also want a fast CPU. It's too bad the game doesn't scale much beyond four CPU cores. For mainstream users, AMD's RX 470/480 (and the nearly-the-same 570/580 updates) are a better value, but any of the current generation GPUs can deliver a good experience here.

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PC Gamer

Outlandish swagger seeps through every pixel of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3, and I can't help but admire it. Here we find a future so advanced that people flit about in spacecraft as easily as we take the bus, and yet one of its greatest heroes is a guy wielding a big frickin' hammer.

And oh, how he uses it. The man is Gabriel Angelos, commander of the Blood Ravens of the Space Marines, and he leaps into piles of orks and sends them flying as effectively as Chris Farley cannonballing a balsa coffee table. I press another hotkey and his hammer swings 360 degrees, causing orc blood and guts to splatter the turf and walls in gruesome imitation of Jackson Pollock. I may have grown weary of other elements in the latest entry in Relic Entertainment's long-running real-time strategy franchise, but from start to finish I admired the gusto of its presentation.

Dawn of War 3 is all about recapturing that classic real-time strategy excitement. Much of the time it succeeds.  It accomplishes it not only with (literally) larger than life elite units like Gabriel, but also by stuffing in massive-screen hogging armies, limited base-building, and squabbles over resource nodes. Some good elements from the past get lost in the process, such as the cover system and Diablo-style loot hunts that helped make 2009's Dawn of War 2 so exciting, but nothing shines so brightly in this new dawn as the emphasis on unrelenting, aggressive action. What it lacks in creative scenarios it makes up for in intensity, to the point that I rarely found myself bored in both multiplayer and the campaign. 

With a better story, Dawn of War 3 may have even been magnificent. It certainly has the ingredients on hand—a dash of old, favorite characters like the Eldar's Farseer Macha and a crunchy pinch of the Orkish warboss Gorgutz 'Ead 'Unter—but it squanders it on an unappetizing tale about the humans, Orks, and Eldar (space elves) brutally bickering over a mysterious spear and some business about a runaway planet. There's war! There's betrayal! Wacky alliances emerge! In other words, well, it's essentially Warhammer as usual. 

It's been a long time since I've felt such a satisfying buildup in an RTS.

The big difference this time around is that Dawn of War 3 lets you play all three factions in the 17-mission campaign rather than limiting yourself to the Space Marines. Each bunch feels distinct, and I found experimenting with each one of the greatest joys Dawn of War has to offer. The Space Marines may be a straightforward bunch with swords and guns, but they march down that straight path with panache, mowing down Orks and Eldar with hulking mechs or smashing through walls of green flesh with Gabriel's big hammer. The Eldar, though, are a band apart. Lithe and lean, they dart across the battlefield with rechargeable shields and an emphasis on strike-and-run tactics, and they can teleport almost all of their base's structures across the field rather than build a new one.

But it's the Orks that steal the show. They can upgrade themselves with the scrap from ruined buildings littering the field, and every one of their ramshackle structures invites admiration. Nothing sets them apart quite like their WAAAAGH towers, though, which look like things that might be loaded on Mad Max: Fury Road's doof wagon and which pump thumpin' heavy metal out to the green hordes around them. Activate one—hell, activate five of them—and the music intensifies until the surrounding orcs revel in a savage ecstasy, gaining enough attack boosts and speed to knock some hurt into anyone who comes near. It's been a long time since I've felt such a satisfying buildup in an RTS.

It can get tough to see all these units in action, particularly when the screen floods with little green men (that do drag the framerates down to around 40 frames per second or so), but the intuitive user interface usually smooths out any potential issues. Every squad that's either in the field or being prepared gets its own little square at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to keep track of which ones are taking heavy fire and need to be directed over to a health boost. They also make it easy to tell which units need to be upgraded, as the icon changes once the upgrade is in place to reflect the newer look.

Such variety. Such potential. But for all of the creativity that went into making each faction feel distinct, only a little made it into the maps themselves. A fairly typical mission might see me stepping into the clanky shoes of an elite like Gorgutz and directing my guys to muscle their way from one point to another, smashing whatever objective was there, and capturing resource nodes throughout the map. I'd then set up a few base buildings like barracks and an advanced vehicle shop, and then take the battle to whoever was on the other side. And that, sadly, would usually be that.

The lack of creativity fortunately doesn't mean a lack of content. At least the missions are long; their objectives neatly scattered. It took perhaps half an hour to plow through the shortest one, and the longest one took a couple of hours out of me. But the pacing isn't always perfect. Even on some of the most intense maps, I still found myself in plenty of situations where I'd end up waiting quietly and awkwardly for resources to pick back up so I could enter some more units into the queue. Worse, at least as far as believable strategy is concerned, in almost every one of these vulnerable cases the enemy showed next to zero interest in taking me out. Cover might as well not exist at all. Sure, you'll find a couple of circular areas with destructible shields across the map, but the battles rarely seem to take place near them.

For better or for worse, it's usually safe to expect a dull campaign from a real-time strategy game. After all, the joke-that's-not-a-joke goes that they're really only meant as lengthy tutorials for the multiplayer mode, and that's true here. The catch? Dawn of War 3 does a shoddy job of it. Rather than sending you through multiple missions at a time with a single faction, Relic passes you off to a different faction every mission. I started off with humans, but one mission later I was turning up my nose along with the Eldar. One more, and I was shouting WAAAAAAAGH with the Orks. (That was my favorite.) And then it's "Hey, humies" all over again. 

Stomaching this kind of thing might have been easier if the factions played a little more similarly (which would bring its own set of problems), but the factions play so differently that it's tough to get the hang of micromanaging the upgrades for squads, the specific abilities for three elite heroes and their grunt units, and the queues for specific buildings. Just as I'm getting comfortable with the tactics associated with a certain faction, I'm asked to step into another. The narrative suffers a little as a result as well, as the disjointed story does little to foster the cohesion that comes from a focus on one faction. 

Sometimes, though, the spectacle of its setpiece kept my attention. I wish there had been more. Early on, for instance, the Orks cobble together a big gun in an inconvenient spot and then realize moving it might pose a few problems. They realize after the first shot that the gun has a massive kickback, so the latter part of the mission hinges of the orcs fighting off Eldar as they warm it up and fire it toward the next point on the map. Dawn of War 3 also revels in the beauty of carnage. Forums and subreddits leading up to the official launch crawled with complaints that it looked too "cartoony," but the graphical approach here generally works well in action. Dawn of War 3 unfortunately doesn't let you zoom in for detail as far as Dawn of War 2, but from afar, the flashy animations for elites make it easy to find them in the flood of fighters. 

Elites are the mighty hero units that dominate Dawn of War 3. A specter of Warcraft 3 heroes looms over their presence, to the point that Gabriel himself—standing twice the size of his fellow men and toting a two-handed mallet—could be sculpted into a modern-day model for Arthas Menethil with little effort. He leaps into battle with arcs perhaps better suited to comic books than grimdark fantasy and his voice actor clearly enjoy yelling out his goofy, noble lines with weighty conviction. (Sound design as a whole is a great strength throughout.)  I admire the surprising variety in both appearance and abilities in all of them. Some, like Farseer Macha, who tosses her spear across the map and unleashes telekinetic blasts, are fairly simple. My personal favorite is likely the Orks' Beauty da Morkanaut, a building-sized walking metal effigy of the Ork god Mork that lumbers through the battlefield taking on entire armies on its own with its devastating "rockit fists" and "kustom force shield."

They're like gods on the field, and I can't shake the feeling that they're too powerful.

They're like gods on the field, and I can't shake the feeling that they're too powerful. That's not to say that they're immortal, as you could take down a melee-focused elite like Gabriel with some smart positioning of snipers and other ranged units. And to be fair, taking one of the giants down is one of the great thrills of the game.

But there's a good chance Gabriel could just jump into that pile of snipers and scatter them anyway. I normally get the most satisfaction from real-time strategy games by lining up a smart succession of grunts troops, but such meticulous efforts come off as a waste of time here when elites crush your armies within seconds. Elites technically can't even die. You first summon elites of varying power by building elite points from passive play (Da Morkanaut takes a hefty 9), but after they fall, you only need to wait out a short timer before you can set them to wreaking havoc again. They're so essential to the strategy here, in fact, that in the multiplayer maps I'd frequently see players just turtling around their base until they had enough points to throw an elite into the field. I can't even say I blame them. 

You also gain 'skull' currency by leveling elites through the campaign, but that leveling unfolds at a glacial pace. Skulls allow you to buy new 'doctrines' for your elites, such as one that heals all the troops around Gabriel when he falls in battle. You're clearly meant to build up most skull points through the multiplayer mode, as a fully unlocked stable of abilities allows for loadouts that give you significant edges over your opponents.

And what about that multiplayer mode anyway? (And unfortunately, for now, there is just the one and it only comes with eight different maps.) It, too, hearkens back to real-time strategy's good ol' days of building bases, scrounging for resources, and slapping armies of humans, orcs, and elves together into a giant, scrappy pile in 3-v-3, 2-v-2, or 1-v-1 modes.

But there are more distinctly modern elements here, too. The battles themselves aren't really about destroying bases. Instead, they're about taking down 'power cores,' but not before first taking out sets of shield generators and turrets. In short, in action, Dawn of War 3's multiplayer mode looks a lot like a multiplayer online battle arena in the vein of League of Legends or Dota 2.  I initially wasn't much of a fan of the approach, but it's grown on me. A bit, anyway. The presence of elites and escalation timers mean that smart players are always on the offensive, trying to keep the elites and bay and trying to slap key enemy structures with permanent damage. Most of the best action takes place around resource nodes, as losing them can quickly cripple a faction beyond recovery. Playing defensively? You're probably going to get a few nasty comments in chat from your teammates for not helping out. I've grown to love the associated energy, except perhaps when they devolve into what looks like pure chaos in the 3v3 mode. 

Still, I'm convinced the elites make the battles go on far longer than they should. You can spend several minutes building a smart selection of troops, but they're little more than wheat before the thresher when an elite stomps on the screen. Elites dominate the field so thoroughly that I've sometimes seen matches devolve into two elites just swatting each other in the middle of the field, their armies dead all around them. It's in these moments that they most resemble a MOBA's hero units, and the look isn't always flattering.

Other flaws pepper the experience, too, whether it's the absence of autosaves during the long campaign missions or the mind-boggling inability to reassign keybinds. For all this, I can't say I wasn't usually having fun. I admire Dawn of War 3 for trying to reinvent its formula again. It isn't quite the pure RTS of the first game or the RPG experiment of the second, but it sits somewhere in between. In its finest moments, when armies are crawling over each other and mechs make the ground tremble, it's an exciting place to be. 

The Edgelands

Billed as a "narrative adventure in which players explore a rustic twilight world where modern life mingles with real and imagined folklore", The Edgelands is the debut game from independent outfit Marshlight Software that was part-financed by Failbetter's fundbetter initiative. It's a strange game, but an intriguing one and while its creators suggest it references Infocom era interactive fiction, there's some strong hints of Kentucky Route Zero's eccentricity in there too. 

Which, if you've followed my writing over the past several months on PC Gamer, you'll know suits me nicely. Despite kicking off with the tired amnesiac protagonist trope, The Edgelands soon opens up its dream-like world, where its woodland landscapes are as unsettling as its disreputable characters. You're of course forced to converse with the latter in order to solve puzzles and progress its narrative—which underscores primitive living with themes of technological dependence. 

Having played through the first few areas of the game, I at one stage found myself stealing money from a sleeping vagrant in order to afford sleep medicine for a different chap blocking my only route of progression. Later, I wound up taking on a short-lived job as a waitress at a riverside food van in order to obtain a key item. Throughout, you discover more about the world, its characters and how everything ties together. 

Here's a gander at The Edgelands in motion:

As you can there, the game's soundtrack and art style is pretty out there too. But it suits. 

The Edgelands is due May 9, 2017. More information can be found via its official site

Dota 2

The Kiev Major and DreamHack Open are well underway: it’s going to be another busy weekend across the world of digital sports. There’s plenty of action from the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational to the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series. We even have the Overwatch Apex Season 3 to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: Mid-Season Invitational

The 2017 Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) is kicking off its international tournament at the CBLoL Studio in Brazil. This year, all 13 regions will participate by sending their split champion (Spring Split or Split 1) to face off against other regional champions. However, only three teams from the Play-In Stage will advance to take on the champions from Europe, China, and Korea. The format remains the same as last year with the six teams competing in a best of one double round robin, which means every team will play each other twice. Oceania’s Dire Wolves will face Brazil’s Red Canids today at 11:00 PDT / 20:00 CEST, while the remaining Play-In teams will duke it out over the course of the weekend. The full schedule and stream can be found on LoL Esports.

Dota 2: Kiev Major

The Group Stage for this year’s Kiev Major has finished and the main event is starting today with the remaining brackets. Invictus Gaming is the third seed of the Kiev main event, and arguably the strongest team in the world given their recent results. They beat mousesports 2-1 yesterday and the team will be looking to continue their winning streak this weekend. TNC Pro Team will be looking to continue their climb when they clash with Team faceless today at 00:00 PDT / 09:00 CEST. Matches will be played throughout the day, so make sure you check out the schedule and stream over on the official Kiev Major site

StarCraft 2: World Championship Series

This weekend, 80 of the world’s best StarCraft II players are heading to Austin, Texas, for the World Championship Series and a chance to win the $100,000 prize pool. Last year’s DreamHack saw Hydra clinch a 4-2 win over Neeb in a tense final. This year Neeb will be hoping to climb the ladder to claim their seat at the the global championship finals. The group stages start today at 17:00 PDT / 02:00 CEST, while the quarter finals start the following day at 14:35 PDT / 23:35 CEST. Make sure to check out the full stream over on Twitch.

CS:GO: DreamHack Open 2017

The DreamHack Open returns this weekend and on this occasion the tournament will be held in Austin, Texas, United States. Eight teams from Europe and the Americas will fight it out for the lion's share of $100,000 at the LAN finals event. Last year's tournament saw Luminosity Gaming take first place after defeating fellow Brazilians, Tempo Storm for the champions’ title. You can check out the full weekend schedule and stream over on DreamHack’s official site

Street Fighter V: DreamHack 2017

The fourth Premier Event of the 2017 Capcom Pro Tour season will also be at this year’s DreamHack event. Players from around the globe will square-up in Street Fighter V at the Austin Convention Center today for a chance to win their share of the $15,000 prize pool. The winner of the last premier event will also be making a return and PG Punk will be looking to combo his way to victory once again. However, Capcom Cup 2016 champion Liquid NuckleDu will be looking to take revenge after PG Punk delivered a critical blow at the NorCal Regionals. The event could see these two giants clash once again, so be sure to tune it to the live stream on Saturday at 08:00 PDT / 17:00 CEST.

Hearthstone: Grand Prix

The DreamHack Hearthstone Grand Prix will see 200 competitors clash this weekend and only 16 players will advance to the single-elimination stage. Notable participants include GreenSheep, Chakki, amnesiac and Rdu. The winner will receive $25,000, while $1,500 prize pool is at stake for those who don’t make it through the grueling Swiss stages of the main tournament. The full schedule and stream can be found by heading over to battle.net.

Hearthstone: Global Games

The Hearthstone Global Games tournament is well underway, and a few teams have begun to establish themselves in the early stages of the tournament. The USA are off to the best start out of anyone in the Global Games so far – securing two match wins and only dropping one game. Edwin ‘HotMEOWTH’ Cook and 2014 World Champion James ‘Firebat’ Kostesich have given the team the power they need to climb the rankings and beat their opponents. It’s a long road ahead for the pros and every team will be fighting hard to secure the $300,000 prize pool. The full schedule and stream for week three can be found here.

Overwatch: Apex Season 3

The Overwatch Apex Season 3 begins in Korea today and we finally know the two Western teams that have been invited. Rogue has been placed in Group A alongside Lunatic Hai who are expected to be the group winner, thanks to their recent Season 2 victory. Meanwhile, EnVyUs has been placed in Group D where they will battle it out against the likes of MetaAthena and BK Stars. EnVyUs have a significantly easier group stage, but the team will need to be at their best if they wish to make it to playoffs. Lunatic Hai will face KongDoo Panthera today at 03:00 PDT / 12:00 CEST, while RunAway will clash with Afreeca Freecs at 04:30 PDT / 13:30 CEST. Make sure to check out the full stream over on Twitch.

Heroes of the Storm: Global Championship

The Heroes of the Storm Global Championship is wrapping up week nine of play this weekend and the tension continues to build up. Teams from around the world will be aiming to continue their journey towards the Mid-Season Brawl and secure a top spot in the regular season. Tempo Storm still remains at the top of leaderboard in North America, while Team Liquid are the team to beat in Europe. However, Gale force and Fnatic are creeping up the rankings and they’ll be looking to snag another victory this weekend. You can check out the standings for each region and view the tournament schedule for your area over on the Heroes of the Storm’s official site.

SMITE: Masters

The SMITE LAN Masters continue this weekend and North America, Europe, Latin America, Oceania and Brazil will be battling for the Masters title, as well as the $120,000 prize pool. The quarterfinals start today at 08:00 PDT / 17:00 CEST, while the semifinals start tomorrow at the same time. Hi-Rez will be randomly dropping skins of each team’s choosing whenever they win a game, so make sure you link your Twitch and Hi-Rez accounts in order to have a chance of receiving a skin while you watch. The Masters format, stream and Twitch drops can be found by heading over to SMITE Esports.

Dota 2

Thanks to Valve, Dota 2 players that take their rank seriously have a chance to stop seeing blue. They’ve finally added an authentication system to ranked play, which involves registering a phone number to any accounts wishing to queue in the game’s ranked mode (and no, you can’t use numbers from VOIPs such as Skype.) 

According to the devs, it’s a response to a longstanding issue of duplicate accounts, or smurfs, used by players to enter matches outside of their assigned skill rank. The rank disparity seems to go both ways: high-skill players smurf in lower matches for entertainment or education, and low-skill players buy higher-level accounts. There’s no single reason for the latter, though accounts in the 6000s and higher can likely play with celebrity pro players. Even players using smurfs in lower accounts can feel accomplished if their higher-level team carries them to victory. Either way, it creates imbalance in the match  for the other nine players (provided that they’re not smurfs too).

Already, though, criticism has arisen about the obstacles that the system creates for aspiring professional players.

The phone registration system has been frequently requested of late due to Valve’s implementation of a similar system in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Known as “prime matchmaking”, the system certainly hasn’t reduced the number of bitter players in each match, but it’s reduced the number of smurfs that serious players encounter. Dota 2 players are hoping for the same results. 

Already, though, criticism has arisen about the obstacles that the system creates for aspiring professional players. Some are concerned that the phone system isolates players in much poorer regions. The game is certainly popular in LAN cafes in regions such as South America, the Philippines and rural Russia. However, there’s also the case that mobile ownership, and even smartphone ownership, is booming in such regions. Since the Dota 2 authentication system only requires a basic telephone, most players will likely avoid this issue. 

Even age may not be an issue. In America, at least, the average age of initial smartphone ownership was estimated at about 10 years old, which may not be too far off for other countries as parents rush to keep their kids caught up with their peers. Even then, younger players can borrow a parent’s phone, or use the house phone. In that case, no issues should arise—unless there are multiple Dota 2 players in the house. 

For most players, the new system has no real consequences besides a temporary inconvenience. After all, it’s part of the long and complicated history of Dota 2 matchmaking, which is certainly neater than it used to be.

The original DotA actually didn’t have a matchmaking system. Warcraft 3 custom maps such as DotA lacked the perks of default multiplayer, which included regional and ping-based matching. For the most part, players could technically just jump into any public games, but this didn’t necessarily make for a better game. Community leaders stepped in to help alleviate some of this trouble, forming in-house leagues with their own rankings and hierarchies. This was how most DotA players socialized and played. 

Then, Dota 2’s beta was released, hoping to improve on many things that were limited in the Warcraft 3 mod. Sometime during this beta, Valve quietly added an unlisted matchmaking rating. Dotabuff, the stat aggregation site, was able to group players into normal, high or very high rankings. Still, the lack of a formal matchmaking system meant that players were free to play with others of any rank, though that wasn’t a major concern in the beta days. 

The matchmaking system as we know it today came about in late 2013, after the game came out of beta. It introduced the numerical matchmaking rank, with no upper ceiling but a floor of, of course, zero. Players needed at least 150 games, a fair 85-100 hours for most players, and a series of calibration matches needed to be played for placement. The only major change since then is that the requirement to queue in ranked was changed to a level 13 profile with the summer 2015 Reborn update (and the phone number, of course). 

For the most part, it’s remained a pretty acceptable system, and even Overwatch has taken a similar approach with its Competitive Mode matchmaking by using a numerical system plus period calibration. However, that’s generally where Dota 2’s general similarity to other games’ matchmaking ends, and some of the criticism it warrants begins. 

Games like LoL or Overwatch are more active in maintaining an up-to-date hierarchy of players.

While there’s been mostly positive feedback over the general ranking system, some have argued that Dota 2 should have a decaying MMR—that is, if a player is absent for a while, their MMR should go down. In many games, such as League of Legends, this system has a floor, meaning that it only applies above a certain rank so that lower-level players don’t need to worry about keeping up. It also means that players coming in after a long hiatus are essentially re-tested in order to prove their rank. 

Games like LoL or Overwatch are more active in maintaining an up-to-date hierarchy of players. They also have a seasonal reset and give out vanity rewards for end-of-season success, including a custom real-life jacket for Challenger players in LoL. Players with such high rankings, then, can’t just sit in the lowest Challenger rank and expect a jacket: they need to remain active and competitive. Meanwhile, Dota 2 doesn’t reward high MMR with anything other than pride.

So does Dota 2’s ranked matchmaking have anywhere to go from here? The answer isn’t clear, as ranked MMR is a controversial subject for many players. It’s clear, though, that the community has tried to push Valve to make sure everyone has a good competitive experience, whether in the trench or at the top. Prime matchmaking is a step in that direction.

Rising Storm 2: Vietnam

While it doesn't have a specific release date nailed down yet, Rising Storm 2: Vietnam is scheduled to release some time in the first half of this year. And as proof that this is probably still the case, Tripwire Interactive has opened pre-orders for the war shooter on Steam.

There's a standard edition as well as a Digital Deluxe Edition: the former is, y'know, standard, while the latter comes bearing a bunch of extra perks. These include two exclusive items in the form of "camouflage 'Boonie' hats" for both the North Vietnamese and US factions, as well as four cosmetic item unlocks. The official soundtrack is bundled in as well.

Finally, the system requirements have also been published, which you can peruse below. The link to the pre-order page is here. Tyler went hands-on with Rising Storm 2 last year, and you can read his impressions here.

Minimum SpecWindows® 7 / Windows® 8 / Windows® 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack)Intel® Core™ i3 @ 2.5GHz or AMD Phenom @ 2.5GHzNVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 460 or ATI Radeon™ HD 58504 GB RAM

Recommended SpecWindows® 7 / Windows® 8 / Windows® 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack)Intel i5 @ 3.2GHz or AMD @4GHzNVIDIA® GeForce® 760 or AMD R9 270X6 GB RAM

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