Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

With 2013's Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios showed it was more than capable of putting together a solid fighting game featuring the DC Comics pantheon. More than that, the developer capably made it stand out from sister franchise Mortal Kombat with its own distinct features and mechanics. For an encore, Injustice 2 further builds on the foundation set by its predecessor and steps forward as a truly superheroic effort.

For Justice

The original Injustice featured a grand DC Elseworlds narrative of a world ruled by a totalitarian Superman and while that plot featured several twists and turns, Injustice 2's Story Mode seamlessly continues this tale with an easy-to-follow recap. Injustice 2 takes place in a post-Regime world with Superman safely imprisoned and Batman desperately trying to pick up the pieces of a world still shaken to its core. His efforts are quickly stalled by a supervillain gathering, the Injustice world's take on the classic Society, which would herald the arrival of extraterrestrial threat and perennial Superman baddie, Brainiac.

With Batman's team overwhelmed, there's a certain pattern the narrative starts to follow. The heroes have had their differences and it looks like now it's time to come together to take on the real villains. Then everyone hugs it out and everything's okay again? In actuality, much like the rest of NetherRealm's Injustice narrative, things aren't that simple. The story that unfolds surrounds the increasing complexity of the classic good vs. evil conflict, as well as what it means to truly deliver justice. It's an eye into Batman's perfectionist (and somewhat naive) view of what justice should be. It's a continuing look at why Superman has pursued the path that he has (albeit one that does Wonder Woman's character a disservice by making her into a Lady MacBeth type). But more than anything, it's the desire from all sides for things to be the way they were and the heartbreaking realization that there is no going back. Fixing things isn't as easy as remembering that everyone's mother happens to be named Martha.

Of course, between all the deeper themes, there's an outstanding, action-filled superhero story that culminates in epic battles unfolding through cutscenes and through standard gameplay.

One big improvement from the first Injustice game is that the quick-time events of the original story are gone. Instead, they're replaced with chapters that center around two characters. Whenever a fight is cued up, the player selects between one of the two heroes, with some of the story's dialogue unfolding differently depending on the character chosen. The choices take a much more extreme turn towards the end of the game, but the story remains cohesive throughout.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Besides the Story Mode, Injustice 2 also offers the standard single-player mode, but this one comes with a bit of a twist. Playing off the Brother Eye satellite used in the game's story, Multiverse mode offers up contains the standard Arcade mode, where players take on one opponent at a time. However, there are also other Earths that open up with different scenarios and different opponents. Beyond having their own versions of the game's fighters with their own distinct looks, Multiverse mixes things up by occasionally tossing in game-altering conditions, like hazards, boosts, or souped-up opponents.

Multiverse is a great example of using an online connection for something positive, adding in new worlds every day with a finite time to complete their missions and collect their rewards. Some of those worlds have rarer rewards that are worth pursuing. The game even offers a social element to help make Multiverse hopping a little more fun with the Guild system, where groups of friends can earn rewards by completing specific Multiverse tasks. The whole Multiverse package is a robust expansion of the Arcade Mode concept that gives it a much longer life, though anyone with an offline connection can still play the normal Battle Simulator.

Clothes Make the Hero

Let's discuss those Multiverse rewards. They come in the form of Mother Boxes, as Injustice 2 is the latest game to get into the mystery loot craze. With a full comic book universe to play with, the Mother Box rewards dig into the rich DC Comics lore and give each character a dapper new look. The most interesting element, however, is that each piece of gear offers RPG-style boosts. Some of them offer advantages specifically for Multiverse Mode, while others can help give a little boost during multiplayer. What makes the gear system particularly cool is that it gives the sense that a player's fighter is progressing and growing over the course of invested hours. There's a sense of something to aim for, in addition to the usual character ending and the like.

The one problem with the gear system is that oftentimes, a cool Epic or Legendary item will get opened up, but won't be accessible until that particular figher levels up. And sadly, the characters level up about as slowly as the Batmobile with a flat tire. Getting to actually play with that awesome piece of gear will mean hours of grinding and that's when the Multiverse can start to feel tedious.

There's a sense of accomplishment once that gear is finally available, especially for those that want to take it online or assign it to an AI squad that can fight other players' AI squads in simulated combat. The latter is a particularly nifty feature that adds a fantasy element and a cheap way to earn extra experience or loot.

Of course, those that are looking for a more even playing field can also play multiplayer without gear benefits. After all, some people just want to see who's the better player without fancy toys.

Fists of Fury

Speaking of Injustice 2's fighting system, it feels like a further evolution of NetherRealm's distinct fighting style. A friendly tutorial explains everything in great detail, gently explaining how to perform combos, overheads, throws, specials, and anything else required of a NetherRealm fighter. Dashes and slides can cover much more ground, with environmental cues also helping cover a full screen's worth of ground in a moment, helping quell the rise of trigger-happy projectile spammers.

Given that combos are often the bane of the novice's existence, Injustice 2's eloquent explanation of the overhead and other moves that bounce opponents off walls is a godsend. The game encourages players to experiment with juggles, whether it's a simple light attack combo or a cool special move that catches an opponent in mid-air. This complements the rest of the game's mechanics smoothly, including the theatrical Super Moves and the returning Clash system. The latter goes a long way towards giving the game its identity, even if they start to feel old upon repeated viewings.

For All Seasons

Injustice 2 feels like a step up from Gods Among Us in every way imaginable. It's a far deeper experience, follows up wonderfully on the last game's story, and also gives reasons to keep coming back for repeat visits. The rich cast of fighters all have their own distinct styles, but they're all wrapped up in an easy-to-learn fighting system that's just plain fun to play. NetherRealm has a true grasp of what makes the DC Universe special and this game is as much of a love letter to that world as it gets.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

You may not have guessed it, from how many Arcane Novas and Steam Lightning Storms were cast in the direction of other players, but wacky action-RPG Magicka was originally a co-op game. PvP arenas were added free DLC to formalise the wizard-on-wizard violence, and the next game goes even further. Announced today by publisher Paradox, Magicka: Wizard Wars is a purely PvP affair, boasting 4v4 magic man action.

Magicka, if you were unfortunate or foolish enough to miss the original, has the most wonderful and chaotic spellcasting system. You combine up to five of the eight elements--from Earth and Life to Fire and Shield--into a single spell. This can be cast on yourself, on your weapon to imbue it with power, or tossed around in a number of ways. With so many combinations, you can get cast unusual things like a Chilly Exploding Electric Ice Wall or Healing Mines. Which deal as much damage or healing to friends as to enemies. Things go wrong, quickly, often, and unexpectedly.

This zany system will of course remain in Wizard Wars, which Paradox says will result in "short rounds and unpredictable strategies." More importantly, you'll have a persistent customizable wizard, with hundreds of items to choose from. No word yet on when it'll launch.

Magicka creator Arrowhead is not making Wizard Wars, but rather Paradox's own Paradox North studio. Arrowhead's most recent work was multiplayer side-on shooter The Showdown Effect.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Paradox Interactive announced its line-up for the Game Developers Conference in March, and among the games listed is a new multiplayer combat game from Arrowhead Game Studios. The project from the Magicka team is code-named Project JFK, but is otherwise being kept mostly under wraps for the time being.

The teaser announcement promises "breakneck-paced multiplayer combat with a focus on killing your friends and looking cool doing it." Whatever Project JFK is, it's being developed alongside further expansions to Magicka, so Arrowhead must be busy.

Paradox also teased two other unannounced projects. Project Revenge from Critical Studio is described as "death trap for heroes and children." Lovely. And Project Silverado from Zeal Game Studio combines elements from RTS, shooters, tabletop war-games, in a sci-fi setting. Paradox will also showcase the previously announced games, A Game of Dwarves and War of the Roses.

GDC 2012 will take place March 5-9 in San Francisco.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Arrowhead Game Studios' Magicka has lampooned Vietnam and Cthulu without receiving the wrath of the elder gods or EA lawyers. Today Paradox Interactive announced another expansion, The Other Side of the Coin, which gives a firm ribbing to fantasy cliches.

You'll be put in the shoes of Alucard the Vampire and his necromancer followers as they disrupt Vlad's proposed peace between humans, dwarves, and elves. The Other Side of the Coin (or TOSOTC for short) uses the same objective-based progression as Vietnam, and adds a new challenge map for the necromancers. The necromancer can also be used in PvP, and the announcement promises a new environment with distinctive Elven architecture.

It will only cost $3.99, but you'll have to wait a while. The expansion isn't due until late autumn.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Magicka has cast a mighty spell, summoning not only an update with heaps of tech improvements and fixes, but also a new trailer for its eerie upcoming Lovecraftian downloadable expansion 'The Stars Are Left.'

The patch, already out through Steam, brings checkpoints remembered between play sessions, a fancier particle system, stuttering fixes, server browser improvements, and heaps more.

Steam has the full changelog, but here are the highlights:

  • Fairy familiar added, revives characters after death occurs in solo campaign

  • Checkpoints now save progress even if game is quit

  • Chapter select added to replay previously played chapters

  • Several improvements to the server browser

  • Physics and collision detection improved - less falling through the floor

  • Frame rate stuttering - should be less noticeable for some users

  • Extended particle system with particle lights

  • Improved light performance

  • Several minor bug fixes, game balance, and tweaks

And now, witness the unspeakable horrors of The Stars Are Left. It'll rise from the depths of the space, time, and madness this winter, with new enemies, levels, magicka, items, and more. As with the Vietnam expansion, only the player hosting will need to have bought it.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Eldritch horrors from beyond the stars are to invade the cheery world of Magicka in 'The Stars Are Left,' a downloadable content campaign inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, announced today by publisher Paradox.

The multi-level adventure will bring seven Lovecraftian enemies to smash, two new bosses to conquer, extra spells to zap them all with, two challenge maps, and new items and robes to murder your co-op partners over. "Also, we make fun of Minecraft this time," Paradox notes.

Magicka: The Stars Are Left is due to launch this winter. There's no word on how much it'll cost but, as with previous Magicka DLC, only the game host will need to own it for everyone to play.

While the horrors developer Arrowhead intends to unleash upon us are doubtless unspeakable, you can get a peek at them in the first screenshots and announcement trailer:

And as the saying goes, if you can remember it without jerking erect and screeching "Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!" in an unearthly voice, then you weren't really there.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Paradox Interactive, publisher of games like Magicka and Mount and Blade, says it no longer needs retail support. "Retail sales are like a bonus for now," Fredrik Wester, CEO of Paradox told PC Gamer, revealing that 90% of the company's revenue now comes through digital distribution sales. "We don’t really need retailers any more."

Obviously, digital distribution bypasses many of the hurdles that retail releases require: there are no discs to print, no boxes to ship, and having to fight for coveted shelf space. However, Wester suggests that digital distribution affords game creators greater creative freedom. "People complain to publishers that there are only sequels on the market, but that’s because retailers want to see sequels, because they can do their chart diagrams for how things sell and things like that," he added. "So one of the things preventing more creative gaming has been the retail challenge."

It's unlikely that a game like Magicka, a quirky co-op adventure game, would have found success in a market largely determined by retail. It has gone on to sell more than 600,000 copies since release. It later received a tongue-in-cheek expansion pack, "Vietnam."

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

As if Magicka didn't already suffer enough magical 'friendly fire' incidents, developer Arrowhead and publisher Paradox have announced that wizard-on-wizard violence will be formalised on June 21 when the PvP mode launches for free.

The Trek-tastic Vulcanus DLC arena

Along with classic Deathmatch, which players are apparently quite capable of emulating for themselves at the moment anyway, there'll be another two modes for duelling wizards. Brawl will give players or teams a limited number of lives for them to fritter away until there's only one survivor. Kreitor mode, inspired by an eponymous fan, will see new Magicks unlocking at intervals, so the match changes over time as wizards get new toys to play with.

Launching alongside the free PvP mode will be paid downloadable content with new combat arenas and robes. If you've ever wondered what would have happened if Captain Kirk and Spock were wizards when they duelled in the Star Trek episode 'Amok Time,' you'll want to snap up the 'Vulcanus' map, which bears more than a passing similarity to that famous arena.

Pricing has not yet been announced for the paid DLC, but for reference the last Magicka map pack cost $1.99 and item packs have cost 99¢.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Magicka 'Nippon' DLC

A new cheap piece of downloadable content for Magicka is available on Steam. The $1 "Nippon" DLC grants you a Kimono robe, a Katana that can cut through armor, and a Bamboo Staff that adds resistance to all elements.

Until June 5, fifty percent of the proceeds will go to the Japan Relief Support program. On top of that, buying the DLC before the deadline date will also net you a spiffy new hat for Team Fortress 2: the Demoman's Conjurer's Cowl.

If you're looking for other ways to contribute to Japanese relief efforts, check out Play for Japan. The organization recently hit over $120,000 raised, and is currently getting ready to release a charity album.

Shacknews - Steve Watts
Arrowhead Studios is bringing two Challenge Maps to Magicka, and letting fans vote on which of the two will be available for free. The losing map will be offered for $2.
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