Smoke and Sacrifice

In Smoke and Sacrifice, you're a mother searching for her child in a bizarre underworld. All sorts of creatures inhabit this landscape, including jellyfish-like creatures called polyps and a cute hybrid of hogs and porcupines. It immediately reminds me of Don't Starve to play—you craft things to survive, which is extremely familiar. While you start by creating boots, melee weapons and small bombs, though, eventually you'll be creating steampunk-infused mechs. There's a lot going on here.

What sets Smoke and Sacrifice apart from other survival games is a stronger sense of narrative drive. You play as Sachi, a woman who sacrifices her child to an entity called the Sun Tree in order to keep her land from being consumed by darkness. Sachi eventually finds herself in an underworld trying to unravel exactly what's going on, and what happened to her child. 

You then take on quests and journey across what a huge, varied landscape. It's not going to be easy: you have to save manually at infrequent posts, and one bad encounter—or just wandering onto a surface you're not equipped to endure—will easily kill Sachi. You need a light source to survive at night, like a lantern which you can craft, otherwise the surrounding smoke will consume your character. 

In my hour-or-so with the game, I didn't get close to unlocking mechs, but I'm intrigued to experience the long journey there. The developers promise a big game, and there's a lot of systemic potential here. I see creatures battling each other as I explore the landscape, and wandering into the aftermath of a fight can make it easier to gather resources, since everyone's dead and I behaved like a coward. While the creatures in this part of the game all want to kill Sachi, eventually you can tame some to help you, including the game's larger enemies. 

The developers at Solar Sail cite The Dark Crystal as a thematic influence, but also describe the game as a 'bucket of things' they like: hence a world where porcupine/hog hybrids and steampunk mechs co-exist. The only thing I struggled with a little in this demo is collision detection when performing actions like trying to catch a creature in a bug net—getting a sense of that was tricky. The art, though, is gorgeously offbeat, and the idea of reframing a survival game as a narrative-driven RPG is really cool to me. 

Smoke and Sacrifice has no release date yet, but expect it later this year. 


Above: our video preview of PUBG Mobile running on a Google Pixel.

The battle royale infection has spread to mobile platforms much more quickly than we could ever have expected. Within a week, Fortnite's mobile version skyrocketed to the top of the iOS app store, nabbing nearly $1.5 million in the process. And PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is now officially in the race. After a soft-launch in Canada earlier this week, the free-to-play mobile port is now available on iOS and Android app stores in the US.

If you're curious about trying it out (and, honestly, why wouldn't you be?), you can watch the video above to see my impressions after playing for an afternoon on my Google Pixel. It's a surprisingly faithful port that doesn't sacrifice any of the central pillars of PUBG's combat—it's still 100 players, still has a giant blue circle that pushes everyone inward, and it's still intense as hell.

That said, playing a shooter on a phone is never a perfect experience. The controls are going to be the biggest obstacle, even though PUBG Mobile does some really smart things with its user interface to make it work better on a phone. But no matter how easy managing your inventory now is, aiming is still a real pain in the ass.

If you're on iOS, you can head over to the app store to download it and give it a whirl. Android users can find it on Google's Play Store. It's free and relatively small (well under a gigabyte in size), so it's a great way to kill an afternoon.

If you've already given it a try, let us know what you think.

Grand Theft Auto V

After its somewhat lacklustre Occupy and Bunker series one-two punch last week, GTA Online has unveiled the Southern San Andreas Sports Series. Set to run for the next several weeks, the first of a staggered string of rollouts introduces five cars and a new racing mode. 

From front to back, The Hotring Circuit apes Vice City's stock car racing side-mission of the same name and combines it with GTA:O's Cunning Stunts update. Designed with the new Hotring Sabre in mind, the 30-player-supporting Hotring Circuit grants racers double GTA$ and RP now through March 26. 

Elsewhere, Legendary Motorsport now stocks the Overflod Entity XXR and Cheval Taipan supercars, and the Vulcar Fagaloa station wagon and "rally-inspired" Vapid GB200. Given the focus of the Super Sports Series, the supercars are probably the pick of that bunch—both of which boast top tier traction, acceleration, and speed at the expense of brake power. The XXR costs $2,305,000, while the Taipan comes in at $1,980,000. I'm not convinced either trump our fastest cars in GTA Online entrants, but let us know if you've taken them for a spin yourself. 

Down the line, Rockstar plans to release a number of racing and Adversary Modes. On April 2, Target Assault pits eight teams of two players against one another—whereby Gunners and Drivers combine to "outmaneuver" the competition. I suspect said outmaneuvering will involve explosions. Look, see:

On May 1, ten new Special Vehicle Races land (and fly) with the Doomsday Heist's Deluxo, Stromberg and Thruster in tow. And on May 29, seven new Transform Races "featuring a slew of new and classic race vehicles across a fresh batch of challenging courses" enter the fold.

Here's Rockstar on GTA:O's other incoming rides, Adversary Modes, and Creator suite tweaks: 

For players who want to take their competition off the race track and into more combative territory, get ready for two new Adversary Modes, along with rotating double cash opportunities and discounts around some of our favorite modes, work, vehicles and more. And throughout the weeks and months ahead, look for new offerings from Pegassi, Overflod, Lampadati and more as a host of new vehicles hit the showrooms of Los Santos. 

We're also adding a heap of new tools and updates for the Creator coming later this Spring, including more weather options, custom team names and Warp Checkpoints for Transform Races, as well as a number of other highly-requested features.

More on all of that, plus details on GTA Online's latest garage, penthouse and vehicle upgrade discounts can be found in this direction. If serial leaker FoxySnaps is to be believed, future vehicle offerings will include the Seasparrow helicopter and the ISS3 mini.


We're giving away a bunch of stuff for Closers, "an episodic anime action RPG" that released on Steam last month. Closers is free to play, so anyone who's interested in 2.5D beat-'em-ups with co-op, solo play, or PvP can dive right in and redeem the package of items available below. 

This giveaway is first come, first served, but if you're guaranteed a code if you're a member of PC Gamer Club.  

Enter here

Click the link above. Codes will be distributed via email automatically until we've run out.

What you get

  • Exclusive PC Gamer in-game poster for your room
  • Yukata Bonsai or Ruby costume
  • (2) Small plum soda 
  • (2) Double Talisman Box (+20% bonus EXP and credit)
  • Gardening Voucher (1 day)
  • Maid Service Voucher (1 day)

How to redeem your Closers code

  1. Download the game:
  2. Run “Closers” from STEAM or Run the En Masse Launcher
  3. Click “Redeem Code” from the upper left corner in the Launcher
  4. Paste in your code
  5. Items will be delivered in-game via the account claim
Grand Theft Auto V

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 315. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US. 

It took the PCG crew over two years to complete GTA Online’s first set of heists. Now, we’re older, wiser, and have a near-infinite supply of rockets. We think we’ll be able to power through the Doomsday Heists in just a few evenings. Wish us luck.


Phil Savage: After our last GTA Online outing, I figured I was finally done with the game. With Rockstar seemingly not interested in making any new heists, I didn’t see any reason to stick around. And then, without warning, Rockstar released a new string of heists. Just when I thought I was out… 

Samuel Roberts: It’s a nice surprise, and the fact this one has a bunch of new cutscenes and vehicles suggests it’s a big deal for Rockstar. To get it started, we need a facility, which I purchase near Fort Zancudo. I spend a little extra money to make it red, because we have a brand to maintain, I guess. I accidentally activate a cutscene with no one else here, which explains this heist is something to do with a slightly Elon Musk-y figure, an AI named Clifford, Lester from the main game and the US government. Doomsday is coming! I think. Maybe Russia is involved? That’s what I’ve ascertained, anyway. Since only I watched this bit, the rest of the team will never know what’s going on in this heist’s story. 

Tom H: Don’t worry Sam, I’m sure we’ll be treated to plenty of long monologues while driving. 

Phil: Sam invites us to join his motorcycle club, which is called “Motorcycle Club”. It used to be called Biker Grove—one for all you fans of ’90s teen soap operas—but it seems to be bugged. After joining Motorcycle Club, we’re invited into Sam’s facility and told we need to steal a bunch of special vehicles for reasons. This preparation phase requires us to complete a series of missions on an open world public server. Luckily, we find one that’s pretty much empty, and the whole thing is incredibly easy.

Tom H: That’s the thing about GTA’s open world missions. They’re either incredibly easy or you immediately get murdered by some prick in a fighter jet. 

Phil: In fairness, thanks to this update you can now also get murdered by a prick with an orbital cannon. Which is progress of a sort. With the relevant cars stolen, we can now move onto the instanced setup missions. We separate into two teams: one infiltration, one support. Samuel and Tom Senior break into a morgue, while myself and Tom Hatfield hang back in the helicopter that we recently stole, murdering people. This is the familiar co-op content that I crave. 

Tom H: Splitting the party is one of GTA Online’s best tricks. I don’t know what it looks like inside the morgue, I’ve never seen it. Instead I experience it entirely through Sam and Tom’s barked orders and exclamations over Skype. 

Samuel: There’s some kind of weird glitch where the objective won’t activate in the morgue, so we have to do it again. It’s a fun mission, though, the grisly searching of dead bodies aside. Once we’ve got the data we’re looking for, we have to make our way out and escape in the helicopter. 

Tom Senior: I get horribly lost in the building and spend most of it running up and down stairwells under small arms fire. I finally make it to the exit and I manage to get stuck on the door as Sam dashes for the chopper. The team spends a few moments shouting from the safety of the helicopter as I dash across a courtyard full of police and hurl myself into the vehicle. Good mission. 

Phil: Next, we’re given a stealth helicopter and told to go and infiltrate a server farm. This goes badly, of course. On our first attempt, the helicopter’s landing wheels disappear—I’m not sure if this is a glitch, or if Sam just accidentally hit a button to retract them. Unable to land, the helicopter just sort of explodes out of boredom. Also, at one key point, Hatfield’s internet connection drops, which boots him from the instance and instantly ends the mission for everyone. And even when all of those things go right, we’re forced to scale a ladder, which for some reason is the hardest thing to do in GTA Online. 

Tom S: The trick is to woo the ladder with a gentle approach. Not too fast, so as not to startle it. We’ve experienced enough ladder drama to have learned the hard way.

Tom H: This is basically identical to the last stealth mission we did in GTA. Initially very cool and fun, then incredibly frustrating as instant fails force multiple restarts. 

Phil: Okay, that mission turned out to be a disappointment. But this next one has a thumbnail image showing flying DeLoreans. I am unreasonably excited about this. We each get into a car and drive to the coast, where we’re instructed to activate hover mode. Suddenly, we’re skimming across the ocean, using missiles to blow up boats. It’s great, but I was promised full flight, damnit. 

Tom H: Then our next assignment comes in. In the most long-winded and obnoxious way possible, Lester tells us he needs us to go to the airport. To chase a plane. 

Phil: Oh snap, it’s actually happening! This is it! We get to the airport just as a plane is taking off, and, as we chase after it, a button prompt appears to trigger flight mode. And now we’re flying. In a car. 

Tom H: At one point I accidentally press the wrong button and turn off flying mode instead of firing missiles, causing my car to plummet uncontrollable downwards before it turns back on. Quickly I realise I can use this as a deliberate tactic, and toggle flight mode off and on to flip end over end, outflanking one of the attacking helicopters. This is without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had in GTA Online. 

Phil: That was brilliant. And so it’s a shame to discover that this act’s finale, rather than bringing all of the previous mission’s toys together, is just a shootout in a bunker. 

Tom H: I’m not entirely sure why we’re breaking into an underground base in order to defend it. I’m also not sure why we’ve done anything we’ve done – only that it has something to do with Elon Musk. The turret part is quite fun, though. 

Act 2

Phil: The structure of these new missions seems to focus on the various toys Rockstar has added to GTA Online, which makes sense. Happily, the second act’s prep missions promise a submarine car and a big truck loaded up with a water cannon. We have minutes of fun with the latter, blasting one another with water and watching our characters ragdoll around. 

Tom H: The mission where we acquire the water cannon is terrific. We head to the beach and proceed to start an unarmed brawl with the pedestrians, prompting security to come in and hose us down. Then we shoot them and steal their truck. 

Phil: We have high hopes for the setup mission, but it’s actually pretty boring. We pile into the truck, drive to a place, put out some fires and steal some data – all while shooting a seemingly endless procession of crime boys. And then we do it all again about four more times. This feels like a waste. 

Tom S: These are some tough-as-nails goons, too. Every individual soldier can take maybe a dozen or so shots to the body and then get back up. You’re encouraged to get headshots to put them down quickly, but they seem to be spawning everywhere forever. I squirt them with a water cannon instead and send them flying off down the street. 

Phil: Hopefully the submarine car will be better. Divided into two teams, we drive our submersibles to a beach and charge towards the water. 

Tom H: I accelerate to top speed and ramp my car off the dock, transforming it into sub mode just as I hit the water. It looks awesome.

Samuel: Blasting the mines with the submarine car was fun, but it seems like the game never really makes the most of them—blowing up a submarine, or fighting off some kind of enemy underwater is the thing missing from this mission really. Considering how good the flying car element of the first act was, this seems like a missed opportunity. 

Tom H: But hey, next we get to steal a giant VTOL jet from the airport, that’ll be fun right? 

Phil: We drive to the hanger and approach the VTOL mammoth. I am very excited. Then the lights go out, and we’re ambushed. And then we die. Oh good, another of Rockstar’s infamous online heist difficulty spikes. We attempt multiple times, and then have to restart the entire thing over because of yet another connection drop. 

Tom S: There’s very little cover on the hangar floor, so we end up trial-and-erroring our way through, learning where the soldiers spawn and head-shotting them to clear the room. It’s essentially a deadly quest to turn the lights back on, and it’s one of the most frustrating parts of the heist so far. 

Phil: Eventually, we make it. We all hop in—me in the cockpit, the rest of the team manning mounted turrets in the back—and fly towards a remote landing zone. It all goes smoothly until we reach the destination. I land, but the mission doesn’t end. I readjust a couple of times, but can’t seem to hit whatever invisible trigger completes this thing. Finally, we get a mission failed screen. Apparently, the jet took too much damage? This is getting frustrating. We do it all once more, and this time, finally, it just works. This has been a pretty weak act, overall. Hopefully the final mission will deliver the goods. We’re split into teams again. Sam and I return to our submersible cars to assault a submarine.

Tom H: While they head underwater, Tom Senior and I hover above in the VTOL, shooting down waves and waves of helicopters. And I do mean waves. In fact the same number of helicopters attack from the same direction every time. After a while I suss out where they’re launching from and just point my turret there, trigger finger held down, killing them all the moment they spawn. 

Tom S: This is actually the low point of the entire thing for me. The VTOL is a cool vehicle that’s really fun to fly, but we’re stuck stationary, hovering over the ocean watching choppers spawn from the same parts of the mountain in front of us. Hopefully, Phil and Sam are having more fun under the sea, because I can’t remember the last time I played a mission in any game that demanded so little from the player. 

Phil: Our bit is actually pretty good, and involves a protracted shootout through tight corridors. But when we exit the sub, our car is gone. We swim back to shore to meet up with the VTOL crew. It takes forever.


Phil: I still have no idea what the story is, but this is it: the last chain of missions before the big payday. We wrap up the prep missions efficiently. Worryingly, though, our connection drops are worse than ever. During this open world section, Tom Hatfield and I each get booted from the server at various points. 

Tom H: At first I was concerned that my internet was the causing our connection problems. In fact I unplugged, replugged and reset everything I could think of to try and fix the issue. But now it’s happening to everyone. 

Samuel: The first real mission involves driving to a dock we scouted out earlier and fighting a bunch of Merryweather dudes, which seems nice and simple. We clear out the warehouse with no real problem. Then, three guys in armour with machine guns and invisibility cloaks turn up and pretty much mow us down with ease. This is suddenly absurdly hard. 

Tom H: Throughout our entire heist experience GTA Online has been consistently ramping up the health and deadliness of enemies, but these guys are some hot bullshit. Immune to anything but high explosives and headshots, invisible, and constantly firing a spray of minigun bullets.

I make the bold suggestion that GTA has one more chance that one more dropped connection in the next hour, and we re done.

Phil: It’s hard, but we’re figuring it out. We take out the first three with sniper fire, and then get surprised by their reinforcements. Still, it’s progress. A plan is forming, but, before we can execute, the mission fails. This time, it’s Samuel who drops connection. That’s three people who have been booted at various points this act. 

Samuel: I make the bold suggestion that GTA has one more chance—that one more dropped connection in the next hour, and we’re done. We walk away from the entire heist, despite getting this far. 

Tom S: Two quotes from classic heist film Heat spring to mind. One: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat.” Two: “Don’t waste my motherfucking time!” GTA Online’s heists are amazing at points, but we’ve had to work pretty hard to find the fun since the awesome flying DeLoreans mission, which feels like it happened a decade ago at this point. At least my connection seems to be holding strong. 

Phil: The difficulty spikes I can deal with, but losing all of your progress when someone’s booted from the instance is sapping my resolve away. We reload the mission one final time, and, while driving to the mission area, Tom Senior gets kicked. The mission fails. 

Tom S: Balls. 

Samuel: That’s the end. Sorry, GTA. We want to enjoy you but you’re making it too hard. There’s a brilliant online game hiding in here, but I feel a bit burnt out and ready for a less testing online experience. 

Phil: This feels like an anti-climax, but one that, for me, sums up GTA Online pretty well. When it works, it’s one of my favourite co-op games. But those moments are hard won, and there are plenty of more seamless multiplayer games we could play instead. Now who’s up for some Vermintide?

Far Cry® 5

"I'm a very good boy who works very, very hard! Bad people killed my family. So I will take down the bad people! I jump on the bad ones. I bite the bad ones! It's easy and fun! I will find the bad ones for you. I will bring their loud sticks to you! Please pet me sometimes. We're family now!"

As showcased in Far Cry 5's 'Guns for Hire' trailer that aired last month, these are the translated-from-barks-into words of friendly canine companion Boomer. Dispatched as a scout, Boomer will retrieve weapons for players following battles, and will tag nearby enemies at distance. 

He's also the star of the incoming first-person action game's latest short, aptly named 'Play it Like Boomer'. Over to you, good boy:


Speaking to the practical perks of setting Boomer (and other support characters) on Far Cry 5's bad guys, here's an excerpt from Tom's hands-on impressions from earlier this year: 

Co-op NPCs aren't totally new to Far Cry, but I especially enjoyed rolling with them in Far Cry 5. You can have special companions like your sniper pal or your awesome dog, but you can also walk up to randos in settlements you've cleared and recruit them to your squad. Some of them have machine guns. Some of them have bows. Sometimes, they have a rocket launcher, in which case their every attempt to help you becomes a gamble.

Far Cry 5 is due one week from today on March 27. In the meantime, read about how you might muck around with its map editor

Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards

I really like Cabals, but I'm not sure Cabals reciprocates the sentiment. Even after years of playing, I feel I barely know this game—partly because, I suspect, Cabals itself doesn't know what it wants to be. It's a good game that came out at the wrong time, and its attempts at finding its audience since have ranged from 'well-intentioned' to 'eye-rolling'.

The pre-Hearthstone era was a meager time for collectible card game enthusiasts. There wasn't even a good Magic: The Gathering adaptation back then, the only way to play it seriously online was through open-source virtual tabletop Cockatrice.

And then Cabals came out in 2011 for PC and mobile devices, with a premise familiar to Magic players: an all-out war between magical cabals, each one with a distinctive playstyle. There's the Bearclaw Brotherhood, grouping together figures from Slavic folklore like mad monks, grizzled shamans, and Baba Yagas. Their signature ability is Toughness, which helps them survive lethal blows. Then there are the members of the Vril Society, half wizards and half mad scientists: their specialty is blowing stuff up from a distance. Add Faeries, Chinese dragons, and Egyptian mummies to the mix, and you basically have a fascinating, post-WWI version of The Secret World.

The similarities with Magic end here, though. Despite calling itself the "Finest Online Trading Card Game", Cabals is more akin to a board game. It's very similar to Duelyst, the deliciously pixelated card/board hybrid—but where Duelyst's board is a simple grid, Cabals employs a wide range of boards of different shapes and sizes.

It's exhausting but it's satisfying, and it utterly failed to convince players.

Players start with a handful of cards and a stronghold. The goal is to reach the opponent’s stronghold, or to conquer as many board tiles as possible and accumulate Domination Points.

Some tiles have special rules: the ones with the arrows work as additional deployment gates, while the starred ones give you more mana points to play cards with. Creature cards get placed on the board, while spells have instant effects. 

Matches are dirty wars of attrition, and can often feel unfair. Spells might mess with your carefully placed units, paralyzing them or obliging you to take them back in your hand. Near-victories easily get overturned by a single card.

Cabals is not well-balanced, but that means it manages to catch a feeling so rarely expressed in games about wizards throwing spells around—the idea that unknown magic might be scary, strange and unexpected, and doesn't just mean "more damage". Magic will mess you up. 

It's exhausting but it's satisfying, and it utterly failed to convince players. Perhaps Cabals was a bit too ahead of its time; perhaps its apparent randomness made some people feel more frustration than fun. It didn't really matter anyway, because Hearthstone was released just two years later. It's difficult not to feel a bit sorry for Cabals.  

After Hearthstone's launch, Cabals' developers turned to Kickstarter, hoping to transform their digital board game into a physical one. They didn’t reach their goal. Nonplussed, the team relaunched the campaign, only to see it fail a second time. The prototype looked fine, but poor reach and a confusing marketing campaign doomed it from the start. The project was shelved, its fate lamented in a candid post-mortem.

You know the situation is bad when the screens on the store page all display scantily clad ladies.

For years, Cabals survived on mobile only, the old PC version discontinued and forgotten. But with a new wave of CCGs coming to Steam, Cabals made a comeback last year. Only it wasn't really Cabals.

Cabals: Card Blitz is a Frankensteinian abomination, a rotten-smelling corpse wearing the skin of the old Cabals (by which I mean its art assets, only with less clothes on). Gone is the delicious mix of card game and board game mechanics, replaced by automatic battles with minimal player interaction. You make a deck, start a battle, and watch your cards fight with the opponent's. That's all. With no way to even influence the card order, it's reduced to luck and prayers.

You know the situation is bad when the screens on the store page all display scantily clad ladies. Battle Blitz is a game made of micro-transactions and sadness, that screams "mobile port" and offers nothing apart from mindless grinding and bitterness. And yet it probably helped the team stay afloat and finally try again.

The original Cabals finally came to Steam this February, but with an Early Access version that feels somehow inferior to the 2011 version I remember—slower, clunkier, buggier, stripped of important features like friends lists and leveling. 

Some cards have been rebalanced, additional factions have been added, and the game is still a fun mess to play with. But with few players and a practice mode that offers no rewards, victories feel hollow. I don't know if cross-platform playing is working yet, but I struggled to find opponents both on Steam and on the mobile version. It also saddens me to see no attempts at fleshing out the game's backstory. Cabal's setting is still fantastic, and ripe with untold stories and exciting possibilities. 

It's nice to see Cabals come back for real, and yet this doesn't feel like a good time to start playing. Has a good time ever existed, I wonder? I don't know. I still want to hope. I'll stick around for now, because I still love this game to bits. I only wish Cabals would love me back.

Assassin's Creed® Origins

I've recently fallen in belated love with Assassin's Creed: Origins, in large part because exploring such a beautifully recreated chunk of Egyptian landscape feels like some kind of incredible time travel holiday. The mix of actual history and antiquarian mythology make Origins the richest open world since The Witcher III, but the scenery is only part of what makes it special. Convincing non-player characters and side quests which end in a surprise are also vital to making the world feel alive. It also helps that the AI was designed to prevent the kind of shambles most of us are familiar with from open world games.

Ubisoft was inspired by Shadow of Mordor, Breath of the Wild, and of course The Witcher III

At a Game Devlopers Conference session today entitled 'Refactoring the NPC mission system in Assassin's Creed: Origins', gameplay programmer Jean-Marie Santoni-Constantini said that the team at Ubisoft Montreal were inspired by the likes of Shadow of Mordor, Breath of the Wild, and (of course) The Witcher III when it came to designing the behaviour of Origins' NPCs. The solution the developer landed on was ensuring that every NPC in the game always had a goal to complete, whether that might mean a bodyguard protecting another NPC, a captain relaxing in a camp, a villager escorting a cart and so on. You can actually see these goals exposed when you send Senu, your friendly eagle-come-targeting-drone to scout an area.

Where things get interesting is when conflicting goals intersect. So the rebels goal might be to ambush a cart, while Roman troops are set on defending it. Once the cart enters the trigger zone for the rebels, they'll swoop in on horses or begin peppering Caesar's boys with arrows. Whether or not Bayek joins in is of course up to you, the player—but even if you don't the event will play out organically as the NPCs' actions will continue to be driven by their primary goals. 

Santoni-Constantini noted it was possible for an NPC to have additional sub-goals, but they can never have no goal whatsoever. Unlike me on a Sunday.

Presumbaly the Phylakes goal at all times is 'Kill Bayek on sight'.

As Santoni-Constantini was explaining how the system worked, I flashed back to that time I spent perching on the top of a trireme mast and firing flaming arrows onto the poor schmuck commercial sailors below. At first they tried to put out the flaming hay piles. Then they started diving off the burning vessel in vintage action movie style. It looked and felt incredibly natural and cool, and also made me realise how little I'd seen the game mess up in the way open worlds often tend to. 

Okay, so one time I found a horse perched or a fence post by just its back legs, and on another occasion I ran into an immortal gazelle which stayed chill despite being shot through the throat, but in terms of how the actual characters act, in the 40+ hours I've played Origins it has seldom broken its uncanny illusion.

This is particularly true of missions during which you're escorting another character. So often these are the bane of open worlds, because your non-player chum will spook easily, or die accidentally, leading to irritating restarts. Santoni-Constantini explained how they'd avoided these problems by giving plenty of latitude to the goals of these characters. 

For instance, you've probably noticed that if Bayek jumps on a boat or horse, the other character will do likewise without skipping a beat in whatever expositional story they're delivering. In one instance I even recall Aya desperately swimming behind me as I began a lengthy sea journey in one of those wicker Ubers that are everywhere. And even if you do give your significant other the slip, the game will take a long time to trigger a fail state. Meanwhile, the NPC will be waiting patiently near where you left them.

Santoni-Constantini explained that it was important Origins AI was robust enough to be able to handle edge cases like a vehicle being destroyed or sudden combat. If a fight kicks off they will join in, and then resume the mission once the enemies have been defeated. The benefit to the player of having NPCs with their shit together is obvious, but he also said it made debugging the game much easier because when a problem was encountered it only had to be fixed once, and the fix would automatically apply to other similar cases. However, the trade off using such systemic AI was that it meant there was less scope for the designers to create bespoke moments. 

That clash of mindset between the programming team and mission designers was ultimately resolved by creating side quests which had satisfying narrative twists that could be delivered without having to change the AI's fundamental rules. So from humble peasants to garrison commanders, what underpins Origins' society are a set of clearly-defined, achievable goals. If only the real world was so simple. Right now mine would probably be alternating between 'eat burger' and 'protect dog'.

These guys' goals are all 'get loaded'.


One day last week I became curious about how development of DayZ was coming along—despite the game being near and dear to my heart, it's sort of slipped off my radar recently—and wouldn't you know it, the developers hosted a livestream on that very same day. During the stream, they demonstrated and discussed some of the changes that will be coming to the open-world multiplayer survival game in version 0.63. 

A few minutes into the stream, however, the devs broke my heart by showing off a new sprint meter. I should explain that I have a bit of a problem with sprint meters in open world games, so much so that I once griped about them at length. I know it's not realistic for characters to be able to run endlessly, but I think every player has a different line where realism begins to interfere with enjoyment. For me, that line is squarely on the sprint meter. I hate them. I think slowing players down is anti-fun. I even lauded DayZ in that very article for not having one:

"...I fondly recall that [DayZ] let me run at top speed across the map for as long as I liked. At the same time, it didn’t treat me as superhuman. After a long run, it would take some time to have steady aim because my character was out of breath. This system allowed me to get where I wanted to go as fast as I could, but when I got there I’d have to deal with the consequences of my marathon."

I guess I'll have to revise that article once the new meter appears in the game. You can see a recording of the developer stream below, with the sprint meter discussion beginning around three minutes in, followed by two hours of them talking about other new features that I didn't watch because I was so upset about the sprint meter.

I should probably note that I no longer play DayZ, because I once wrote an article for Rock Paper Shotgun with the premise that I would play the game using not just permadeath but perma-permadeath, meaning that if my character died during that session, I would never play it again in my actual lifetime. Naturally, I died more or less immediately and have done my best to honor my incredibly stupid promise: apart from taking video of myself chopping down a tree for this piece, and one other time to get a specific screenshot of something, I haven't played DayZ since.

That essentially means I have absolutely no stake in whether or not DayZ has a sprint meter. But I love DayZ and I hate sprint meters, so I did what I always do when I have a question about DayZ: I sent a message to DayZ's creative director, Brian Hicks, on Twitter. Technically, I just started wailing like an infant.

Thankfully, Mr. Hicks can recognize a professionally phrased and well-thought out query (three frowny faces is an industry standard for signaling deep concern), and was nice enough to answer my questions about the sprint meter in DayZ. (My first question was literally "NOOOOO WHYYYYYY." I'm not joking, that's what it was. I am a giant baby.)

After hearing Hicks' reasoning for adding the sprint meter, I definitely understand what the devs are thinking, yet I still can't quite get on board with the idea.

The logic boils down to a few points.

Running speed in DayZ is already very fast

When compared to the DayZ mod, the running speed in standalone DayZ is almost twice as fast, according to Hicks. He also explained that jogging (which doesn't drain your sprint meter) is still pretty fast, too:

"...while at first blush you might think [the sprint meter] will be a pain," Hicks wrote, "in reality the jog speed (what you slow down to after depleting stamina while doing a dead sprint) is actually still pretty quick."

I guess my counter-argument here isn't a great one, but here it is anyway: I like how fast the running speed is. And, as fast as it is, it still feels like it takes a long time to get from place to place because the map is so darn large.

Sprinting is meant for escaping

"The stamina bar is essentially a resource you can burn through when you need to escape quickly," wrote Hicks. "Much like in real life per say—when that sucker is full and you run you'll be doing a flat out sprint—when it's depleted, you are doing a jog (which again is actually pretty quick and I believe fairly close to the DayZ mod's default run speed)."

That's fine, but I feel like when running around in a game, I'm typically going to want to be running as fast as possible at all times. In Skyrim, in Far Cry, in pretty much anything, really: if I'm moving, it's going to be at top speed. Always. A sprint meter isn't something I will save up for certain situations, which is why I prefer there to be no meter at all.

They want you to manage the weight of your gear

"In addition," Hicks wrote, "we wanted weight to be a consideration (but not a huge thing you have to micromanage). So, the stamina bar capacity is affected by how much you are carrying. Someone who selects a light kit obviously has more stamina than say someone who has a big ass coyote pack full of beans."

Again, I feel like DayZ already did a pretty good job making you deliberate over what to carry and what to leave behind. It's got a pretty restrictive inventory, especially at the start of a new character, and even later with some of the bigger packs. Inventory management, even though it wasn't based on weight, almost felt like it was because you couldn't really carry much until you were completely kitted out with packs and vests and stuff, and even then I found myself spending a lot of time mulling over what to take and what to ditch.

They want you to be careful

Hicks continued: "And of course, soft skills and more careful decisions with your character being intended to give more value to the character itself so players don't just give up and respawn when someone takes their loot from them."

I feel like making careful decisions was already pretty adequately handled by DayZ, because it was DayZ, a game where you can be shot dead in an instant, or captured and tortured, or stripped of all your possessions and have to start over from scratch after hours of progress. Are people not careful? I'm careful. Except for that one time I really needed to be careful, I'm always careful.

Modders may be able to disable it

"Also," Hicks wrote, "keep in mind a couple factors: 1) Our modding support is very low level. Mod authors should be able to disable this should they choose 2) This isn't final, obviously. The team will be keeping a close eye on how it is received. 3) Even I was skeptical of implementing stamina—but I can genuinely say I have had fun with it in. "

Despite all the solid reasoning, I have trouble imagining a sprint meter being fun. Perhaps tolerable, but not fun. Still, points one and two made me feel a little better about the whole thing. Maybe there are some players who really like the idea of a sprint meter being something you have to manage. Maybe (almost certainly) not everyone is as opposed to them as I am. Maybe I'm making a bigger deal out of it than it warrants. Maybe it'll be just fine. And if it's not, maybe it can be modded out by someone who agrees with me. I can live with that.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six® Siege

Of the stuff added and changed in Operation Chimera two weeks ago, the introduction of Lion is having the biggest impact on the Rainbow Six Siege meta. Following last month's championship, year three of the Rainbow Six Pro League kicked off last week with matches that demonstrated how teams are reconsidering their defenses and attack compositions with Lion in the mix, who saw a near-100 percent pick rate throughout.

Teams have figured out creative ways to combo his scan with other tracking operators.

Lion, a two speed and two armor attacker, is seeing so much action thanks to his unique drone, the EE-ONE-D. Three times per round, Lion can scan the entire map for enemy movement. If an enemy moves during the four second duration of the scan, their identity and full body outline is broadcasted to Lion and his entire team.

On paper, it might seem like Siege's best players would have no problem dealing with Lion, whose ability can be countered by simply standing still for a few seconds. But teams have figured out creative ways to combo his scan with other tracking operators. Jackal’s ability to see enemy footprints and scan them to reveal a snapshot of an enemy’s location pairs perfectly with Lion’s scan. When both are in play, the enemy can’t escape being seen for at least a few moments—either they stay still and get revealed by Jackal, or move and be spotted by Lion. This combo is the surest counter to roamers we've ever seen in Siege.

Roaming has always been an important part of defense in Siege, as playing away from the objective forces attackers to spend time and resources dealing with lurkers before tackling the hostage or bomb site. But now that Lion can punish roaming so directly, teams are still feeling out how best to counter him. Some are relying on Mute, as his signal jammers can cancel out Lion’s scan if you’re near one. Others are even playing Caviera, a stealthy defender who usually sees zero use in Pro League, but has the distinct ability to hide her footprints from Jackal.

Last week’s match against Spacestation Gaming and Era Eternity saw another unexpected use of Lion, as his scan was timed alongside Fuze’s cluster of grenades to great effect. As seen above, Fuze readies his cluster charge while Lion coordinates with his scan to force the enemies below to stay still amid nearby explosions. This is particularly interesting as Fuze is typically one of the least picked operators in the scene.  

Lion’s scan has also seen use alongside the newly-buffed Blitz, who now moves faster when sprinting, to allow him to quickly close the distance on defenders and take the advantage in a fight. See this in action in the clip below—Valkyrie is forced to stay put while Blitz rushes in and takes her down.

Of course, incorporating these new operator combinations with Lion also means many teams are rethinking previously dominant attack compositions. Last season saw the rise of the Ying and Glaz meta that focused on filling the objective room with smoke and flash grenades while Ying planted the defuser and Glaz kept watch. Last week, this strategy was almost entirely unseen. The Lion's usefulness is forcing teams to give up traditionally no-brainer operators like Hibana, Buck, or even Ash.

Right now it feels like every part of the typical meta has been touched by Lion, as he is even useful for planting the defuser and preventing its disarming. Pausing enemy movement creates opportunities for an ally to plant, and subsequent Lion scans further discourage the defenders from challenging the defuser once it’s already ticking down.

Lion’s prevalence comes as little surprise to anyone who played him on the Technical Test Server before Operation Chimera’s release. The test server’s subreddit was ablaze for weeks with players in unrest over Lion and Finka’s abilities, calling them overpowered and against the spirit of the game. Ubisoft slightly adjusted Finka heading into final release by nerfing the resistance to stun grenades when using her Adrenal Surge ability , but Lion saw no change at all. The response post-release has been much more muted as players have gotten used to the new operators, though many still argue that they need a nerf.

The Pro League has historically been the place where operators are fully exploited, and Lion has so far proven to be an invaluable asset in every facet of an attack—be it hunting down roamers, launching a coordinated push on the defenders, or planting the defuser.

Moving forward, it'll be interesting to see how Pro League teams continue to react. Defenses will likely shift their focus to knocking him out of play early on or, as we saw last week, pulling back the roamers and staying safer on the objective. A potential mid-season patch could also mix up the status quo if Ubisoft decides that Lion has grown too powerful. 


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