Shacknews - John Keefer

Despite its extensive development time, Diablo 3 continues to get patched days after launch. Blizzard hasn't detailed many of the changes, with fans discovering to their surprise that certain skills are gone or nerfed. Well, the changes aren't secret any more.

Blizzard offered a complete list of changes and fixes that it had implemented as far back as three days after launch. Be advised that there are spoilers in the fixes if you have not completed the game yet.

Among the changes were the already mentioned tweaks to the monk's rune Boon of Protection, the Wizard's Force Armor and the Demon Hunter's Smoke Screen. Also, the game crashing bug of giving a shield to your Templar follower if you were a Demon Hunter was fixed on May 18. And most importantly, the notes say that "over 30 game and service crashes affecting players" have been resolved.

Luckily, I had not experienced any of the crash issues, but I'm not too happy about changes made to the monk since I am playing one. But hotfixes or not, the game continues to be a lot of fun.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Live action trailers are all the rage these days. However, few are as effective as this short film for Metro: Last Light. Taking place before the nuclear apocalypse of Last Light, the film shows a panicked crowd trying to head towards the Moscow Metro, built to serve as a refuge in case of an atomic attack. It's a rather dramatic piece, one that should reflect the grim tone developer 4A Games is going for with its upcoming first-person shooter.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

One of the novel benefits the PlayStation Network offers over its competitors is the ability to purchase and play content across multiple devices. Sony has already offered a number of games that work across both PS3 and Vita, and today the publisher has announced yet another addition: a cute multiplayer action game called When Vikings Attack.

As with MotorStorm RC, a single PSN purchase will unlock both versions of the game. And, as with Wipeout, players can play against each other, regardless of what platform they're on.

When Vikings Attack

When Vikings Attack is essentially an enhanced version of dodgeball. The main mechanic involves hurling objects at other players to defeat them. The twist, however, is that you're not controlling a single character. Instead, you're controlling a mob. The mob can pick up an assortment of objects from the environment, such as trash cans and sofas. In addition, there are passersby that you can absorb into your mob. As your mob grows in size, you'll be able to pick up larger and larger objects to throw at foes--but you'll also move much slower, making it easier for other mobs to attack you.

Thanks to its colorful art style and a few interesting twists, this simple game is actually quite fun to play. For example, the stages pose unique dangers to the mobs. One level takes place in the middle of a bustling intersection, as cars run over crowds. You can throw things at the traffic switches, however, to cause a sudden rush of cars to run over your enemies.

The novelty factor of pitting a Vita player against PS3 player still hasn't diminished--and both versions ran great at a recent preview event. When Vikings Attack supports up to four players in any combination: three players on PS3, one on Vita, two on each, etc. While it's unlikely to keep the attention of players for too long, if it's priced right, this could certainly make for an interesting short-lived diversion.


Watch the Shacknews E3 2012 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. This preview is based on a hands-on demo shown at a pre-E3 event.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

The classic C&C series has moved into the free-to-play realm, with the official release of the browser game Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances. EA calls the spin-off a massively multiplayer online strategy game, letting players pick a faction and fight for territory.

You can visit the site to start playing, and choose between the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) or the Nod. You'll be harvesting resources, building armies, and creating alliances, though it carries a different feel than the traditional series. The game promises a "dynamic theater of war," which shifts according to the balance of power. Sometime in the next few months, developer Phenomic plans to add cloud saves, which will allow you to swap from playing on a PC web browser to a smart phone or tablet without losing progress.

You may recall that Tiberium Alliances had a flare-up of controversy due to its similarity to the tanks in the Warhammer 40K tabletop series. An EA representative said that internal concept art was to blame, so this final version shouldn't have those similar tanks in play.

If you'd rather hold out for a more traditional C&C experience, Command & Conquer Generals 2 is scheduled to hit in 2013.

May 24, 2012
Shacknews - Matt Cabral

Combine the open-world exploration of Skyrim, the lightning-quick combat of Kingdoms of Amalur, and the player-punishing difficulty of Dark Souls, and you've got Dragon's Dogma...sort of. While it does borrow from recent favorites in the genre, Capcom's answer to the action-RPG also takes a stab at some original ideas. A steep learning curve and lack of polish occasionally sully the experience, but fans of the style who've already exhausted the aforementioned titles will find more than enough here to lure them in for a play-through or two.

While its world will feel familiar to anyone who's looted a treasure chest or burned a troll, Dragon's Dogma doesn't begin with the expected rodent-killing quests or talky cut scenes. Instead, it throws you into the action head first. As an unassuming villager, you're almost immediately faced with an unfair fight against a fire-breathing beastie; it's as lopsided as it sounds and the monster's talon unceremoniously plucks your heart from your chest. Upon miraculously surviving the attack, you're dubbed the "Arisen" and set out to seek revenge and retrieve your stolen ticker.

The story begins with a bang, but things soon settle into familiar Tolkien-wannabe territory. You'll personalize your avatar, accept quests from chatty NPCs, collect loot aplenty, and face baddies of the horned, fanged, and clawed variety. The been-there-slayed-that formula remains engaging thanks to responsive, weighty combat. Favoring intuitive light and heavy attack combos over the cumbersome controls often associated with the genre, the thumb-blistering battles feel more action than RPG.

The arcadey exchanges are further complemented by the ability to scale sky-eclipsing enemies, Shadow of the Colossus-style. The mechanic, which slowly drains stamina, lends an organic feel to the epic fights while injecting them with a welcome layer of risk-versus-reward strategy. It's tempting, for example, to climb atop a downed griffon and drive a dagger into its jugular for the quick kill; if the beast manages to take flight before drawing its last breath, however, you'll be in for a fatal fall when your strength betrays you.

Going toe-to-talon with mythical monsters poses ample reward for patient players, but undoubtedly spells sudden death for more eager attackers. Dragon's Dogma may feel like a button-mashing dungeon crawl, but its encounters require thoughtful planning and careful execution. Thankfully, its defining party-customization system ensures you'll never face an ugly foe by yourself. On top of tweaking your main character throughout the 30-plus hour journey, you'll personalize an A.I.-controlled pawn that brings both physical strength and sage advice to the battlefield.

In addition to looting and leveling alongside this brother (or sister) in arms, two other pawns--with set stats and skills--can be hired from any of the world's many towns. This second pair of mercenaries is expendable and will be swapped often depending on your needs. Shopping for the proper pawns is an addictive affair. Searching for a spell-spewing mage, steel-swinging fighter, or a support character to heal your wounds? No problem, just head to the closest village where a variety of swords-for-hire will happily accept your gold coins.

More than just meat-shields, these CPU-controlled combatants hold their own on the battlefield and even handle the heavy lifting when allowed to. Their very vocal strategies are also helpful, often providing the key to downing a difficult threat. It's especially satisfying to return to the site of a previously failed encounter with the right pawns in tow, prepared to turn the tables. The mechanic isn't a tacked-on feature or optional part of the experience either. In fact, if you hope to reacquaint your heart and chest cavity, you'd better learn to play nice with the pawns.

While more than enough of these helpers are randomly generated in-game, they can also be borrowed from other players. Like an extension of Dark Souls' anonymous hint system, this feature doesn't require any interaction, just an online connection. If you're having trouble silencing a specific baddie, another players' pawn--who's already skinned said beast--can join your game with the necessary intel to finish the job. Conversely, if your pawn gets recruited into another game, they'll return to your virtual world with any knowledge they've gained while battling abroad.

Coupled with the fast-paced combat, this inspired party-building system refreshingly separates Dragon's Dogma from the hack-and-slash pack. That said, some will find frustration long before discovering the game's groove. (It took me about six hours to feel comfortable with the mechanics and around 10 before I entered battles with any degree of confidence.) A generic high-fantasy presentation, some mundane quests, and an open-world that's too easy to get lost in won't help the uncommitted conquer the learning curve. Still, seasoned dragon-slayers with an appetite for hardcore adventuring will overlook the game's dull edges while they relish the spoils of the last battle and fret over deciding which pawn to take into combat next.


[This Dragon's Dogma review is based on an Xbox 360 gold master version of the game provided by the publisher.]

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Peter Molyneux has been hard at work setting up his new indie studio, 22 Cans. And while the well-known developer hasn't detailed the studio's first major project, he has revealed a series of experimental games that will be released digitally as the studio prepares its first full-fledged game. It's called, aptly enough, "22 Experiments."

"We've got 12 people now, and I'm trying to push this to 20 people as soon as possible," Molyneux told BeefJack at the Imperial College London's Games and Media Event. "And then we're directing all of our staff at the moment towards these things called 22 Experiments, which are 22 experiments that we will release digitally on the journey to the final product that we're going to make." The first of the experiments is due in "about six weeks," but didn't confirm release platforms.

Molyneux didn't detail any of the games or the final product they're driving towards, but his story-telling ambitions seem as big as ever. During his talk at the event, Molyneux expressed frustration with the blockbuster model. "When I put my son to bed at night, the best story I can tell is a story that I make up, and that's a story about his life," he said. "And he loves it. That's the story I want. I don't want another James Bond film, I don’t want another Avengers."

He did note, though, that people shouldn't take his comments too literally. "It's not a storybook called 'whatever your name is,'" he said. "It's a bit more subtle than that."

May 24, 2012
Shacknews - John Keefer

The Diablo series has been a source of many fond gaming memories for me. Beating up on hordes of minions from Hell alone always made me feel like a hero, and I felt especially rewarded when recovering all the loot that spewed like a fountain from the corpses of the fallen and chests scattered throughout the dungeons in the games.

And now, 12 years later, all those feelings came rushing back as I played Diablo III. The game has not substantially changed from its predecessors. Sure, it looks prettier, has an MMO-like auction house, and an annoying need to stay connected to the Internet even when I'm not playing with friends online. But the overall feeling of power and control still prevails--and it's what makes the game a success.

I chose a monk to play through the story line because of the enjoyment I used to have playing that type of in-your-face finesse class in pen-and-paper role-playing games. As I progressed in level and knowledge, the class really played as I had envisioned it when describing my actions to the dungeon master in hours-long play sessions. Now, no such description is needed; the sessions are still hours long and Blizzard has succeeded in becoming the dungeon master. No more talking, just doing.

The story is again well-crafted, but that is nothing new for Blizzard. As with any trip to a Diablo-imagined Hell, there are portions that feel familiar, with a few characters and monsters making return appearances. The Horadric historian, Deckard Cain, is back and guided me through the game with interesting bits of lore about the races and monsters I encountered throughout. There was something reassuring about hearing that gravelly voice again. But, about half way through the game, the story pace quickened, speeding up my heart rate as I frantically battled wave after wave of hellspawn, even as friendly soldiers died around me. The adrenaline rush of making it through that part of the game is something I don't often feel these days, and it made me anticipate the end game even more.

Followers add a nice twist to the familiar parts of the game. At different story points, I met characters who traveled with me for a time, helping me battle enemies, while sharing their stories and adding to the ambiance and lore of the game. The Templar, Enchantress and Scoundrel each have varied backgrounds and back stories. They also provided additional firepower and skills to assist me in the completion of my goals, although they weren't nearly powerful enough to keep me alive through a stupid mistake. Their witty, and at times comical, banter with me while traveling provided some levity in the otherwise dark moments of the game and I actually found myself as interested in what made them tick as I was in following the main story plot. Even the blacksmith and the jeweler, who you encounter later in the game, have stories and wisdom. I found myself using the talk option with those characters almost as often as that to craft new gear or upgrade the gems I had found.

Combat is a fairly simple matter, with only two mouse buttons and four hotkeys to worry about. Skills can be modified with runes and hotkeys reassigned with relative ease, so it is easy to test different combinations in combat without having to unlearn skills. I only ran into trouble when I was overwhelmed by numbers or tried to go toe-to-toe with a group of mobs or a boss when I should have been kiting or moving to wait for a skill cool down. In fact, some of the boss fights were easier than the Champion groups or Elite individual mobs I ran into while exploring.

At no point in the game did I get a sense of been-there, done-that to the point of tedium, at least in my initial run through the game. Once you pick up a different class, or choose to go through the game at the next difficulty level, that feeling can creep up, but by virtue of the random generation of dungeons and encounters, a new play though is never exactly the same. And each class has new skills to learn and new angles from which to view the story as a participant observer.

The only spot where the randomness caused a problem is the magic gear dropped from monsters, or the magic imbued on crafted items I was able to create at the blacksmith. There are so many stats and abilities that can be placed on items that finding one suited to my needs was fairly easy, but I found that I could never get a rare item that didn't have a wasted stat or two. I was able to complete the game with relatively few deaths, but heading into Nightmare difficulty demanded an upgrade in gear and that was something that wasn't easy to do under the find-and-equip or create-and-equip system in the game.

Enter the auction house (AH), a new addition to the Diablo franchise and plundered from World of Warcraft because of its success as almost a game unto itself. At first, I found the AH a bit awkward. Trying to find items specifically suited to my class with no wasted stats was cumbersome, but the more I played with it and found how to refine my searches, it became a bit easier, to the point that I was able to upgrade my gear so much (at relatively bargain prices) that I am now navigating Nightmare difficulty with relative ease. The Auction House still has some minor issues as bids and buyouts can timeout, which apparently occurs when a buyout is attempted on an item that is being purchased by someone else and the server is processing the request. Blizzard continues to play with it and, at this writing, the AH is down for maintenance.

While Diablo III had well-documented server problems and error messages early in the launch--keeping me out of the game for at least the first few hours--things have stabilized significantly. But the fact that the game must always be connected to the Internet to satisfy Blizzard's need for DRM is frustrating. I cannot play my single-player game if my Internet connection drops and there is nothing Blizzard will let me do about it.

That said, being online to connect with friends or strangers and play through the co-op mode has been entertaining, especially since the public game system pits you with people at your level and on the same quests you are trying to complete. I started grouping in Nightmare mode as the game's difficulty ramped up. It will probably be a necessity to group in the final two difficulty levels of Hell and Inferno since Blizzard continues to tweak the balance of the game with hotfixes. One "fix" in particular significantly impacted my monk's self-healing ability so that it is a bit tougher to get through long fights. For me, a partner has become almost a foregone conclusion.

Diablo III is one of those rare games where its faults are easily forgiven because it is so easy to forget about them amidst the abundance of things the game does right. Blizzard was smart in not messing with success by radically redesigning and instead refining it to the point of exhilaration. Now excuse me while I go back to my Nightmare to prepare for Hell. (Follow my monk's travels in our Diablo III diaries).


[This Diablo III review is based on a digitally downloaded version of the game provided by the publisher as part of a World of Warcraft annual pass purchase.]

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

When Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert joined Double Fine Productions in 2010, he teased an adventure game project that'd been rattling around his head for a few years. Today, after a little hint, it's finally been revealed as The Cave, coming for download on PC and consoles in early 2013.

Choosing a trio of characters from a selection including a knight, scientist, time traveller, hillbilly and creepy twins, each with their own special abilities and motivations, you'll venture down into the titular hole. This no no mere cave, no no no, rather The Cave, filled with strange and wonderful environments and, this being an adventure game, puzzles.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun reports that it packs same-screen multiplayer, which all sounds a bit like Trine with more puzzling and less killing, and quite splendid.

Publisher Sega hasn't specified exactly which consoles The Cave will come to, but all of Double Fine's recent efforts have hit Xbox 360, so that at least seems a given. Don't forget that there's Double Fine's Kickstarter-backed adventure game to come too.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

When 3D MMORPGs were still babies, player-built housing was one of those ideas that got everyone jazzed up about the genre's potential, long before we realised they'd mostly be protracted exercises in killing ten rats. So it's nice to hear Star Trek Online is getting player-built starbases, even if the game is about killing ten tribbles.

Yes, buildable space stations will arrive in the 'Season 6' update, lead artist Jeremy Mattson explained in a blog post. Stations will come in five stages as you build them up, starting with the basic core and building towards a fancy affair bristling with modules and arrays and ships pootling around.

The Season 6 update is vaguely slated for a June launch, with an expanded mission editor, updates for the fleet system, reworked PvP, and other goodies. Star Trek Online, in case you missed the news, went free-to-play in January. You can sign up and play now.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

For the first time in over a decade of the Total War series, developer The Creative Assembly has released an official editor to let players create their own battlefields. The delightfully-named TEd, Total War Editor, is available now for Total War: Shogun 2 and its expandalone and its expandalone Fall of the Samurai.

Playing god with friendly old TEd, you can sculpt the terrain then populate your creations with props from trees to railway lines. If you're determined and inventive enough, yes, you probably can make de_dust. You can play your levels in custom AI battles or in multiplayer, where they're automatically shared with the other player.

"Total War has enjoyed a strong and dedicated modding community down the years, and we want to do more to support that," TW brand director Rob Bartholomew said in the announcement. "With TEd at their fingertips, we're expecting to see new battle-maps for Shogun 2 that will equal our own in popularity."

If you own Shogun 2 or Fall of the Samurai, you should find TEd in your Tools tab on Steam.

...