Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

God of War: Ascension is a return to Sony Santa Monica's familiar hack-and-slash action series. However, with God of War 3 raising the bar so high and closing the book on Kratos' journey of revenge, Ascension sorely lacks the marvel of the previous games. With little new territory to cover, players are placed in an all-too-familiar journey, with Kratos once again violently dismembering anything in his path.

Ascension doesn't stray far from the God of War formula, as evidenced by the combat system. Perhaps the biggest twist is that Kratos now lives and dies by the Blades, instead of utilizing a full arsenal of weapons. In addition, the Blades can be upgraded with different elements of the gods--the fire of Ares, the ice of Poseidon, the lightning of Zeus, and the soul of Hades. The elements do about the same amount of damage, but allow players to adapt their play styles. Ice, for example, can freeze surrounding enemies and leave them open for punishing combos, while Soul can unleash the damned souls of Tartarus to nail surrounding foes or juggle airborne enemies.

Puzzle-solving returns in Ascension as well, albeit in a frustrating way. The puzzles are frustrating, with little help offered upon hitting a wall. This is especially unforgiving when facing puzzles that require several steps, some requiring you to start over from the very beginning should you fail. With several of these moments scattered over the course of the story, I wasted hours simply not having fun.

Quick time events return in full-force as well, with Ascension refusing to budge from the franchise's reliance on the antiquated gameplay mechanic. QTEs most often come into play during platforming sequences, whether they be moments you're sliding down a building, or cliff-jumping Prince of Persia-style. Expect to see the "YOU ARE DEAD" screen an awful lot as you repeatedly memorize these many sequences.

Of course, being a God of War game means more than having a lot of QTEs. The franchise has always been a graphics showcase, and Ascension is no different. The environments are mind-blowingly detailed. Unfortunately, Ascension would like you to appreciate its environments so much, that combat is sometimes obscured through a series of wide-angle camera shots. For example, while riding a giant snake, the camera panned out to show the beautiful architecture of the Temple of Delphi. As I stopped to watch the scenery, I didn't realize that I was being attacked--and with the camera staying at a wide angle, fighting back proved to be a taller order than it should have been.

Perhaps the most significant addition to Ascension is the multiplayer mode, a first for the franchise. While I had limited time with Ascension's multiplayer offerings, I did enjoy Team Favor of the Gods and its Team the most, as it offers players of all skills varying objectives to work on towards a team score. The addition of a parry system in multiplayer also greatly deepens the combat, adding a rock-paper-scissors element to GoW's otherwise traditional combat. Series veterans will have good reason to explore the competitive landscape of Ascension's multiplayer offerings.

Even as a fan of the original God of War trilogy, Ascension doesn't offer anything new beyond its multiplayer mode. With the stakes lowered, the journey no longer feels epic. In fact, it feels rote on so many levels: Kratos is still angry, he's still badass, and he's still an unstoppable force of rage--except maybe by an errant QTE. In spite of the promise to offer a "more human" story, Ascension does little to progress Kratos as a character, much in the way combat feels like it's been stunted. Ascension is a poor follow-up to God of War 3, and meant largely for the completionist. Otherwise, it's just another stroll through the Greek pantheon.

This God of War: Ascension review was based on a debug PS3 version of the game provided by the publisher. Online multiplayer was tested through publisher-set test sessions. The game is now available on PS3.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

World of Warcraft is still going strong, but a decade of constant tweaks, revisions, and expansions has made Blizzard especially attuned to how small changes impact the experience. Greg Street, lead systems designer for the game, says that Cataclysm altered combat in a way that hurt the game, which the team tried to fix in the subsequent Mists of Pandaria expansion.

"We felt like since [Cataclysm], we'd lost our way a little bit," Street told IGN. "We had some really epic quests and we've told some great stories, but the second-to-second combat out in the field wasn't as interesting.

"So we made an effort with the launch of Pandaria and we redoubled it with this most recent patch to make a lot of cool stuff for players to do out in the world. We still have great dungeons and other instance content, but we also just have fun things to do out in the world with your friends."

The patch he's referring to, the 5.2 or Thunder King patch, was released last week. It added a new raid, new bosses, and a daily quest hub.

Street also mentioned that the widespread use of flying mounts made it too easy to fly over areas completely. In the new areas, flying is disabled. "Somewhere along the way, we'd lost the sense that being outdoors in the world was kind of a dangerous thing," he said. "Walking around and fighting mobs is basically the heart of World of Warcraft, and we had lost a little bit of that and wanted to make it fun again."

Shacknews - Steve Watts

The Xi3 Piston was initially dubbed a "Steam Box," one of several TV-ready PCs being made by third-parties alongside Valve's own hardware. But in the wake of pre-orders starting over the weekend after being shown at SXSW, Valve is distancing itself from the hardware.

"Valve began some exploratory work with Xi3 last year," Valve's Doug Lombardi told Eurogamer, "but currently has no involvement in any product of theirs."

Valve was said to have invested in the hardware company when the Xi3 Piston was first announced, but the size and scope of the investment is unclear. Now that Lombardi is calling it "exploratory work," it seems the companies' connections were tenuous. Valve is still planning its own Linux-based hardware.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Cave Story creator Daisuke Amaya has announced his next game, a Contra-styled 2D action title called Gero Blaster. But unlike Cave Story, which started its life on PC and branched out to other platforms, this one is releasing first on iPhone.

Polygon reports that the game was announced at the BitSummit indie conference in Japan. According to a product page at the event, the game is aiming for a release in May 2013, though that could only be referring to the Japanese date.

Amaya is currently looking into other platforms, and Cave Story+ publisher Nicalis has taken to Twitter to gauge interest in 3DS and Vita versions. Nicalis' Tyrone Rodriguez has even tweeted a picture of it running on a 3DS XL.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

So you've bought Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for $60 and paid $50 for the map packs for but you still want to spend more money on it, what do you do? This being the Internet, you pay $2 to wrap guns in bacon. From today, Activision is rolling out microtransactions for little bits and pieces in Cod Blops 2, including extra slots and storage space and cosmetic items like extra Calling Cards and, yes, bacon skins for weapons.

Microtransactions will hit the Xbox 360 edition today then come to other platforms later, Activision's official blogger Dan Amrich explained.

$2 (160 Microsoft Points) will get you a Personalization Pack, which includes a new weapon camo, three reticles, and a Calling Card (backgrounds for playercards). This is where the bacon comes in. For $1, you can buy a pack of national flag Calling Cards.

One microtransaction with an actual practical use is the $2 Extra Slots Pack, which gives your account another ten Create-a-Class slots and space for another 20 emblems, 32 more films, and 40 more screenshots.

It's not all pay pay pay, mind. Treyarch is opening up Nuketown 2025 for everyone, after yonks as a bonus for pre-ordering or buying a fancy edition of Cod Blops 2. Though you can now pay $5 for access to its undead incarnation as Nuketown Zombies.

As microtransactions go, it all seems quite fair and reasonable. If you want these perks, pay for them. If you don't, hey, don't pay. They convey no in-game advantage but offer some handy account features, so it's all good and well and there's no need for anyone to get upset.

Activision will have word later on when these will spread to other platforms.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Free-to-play games have been around for over a decade now, but many companies have been slow to explore the business model and even slower to make it not feel awful or exploitative. With the new Command & Conquer, it seems Electronic Arts may have the hang of it. Victory Games general manager Jon van Caneghem has detailed the sorts of things it'll sell in the free-to-play RTS, trying to avoid being "pay to win."

"It's our goal to give players full access to a fun RTS game with no barrier to entry," van Caneghem--who long ago created Might & Magic, fact fans--said in a blog post. "All factions, units, maps, and game modes will be available to everyone from the start."

Monetisation, then, will come with extras and services. EA plans to sell three main things: visual and cosmetic customisation options; boosters to help you level up faster "for more choices" (presumably meaning unlocks); and alternative generals.

Generals, you may recall, are sort of sub-factions for C&C. They largely share their faction's core army but focus on a specific area, with unique abilities, units and taunts. Van Caneghem gives the example of an air-oriented general, who can get stronger and faster aircraft, and perhaps call in airstrikes, but has weaker ground units. Other generals may focus on stealth units, tanks, rushing, turtling, and so on. He insists they're "all balanced against each other" though.

Supposedly you'll be able to buy everything with either earned or paid currencies; hopefully the prices in earned currencies won't demand unreasonable amounts of grinding.

One of EA's earlier cracks at F2P, Battlefield Heroes, was condemned as pay-to-win by fans, after EA bumped the prices for items in earned currencies so high that only the most hardcore could afford them.

Command & Conquer is due on PC later this year. It'll launch with the Generals universe, but Victory hopes to add the C&C worlds of Tiberium, Red Alert and even something new later.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

"Citadel" is a send-off for Commander Shepard and her crew. The final DLC for Mass Effect 3 "offers an entirely different kind of closure for the trilogy" and, according to our review, is a "wholly welcome farewell" for the franchise.

While the DLC isn't free (it costs $15), BioWare is still giving away a gratis gift to fans. The "Citadel" soundtrack is free to download, including twenty new tracks for fans to listen to.

To get the soundtrack, all you have to do is visit the BioWare website, log in to Origin, and download the 300MB+ .zip file. (Update: You'll need to have registered your copy of ME3 beforehand, likely by playing the game while logged into Origin at least once.) The tracks are all DRM-free .wav files that should play in whatever media player you choose.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Ron Gilbert is like a bird. He needs to be set free. The designer of The Cave has announced that he's leaving Double Fine Productions, "now that The Cave is done and unleashed."

Unlike some other high profile departures as of late, Gilbert plans on staying in the industry, saying that "it's time for me to move on from Double Fine and plot my next move," and that there are "so many games left to be designed."

"I want to thank all the amazing people at Double Fine for all their hard work on The Cave. It was a true pleasure to work with every one of them over the past two years. So much fun. I will miss them all. And of course to Tim for creating the opportunity to come there and make The Cave," Gilbert said on his official blog. Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert had previously collaborated on Monkey Island 2 and Day of the Tentacle.

Leaving a studio after the completion of a game is becoming Gilbert's MO. Before joining Double Fine, Gilbert left Hothead after finishing DeathSpank with the studio. Less than three years later, Gilbert finds himself looking for yet another team to join.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Update: Xbox 360 release confirmed.

Nearly three years after its release, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is finally getting online multiplayer. A piece of downloadable content will add the long-awaited feature tomorrow when the PlayStation Store updates. The $4.99 DLC also adds Wallace Wells as a playable character.

The PlayStation.Blog announced the impending arrival, along with word that PlayStation Plus members will get a 20% discount on both the DLC and the updated "Ultimate Edition" of the game. That deal lasts through March 26.

Xbox 360 will finally be getting the content this week as well. It was previously announced to be coming in early February, but never surfaced. Major Nelson later tweeted confirming its appearance on Live.

Here's a look at Wallace:

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Sure, we're still over a month away until Injustice: Gods Among Us' launch. But, don't be surprised that NetherRealm is working on DLC for the upcoming superhero fighting game.

The "Blackest Night" DLC was outed as an Amazon pre-order bonus in Germany, and it offers zombie-themed skins for all the heroes. In addition, the add-on promises to add a "zombie mode," whatever that entails. While WB has yet to announce US plans for the expansion, it is incredibly likely to find release Stateside.

Joystiq points out that the DLC is based on the "Blackest Night" story by Geoff Johns. In the crossover story, Nekron attempts to eliminate all life and emotion from the universe by bringing back various heroes from the dead. Yikes.

While US release details have yet to be announced, you can watch this video to see your favorite undead heroes in action.