Divinity: Original Sin 2

Larian visited the Eurogamer office to show me the new and improved Definitive Edition of Divinity: Original Sin 2 last week. To do this the developer ran two versions of the game - old and new - side by side to highlight the differences. On one screen we had DOS2 as it exists now, played on a gaming laptop; and on the other screen we had the Definitive Edition of DOS2 played on an Xbox One X dev kit. The difference was striking.

It wasn't a Digital Foundry-style controlled test, with the laptop fans wheezing and picture coming through an older 1080p screen, but it got the point across. The Xbox One X version, running in 4K resolution and with high dynamic range enabled, was brighter, crisper and more vibrant. It was smoother and more responsive too, and will apparently run native 4K30 on Xbox One X, and dynamic checkerboard 4K30 on PS4 Pro.

The reasons for the differences run deeper than hardware. The physics engine has been changed for the Definitive Edition and numerous improvements have been made, making the game up to four times faster in certain areas. The fire effect, for example - which spreads across a lot of environments a lot of the time - has been changed for one more economical and arguably better looking too. It's a similar story for many of the game's 'surfaces', and textures have been improved as well.

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Divinity: Original Sin 2

Developer Larian has announced that its majestic RPG Divinity Original Sin 2 will include a revamped Arena Mode when it comes to Xbox One and PS4 in its thoroughly reworked Definitive Edition guise at the end of August.

Arena mode, as you might imagine, ditches the narrative of the core game to concentrate on letting players run around and bop things (and each other) on the head via the splendours of turn-based combat. It was included in Divinity Original Sin 2's first iteration when it launched on PC last September, but returns in even fancier form with the Definitive Edition.


This new version features options for solo play, online multiplayer PvP, and a special pass-the-controller Hot Seat mode. It also introduces 16 characters, each with their own unique skills and abilities, including the likes of Malady, Zandalor, and Radeka.

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Team Fortress 2

Deep down, I think we've all wanted to burn down a house.

Not out of vengeance, or a half-baked insurance scam, or to send a message to a crosstown mob boss. To me, pyromania is simply the most relatable form of gleeful mass destruction. Who isn't a little bit entranced by a towering inferno? Of course, in real life you can't work out your emotional baggage through incendiary therapy without getting the cops called on you, but videogames fill the void.

If we're being honest, games have only recently really helped us get in touch with our latent pyromaniac instincts. It was difficult to program inspiring flames on a Commodore 64, and the less said about Doom's pepperoni pizza take on lava the better. But that started to change in 2008, with the release of Far Cry 2 and its unprecedented wildfire mechanics.

"To me [Ubisoft] really nailed how fire should feel and I loved how it would burn the grass and environment, such a wonderful touch," says Bill Munk, creative director of Killing Floor 2, which itself is a game with an incredibly satisfying flamethrower. He's right. Open world sandboxes weren't exactly a rarity in the late-aughties, but Far Cry 2 was one of the first times our machines packed the processing power to handle the physics estimations necessary to set those open-worlds on fire. We haven't looked back since.

"I really think flame weapons are so fun because of the extreme destruction they cause to NPCs and to the environment," continues Munk, when I ask him why he thinks players enjoy a healthy bit of incineration every now and then. "It's such a fun power trip, not to mention fire-based weapons are generally more forgiving on how accurate you need to be with your aim." 

Today, we're seeing games that play with fire on a more granular, mechanical level, rather than the engine-porn stagecraft it's been used for in the past. The best example I can think of is probably Larian Studios' Divinity series, which has persistently injected an immersive suite of environmental effects into the relative solemnity of a turn-based RPG.

I've always found this screenshot, where a rustic wooden platform is scorched to the depths of hell, to be an effective shorthand for why people who don't necessarily play a ton of strategy games still fall in love with the absurdity of Original Sin's magic systems.

"We tried to tweak duration, area and availability of fire skills so that the player is frequently put into position where their battle plan is spinning out of control and they need to improvise and take risks," says Nick Pechenin, systems designer of Divinity Original Sin 2, when I ask him how fire has been a useful tool in Larian's game design. "It was also important to us that although the ways in which surfaces are created and interact with each other have almost no randomness, smallest deviations in how the player targets their skills and positions their characters lead to wildly divergent outcomes, essentially generating fresh combat experiences every time."

It was fun to hear someone speak so intelligently about the mechanical theories behind cauterizing your enemies. For me, fire effects in videogames aren't about all clever design. Fire taps into my baseline, brain-bypassing id—the caveman wants and needs of my idiot gamer brain. But I suppose that's how it should be. A good blaze should be emotionally and aesthetically resonant, and when done right, it serves a distinct gameplay functionality buried deep below our perception. To borrow a J-school aphorism; it is showing, not telling, to the highest degree. With that, here are some PC games that excel in the art of pyromania. 

Return to Castle Wolfenstein

The urtext of video game flamethrowers; a lot of people's first quintessential next-gen experience back in 2001 was torching bunkers in that gorgeous, liquid-orange id Tech 3 goodness. I remember this thing being a little bit overpowered, mostly because of its ridiculous range, but frankly any good flamethrower should be. The only good Nazis are the ones conflagerating to death at your feet. 

For bonus Nazis-on-fire action, check out this trailer for the 2009 Wolfenstein's Flammenwerfer.

Far Cry (series)

We talked about Far Cry 2 above, which will always and forever be the crown prince of video game fire effects. But we also must give a nod to the other games in the series, specifically Far Cry 3, which had its finger on the pulse of the nation when it included a level where your shit-for-brains protagonist burns down a marijuana growing operation while a Skrillex/Damian Marley collaboration blasts off in the background. (It was 2012, what did you expect?) Truly a magnificent moment in the history of gaming that will only continue to get more hilarious as time goes on. 

Terraria

Terraria does such a great job with its physics for a 2D platformer, and one of my favorite ways that manifests is when you're digging through the sediment and throwing down an endless bread crumb of torches to guide your way back to the surface. It can be a pain to farm gel and wood to make sure you never run out light, but there's something kinda dramatic about zooming out and seeing the vast network of dimly-lit mineshafts you've inadvertently created. Especially for someone like me, who's always been bad at the aesthetic parts of crafting games. 

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation is a game about being completely screwed, but one of the very, very few times you feel like you have a chance in that awful, no-good, godforsaken spaceship is when you've got the flamethrower on your side. One big angry ball of flame is all it takes to put the xenomorph on its bony heels, and that respite can be downright euphoric. The flamethrower as the odds-evener, as it should be. 

Diablo (series)

Blizzard prefers a heavy touch when it comes to their aesthetic design, so it's no surprise that their darkest franchise lays it on pretty darn thick whenever we make a journey to the underworld. Diablo's hell is absolutely unreasonable; a giddy orgy of blood, lava, blackened gothic chapels, and belching geysers of flame. Personally, I'm partial to Azmodan Lord of Sin, best known for lobbing infernal orbs of molten rock at your hapless barbarian (a mechanic that was later beautifully integrated into Heroes of the Storm). Good on you, Blizzard. We can only hope that Diablo 4 brings an even heavier dose of hellishness. 

Shovel Knight

This is PC Gamer, which means we can't mention Super Mario 64, or Banjo Kazooie, or Sonic The Hedgehog on this list. That's a shame, because the mascot platformer is forever betrothed to lava levels—nothing quite ups the ante like the chance to singe the overalls right off of Mario's nubile body. Thankfully Yacht Club, who has dedicated its existence to bringing picture perfect 8-bit-esque adventures to Steam, picked up the slack. Of course Shovel Knight has a lava level, and of course it learns from the masters by bringing a candyflipped Bowser's Castle that's challenging, dramatic, and thoroughly retro. If we could bottle and administer the feeling you get when you use that indestructible shovel to traverse the lakes of Hell, everyone on earth would realize that videogames are a force for good. 

World of Warcraft

It's been a long, long time since I played a Fire Mage in World of Warcraft, but one of the most satisfying feelings that MMO ever produced was the Presence of Mind/Pyroblast combo back in vanilla. I'll break it down for you: Pyroblast was this ridiculous, deep talent-tree spell that let you hurl a massive fireball at an enemy after a six second casting time. That made it kinda useless, because the downtime was so heavy. That is, unless, you also specced into Arcane to pick up Presence of Mind, which, when activated, would make your next spell cast instantly. You see where I'm going now, right?

Presence of Mind/Pyro quickly became my favorite thing to do to people in Warsong Gulch. I'd reckon to guess that it led to more Alt-F4s than anything else in Warcraft's early years. Well, that's not true. Remember when Rogues could stunlock you for, like, half a minute? Man, maybe World of Warcraft Classic is a bad idea.

Team Fortress 2

It's pretty hard to balance a flamethrower in a multiplayer game. Usually they're either totally weak and watered-down, or an ultra-scarce pickup that you see once every 20 games. So hats off to Valve for not only building out the Pyro as a crucial part of the Team Fortress fabric, but also making him fun to play! Torching a crowded control point feels great, but every good Pyro knows the value of the secondary shotgun when you get locked down in a dual with a Scout or a Soldier or something. The variation between the loadout makes you feel useful and multi-dimensional, rather than the kid hogging the cool weapons and sandbagging the team.

BioShock (series)

I love the way Jack's hand looks when he's got the Incinerate plasmid equipped. All of the biological upgrades in Rapture are horrifying in their own visceral ways—I never ever need to see that Insect Swarm cutscene ever again—but something about walking around BioShock's dead corridors with a left hand that's smoldering from the inside out is awesome, and troubling, and could probably serve as a tentpole for some half-baked fan theory. In this Randian dystopia, the Left is on fire! I also think BioShock does perhaps the best job of letting us live our deepest, truest arson fantasies. Just snap your fingers and set anything on fire. Easy as that. Great for clearing out crazy people in a fallen kingdom, and also probably great for party tricks. 

Dark Souls

You have to think that From Software knew their take on pyromancy was awesome, considering how it's, by far, the easiest school of magic to use in a game that's famous for its abstruseness. No degenerate attunement system, no gatekeeping stat requirements, just throw on your fire glove and start roasting skeletons. Everyone who's spent some time in Lordran knows exactly where they were the first time you were invaded by some refined griefer who rained ungodly hellfire on your poor, PvE-tuned knight. We all rushed back, retrieved our souls, and vowed to get our revenge in New Game Plus. And probably started learning pyromancy.

Divinity: Original Sin 2

According to Steam, I have sunk 114 hours into Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition, on top of 61 hours spent in the "Classic" edition. A lot of that is probably AFK time but there is no doubt that I strolled slowly and stopped to smell the roses. Divinity: Original Sin 2 speedrunner AlmostPi, on the other hand, did not. 

AlmostPi was credited by Larian earlier today with blowing through the game in 24 minutes, 58 seconds under the "Any%, Old Patch" rules. That means the only consideration is getting from start to finish as quickly as possible, without worrying about achieving any particular in-game goals or having to use the latest update, which would presumably patch out at least some of the exploits that speedrunners take advantage of when they do their thing.

You can see quite a bit of that in the video of the speedrun: He drops crates and barrels from his inventory to reach otherwise inaccessible locations, for instance, and bypasses just about everything on the map, including ostensibly-mandatory combat. I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again the next time the topic of speedrunning comes up: It's a terrible way to play a game. But it also speaks to an impressive familiarity with Original Sin 2 (imagine the amount of time a person would have to sink into a game to learn and memorize those angles) and how to bend it in ways that Larian never intended.

Amusingly, Larian's tweet about the new record did not stand for long: Speedrunner Semanari beat it later in the day with a run of 23m26s, but AlmostPi quickly reclaimed the title with a time of 23m16s. You can watch that run in all its glory (and in less time than it takes me to create a single RPG character) below.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

Nothing strange here.

Welcome to my nightmares. As chronicled last week, all human progress is wiped out by a Steam Sale. Where once we were a species that revelled in new, interesting ideas, pursuing our dreams, we are once more wedged neck-deep in the past, doomed to buy the same 40 five-year-old games until we rot and coagulate into a molten horror. Welcome to the Steam Charts! (more…)

Dota 2 - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

biggest-steam-games-2018

We’ve just passed the half-way point of 2018, so Ian Gatekeeper and all his fabulously wealthy chums over at Valve have revealed which hundred games have sold best on Steam over the past six months. It’s a list dominated by pre-2018 names, to be frank, a great many of which you’ll be expected, but there are a few surprises in there.

2018 releases Jurassic World Evolution, Far Cry 5 Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Warhammer: Vermintide II are wearing some spectacular money-hats, for example, while the relatively lesser-known likes of Raft, Eco and Deep Rock Galactic have made themselves heard above the din of triple-A marketing budgets. (more…)

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

Someone hold the poor thing's hair/tentacles back, he's awfully ill

I have reached a conclusion. Everything that’s bad is the fault of Steam sales. Two weeks ago these charts had reached a place of being a fertile ground of interesting new games and discounted classics. Today, they’re back to being mostly a miserably predictable list of games that even the undiscovered tribes of Papua New Guinea have on their Steam accounts. (more…)

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice Bell)

summer sale header

The old quote is wrong: neither death nor taxes are, it seems to me, as terrifyingly certain as the Steam Summer Sale. Yes, once more we can add to the heap that is our backlog by buying games for, what, five quid, on average? But there are so many to choose from that it’s easy to get flustered, so who better than the staff of RPS to hand-pick the best ones for your consideration (rhetorical question; do not answer)?

Check out the full list below for a mix of games that should suit all pockets and tastes.

(more…)

Wasteland 2: Director's Cut - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Samuel Horti)

Divinity: Original Sin 2

In the mid-to-late 2000s, publishers abandoned the CRPG genre an acronym describing the very specific genre of video games adapted from tabletop RPGs to be played on computers which a decade earlier had been a cornerstone of PC gaming. They were more interested in accessible, console-friendly series like Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls, and PC-centric RPGs all but died out.

Then, around 2012, RPGs made a comeback, largely thanks to the rise of crowdfunding and an endless well of nostalgia. Since then we ve been treated to heaps of good ones Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera and there are plenty more in the works. But there s no guarantee that CRPGs are back for good. Some, such as Torment, haven t sold well. The future of crowdfunding remains uncertain. And asking fans to commit 50 hours to a single story is more difficult than ever, given the volume of great games that release every month. So how can developers ensure that the genre stays relevant?

(more…)

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Larian Studios has revealed more details about how it intends to revamp its excellent RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2 in August's Definitive Edition, and it will involve a "largely re-written" late game with 130,000 words worth of new story—the equivalent of a chunky fantasy novel.

The studio's writers have also changed 150,000 words to make story arcs tighter, the developer said. Writer Kevin Vanord, speaking in the video above, said that the Definitive Edition will "tie up loose ends" better than the original, and that a lot of the new dialogue will help better explain the motivation of various characters. 

Origin stories have also been polished "to better communicate how your decisions impact" the story of the main characters, and overall, the new words and rewrites will give you a "greater sense of reactivity across the world".

Beast, a dwarven companion, has been a particular focus for the team. He's been extensively re-written, and he'll have more to say and do in the game's conclusion, Vanord said.

Combat has been rebalanced across the board, making some fights easier and some harder. "The overall experience will now be smoother and make you feel like your experience in earlier fights has prepared you for what comes later, while still offering you new challenges," Larian said in a Kickstarter update. The Definitive Edition will also add some brand new fights, including one with the giant Kraken at the start of the third act.

The edition, which will be free for owners of the original, will come with a new tutorial, an easier difficulty level called Story Mode, and DLC about Sir Lora, the Squirrel Knight, who has to stop an apocalyptic cult of squirrels summoning the Great Acorn. Yup. That'll be free for new owners, too.

There will also be a long list of balance changes—including buffs to underused skills and changes to item prices—and some new music. For more on that, and to read about all the changes, head over to the full Kickstarter post.

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