Hollow Knight

The maps for Super Metroid and the many games that followed it have a definite 'ant farm' quality to them. They capture complex worlds in two dimensions, whether squeezed between glass or put on a screen. Hollow Knight is no different—Hallownest makes that ant farm comparison almost literal, its bug-themed world expanded by industrious insects like Myla, the tragic miner bug who sings while she works. (You can read all about how Hollow Knight's maps were created here.)

Hollow Knight's creators, Australian indie studio Team Cherry, have likewise continued burrowing into the walls of Hallownest since their game's release, adding new areas and characters and so on. Some of these updates fulfill promises made during their Kickstarter campaign, and a couple were even unmet stretch goals they decided to go ahead and make anyway. Others are ideas they had late in development and held onto for the sake of not overstuffing the initial release.

"We're already making a massive game," says animator and co-director William Pellen, "It's better for people to experience this massive game, then get something a little extra along the way to keep it fresh."

Hollow Knight's other co-director, designer Ari Gibson adds, "It's a nice space to play in for us. It's a world with a style that we like working in, it's very free for us to conceive whatever weird characters we want. We can cram them into this 'buggy' theme and they fit quite well."

That's buggy meaning insectoid, of course. Only one of Hollow Knight's major updates, Lifeblood, was focused on patching and optimization. It's overall quite a solid and stable game (although if you're experiencing input lag then turn off V-sync, you're welcome). Hollow Knight was designed in a way that makes these modular add-ons possible, like a house built with renovation in mind, only when you knock down a wall in Hallownest you don't get a bigger living room, you find an entire society of bees.

We just enjoy making the game. We enjoyed making the base game so I think we just wanted to continue making it and this was our way to do that.

Ari Gibson

The next of Hollow Knight's free updates will be called Godmaster, though initially it was announced as 'Gods and Glory'. "Someone else owns the name Gods and Glory," Pellen explains. (As they wrote in the announcement, "not only is the new name 100 times cooler, more distinct, more 'Hollow Knight', it also doesn't conflict with the title of a certain mobile game, made by a very large, very powerful video game company!") "We had to do a quick shift on that one, which is fine. Fortunately we're a tiny company so we can make name changes without it being too much of a hassle. We're learning all about trademarks as we go."

Godmaster will include a few new bosses and areas, a new variety of charms called Glorified Charms, and an NPC called the Godseeker who acts as a questgiver and perhaps romance interest. When asked about the theme of this update, Gibson just shouts, "Gods!" Pellen expands on that a little. "The great figures of Hallownest, which are the great figures that you faced and some new ones, challenging them and ascending beyond is the theme."

After that there's one more free update, which will add a new playable character: Hornet, the second boss you fight in the base game. "That will be the completion of everything we promised in the Kickstarter," Gibson says. "And Hornet will incorporate some backer content as well," Pellen adds, "some backer dungeons and backer bosses that are still to come."

While a bunch of the updates have been about keeping promises made during the Kickstarter campaign, others have been inspired by player feedback or Team Cherry's own desire to continue tinkering with the thing they're fixated on. "We just enjoy making the game," says Gibson. "We enjoyed making the base game so I think we just wanted to continue making it and this was our way to do that."

The continuing string of bonus stuff hasn't hurt sales either, which see a bump with each update. (Updates are typically accompanied by a discount, which helps.) "Even though there is a bump around those updates," says Gibson, "there's more of a long-term view to say, 'This is a living product and this is a living world and if you jump in you're going to continue to receive these extra free things and see it evolve and change'."

You don't want to get so immersed in that feedback that you end up doing 'Yoda with lightsabers'

Ari Gibson

"It's like the community gets all these exciting bits," Pellen adds, "they speculate about what's coming up and anticipate it and then it comes out and get to dig through and find the stuff."

"And they also get to know that any game we produce that they buy will receive long-term support," says Gibson, "which we think is part of our values when we're making a product and delivering it."

Seeing the community react to each addition is another inspiration to keep up the pace of free DLC. Those discussions include some very in-depth videos and essays about the deep setting details and backstory of Hallownest, which is communicated in pretty opaque ways within the game itself. Gibson admits it's "somewhat mysterious", which is an understatement. Hollow Knight's dialogue is minimal, and there's a lot of things to read between the lines, or correlate by connecting things different characters say, or spot in the background of scenes or the relation between spaces. Pellen's read and watched a few of the fan theories, but Gibson tries to avoid them.

"Sometimes you feel like, as a creator, if you start reading too much on the internet you'll start to be influenced in strange ways by what people are focusing on and perhaps not what you originally intended to pursue. You don't want to get so immersed in that feedback that you end up doing 'Yoda with lightsabers', going down a strange path."

Pellen agrees. He says they try to avoid "responding too much to specific questions people are asking or their theories." Gibson adds, "I think that's something those players will value as well, that it has an integrity and a throughline to it all."

There's definitely a strong sense of structure to Hollow Knight. Its aesthetic, which they jokingly call "the bug thing", has let the create an instantly recognizable universe of characters: creepy spiders, bees in their hive, tough stag beetles and annoying mosquitoes. "The bug thing is a very loose framework," Gibson says with a laugh, "so it hasn't restricted us, which is the important thing. We just need to make sure that the games we make after this have that same flexibility that allows us to easily come up with an idea and jam it in in an interesting way."

Pellen says they've yet to feel like they've run out of ideas for Hallownest, or things to say with it. But they are looking ahead to a day when they outgrow it, busting out of this cocoon. "I think we're interested in having a game that is not Hollow Knight, even if that's a way off," Gibson says, "just so people can see what Team Cherry is rather than just what Hollow Knight is."

Silent Hill Homecoming

With videogames so full of long-running series it's inevitable that even the ones we enjoy will cough up the occasional dud. Whether you didn't like the combat focus of Fallout 4, or the sci-fi setting of Grand Theft Auto 2, or the underwhelming aliens of Mass Effect: Andromeda, or pretty much anything about the first Witcher game, it's easy enough to think of examples. So that's our PCG Q&A this weekend, where we ask both you and our team members: What's your least favorite entry in an otherwise good series? Give us your hot takes in the comments below.

Samuel Roberts: Assassin's Creed 3

Assassin's Creed's quality has been pretty variable over the years, but most of the main entries are worth playing for one reason or another—usually the environments. But Assassin's Creed 3 oversimplified every interaction so that I barely felt like I was doing anything, even when my character was performing rad shit like fighting a bear or climbing through a forest outside Boston. 

It soured me on the series for five entire years. Then I finally came back to give Origins a proper go, which is a much better game that I actually managed to get passionate about. AC3 was a complete waste given its choice of setting.

Andy Kelly: Resident Evil 0

This is a frustrating game. The idea of a Resident Evil prequel, revealing the events leading up to the outbreak in the original, could have been something pretty special. Instead we get this miserable, plodding, obtuse game featuring one of the most maddening inventory systems in history. You spend most of the game shuffling items back and forth between the two characters, or trying to remember which room you left something in an hour ago that you suddenly need. The locations are all rehashes of places we've been in Resi games a dozen times before, but less interesting. And the two-character puzzles aren't as clever as they think they are. There are almost certainly worse entries in the sprawling, inconsistent Resident Evil series, but the wasted potential of this one makes it extra bad. 

Tom Senior: Final Fantasy 13

After being consumed by Final Fantasy 12's deep squad combat systems I was bitterly disappointed by the 13th game's stifling corridors, endless dungeons, and a combat system that didn't get interesting for about 20 hours. It's technically a good-looking game, but its characters look like they wandered in from different universes. Plus the story, even by Final Fantasy standards, was turbo-bollocks, full of nonsense concepts you need a wiki to decipher. I hear it opens up after about 30 hours, but screw the effort it would take to get there. I'll go back on the road with my FF15 boyos instead, thank you very much. 

Wes Fenlon: Max Payne 3

Max Payne 3 is not a bad game. It's pretty amazing, in a lot of ways: the physics and shooting feel fantastic, the way it transitions from cutscenes to action is Rockstar's Hollywood obsession at its finest, and that soundtrack sets the mood. But I played the entirety of Max Payne 3 disappointed that it didn't feel like Max Payne. It's supposedly the same character from the first two, but without Sam Lake's writing, it just isn't Max. Max Payne 1 and 2 are bleak and cynical but temper that darkness with pulpy dialogue and inner monologues. They're more surreal, and more fun, and give Max more personality. Rockstar's writers totally missed the spirit of the first two games, turning Max Payne 3's story into pure bleak nihilism. Max just says the most depressing shit over and over again for 15 hours. It's repetitive and never really goes anywhere. Max is just never quite right. 

Jody Macgregor: Silent Hill: Homecoming

Some people might disagree with "otherwise good" when it comes to the later Silent Hill games, but I thought Downpour was a solid six-out-of-ten thing with a handful of good ideas (that sidequest where you follow the trail of ribbons in search of a missing child, for instance) and Shattered Memories was genuinely great. 

It's just a shame those are console exclusives and the only thing that shows up if you type Silent Hill into Steam is a terrible port of the worst game of the lot. Homecoming had way too much fighting, never a strong point with Silent Hill, and recycled the series' imagery like rusting walkways and faceless booby nurses in a weirdly joyless way. It's a bummer.

 

The Walking Dead

Telltale has detailed how long we'll have to wait in-between instalments of its latest episodic adventure, The Walking Dead: The Final Season.

In a tweet from the company's official Twitter account, the developer confirmed there'll be roughly six weeks between each chapter, culminating in the final episode—called Take Us Back—which is expected to release just in time for the holidays on December 18, 2018.

The two other instalments between episode one and the final chapter—cheerfully entitled Suffer the Children and Broken Toys—will release on September 25 and November 6 respectively.

Naturally, even the best laid plans may come undone and it's possible the release schedule will slip, but the advance notice is at least an indication of Telltale's desire to speed up its chapter distribution. It took seven months for us to get from season one's opening episode in April 2012 to the closing chapter in November 2012—an agonising wait for some, particularly given Telltale's penchant for cliffhanger endings.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season's first episode is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. If you've already finished up but still looking for a Clem fix, check out our latest feature on how The Walking Dead's final season is changing the rules.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is bringing back "the days of Early Access" with a special event that strips PUBG back to its pre-alpha form.

Early Access Memories, which is live now and will run until 7pm PST on August 19, 2018 (which is 3am on August 20, UK time), gives players the chance to play with old-school loot, rules, and a steaming heap of nostalgia, of course.

25 four-man squads can leap into Erangle in both third- and first-person perspective where they'll get to play game settings that "mimic the settings used during the Early Access period". 

It's not all bad, mind; the current control scheme remains intact, your weapons should work as they presently do, and the blue circle won't batter you more the further away from the safe zone you are.

Crucially, level three helmets can still spawn in the world, while Kar98ks, Tommy Guns, camo jackets, and the much coveted Ghillie suits will be recoverable from care packages. Just don't be expecting any Aquarails, as they "will not spawn". 

Oh, and yes, the red zones are enabled, too.

Earlier this month, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds developer PUBG Corp announced 'Fix PUBG', a campaign that intends to do what it says on the tin. The initiative casts its net wide as it targets performance, matchmaking, bug fixes, quality of life improvements and more.  

Alien: Isolation

Fanatical's summer sale is now on, offering up to 86 per cent savings across thousands of new and classic games, including Doom, Alien Isolation, Yakuza 0, and Monster Hunter: World.

And if that isn't enough to pique your interest, from now until 23:59 (UK time) on August 26, 2018, you can also save an extra 10 per cent on all listed prices by using the code SUMMER10.

Tempted? Us, too. Here's our pick of the very best deals going right now:

For more, head on over to Fanatical.

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info.  

Dota 2

Update: A Valve rep has confirmed that Steam.tv is real, it's in testing, and you weren't supposed to see it. "We are working on updating Steam Broadcasting for the Main Event of The International, Dota 2’s annual tournament," the rep said. "What people saw was a test feed that was inadvertently made public."

The International 2018 Main Event is scheduled to run August 20-25, so assuming that all goes reasonably well, we should be getting a proper look at Steam.tv soon.

Original story:

Earlier today, a tweet from Pavel Djundik pointed us to the domain Steam.tv, but at that time it was a blank site which simply read "Welcome to Steam.tv." A glance at the certificate showed it to be a legitimate Valve website, which was curious, but not quite enough to report. While we've suspected that Valve has Twitch dreams in its eyes, all we could do was speculate.

Later this evening, though, Valve apparently launched Steam.tv with a livestream of The International 2018 and chat bar. Cnet says that it's just the Dota 2 stream for now, and that you can log into your Steam account and access your friends list for group chats. It also has voice chat support in Chrome.

Screenshot via Cnet.

I'll have to take Cnet and Kotaku's word for all that, because all I see is a blank page. I've tried coming at Steam.tv from a few locations via VPN just in case any region-targeting is going on, but still, nothing. Either the news spread fast enough to overwhelm the site, or Valve just took it down after a bit of fun. 

Whatever the case, this seems to be a very limited test of a website that expands on Steam's streaming functionality, creating a more Twitch-like experience for viewers. We don't know how far Valve plans to take it, but it's a safe bet that it won't be limited to Dota 2 streams. 

We'll let you know if Valve says anything about its Friday night tinkering.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six® Siege

It’s a sad day for Rainbow Six Siege’s most hardcore fans. R6DB, the most popular destination for detailed player stat tracking in Siege, is shutting its doors on August 20. The closure has been finalized after a three-month struggle to recover from the new standards required of GDPR, the European data protection regulation enacted in May that most would recognize as the wave of legally-obligated emails that arrived in their inboxes earlier this year.

GDPR compliance boils down to a few key standards: the right to be forgotten, the right to know who can see your personal info, and for corporations to not store personal information without a real purpose. Any company wishing to operate in Europe (read: most companies) is beholden to comply or face fines. For many websites with access to legal teams or security experts, compliance was a relatively painless process. But for a small site like R6DB that inherently relies on player information, it was a much bigger ask.

Leading up to the implementation of GDPR in early May, R6DB was already prepared to close up shop. “[W]e are not comfortable continuing to operate the site with as many unknowns as there currently are. The fines are just the cherry on top,” a post on the site’s blog read at the time. But a few weeks later, just two days before their scheduled closing, a new post announced that they had reached a “safe mode” for the site that complied with the new regulations and allowed users to delete their data. Though, this came at a significant cost to the team, who could no longer run ads.

Many fans speculated that the website received some sort of financial support from Ubisoft themselves after Siege brand director Alex Remy reached out to R6DB on Twitter, but we now know that this helping hand was limited to legal support. When I reached out to the team in late July for an update on the site’s health, things were still steady. “We solved most of the issues (added a way for people to delete their profile, updated privacy policy, etc.), but we are still in contact with Ubisoft. The situation is still not completely resolved and as such that's as much as we can say right now,” said developer Muppet.

But now, less than a month later, that tune has changed. In its post announcing the closure, R6DB shared some insights into the final decision. “With increased traffic and tracked player count the need for a beefier server arose, which we covered with ad revenue. Since the GDPR law came into place we’ve had to disable ads and have been paying the server costs from our own pockets. We would’ve also needed to create a company (with all the work that comes with it) since GDPR requires the ‘identity and the contact details of the controller’ to be available to users,” the post reads. “All of this put together means that it’s become too much to maintain for a hobby project and we’re unwilling to do this as anything more.”

The post ends on a slightly hopeful note, suggesting that the team isn’t done with Siege just yet. When reached for clarification, developer Laxis shared one project that’s currently in consideration to continue their work. “One idea floating around at the moment is a standalone desktop app that hosts everything locally (so we devs have no knowledge of any data), but we'll see how feasible that is.”

R6DB has always stood far above the other meager offerings for stat tracking in Siege. The website is fluid, clear, and provides a wealth of interesting breakdowns about which operators and weapons you favor. With it soon gone, the only option left will be Ubisoft’s more rudimentary official tracking site. I’m holding out hope that Ubi simply hires the folks behind R6DB to revitalize their own stat site.

Bus Simulator 16

Bus Simulator 18 is a very niche sort of game, but it does what it does quite well—not perfectly, but good enough to make Andy Kelly sweat about blowing past a turnoff with a full load of tightly-wound commuters. And now it's a little bigger and a little better thanks to the release of the first free mission pack on Steam

The update adds three all-new missions to the game, "presented by Max Klein," although it doesn't say (and I don't know) who he is. There are also new "sub-tasks" related to boosting tourism in the city of Seaside Valley, including new points of interest to explore (or at least drive people to), three new decals, a full bus skin, and new fleet colors to choose from. 

Also in the package are several changes aimed at improving performance, including disabling third-person camera lag (which should fix stuttering issues) and dialing back shadows cast by license plates on parked cars, which was apparently really an issue. AI for NPC cars pulling onto the highway has been improved, dark areas have been lit up, and a construction site in the city has been slightly moved so that cars won't keep smashing into it. (They were actually clipping through it, but I think the idea of cars constantly plowing into piles of dirt and bricks that are a little too close to the road is a lot funnier.)

Exodus: Proxima Centauri

The digital port of space 4X Exodus: Proxima Centauri releases today on Steam. Developer Offworld Games created this port of the board game, which came out back in 2012. In Exodus: Proxima Centauri players are leaders of a faction of remnant humans brought to a distant star system by powerful aliens after a devastating nuclear war drove them from Earth. With the Centaurians withdrawing, humans are now left to struggle for control of the Proxima Centauri star system. It’s a game that embraces the multi-role workings of the 4X genre, pushing players up against political and economic struggles, but it also has some standout highlights like technology customization and vicious interplanetary weapons of mass destruction. 

Among board gamers, Exodus is known as a game that strikes the middle ground between the sometimes-arbitrary events of Twilight Imperium and the strict euro-style economics of Eclipse. Since 2012 it's had two expansions: Edge of Extinction and Event Horizon. When asked about the possibility of those expansions making it to the digital edition Offworld said that it doesn’t have any official plans, but if the release of Exodus went well “the expansion is absolutely something we'd be interested in pursuing.”

You can check out Exodus: Proxima Centauri - Digital Edition on Steam.

Warframe

One game costs 60 bucks, the other is free. One game looks like a series of gorgeous sci-fi book covers brought to life, the other looks like a fetish convention in space. The first game has a sprawling plot and characters voiced by famous actors, the other is a mess of made-up words and weird, unexplained factions. In spite of all this, Destiny 2 is dead to me, and Warframe is standing on its corpse looking cool with a samurai sword. 

What happened? I loved Destiny 2 in spite of its problems, but even on the verge of a major expansion, I can't bring myself to get excited about it the way I used to. 

I don't think it's just fatigue. I still dip in and play Destiny 2 crucible with friends every week or so, and I've done some grinding towards the new armour sets. I still love the art direction and the soaring soundtrack, and the complex co-op raid dungeons. The trouble is there's nothing to aim for that can surprise me in Destiny. A new armour set probably isn't going to alter how I play. I unlocked all the super abilities ages ago. A new gun might capture my attention, but I know getting it will be arduous.

Warframe feels like being thrown into a wind tunnel by comparison. As I fight my way through the star chart the game showers me with objectives within objectives. There are quests, faction missions, time-limited missions with useful resource rewards, open world sections, space combat sections, and more. There are a few slow markers of overall progress, like my character's rank, but they are supported by tiny sprints of progress—a blueprint for a new weapon, sub-components for a new warframe, faction milestones. There is always something cool within reach, and new weapons and warframes really matter.

Warframe's vast, messy economy of currencies, resource materials and reputation ranks adds depth and complexity to a simple action game. You dive into a facility, somersault your way to your objective like a looking like a hyperactive leathery clown monster, then kill/steal what you need and somersault out.

Bang. Five minutes. Have some rewards and decide where you want to go next.

I delete, delete, delete my way through mountains of guns just to get rid of the notification icon. Guns in a shooter should not feel so completely worthless.

Warframe's immediacy and the way it showers you with micro-rewards makes it seem overwhelming at first, but it quickly becomes compulsive. I walk home to my flat at lunch, make some toast, flip a few missions, level up a thing, and then head back to work. Crafting happens in real-time. Yesterday I told my spaceship to build a hammer, today I find it waiting for me as I munch my lunch—a little present from Warframe's weird universe.

I'm comparing Warframe and Destiny specifically because this is exactly how I used to play Destiny, and both games are aiming for a roughly similar experience. They are loot-driven session games with a co-op focus (though you can play PvP in both, Destiny's crucible is superior to anything I've found in Warframe so far). I admit that am in a honeymoon phase with Warframe, and inevitably the lure of something shiny and new can make the old game seem more tired than it really is. However I reckon Warframe's reward structure, and its strange, unpredictable sense of variety, make it a more compelling long-term prospect than Bungie's multi-squabillion dollar epic.

It comes down to the surprise factor. There's a lot of stuff in Destiny 2, but few points of substantive difference. You can ride around on a wide variety of space bikes, but beyond the cosmetic differences and some little side-dash abilities, one is much like another. You can say the same for most of the purple weapons in a given weapon archetype. I like Origin Story and the Iron Banner auto rifles for PvP, but out in the field one auto rifle plays like all the others, really. Exotics like the Sunshot hand cannon are decent loot, but for the most part the PvE loot pool feels restrained and not worth chasing. My postmaster cache constantly fills up, and I just delete, delete, delete my way through mountains of guns just to get rid of the notification icon. Guns in a shooter should not feel so completely worthless.

By contrast Warframe's weapons feel as though they are designed in isolation from one another, and not to round out a particular weapon class. You have a primary weapon slot, a secondary weapon, a melee option, and a companions slot (which I filled with a dog I hatched from an egg—long story). Your overall rank improves as you level up weapons, so you are encouraged to switch regularly to keep your experience pool ticking up. 

I have been playing with two primary weapons that loosely fit into an assault rifle class. The first is a highly conventional rapid-fire weapon, the second one is an auto rifle that shoots glowing stakes at pretty much the same rate of fire. The stakes protrude from enemies' faces like porcupine spines and the killing blow sends them flying backwards, pinning them to a nearby wall.

I know that my next primary weapon will feel completely different again. My first secondary weapon was a crappy pistol, but then I moved on to a pair of handcannons that felt amazing to fire, and now I'm throwing daggers. When I look at the secondary weapons list there are a bunch that, well, I don't know what they are, or how they even shoot dudes.

The Warframes look and behave very differently as well. My old Excalibur frame was all about sword combat, my current Trinity Prime is a squishy frame with neat support abilities that let me link myself to enemies to steal energy and reflect damage.  

This variety makes the next unlock matter. It makes the grind exciting, and worthwhile. I'm certainly going to play the new Destiny 2 expansion, but once I'm done with it I have a feeling I'll drift away quickly once again, and Warframe will be there waiting for me in a weird skin-tight rubber spacesuit.

...

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