The Forest

Survival game The Forest has finally hit the V 1.0 milestone after nearly four years in Early Access – but studio End Night has promised that it will keep working on the game into the future. A new trailer was issued today (you can see it below), in addition to the previously reported price increase.

"Today The Forest moves from early access into a full release," a spokesperson for the studio wrote on Steam. "It’s been a crazy ride, made possible only by the players who have supported us for the last four years. To the team here it feels like a game we all made together, us and the community. Your input suggestions and feedback has been invaluable to us."

The announcement also confirmed that the VR version of The Forest will launch on May 22. The VR version will boast all of the features found in the core game, with some changes made to accommodate the environment. For example, your HUD will be accessible on a smart watch, there's a full 3D inventory, and cutting down trees (which is always fun) can be done with motion controls. 

Read the full announcement here, check out the trailer below:

The Council

There are two questions people tend to ask about games: "What's it about?" and "What do you do?" Pairing those questions underlines a significant problem, because in many games what you do and what it's about are at odds. Poor old BioShock Infinite became the poster child for this phenomenon: it had ideas about free will versus determinism, about isolationism, racism and many other weighty -isms, but at the same time you were shooting bad guys by the hundred, whizzing around on zip-lines and electrocuting people. It was a blunt instrument to be exploring those ideas with. 

By contrast, The Council concerns itself with a deeply human drama. It's 1793 and Louis de Richet's mother has gone missing on the island retreat of a secret order. As Louis your obstacles are people, and talking to them is the solution. Not killing. Not performing non-lethal takedowns. Just holding conversations. And by adapting familiar RPG systems to those conversations, gamifying the art of reading and manipulating people, The Council's "What do you do?" and "What's it about?" are uncannily well-matched. 

Clementine will not remember this. Because it's 1793 and she hasn't been born yet.

What do you do in The Council? Well, you level up your parleying, subterfuge, observational skills, and psychology, then pit them against conversational opponents in quasi-boss battle encounters with branching consequences depending on your performance. And you collect coins. Despite placing its focus squarely on storytelling, The Council doesn't skimp on gamey interactions. 

In fact, its conversation system runs so deep it's initially daunting to make sense of. Louis de Richet has 15 available character skills, 44 talents, and 20 traits that will make him behave differently in your playthrough than mine, and you only have partial agency over which of each are accrued. Character skills are where you spend points to develop particular abilities, and they're broken down into three types to help you decide how you want to play. During my first playthrough, I went all in on the diplomacy tree—it's a game about talking to people, after all, full of world leaders and morally dubious dignitaries you have to grill about your missing mother. Diplomacy seems like a useful skill.  

...talents look like they're visiting from the menu screen of an 80-hour RPG.

But as I played, I found myself missing opportunities to observe something important, pick a lock, or say the perfect retort because of my choices. It's not so much that The Council makes you feel like you've picked the wrong skills, more that it makes you aware of all the other paths you could have taken, and builds anticipation for the moments when your particular skillset is called on. 

Choosing dialogue options before the timer runs out will reward you with the Swift talent.

Talents are separate from skills, and they bestow permanents character bonuses on Louis. Some are gained by leveling skills up to a certain point, performing specific actions, or consulting your journal for useful snippets of info about other characters' weaknesses and immunities. While skills are absolutely showered on you as you play—to the extent that maxing them all out by the end of episode three feels like it will be entirely possible—talents look like they're visiting from the menu screen of an 80-hour RPG. There are 44 of them!

Most interesting, I think, are traits, the third way of defining Louis. Traits are permanent positive or negative effects you don't know you're gaining until it's too late. You gain them after your blunders and successes. It's one of several ways The Council forces you to live with your mistakes. I'm permanently stuck with the naive trait in my playthrough because my weak line of questioning towards a certain character failed to extract the info I needed.

About that: conversations work like boss fights. Actually, they're even more like insult sword-fighting from the Monkey Island games, multi-stage affairs that require you select just the right response or line of questioning depending on the context of the dialogue. Make three blunders in one conversation and you'll fail it, causing a ripple of permanent impact on the story. Succeed, and you'll charm your company into disclosing information that'll help your quest to locate mummy dearest in Lord Mortimer's suspiciously opulent manor. 

Round one. Talk!

We've seen this type of thing before, broadly speaking—the Monkey Island games are more than 20 years old now and many games have used dialogue trees to similar effect since. What's interesting is that you're deploying conversational responses like a resource, managing items and abilities. Every action that uses one of your skills costs action points. Consumables like royal jelly replenish your action points mid-conversation, while devil's thorn reveals vulnerabilities and immunities for a short time. It's like stocking up on potions before heading into the dragon's cave, except you're wielding words and wit in place of a magic sword. 

None of this cleverness erases The Council's shortcomings. The iffy voice acting harks back to 1990s adventure games in a way that only sort of manages to be charming, while the camera and movement both feel stiff and unpolished. It's by no means a slick, big-budget game. But it's trying something truly different, and doing it well. 

I don't feel the absence of combat, spellcasting, or the things usually associated with a game carrying skill trees, and that's exciting. It opens a door for other games to follow suit, marrying deep systems with non-traditional interaction types. The Council goes further in adapting the Telltale adventure formula than just removing zombies and Baratheons—it shows that you don't have to pare games down to the bare bones if you want to tell a story about people. There's a place for buffs, perks, and leveling up in human drama just as much as there is in galaxy-spanning action-RPGs. 

That said, a polite reminder for The Council: in any game with voice acting, it's important to have good voice acting. Especially when it's all about talking.

The first episode of The Council is available now, with four more on the way.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley's big 1.3 update is out today, in beta form at least. The most exciting part is definitely the new multiplayer system, but in addition to that there's also a bunch of new single-player content, and we've been digging in to find all the new stuff.

Perhaps the coolest thing we've found so far is a new "Community Upgrade" option that becomes available from Robin the carpenter after you've fully upgraded your home. For the low low price of 500,000 gold, you can build a home for Pam, the bus driver who lives in a trailer with her daughter Penny. 

We haven't had a chance to complete the purchase yet, so we're not sure what Pam's new house will look like—or if there are further community upgrades offered after that one. Either way, it's a cool bit of story that will let me invest some of my wine riches back into the community. 

There's plenty of other cool stuff in the new patch, such as the option to build additional shipping containers as well as a new garden pot that will let you grow crops year-round indoors (outside of the Greenhouse). Here's some other bigger stuff we've found so far:

  • New friendship events with Linus, Willie, and Krobus.
  • New "Night Market" event, where a handful of merchant ships come to the Stardew Valley docks.
  • Horses can wear hats.
  • An "Auto-Grabber" that automatically harvests from cows, sheep, and goats.
  • You can change your profession via a "Statue of Uncertainty" in the sewers.
  • Three new fish.

There's plenty of other small additions (check out this Reddit thread that's being updated as people find new stuff). It's worth noting that the beta is still fairly buggy and prone to crashes, so tread carefully and back up your save files if you want to jump in right away.

Black Mesa

The fan-made Half-Life remake Black Mesa took another step toward completion over the weekend with the release of a Xen engine patch that fixes a number of issues including freezing and crashes on Radeon 300, 400, and 500 series video cards. 

"We will probably do one more 'Engine' release just before we drop Xen, in order to make sure that everything is running smoothly on everyone's machines," developer Crowbar Collective wrote. "We want the Xen release to be as close to a simple content release as possible." 

Black Mesa is largely a faithful recreation of the groundbreaking FPS Half-Life, but it makes some changes as well, shortening or otherwise editing some levels while expanding others in ways that the old GoldSrc engine wasn't capable of. The one thing it's lacking, despite being in development since at least 2005 (seriously, Black Mesa: Source, as it was known then, won ModDB's "Mod of 2005" award), is Half-Life's concluding Xen location. 

And that's perfectly fine by me: Gordon Freeman would've been better served with a Poochie-style sendoff than the ugly, tedious slog through Xen he ultimately got stuck with, as far as I'm concerned. But that's how Half-Life ends, and so—eventually—that's how Black Mesa will end, too. 

There's no word on when Xen will actually be added to the game and even if there was I'd strongly suggest taking it with a handful of salt: The rollout has already been delayed twice, most recently in November 2017, just ahead of a "do-or-die deadline" that had been set for December. (Obviously, it did not.) There are, however, patch notes and a list of known issues available for perusal on Steam

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The long story of Counter-Strike is a series of minor but meaningful changes. Track the last few years of patches, and between hundreds of weapon skins, you see subtle but serious modifications to map layouts, recoil behavior, and anti-cheat. If you time-traveled a CS player from 1999 two decades into the future to play CS:GO today, they'd find it familiar enough: the AK-47 is still the workhorse of the T-side arsenal, the Nordic countries are still better at the game than everyone else, and de_nuke is still in the active map pool. 

If things continue along their current trajectory, however, that last staple of Counter-Strike’s identity may be the next casualty of its ongoing evolution.

Of the seven maps in the current “active duty” map pool—that is, the maps available for players to choose from at big tournaments—Nuke is by far the least popular. So far in 2018, 214 matches of CS:GO have been played at high-level tournaments, and of all those matches, only nine have been played on Nuke. The next-least-played map sees over double the usage, with 20 appearances in high-level games over the same time period.

These numbers didn’t used to be quite so grim. The map saw more play back in 2014, when 15 of the 111 games played at major tournaments were played on Nuke, placing it firmly in the middle of the pack compared to the other active duty maps. Since then, its popularity has waned sharply, despite a graphical overhaul and substantial redesign in early 2016.

What happened to Nuke?

Radioactive

When I pose that question some of the game’s top-tier professionals, I learn that there’s not much of a consensus on why the map has fallen out of favour. Opinions range from believing that it’s a great map and that people just aren’t bothering to learn the unique tactics required to be successful on it, to believing it’s a fundamentally flawed map that can’t be fixed without completely reinventing it.

French pro Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt, currently of G2 Esports, finds himself close to the first position. “In general I think Nuke is a very underrated map,” he says. “I think it’s a very interesting map [due to] its layout, and that it's very different and unique compared to other maps.”

Questioned further, NBK- offered a hypothesis. “The main thing, I think, is that teams are either very good at it, or average-to-bad on it,” he explains. “So those teams that are average or bad on it are going to be 70-80% of the teams … and the teams that can play very well on it will get the map banned because it’s gonna be a 100% win against teams that are a bit lower.”

There are serious issues besetting Nuke from all sides.

In other words, it boils down to how large the skill disparity is between the teams that actively practice Nuke, and those that don’t bother to focus on the map because it doesn’t see much play at major tournaments. The nature of the CS:GO tournament format is that each team gets to ban at least one map from being played during any given match, so for the teams that don’t practice Nuke, it’s a no-brainer to ban it when playing against a team that’s known for their Nuke play.

Nuke's uniqueness exacerbates this problem, too. The more ways in which the map differs from the rest of the active pool, the more bespoke strategies and map-specific knowledge are required to do well on it, and the more time a team would need to dedicate to practicing it if they wanted to catch up to the teams who already know what they’re doing on it. Nuke, with it’s unconventional bombsite placement and total lack of a traditional mid configuration, finds itself on the extreme end of the spectrum as far as divergence from the status quo.

The end result is that no one ever gets to play it except in the event that two of the few teams who do bother to practice Nuke happen to run into each other in a tournament bracket. Of course, this means that the map is stuck in a bit of a negative feedback loop. Because no one plays it, teams aren’t incentivized to practice on it, and because no one practices on it, no one wants to play on it when it comes time to pick maps during major tournament matches.

Vent

There are also criticisms to be made about the design of the map itself, from those with a less enthusiastic view than that of NBK-. Jimmy "Jumpy" Berndtsson, the current coach of Fnatic, finds himself in this camp.

“When they made a change, when they added the outer catwalk and everything,” Jumpy says in reference to the changes made in the early 2016 update, “I felt it was a bit messy in a way, because as CT you can hide in so many spots, and as T you can [attack] in so many spots.” This abundance of choices, he says, led to a higher degree of randomness in high-level play, because it became harder for players to know where they should be looking.

He’s more enthusiastic about the latest version of the map that was released in February, saying “With the new changes now, I really like the update … I think it’s more balanced in a way, you can push yard now and the CT can’t hide everywhere, and Ts can’t exploit going outer catwalk really fast.” It’s unclear whether these tweaks will be enough to break the aforementioned feedback loop.

There s room for more communication between Valve and the pro scene.

Another issue raised—one that will be far more difficult to fix with minor balance updates—relates to the overall layout of the map. On a normal Counter-Strike map, the two bomb sites that the T side must attempt to reach are generally on opposite sides of the map from each other, with enough distance between them that it will take a player a bit of time to run from one to the other. Nuke, however, is unique in the regard; its bombsites are stacked one on top of each other, occupying more or less the same footprint, but on two different storeys of the same buildings.

“Because of the levels, you can go down under and you hear them from up top, sometimes you’re just really confused, like ‘Am I hearing him down under, or is he above me, or is he to the right or the left?’ I think that’s the most confusing part,” says Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, current captain of Astralis.

There are serious issues besetting Nuke from all sides. Some have to do with the nature of the map itself, and some to do with the nature of competitive Counter-Strike and how the map pools and tournament formats work. None seem to have an easy solution.

Fission

The good news is, in contrast to the widely varying views from the pro scene on what’s wrong with Nuke, their answer of what to do about it is surprisingly unified.

“I guess three or four times a year we should just sit down with Valve and talk about what we could do better at the different maps, and especially Nuke, because there’s a lot of people not liking to play that map,” says gla1ve.“If they’re planning on introducing a new map, [I’d like it if they] released it a bit before the major, let people try it out, then just have a meeting with all the final teams at the major and talk about the new map and what their plans for it are,” Jumpy echoes. “I know they approach some people, but they don’t have like a big meeting, just to talk through, to let teams open their opinions. I think they can learn a lot from the players, and I think the players can learn a lot from the developers.”

Even NBK-, who has few grievances with the current design of Nuke, feels like there’s room for more communication between Valve and the pro scene. “I think [it’s] important for the players to talk with Valve and tell them what is not possible on a map,” he says. “For instance if they take something out of a map, or they add something, or they change something, if most of the pro players see it as a problem, I think that should be where Valve decides to change things and listen to the players.”

The consensus is clear: Valve still needs to do more to gather feedback from the highest-level players of their game, and use that feedback to make improvements that will increase the calibre of play at the top level. Whether that will be enough to save Nuke remains to be seen, but the pro scene believes that it will be a net good for Counter-Strike in general, and has at least some chance of being able to revitalize one of the game’s most iconic locales.

PC Gamer

Borderlands 3 rumours have been swimming around the industry for a while now. It quickly earned worst-kept-secret status in the years following Borderlands 2's smash success, but developer Gearbox has mostly steered attention toward its two spinoffs and the short-lived Battleborn. Apart from an outright confirmation that some sort of Borderlands development definitely exists, we haven't heard much news about what's next for the looter shooter series, or when we can expect to learn Borderlands 3's release date.

When Walmart Canada briefly put Borderlands 3 in its new releases section before E3, we got our hopes up for a conference appearance. It wasn't to be. In the meantime we've gathered everything we know here about Borderlands 3's release, rumors about characters and setting, and what else you should expect. Check back for updates as we learn more.

Because Borderlands 3 hasn't been officially announced yet, Gearbox has kept silent on a specific date, even though it was entertaining concepts as far back as 2012. Publisher Take-Two seems keen on a potential 2018-2019 launch window, as suggested by an investors call report from March 2017. In it, CEO Strauss Zelnick included a “highly anticipated new title from one of 2K's biggest franchises” as part of the publisher's fiscal 2019 outlook, a span of months ranging between October 2018 and September 2019. 

Zelnick's comments appeared again in subsequent reports in August, November, and February, increasing the likelihood of a solidified timeframe. Though not named specifically, Borderlands 3 is a strong contender for Take-Two's plans, especially considering the known quantities of the studio's annual sports releases, the juggernaut omnipresence of Grand Theft Auto 5, and the radio silence from Steam sale darlings XCOM, Civilization, and BioShock (the latter's recent stirrings notwithstanding). 

Where does Borderlands 3 take place?

Not Pandora, hopefully. While the plundered planet could make a threepeat (or fivepeat if you count Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Tales from the Borderlands) to our collective boredom, it's far more feasible that we'll visit one of the many other Vaults dotting space, a welcome change of scenery teased during Borderlands 2's conclusion. Hints of a new world named Promethea were discovered by Battleborn sleuths, including hidden graffiti of a Vault symbol and peculiar audio patterns heard from portal anomalies beckoning listeners to Promethea and warning of Patricia Tannis, the unhinged scientist researching the Vaults' mysterious origins. Promethea's candidacy was strengthened most recently by a tweet last month from the official Borderlands account that restated the Battleborn Easter eggs in clearer form.

In the Borderlands canon, Promethea is where the gargantuan Atlas Corporation first harnessed the alien Eridian technology to manufacture advanced weaponry and starships. The Crimson Lance, Atlas' private military and playable character Roland's former employer, would return to prominence as it keeps a major base planetside. Promethea also houses the first Vault discovered by Atlas which would eventually kickstart the rush of hunters and rival corporations plying the stars in search of riches.

With all clues pointing to Promethea's importance, there would be little reason to pass up the chance to understand the true nature of the Vaults, perhaps bridge the connection with the magical Sirens, and, of course, loot one of the juiciest motherlodes in the galaxy. 

What has Gearbox said about Borderlands 3?

The studio is certainly withholding major announcements as we creep closer to the summer convention block, but that hasn't stopped CEO Randy Pitchford from drip-feeding progress updates on Borderlands 3. During PAX South 2015's Gearbox panel, Pitchford opened recruitment for Borderlands 3's development team, saying, “We want to think about the future, and we want to think about what the next Borderlands is, and we're going to need some help.”

Later, at PAX East 2016's panel, Pitchford noted that “obviously there's going to be another Borderlands.” He also mentioned the transfer of Battleborn art director Scott Kester onto the team in a similar role. Staff changes are common for large projects, but this aligns with Gearbox's plans to refocus manpower onto Borderlands 3 after Battleborn was finished.

During the same panel, Pitchford pondered whether the next Borderlands would use a number or a more exotic designation. “We don't even know if we're going to call it that,” he said. “We could call it Borderlands 4 for all we know.” The tongue-in-cheek style of Borderlands' comedy might involve a box cover poking fun at colons and buzzwords. More clear cut is Gearbox's intent for delivering a “really big, worthy” continuation instead of an offshoot like the Pre-Sequel, as Pitchford explained in an September 2017 IGN interview.

Another major Pitchford preview surfaced in April last year with a tweeted photo of the man himself wearing a motion capture rig. The getup was for a shoot that “may or may not be a psycho bandit in a video game we may or may not be working on.” Seeing as psychos are the babbling poster-mobs of Borderlands' wastes, it's almost assured a Borderlands 3 is on the way teeming with more masked madmen.

Image via The Nocturnal Rambler

What sort of loot will be in Borderlands 3?

Expect the usual bevy of wacky weapons and bizarre effects—and a fire-spitting gun straight out of Tesla CEO Elon Musk's laboratory. No, really: In January, Musk attracted Pitchford's attention when he debuted a novelty flamethrower available to the public from his Boring Company, joking on Twitter that the flamethrower was sentient and came with a free cryptocurrency blockchain. Pitchford then declared the flamethrower's inclusion in the next Borderlands game, requesting Musk to write the flavor text. Surprisingly, Musk agreed. "Boring Flamethrower" already smacks of a cheekily named legendary drop, and sentient guns aren't anything new—this is the same series that gave us a yelling SMG—so keep an eye out for a flavored firestarter blessed by Musk. 

Other Borderlands 3 details

  • Around 90 percent of Gearbox is working on Borderlands 3. Pitchford told last year's PAX West panel audience that the studio was full steam ahead on a project “most of you guys want us to be working on.” Since no one was brave enough to shout out “Colonial Marines 2,” that project is most definitely Borderlands-related.
  • An Unreal Engine 4 talk at last year's GDC included a very Borderlands-looking sequence. Pitchford presented the engine's features of improved lighting and shadow effects that would “power the next Borderlands game” but was quick to disclaim the footage as just a “technology demonstration” and not a snippet of actual gameplay. The previous Borderlands games ran on the Unreal Engine, so it makes sense if the next entry kept tradition with snazzier tech.
  • Gearbox saw a few notable departures, including writer and Scooter voice actor Mikey Neumann. Borderlands 2 lead writer Anthony Burch also left the studio in 2015 to eventually join League of Legends' Riot Games. Claptrap voice actor David Eddings moved on to Rooster Teeth last year.
Call of Juarez® Gunslinger

The 2013 Wild West FPS Call of Juarez: Gunslinger was removed from Steam (and Xbox Live and PlayStation Network) at the end of March. Now it's back, and flying the flag of Techland Publishing, a division of developer Techland, which has acquired the game from original publisher Ubisoft. 

"We would like to thank Ubisoft for its incredible work publishing the Call of Juarez games," Techland Publishing CPO Adam Lasoń said. "We’ll continue the great efforts of Ubisoft and support the fans of the Call of Juarez universe in the same dutiful and passionate way." 

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, an "homage" to tales of the Old West, is actually quite good, but I think it suffered somewhat for coming on the heels of Call of Juarez: The Cartel, an interesting attempt to bring the series into the modern day that was really not good: "Brutal and boring," as we said in our 35/100 review. That's the sort of negative impression that tends to hang in the air for awhile.

The status of the Call of Juarez series overall isn't entirely clear. The Techland Publishing statement refers specifically to Gunslinger; the Steam listing for the original Call of Juarez also lists Techland as the publisher, but its direct sequel, Bound in Blood, still bears the Ubisoft nameplate. (The Cartel is nowhere to be seen, which is probably for the best.)   

It's also not clear what Techland has in mind for the future of the franchise: "Passionate" support for the game is laudable, but Gunslinger is five years old and not exactly a runaway blockbuster. I've reached out to Techland to ask about its longer-term plans, and will update if I receive a reply: In the meantime, if you'd like to try your hand at slinging some guns, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is on sale on Steam for $10/£7/€8 until May 4. 

Stardew Valley

In November last year, Stardew Valley developer Eric Barone told us work on the sedate farming sim's much-anticipated multiplayer component was "coming along great". In January this year, we received the teasiest of teases from the creator, and yet another assurance of its well being earlier this month. 

Now, alongside the base game's 1.3 update, Stardew Valley's public multiplayer beta is go. 

Via Steam and/or LAN, up to four players can get their hands dirty in both new games or the host's existing single-player save. Each player is assigned their own cabin, says Chucklefish's Tom Coxon in this post, as you work together towards common goals such as farming, mining, fishing and fighting. 

A scalable difficulty level means profit margins can be tweaked to suit high production—while a new chat box and custom emoji suite (which stocks 200 custom Stardew Valley emojis) let you communicate with your pals. 

And if things get more serious than that, you can of course "woo Pelican Town’s NPCs" or "craft a wedding ring to propose to a fellow Player". Likewise, you can also divorce or ban farmhands by demolishing their cabins. Nasty. 

Here's Chucklefish's advice on how to join the beta:

  • Log into your Steam account 
  • In your Games Library, right click on Stardew Valley
  • Select Properties → Betas (see: https://imgur.com/a/H1gH4)
  • Enter the Beta access code “jumpingjunimos” and press Check Code
  • After this, select the beta branch option on the Beta selection drop down list above 
  • If you have any problems with gaining access or experience any bugs, email us at contact@chucklefish.org 

Chucklefish also advises players backup their files: "Your save files are located in %APPDATA%\StardewValley\Saves on Windows, or ~/.config/StardewValley/Saves on Mac and Linux. You should also remove any mods you've installed—full compatibility is in the works."

As for its single-player features, Stardew Valley's update 1.3 adds hats for horses, new character events by way of new cutscenes, and a new three-day travelling Winter festival. 

Full details on Stardew Valley's v1.3 Beta can be found here

Maelstrom

Maybe it's that I kinda miss Sea of Thieves—despite enjoying it I haven't made time to play since the first week of its release—but anything with ships, sails, cannons, and sea monsters will draw my eye these days. Maelstrom, now in Early Access, has all of those, plus it's a battle royale game. Fifteen ships enter, one ship leaves.

I can't say Maelstrom takes place on the open sea: at times it feels like there's precious little room to maneuver in this ocean filled with jagged rocks and towering islands that both provide cover and damage your ship if you collide with them. And naturally, more and more of the map is being closed off as you fight. As players are eliminated, dead seas encroach and push the remaining ships together in the center of the map. It's not just a forcefield this time: the dead seas signal the approach of sea monsters who will rise from the blackening waters and smash your ship into splinters. This isn't a battle royale game where you can hide outside the safe zone and apply bandages to win.

There are three races in Maelstrom: human, dwarf, and orc, and each race has three different ships to choose from. Each ship has different perks and drawbacks: one might have better armor but slower speed and less maneuverability. A dwarven steamship I'm fond of doesn't just have cannons along the side but also at bow and stern, allowing you to fire in every direction—though in much smaller volleys than other ships. It all depends on how you want to approach combat: decide if you want to be better at long-range attacks rather than close-up combat, choose between being fleet and nimble or something more like a floating tank. You pick one ship as your first vessel, and can buy the rest later as you accumulate gold from playing matches.

Cannons aren't the only way to damage enemy ships. You can ram them as well, and certain ships are built more for ramming than anything else. You can also board other ships, sort of: pull up alongside another ship and activate the boarding attack, and you'll throw grappling hooks over, latch onto the enemy hull, and your tiny, unseen crew will do some damage before the attack expires. There are also special abilities you can earn: the only one I've gotten so far is a fireball that explodes from my bow, sweeping across the water and doing damage to anyone in its path.

It's a fun and fast-paced game as you swivel around to unleash broadside attacks, try to stay out of the line of fire as your cannons are reloaded, grab currents to speed yourself up and dart between the islands, and race to collect the floating goodies dropped when another ship is taken out. 

As you play and earn gold—there are NPC ships floating around the arena that you can sink and plunder—you also progress. As you level up you can add shipmates that give you faster sails, quicker repair abilities, and other bonuses. This means you might wind up facing ships that have better cannons than yours, improved hulls, and special attacks you haven't unlocked yet yourself, something I hope is taken into account via matchmaking. It's one thing to reach the end of a battle royale match and find yourself outgunned, but it's something else to be at a severe disadvantage right at the start.

Maelstrom is a nice-looking game built in Unreal 4, with pleasing effects and sounds, and lots of enjoyable details in the world and ship design (orc ships, amusingly, are pulled by two armored sharks). I only wish there was a bit more elegance to it: your hull integrity is displayed as a big, chunky white grid around your ship, and a massive indicator shaped like a trident extends into the water to let you know when you can fire. It's helpful that these elements are so easy to see, so you're never confused about your ship's health and capabilities, but it detracts from the art and design for these indicators to be so overbearing.

The toughest part of Maelstrom, from what I've played, has been getting a full match. Several times I've spent long minutes cruising around the lobby with three or four other players, ramming and bombing each other while we waited for more to show up, only to eventually quit because they never did. A successful battle royale game needs a solid playerbase so matches can begin quickly, and with a progression system it's doubly important to ensure players can find appropriate opponents. Maelstrom doesn't appear to have drawn much of a crowd, at least at this stage of Early Access. Here's hoping that changes soon, otherwise it might just sink.

BATTLETECH

BattleTech is a great tactical mech combat game, but it can be quite a time sink. You can turn off cinematics and follow cameras in the settings menu to help skip between turns more quickly, but it can still take a while to move through a typical engagement. Sometimes I just want to rattle through a mission, grab my salvage, and fly to the next system.

Reddit user mruts has a good solution that uses Battletech's debug mode to quintuple mech movement speed. There are other solutions that involve using CheatEngine and modifying text in the file structure, but they tend to affect the game logic, and not just the movement speed of the mechs. The debug console also lets you toggle the speed boost back to normal at any point.

To enable debug mode in BattleTech I followed Redditor wolf-grey's method. You simply create a text document in notepad, paste the following text, and save the doc as Battletechdebug.reg

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Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00  [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Harebrained Schemes\BATTLETECH] "last_debug_state_h176629417"=dword:00000001 

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Then you double-click the saved file, launch Battletech and press control, shift and the minus key at the same time in battle to summon a little debug menu at the top left of the screen. Click on the 'speed' button to activate 5x mech speed, and then press control, shift and minus again to get rid of the debug menu.

Here are the results.

Wolf-grey lists this as a solution for Windows 10 users, but I'm using Windows 7 on this PC and it works fine. You can find an alternative method at the top of the reddit post

I've tested it a bit in campaign and skirmish and haven't had any ill effects, but all the usual caveats apply. Back up your save games just in case, there might be unforeseen problems with any tweak you make like this. Also, I haven't tested it in multiplayer either and would expect speed mods to mess with multiplayer synchronicity.

I'd love to see the developers add a quickplay option to let us speed up the game using dev-sanctioned methods, but until that, or modders produce the definitive speed mod, this should hopefully help.

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