Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release: October 25, 2019
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

We spent a couple days checking out The Outer Worlds earlier this year, but after seeing it again at E3, our anticipation has only increased. The team at Obsidian prepared an impressive demo that highlighted many of the game’s pillars, like entertaining combat and meaningful player choice. Plus, we got to meet a new companion named Nyoka, and she seems to be a fun addition to your crew.

The demo took place on the planet Monarch, which is home to a wildland area that is the largest single zone in the game. The player was joined by two companions: Ellie (who we have met before) and Nyoka. Nyoka is a big game hunter, and while that fact figures into her personal quest, the team at Obsidian isn’t saying too much about her backstory right now. However, we know a few things about her personality. She’s a big fan of alcohol, and she’s tough (and a bit jaded). Having her along should make you feel like someone has your back – especially since her special attack involves a furious hail of fire from an enormous gun. Like other characters you meet, Nyoka may seem a bit distant when she joins the crew, but she can become more attached over time.

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If you’re a big fan of Nyoka or any of the other companions, you might want to consider delving into a leadership build for your character. Obsidian had discussed this option before, but this time we got to see the archetype in action. This development path involves investing in abilities that improve your companions more than they directly impact your own skills. Not only does this make companions more effective in combat through things like health boosts, but it also means that they can lend you additional expertise based on their specialty skills. For instance, Nyoka provides bonuses to stealth and weapon skills, since she is a huntress.

The events of the demo take the hero to a boarst (a hybrid meat) factory with the goal of taking it out. That could mean sabotaging the machinery and killing the “cystypigs” that provide boarst, or taking out the man in charge of operations. You can make this call in the moment; you aren’t bound to keep your promises to anyone about how you will (or won’t) approach a situation. And in addition to making choices about to handle key moments, you also decide what kinds of gameplay tactics to employ. One option to gain entrance to the factory is going through the front door with guns blazing. However, in the demo we saw, a stealthy approach resulted in fewer direct confrontations.

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Despite evading detection most of the time (which is easier since your A.I.-controlled companions won’t tip off enemies when trying to sneak), we still saw some combat. This gave Obsidian a chance to showcase weapon modifications like a gun that shoots electrical bullets, not to mention the tactical time dilation (TTD). Like the V.A.T.S. system in the Fallout series, the TTD effect slows your perception of time and allows you to target specific areas on your foes for certain advantages. For example, if you shoot their legs, their movement is impaired and they may not be able to close the gap before you finish them. If you shoot their arms, they may drop their weapons. The goal behind the TTD system is to provide a more deliberate and strategic layer for players who are less interested in combat strictly as a skill-based shooter – though most players are likely to use a combination rather than stick to one side of that spectrum.

Balancing playstyles and accommodating different choices in a complex RPG is not easy, but from what we’ve seen, The Outer Worlds seems to be sitting at the sweet spot. It doesn’t aim to provide a world that says “you can only do one of these three things: stealth, action, or persuasion.” Instead, you play in a way you think is fun, and then you get to see how the world responds. As the list of companions continues to grow, we look forward to seeing even more personalities who can react to your actions. 

Developer: thatgamecompany
Release: July 11, 2019
Platform: iOS

Over the years, I’ve learned to really look forward to my meetings and demos with Jenova Chen. The chief creative voice behind games including Journey and Flower, Chen approaches game development from a different perspective than many game makers, and talks about the process in a different way than many other developers, as well.

After a long development process, Sky: Children of the Light is targeting release in July, first on iOS, but eventually across the spectrum of mobile phones and tablets. Like all of the games previously released by thatgamecompany, the core concept of Sky is quite easy to grasp. You play an adorable individual, given life and energy by light and fire, and you explore a world of fallen stars, attempting to rediscover them and place them back into the sky. Along the way, you explore a variety of unique realms or lands, reachable through portals from a central hub, and most locations feature a mix of on-land exploration and grand elevated flight sequences, where your character can float and wing freely across a beautiful landscape of clouds and sunbeams. And all of it is meant to be played with others at your side.

That description isn’t how Chen describes his game, but simply what I can gather as he and I wander together through the playspace, even as he speaks to me about the more philosophical and artistic goals that fuel the project. Where Journey explored themes of loneliness, and the way a single other person could be a lifeline and companion, Sky: Children of the Light is about the broader webs that connect us as families, friends, and strangers. Chen hopes the game design simulates many of the brighter aspects of human interaction, like friendship, generosity, cooperation, and community. He’s interested in the way that people connect and build relationships, and how those relationships only truly form through non-selfish acts and discovering the world together.

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While flight and exploration of the various realms is certainly important, an equal effort has been put into the ways in which players can interact with one another, usually in loving and relationship-forming ways. Emote options let you shake hands and hug, celebrate successes with each other, or sit quietly on a bench and have a private chat. You can collect musical instruments in the game, like pianos and harps, as well as musical notation sheets, which can be played by tapping in-time with on-screen prompts. Once you sit down to play some music, other people can sit down and join you with their own instruments, and you can make music together.

The game is also explicitly built to allow for dedicated gamers to play with their non-gaming friends, partners, or children. Controls defy the traditional “two analog stick” move and camera rotation pattern, and instead you simply swipe with one finger to hop in a direction, or drag with two fingers to change the camera position. In flight, intuitive motion directions let you swoop and dive naturally. If even that level of 3D navigation is too involved for some, the game allows literal hand-holding with other players. Want to guide your non-gaming spouse to that cool new island across the way? Offer them your hand, and now you simply take them with you wherever you go. Up to eight players can hold hands and move as one.

From the central hub, you’ll move into one of six distinct realms that each offer different tonal experiences of play. Among the six there’s a valley that allows for competitive flight racing with your friends, a mysterious forest filled with moments of exploration and discovery, a romantic dim-lit vault filled with secrets, and a daylight-suffused prairie of interconnected islands, filled with opportunities to meet strange creatures, almost like an alien petting zoo. In addition to these and other lands, there’s also a seventh realm that only opens up once a week, and offers more challenging “endgame” content that Chen equated a bit with a raid in an MMO.

Throughout it all, you’ll be finding and collecting fallen stars, which once discovered transform into individual NPCs with whom you can also form relationships, learn new things from, and acquire new hairstyles, masks, and all sorts of other items with which to customize your character. These fallen stars each have their own personality and things to share with you, and they slowly help to pull the curtain back on what has happened in this unusual universe.

During my time wandering the game world with Chen, we played some music together, and then he led me by hand into a realm where we had to act together in order to make a giant flying manta ray appear. Once it was flying along the wind currents, we could float down onto its back and ascend to as-yet unexplored areas of the realm.

Sky: Children of the Light is clearly a game interested in letting players discover its charms for themselves, but I have little doubt that fans of the developer’s previous work will find a lot to love here. There are elements of play that seem to directly reference aspects of Journey and Flower. However, this game is a far more social and interactive experience, and clearly one meant to have players return to on a more regular basis over many days, weeks or months, and with greater options for customization and personalization.

Mobile games have a reputation at times for shallowness or flash for the sake of flash. Whether that’s always deserved or not, Sky is a game that is set to offer something decidedly different for players when it begins to roll out this July. While there’s a lot I still don’t understand about how it all fits together, I was immediately charmed by the game’s heartfelt messaging and quiet moments of joy, and I suspect there are a lot of other players who are similarly ready for a mobile release that offers this unique breed of meditative, joyful, and socially connected experiences.

Developer: Bloober Team
Release: August 30, 2019
Platform: Xbox One, PC

I remember being a young teenager when I watched the original Blair Witch Project for the first time. I was in awe and completely absorbed in the façade that the whole concept could be real. Sure, we know now that Blair Witch Project is a piece of fiction, but the video camera aesthetic and found footage genre helped sell that realism.

One of the big announcements during Microsoft’s press conference had me completely floored: The Blair Witch Project is receiving its own first-person psychological horror video game, and it’s being created by the Polish developer behind Layers of Fear and Observer.

At E3, I sat down with Blair Witch’s writer Barbara Kciuk and developer Maciej Jacek to gain more clarity about the project. Read on below to find out why the team decided to tackle the license, their dedication to psychological horror, and what you can expect gameplay-wise.

A lot of people were surprised to see a Blair Witch game announced at the Microsoft press conference. Why did you want to tackle that license?

Kciuk: Well, our company and Lionsgate (the owners of the IP), already knew each other. It wasn’t like we approached them or they approached us, it was a mutual discussion. The style of games we create is very much in the [style] of Blair Witch. So why not try this one? It’s an iconic IP and having this chance was huge. We just needed to take it.

 

So, it’s set in 1996. Why specifically that time period? Do you feel like you’re sidestepping some of the mediocre film sequels that way?

Kciuk: No, that wasn’t the intention. To be honest, modern technology is a problem in video games. [The ‘90s] time period is really popular in general in horror, not only in video games, but also movies and even books, because you don’t have this problem like, ‘Yeah, okay, I will just check the GPS and get the hell out of here.’ So it’s about the technology and also because of where and when the movies take place. So it wasn’t sidestepping anything. It was just, ‘This is cool. Let’s do it.’

Is it taking place in the same setting as the original film?

Kciuk: Yeah, but it’s a totally different story. It’s our original take on what can happen in those woods. But yes, the players will probably recognize some places and situations from the movie.

And this is single player only?

Kciuk: Yes. It’s the best way to experience horror without someone constantly chatting in your ear. [It’s best played in a] dark room, alone, and with headphones.

What made you guys interested in the Blair Witch license to begin with?

Jacek: I think what was really cool for us is that with Layers of Fear and Observer, we really tried to [create mystery]. We always try to shift the environment around the player. What was really fun was that Blair Witch pretty much does the same thing. The characters are trapped in the forest, and trapped in this space or time loop. You’re never sure what it is, to be honest. This is a thing that we had in common with the Blair Witch franchise and we can make a more psychological take on the movies from this. Not much survival, because that is not really what we do, but we made this original story in the Burkittsville Forest that’ll be more psychological and more emotional. It’s also because we don’t have [several] characters like movies do. We have Ellis and his dog Bullet. We wanted, for the first time in our history, to show this process of bonding with an A.I. or NPC in the game. We think that, on one hand, it’s really cool that you have someone in the forest [with you] because you’re not so alone or separated from everything. At the same time, we give players a reason to care for the dog. If something bad happens to him, it’s going to affect your character and your gameplay.

Is the dog really the only other being you interact with?

Kciuk: There are a few other characters, but it would be a spoiler [to say more]. But there is a lot of dialogue in the game.

Jacek: The game starts off with you joining a search for a missing kid called Peter. But you are late to the search party, so the search party starts without you and you have to catch up with them. You have ways of communicating with them through your walkie talkie.

Kciuk: Without spoiling too much, yes, there are other characters, although you have different ways to communicate with them, because you need to remember that you are in the Burkittsville forest, so strange things will happen.

How involved are you with Lionsgate in terms of bringing this project to life?

Kciuk: We got great help from Lionsgate. They are really helping us with some insight and they are very supportive. But they’re giving us a lot of creative freedom too. We are still in contact, because everything we do will be canon. So basically, we just need to keep being consistent, and we need to make sure that both of our visions match. But other than that, yeah, they’ve been great to work with because we can basically do what we believe is best, while still having a lot of support and a lot of help on our side. Our relationship has been very good through this whole process.

I’d like to know a bit more about the mechanics of the game. I see that you can equip a video camera. But what about enemies? Do you run from them? Can you fight them? Give me a rundown of what we can expect.

Jacek: We wanted to base it off of what we already did in Layers of Fear and Observer. The core gameplay will be pretty similar in that you will have a lot of spaces to explore. [You will] have time for this, because we don’t want to rush players through our games apart from a few sequences when we want the player to be stressed or be scared. We felt that the video camera is a really iconic item in the Blair Witch universe. We wanted to include it in the game for sure. At the start, we used it only to show the player what happened before, or to give them clues about the story. But we felt it’s not enough for the game. Because you know, the game isn’t like 90 minutes long; it’s almost six hours. We wanted to give players some more uses of the video camera. That’s why we will be using it to solve different puzzles along the way. Puzzles are directly tied to the story and to the narrative. There will be combat for the first time in one of our games. The combat won’t be conventional. We won’t have a shotgun or a chainsaw. This will be pretty similar to Alan Wake’s combat. You’ll have a flashlight, and you will be able to scare off most enemies with the flashlight.

Kciuk: But you are scaring them instead of killing them. Although, yeah, you can say that using the light is pretty similar.

Jacek: One of the most important themes in the game is your dog Bullet. He was created from scratch so it was a really big challenge for us to do this. Because you know, you have to kind of balance A.I. because it can’t be too dumb or too clever to work properly.

Kciuk: It was hard to really do this because well it’s a dog and you can’t make him too doggy because he would get distracted very easily and the gameplay function won’t be fulfilled. At the same time, he cannot be this this all-knowing A.I.; he has to behave like an animal. It was probably one of the biggest challenges to balance the animal A.I. so that it feels natural and very, very helpful at the same time.

Is the dog often leading you to certain clues or story moments?

Kciuk: Basically, you are given a certain [amount of] control over him. You can give him commands to perform some tasks, but he also has a mind of his own. Sometimes he will just support you. For example, he may lead you towards something, show you something, or bring something back. There is a lot of stuff he can do.

What was so iconic about the original Blair Witch film was that people weren’t always sure what was real and what wasn’t. I think that’s really what made it such a profound horror experience. Do you feel like you want to keep those themes in the game?

Kciuk: Yes, they are important for us and I can’t explain too much because I’ll go into spoilers, but the character really has a reason to question whether [he’s seeing] the witch or if he’s just going crazy. I can’t explain more, but you get what I mean.

So, the found footage horror genre – we don’t really see that a lot in video games. Is that the genre that you are still going to have here? Or is it going to become a different take on it?

Kciuk: It’s more of a first-person perspective. We are the character and we are perceiving the world through his eyes. But the found footage is also very important. Although, we used it a little different than, for example, Outlast or other games that constantly [require you to] watch the world through the camera. It’s not what we’ve done. We are watching the world through the eyes of the protagonist, but like Maciej mentioned, found footage is part of our gameplay. It’s part of the puzzles and it will affect the game.

It’s a way to convey a story, because it’s showing you what happened. You can also manipulate the world around you by using found footage. Basically, by using the camera, you can change certain things in the world.

You mentioned puzzles. Is there any chance you can give me some examples?

Jacek: Well, for example, when you fast forward or rewind footage that you find, you’ll be able to alter the environment around you. A tree might fall in the video, and then when you look around you [in the world] the tree might fall too in the environment. It might block your way or let you pass depending on where you [pause] the footage.

So that’ll change the actual environment?

Kciuk: Rewinding kind of rewinds the time, at least for what you think you’re seeing on the footage.

Were you fans of Blair Witch beforehand or did you become fans once you received this opportunity?

Kciuk: I would say both. I remember the movie, and well, it was really terrifying. Especially for a writer being able to work in such a deep universe is such a great chance.

I was a teenager when I watched the Blair Witch Project. My friend did not dig it at all. She was just like, ‘This is boring. I’m bored the whole time. They’re not showing anything.’ And I said, ‘No, I love that they’re not showing anything! I’m terrified!’ I adored that. What really terrifies me most is the idea of an invisible enemy or unexplainable entity. It just lets your imagination run wild. Is that something that you want to achieve in the game?

Kciuk: Yeah. Well, we don’t believe that the Blair Witch is one single entity or some creature. We believe it’s more like an overpowering force. You won’t really see head but you will definitely feel her all around you, like she will have a great impact on the game, on the world, and what’s happening to your psyche.

Blair Witch comes to Xbox One and PC on August 30.

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Not everyone can make it to E3, King Leo included. Fortunately for us, Ben Hanson was kind enough to film (and share) a ton of footage for a virtual tour of the Los Angeles Convention Center and all that video game stuff. You like booths? You’re in luck!

Check out the video above for an in-depth look at what the show is like, including a few celebrity sightings (!!!) and, of course, some killer quips as only King Leo can deliver. Fun!

Publisher: Nintendo
Release: July 26, 2019
Platform: Switch

Fire Emblem isn’t what you would call a risk-averse series. Even in the 90s, its brutal difficulty set it apart from the pack, punishing players’ foolhardy mistakes by permanently killing off units when they died in battle. Awakening, the most well-known entry in the series, took a risk when it combined that difficult strategy gameplay with dating-sim aspects, letting you play matchmaker with your units. This created fantastic (and sometimes heartbreaking) stories where your characters would meet, fall in love, sometimes have children, only to be vanquished forever in a sizable battle. With Three Houses, Intelligent Systems is once again taking some major risks by throwing out beloved staples of the series in favor of new systems and compelling twists.

During E3, I was able to watch an hour-long demo of Three Houses in action and play a single battle. I came away from that demo highly impressed with what saw I and confident this entry in an already well-loved series will be something special.  Here were some of the biggest noteworthy changes and features Three Houses is bringing to Fire Emblem and why I think they’re promising.

Warning: If you want to go in to Fire Emblem: Three Houses completely blind, do not read this. There are some spoilers that have to be discussed in order to talk about features. Nothing that the latest trailers haven’ already revealed plot-wise, but again, don’t read this if you want to go in blind.

The Structure Borrows The Right Elements From Persona

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is structured in a fascinating way. The first half of the game has you playing a professor at Garreg Mach Monastery (think Hogwarts for knights, archers, and mages), teaching students. You pick one of the three houses at the beginning of the game and become responsible for the education of the characters belonging to that house, though all the houses attend the school.

Educating them ultimately means you’re teaching them lessons that will decide what class they are, what proficiency they have, and which of their peers they build strong supporting relationships with. The whole first part of the game plays out like the social simulation aspects of Persona, with you managing your relationships with your students and living out your day to day life, choosing which activities to partake to boost certain skills or relationships.

At an unspecified point in the game, the second act jumps ahead five years in the timeline. The three houses are at war. You’ve automatically sided with the house that you selected at the start of the game. However, you’ll still be confronting the fact that many of your ‘enemies’ are the classmates of your students, and may even be former students you have interacted with. 

It’s a fascinating twist that could put the horror of war into perspective in an engaging way, as you watch men and women who you ostensibly helped mold, square off against one another in deadly combat. If the first part uses its time well, emotionally tethering you to your characters, then the second could result in some devastating Game Of Thrones-like moments (especially if you’ve got Permadeath turned on).

Your Hub Is Much More Impressive This Time

Awakening and Fates both gave you bases where you could interact with your units as they rested. However, this was all done through a visual novel set up in spaces that were pretty simple to navigate and didn’t offer that many sights to see. Garreg Mach Monastery is massive, a stone castle with three floors filled with classrooms, cafeterias, gardens, and various activities and quests for you to pursue. 

Garreg Mach Monastery also, thankfully, has a fast travel option, so you can hop from room to room to get where you need when you’re feeling lost.

There Is No Multiplayer

During the E3 session, Nintendo revealed there is no online or local multiplayer for Fire Emblem Three Houses. The company didn’t delve into specifics when I asked why, but I imagine it was to devote all of its available resources to creating an ambitious, narratively-contained saga.

You Have Much More Flexibility With Classes This Time

In Awakening and Fates, units had a fair amount of maneuverability when it came to upgrading them or changing their classes completely. However, there was a point where that flexibility ended: you could make a warrior character into various knights, skilled swordsmen, cavalry units but into a mage, for example. With Three Houses, you can make any of your units literally any class if you’re willing to do the work.

Some characters will have proficiencies that make certain classes come to them naturally. However, if you invest in teaching students certain skills, you can change mages into dragon riders. You can even create an army of one kind of unit from your entire house if you want a clan barbarians or a coven of spellcasters at your disposal (but that’s probably a bad idea).

You also don’t have to worry about your unit’s level resetting if you decide to change their class, something that was a huge pain in previous Fire Emblem games.

You Can Recruit Students From Other Houses

Really like that one sassy student who’s part of another house? Don’t want to kill them in the inevitable war? No worries. You can speak with students from other houses at Garreg Mach and invite them to join your house. If you have high enough skills in the attributes they respect, they’ll join you. If not, you can always beef up those skills and come back later to try and convince them to join your cause.

Bye Bye Weapon Triangle

Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle is, in many ways, the foundation on which the series’ combat lies. Though the triangle has evolved since the beginning of the series with new weapons introduced to it, it basically is as follows: Sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword. There’s always been a neatness to this simplistic system that players have long appreciated about it, with Fire Emblem continuing to build other systems on top of it. An example: the support relationships, with units situated next to each other on the battlefield receiving stat boosts if they’ve fought in another battles together.

Three Houses throws the triangle to the wayside. Instead, the power of your attacks will be determined by your units’ Combat Arts, which are essentially their special moves that they learn as they level up. One Combat Art might be useful against beasts while another might hurt archers more, and so on.

I’m a fan of this change because it means you can’t buck the system if you’re familiar with it. Removing the triangle means removing the comfort that many Fire Emblem fans have built up over the years and exposing them to a new system to master.

Bring it on, I say.

The Kids Are(n’t) All Right

Nintendo confirmed that romantic relationships would be returning in Three Houses on a livestream on June 12. When I asked for whether or not the dating aspects of Awakening and Fates would carry over into Three Houses, Nintendo said it didn’t want to dive too deep into that discussion for the sake of spoilers. However, the company did say explicitly that there would be no offspring mechanic in this game an While some matchmakers might be disappointed by that news, it makes sense within the thematic ambitions of Three Houses’ narrative, so I’m not bummed by it.

Battalions Are Your Best Friend

Another new feature in Three Houses is battalions. On the battlefield, battalions surround your unit as his/her own personal fighting squad. Each battalion has a unique effect that they can grant that unit and the units around them. For example, the battalion I saw during my battle was capable of cheering on my units. That might sound dumb, but it gave all the units nearby a 2+ move bonus, meaning they could move more spaces that turn to reach foes. Not bad.

I’m looking forward to seeing what other bonuses battalions give you.

Tender Mercies

Like Fire Emblem Echoes, Three Houses has a mechanic that lets you rewind turns for a certain amount during battle. This means if you screw up, and one of your favorite characters bites it, you have a redo button to help you out called Divine Pulse.  Once you use your set amount of rewinds for a battle, they’re expended until said battle is done. In casual mode this mechanic probably doesn’t matter too much since your characters won’t perish. However for those playing on classic with permadeath turned on, that last chance could make all the difference in the world during a battle. 

For more on Fire Emblem, check out our review of the previous game, Fire Emblem: Echoes, here.

Google’s Stadia presents an interesting promise. We went hands on with the service when it was reveaeed at GDC, but we got to try it again at E3, and were impressed with how well Doom Eternal ran (in HD only, because 4K isn’t available yet). Thankfully, during our demo, we got the chance to clear the air about a few misconceptions that have circulated around the topic of game streaming.

How will Stadia handle small text and other fine details when users play games on their phone? Obviously, some things won’t read as easily on the phone as they do on a living room television.

The official line from Google is, “We’re working with developers to optimize their game design and experiences for each screen. Stadia games will be responsive to the screens they play on, so things like font sizes will be appropriate per device/screen.” That sounds promising, but we’ll have to wait until closer to launch to see how every game works on phones.

If a user gets banned from YouTube or Google, will they have to worry about losing all their Stadia games?

The official line from Google is, “Our enforcement policy will be separate from YouTube’s. Of course, we will have comprehensive settings for players to control who they are playing with. Our priority is making sure Stadia is a safe place to play, and that players are comfortable and enjoy all of their experiences on the platform.” This sounds promising, but again we’ll have to wait until Stadia’s release to test some of these specific cases.

Can you download Google Stadia games? Sure, this is antithetical to the whole concept, but what if you want to download a game to play it because you won’t be near Wi-Fi similar to how Netflix allows you to download content? Some fans might want this option.

Unfortunately, Google has no plans to support downloading games right now, because Stadia is a data center-driven console that lives in the cloud.

Some rumors have speculated that Stadia could use up to 10 gigabytes of data an hour, which could be a problem for users if they stream games over their cellular network. Are these numbers accurate?

To be clear, Google hasn’t confirmed if users will even be able to steam games over cellular data. If we had to guess, we’d say that this option won’t be available at launch. Users will be able to stream games over Wi-Fi, but Google hasn’t released official statistics on how much data the service will use each hour. A lot of the numbers floating around are based on conjecture (However, this conjecture is based on good data and Stadia’s minimum download speeds).

Will Stadia games have demos?

It’s content-dependent, and largely dependent on developers and publishers, but it sounds like many Stadia games will have demos for the public to try to free.

Enough serious questions. This one is for the kids. Were the icons at Stadia’s announcement an allusion to actual games that are coming to the service?

The short answer: No. Those icons were meant to represent overall gaming genres and weren’t a tease for future projects.


For details on Stadi’a pricing, head here. You can also watch Stadia’s E3 press conference with us here.

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Techland
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Dying Light delivered on its promise of giving fans a fun, parkour-packed post-apocalypse, but with Dying Light 2, Techland is striving for much more. In addition to improving parkour and polishing combat, Dying Light 2 promises unprecedented impact stemming from players’ decisions. Choices you make may have consequences both telegraphed and unforeseen, with your decisions having potentially sweeping implications for entire regions of the city, and entire branches of the narrative.

In fact, according to Techland, players might miss up to half of the game’s overall content based on the choices they make throughout the game. The consequences reach far beyond multiple endings on the same track. In the gameplay demo I saw, the player has multiple choices to make over the course of a mission. Do you stay with your friend who was shot or do you chase down the alleged assailant? When you catch him, do you kill him or hear him out? These choices have immediate implications for the mission at hand, but it’s potentially much further reaching than that.

Your decision to stay and help Frank, or chase after the shooter kicks everything off

According to narrative designer Chris Avellone, Techland sees these kinds of consequences as an integral part of creating a great open-world experience. “The push for the game when Techland approached me with the narrative, they realized they already had a really strong open-world game, but what they really wanted to do was have an open story as well,” Avellone says. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I have this great open world,’ but if there’s only one linear storyline that every player follows, that’s kind of contrary to the world that’s set up. This is about giving the player more freedom to explore the story as they make their way through the game. It’s more agency.”

I see one such consequence play out later on in the mission, as the demoer decides to leave their wounded friend, Frank, behind and hunt down the assailant right before the group embarked on a quest to convince The Colonel, a powerful man in a stronghold, to share his vast supply of water. The resulting sequence sees protagonist Aiden Caldwell take off as an NPC tends to the wounds. The demoer warns that every decision has the potential for consequences. Decisions are often required to be made in the moment, meaning you just have to act on instinct.

“There are no good choices in Dying Light 2,” lead designer Tymon Smektala says. “These are you choices and that’s your ending. You have to live with it, whatever it is. It comes from you, what happens in the game.”

Combat now looks smoother and more polished

This choice kicks off a chase sequence. Much like the first Dying Light, the protagonist relies heavily on parkour. Dying Light 2’s Aiden Caldwell has a much more impressive moveset than the first game’s protagonist, Kyle Crane. This chase effectively showcases this as Aiden sprints across the rooftops. Standard moves like sliding, climbing, and mantling return, and Aiden can still ride along ziplines, but he has a few other tricks up his sleeve. The Dying Light 2 protagonist can wall run into a jump to adjacent platforms. Aiden can also parkour off zombies and even use them to break a long fall. He can even ride on doors as they open and thread the needle through holes in doors and walls.

If the standard moveset isn’t enough, you have a few traversal tools to aide you. As Aiden comes to a long gap, he breaks out a grappling hook so he can latch onto a nearby rooftop and swing across the big drop. He spots the truck he’s been chasing in the distance, but it’s just too far away. Thankfully, you also have access to a paraglider, which the demoer uses to drift softly onto the roof of the truck.

Zombies are sensitive to light, so they congregate indoors during the day before flooding the streets at night

Watching an expert player chain these free-running moves in rapid succession is entertaining as hell, but Smektala wasn’t satisfied with only catering to the best players. “We wanted to create the most immersive parkour game out in the market,” Smektala says. “The important thing is anyone can pick up the game and play it. As soon as they [learn the controls], they’ll be able to feel like this really agile guy and just fly through the environment. Then, if you are a skilled player and you start thinking about the skills that we give you and how these skills interact with different parts of the geometry, you get faster and faster and faster. There’s a really obvious difference between a novice Dying Light player and someone who is very skillful.”

Once inside the truck, Aiden comes face to face with the man he was told killed Frank. You can either kill the truck driver and exact revenge, or keep him alive and hold him hostage. In this playthrough, Aiden keeps the truck driver alive as the two drive to the compound together. Because the driver knows the correct signal to open the gate to The Colonel’s stronghold, we’re invited right in; if we killed the driver, we would have had to find another way.

After stealthily infiltrating the Colonel’s stronghold and making his way to The Colonel’s residence, Aiden learns a sad truth: his friend Frank died as a result of his injuries. Techland says that things may have played out differently had Aiden stayed with him, but there’s nothing that can be done now; all that’s left to do is complete the mission.

The Colonel sounds reasonable, but something is shady about him

The gameplay demo culminates with a choice: Do you carry out your mission of turning on the water pumps to bring fresh drinking water to a region in dire need of it, or do you trust The Colonel, who promises he can help you find a better way? The demoer follows the path of carrying out the plan against the Colonel’s wishes. The Colonel isn’t happy about that, so an intense gunfight ensues.

Aiden quickly dispatches two nearby guards with his gun, then gets up close and personal to another henchman with his modified knife that electrocutes and dismembers with every slash. Things are going as well as can be expected given the uneven odds. That is, until a heavy enters the room. Bullets and knives are no use thanks to the thick armor, so Aiden has to be a little creative. Using grappling hook we saw during the parkour sequence, Aiden latches onto the ceiling and swings into the heavy with full momentum. The impact stuns the enemy long enough for Aiden to get in and deliver a killing blow.

Aiden turns the nearby valves to drain the reservoir around the compound, delivering fresh drinking water to the drought-stricken region of the city. His mission is accomplished, but the consequences don’t end there. You now have access to an entirely new gameplay area that would have stayed hidden underwater had you not drained the lake, but the consequences are further reaching than that. Not only is the compound vulnerable to attack from a nearby faction with a plot against The Colonel, but something long-dormant in the lake bed is now free to awaken. The final cutscene shows a mutated zombie clawing its way out of the muck at the bottom of the now-drained reservoir, with razor-sharp spikes on the side of its arm.

Avellone loves the idea of telling others about your story by inviting them to your city in co-op sessions. In multiplayer, the host city is the one both players see, so showing your friends how your decisions have affected the city is simple. “When you’re able to see the reactivity mattering that much, and you realize it could have gone differently, but now all these other opportunities popping up because of your choice, suddenly it makes all the other choices impactful too,” he says. “One thing we noticed with RPGs is that people would compare their storylines and builds, and then brag about it like, ‘I feel really good that I made this choice!’ When the game showcases the differences like that to such an extent… it’s going to be a good thing.”

Avellone says that with RPGs, you often see how your choices affect others through interactions with NPCs. He wants more with Dying Light 2’s choice system.  “Dying Light 2 has that [NPC interactivity with your choices], but then they kind of went one step super far and went, ‘And the environments will change!’ and the scope to which they do that is impressive,” he says. “It’s like new gameplay spaces and new enemies completely. I was very impressed.”

Dying Light 2 impressed me from the very beginning of the demo, and set up high expectations. With a gorgeous world, smooth combat, impressive parkour, and lofty choice-driven ambitions, Dying Light 2 has quickly become one of my most anticipated games of 2020.

It’s the final day of E3 2019 and we’re ready to deliver our final live episode of The Game Informer Show! On this episode, we’re going to be mopping up a ton of games that we haven’t talked about yet like Animal Crossing, Star Wars, Fire Emblem, Doom Eternal, and much more! We’ll be going live at 7:30 Pacific. Starting at 8:30 Pacific we’ll be joined be a wonderful panel of developers from Quantic Dream, Night School Studio, and more!

You can watch the video above at 7:30 Pacific on Twitch or YouTube, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Playlisten on SoundCloudstream it on Spotify, or download the MP3 at the bottom of the page. Also, be sure to send your questions to podcast@gameinformer.com for a chance to have them answered on the show.

Our thanks to the talented Super Marcato Bros. for The Game Informer Show’s intro song. You can hear more of their original tunes and awesome video game music podcast at their website.

Auto Chess is an increasingly popular genre on PC and mobile, and you can play Valve’s take on it today, Dota Underlords, if you have a Dota 2 battlepass. If you don’t have one, you can join in the open beta when it goes live in about a week. If you’re not sure what the heck Auto Chess is, don’t be alarmed – we have a few resources for you here and here.

Valve’s take on the genre makes a few small changes that we can see already in these beta stages, such as letting players pick items after creep (NPC) rounds from a pool, further allowing them to tailor their strategies and reducing reliance on randomness from getting loot from NPC enemies. Some of the effects are quite powerful, ranging from skills that buff entire classes of units or adding one to your unit cap (For non-Auto Chess players, these are incredibly powerful game altering effects that don’t exist in the “Classic” version of Auto Chess).

You can read more about Dota Underlords and the game’s rollout here.

Publisher: Lionsgate
Developer: Good Shepherd Entertainment, Mike Bithell Games
Release: 2019
Platform: PC

When people think of John Wick, careful and deliberate planning probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The action hero is defined by kinetic battles, stylish gunplay, and a sense of inertia that propels him from one conflict to the next. So, naturally, the best genre fit for a video game adaptation is… strategy? That approach to the license was a surprise when John Wick Hex was announced, but you don’t need to play the game long to see how well it fits.

As you could guess from the name, you control John Wick as he navigates levels arranged on a hex-based grid. Though it’s a tactical game, it isn’t strictly turn-based; instead, it operates on a timeline system, where different actions have different properties. For example, moving one space takes less time than aiming and shooting your gun, which is an important thing to consider since your enemies are bound by the same rules. When foes are nearby, you see all of their timelines at the top of the screen, so you need to weigh your actions against theirs. Can you fire off a shot before they can? If not, can you get out of the way? If not, how can you minimize the damage and put yourself in a more advantageous position?

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In the levels we played, John Wick has several options to answer questions like that. He can kneel to increase his accuracy, and from that position, he can also roll (which helps him evade gunfire). From close range, a takedown can stun foes (or kill weaker ones), but this maneuver also comes with a step that allows you to continue moving. This syncs up with one of the core elements of the action scenes in John Wick films; characters are almost always moving, plowing forward and using whatever weapons they can get. When your handgun is out of ammo, you can throw it and use the time it’s in the air (plus the brief stun period if it connects) to charge forward and use a melee attack.

Not all of your arsenal is based on finders-keepers acquisition.. While developer Mike Bithell wouldn’t detail how players can customize their loadouts (or even officially confirm they can), he implied that you will have some way to prepare for missions beyond grabbing whatever you can off bodies. Another thing Bithell couldn’t elaborate on was a grayed-out “Watch Replay” button that appears when a stage is finished. Assuming this feature makes it through to the final release, it seems safe to assume that players will be able to watch a seamless run of the level they just finished, more focused on the rampaging than the tactical consideration.

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There are still deeper options and mechanics to explore, but the bottom line is that these elements all work together to create a sense of action that feels consistent with what makes John Wick cool. Even if the action isn’t happening at pulse-pounding speed, it seems to retain the sense of reaction, momentum, and cleverness that makes the combat in the movies so fun to watch.

We got a good sense of the gameplay in John Wick Hex, but other elements of the project are currently off-limits. Bithell can’t confirm anything about the story or voice cast (like whether Keanu Reeves will be in the game), but we do know that John Wick Hex is a prequel. In the movies, the legendary assassin comes out of retirement; the game is focused on the era before that retirement. While a deeper look into the universe would be cool, this franchise is all about the combat, and John Wick Hex seems to have the right skills in that department.