For anyone who grew tired of all the waiting in Hitman , we’ve got a speedrun for you. Speedrunner inkblowout utilized a save glitch in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin to set the record for the any-percentage category at three minutes and twenty-two seconds. This isn’t inkblowout’s first foray into speedrunning Hitman 2, as he currently sitting in second place for his 49 minute and 45 second run of the game on Professional difficulty with a Silent Assassin rank for each level. After hitting the 3:22 mark on multiple occasions, inkblowout has decided he can let someone else try and beat his time, even though he says there are spots where he could improve his timing.

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For more on Hitman, check out our Virtual Life column on the latest game.

Sony Santa Monica invited us over to its studio last week, where we got to play about three hours of the upcoming God of War. Join us for today’s episode of NGT, where Joe Juba and I talk about our hands-on experiences with the game – and Leo listens.

Sony provided us with more than 15 minutes of new footage, which includes plenty of scenes of Kratos and son wrecking monsters, as well as a glimpse at some of the upgrades and crafting opportunities. There’s a lot to absorb, but Joe and I do our best to provide some context for what you’re seeing. And Leo is great, too!

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For more of our thoughts on God of War, take a look at our recent feature, where we discuss five of the biggest overall surprises from the demo.

Streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has joined the millionaire club, emerging as one of the most prominent streaming personalities in a sea crowded with them. Ninja made news last week for shattering Twitch viewership records by streaming Fortnite with rapper Drake.

The streamer recently chattered with CNBC about his experience as a professional streamer, where his income comes from, and what its like to play Fortnite with celebrities.

To watch our own streaming escapades with Fortnite, head here.

Our Take
Regardless of your own feelings about streaming, that’s a heck of a lot of money, and yet another sign that the way we consume game content and the audience that consumes it is changing.

Sony Santa Monica opened its doors to the press last week, giving attendees a chance to spend a considerable chunk of time with the upcoming God of War. For about three hours, I was glued to the TV, as I got to experience Kratos’ new story from its opening moments. Over the course of that time, I played through sections that resonated with me as a God of War fan, and was also pleasantly disoriented by its new direction. Read on for five of my most surprising and rewarding takeaways from the game. 

Warning: I’ll avoid diving too deeply into spoiler territory, but I will describe a few events from the first few hours that particularly spoiler-sensitive types may want to avoid. 

The story is a slow, powerful burn
The God of War series is known for many things, including huge bosses, gruesome massacres of grunt enemies, and insanity stacked atop insanity. Most of the time, those elements are introduced within seconds of pressing the start button. That’s not the case with this entry. I did get to see Kratos kill something with with his new Leviathan Axe, but it was a tree. And that came only after a contemplative moment where Kratos paused to put his hand atop a mysterious glowing handprint that marked its bark.

We haven’t heard many details about Kratos’ wife before, and the game’s opening hours isn’t exactly oversharing. Still, I was able to learn a bit more about this woman, who is named Faye. She’s dead by the time we join Kratos and his son, Atreus, but it doesn’t appear that she was murdered or faced a violent end. She had personally marked trees in the forest for her funeral pyre, which leads me to believe that she saw her own death coming. With her passing comes an emboldened enemy, the undead Draugr. As Atreus writes in his journal, these are warriors who are too stubborn to put down their weapons, even in death. The valley that Kratos’ family lived in was protected by a magical circle of trees, but when Kratos felled them – at Faye’s request – an opening in the barrier was created.

All of this is revealed naturally and deliberately through dialog between Kratos and Atreus as they prepare Faye’s body for the funeral rite, hunt together, and explore the surrounding forest. God of War isn’t afraid of taking its time to reveal where it’s going, which was definitely a change of pacing. We learn that Faye was teaching the boy how to hunt, but it’s clear the focus was more on tracking animals than slaying them. Atreus also makes a passing reference to his mother not wanting Kratos and the boy to go hunting together. I’m not ready to put money on it quite yet, but people may have been jumping the gun with their assumptions that Kratos had settled down with a mortal. Faye is awfully close to the word “fae,” the catchall word for elves, dwarves, and giants in Norse mythology.

There’s a beautiful world to explore, and reasons to do so
Sony Santa Monica wasn’t attempting to create an open-world experience with God of War, but the team has made an effort to reward players who take the time to explore. The paths that Kratos and Atreus took during my demo were ultimately linear, though there were opportunities to move off the critical path. For example, in the early moments of the game Kratos and Atreus are tracking a deer. Rather than stick to following its muddy hoofprints, I veered off to explore an alternate pathway. It led to a treasure chest, filled with crafting materials.

You can certainly blaze through the critical path, but you run the risk of making things more difficult later on. Over the course of my demo my methodical slow-poke style paid off, as I collected three hidden apples and extended Kratos’ life bar by a considerable amount. Sometimes these alternate routes are obvious, and other times you have to really scour the landscape to figure out how to access hidden paths. Kratos can’t jump at will in this entry; his leaps are situational moves across gaps, similar to those that you see in the 3D Zelda games. 

There’s a fair amount of puzzle-solving
It’s been a while since I played through the earlier God of War games, but the latest game had more puzzles that I remember. Don’t worry, however. I didn’t push a single crate, pull any levers, or stand on any switches. Those things could pop up later, to be certain, but they were mercifully absent from the game’s opening hours. Instead, Kratos’ axe gets to show its versatility.

The Leviathan Axe is a magical weapon that freezes (most) enemies, and it can return to Kratos’ hand at will. (If that reminds you of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, that’s probably not a coincidence. Both were forged by Brok, a blacksmith in the Norse mythology that props up the game.) At any rate, the Leviathan Axe’s frosty qualities can be put to good use in puzzles. An early puzzle is set around a pair of gates connected by a chain. Pulling the chain opens the inner gate as the outer gate closes. The secret is to fully open the inner gate and then freeze it in place by aiming the axe and chucking it at a target. From there, it’s safe to run through, retrieve the axe, and pass through the outer gate.

One of the later puzzles had a deadly riff on that concept, with a spiked ceiling that could be raised by hitting large wooden paddles with the axe. Once again, I had to hit a target with the axe to lock the ceiling safely into place, but then had to take on a wave of enemies unarmed. Or, I could summon it back and do more damage while keeping an eye on the ceiling and ensuring it didn’t drop too low. These might not break anyone’s brain, but I saw these  a welcome change of pace from the rotating columns of yesteryear.

Oh yeah, the fighting is good
Sorry! With all this talk about story and exploration and puzzles, I forgot about that whole fighting thing. Don’t worry! It’s still a big part of God of War, and it’s made the transition to a tighter third-person camera quite nicely. I understand purists may look at the new presentation and think, “I’m out.” It’s definitely different, but I was taken aback by how much it still feels like a God of War game, even though it’s such a visual and mechanical departure from past games.

The axe has a nice weighty feel around it when you’re using it as a melee weapon, but that’s just part of what it can do. Yeah, yeah, I already talked about the puzzles. In addition to hitting targets, you can also aim it an enemies (surprise!). If it lodges into smaller enemies, it’ll freeze them in place, giving Kratos an opportunity to move on to another target or finish that one off. It’s an effective way to control the crowds of enemies. My favorite part is how you can chuck the axe at an enemy and recall it, and if any other enemies are in the way of its return flight, they’ll take damage, too.

I wasn’t able to dive too deeply into the skill tree during my time with the game, but I did get a technique called the executioner’s cleave. It’s a charge attack for Kratos’ heavy attack that does an absurd amount of damage, with one caveat: You can’t walk around with it charged, so you need to time it just right, or you’ll end up hitting empty space. 

Atreus is fun to have around. Really
We’ve all been burned before by A.I. companions. When they’re not getting stuck on geometry they’re lagging behind, getting killed, or not listening. Atreus is different in that Sony Santa Monica has made a real effort to make sure Kratos’ son isn’t annoying. Well, he’s kind of annoying sometimes, but from a deliberate narrative standpoint, and not because he refuses to jump across a gap.

If you don’t want to worry about him, he runs well on autopilot. As you fight enemies, he’ll pepper them with arrows, causing damage and drawing aggro from you. (Don’t worry, he can’t die.) You can also manually command him to target specific enemies. He has his own upgrade path, as well as gear that you can craft for him – if you choose to do so. It’s really up to you.

Personally, I liked having him around. He was helpful in combat, and he never got between me and a target – which is huge. He also calls out when enemies are coming from behind, which helped on occasions when I wasn’t paying close attention to the onscreen indicators. Kratos isn’t nearly as into Atreus as I was, however. He’s a grumpy dude who has little patience for a child’s impulsive and irresponsible ways. I suspect that they’ll get closer during their journey, however.

 

God of War is coming to PlayStation 4 on April 20. For more on the game, including a variety of video interviews with the game’s creators, be sure to check out our hub below.

Amazon has announced the GameOn applications programming interface (API) for developers that lets studios award in-game and real-world prizes fulfilled by Amazon.

Amazon envisions the developer tool ultimately being used by players to create in-game competitions (including leaderboards and leagues), with developers “retaining complete control over the prize type, value, and quantity.”

GameOn launch partners include Eden Games, which created the Gear Club mobile title (shown), although the tech works with any platform.

[Source: Amazon] 

 

Our Take 
Crossing the line between in-game rewards to real-world ones is a tantalizing prospect that gamers have wanted, but which hasn’t become widespread to this point. It will be interesting to see if GameOn makes this practice popular.

Each Monday, come here for a rundown of all this week’s big events that we know about, from game releases, to betas, to recapping the biggest continuing news stories from the previous week. If there’s anything we missed, feel free to let us know! This week covers the dates from March 19 to March 25.

Upcoming Releases

Assassin’s Creed Rogue: Remastered (PS4, Xbox One) – March 20
Attack on Titan 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch) – March 20
Sea of Thieves (Xbox One, PC) – March 20
Titan Quest (PS4, Xbox One) – March 20
A Way Out (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – March 23
Detective Pikachu (3DS) –  March 23
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4, PC) – March 23
Pure Farming 2018 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – March 23

Things To Watch Out For

Street Fighter Costumes (Captain Commando, Monster Hunter) – There are multiple Capcom costumes this week, including Nash as Captain Commando and Ken in Rathalos armor.
Nindie Direct On March 20 – Nintendo is holding a direct focusing on indie titles on March 20 with games like Hollow Knight expected.
Noctis Coming To Tekken 7 – Final Fantasy XV’s young prince joins Tekken 7 on March 20.
EA Details New Progression System For Battlefront II – Battlefront II’s new progression system goes live on March 21.
Monster Hunter World March Update – The angry pickle Deviljho and balance changes come March 22 on Xbox One and PS4.
Game Developer’s Conference – The Game Developer’s Conference is taking place in San Francisco this week and sometimes includes announcements from developers.
Overwatch League (Stage 2, Week 5) – Watch the Houston Outlaws take on Seoul Dynasty and see Dallas Fuel face off against London Spitfire.

In Case You Missed It

Yakuza Kiwami 2 Is Coming To The West, And We Got To Play It 
Sonic Mania Plus Announced, Physical Release And New Characters
UFC President Dana White Coming To UFC 3 As Playable Fighter 
A Way Out Director Josef Fares On Designing Games As Their Own Medium 
Ten Underappreciated Sequels That Never Got Their Due 
Streamer Ninja And Rapper Drake Shatter Twitch Viewership Record With Fortnite Stream 
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Confirmed For September 
Jeff Goldblum Returns For Jurassic World Evolution 
Former Halo, Battlefield Devs Announce Scavengers, A Third-Person “Co-opetition” Shooter 
Here Are The Game Informer Crew’s Personal Top 10 Games Of All Time 

What are you looking forward to this week? Let us know in the comments below!

HTC has announced the Vive Pro, the upgraded version of its current virtual reality headset, will retail for $799.

With that news also comes news of pre-orders, which will begin shipping on April 5. Additionally, anyone who purchases a Pro before June 3 will receive a free six-month subscription to Viveport, which lets customers choose five free games per month to play from a selection of games (anyone who buys one within 60 days of release will get a two-month subscription). The price of Viveport will also be increasing to $8.99 per month after March 22, though current subscribers can lock in at the current $7.99 price point until the end of the year.

The company isn’t leaving out the original Vive, however. That unit’s price point is dropping to $499.

The Pro makes a number of improvements on the original Vive; it increases the headset’s resolution to 2880 x 1600 across both eyes (up from the Vive’s 2160 x 1200), adds integrated headphones, better microphones and cameras, and makes the headband more comfortable and adjustable.

 

Our Take
The press release briefly mentions that “Current Vive owners can upgrade their headset for the best display, audio, and comfort in the industry,” but I think that’s more of a general “you can buy the new thing now!” than an announcement of any kind of program. If that’s not the case, I’d love to see an upgrade path for current owners to get a Pro, since early adopters often get the short straw when it comes to companies releasing new hardware iterations.

No government is perfect. While many idealistic concepts give birth to new nations, the implementation of those ideas usually strays from the intent – and yet, governments can succeed and thrive despite their imperfection. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is the same. It chronicles the monarchy of King Evan with an ambitious framework that includes elements of traditional role-playing, city-building, and real-time strategy – which all sounds amazing in theory. In reality, these concepts fall short in their execution and leave the game’s full potential conspicuously unrealized, but those missed opportunities don’t prevent it from being charming or entertaining.

Ni no Kuni II is a brand new story, and doesn’t require any familiarity with the first game. It follows Evan, a young ruler forced to leave his homeland and start a new kingdom from scratch. I can’t exactly say that the narrative is bad, but the straightforward fairy tale doesn’t go anywhere interesting. Evan wants to create a world without war, so he sets off to unite the other kingdoms one by one. You collect a handful of archetypical party members along the way, but after their initial introductions, they fade into the background and stop playing any notable role in events. Because of this, most characters never grow; you know everything you’re going to learn about the smart and confident sky-pirate princess as soon as she joins your party early on. This means advancing a lot of dull text-box conversations that don’t convey much in terms of personality (due to sparse use of voiced dialogue and full-fledged cutscenes), and cast members who feel like interchangeable cardboard cut-outs.

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Though the story didn’t keep me interested, the gameplay propelled me forward due thanks to a clever kingdom-building system. Your realm, Evermore, starts as a meager encampment and grows into a sprawling city as you upgrade abilities, recruit specialists, and build structures like farms and shops. The brilliance here is how Evermore functions as your primary progression system. If you want better armor, upgrade the outfitters. If you want better items, invest in the general store. You can also research passive buffs that improve your experience gains or help you expand Evermore more efficiently. I was completely hooked on this loop; I loved chasing down sidequests that lured new residents that my kingdom. This gives you new research and construction options, and the abundance of available tasks always provides something enticing to pursue. Plus, I like how currency and items accrue in the background as time passes, so no matter what you do (even if you’re just standing idle), you’re making progress.

With things like weapon development and spell upgrades, much of what you accomplish in your kingdom funnels into combat. Battles are fluid and action-driven, letting you control any party member in real time and take down crowds of monsters with various techniques. The simple system is accessible and fun, but it is also the nexus for the myriad ways in which Ni no Kuni II’s ideas need refinement. Fights may be entertaining, but they also don’t provide much challenge, so you don’t have any incentive to learn its intricacies. For instance, you can craft and level up a vast array of magical helpers called Higgledies to assist you, but you can also get by just fine with a basic set, so the extra effort seems pointless. And despite your ability to upgrade spells, magic isn’t more efficient or useful than basic skills, so that endeavor also feels like wasted resources. The optimizer in me still enjoyed digging through my options and mowing down my opponents, but ultimately, my reward was making an already-easy game even easier.

A secondary combat system involves more strategic encounters that have Evan controlling a small army, but this idea feels half-baked. A basic rock-paper-scissor dynamic generally determines victory, so choosing your four units before the encounter carries much more tactical significance than any decision you make on the battlefield. I enjoyed getting new units and bolstering the strength of my forces, but the limited scope and clunky controls of these conflicts hold them back. I enjoyed engaging in these skirmishes occasionally for a change of pace (or to get a new citizen), but they were usually on the bottom of my to-do list.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom may not nail everything it attempts, but it gets the important things right. Building your kingdom is satisfying and engaging, even with the weak narrative hooks. The cycle of rewards became an obsession, and had me staying up late to recruit just one more ally, or complete just one more upgrade. Combat could be tighter, and other supporting elements could use some polish – but like any kingdom, this experience isn’t about individual contributions. It’s about how those contributions come together, and the fun of this experience as a whole outweighs its flaws.

Lego has had a fair amount of luck turning properties into interesting video games over the years, with memorable titles being crafted out of the Star Wars, Marvel, and DC comic universes. Looks like the company is turning its gaze onto Pixar now.

According to The Brick Fan, a Lego fan site, sets being released for The Incredibles 2 have started showing up early at Walmart. Included with those sets is a teaser for a Lego video game version of The Incredibles:

The Brick Fan says the game will be developed by TT Games (responsible for developing the majority of modern Lego titles) and will be released in 2018. There is no word on whether or not the game will be a straight adaptation of the movie or have its own story.

[Source: The Brick Fan]

 

Our Take

Obviously take all of this with a grain of salt since Warner Bros, Disney, and TT have not comfirmed any of this. However, The Brick Fan is pretty reputable and the photographic evidence lines up with what the site is saying, so it seems like this is happening.

The year 2014 was a simpler time. Destiny was hot off the presses and fans of Assassin’s Creed were forced to decide if they should play Assassin’s Creed Unity or Rogue first… since they were released on the same day. With Tuesday’s release of Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered, you can correct any mistakes from the past by playing the good one! On this episode of New Gameplay Today, I fill in for Jeff Cork and our best buddy Leo Vader is joined by the great historian Matt Miller. You can read our original review for Assassin’s Creed Rogue right here!

Check out the video below to see how this last-gen game looks running on a PlayStation 4.

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