Sunday, February 28, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #73: The canvas of fear!




                I said a while ago that I rediscovered my passion for adventure horror games and this weekend I got my hands on Layers of Fear and I had to jump into it as soon as possible.
                Layers of Fear is more of an experience than a game per se. It resembles SOMA greatly through a meticulously tactile gameplay which allows an extensive interaction with the objects in the environment. But unlike SOMA, Layers of Fear gameplay stops at that. There is no running from monsters, no careful sneaking and from what I can tell no way to die. Instead, it’s a rather linear but extremely intense experience which takes place in a shapeshifting house haunted by the past of the protagonist.
                The game does a lot of things right but what struck me while playing it was how well its gameplay would work with the upcoming Virtual Reality technology. The exploratory gameplay of a creepy house which is in a continuous change becoming more terrifying with every step and every change of the camera feels like it’s limited on a static screen. Because of that Layers of Fear could serve as the perfect showcase for how further a certain type of gameplay experience can be intensified through VR.  As I was playing it I felt that every palpitating moment screamed at me for not using a VR headset and it would be a shame if this game won’t receive support for this technology in the future.
                Leaving the VR subject aside, Layers of Fear continues on paving the road of good adventure games that 2016 has in store for us. And looking at what we got to play so far I’m anxious to see what’s next!
Art in its most disturbing form.


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Monday, February 22, 2016

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review!




                The time limited “embargo” that disregarded the feelings of Lara Croft’s fans on PC has been lifted and on January 28 Rise of the Tomb Raider made its way to the PC.
                The 2013 reboot was set on changing the series’ direction starting with its protagonist. Once fearless, Lara Croft has been humanized leaving behind in the process the over-sexualization and her old almost supernatural characteristics to create a much more plausible heroine. The new Lara was an insecure rookie overwhelmed by emotions, a girl that could be hurt and make mistakes that could kill her in terrible ways. She was put in a situation that demanded adaptation to a hostile environment in order to survive, shaping her skills into a reborn heroine in a reborn series. Overcoming the events of the first game was the first step in the transformation of Lara Croft surfacing her courage and adventurous spirit that won’t give up.

Screenshot of the Week #72: Black Sails!




                Swayed by the Black Sails TV series I sunk more time into Naval Action. I've been warned by the developers that the Early Access state of the game can be hard to deal with and they weren't wrong. In its current state Naval Action is a base platform for what is to come.
                Naval Action gameplay has the players joining some of the strongest naval forces of the 18th century and dive into a seemingly open (water) world together with thousands of other players. As a MMO Naval action works much like Elite: Dangerous with a lot of simulator mechanics and an instanced combat system, the only difference being that players meet quite often in this game.
                The Naval Action map represents stunningly looking historic replica scaled in such a way that it makes navigation a realistic pain. The sim-like navigation mechanics don’t allow a GPS or any unrealistic tools leaving everything to the player which makes exploration rather complicated but also funnily intriguing.
The combat is as difficult as it gets with a steep learning curve and no tutorial to guide the players. Engaging in ship battles and emerging victorious requires a certain amount skill, knowledge of the ships and taking multiple factors into account and these don’t come easily. Perseverance and a trial and error process will get you there, but you will have to lose a few (free) ships before holding a grasp on how the combat really works. But understanding the combat opens up a satisfying experience sustained by a progressive gameplay which has you unlocking, buying and upgrading new ships that behave and play differently.
                Aside of exploration and combat, there are a lot of things to do in Naval Action but at the same time too few. The game is held back by its current Alpha state and many of its features are implemented into a rudimentary form or are not present at all. The trading system, the missions, the UI and many other features serve more as an introduction for what is to come and that is both good and bad at the same time. Knowing the game will have these features fully implemented later on it’s reassuring but their current state serves as a tease that many players might not like. Taking into consideration that the game is developed by a team of less than 10 people getting to the point where these features will be complete could take a while. But I’m not here to take your hopes down in fact I would like to be optimistic in this matter because for the first time in so many years I’ve discovered a game that might provide an experience similar to the 2003 Pirates of the Caribbean.
40 minutes later I was victorious!


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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #71: Welcome to London!




                There are a few themes that I never get tired to see in video games: Eldritch, steampunk and Victorian London. Seeing the three together in a game is one of my long lasting dreams, but that isn’t bound to happen and I make do with what I have. So, on that end I started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
                The series is not far from where I left it after my brief incursion with Black Flag in 2013. Surely the graphics have evolved and the gameplay might be a little more refined, but overall not much has changed. Assassin’s Creed is still a series presenting a secret war between assassins and templars in a historical setting following an alternative course of events than what we know from the books. It has its good moments and offers quite a source of entertainment, but tends to fall short on the long run due to repetitive gameplay (it's about time Ubisoft takes some time off to reconsider the gameplay mechanics). Syndicate makes no exception in this matter despite some visible quality of life improvements here and there coupled with a few new features to set this title aside. But as with Black Flags, the setting is what drawn me to venture into this world again and considering the visual spectacle that opens up in front of my eyes, I think I’ll give the game a pass on its shortcomings for a while and enjoy exploring a beautiful Victorian London.
This view!


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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tom Clancy's The Division Beta Impressions!




                The Division Beta ended over a week ago so I took my time and let things to cool off a little before I started writing on this article. The first thing that hit me when I started playing during the Beta was the obvious visual downgrade. The graphics were nowhere near as good as they were in the 2013-2014 gameplay videos and that was a letdown. The textures are washed up, many reflections are baked and the lighting has received an overhaul for the worse. But when I started to look past that I came to realize that the game was beautiful nevertheless. The New York in the Division is the best a game had to show yet, it is carefully detailed to the smallest piece of trash on the abandoned streets and that is impressive. The snowy season brings back a vibe of Max Payne depicting a world where the American dream has died replaced by a post-pandemic landscape from a Robert Kirkman nightmare but with a scenario anchored in reality.
                For the graphics hungry users of the PC platform the initial visual impression could create a feeling of repulsion towards the game and it is understandable. To a degree, it is not wrong to say that what Ubisoft did with this game could be categorized as false advertisement and we have been burned so many times in the past. For the longest time we were given the (false) impression that The Division will look like it did in 2013-2014 videos. The Beta has blown away any dust of hope that remained after the leaked images and videos. But judging the game based on this is extremely unfair. The Division looks gorgeous and not only for an online game but it could easily compete with any singleplayer title out there. Don’t give in to that bitter initial impression and let the day-night cycle carry you into the visual magic of this game. New York has a lot to show in the light of day, but it's true beauty comes at night when the images of joy created by the lighten Christmas decoration contrast the grim image of a ravaged New York melting into a pot of sadness and joy foreshadowing the existence of hope in a world engulfed by terror. And that hope translates into the story through you, the player, an agent of the secret organization The Division who has been activated to come to New York and help with the overwhelming situation.
A tasty cocktail of particle effects and lighting!
That level of detail!


                For spoilers reasons the Beta skipped over the story. My character was straight level 4 in a helicopter with an agent that has lost an eye on her way to Manhattan. Why, how and where are questions that will probably be answered in the full game. I presume that the Beta jumped over the tutorial area where the story introduction takes place and brought the players straight to action.
It’s worth mentioning that even if advertised as an MMO, The Division is not one in the conventional way. The minute you walk out the starting hub area you are alone against the world, unless you have other players in your group which will be instanced together with you. The entirety of the narrative driven areas part of the game’s campaign are instance-based and can be completed solo or co-op with up to four players which join the instance of the group’s leader and follow on his progression.
I wonder how that happened.


                As a story driven game the first thing available to do in the game are the story missions which start right off the landing area leading me to the base of operations which was threatened by a gang of outlaws. Defending the base allowed me to access it and open up the rest of the PvE content the CBT had to offer. The second and last main mission was available through the medical wing in the base of operations while the secondary missions could be taken via a map of the area. The other wings, the crafting system and various other features part of the base experience and progression were locked away. So all I had to make an impression about the PvE content was either to go to the local hospital and complete the main mission or grind my way through a bunch of secondary missions.
                The hospital mission was an interesting enough introduction to what the story missions have to offer. It was well paced through beautifully and carefully designed areas with scripted events and ended with a decently challenging boss fight. It was nothing too fancy, but above the average of what an MMO experience can be for in terms of story driven quests. Other than this the available missions were few, mostly generic side missions that had me defending and attacking certain positions. But there was a chain that felt special and it was worth digging into as it allowed me to experience one of the game’s cool features: echo. The echo technology creates static holographic images which are recordings of events from recent past. Why these images are there is probably part of the game's mystery, but the way this technology worked was intriguing as it provided me with actual images of the horrifying things people had to go through when things went south. This concept was put to good use in a chain mission where the echoes served as a backtracking way of finding what happened with someone and I have to say it was a pretty enjoyable adventure.

The outbreak triggered riots in no time...


                The best part about completing these secondary missions is that it forced me to explore Manhattan in its visual and level design beauty. The areas available in the Beta looked pretty limited at the beginning as the rectangular shaped areas gave me a corridor feeling. But the side missions did a great job at leading me outside of the streets to backyards, buildings interiors and roofs. By experiencing the verticality of the level design my confidence in the game grew. Even if just a small part of the buildings are exploreable it’s still more than enough to keep things interesting. While I was tirelessly exploring the game’s world I came across numerous surprises. I found collectible items which included small texts that built on the atmosphere by providing context for the overall story. I also noticed that The Division has some sort of scavenging mechanic as I was able to search for loot and supplies various chests, closets, backpacks, etc. Each of these small mechanics and details added up to an increasingly enjoyable experience and at some point I realized that I might take a liking to this game.
A lot of possibilities.


                The Division experience doesn’t resume to completing the campaign and the adjacent secondary missions. For those interested in a PvP mode the game has an answer for that in the Dark Zone.
                The Dark Zone is an open world PvP area in the center of Manhattan which can house up to 24 players of the same level. In this separately instanced zone players can fight various NPCs to obtain contaminated loot which has to be extracted via a helicopter which will appear shortly in the base of operations. The twist is that having contaminated gear on yourself is visible to the other players, players which can be tempted to attack and even kill you to steal your loot going rogue in the process.  The rogue players become visible on the Dark Zone map and a bounty is set on their head which increases with each assault or kill. A timer is starting to tick from the first moment a player went rogue and if that timer runs out without getting killed the player’s rogue status is removed.
Becoming an enemy of the state has its perks. The Dark Zone has a separated progression system and a currency that can be obtain only in this area. Going rogue and escaping your chasers results in an increase in the zone specific ranking and currency, but dying during rogue status will award the players who killed you the bounty on your head.
Extracting the fat loot!


                The Dark Zone’s scope is to combine the loot rush with PvP and the thrill of losing everything on death and it does it successfully. In my many hours spent in this zone I had a blast chasing bad guys and even joining their ranks in a rebellious attempt of my group to go against the world. The zone specific progression gives more meaning to the Dark Zone than just being a slaughterhouse. The risk of losing experience and currency on death is forcing players to calculate their moves and not recklessly kill each other. It is a neat feature that could add a ton of value to the game if executed correctly. The Dark Zone I’ve seen in the Beta was limited to three out of the six available areas. The mobs were scarce and the exploration limitations were annoying creating exploits where there should have been none. But the thing that got me worried about this game mode was its purpose beyond the ranking up and looting. The danger of going in an action’s loop is real as that’s what happened in the Beta and if the new areas just provide higher level NPCs it might turn into a problem. This won’t be bothering anyone in the first weeks after release, but this game is designed to stay around for a longer period of time and I’m afraid that in a few months post-release players will get bored.
Breaching!


                Earlier I said that the game’s setting is realistic and I stand by that. A virus outbreak spread through bills during Black Friday is an ingenious and plausible form of terrorism. The poor management of the outbreak led to a devastated New York which is a grim but not entirely improbable scenario. This setting and the Tom Clancy name create unrealistic expectations that The Division’s gameplay would be realistic when it’s really not… The faster someone accepts this, the easier it is to enjoy this game and appreciate it for what it is not what you were expecting it to be.
                The Division is a 3rd person cover shooter MMORPG with bullet spongy enemies that sometimes require more than a clip from an assault rifle to take down which has been attributed to its RPG elements. As a parenthesis I would like to say that as a RPG fan I found this incorrect, as the RPG genre doesn’t define itself through such mechanics but MMOs do. Nevertheless, enemies in this game are capable of withstanding being shot numerous times despite most of them wearing casual clothes. This comes with the game’s main progression system which is the loot.
The loot is separated through types, levels and tiers of quality and the enemies’ health pool justifies the different performance of each new piece of gear. It’s an effective way of creating a game that should make players stick around for a longer period of time even after the campaign is over. Loot adds purpose and replayability and these two criteria define an MMO as successful.
                It’s worth noting that The Division is still a skill based game despite its combat mechanics. The enemies are resilient but knowing where to shoot and how to do it makes things much easier. The stats aren’t everything, controlling the weapons recoil adds for a higher damage output and aiming plays a huge role during combat especially in PvP. Headshots deal a great lot more damage up to the point where a bolt action rifle shot can knockdown a player which will require assistance from other players in order to get up again. Even aiming on NPCs can make a huge difference, shooting the gas tank off the back of an enemy equipped with a flamethrower will result in an immediate explosion damaging everything around. The extent of player skill input goes past shooting to the way cover is used.
Running from players and fighting NPCs.


                The cover system provides a way of avoiding taking damage as long as you pick the right objects to hide behind. This system while not the greatest can lead to some tactical gameplay especially in PvP where players can set ambushes and groups engaged in combat have to constantly outflank to gain the upper hand. The cover system makes positioning an important factor in combat and knowing when and where to pick a fight can make a huge difference especially when you add to this equation the agent’s skills.
Show yourself!


                Just like any game with a leveling system, The Division comes with a set of available skills split in three categories: medical, technology and security. The skills available in the Beta were a sticky bomb which has a self explanatory name, a pulse scan which highlighted the enemies in vicinity, a ballistic shield which worked as a mobile cover and a heal. The skills can be enhanced with various new utilities provided through upgrades of the specific wings in the base of operations.  
In the Beta players were able to have two skills simultaneously equipped with three being available at a higher level. The skills add depth to the combat system without limiting the players to set in stone builds as their configuration can be changed anytime outside the combat.
Varied enough.


                From my experience with the Beta I found the gameplay pretty solid. I’m not very fond of cover shooters but I do enjoy 3rd person shooters so I made a compromise of ignoring what bothers me in order to enjoy what I like and that worked out fine.
                As any Beta Test this one wasn’t devoid of problems. Some of these problems like the unstable performance or various minor bugs are normal for a testing phase. But this short testing period raised to the surface some serious issues that will require immediate attention from Massive Entertainment.
One of these issues comes from the fact that most of the data is hosted on the client side resulting in an easy way of cheating. Videos showing players with infinite ammunition shooting without stopping to reload have popped all over the internet. While cheating in PC online games is nothing new and every game has its fair share of cheaters, each game implements a whole lot of countermeasures to reduce the number by as much as possible. On the other hand in its Beta state The Division actually made it easier for players to cheat as client side data is something unheard of in MMOs. The problem can be fixed before release, but a certain level of trust has been shattered with a developer that apparently put the server costs over gameplay quality.
                Another serious issue that came to my attention was the itemization which is the backbone of The Division’s progression system. Each weapon in this game finds its equivalent in reality. In the Beta I got to play with assault rifles like SCAR, M16 and AK47, light machine guns like M60 and various other realistic weapons. Each of these weapons has a number of available slots for mods and players can tune their weapons with scopes, underbarrel grips, suppressors and many other realistic mods. The weapons as the mode themselves have a series of stats including “procs”. The bonuses given by these items include reload speed, extended magazines, threat reduction, accuracy and so on. All these bonuses have logic behind them and while the “procs” are a little more extreme and can’t be grounded in reality they aren’t very different and interesting enough to separate an item from another. In a loot-based game like The Division the quality and uniqueness of the loot is what drives people forward into grinding for better and much cooler items. But that cool factor that games like Borderlands have with crazy weapons is nonexistent as the setting clearly limits the options. I fear that over the time the gear progression will become dull as the better items will be a slightly improved version of the previous ones with nothing to make them stand out.
The best weapon in the beta!


                The last problem I had with the Beta stems from the sound design which was horrendously bad when using a headset. While on speakers the game sounds pretty good with sound effects which include weapon’s echoes and detailed sounds for each object destroyed, using a headset was unbearable. There was no preset audio option for headset and the volume settings were almost useless because no matter how lowered the volume was it still managed to get higher than everything else including VOIP programs. The sound with headset on was disorienting and tiring to the point where I preferred to use my speakers instead when I was playing alone. 


The cleaning squad.
Testing the physics.
OK!


                My impression of the game after a couple of hours of gameplay was pretty terrible. But it grew on me as I got to explore the city, see the echoes, listen to the side stories and get into the Dark Zone and fight against other players. There is a weird blend in this game of extremely awesome features with some questionable ones that will immediately separate players into those who love it and those who dislike it, with no way in between. For the most part the fault is carried by the combat system which will get a lot of players upset for wasting a realistic setting and using the Tom Clancy name on a game that isn’t realistic and to a degree I can understand that. It’s upsetting seeing the Tom Clancy brand slapped on every product just to increase sales when the game is not representative for the brand. But I knew what to expect from the first gameplay video of the game and never fooled myself that The Division will be more realistic than that trailers showed. Accepting the combat, which isn’t bad and can be enjoyable, opens up a game that might be worth playing. The setting is great, the story has potential, the PvP is slightly different from what’s generic for this genre and ironically enough the game looks amazing even after the downgrade.
                There seems to be a lot of value in The Division and it will probably take at least a few weeks if not more to experience most of what this game has to offer at release, but things won’t stop there. Ubisoft has promised updates with free content that will expand the end-game content and there is also a Season Pass (obviously) which will provide three expansions with newer game mechanics. But these are all promises.
                I had a question that goes unanswered even after playing the Beta. How much there is to do outside of the campaign and the Dark Zone? Because the entertainment value of the content experienced in the Beta comes from scaling it down to the small portion of the game we got to access. At launch, when the game’s world fully opens up, the variety of content seen in the Beta together with what was unavailable might not be enough to stop The Division from getting repetitive in the long run. So, while there is a positive vibe in this article, without having a definite answer to this question I’m afraid that purchasing The Division at this point is nothing more than a gamble. 




Nodrim

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #70: Walls, what walls?!




                The XCOM 2 launch from Friday isn’t much different than the AAA releases we got in the latest years. A barely optimized game with a ton of performance problems, crashes and bugs is what Firaxis released after three months of delay. On top of problems that are becoming more and more common with new releases, XCOM 2 has some more serious issues which are harder to fix, some are carried from the previous game. With the sequel release shooting through walls has returned as well, as apparently Firaxis didn’t find a way to get rid of this pestilence. The camera still requires a mod to have a fluid 360 degrees rotation. The AI isn’t the greatest and the game tries to compensate in difficulty and thrill through time based missions which lead frustration instead of tactical ingenuity. The pathfinder also had to suffer as sometimes the units need to have their paths manually set so they avoid the obvious dangers along the way. These are some of the often met problems in XCOM 2, problems that more or less missed many of the professional reviews out there.
                On the plus side of things, XCOM 2 does improve on a lot of the features that were skimpy in the previous game while retaining a very familiar image. The base management and the UI are almost identical to Enemy Unknown, what changed for the better are the options. The research system has been greatly improved with more technologies and items available to choose from. The skill system is also slightly better and much more balanced as each unit promotion provides skills of almost equal value that fit into different play styles. The Geoscope has been diversified and aside of the missions now there are events on the global map and a Black Market to buy and sell alien technology.
                But those who liked Enemy Unknown have been fascinated with the game’s combat system and there are a few neat little tricks that Firaxis has pulled into the sequel to make the combat more entertaining. Aside of the classes changes which play directly into the combat system, the biggest change comes from level design. XCOM 2 has a procedurally generated maps with certain aspects randomized for a more different experience each time. The maps feature intense physics which allows the destruction of various objects that could serve as cover and even huge chunks of buildings. The variety of alien enemies has grown in the 20 years since the action of Enemy Unknown and their diversity makes the battlefield interesting testing, at times, the tactical limits of one’s mind.
Now the enemy’s spawns have been randomized and they work in groups patrolling the areas around objective. To deal with this the XCOM units can now infiltrate in most of the missions in order to get to get to a vantage position and take the enemies by surprise. The list of improvements brought to the combat is much bigger and more than welcomed. These improvements will most likely extend the game’s life for as long as Firaxis needs to come up with XCOM 3 and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a shame that the game had to be stained by so many problems.
                In all fairness XCOM 2 has some pretty good features in, but some poor design choices coupled with a rushed release and a story that doesn’t seem so interesting chipping away from its achievable greatness.
My best sniper is clearly a cheater.


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Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Upcoming Online Games in 2016




                Every genre has a lot to show in 2016, but the amalgam of sub-genres that form the online games list send this category in the quantity lead.
As genres tend to overlap and some of the games that could be presented here have been presented in articles dedicated to a genre that is more appropriated to their nature.


Black Desert Online
Release Date: March 3

                Black Desert Online is an upcoming sandbox MMORPG which has been in development since 2010. The game has been released on the Asian and Russian markets as a free to play title but will come to Europe and North America as a buy to play game at a minimum cost of 30$.
                Black Desert features a seamless open world which comes to life through extremely beautiful graphics courtesy of a powerful engine that will render worldwide weather effects and a dynamic day/night cycle.
                The gameplay is action oriented with a combat system that requires precision through manual aiming, dodging and tying up combos. The players will put this tight combat system to good use through 6 different classes engaging in PvE combat and massive PvP battles which include sieging castles.
But there will be more to do than just fighting. Black Desert has an instanced housing system which is extremely detailed providing tons of customizations. Professions will also be available from the more conventional ones like fishing and crafting to the having the liberty of being an actual trader.
                Black Desert Online is one of the most anticipated MMOs in the last years and it is finally making its way to western countries. The players’ reception of the game during its Closed Beta test was positive and there is more testing to come before its release in March.


Tom Clancy’s The Division
Release Date: March 8

                Massive Entertainment now part of Ubisoft has moved from making beautifully looking strategy games to beautifully looking MMOs.
Tom Clancy’s The Division is an MMO combining 3rd person shooting with RPG elements tied in a loot centric progression system in the style of Borderlands and Destiny. Players will take the role of a Division agent and step into a post outbreak Manhattan in an attempt to stabilize the area now only inhabited by the few remaining survivors and aggressive local gangs.
The game is separated into two distinct components: a campaign that can be played solo or co-op and the multiplayer area called Dark Zone.  The Dark Zone serves as a PvE and PvP battleground where players can group up and fight powerful enemies or other players in a hunt for better items and zone specific currency and ranks.
The combat is based on numbers as each weapon has statistic relevant to its type, level and other variables. The damage model is far from being realistic but it is what one should usually expect from an MMO. The enemies are bullet spongy with the damage taken varying between the weapon used and player’s stats but also taking aiming into account.
                On the technical part, The Division under delivers by not looking as good as it did in the original trailers, but it still retains the excellent level design and the attention to details. The graphics are good despite the visual downgrade and the physics while diminished still have an impact over a variety of in-game objects.
                Tom Clancy’s The Division might be a hit or miss for many. Getting used to the combat system will require tolerance from some players and the hub style MMO isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But it does innovate here and there combining some hardcore elements with the loot rush for a thrilling PvP experience. At the moment it is a question of how much more the game has to offer besides what was seen through the Closed Beta Tests or shown in the recent videos.


Albion Online
Release Date: Q1

                Albion Online is an isometric medieval fantasy MMORPG with from Sandbox Interactive. One of the most intriguing aspects of the game comes from the fact that it’s designed to be a cross-platform MMO that will pit together players from PC, iOS and Android.
                The gameplay focuses on guild play with gathering materials and crafting being most effectively done as part of a group. The classless system allows weird combinations of armors, spells and weapons leading to interesting play styles. The real time combat is a little slower than what Hack & Slash games have to offer, but it works well for the game’s large group battles like Guild vs Guild wars. But what makes the gameplay of Albion Online stand out is its hardcore nature. Death results in the loss of all items as the body can be looted by other players.
                Albion Online is not an MMO for everyone. The grindy crafting system and the probability of losing your gear in an instant will be appealing only for those players who look for this high risk high reward experience. But with the cross-platform support and a PvP system that supports huge battles and territorial conquests it can find its place on the crowded market of MMOs.


Battleborn
Release Date: May 3

                It looks like 1st and 3rd person MOBAs are the new fashion in 2016 and Gearbox’s Battleborn is the road opener for that.
                The demand for singleplayer campaigns in games that focus on multiplayer has been around for a while, I don’t agree with it, but some publishers feel this pressure. So Gearbox yield to this public demand and Battleborn comes with a campaign that can be completed in solo or co-op mode. But the main attraction of this game still stands in its 5v5 multiplayer which comes with three game modes and focuses on team play but doesn’t disregard individual skill.
Battleborn has a roster of 25 heroes with unique personalities, abilities and mechanics. The heroes can be leveled up in a persistent progression system that works with all the game’s modes. 
Gearbox gained a lot of fans with Borderlands and the witty characters and cartoonish graphics of this game could be a big selling point for them.
In theory Battleborn sounds interesting, but the steep price tag might be a turn off for some players.


ARK: Survival Evolved
Release Date: June

                ARK needs no introduction, most of the gamers know this game after its great success soon after the Early Access release in June 2015.
                ARK: Survival Evolved follows in the footsteps of Rust, using similar game mechanics but within a prehistoric setting and with a ton of PvE content. Over the years various developers have been trying to make a survival game with dinosaur, but ARK is the first to deliver a visually stunning and incredibly immersive experience of a world inhabited by these creatures. Dinosaurs and other animals from different but long gone times cohabit and threaten the player’s existence in this survival game. But the most frightening image is not that of spotting a menacing T-Rex, but that of seeing a player mounted on a T-Rex.
                The game’s hardcore PvP is extremely demanding with multiple tiers of buildable structures and craftable items which can be lost with ease in fights with other players. But a hardcore game is made for hardcore players and there are many who are willing to work in shifts to tame dinosaurs, build and protect bases and raid enemies for resources or just for fun. Playing this game leads to epic stories of won uphill battles or immeasurable losses both situations describing perfectly the tensioned gameplay of the game.
                ARK: Survival Evolved might be the most complete online survival game out there and it’s coming out this year after just one year in Early Access in which content has been pouring on constant basis.


No Man’s Sky
Release Date: June

                The hype for survival games was followed by a huge hype for space simulators and if you don’t believe this take a look at Star Citizen’s budget raised through crowdfunding.
                No Man’s Sky is a space game that wants its share on the market by approaching the concept differently. With a more arcade flight model the game is investing more in the joy of exploration and the discoveries that come with it.
                Players will embark in an epic journey in a vast galaxy created through a refined procedural generation process that not only creates solar systems but can even fill them with life. The life forms in the game will be unique, as No Man’s Sky uses an algorithm that puts together an incredible amount of variables to creature unique creatures that players can discover first handedly.
                You are not only exploring to discover new life forms but joining in a tumultuous galaxy with traders, factions at wars, pirates, spatial police and other players and fight for your existence as you see fit.
                No Man’s Sky goes for a colorful artistic direction and an arcade flight model in contrast with the competitors and gives players the keys to a seamless living and breathing universe.


Overwatch
Release Date: Q2

                Blizzard steps into uncharted territory with Overwatch, an online FPS with MOBA influences. The game features two opposing teams of 6 players each fighting over objectives in a Team Fortress 2 fashion. Players can choose from numerous heroes each with their set of special abilities designed to fulfill a certain role on the battleground. Heroes can be switched after death allowing players to better adjust to the situation at hand.
                The game comes with the production value worthy of a Blizzard game and with cartoonish and sharp graphics that look great but can be run even by older GPUs.
                Overwatch will be a long term project as Blizzard is committing on providing free updates post launch which will include new modes, maps and heroes. Time will tell if the company can master this genre the same way they did before with RTS, H&S, MMORPGs and even CCGs.


Escape from Tarkov
Release Date: TBA, CBT Q1

                Escape from Tarkov’s announcement was one of the biggest surprises that came at the end of 2015. Developed in silence by the Russian developer Battlestate Games, it made itself noticed through an amazing gameplay trailer presenting a gorgeous open world environment, realistic shooting and hardcore game mechanics that are worthy of survival simulators.
                Labeling this game is hard as it blends multiple genres into what could be a deadly mix. Escape from Tarkov is a FPS/RPG/MMO with simulator elements. The first person shooting is combined with RPG elements which deliver a narrative driven adventure and a persistent set of skills that level up the more they are used. The two genres are mixed in a pot of open worldliness filled with players that can be friends or foes. To top everything off the game mechanics look pretty realistic and hardcore with equipped gear being lost on death and each action’s animation being detailed for an increased immersive experience.
                Escape from Tarkov is one of the most exciting games coming out this year. Its visuals are stunning, but the highlight is on the gameplay which looks even more impressive. Even if I’m almost mesmerized by this game’s trailers, there are still things that worry me like the pre-order bonuses and the fact that it was developed using Unity 5 an engine that doesn’t have the best record with online games. Either way, Escape from Tarkov has a chance to hit home with MMOs, shooters, RPGs and even survival fans alike.


World of Warcraft: Legion
Release Date: Q2/Q3

                The sixth expansion of the undying subscription based MMO is coming and bringing to the main scene the much awaited Burning Legion. The third invasion is coming forcing the Alliance and the Horde to strike a pact with the Demon Hunters of the Illidari introducing the new hero class: Demon Hunter. But this won’t be enough to face this unmatchable foe. The heroes of Azeroth will learn to master Artifacts, powerful weapons which can be upgraded progressively to unlock their full potential.
                The story has returned to the main universe and has the heroes tracking the steps of Maiev Shadowsong as she chased Illidan to the Tomb of Sargeras in the Broken Isles. Characters from the time of Warcraft II will make a return and the long lost Turalyon and Alleria Windrunner will finally make an appearance in the MMO universe.
                The game’s level cap has been raised to 110 and many changes and improvements have been set in place to refresh the gameplay of a game that continues to stay on the market since its launch in 2004. As was the case with the other expansions, Legion comes with new dungeons and raids, allowing the players to pay a visit to the Emerald Nightmare which was teased since vanilla times.
                There is a ton of new content in this expansion and probably many players will come back to explore the new areas and take on the challenges that Blizzard has to offer with the launch of Wolrd of Warcraft: Legion.


Arena of Fate
Release Date: TBA

                Arena of Fate is Crytek’s attempt at the MOBA genre. The game follows the same mechanics of two teams of five players each fighting over map control. The differentiating point between this game and other MOBAS is the heroes system which has the players picking characters from history and fantasy. Joan of Arc, Tesla, Cleopatra and many other historic figures can fight with or against Little Red Riding Hood, Achilles and even Sherlock Holmes.
                As with any Crytek game we can expect that it will deliver on the tech, but we just have to wait and see if the gameplay is on point.
                There is no secret that Crytek is in a difficult spot. The company has some serious financial issues and it’s in need of some hits. Arena of Fate is a title that steps in a very crowded market where titans hover over the smaller competitors, so Crytek must bring their A game if they want to leave a mark with Arena of Fate.


Dreadnought
Release Date: TBA

                Yager Development has taken the concept introduced by World of Tanks and uses it to create a game that features atmospheric and spatial battles between gargantuan ships in Dreadnought.
                Dreadnought has a variety of ships fitting for different roles equipped with special abilities that have to be put to good tactical use to win the battle. Due to the nature of these ships, strategy, positioning and choosing the right target will win over cheesy tactics. To step up the tactical options, the players will be able to control the power allocation of their ships to strengthen or weaken certain parts based on the needs.
                Dreadnought is developed using Unreal Engine 4 and is set to release sometime this year. The gameplay seems strategic enough to make the game feel fresh and the free to play business model will make it accessible for everyone.  As with MOBAs, the market of this kind of games is getting crowded but competition can bring only good things for the players.


Fable Legends
Release Date: TBA

                Fable Legends is a co-op action RPG developed by Lionhead Studios as a free to play game. Legends’ gameplay is based around 4 heroes facing a villain, roles which can be filled by players or AI if necessary.
The heroes will be selected from a list of customizable characters each with unique abilities and game mechanics. The heroes can be accessed through a rotation system that changes the available free heroes at a set period of time. They can also be purchased for permanent use via in-game currency or real life money.
The villain takes a role somewhat similar to a dungeon master, setting the nature of the quest for the heroes to complete and making their life hell. Those playing as the villain can set traps, spawn enemies and control the enemies’ nature. The villains have to be careful and think their strategy as the number of enemies they can spawn is limited by a set amount of points.
                Fable Legends could be an interesting game, but it has to play its cards right because as Evolve pointed out games with an imbalanced number of team members can be tricky.


Fractured Space
Release Date: TBA

                Fractured Space is a team-based PvP game featuring capital ships engaging in intense space battles which requires team strategy but doesn’t ignore individual skill. A good knowledge of every ship’s abilities and tactical role is required to be efficient in combat but players also need good aiming and competent ship piloting skills.
The ships can be purchased and customized through a progression system allowing players to take on the role they want to play and equip a loadout suiting for their play style.
                Fractured Space has been in Steam’s Early Access stage for more than a year and it’s progressing nicely. The game will have a free to play business model with the cash shop being filled by skins, boosters and other items that won’t affect the balance of the game.


Lost Ark
Release Date: TBA

                Lost ARK is an action centric MMORPG with isometric camera and vividly looking graphics powered by Unreal Engine 3.
                The players will be able to choose between 18 different classes and join the fight against a demonic invasion through open world events, dungeons and even raids. There is also a strong adventure component with players boarding ships and exploring the world map in search for challenge and treasure.
The hack & slash style combat with an emphasis on skill shots will be put to good use not only battling demons but also in fighting other players in PvP arenas and tournaments.
                The game has been in development since 2011 and it should enter a Closed Beta testing phase soon in Korea and China. Lost Ark’s fate for the western countries is not yet known, but there are rumors that it will eventually make it to Europe and North America. Let’s hope so because this Diablo-esque MMORPG looks great!


Paragon
Release Date: TBA

                Epic Games takes a shot at MOBAs in a game combining classic elements of the genre with 3rd person shooting in a visually striking and action packed game.
                Paragon already has numerous heroes with distinct abilities and roles ready to jump in a 5v5 battle on a standard MOBA map with three distinct lanes separated by a tunneling jungle. In the old fashion, heroes can be leveled up during a match and upgraded through a cards system that replaces the more conventional items. Builds can be created around these cards as they can be upgraded multiple times increasing the statics of your hero based on the chosen upgrades.
                The combat is fun, fast paced but tactical enough to remaining interesting for a longer period of time and despite being a 3rd person shooter the shooting mechanics have been balanced so they don’t offer exploiting possibilities.
The Alpha Test videos look very promising and if Epic Games plays its cards right this game could grab the attention of many PC gamers, especially since it has the visual fidelity of a 2016 title.


Paladins: Champions of the Realm
Release Date: TBA

                The creators of SMITE and Tribes Ascend are working on a game that resonates more with Team Fortress 2. Paladins is an upcoming free to play FPS which has two teams of unique champions fighting over objectives.
                The combat in this game is mostly projectile-based. The champions’ abilities have to be aimed -giving the opposite player the chance to dodge.
The champions have their own personality and unique abilities, but the variety is expanded through a cards system which allows building decks that serve as augmentations for the champions. The cards have a range of special effects like increasing damage output, granting health regeneration and even modifying the base abilities.
The game has smooth cartoonish graphics that works with the quirky looks and personality of the champions available.
                Paladins is currently in Closed Beta testing which can be accessed through invitations or by buying a Founder’s Pack. The game will be available for free at launch like any other recent title from Hi-Rez Studios. Knowing this studio’s affinity for competitive online games, Paladins has a strong chance in becoming something good in the matter, but it has a strong competitor in Blizzard’s Overwatch.


Rising Storm 2: Vietnam
Release Date: TBA

                Since the expansion for Battlefield Bad Company 2 I can’t remember a video game set during the Vietnam War. Tripwire Interactive is about to change this with their upcoming Rising Storm 2: Vietnam.
                Tripwire’s military shooters have been acclaimed for their realism and that is going to be taken to the next level in this gritty shooter depicting one of the most brutal wars in recent times. Join US Army and Marine Corps or the guerilla forces of NVA and Viet Cong, each with their representative arsenal, and engage in large scale online battles that can hold up to 64 players.
                Since the Battlefield series has stepped deep into mainstream territory it is up to games like Rising Storm 2: Vietnam to deliver a more realistic shooter experience without diving way too much into simulator.


Squad
Release Date: TBA

                Squad was my pick for the most promising Early Access game in 2015 and I stand by that. The niche FPS war simulator developed using Unreal Engine 4 by the modders behind Project Reality can strike big as its only competitor is ARMA 3.
                Squad has a lot to offer in the current state but the future looks mind blowing with a combined arms war that should take tactics and realism to the next level. Sadly the vehicles update has been delayed due to some internal problems of Unreal Engine 4 and it’s going to take some time before the game will deliver on the most expected promise made in the Kickstarter campaign. But even so I still can’t stop imagining how a match of this Squad will look when armored vehicles will open the way for infantry on the ground while helicopters will provide fire support raining rockets over fortified positions.
                As it stands now, Squad is an infantry based war experience with multiple roles and weapons using realistic shooting and damage models. The Early Access version is far from being complete but it’s playable and fun nevertheless giving hope for an amazing game.


Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade
Release Date: TBA, Currently in Early Access

                The initial concept for Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade was intriguing. Taking inspiration from games like Planetside 2 it could have been the MMO everyone wanted from this universe if the design flaws of Sony’s game were not repeated here. But in its Early Access launch on January 26, the game only contains a 16vs16 skirmish mode and two factions. The MMO component is nowhere to be found, yet, but according to the developers it hasn’t been abandoned, just delayed.
                The gameplay features an over the shoulder action shooter gameplay very similar to Space Marine. Different races and factions should be in place until the final release allowing the players to choose between them.
                Eternal Crusade will also feature PvE through procedurally generated dungeons called Under worlds and a survival mode named Hive. The PvE enemies will be Tyranids which will also act as a counterbalance force in the MMO mode when it will be released.
                The game was picked up by Bandai Namco Entertainment for publishing and hopefully this will bring more funds to speed up the development process. The potential for a good game is there, but that has been the case with many Warhammer titles and sadly it has gone to waste multiple times. Let’s hope this MMO doesn’t share the fate of the previous one.



I haven’t added Rust, DayZ or Star Citizen in this article because I’m reluctant to believe that any of these games will be released this year. Either way the list of online games coming in 2016 is enormous as it is and I might have overlooked some titles. It seems that the fans of MMOs and online games won’t have the time to breathe this year.
With this article the lists of upcoming games in 2016 is coming to an end. There are some genres and subgenres that I skipped for two reasons, either it is hard to pinpoint some of those games to a specific genre or the list will be way too short and filled with annual releases like in the case of sports games.
                I probably say this every year and every time I stand corrected, but the year 2016 looks really great. No matter what genre you prefer there are at least a few upcoming titles that are worth checking out. So on this positive note I’ll let the time tell us how things will turn out.


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