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Gears 5 Campaign: The Kotaku Review

Gears 5 has the longest and most ambitious campaign that Gears of War has ever done and, for the most part, that ambition pays off. In a series first, the story focuses on a female character, putting the player in a woman’s shoes for the majority of the game. Gears 5 heroine Kait Diaz’s journey of self-discovery introduces new complexities, both tactical and emotional, to the wider world of Gears.

This piece was first published on September 4, 2019. We’re bumping it today for the game’s release.

Like previous Gears games, Gears 5 is still an over-the-shoulder cover shooter about slicing and shooting humanoid reptiles with a chainsaw gun on a not-quite-like-Earth planet named Sera. This entry in the series expands that paradigm in several ways, beyond its focus on a very different heroine or the dropping of “of War” from the title. In another series first, Gears 5 includes role-playing elements. For example, the game now has an ability skill tree for the helper robot that accompanies the game’s heroes. As in previous games, this bot helps unlock doors and marks points of interest on the game’s directional compass, but now he also has offensive and defensive skills, including a zapper and a shield. These skills can be leveled up and refined using tech collected throughout the game.

Gears 5 also distinguishes itself from former Gears campaigns by including two open world areas to explore. The campaign’s second act is set in an icy landscape, and the third act is in a red desert. Both areas contain optional side quests, some of which yield special tech upgrades that can max out the helper bot’s skills to their full potential.

In yet another first, the game includes one major choice that players will make late in the game that can trigger different endings. The Gears of War series, famous for its linearity, just got a lot more complicated.

The Gears of War series started on the Xbox 360 back in 2006 and was made by a team at Epic Games for its first few releases. The spin-off Gears of War: Judgment was largely made by People Can Fly, and then the franchise was sold to Microsoft, which built a new studio, The Coalition, to make new Gears games. Its debut title was 2016’s Gears of War 4, which deserved the damning praise of being just fine, crouching behind cover, if you will. This new entry arrives with a refreshing attempt to make the series finally advance once more.

(NOTE: Gears 5 includes a campaign, competitive multiplayer, a co-op horde mode and a new co-op escape mode. This review only covers the campaign, which is the one part of the game that we could play in depth prior to the game’s release. We’ll have more to say about its multiplayer once the game is being widely played online.)

The red desert of Act 3.
Screenshot: Gears 5

The meaty heart of Gears 5 is packed with more of the best of Gears of War. It’s still a gorgeous series of shooting galleries with a collection of satisfying weapons. The game’s stunning set pieces range from a dilapidated Broadway-esque theatre stage, to an abandoned science lab full of dimly lit hallways, to a rocket launch site in the middle of a desert beset by lightning storms. Its heroes still have the same pleasantly heavy feel to them as they lumber behind cover in their linebacker-esque body armor, lifting their beefy arms to spray machine gun fire or to rev up that good old chainsaw bayonet. Those heroes still fight off waves upon waves of the various monsters that make up the Locust Horde, from the gun-toting Drones to the oversized Scions. And like prior Gears games, Gears 5 intersperses all of that with a story about how the world’s politics affect a core group of soldiers, who also happen to be lifelong friends.

The featured collection of friends has changed a couple of times since Gears of War 3. The original Gears of War trilogy’s protagonist, Marcus Fenix, has proven to be a tough act to follow. John DiMaggio’s voice work and the early games’ writing solidified Fenix as an icon, a gruff guy with a gooey center and a too-long list of dead loved ones. Gears of War: Judgment tried to pass the torch to comic relief character Baird, which went about as well as that ill-fated Friends spin-off about Joey. Gears of War 4 tried for a Marcus 2.0 in the form of the hero’s son, JD Fenix, whose total lack of charm proved that being a Gears hero takes more than huge trapezius muscles.

In Gears of War 4, as in other Gears games, JD ran through the game with a squad of allies that other players could control. One of his allies was Kait, who anyone playing the campaign solo would only experience as a supporting character. But that game’s cliffhanger ending—Diaz receiving a family heirloom that features the symbol of the enemy Locust faction—was all about her and solidified her status as the new Gears generation’s most interesting character.

At first, Gears 5 comes off as another JD adventure. In Act 1, the player inhabits JD Fenix, with his buddy Del Walker available for a second player and the helper bot, called Jack, available for a third. (The computer controls them otherwise.) At the start of Act 2, the campaign changes focus. After that, it’s all about Kait.

Kait Diaz is the first Gears protagonist to successfully reorient the gravitational pull of the series away from Marcus Fenix. Marcus is in this game, too, but unlike his former cameos in Judgment and Gears 4, he doesn’t steal every scene he’s in. The new heroine’s grip is too strong for that and shows that this franchise really can be bigger than Marcus Fenix, or at least be good even when he’s on the sidelines. Early in Act 2 of Gears 5, Kait abandons her duties as a soldier, striking out on her own to learn more about her mysterious heritage; she’s still accompanied by Del, whose personal allegiance has been split by the growing rift between his two best friends, JD and Kait.

Gears of War 4’s campaign was sparse on story; the most relevant plot point for Gears 5 involved Diaz’s necklace, which, along with other events in that game, suggested she has some ancestral connection to the Locusts—perhaps even to Queen Myrrah, the surprisingly human-looking and now deceased leader of the Locust Horde.

The origins of Myrrah, the background of the Locust and even things like the relationship between JD and his father, all have made Gears more than just another shooter. Across a half-dozen games, the series has built up some lore and used it to connect to more grounded and realistic themes of power and politics and the aggression of competing societies. The Locust have been presented intermittently as a merciless army, as a resistance to human colonizers, and as the victims of human experimentation. Their existence and the wars in Gears of War have long involved a controversial fuel source called Imulsion. It makes sense, then, that series creator Cliff Bleszinski cited the Gulf War as one of the historical inspirations for Gears of War.

Gears 5 continues in this vein, offering glimpses at the big picture political conflicts that drive the game’s heroes as well as the personal journeys of the handful of soldiers in the game. In the big picture, the human government has become increasingly authoritarian in the face of the Locust threat, even as the Horde uses its hive mind capabilities to achieve a level of unity that human fascism could only ever dream of achieving. In the smaller picture, Kait is still mourning the death of her mother, Locust heritage or no.

The emotional truth of Kait’s story is echoed in the game’s mechanics. Kait is lost and overwhelmed, and so it makes sense that this is the first Gears of War game that allows the player to get lost as well. In the game’s open world sections the helper bot Jack will point out potential locations of interest on the compass, but the landscape’s dips, valleys, and pathways must be discovered by the player, or defogged on a map you can only see when you pause. Kait and Del navigate these new worlds on a skiff, a futuristic cross between a jet-ski and a sailboat that can be directionally controlled by rotating a balloon that billows out in front of it.

The snowy vistas of Act 2.
Screenshot: Gears 5

The other theme of Gears 5, which is also echoed in its mechanics, is the idea of supposed allies switching sides. Kait and her allies have gone from rebelling against the government in parts of the last game to fighting for it. As in Gears of War 4, human soldiers continue to use military androids to assist them in their efforts; in Gears 5, some of these androids get corrupted by the Locust and turn against the humans. Fighting these corrupt androids is a lot spookier and more satisfying than the occasional robot battles in Gears of War 4. They lumber toward you, shoulders hunched unevenly, then speed up in one final lurching gasp of unsettling energy. At one point I watched a robot start to slouch out of a room only to double back and heave itself across a countertop to get me.

Later, you receive a skill for your bot that allows you to take over the mind of most of the enemies you face, converting them to the human side of the fight for a few seconds. This works best on robot enemies, but it also works on certain Locust enemies. It feels chilling to take over the mind of an enemy, making them turn around and gun down their comrades, knowing that in a few seconds they’ll snap back out of it and you’ll have to kill them yourself.

The theme of switching sides and sowing mistrust infuses the game’s cutscenes and dialogue. Kait’s ownership of the Locust necklace makes JD suspicious of her. JD encourages Del to be suspicious as well, casting Del’s decision to accompany Kait throughout the game in a more ominous light. Kait keeps expecting him to turn on her, and he seems to worry she’ll do the same.

There are also other political debates that go beyond the central human-Locust conflict. Within Gears 5’s world, not everyone agrees with the aggressive militarization that the human government has enacted in response to the Locust threat; this has resulted in protests, at least one of which got shut down by force before the events of this game. Some Gears 5 characters believe that the use of military force against these protestors was fair. Others disagree. It’s not ever made clear what really happened; it’s just one more rift in a series of political and emotional rifts between the characters. At one point, as you walk as Kait through a remote settlement, children run away from you, mocking you and calling you a fascist.

Kait Diaz is a heroine who embodies these rifts. As she learns more about her Locust origins, she increasingly fears getting her mind taken over by the beings that she sees as her enemy. A series of strange symptoms have already begun for her at the game’s outset; she gets what she calls headaches, but they’re more like Locust-themed visions.

That’s not the only part of her heritage that appears to differentiate her from JD Fenix, the blue-eyed son of a famous war hero. Like Marcus and JD, Kait also has light eyes, but unlike them, she has darker skin.The fictional planet of Sera doesn’t have the same counties or history as the planet Earth, but with Latinx actors Jimmy Smits and Justina Machado voicing the characters of Kait’s uncle and mother, it seems that Kait is not intended to be perceived as a white character (although she is voiced by white actress Laura Bailey). Kait’s life experiences have also been very different from former protagonists Marcus and JD. She didn’t grow up in a mansion in a military family; she grew up in the desert among outsiders who don’t trust the government or the military, and her decision to join was seen as a betrayal of her upbringing. The frosting on top of Kait’s multifaceted identity is her haircut in Gears 5: short on one side, long on the other, a half-and-half mix of butch and femme presentation.

Image: Xbox One

Gears 5’s campaign is stuffed with complicated new ideas, but at times, it struggles in its delivery. In contrast to the too-sparse Gears 4, this game intersperses its action sequences with very long cutscenes showing the introduction of several plot points, but not all of them get resolved or explained. The two different possible endings for the game both feel oddly abrupt, almost like there’s a scene missing somewhere in Act 3 or 4 in which Kait actually addresses the rifts that have grown between her and her friends. The game’s new open worlds also introduce the idea of choice, but in practice, the available choices aren’t that clear. I occasionally stumbled into areas I wasn’t supposed to be in, facing a series of locked doors until I doubled back and saw whatever narrative set-piece I needed to witness in order to unlock them.

The helper bot’s panoply of combat-related abilities seem useful in theory, but in the chaos of battle, many of them aren’t practical. I used the Shock Trap ability most often; it’s an electronically-charged mine that you can set and forget. The bot excels more at support capabilities; Jack can retrieve weapons or ammo and even revive far-off teammates. Eventually, Jack gets an amazing shield ability, but not until you’re almost at the very end of the game. All of this is only helpful if you remember that Jack exists at all, which is not second nature in the middle of a firefight, especially since past Gears games have never had such a hands-on helper bot with abilities like these before.

Gears 5 on PC has a few bugs that hopefully will get patched on release day, or in the near future. Multiple times, I would clear an entire area of a huge wave of enemies, only to have the game not register that I had actually cleared the area. Sometimes if I just ran around the empty room for a few minutes, the game would figure out that everybody was dead, but other times, the only option was to restart from the last checkpoint and clear the entire wave all over again. At least three times over the course of my play-through, my gaming PC blue-screened and shut down the entire game. During the Act 2 boss, by far the most difficult battle of the game, my AI companion insisted on picking up a metal pipe instead of a gun. I could have beaten that boss a hell of a lot faster if he had managed to pick up any of the dozens of guns lying around in that room. Act 3 and 4 felt easier than the first half of the game, particularly the final bosses of those chapters. Even more strangely, the most shocking and climactic story reveals happen during Act 2, suggesting that it would have worked better as the actual ending of the game. (For comparison’s sake, my colleague Stephen, who has played late into Act 2 on an Xbox One, hasn’t hit any bugs or needed to do any restarts.)

Despite those issues, Gears 5 is a strong entry in a series that had been undeniably flagging on its campaigns. Gears 5 has a few too many new ideas, both narrative and mechanical, but its choice to put Kait at its center helps carry the game over its rougher spots. Gears 5 doesn’t top the original Gears trilogy, but it’s easily my favorite of the latter-day Gears games.

The creative team for this series has changed a lot since its beginnings. The world around Gears has changed, too. Gears 5 seems like a reflection of those changes. It’s a game that further complicates its world and stars a more complex hero. It’s still a game with a chainsaw gun, but now, those chainsaw guns can have a grenade launcher attached. Sometimes, change is good.

Source: Kotaku.com

Gears 5 Campaign: The Kotaku Review

Gears 5 has the longest and most ambitious campaign that Gears of War has ever done and, for the most part, that ambition pays off. In a series first, the story focuses on a female character, putting the player in a woman’s shoes for the majority of the game. Gears 5 heroine Kait Diaz’s journey of self-discovery introduces new complexities, both tactical and emotional, to the wider world of Gears.

Like previous Gears games, Gears 5 is still an over-the-shoulder cover shooter about slicing and shooting humanoid reptiles with a chainsaw gun on a not-quite-like-Earth planet named Sera. This entry in the series expands that paradigm in several ways, beyond its focus on a very different heroine or the dropping of “of War” from the title. In another series first, Gears 5 includes role-playing elements. For example, the game now has an ability skill tree for the helper robot that accompanies the game’s heroes. As in previous games, this bot helps unlock doors and marks points of interest on the game’s directional compass, but now he also has offensive and defensive skills, including a zapper and a shield. These skills can be leveled up and refined using tech collected throughout the game.

Gears 5 also distinguishes itself from former Gears campaigns by including two open world areas to explore. The campaign’s second act is set in an icy landscape, and the third act is in a red desert. Both areas contain optional side quests, some of which yield special tech upgrades that can max out the helper bot’s skills to their full potential.

In yet another first, the game includes one major choice that players will make late in the game that can trigger different endings. The Gears of War series, famous for its linearity, just got a lot more complicated.

The Gears of War series started on the Xbox 360 back in 2006 and was made by a team at Epic Games for its first few releases. The spin-off Gears of War: Judgment was largely made by People Can Fly, and then the franchise was sold to Microsoft, which built a new studio, The Coalition, to make new Gears games. Its debut title was 2016’s Gears of War 4, which deserved the damning praise of being just fine, crouching behind cover, if you will. This new entry arrives with a refreshing attempt to make the series finally advance once more.

(NOTE: Gears 5 includes a campaign, competitive multiplayer, a co-op horde mode and a new co-op escape mode. This review only covers the campaign, which is the one part of the game that we could play in depth prior to the game’s release. We’ll have more to say about its multiplayer once the game is being widely played online.)

The red desert of Act 3.
Screenshot: Gears 5

The meaty heart of Gears 5 is packed with more of the best of Gears of War. It’s still a gorgeous series of shooting galleries with a collection of satisfying weapons. The game’s stunning set pieces range from a dilapidated Broadway-esque theatre stage, to an abandoned science lab full of dimly lit hallways, to a rocket launch site in the middle of a desert beset by lightning storms. Its heroes still have the same pleasantly heavy feel to them as they lumber behind cover in their linebacker-esque body armor, lifting their beefy arms to spray machine gun fire or to rev up that good old chainsaw bayonet. Those heroes still fight off waves upon waves of the various monsters that make up the Locust Horde, from the gun-toting Drones to the oversized Scions. And like prior Gears games, Gears 5 intersperses all of that with a story about how the world’s politics affect a core group of soldiers, who also happen to be lifelong friends.

The featured collection of friends has changed a couple of times since Gears of War 3. The original Gears of War trilogy’s protagonist, Marcus Fenix, has proven to be a tough act to follow. John DiMaggio’s voice work and the early games’ writing solidified Fenix as an icon, a gruff guy with a gooey center and a too-long list of dead loved ones. Gears of War: Judgment tried to pass the torch to comic relief character Baird, which went about as well as that ill-fated Friends spin-off about Joey. Gears of War 4 tried for a Marcus 2.0 in the form of the hero’s son, JD Fenix, whose total lack of charm proved that being a Gears hero takes more than huge trapezius muscles.

In Gears of War 4, as in other Gears games, JD ran through the game with a squad of allies that other players could control. One of his allies was Kait, who anyone playing the campaign solo would only experience as a supporting character. But that game’s cliffhanger ending—Diaz receiving a family heirloom that features the symbol of the enemy Locust faction—was all about her and solidified her status as the new Gears generation’s most interesting character.

At first, Gears 5 comes off as another JD adventure. In Act 1, the player inhabits JD Fenix, with his buddy Del Walker available for a second player and the helper bot, called Jack, available for a third. (The computer controls them otherwise.) At the start of Act 2, the campaign changes focus. After that, it’s all about Kait.

Kait Diaz is the first Gears protagonist to successfully reorient the gravitational pull of the series away from Marcus Fenix. Marcus is in this game, too, but unlike his former cameos in Judgment and Gears 4, he doesn’t steal every scene he’s in. The new heroine’s grip is too strong for that and shows that this franchise really can be bigger than Marcus Fenix, or at least be good even when he’s on the sidelines. Early in Act 2 of Gears 5, Kait abandons her duties as a soldier, striking out on her own to learn more about her mysterious heritage; she’s still accompanied by Del, whose personal allegiance has been split by the growing rift between his two best friends, JD and Kait.

Gears of War 4’s campaign was sparse on story; the most relevant plot point for Gears 5 involved Diaz’s necklace, which, along with other events in that game, suggested she has some ancestral connection to the Locusts—perhaps even to Queen Myrrah, the surprisingly human-looking and now deceased leader of the Locust Horde.

The origins of Myrrah, the background of the Locust and even things like the relationship between JD and his father, all have made Gears more than just another shooter. Across a half-dozen games, the series has built up some lore and used it to connect to more grounded and realistic themes of power and politics and the aggression of competing societies. The Locust have been presented intermittently as a merciless army, as a resistance to human colonizers, and as the victims of human experimentation. Their existence and the wars in Gears of War have long involved a controversial fuel source called Imulsion. It makes sense, then, that series creator Cliff Bleszinski cited the Gulf War as one of the historical inspirations for Gears of War.

Gears 5 continues in this vein, offering glimpses at the big picture political conflicts that drive the game’s heroes as well as the personal journeys of the handful of soldiers in the game. In the big picture, the human government has become increasingly authoritarian in the face of the Locust threat, even as the Horde uses its hive mind capabilities to achieve a level of unity that human fascism could only ever dream of achieving. In the smaller picture, Kait is still mourning the death of her mother, Locust heritage or no.

The emotional truth of Kait’s story is echoed in the game’s mechanics. Kait is lost and overwhelmed, and so it makes sense that this is the first Gears of War game that allows the player to get lost as well. In the game’s open world sections the helper bot Jack will point out potential locations of interest on the compass, but the landscape’s dips, valleys, and pathways must be discovered by the player, or defogged on a map you can only see when you pause. Kait and Del navigate these new worlds on a skiff, a futuristic cross between a jet-ski and a sailboat that can be directionally controlled by rotating a balloon that billows out in front of it.

The snowy vistas of Act 2.
Screenshot: Gears 5

The other theme of Gears 5, which is also echoed in its mechanics, is the idea of supposed allies switching sides. Kait and her allies have gone from rebelling against the government in parts of the last game to fighting for it. As in Gears of War 4, human soldiers continue to use military androids to assist them in their efforts; in Gears 5, some of these androids get corrupted by the Locust and turn against the humans. Fighting these corrupt androids is a lot spookier and more satisfying than the occasional robot battles in Gears of War 4. They lumber toward you, shoulders hunched unevenly, then speed up in one final lurching gasp of unsettling energy. At one point I watched a robot start to slouch out of a room only to double back and heave itself across a countertop to get me.

Later, you receive a skill for your bot that allows you to take over the mind of most of the enemies you face, converting them to the human side of the fight for a few seconds. This works best on robot enemies, but it also works on certain Locust enemies. It feels chilling to take over the mind of an enemy, making them turn around and gun down their comrades, knowing that in a few seconds they’ll snap back out of it and you’ll have to kill them yourself.

The theme of switching sides and sowing mistrust infuses the game’s cutscenes and dialogue. Kait’s ownership of the Locust necklace makes JD suspicious of her. JD encourages Del to be suspicious as well, casting Del’s decision to accompany Kait throughout the game in a more ominous light. Kait keeps expecting him to turn on her, and he seems to worry she’ll do the same.

There are also other political debates that go beyond the central human-Locust conflict. Within Gears 5’s world, not everyone agrees with the aggressive militarization that the human government has enacted in response to the Locust threat; this has resulted in protests, at least one of which got shut down by force before the events of this game. Some Gears 5 characters believe that the use of military force against these protestors was fair. Others disagree. It’s not ever made clear what really happened; it’s just one more rift in a series of political and emotional rifts between the characters. At one point, as you walk as Kait through a remote settlement, children run away from you, mocking you and calling you a fascist.

Kait Diaz is a heroine who embodies these rifts. As she learns more about her Locust origins, she increasingly fears getting her mind taken over by the beings that she sees as her enemy. A series of strange symptoms have already begun for her at the game’s outset; she gets what she calls headaches, but they’re more like Locust-themed visions.

That’s not the only part of her heritage that appears to differentiate her from JD Fenix, the blue-eyed son of a famous war hero. Like Marcus and JD, Kait also has light eyes, but unlike them, she has darker skin.The fictional planet of Sera doesn’t have the same counties or history as the planet Earth, but with Latinx actors Jimmy Smits and Justina Machado voicing the characters of Kait’s uncle and mother, it seems that Kait is not intended to be perceived as a white character (although she is voiced by white actress Laura Bailey). Kait’s life experiences have also been very different from former protagonists Marcus and JD. She didn’t grow up in a mansion in a military family; she grew up in the desert among outsiders who don’t trust the government or the military, and her decision to join was seen as a betrayal of her upbringing. The frosting on top of Kait’s multifaceted identity is her haircut in Gears 5: short on one side, long on the other, a half-and-half mix of butch and femme presentation.

Image: Xbox One

Gears 5’s campaign is stuffed with complicated new ideas, but at times, it struggles in its delivery. In contrast to the too-sparse Gears 4, this game intersperses its action sequences with very long cutscenes showing the introduction of several plot points, but not all of them get resolved or explained. The two different possible endings for the game both feel oddly abrupt, almost like there’s a scene missing somewhere in Act 3 or 4 in which Kait actually addresses the rifts that have grown between her and her friends. The game’s new open worlds also introduce the idea of choice, but in practice, the available choices aren’t that clear. I occasionally stumbled into areas I wasn’t supposed to be in, facing a series of locked doors until I doubled back and saw whatever narrative set-piece I needed to witness in order to unlock them.

The helper bot’s panoply of combat-related abilities seem useful in theory, but in the chaos of battle, many of them aren’t practical. I used the Shock Trap ability most often; it’s an electronically-charged mine that you can set and forget. The bot excels more at support capabilities; Jack can retrieve weapons or ammo and even revive far-off teammates. Eventually, Jack gets an amazing shield ability, but not until you’re almost at the very end of the game. All of this is only helpful if you remember that Jack exists at all, which is not second nature in the middle of a firefight, especially since past Gears games have never had such a hands-on helper bot with abilities like these before.

Gears 5 on PC has a few bugs that hopefully will get patched on release day, or in the near future. Multiple times, I would clear an entire area of a huge wave of enemies, only to have the game not register that I had actually cleared the area. Sometimes if I just ran around the empty room for a few minutes, the game would figure out that everybody was dead, but other times, the only option was to restart from the last checkpoint and clear the entire wave all over again. At least three times over the course of my play-through, my gaming PC blue-screened and shut down the entire game. During the Act 2 boss, by far the most difficult battle of the game, my AI companion insisted on picking up a metal pipe instead of a gun. I could have beaten that boss a hell of a lot faster if he had managed to pick up any of the dozens of guns lying around in that room. Act 3 and 4 felt easier than the first half of the game, particularly the final bosses of those chapters. Even more strangely, the most shocking and climactic story reveals happen during Act 2, suggesting that it would have worked better as the actual ending of the game. (For comparison’s sake, my colleague Stephen, who has played late into Act 2 on an Xbox One, hasn’t hit any bugs or needed to do any restarts.)

Despite those issues, Gears 5 is a strong entry in a series that had been undeniably flagging on its campaigns. Gears 5 has a few too many new ideas, both narrative and mechanical, but its choice to put Kait at its center helps carry the game over its rougher spots. Gears 5 doesn’t top the original Gears trilogy, but it’s easily my favorite of the latter-day Gears games.

The creative team for this series has changed a lot since its beginnings. The world around Gears has changed, too. Gears 5 seems like a reflection of those changes. It’s a game that further complicates its world and stars a more complex hero. It’s still a game with a chainsaw gun, but now, those chainsaw guns can have a grenade launcher attached. Sometimes, change is good.

Source: Kotaku.com

After Player Outcry, Fortnite Reverts Turbo Building Changes

In the wake of widespread outcry over yesterday’s changes to building, Fortnite developer Epic Games has done a 180 on its decision.

A lot of Fortnite’s success comes from its building mechanic. Apex Legends and PUBG might also strand competitors in an inescapable death arena with tens of other people, but only Fortnite lets players draw feats of absurdist architecture from the ground. Earlier this week, developer Epic Games nerfed Fortnite’s “turbo building” feature, which allows players to place structures by holding down a button instead of clicking every time they build. Specifically, the developer tweaked turbo building so that there’s more of a delay between automatic builds. Previously, the delay was 0.05 seconds; then it was 0.15. Now, it’s back to 0.05 seconds, per a blog from Epic that comes after a furious 24 hours of rage, hashtags, and protest streams.

In the grand scheme of time as we humans understand it, this time differential doesn’t seem like much at all. However, some players felt the initial change had a severe impact on certain strategies—for example, pulling off “90s,” where players build ramps upward in one direction, then rotate 90 degrees and continue building to gain a positional advantage on an enemy. Popular streamer and Fortnite pro Ali “Myth” Kabbani demonstrated how yesterday’s changes altered in a video and came to the conclusion that turbo building was less efficient (and more likely to make you fall off your structure) than manually spamming clicks.

Generally, players thought the new turbo building felt slow and clunky, which impacted both high-level strategies and the overall tactility of the game.

In a post on Fortnite’s website announcing the initial changes, Epic said it did not intend to “dramatically” impact people’s ability to execute 90s or other strategies like “waterfalls,” where players build floors as support pieces while falling down. Rather, Epic wanted to target strategies that disproportionately favored people with low ping, such as racing to build walls before another player and continually rebuilding a wall that’s taking damage. Epic at first concluded that it was too easy to spam structures in Fortnite. “We want building to be a bit more deliberate,” the company wrote.

This did not placate players, who started the popular #RevertTurboBuilding hashtag on Twitter. Much of the response was full-on ire, but even relatively understanding players weren’t sure changing turbo building was Epic’s best bet. “It’s good Epic is finally trying to address the ping issue in Fortnite, but this does not seem like the correct fix,” said Team Liquid’s Jake “Poach” Brumleve on Twitter. “Revert and try something else.”

Many players threatened to swap over to Minecraft until Epic reverted the change. This included Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who made good on his threat—which I imagine Mixer owner and Minecraft publisher Microsoft didn’t mind—today. As of writing, he was slowly but surely learning the ropes of the game whose popularity Fortnite’s building mechanics probably wouldn’t exist without.

In a previous stream, Blevins went so far as to suggest that all popular Fortnite streamers join together in a widespread protest. “It’d be an interesting test,” he said. “We’d have to legitimately form a union, in a way… Realistically, if we all banded together—every single top Fortnite streamer, anyone who gets 2,000 viewers or more, competitive gets in a group DM and says, ‘We’re not gonna play this game for two weeks. We’re not gonna play in the Cash Cups. We’re not gonna try and compete. Anything.’”

Popular streamer Imane “Pokimane” Anys, largely a Fortnite streamer when she isn’t out and about or chatting with fans, has also been spending her video game time with Minecraft lately. “Crazy how everyone expected Fortnite to fix their game, but instead they did the opposite,” she said on Twitter yesterday. “Back to Minecraft we go.”

Fortnite has had a rough handful of weeks, with a disappointing season 10 exemplified by controversial mechs that players felt were far too powerful. Epic nerfed mechs last week, but now, less than a week later, the community’s still-smoking anger fires were re-stoked. It is, on one hand, admirable that the company is so willing to regularly make risky changes to its cash cow, but streamers who absolutely benefit from this constant novelty in the long run are regularly outraged by it in the short term. Epic listened to players’ reactions faster with turbo building than it did with the mech, but it seems like some of Fortnite’s biggest names are getting tired of the rollercoaster and looking for calmer scenes. Minecraft is the big alternative, but Fortnite regulars like Ben “DrLupo” Lupo and Timothy “TimTheTatman” Betar have also dabbled in Counter-Strike and World of Warcraft in recent days.

Now Epic has reverted the changes, which should abate some of the outrage. However, that doesn’t mean it’s done trying to alleviate the ping problem. “Now when a structure is destroyed, there will be a delay of 0.15 seconds before another structure can be placed in the same location,” the company wrote. “If two or more players attempt to build a structure in the same location at the same time right after a piece has been destroyed, a random roll will now determine which player’s structure is placed. With this, we aim to reduce the impact that ping has on ‘taking a wall’ as well as mitigate situations where spamming walls in the same location prevents all incoming damage to the defender.”

Will players and streamers be on board with this new, more conservative approach? Time will tell. As for Minecraft, it recently added bees. People have already modded them to be rideable. It’s preposterously chill. Come to think of it, maybe a relaxing Minecraft vacation was exactly what all these irate, stressed out Fortnite streamers needed all along.

Source: Kotaku.com

Rocket League Is Ditching Loot Boxes

Screenshot: Epic Games (Rocket League)

Psyonix announced in a blog today that its car soccer game Rocket League will be leaving loot boxes behind in a move aimed at “creating the best possible experience for our players all over the world.”

The change will happen sometime before the end of the year with a new system coming in to replace the game’s existing randomized lottery. Instead of earning loot boxes by playing and then having the option of purchasing keys to open them up and see what’s inside, Pysonix says the new system will show players exactly what they’re buying upfront. The studio compared the new system to changes that happened in Fortnite: Save the World earlier this year.

Back in January, Epic Games announced Save The World’s V-Buck Llamas would be changed to X-Ray Llamas which let players see what’s inside. If they don’t like what they see, they can wait until the next day when the virtual shop updates and check again. In addition, Epic made some other changes, like making sure the Llamas no longer give out duplicate items. Now that Psyonix is owned by Epic Games, which purchased the studio in May, it’s not surprising that Rocket League will follow a similar trend.

Psyonix declined to comment further when Kotaku reached out.

Screenshot: CompilationClips (YouTube)

Loot boxes have never been a part of Fortnite Battle Royale, which instead uses a battle pass system where players pay a one-time seasonal fee and then grind for their rewards. Many other online games have subsequently adopted battle passes, including Rocket League, which got its first seasonal battle pass last October.

Rocket League didn’t always have loot boxes, either. Those were added back in September 2016 when other games, like the then recently released Overwatch, were having a lot of success with them. At the time, Psyonix pitched them as a way to help fund its burgeoning competitive esports league, which debuted in early 2016 and will enter its eighth season this fall. It also allowed players to trade items with one another, which on one hand helped give players more control over the process but also left it open to black market forces and made the entire thing feel even more like gambling.

It’s too early to say if the new system will ultimately be an improvement, but there are plenty of better ways to dole out rewards in games than loot boxes. It’s good to see Rocket League will soon be moving away from that system.

Source: Kotaku.com

Ooblets Is Epic Exclusive, Developer Puts Expected Backlash In Perspective

Ooblets is one of those games that just oozes effortless charm. It’s not even out yet, but the gooey, chewy mash up of Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Pokémon has already earned its fair share of salivating admirers. Today, the game’s developers announced that, on PC, Ooblets will be an Epic Games Store exclusive. In an attempt to meet the inevitable backlash head on, they explained their rationale in exhaustive detail.

Developer Glumberland’s exclusivity announcement post is a mixture of frank and tongue-in-cheek. “This is exactly what Marx warned us about!” designer Ben Wasser wrote to kick it off. “Just imagine if other companies got it in their head to offer funding in exchange for exclusives. What’d be next? Game consoles paying for games to be exclusive on their consoles? Netflix paying for exclusive shows? Newspapers paying for exclusive articles? It’d be some sort of late capitalist dystopia.”

Wasser then settled into a more serious discussion, explaining that Epic offered the studio a minimum guarantee on sales “that would match what we’d be wanting to earn if we were just selling Ooblets across all the stores,” which takes the looming existential uncertainty associated with modern game development off the table. This also means the game’s two-person development team can hire an additional programmer and “ramp up our development resources,” but it might delay Ooblets’ early access launch because “it takes some time to ramp things up and because we won’t have as much financial pressure to prematurely shove something we’re not happy with out the door.”

Wasser then moved on to the elephant—or most elephant-like Ooblet—in the room: the volcano of vitriol that erupts on every studio that signs an exclusivity deal with Epic. He prefaced it by saying that he doesn’t “expect much of our uniquely-lovely community to fit into this weird anti-Epic contingent,” but went on to use that as a launchpad for a discussion of common complaints against the Epic Games Store. First up, he addressed the store’s well-documented lack of features like social tools, achievements, wishlists, and user reviews, saying that software development takes time, and that Steam, in particular, took 15 years to get where it is today. “I’m sure there’s a team of folks working on launcher features for EGS, but their work depends on the platform being worthwhile from a market-share perspective to keep going,” Wasser wrote.

He also took aim at the commonly-held belief that it’s “anti-consumer” to have exclusives, reiterating what many have pointed out before: Epic’s client is free to download, as opposed to a subscription-based platform like HBO, Netflix, Hulu, or anything else along those lines. “It’s more like just having to press a button on your remote to change between free TV channels,” he said.

People, he noted, sometimes even go so far as to threaten piracy in reaction to Epic exclusivity shifts. Wasser is not a fan of that approach. “Feeling like you’re owed the product of other people’s work on your terms or else you’ll steal it is the epitome of that word ‘entitlement’ that people use to discuss immature, toxic gamers,” he said.

He closed things out with an attempt at putting it all in perspective, saying that while seeking out reasons to be angry and venting anger is “cathartic and natural,” there are other things in the world that might be “just a tad more worthwhile to be upset about.” He specifically pointed to climate change, human rights abuses, the new Twitter desktop UI, and the last season of Game of Thrones before clarifying—because this is the internet—that the last two things were of course jokes.

“So let’s remember that this is all low-stakes video game stuff we’re dealing with here,” he said. “Nothing to get worked up about.”

Naturally, people commenting on the post have gotten very worked up about it, accusing the Ooblets team of being “condescending,” failing to address the Epic store’s alleged security issues (something Steam has also struggled with over the years) and other admittedly concerning gaffes, and saying they no longer intend to buy the game—not just because it’s on Epic, but because of the tone of the announcement post.

A relative minority of people, however, have piped up to say that they understand where the Ooblets team is coming from.

“Screw folks who get mad here,” one person wrote in response to the announcement. “Get paid, don’t shut down as a studio. You make good games, and the folks that are mad would be madder if you shut down tomorrow. They can handle having to buy from another store.” 

Source: Kotaku.com

The $30 Million Fortnite World Cup Kicks Off Today

Photo: Riley MacLeod (Kotaku)

The event that competitive Fortnite players have been waiting for finally gets underway today at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York. Hundreds of pros will be present at the three-day Fortnite World Cup, and thousands or millions more will be watching. When all is said and done a few will end up a whole lot richer.

The event will begin with an opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m. ET. Nobody knows what Epic has planned for it. There could be dancers. A new mode might get announced. Maybe Lil Nas X will show up and perform a special new Fortnite remix of “Old Town Road.”

Epic Games announced it was spending $100 million on Fortnite esports back in February. There have been innovations in how esports are streamed, controversies over certain screen resolutions getting banned from competition, and no shortage of attempted cheating along the way. Some of those cheaters even eventually qualified for this weekend’s event. Now fans will get to see if the spectacle it’s all been building up to has been worth it.

Here’s the rest of the schedule for the Fortnite World Cup:

  • The Creative Finals will take place at 1:00 p.m. showcasing the talents of Ninja, Faze Cizzorz, and other big names as try to overcome unique challenges in custom game modes.
  • The Celebrity Pro-Am begins at 4:00 p.m. featuring teams made up of Fortnite celebrities alongside actual pro players competing for a share of the $3 million prize pool to be donated to the charity of their choosing. Big names involved in this portion of the World Cup include WWE star Xavier Woods and actor Dante Basco, best known for playing Rufio in the 1991 movie Hook.
  • Saturday, July 27, is when the competitive side of the tournament begins, starting with the Duos Finals preshow at 12:30 p.m., followed by the main event at 1:00 p.m., capped off by the winners ceremony at 4:45 p.m. The best 50 teams from around the world will compete across six matches with the pair who get the best record being crowned the champs.
  • Sunday follows a similar schedule for the solo matches. The preshow kicks off at 12:30 p.m. followed by the finals at 1:00 p.m. and the finals winners ceremony wrapping up the entire three-day event at 4:45 p.m. Only 100 players from the 40 million who tried to qualify over the last few months will be playing in the final battle royale.

You’ll be able to watch the entire event streaming live on the Fortnite Twitch channel.

Source: Kotaku.com

Fortnite Leakers Band Together To Swear Off Spoiling This Weekend’s Big Event

In these days of rampant data mining, few things are ever truly surprises. Even Fortnite’s seemingly endless parade of (often literal) bashes isn’t immune, with big moments like the Tilted-Towers-leveling Vault event getting spoiled before players could experience them firsthand. This weekend, though, longtime leakers—people with the word “leak” front and center in their handles—have decided to try a different approach: no leaks.

For people who’ve made their names off disseminating datamined Fortnite leaks, this might seem counterintuitive. But across Twitter, big-name leakers have said they won’t be inundating the internet in details of this weekend’s event, which will likely focus on a battle between a giant Voltron-ass mech and a sea monster.

“Me and some other leakers have talked and came to a conclusion we won’t leak the event one or two hours before the event starts,” FortTory—Fortnite Leaks & News, a leaker with nearly Twitter 100,000 followers, said yesterday on Twitter. “Let’s just keep it a surprise. Hereby I call up all the leakers, keep it for once a surprise and enjoy the event!”

Other prominent leakers including Lucas7yoshi and Hypex heeded the call, as did a smattering of smaller ones.

In an email, FortTory told Kotaku that this event is different than many that came before, with developer Epic’s encryption functioning such that the event will still be leakable, but not until shortly before it goes live. At that point, goes the rationale, why leak it at all?

“Many people tell me: ‘You’re a leaker, you are supposed to leak everything when you can,’” FortTory said. “But this is the first time Epic Games almost fully has encrypted an event and keeps it all a big surprise. Let’s keep it a surprise. After I thought of the idea of not leaking the event, I contacted other leakers such as Lucas7yoshi, Hypex, and many more, and asked them what they thought about the idea. And they all agreed.”

The process underlying these leaks is complicated, requiring actions on Epic’s part before data is accessible to interested parties. FortTory explained how it all works, using the robot that’s been constructed in stages ahead of this event as an example.

“The robot stages were all encrypted in different pak files,” they said. “To take a look in these files, we need a key, an AES Key, and these keys got released around one or two hours before a stage came into the game, because Fortnite had to load these parts. The event is also encrypted, and Epic also has to load the event before it will happen, which causes the release of the AES Key, which we need to look in the files. We aren’t 100 percent sure if it will be one or two hours before the event. It could also be 30 minutes before, just like with the Marshmello event.”

A smaller leaker, XTigerHyperX, told Kotaku that it’s not just about keeping regular players’ imaginations unsullied; they, too, want to go in (mostly) blind this time.

“Me and a lot of leakers [have] been talking about the event, and we actually wanted to see how it feels like when we watch the event without knowing anything about it and let everyone enjoy this experience without getting the event spoiled for anyone,” XTigerHyperX said in a Twitter DM.

XTigerHyperX also pointed to what they see as the downside of event leaks, using the Vault event leak as an example. “It ruins everything,” they said. “People start watching the event, and they are not excited—like nothing is happening.”

Leakers didn’t arrive at this conclusion without friction. When some first started talking about the Great Leak Prohibition of 2019 yesterday, others were miffed.

“I mean, where was I on this?” asked TSG, a smaller Fortnite leaker, on Twitter. “I was never told nor asked about this… My point with this is that people follow us for leaks. If they don’t want to see it, then don’t follow us is my stance.”

After pushback from others, however, TSG eventually came around and said they won’t be leaking the event, either.

There are, however, numerous Fortnite leakers, so not everybody’s on the same page. The leakers who’ve temporarily sworn off leaking all agree that somebody’s bound to poke holes in this event’s hull, too. Anti-leak leakers have suggested that these pro-leak leakers avoid putting spoilers in thumbnails or include a keyword with their tweets—something like “eventspoiler”—so people can mute them if they want.

This isn’t the end for the time-honored art of Fortnite leaking, of course. Even many of the folks who refuse to spoil this event are still doing drip-feeds of info on new cosmetics and other less-earthshaking additions. As for what’ll happen when future events roll around—or emerge from the sea and punch the crap out of each other, as it were—that’s still up in the air.

“We are not sure yet,” said XTigerHyperX. “Let’s see how this affects the game. Then we will decide if we are going to leak the future events or not. Or maybe we will just leak only a few simple files for creating more hype without spoiling the event.”

“We don’t know what the future will give us, but this event is the big ending of a season 9, and it would be a shame to spoil it and kinda ruin it so close to the event,” said FortTory. “If we in the future would get a similar situation, I would do the same. It’s time to respect the work Epic Games puts into these big live events and not spoil it.”

Source: Kotaku.com

Fortnite’s New John Wick Mode Is Basically Just Fortnite With Nice Suits

Fortnite Battle Royale is having a tie-in event with the movie John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, offering a limited time mode and sleek new skins. The mode, called Wick’s Bounty, doesn’t feel like it has much to do with John Wick—who I once saw kill three men in a bar with a pencil—but it is packed with more than enough gunfights to spice up your Fortnite matches.

Considering how much of a one-man army the titular assassin is in his films, I thought a John Wick-inspired mode would play something like Fortnite’s recent limited time Avengers mode against Thanos. Would one person get to be Wick, blazing a path through the rest of the pack with intense gun tricks? Not quite. Wick’s Bounty is a team mode with limited respawn and a unique scoring system. Killing players earns tokens, and the goal is to collect a set amount of them. As teams amass coins, the top three teams’ locations become visible on the map. If you want to get the most coins, it’s best to target the top dogs and steal all their coins.

There’s the possibility for tactical decisions, deciding if you should chase top teams right away or leapfrog off the progress of other squads, stealing their coins to keep a modest pace. Knowing where some of your enemies are means that it’s possible to set up for ambush or cut them off as they traverse the map. That didn’t happen for me much, at least while playing with random squadmates. Instead, matches tended to sprawl out into large, multi-squad battles. You keep your weapons when you die, so respawning continues the chaos. It’s fun, since Fortnite is fun, but it didn’t necessarily need to be tied into a Parabellum’s promotional marketing. You could call it Crazy Coin Carnage or something and it really wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

The most direct tie-in with John Wick is the addition of a John Wick skin and special sledgehammer in the Item Shop. (A hotel in Tilted Towers is now a Continental establishment as well.) The sledgehammer is a sly nod to a scene in John Wick where John smashes into a hidden compartment to grab gear for his rampage against some dog-killing mobster jerks. The John Wick skin bears Keanu Reeves’ likeness and has two different appearances: smooth and disheveled. It’s a curious piece of marketing: One of Fortnite’s earlier skins was a suit-wearing man called the Reaper. He had a bushier beard but was a clear reference to John Wick. Now, players can just be Wick… if they are willing to spend 2,000 V Bucks. (2,500 V Bucks costs around $25 dollars, for a sense of how much that is.)

In terms of capturing the feel of a John Wick film, Wick’s Bounty doesn’t really cut it besides giving everyone a nice suit. However, it’s still enjoyable on its own. There’s chances to enact sneaky strategies, and knowing where the top team is invariably draws players into huge gunfights. It’s mostly standard Fortnite fare, but it’s still enjoyable.

Source: Kotaku.com

Upstart Epic PC Store Launches Its First Steam-Style Mega Sale

Epic Games’ store has announced its own take on the Steam Summer Sale—the latest spoonful of Steam’s game-selling pie that Epic has shoveled directly into its mouth. The move comes over a month before Steam typically offers its famous Summer Sale.

The Epic Mega Sale, launched today, is discounting games up to 75 percent. Right now, Oxenfree, Transistor, Subnautica, The Witness, and What Remains of Edith Finch are selling for half to a quarter of their original prices. Slime Rancher and Super Meat Boy are just $5. Items that cost more than $15, like the Borderlands 3 preorder, are all getting at least $10 off.

The store smartly got ahead of Steam’s Summer Sale—that sacred time of the year when gamers splurge on several $5 or $10 PC games they’d been waiting to play or seem kind of cool. Last year’s Steam Summer sale gave 40 to 50 percent off on games like Terraria, Gorogoa and Ni No Kuni 2, and nearly 70 percent for Grand Theft Auto 5. The competing stores’ sales on indie games are similar. Steam last year offered big-interest indies like Firewatch and Undertale for $5. Yet because Steam has traditionally sold more big budget games like Nioh or Nier: Automata, a lot of users might be biding their time for June’s Steam’s Summer Sale and crossing their fingers.

Since the Epic Store launched late last year, it’s been making big waves in the PC gaming market without approximating Steam’s market share of games. Developers seem taken by the store’s promise to skim just 12 percent off games’ sales as opposed to Steam’s 30. Also, the Epic store has promised “a quality standard that doesn’t accept any crappy games,” citing “porngames or bloatware or asset flips”—a direct contrast to Steam’s “come as you are” approach to curation.

As the months went on, Epic locked down triple-A exclusives like Metro: Exodus, The Division 2 and Borderlands 3. Longtime Steam devotees have complained that moving over to the Epic store means leaving behind Steam’s whole ecosystem of communities, friend lists and other social features. Currently, the Epic store is barebones.

If its sale proves tempting enough, Epic might lure over more couple Steam stalwarts. Yet even as it rolls out its Epic Mega Sale, the Epic Games Store doesn’t have a shopping cart; so despite all the delightful price-slashings, it won’t be the same as stuffing a half-dozen wildcard games into your bag and hoping for the best.

Source: Kotaku.com

Competitive Fortnite Is About To Experiment With Controlled Chaos

Last weekend, a vault opened beneath Loot Lake in Fortnite. Players were given the option of bringing back one of the game’s previously retired weapons. They chose the Drum Gun, one of the most overpowered weapons in the game’s history. Then, on Thursday, Epic announced the Drum Gun would be coming to the game’s tournament playlist starting this weekend, much to the frustration of some of the game’s most competitive players.

“You can expect to see the Drum Gun in this weekend’s Tournament playlist,” Epic Games said. “In the v9.00 update today we’ve adjusted the spawn rate of the Drum Gun to be more in line with other similar items. We will be closely monitoring feedback over the Season launch to determine any next steps.”

Many users on the game’s competitive subreddit believe this signals a reprisal/return to the “spray and pray” meta that got popular last summer when the Drum Gun was first introduced. The weapon’s combination of damage, accuracy, and rate of fire made it a boon to more casual players, but it’s unclear why it would be introduced onto playlists dedicated to ranked play.

“It’s starting to get ridiculous with the drum gun being added back and shotguns being nerfed,” wrote one person on the subreddit. “The game is not fun anymore when you’re trying to make each fight almost like a coin flip.”

The move has also opened up questions about if and when the Drum Gun will begin to play a part in Fortnite’s ongoing World Cup tournament. “The Drum Gun will not appear in the Fortnite World Cup Online Open this weekend,” Epic tweeted following the announcement of the patch notes. That phrasing seems to leave open the possibility that it could become a factor in later weeks, or potentially in the finals in the summer.

The company also said it plans to look at adding new competitive modes for the Fortnite World Cup once the open qualifiers have finished up. “In the weeks leading up to the Fortnite World Cup Finals, we’ll be experimenting with adding additional non-Battle Royale events, such as Creative modes and LTMs, to our weekly tournament rotation,” Epic said. “This will open up a more dynamic competitive scene that allows for more paths to win.”

Rapid change like this is nothing new for Fortnite, but it is uncommon in the wider world of esports. The studios behind other major competitive games like Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have made a point of keeping the meta stable in the lead-up to big events. Epic, on the other hand, seems intent on marching to the beat of its own Drum Gun.

Week five of the Fortnite World Cup open qualifiers gets underway on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET with the semi-finals before resuming on Sunday at the same time for this week’s finals with everything streaming live on the Fortnite Twitch channel.

Source: Kotaku.com