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What Super Smash Bros. owes SNK, and Terry Bogard

The latest Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character is a big blond guy in a baseball cap. Old fighting game fans cheered, but a lot of other people had a simple question: Wait, who?

The call rang so loudly that series creator and noted SNK fan Masahiro Sakurai heard, and decided to offer a crash course in Neo-Geo history alongside his video presentation about the cult developer’s mascot, Terry Bogard.

“Who?” is not an unreasonable question. SNK and its Neo-Geo platform — available both in arcades and as a home console — never found the kind of visibility in North America that it has enjoyed in other parts of the world.

SNK made its best arcade games after the American arcade was already on life support. Consoles of the day couldn’t hold the detailed 2D animation of SNK’s best games, leading to ugly ports that didn’t do justice to the real thing. Publishers stopped releasing Neo-Geo console ports outside of Japan by the end of the ’90s, leaving the developer so obscure that it might as well be invisible to players who weren’t already part of the cult of fighting games.

But SNK’s American obscurity doesn’t invalidate its prolific output or its influence in the genre. In its heyday, SNK would publish three or four fighting games in a single year, and fans ate them up. It ran multiple fighting franchises concurrently, including a flagship series, The King of Fighters, that launched in 1994 and included a variety of characters from the company’s entire roster while also reimagining certain characters from its older arcade games.

The King of Fighters might well have planted the seed for the Super Smash Bros. concept in the first place, in fact, although that may just be my own conjecture. It’s not merely an idle theory, though; even the Smash Bros. invitation envelope that was featured prominently in so many announcement videos is a direct reference to The King of Fighters.

Despite its incredible output, SNK never just rehashed its own work; it continued to experiment. Neo-Geo fighting games rapidly introduced every gimmick SNK’s developers could think of, from weapons to tag-team matches to interactive arenas. When those ideas clicked, competitors borrowed them; even the hallowed Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo refined the concept of super moves from SNK’s early experiments.

Super Smash Bros., though a grand experiment of its own, is no exception. While some Smash fans may have hoped for a more recognizable character, Smash Bros. as a whole has borrowed so much from SNK games that Terry is a natural fit. In fact, an SNK character probably should have been included much earlier.

Smash Bros. didn’t just emerge, fully formed, as a way for Nintendo to keep contemporary characters in the front of our minds while introducing newer players to classic characters, games, and even music. The series owes a lot to SNK, and The King of Fighters, and I’d love to take you down a tour of those inspirations, if you have a minute or two.

Smash Bros. moves like King of Fighters

Super Smash Bros. is known and loved for, among other things, its robust movement systems. The controls are simple for anyone to pick up, and it’s immediately gratifying to run around the screen, but the options for basic movement also offer freedom to advanced players who want to make tricky, precise moves.

While Smash’s jumps and aerial action owe more to traditional platforming series like Mario and Kirby, the freedom of movement on the ground owes a lot to The King of Fighters.

Contrary to the slow, deliberate pacing and shuffling in Street Fighter, the King of Fighters series introduced speedy movement that allows players to run, roll, hop, and leap across the screen at angles that keep the opponent guessing. To do justice to the running and jumping of Mario and his friends, the makers of Super Smash Bros. likely turned to the high-speed fighting game for at least some of its movement ideas.

Short hopping

From The King of Fighters ’98.

The King of Fighters offers players four different jumps with their own speed and trajectory, making air attacks difficult to predict. Of those, Super Smash Bros. borrows the short hop. One of the techniques that makes The King of Fighters a uniquely aggressive game is that players can do a short hop with a quick tap and immediately attack from the air, forcing the opponent to guess between a high or low attack at any moment.

Note the very similar trajectory of the hop in Super Smash Bros. Though there’s no “high guard” or “low guard” to speak of in Smash, the short hop is used just as it is in The King of Fighters: to attack quickly from a difficult angle, possibly dodging low attacks in the process. Smash players regularly use the short hop in conjunction with fast attacks to keep an opponent pinned down and guessing what will come next.

In Street Fighter 2 and its contemporaries, jumping is a predictable move that’s easy to punish, leading players to spend most of the match on the ground. By introducing more unpredictable air movement — and more specifically, the short hop — The King of Fighters laid the foundations for the kind of intense aerial battles that Super Smash Bros. would later handle so well.

Dodge and roll

Both the dodge and roll mechanics in Super Smash Bros. are identical to those in The King of Fighters. These moves evade immediate attacks at the cost of leaving the player open afterward.

This clip demonstrates the standing dodge in The King of Fighters ’98. Though King of Fighters games eventually abandoned the standing dodge for the dodge roll, the original idea behind the standing dodge works perfectly for Super Smash Bros., where it remains to this day.

Even the dodge pose in Super Smash Bros. is similar to the way characters shift their weight away from the camera in The King of Fighters. The move is functionally identical between the two series. Dodge at the right time, and you’re safe. But if you don’t dodge perfectly in time with the attack, you get hit.

Though the dodge roll has become a staple in all kinds of action games, its implementation in Super Smash Bros. is again identical to that of The King of Fighters. This highly effective escape gets fighters out of immediate danger, but if you predict and wait for a roll, the opponent is wide open during the recovery.

While The King of Fighters expects players to understand the dodge roll on instinct, Super Smash Bros. shows players this moment of vulnerability. The character stops flashing at the end of a roll, a sure “hit me!” sign.

The dodge roll in particular gives players a feeling of safety and freedom. It ensures that an opponent’s persistent offense can never completely lock the player out of playing the game, as was often the case in the Street Fighter series. Part of Smash’s user-friendly appeal compared to other fighting games is simply that players can get out of trouble easily. Without the dodge moves that Smash borrowed — and, in my opinion, borrowed from The King of Fighters — the Smash series would be a very different beast today.

Super moves: an SNK invention

It’s no longer enough just to have “special” moves in a fighting game. There have to be showstopping attacks, with the flashiest possible special effects, that do overpowering damage. From Dragon Ball FighterZ to Mortal Kombat, the super move may have become a mandatory selling point if you want to get your game in front of a mainstream audience.

Clip from Fatal Fury Special, the update/expansion for Fatal Fury 2.

One of the earliest games with a move more impressive than the standard “special” attack was 1992’s Fatal Fury 2, starring, yes, Terry Bogard. (The inventor of the super move is SNK’s own Art of Fighting, which was released a few months earlier.) When a player’s life bar is low enough that it’s flashing red, they gain access to an abnormally powerful “desperation” move that they can use as many times as they want.

If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because the developers of Smash Ultimate brought the “desperation move” system directly to Smash Bros. from Fatal Fury 2 for Terry. The Terry player who uses Power Geyser over and over again in Smash wields an ancient power.

The Final Smash introduced in Super Smash Bros. Brawl also certainly fits the bill as a super move. Though you activate it by chasing down an item instead of charging up a power meter, the crowd-pleasing attack definitely follows in the old tradition that was initiated by SNK’s game designers.

Rage mode

One mechanic introduced in later Smash Bros. games, indicating that these inspirations took place over time, is rage. Simply put, the more damage a player takes, the further their attacks will send the opponent flying. This effect has been greatly reduced in Smash Ultimate, but you’ll still see it as the damage counter gets redder and redder.

Eventually, the character has steam puffing out of their body. When both players are at very high damage, each hit will send the other fighter flying a noticeably longer distance, putting them just a little bit closer to getting that KO. It’s a great way to both create tension at the end of a match and push fighters to try for a decisive final blow.

From Samurai Shodown 2, 1994.

Riffing on Fatal Fury’s Super Special Moves, SNK’s Samurai Shodown introduced the rage mechanic in 1993. As characters take hits, their complexion gets redder, and a “rage meter” at the bottom fills up. When the meter is full, fighters get a big damage buff and access to their most powerful technique, which shatters the opponent’s weapon and leaves them defenseless.

Years later, Tekken 6 would also adopt the rage mechanic, and when Bandai Namco started working on Smash in the Wii U generation, rage mysteriously popped up there as well.

Squad Strike is the King of Fighters mode

A screen showing the three-on-three mode of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Bandai Namco Studios, Sora Ltd./Nintendo
The King of Fighters ’98: Ultimate Match three vs. three screen
The three-on-three screen in The King of Fighters ’98: Ultimate Match.

You might have noticed a new mode in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate where teams of three or five fighters compete in an elimination format. This happens to be the exact format used by the King of Fighters series!

To flesh out the core idea of the characters from Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting facing off, SNK came up with the idea of three-on-three team battles. Not only did this set KOF apart, it also made matches last a little longer than traditional best-of-three bouts, quietly making it one of the best values for your quarters at the arcade.

Even before Terry was in the works as a Smash Bros. character, the developers of Ultimate chose to add a mode that directly copies the format of The King of Fighters, even if nobody really noticed or used it. The influence runs deep.

Terry is OK!

The selection of Terry Bogard for Smash Bros. is more than just a fan pick, and it’s more than just a nod to video game history. By bringing Terry into Smash, Sakurai and team had the chance to give thanks and respect to a huge number of games from a developer that directly helped to shape what would become the most popular fighting game in the world.

Today, it’s never been easier to play SNK games in a way that’s perfectly faithful to their arcade originals — and significantly cheaper. Most of the Neo-Geo library, including masterpieces like Mark of the Wolves and Samurai Shodown 2, is currently available on the Switch.

“Who?” was a reasonable call a few months ago, but I assure you, finding out about Terry Bogard will be a lot more fun than asking. And if you want to see how Smash became the fighting game juggernaut it is today, you could do much worse than to dive into the history of SNK’s fighting games.

Don’t think of it as homework; these are still some of the most enjoyable fighting games on the market. And after trying one or two, you may get a little embarrassed over the times you made the fighting game equivalent of saying that the Pixies sound too much like Nirvana.

Source: Polygon.com

New Fallout 76 patch creates more problems by breaking legendary armor

Fallout 76’s latest patch, Update 16. has only been out for a day and some players have already found a major flaw. Reloading your weapon may cause Legendary armor to break after the patch is installed, although this problem doesn’t seem to happen every time.

In this YouTube video from user Jas Thompson you can see that the armor they have equipped starts with a defensive value of 519, and after they reload it drops down to 414.

But the problem is a little bit more complicated than it may appear. While one Reddit thread seems to suggest that the problem happens all the time, a comment from Reddit user Swan990 paints a slightly clearer picture. According to Swan990, the problem only happens occasionally, and doesn’t even break the affects or stats of all of the Legendary armor in the game, as the original thread claims.

Players haven’t figured out why the problem sometimes occurs, or what conditions trigger it. The only thing they know for sure is that sometimes when you reload, your armor breaks.

The timing on this new bug is extra unfortunate for Bethesda. The developer has a Fallout 76 in-game event slated for this weekend, one that will give players a second chance to explore the game’s Halloween content.

Source: Polygon.com

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order patch adds photo mode, stops ruining lightsaber builds

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order gets a photo mode with a patch arriving today, Respawn Entertainment said in a note to fans on Tuesday.

There’s another cosmetic option, that grants “the ability to remove a specific part of Cal’s lightsaber, once you hit a certain point in the story.”

The lightsaber part in question has bummed out many fans, who spent a good amount of time building a lightsaber that fit their personal style, only to suddenly be stuck with this one component part that can’t be adjusted or swapped out.

“It seems like the weirdest decision to have all this lightsaber customization, and then do this to us,” wrote one on the game’s subreddit at the end of November.

“I’ve been wanting more color options since i started the game, and the ability to change the saber ends ever since I got the saber-staff,” said another. “I finally got them both less than an hour ago and they decided to destroy my sleek lightsaber design while they where at it.”

As for the photo mode, that can be access by pressing down on both of the stick buttons. It’ll include several options, filters and other enhancements to help players capture their moments. Photo editors may reset the scene by pressing the right stick button.

The remainder of the patch addresses several bug fixes. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order launched Nov. 15 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

Source: Polygon.com

Pokémon Go: A Challenging Development Research guide

New Team Rocket bosses were recently added for Pokémon Go players to battle against and a new set of Special Research Tasks came with them.

Using the Super Rocket Radar, players will have to sniff out Team Rocket bosses and take them down. The tasks below mostly focus on beating bosses and catching Shadow Pokémon. After powering up your Pokémon and doing PvE battles against Team Rocket grunts and bosses, you’ll be presented with a Shadow Zapdos.

Note that this set of Special Research is a sequel to “A Troubling Situation,” and you’ll have to complete that set before this one unlocks. Each month seems to have a different set of Special Research Tasks to face off against Giovanni. Though the tasks are same, the reward changes from month-to-month. If you already have one set of Giovanni Special Research, you will not see the new one appear until you beat the one you have.

Step 1

  • Spin 10 PokéStops (500 XP)
  • Defeat 3 Team GO Rocket Grunts (500 XP)
  • Catch 1 Shadow Pokémon (500 XP)

Reward: 500 Stardust, 10 Poké Balls, 10 Razz Berries

Step 2

  • Spin a PokéStop 5 days in a row (750 XP)
  • Purify 15 Shadow Pokémon (750 XP)
  • Win 5 raids (750 XP)

Reward: 1,000 Stardust, 3 Hyper Potions, 3 Revives

Note: Purifying 15 Shadow Pokémon is an expensive endeavor, sometimes costing 3,000 or 5,000 Stardust each. Look for Shadow Ratata or Shadow Zubat, who only cost 1,000 Stardust to purify.

Step 3

  • Use 6 super effective Charge Moves in gym battles (1,000 XP)
  • Win 3 Great League Trainer Battles against another trainer (1,000 XP)
  • Defeat 6 Team GO Rocket grunts (1,000 XP)

Reward: 1,500 Stardust, 15 Great Balls, 5 Pinap Berries

Step 4

  • Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Arlo (1,250 XP)
  • Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Cliff (1,250 XP)
  • Defeat Team GO Rocket Leader Sierra (1,250 XP)

Reward: 2,000 Stardust, 1 Super Rocket Radar, 3 Golden Razz Berries

Step 5

  • Find the Team GO Rocket Boss (2,500 Stardust)
  • Battle the Team GO Rocket Boss (1,500 XP)
  • Defeat the Team GO Rocket Boss (3 Silver Pinap Berries)

Reward: 3,000 Stardust, 1 Fast TM, 1 Charged TM

After you beat Giovanni in this step, you get to try to catch a Shadow Zapdos that he uses.

Step 6

  • Complete (2,000 XP)
  • Complete (2,000 XP)
  • Complete (2,000 XP)

Reward: 3 Max Revives, 20 Ultra Balls, 3 Rare Candy

If this is your first special research quest, there should be four more to complete:

Source: Polygon.com

GOTY 2019 #3: Devotion

Devotion is often mentioned in the same breath as P.T., the playable teaser for Hideo Kojima’s Silent Hills, a game that was later canceled.

The comparisons make sense. Both are intimate, familial horror games that largely play out in a single domestic space. The horror of both games is in the repetition of your actions and the scenery, in the piling up of small, shifting details that illustrate just how little you can be sure of in this world, rather than in one big, loud scare.

And then there’s the comparison to be made outside of theme and gameplay. You can’t play either game at the time of this story’s publication; both were pulled from their respective online homes, and are no longer available for download or purchase.

But P.T. was available for nearly a year before it was taken off the PlayStation Store after Silent Hills was canceled. A lot of people downloaded and played P.T. during that year; even more people watched streamers play it online. Polygon itself named it the 10th-best game of 2014.

Devotion’s disappearance is a little more complex, and much more tragic. Developed by Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games, Devotion was available on Steam for only six days before it was taken offline after an in-game item likening Chinese president Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh was found hanging on the game’s walls. Devotion still hasn’t returned to the store, and may never be officially available to play again.

GOTY #3: Devotion

For our 2019 guide to the best games of the year, Polygon has been counting down our top 5 each weekday, ending with our top choice as well as the full list of our top 50 favorites from 2019. And throughout the month, we’ll be looking back on the year with special videos, essays, and surprises!

Devotion is not just one of the best horror games of the year; it’s among the best overall games of the year. Its quality makes it noteworthy, but the fact that it can’t be purchased or played now, despite how poignant it is, also makes it a tragedy.

Set in 1980s Taiwan, Devotion’s story is centered on a family of three: a father, Du Feng Yu; a mother, Gong Li Fang; and a daughter, Du Mei Shin. The game’s horror is not paranormal, not in the traditional sense. Instead, dread accumulates in the family apartment over the years, settling like dust into quiet corners of domesticity, only to be kicked up by Mei Shin contracting a mysterious illness, and Feng Yu’s growing paranoia, fueled by his blind faith in a folk deity called Cigu Guanyin. He learns to both fear and revere the god, encouraged by a cult leader disguised as a mentor.

The player experiences Devotion’s world — which is an apartment building, though most of the game takes place in a single apartment — in blocks of time that shift and move from year to year. Devotion, like P.T. before it, is built on loops; you’ll sometimes walk down from one hallway to another, only to find yourself still in the same place, but in a different time. While the apartment only has five rooms, the game brings you to those rooms at different times in the family’s history, creating a nonlinear swirl of decay.

The apartment lobby operates as a sort of hub world, but for time, allowing you to choose the year in which you’re visiting the apartment. Devotion’s puzzles require you to bring items from one time frame to another, which sometimes means taking part in the banal act of unpacking boxes but could also mean going through the steps of making a ceremonial wine bath for Feng Yu’s troubled daughter ⁠— something he believes is the only way to cure her.

Devotion’s apartments become stranger, and more otherworldly, as the years progress ⁠— a demonstration of Feng Yu’s blind faith influencing the world around him. Where there was once a pot of tofu stew cooking on the stovetop, a pot of ceremonial wine now brews. The photos that once hung undisturbed in the bedroom have since been desecrated, with crosses scratched over the eyes of each family member.

What might have been a slow descent into madness is instead thrown into stark contrast as you jump from year to year. This is how the fear spreads across the game: Repetition sets our expectations in place. You think you know what each room should look like, and then right as your guard is lowered, you notice a change. And then another.

Feng Yu’s faith is its own kind of horror, one that resonates with me. He believes that if he can prove he’s devoted enough to this new god, his daughter will be saved. His doubt would doom her, or at least that’s what he believes throughout Devotion, making the “reality” of the situation all but meaningless.

I grew up Catholic, and believing in god meant also believing in hell. This created a fear that would sometimes turn into superstition; any missed detail in my praise of our god or a thoughtless sin committed as a child might mean that hell beckoned, with the doors of heaven forever closed to me. Everything became important as either a sign that I was thoughtful and pious enough, or that I could never be saved.

Devotion is about submission to devotion. It’s an act that might make some feel powerful, in giving up their own agency in exchange for living in service of a being that may or may not be paying attention to their pleas for help. In Feng Yu’s submission to religious authority, he’s driven to madness; the player, controlling Feng Yu’s body, is finally in ultimate control over his actions, with one final way to prove his dedication.

It’s an act that’s uncomfortable and one I found actively painful, set into motion through a brutal series of keyboard inputs that seriously gave me pause. Violence is nothing new in games, but to experience such a visceral, horrific reflection of a game’s themes is strangely rare. And it leaves the player with a question that may be impossible to answer: What could drive you to this sort of devotion?

Source: Polygon.com

Command & Conquer’s original EVA comes back for the 4K remaster

The original voice actor of Command & Conquer’s battlefield network, EVA, will reprise her role in the forthcoming 4K remaster version of the first game, Petroglyph Games and Electronic Arts announced this morning.

Kia Huntzinger’s performance in the 24-year-old Command and Conquer harkens back to the “wild west of development,” audio director Frank Klepacki said in a note to fans. As the office manager at Westwood Games, Huntzinger recorded voice messages and paged employees, before then-audio director Paul Mudra had her record some lines for what would become the player’s AI assistant, famously doing so from a padded closet.

“In many ways, she was the unofficial voice of the company once you made it past the front door because we listened to her throughout the day,” Klepacki said today.

Huntzinger was, creatively, the only logical choice to voice EVA in the remaster, as developers are trying to faithfully adhere to fans’ memories of the 1995 game. With the original tapes of Huntzinger’s recording sessions — “Our base is under attack,” and “Ion cannon ready,” — long since missing, Klepacki brought her in to do the whole thing again. This time she recorded in more professional surroundings.

In an interview 10 years ago, Huntzinger noted that she began at Westwood in 1993, working her way up from the studio’s receptionist to its director of finance when it was closed and its operations and some employees merged into EA Los Angeles.

Jim Vessella, the remaster’s creative director, noted that players will have the option of choosing Huntzinger’s remastered EVA voice-over, or the original audio. However, the original narrator’s voice will not be re-recorded. Martin Alper, who was also the President of Westwood’s parent company, Virgin Interactive Entertainment, died in 2015, “and we didn’t feel it would be the same to replace his performance with another actor,” Vessella wrote. “Frank will do his best to clean up the original audio.”

The 4K remaster of Command & Conquer, also known as Tiberian Dawn, was announced in November 2018. It will be joined by its 1996 sequel, Command & Conquer: Red Alert on a single remaster, though that project does not yet have a release date or window.

Source: Polygon.com

Squad up in Tetris 99’s new team mode

Nintendo added Team Battle Mode in its latest Tetris 99 update, but it’s not exactly what you’d expect from a battle royale.

Instead of grouping up into teams of two or four, players choose one of four teams at the beginning of a Tetris 99 match. Then you play Tetris 99 as usual, and the last squad standing wins. Smaller teams in Tetris 99 will get power boosts to make up for the lack of players, Nintendo said in its news release.

Players that get knocked out early will move to spectator mode and can cheer on their pals — plus, they’ll get experience points if they stick around.

A new “password-based matchmaking feature” will allow players to easily find friends to group up for Team Battle and regular matches.

Other features added with the Dec. 10 update are “new button configuration options and new user emblems.” Likewise, players can now spend 30 Tetris 99 tickets to buy themes from previous events, like the original Tetris, Splatoon, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Super Kirby Clash themes that were previously available.

Anyone with Tetris 99 and Nintendo Switch Online will get the update for free.

Source: Polygon.com

Everything can go wrong in Warframe’s Empyrean, and it rules

Everything is on fire, our ship is blaring at us, and two of my teammates have jetpacked into the great beyond. That’s just how things can go in Warframe’s next expansion, Empyrean.

We first saw this expansion at Tennocon, the Warframe fan convention. Players construct a ship called the Railjack, which they can upgrade, customize, and outfit. From there, the players launch into space, and experience an entirely different scope of combat. We’re going from ground skirmishes to the stars, and the Railjack is the vessel that allows players to go toe to toe with massive space armies a la Star Fox.

Empyrean is a co-op spaceship fighter where there are constantly five fires, and you and your team have four buckets of water. You all control your standard Warframe aboard the Railjack, keeping the ship healthy and dishing out damage from its powerful armaments.

This isn’t the power fantasy of the base game; it’s closer to a fully co-operative version of Sea of Thieves. Things are still work-in-progress, and none of the following, including footage, is final. But the end result of the current Empyrean is frantic, desperate, and satisfying. Much of the fun is finding all of the ways that things can spin out of control.

There are four roles in Empyrean: Tactical, Piloting, Gunnery, and Engineering. Players can go hard in one role, getting stat bonuses and abilities, or they can be a jack of all trades. Either way, everyone will need to chip in around the Railjack (Warframe’s newly-added spaceship), and an existing group of friends will likely slot into specific roles based on skill or interest level.

We want [Empyrean] to feel like an extension of everything people were used to,” says Dave Kudirka, senior producer at Digital Extremes. “We looked at the usual tropes of engineering and gunnery, because those are nice containers for people that have played any kind of game that has those things.”

While the developers say the core gameplay of Empyrean was built around the intent to not “get too wacky”, it’s still built on the skeleton of Warframe, a game where everyone plays a robot ninja who can bullet jump 80 feet into the air. On the ground in a full squad, I feel like part of a well-oiled machine.

On the spaceship, things are much more chaotic.

What’s the worst that could happen?

The ship is vulnerable when under fire. The hull will breach and fires will start on board. As the pilot, I am focused on navigating us around rubble and using my weapons to take down alien ships. The gunners can assist, dealing out as much damage as possible. No matter how efficiently we set up, we find ourselves needing another body somewhere.

There are only four players, but tons of stuff to do. We can find materials in space to build new supplies for the ship, put out fires and repair, jump on guns, pilot, clear out boarding parties from the enemy, and even stage our own boarding parties to clear out enemy ships.. With all of those options, it’s easy for things to go wrong in amazing fashion. All four people can leave the ship at the same time, leaving it floating through space. Maybe your buddy boards an enemy ship but doesn’t tell you. Oops, you just shot it down, sending both friend and foe down in flames.

Empyrean removes Warframe from its looter shooter style gameplay and replaces it with something inelegant and exciting. At times, that means playing Benny Hill-style shenanigans, like the pilot abandoning their post to sprint through the ship and tend to an urgent breach. Other times, we would actually solve a problem through teamwork.

Rebecca Ford, live operations and community director, served as our squad’s one-woman boarding party. One mission had us mow through waves of smaller ships, while Ford’s Ivara Warframe breached, boarded, and hijacked larger vessels. I helped us navigate and dodge, and the other two members of our party focused entirely on putting out fires and sealing breaches. The reward felt sweeter for the chase.

Navigating the chaos

Every player has access to a tactics screen, where they can check in on their other players and give commands via a ping wheel. This will be a lifesaver with random groups, but it remains useful for pre-existing groups.

“To start off, it will be difficult for a solo person to run a Railjack,” says Kudirka. “There’s a lot of aspects to manage, a lot of enemies to manage. But a couple of side gunners, and then it becomes more manageable, and you can split your time between combat and resource collection. It’s terrific when you have a dedicated squad of friends you always run with, you’re going to find your roles pretty quick and figure out who’s doing what.”

Failure isn’t punishing in Empyrean; you don’t lose the Railjack, or get your progress meaningfully reset. Instead, it’s back to the drawing board. That might entail a friend switching to boarding instead of guns, or someone else taking up the pilot’s spot.

There’s a lot to mix and match in Empyrean, and it feels like the base game of Warframe in the best ways. It’s flexible, cinematic, and genuinely cool. It’s also an occasional nightmare carnival where things go from 0 to 60 and your friends are out in space when you need them most.

Source: Polygon.com

MechWarrior 5’s combat is on target, but other parts fall flat

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries takes a few hours to really get moving. For a game about building-sized robots pounding the hell out of each other with futuristic weaponry, that’s entirely too long. Add in some uninspired voice acting, character models that look strangely out of date, and a cringe-worthy opening CGI cutscene and it all adds up to a very bad first impression. But, after suffering through a buggy, pre-release version of the game I’m excited to start playing with the new day-one build. That’s because MechWarrior 5 makes shooting up other ‘Mechs a lot of fun.

MechWarrior 5 is the first single-player game of its kind in nearly 20 years. It puts you into the cockpit — or over the shoulder in third-person, if you prefer — of a 50-ton walking BattleMech. The action builds from there, adding in larger and faster units as well as up to three additional AI-controlled squadmates. The game also supports up to four players in multiplayer, but I haven’t had a chance to try that feature out yet.

Unfortunately, MechWarrior 5 doesn’t do a good job of showing you the ropes. The tutorial leaves out important bits of information and rushes by things like targeting enemies, which is key to launching long-range attacks. Targeting also helps you direct your AI-controlled companions. The game includes a system to give orders to your allies, but it skips over explaining what those orders cause the AI to do.

Damage must be repaired after every mission. In the hangar bay you can get a good look at your fleet of BattleMechs. The NPCs scattered around though are creepy, entirely unmoved by your presence.
Image: Piranha Games and Image: Piranha Games

The most jarring part of the game is the writing. The script feels dated, with quips that were pulled from 1980s action movies. The voice acting is stiff, as are the models for non-player characters. Your engineer can’t even be troubled to shift from foot to foot as he stands stock-still, staring into the middle distance while he delivers his lines.

Below that awkward surface, however, is a deep combat simulation. Part of MechWarrior 5’s quirks is how it forces you to aim your guns. Weapons are mounted on hardpoints all over your ‘Mech’s body and arms. In front of you there’s only a single targeting reticle. So, while a laser embedded in your ‘Mech’s chest will tag whatever you’ve got in the crosshairs, an autocannon bolted to your right torso is going to impact the same target a little lower and to one side.

It makes getting the range right a bit tricky. As a result, it always feels like you’re shooting from the hip. Taking down aerial targets when they crop up can be a lot of fun, but hitting fast-moving tanks and armored cars on the ground is an act in frustration. Often explosive shells and laser beams will collide with terrain in the foreground or fall short due to the offset aiming on some weapons. Meanwhile, those little things never seem to miss. MechWarrior 5 is very much a skill-based game, and I can see myself needing to spend a lot more time in the cockpit before I feel truly comfortable.

The game’s second mission in particular is a low point. Alone, in an under-gunned and poorly-armored ‘Mech, I had to take on a whole battalion of tanks and aircraft by myself. Then I had to blast my way through a single, fast-moving enemy ‘Mech while it literally ran circles around me. I blew up a half-dozen times, once before I was barely half-way through the mission. Making matters worse, saving isn’t allowed during battles, so each time I was forced back to the beginning to start all over again.

Fahad stands in the ‘Mech bay in front of his automated repair terminal.
Chief engineer Fahad seems nice enough. He never moves, though, other than to track the player in a narrow arc right in front of his face.
Image: Piranha Games via Polygon

At the very least, playing the same mission over and over again gave me time to try out a few different control schemes. I played MechWarrior 5 with a mouse and keyboard at first, only to find it a little too awkward. Moving both the ‘Mech and the torso with the WASD section of the keyboard is a bit unintuitive, especially when it came to controlling the throttle.

The game really opened up for me once I got it running on a HOTAS. Support was only added in the final few days that I had access to a preview build of the game. I’m happy to report that MechWarrior 5 works well with the Saitek/Logitech X52, but I found myself more attracted to the Thrustmaster T.16000M Flight Control System. That set features a bonus paddle on the throttle, which essentially allows me to control the lower half of my ‘Mech with my left hand and the upper half with my right hand. Starting today, the team tells me that pedals are also supported.

The developers at Piranha Games have been working on issues of balance in the final weeks leading up to release, and it all still needs to get dialed in. I’ll be holding off on my final judgment until I’ve put a lot more time into the game. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is up for sale as of this morning for $49.99 via the Epic Games Store.

Source: Polygon.com

Bungie’s already disabled a problematic Destiny 2: Season of Dawn mod

As part of the Season of Dawn patch for Destiny 2, Bungie increased the effectiveness of the Dynamo armor mod by removing its mod stacking restrictions. But it seems the buff was a bit too strong, and Bungie’s had to disable the mod only three hours into the new season.

Dynamo is a Void class item armor mod, meaning all you need is a Void class item to use it (you have a one in three chance each time a class item drops). The mod reduces players’ Super ability cooldown after they use a class ability — Titan Barricade, Hunter Dodge, and Warlock Rift. Normally this mod adds a bit of bonus Super energy on each class ability cast, but the Season of Dawn patch added the ability to stack multiple Dynamo mods together.

The result is a nearly instant Super on a class ability cast (which you can see in Destiny streamer Gladd’s tweet above). The ability to instantly regenerate a Guardian’s most powerful ability may be fun, it trivializes some difficult PvE encounters, and makes PvP pretty unbearable.

To fix the issue, Bungie quickly reduced the mod’s effectiveness via a hotfix. While players can still equip the Dynamo mod, it doesn’t currently offer any benefits. Bungie will likely correct this issue before Season of Dawn ends. But until then, players won’t be able to use even a single Dynamo mod to get Super energy back.

Source: Polygon.com