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Which edition of Anthem should you buy?

Anthem, BioWare’s latest title, is finally here, nearly two years after it was announced at E3 2017. Initially set for a 2018 release date, the massive shared-world action RPG will officially launch on Feb. 22.

The release schedule for Anthem has been complicated, with both VIP and public demos available in late January/early February. A 10-hour hands-on preview for EA Access and Origin Access members opened on Feb. 15. Origin Access Premier subscribers have access to the full game, with no time limit. If that all sounds confusing, EA made a helpful chart with all the info.

Before figuring out if you can actually play the game yet, though, you’ll need to decide which edition to buy. There are only two versions: a Standard Edition and a Deluxe Edition, titled Legion of Dawn. EA is offering a few pre-order bonuses as well, if you order before the Feb. 22 release date. We break down the different perks below.

Anthem Standard Edition

BioWare/Electronic Arts

The standard game, available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, costs the typical $59.99. Though if you’re playing on Xbox One or Playstation 4, you’ll need to subscribe to your platform’s online service, Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus, in order to join the game.

Get it on PC here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | Origin
Get it on PS4 here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | PlayStation Store
Get it on Xbox One here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | Xbox Store

Anthem Legion of Dawn Edition

BioWare/Electronic Arts

The deluxe Legion of Dawn Edition, named after the legendary order of elite protectors who set the stage for Anthem, costs $79.99 and includes some extra in-game gear.

The DLC pack includes:

  • Ranger: Legion of Dawn Legendary Armor Pack and Weapon
  • Colossus: Legion of Dawn Legendary Armor Pack
  • Storm: Legion of Dawn Legendary Armor Pack
  • Interceptor: Legend of Dawn Legendary Armor Pack
  • Anthem Digital Soundtrack

Get it on PC here: Origin
Get it on PS4 here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | PlayStation Store
Get it on Xbox One here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Walmart | Xbox Store

Anthem Xbox One bundle

Anthem Xbox One bundle Microsoft

EA and Microsoft teamed up to offer an Xbox One S bundle with a copy of Anthem: Legion of Dawn Edition as well as a one-month trial subscription for EA Access. The bundle is on sale for $299.99, the usual cost of an Xbox One S console. It will be released along with the game on Feb. 22.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Xbox Store

Anthem on EA Access and Origin Access

Anthem release schedule BioWare/Electronic Arts

Members of EA Access (Xbox One) or Origin Access (PC) can play a ten-hour preview of the game a full week before its release. PC users who pay for the premium Origin Access subscription, Origin Access Premier, can play the full game starting on Feb. 15. Sorry, PS4 users, you’ll have to wait until Feb. 22 to suit up.

Pre-order bonuses

BioWare/Electronic Arts

Regardless of what edition you choose, Anthem pre-orders include an in-game banner. Standard Edition pre-orders also come with the Ranger’s legendary armor and weapon pack included in the Legion of Dawn Edition.

A few retailers are offering pre-order incentives of their own: GameStop will throw in an exclusive in-game vinyl and the PlayStation Store is offering an Anthem PS4 theme. And Amazon Prime or My Best Buy Rewards members receive a $10 credit when ordering from their respective retailers.

Source: Polygon.com

Far Cry New Dawn: The Kotaku Review

By the end of Far Cry 5, the modern world was no more. Washed away in a gout of nuclear fire, all there was left to do was retreat into our bunker and lament the loss. Far Cry New Dawn moves forward from that set-up. Mechanically, it is the same game we’ve been playing since 2012’s Far Cry 3. Underneath the gloss, it is more complicated but one message rings clear: even in Paradise, there will always be snakes. And you, Player One, will get to kill them in the most spectacular ways imaginable.

This piece was first published on February 14, 2019. We’re bumping it today for the game’s release.

Set 17 years after nuclear catastrophe shattered the world, Far Cry New Dawn brings players back to the fictional Hope County, a massive tract of Montana that was also the location for Far Cry 5. That game had wistfully golden fields and sun-drenched forest canopies. New Dawn’s Hope County is a pastel wonderland. Its mutations, which include bark-skinned bison and a Borealis’d sky, recall works like 2018 science fiction horror film Annihilation. Yet Hope County is far from a hostile hellscape; it is a genuine Eden amid nuclear waste. Communities there thrived until the arrival of the Highwaymen, Mad Max-esque raiders—led by twin sisters Mickey and Lou— who stomp on whatever idyllism that remains. That’s where the player comes in. Taking control of the security chief of a para-military fixer group lead by the charismatic Thomas Rush, your job is to stymie the Highwaymen and protect one of the last remaining free settlements, Prosperity.

Taken on its own, Far Cry New Dawn is as straightforward a post-apocalyptic tale as can be told. Indeed, it’s a concept as old (and fraught) as communal history itself: enemies are at the gates. The Highwaymen are the Visigoths attacking Rome. They are the inescapable sin of mankind, made manifest again after the End Times, patrolling conveniently placed outposts for the player to assault. Because of this, it is tempting to say that New Dawn engages with post-apocalyptic iconography only as a means to facilitate more stabby, shooty video game fun times. That’s certainly true on some level, but as things progress it becomes clear that New Dawn provokes a conversation about its genre, its medium, and conflict itself. These ambitious goals are tackled with the series’ characteristic clumsiness, stopping just shy of satisfactory conclusions in spite of an earnest attempt.

New Dawn’s mechanical framework is the same as it has been since Far Cry 3. This is an open-world first-person shooter with main quests, some side quests and a lot of bases to raid. While there is a string of main story quests to complete, New Dawn focuses on dropping the player into a majestic space and dotting it with an assortment of challenges to complete, stashes to find, and characters to recruit as companions. This space is best explored during the early game, when enemies and creatures can easily dispose of the player, and before they have amassed enough high quality weapons and abilities to trivialize combat.

The first two thirds of New Dawn represent the series’ formula at its most effective. Wandering the map is a mixture of scavenging and combat engagements that feel mysterious and deadly in equal measure. It’s never quite as freewheeling as its closest competitor, Fallout, but there is a clear cadence to the exploration. You will slip through the countryside and dodge Highwaymen patrols until you stumble upon the ruins of a church. There, you might read a note about a hidden stash in a tomb beneath the ground and solve a puzzle to locate the key. Using what you’ve scavenged there, you might craft a new rifle that allows you to single-handedly topple a Highwaymen camp, securing a cache of ethanol to upgrade your own settlement. This process feels natural, more like an actual progression of events instead of merely ticking off check marks on your map.

When broken down, all that’s happening here is two different activities playing off each other. The first is a return of Far Cry 5’s “prepper stashes,” reimagined as post-apocalyptic scavenging excursions. These special scenarios are dotted liberally throughout Hope County, some offering combat challenges and platforming courses, others leaning towards puzzle solving. On one expedition, you might find yourself disarming a lock in a heavily booby-trapped bunker by tinkering with a collection of animatronic fish. In another, you will be forced to dispose of a mutated wolverine inside a dilapidated community center and escape from encroaching flames after your attempts to burn the creature’s nest ignite the entire building. These sequences, nestled off the beaten path but never so secret that a non-player character can’t mark their location conveniently on your map, breathe life into the world and admirably experiment with genre tropes of trash scavengers and old world ruins. They remain one of the series’ best additions, and feed admirably into Far Cry’s brand of open world combat. As you explore more, you can craft more weapons using the collection of duct tape, components, screws, and other materials you find from these stashes.

As you amass resources, you will slowly start tackling the map’s various outposts and refineries. The goal is simple and remains unchanged after all these years: kill everyone and take what they had. Whereas games like Far Cry 4 and 5 tied this process into vague political or religious struggles, New Dawn’s rationale is much more immediate. Each enemy base contains a cache of ethanol, a resource that is spent exclusively in upgrading the various features of your home settlement. If you want to craft higher tier weapons, upgrade your garden, or enable fast travel you will need to upgrade your home, and that means accumulating ethanol. Read cynically, this is a much more self-interested motivation for tackling outposts than other Far Cry games. But divorcing these activities from the series’ ill-defined and mismanaged ideological struggles and framing them solely in terms of resource acquisition is a remarkably good fit for the post-apocalyptic genre. It makes sense for New Dawn’s central mechanical struggle to center upon who actually gets to thrive in Paradise.

And yet, here is where New Dawn starts to run into a problem. In the act of conquering enemy fortifications the series’ vapid repetitiveness makes itself known. First, comes the ability to replay these challenges for further rewards. These “escalations” allow players to cede the base back to the Highwaymen. This increases the raw difficulty of the encounter—New Dawn adds an ascending four tiers of difficulty for activities and enemies starting with grey common encounters and ending with golden “legendary” encounters—and allows players to continue the violence. For all of their new difficulty, additional guards, and extra alarms, these challenges never escalate so far that you can’t clear them with some sneaking and a decent quality bow and arrow. That weapon and its continued prominence within the series belies one of Far Cry New Dawn’s most explicit motifs: cycles and repeated conflict.

The bow was first introduced in Far Cry 3, along with this base-clearing activity. In that time, it has remained one of the most effective tools across games. It is essentially silent and can kill most enemies with a single shot. This is true all the way from modern settings like Far Cry 4 and 5 to the prehistoric times of Far Cry Primal. It is true here as well, after the end of the world. And that truth reveals the series’ underlying thesis, the dark heart that led Far Cry 5 to end in fire and ash: we are no better now than we were in our most distant past. The mechanical truth of Far Cry, expressed in countless bases claimed and arrows fired is that humanity will never be free from violence. New Dawn has two responses to this cynical thesis. First, it wants you to enjoy the chaos. If you can’t stop it, you might as well have some goddamn fun. Secondly, it wants to understand why all of this has happened before and why all of it will happen again.

That first impulse is best expressed in New Dawn’s vivid aesthetics. Far from the dark and dingy post-apocalyptic worlds characteristic to the genre, New Dawn’s Hope County is a technicolor wonderland teeming with shades and hues that are both unnatural and astounding. Rivers flow with water the same color as robin’s eggs, deer antlers feature bizarre shades of pink, the sky shimmers with neon light, and bears’ hearts glow yellow within their chests. New Dawn retains some of the vague Biblical allusions of Far Cry 5 but weaponizes them to greater potential. Hope County’s splendor is miraculous and treated as such. This is an impossible sanctuary, a true Garden of Eden in both lushness and color palette. This is made all the more apparent if players go on “expeditions,” missions that take them them outside Hope County and into the rest of the United States. These areas lack the same energy and brightness of the main map, but the resulting contrast only serves to highlight Hope County’s splendor.

That brightness bleeds into the visual flair of the Highwaymen and their design. Their armor and vehicles are painted and marked with the brightest colors, and they announce their attacks with literal fireworks and colored smoke. They have an undeniable flair, as both a visual extension of Hope County’s mutated majesty and a hip-hip vanguard of the new world. Unlike Far Cry 5’s Eden’s Gate cult, which held onto pretensions of ideology that the game could never adequately define, the Highwaymen are more understandable: they are here to fight, fuck, and have fun.

The result is both a post-apocalypse that feels distinct and a Far Cry setting that feels much more allegorical. Whereas Far Cry 2 and 4 wanted to touch on socio-political struggles in their respective African and Himalayan facsimiles and Far Cry 5 bumbled about in a muddled American pastoralism, New Dawn leverages its flashy aesthetics into a world that is concerned with broader concepts. It is telling that the series’ most vivid setting and straightforwardly honest villains come after the pretensions of polite society have literally been burned off the face of the earth. Far Cry 5’s biggest flaw was attempting to appeal to modern day issues without mustering the bravery to actually point fingers. New Dawn opts for something less complex and is stronger for it. The corresponding freedom allows it to be more visually communicative and altogether coherent than its predecessor in both design and aesthetics.

New Dawns’ villains, the twin sisters Mikey and Lou, feel less like actual entities in the way that other series’ villains have. Far Cry 4’s Pagan Min, for all of his problematic foppishness, was a clear agent of monarchy and tradition with a defined backstory and motivation for his selfish impulses. He was a small man, ruling over a small country, lashing out against a world that had failed to love him. Far Cry 2’s Jackal was an agent of forever war, seeking to fan the flames of conflict so high that they might burn away all facilitators of violence including himself. Mickey and Lou are thankfully not as crass as Far Cry 3’s villain Vaas Montenegro but their motives are often as murky and ill-defined. Because the Highwaymen are the allegorical snakes in Hope County’s Garden of Eden, the Twins are nothing more than Id and Ego made manifest. When they are on screen, their raw charisma makes up for their lack of complexity but their role in the narrative is largely functional.

As the Twins escalate their efforts against the player and Prosperity, New Dawn finds itself moving along with a much more confident pace than Far Cry 5. Gone are the long wanderings and intermittent monologues of vague ideologues. Instead, the Twins exert a real and constant threat against the player through the sheer power of their will and desires. They want so deeply and feel so convinced in their own strength that they never fade to background like some other series villains. What they lack in complexity, they make up for in sheer presence. The result is that New Dawn’s narrative maintains momentum, even accounting for the moments it pauses and asks to player to take some time upgrading their base.

One of New Dawn’s chief thematic concerns is parenthood and children. It teems with absent fathers, struggling mothers, and wayward children. From Carmina Rye, your first AI companion and daughter of Far Cry 5’s Nick Rye, to the inexplicable decision to give series comedic relief Hurk Drubman Jr. a child of his own, New Dawn is positively fascinated with the relationship between parents and their offspring, and it is here that we start to understand the Twins more. They take because they can, they kill because they want to, and their development—arrested early due to nuclear fire—has manifested in one prolonged temper tantrum.

Far from blaming the Twins, New Dawn more pointedly blames their father, an unseen individual who responded to the challenges of the new world with violence. There are problems with this, but as New Dawn starts to explore generational violence and starts to ask how even after the end of all things, we still have villains like the Twins, it starts to become something more interesting than expected even if it never completely shakes off the series’ superficiality or hasty shorthands. It comes and goes in the briefest flashes but there is, I think, something here.

New Dawn’s fascination with father figures means reaching back to address the flaws and shortcomings of its own parent game. It is therefore impossible to talk about New Dawn without talking about Far Cry 5 and its own villain, the David Koresh knock-off Joseph Seed. As a result, New Dawn is not merely a spin-off sequel but a text which actively complicates a player’s existing relationship with Far Cry 5 and Seed himself. In Far Cry 5, Seed made vague proclamations about politicians and the horrors of moderns news as portents of an end that actually did come. What made Seed falter as a compelling villain was the game’s inability to make his prophecies bold enough to name the forces of injustice sending the world towards annihilation. Seed’s eschatology was couched in Christian metaphor but lacked a coherency beyond the surface trappings. He resurfaces in New Dawn as a new type of “Father,” both in the context of his religion and in a more literal sense. And while New Dawn over-assumes how interested players will be in the fate of Joseph Seed, its decision to connect him into its broader thematics turns Seed into an honest to God character this time around. Not necessarily a good character, but a character nonetheless.

In the years following the Collapse, Seed became the leader of a survivalist group called ‘New Eden,’ a colony of Luddites disconnected from the rest of Hope County. In an allusion to Far Cry Primal that emphasizes New Dawn’s belief that there is nothing new under the sun, New Eden functions more like one of that game’s many pre-history tribes than the cult found in Far Cry 5. As Joseph is once again thrust into leadership and as he reckons with the fact that he was right in the worst possible way, he also becomes a literal father to a young boy named Ethan. This core relationship complements the relationship between the Twins and their father. In this case, Seed’s continued religiosity and faith forces him to come into conflict with Ethan. It is a much more understandable story, focused on a much more human and haunted man that the paper thin villain from Far Cry 5.

Seed’s presence also brings a corresponding shift into magical-realism that begins to complicate player’s relationships to the game world and Far Cry 5 itself. This comes most notably during the game’s mid-point where, desperate for allies against the Highwaymen, an alliance is forged with New Eden that ends with Joseph giving the player a piece of fruit from a forbidden tree. It’s eye-rollingly on the nose as visual metaphor, but is also how New Dawn justifies an entire new tier of character perks and abilities. In a move that caught me off guard, New Dawn starts to more adequately incorporate notions of religion into the fabric of its narrative than Far Cry 5 did. It does this while maintaining levels of ambiguity that mostly feels earned rather than cowardly. Did you truly eat fruit blessed by God or can your new abilities be explained away as mutations? Were Far Cry 5’s Sheriff Whitehorse and his deputies unknowing avatars of the Four Horsemen? New Dawn never goes so far as to answer these questions, but it is in the posing of these things and their corresponding ambiguity that it begins to open up and explore matters of faith and prophecy with more consideration than its father text. It’s not perfect—this is still a Far Cry game, after all—but New Dawn’s willingness to play with these ideas is certainly welcome.

The end result is a game that I enjoyed but which also frustrated me greatly. On some levels it is crass and annoying. Far too many of its citizens are prone to stupid dick jokes and its tone can vary wildly from scene to scene. It is often tired with its metaphor and fails to think through the implications of its tropes, even as it remains fair-paced and occasionally introspective. Its raw gameplay is both satisfying but also so remarkably shifted away from the complexities of series critical darling Far Cry 2 that additional veneers of gloss—damage numbers, enemy rarities, and the baffling decision to allow players to purchase crafting materials—make it clear that the series will never reclaim its messier, more interesting ideas. But if I dig deeper, scratching off the fine varnish of AAA quality and safety, there are pieces of a genuinely interesting game. Whether that is the vivid art direction or a willingness to address its themes with a great degree of awareness than previous titles, New Dawn has instances where everything comes together.

Near the middle of my playthrough, I rescued the foul-mouth buffoon Hurk from the Highwaymen’s clutches. I hate Hurk. I hate his fucking guts. He started a joke character in Far Cry 3’s Monkey Business DLC pack and has been featured in all games since, including a baffling presence as ‘Hurky’ in Far Cry Primal. Nothing he says is funny, every moment with him makes me want to choke on a pretzel. Here he was again, a reminder that the Far Cry that compelled me most—the dark and considered Far Cry 2— could never return. Like the old world, it was gone. I could try to cling to it, to cling to a world that was, or I could accept that this was the new status quo. That even as New Dawn sometimes surprised me, it would also have Hurk and everything he represented.

“You look dang familiar,” Hurk said to me the first time I saw him again in New Dawn. “As if we’ve done this before in some endless haunting loop from which neither of us will ever escape.” I see you too, New Dawn.

I thought about shooting him in his stupid face. I thought about how his sudden appearance was undermining all the work New Dawn was doing with its narrative. I thought about how much I wished this game was like Far Cry 2. I thought about how long I’d been caught up in Far Cry’s cyclical violence and formulaic gameplay. Then, I finished the dialog and added Hurk to my roster of companion characters.

There are always snakes in the garden. There will always be a new map of bases to conquer. There will always be another Hurk.

The old world is dead, long live the new world.

Source: Kotaku.com

The 5 biggest trends in video games are colliding on the same day

Can one day have too many big video game releases? Today alone, we will see an underrated franchise get its big shot; iconic manga characters collide in a bizarre crossover event; a long-in-development sequel finally reach store shelves; a pseudo-sequel repurpose one of last year’s best-selling games; a semi-launch for one of the biggest gambles in the history of Electronic Arts; and a heavy, free expansion for one of the year’s best games. Not only are some of the biggest games of 2019 dropping all at once, they each represent different trends that, collectively, are shaping the future of big-budget game development.

To process the sheer curiosity of this day, I’ve broken down each game’s trend. When you need a break from all these games, this piece will give you an idea of how the successes and failures of this day could shape the months and years to come.

A soldier stands in a snow-covered city in a screenshot from Metro Exodus. 4A Games/Deep Silver

Metro Exodus is caught in a war for the wallets of PC gamers

Metro Exodus is the third entry in a series of single-player, story-driven action games set in Russia after a nuclear apocalypse. It’s available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and Windows PC … via the Epic Games Store. The latter signed an exclusivity deal with the game’s publisher, preventing it from appearing on Steam and other PC digital marketplaces until 2020 — unless you happened to pre-order the game on Steam ahead of the deal.

Exodus is one of many timed exclusives on the Epic Games Store. Epic is leveraging exclusives to entice newcomers to install the platform on their computer and create active user profiles. Some players have cried foul, claiming they’ve been forced to buy and play a game through a service that doesn’t have the functionality they’re accustomed to. Other critics speculate that competition in the marketplace — Steam has never had a true rival of its scale — could lead to better prices and deals for players, along with better revenue shares for game makers. Still others fear that intense pricing competition might force game makers to cut their price tags too low, too quickly.

Crackdown 3 - jumping toward an explosion on a street Sumo Digital/Microsoft Studios

Crackdown 3 hints at Microsoft’s plan to be the Netflix of games

Crackdown 3 is the long-in-development continuation of Microsoft’s open-world franchise about supercops that leap small buildings and throw cars like they’re paper airplanes. It’s a perfectly adequate follow-up to the 2007 original, though it lacks many of the trappings of a big-budget open-world game in 2019. It’s the video game equivalent of the disposable movies and TV shows I find myself watching on Netflix when I get exhausted scrolling through the catalog.

As such, it’s a perfect advertisement for Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service. While Epic and Valve compete over traditional storefronts, Microsoft has been quietly collecting millions of subscribers with its Netflix-for-games program. It currently has a library of over 100 games, and every new release published by Microsoft appears on the service on launch day.

In an essay on what Crackdown 3 signals for the future of the publisher, I wrote about how Game Pass could inform the projects of the company’s newly acquired studios:

Last summer, Microsoft acquired five new studios. Three of those teams are best known for making creative but deliberately scoped games: Ninja Theory with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Undead Labs with State of Decay, and Compulsion Games with We Happy Few. Initially, I assumed Microsoft needed more talent to deliver new games in its established brands and launch a few more big AAA properties. But now I suspect the company acquired these studios with the expectation that they will continue to do what they do best: Make medium-size games with a few creative hooks that last a weekend or maybe a week, before making room for what’s next. With ambitions scaled back from AAA, the teams might make more games more regularly, creating a Netflix-style cadence on Game Pass.

Resident Evil 2’s free expansion shows the unique range of video game remakes

2019’s Resident Evil 2, a top-to-bottom remake of the 1998 zombie horror game of the same name, continues the ongoing trend of experimentation with the concept of revamping, remastering, and rethinking older games. Unlike classic films, which can be watched just as easily as modern films, classic video games can be a challenge to revisit. They often lack the quality-of-life tweaks that have been universally adopted over the years, like save points and player-controlled cameras. As a result, each remake and remaster seems to be unique: Some simply emulate the original game, others add graphical polish, and a few fully rethink how the game works. The 2019 version Resident Evil 2 is more focused on capturing the feeling of the original, rather than on being a perfect recreation.

But the free expansion, “The Ghost Survivors,” goes a step further, telling alternate-reality stories about three characters that die in the original campaign. This time they survive, and they kill a ton of zombies. The add-on trades the slow-paced horror of the main campaign for explosive action and hundreds of headshots. These free expansions — a means to keep players engaged with games post-release, rather the trading them in at GameStop — allow developers to play with the assumptions of popular franchises, without contradicting the story and mood of the core game. The Far Cry series is notorious for this sort of experimentation, albeit with paid DLC. For Far Cry 5 DLC, the developers added zombies, aliens, and a time-traveling trip to Vietnam.

Ubisoft Montreal

Far Cry New Dawn shows how publishers make the most of humongous investments

Speaking of Far Cry, Ubisoft has released Far Cry New Dawn, which is neither a full AAA game nor an expansion to Far Cry 5. It costs $39.99 and repurposes much of the open world of its predecessor, except now the landscape and its people have been changed by a nuclear strike.

Big open-world games cost a tremendous amount of time, talent, and money to make. Ubisoft, more than most companies, makes the most of its work by reusing designs or even entire worlds to fill the gaps between major releases. The publisher previously dropped Far Cry Primal between Far Cry 4 and Far Cry 5. To avoid franchise fatigue, these midcycle games tend to be a little more playful and personality-driven.

Other publishers are finding their own ways to build upon their huge open worlds. Rockstar turned the worlds of Grand Theft Auto 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 into online variations of those games that stand entirely separate from the single-player campaigns. As open-world games get both bigger and more detailed, it will become increasingly challenging for game makers to treat them as disposable objects, built for one game then abandoned for the next.

Anthem exosuit BioWare/Electronic Arts

Anthem wants to be our forever game

Technically, Anthem launches on Feb. 15, like the rest of these games. Except it’s only available to PC gamers with subscriptions to EA’s Origin Access Premier service. PC and Xbox One owners with EA Access or Origin Access Basic subscription can play for 10 hours, beginning today. And everybody else can play the full game on all platforms on Feb. 22. This is the new normal for living games, also known as games as a service. Like Destiny 2 and the upcoming The Division 2, Anthem is a big online multiplayer game meant to consume hundreds of hours from each player, with regular updates to maintain interest.

There’s a theme through many of today’s trends: How can game publishers keep their players engaged for as long as possible and spending money on incremental purchases? Conceptually, games like Anthem borrow from the MMO trend of the mid-2000s, when publishers wanted to create the next World of Warcraft. But these games have a lower barrier of entry, both in the time it takes to master the game and the cost — Anthem doesn’t require a subscription fee like so many MMOs did.

Anthem will compete against another game from EA that is even more accessible: Apex Legends. A battle royale game from the studio behind the Titanfall series, Apex Legends is free-to-play and will soon feature the seasonal structure that has made Fortnite a pop culture phenomenon.

In 2019, publishers aren’t merely fighting for money — they’re fighting for time.

Source: Polygon.com

New Detective Pikachu footage shows off Lickitung’s tongue

The upcoming movie Detective Pikachu will bring Pokémon to real life for the first time. Whether or not you vibe with Ryan Reynolds’ voice emanating from a very hairy Pikachu, it’s still pretty exciting to see just how our favorite little Pocket Monsters look in the real world.

The first trailer was already chock full of Pokémon from every generation and new footage reveals even more! Just look at Pikachu and Bulbasaur and Growlithe and … Lickitung!

Oh boy! Let’s take a closer look at this marvel of nature.

Detective Pikachu - Lickitung unrolling its tongue
Warner Bros. Pictures

And again in reverse! You can just feel that heavy thump of the tongue!

Detective Pikachu - Lickitung rolling up its tongue
Warner Bros. Pictures

Much like Mr. Mime before it, Lickitung is a reminder that, while there are plenty of sweet, furry Pokémon that more or less look like the animals we have in our world, there are some that would be incredibly and utterly unsettling.

In the Pokédex, Lickitung’s tongue is described as running 6-and-a-half feet when fully extended. That’s taller than the average human adult. That’s really long. That’s longer than a Furret and a Charizard. That’s a really long tongue that, in its cartoonish iteration, seems like an odd quirk. But Detective Pikachu will let us see that tongue loll out of Lickitung’s mouth in excruciating detail.

We at Polygon have already debated at length about the merits of the movie’s super photorealistic style versus taking a more cartoony approach. As someone who is in camp cartoon, I feel that Lickitung firmly pushes the argument in my corner.

All this tongue and more can be seen in Detective Pikachu, which comes out on May 9.

Source: Polygon.com

Destiny 2 Xur location and items, Feb. 15-18

If you played Destiny, you may be familiar with Xur, the weekly Exotic item merchant. In Destiny 2, he’s back, and he now appears all over the map. This week, he’s in the EDZ. You can find Xur hanging out on a bluff in the Winding Cove.

Bungie/Activision

Xur’s inventory this week consists of the following:

  • Sunshot, exotic hand cannon: 29 Legendary Shards
  • Lucky Raspberry, Hunter chest: 23 Legendary Shards
  • Actium War Rig, Titan chest: 23 Legendary Shards
  • Skull of Dire Ahamkara, Warlock helmet: 23 Legendary Shards
  • Isochronal Engram: 97 Legendary Shards

Xur’s inventory caps out at 631 if you’re at 650 power. He also offers specific rolls on each armor piece each week, giving out different perks for the same pieces. We’ve highlighted any great rolls below.

Sunshot

Sunshot is an exotic hand cannon that does Solar damage. It’s also one of the exotics you can choose on Io while playing through the campaign. Sunshot’s first exotic perk is Sunburn, which causes the weapon to fire explosive rounds and highlight enemies that take damage. Its secondary perk, Sun Blast, causes enemies killed by Sunshot to explode.

Sunshot is one of the best exotics in the game. Not only is it fairly useful in some raid scenarios like the Gauntlet, but it’s also just fun to use. You may not do great if you want this to be your main PvP gun, but you’ll still have fun while using it. If you don’t have one, get yourself a Sunshot this week.

Lucky Raspberry

The Hunter exotic this week is Lucky Raspberry. The main perk here is Probability Matrix, which enhances your Arc Bolt grenade, giving it a chance to reset after dealing damage and causing it to chain more effectively. The cooldown is also reset on a full chain. It’s hard to recommend this chest for either PvP or PvE activities.

This week’s roll:

Slot 1: Unflinching bow aim, unflinching fusion rifle aim, unflinching kinetic aim

Slot 2: Scout rifle reserves, special ammo finder

This roll is fine — although unflinching kinetic is universally useful. Unfortunately, this exotic just isn’t that useful. Arcstrider is the least popular Hunter subclass at the moment, and isn’t as useful as the other two options in PvE or PvP. But if you love Arcstrider, pick this up for when it eventually gets buffed.

Actium War Rig

The Actium War Rig is an extremely powerful Titan chest piece. Its exotic perk, Auto-loading Link, will constantly reload your auto rifles as you fire them. If you’re a fan of auto rifles — especially ones with larger than average magazines — this is an incredible exotic. When pairing Actium War Rig with the Sweet Business exotic auto rifle, the clip will refill with 10 rounds every few seconds, allowing the minigun to truly feel unique. If you ever use auto rifles, this chest piece is an absolute must-have.

This week’s roll:

Slot 1: Unflinching bow aim, unflinching fusion rifle aim, unflinching kinetic aim

Slot 2: Scout rifle reserves, special ammo finder

This is a great roll of a great exotic. Unflinching kinetic aim is a perfect pairing for many of the excellent kinetic auto rifles. Scout rifles also pair well with auto rifles, and special ammo finder is always useful. If you are a Titan and have any interest in auto rifles, this is a roll you should pick up.

The Skull of Dire Ahamkara

The Skull of Dire Ahamkara is the Warlock helmet on offer this week. It’s a pretty situational exotic, but it can be devastating when used properly. Its exotic perk, Actual Grandeur, causes you to take very low damage while casting Nova Bomb — and your Nova Bomb kills grant Super Energy instantly.

If you can accurately place your Nova Bomb in a large group of enemies — in PvE or even PvP — you will refund quite a bit of super energy. If you like playing Voidwalker at all, this is a solid helmet.

This week’s roll:

Slot 1: Fusion rifle targeting, hand cannon targeting, hands-on (melee kills grant Super energy)

Slot 2: Sniper rifle reserves, machine gun reserves

Nova Bomb just got buffed, and hand cannon targeting is a great perk for most players. Machine guns are also very potent at the moment. This is the perfect moment for this roll, so pick it up and use it while it’s hot.

Source: Polygon.com

An Open Letter To Game Developers From America’s Largest Labor Organization

Illustration: Jim Cooke

Editors note: Given ongoing issues in the games industry, the AFL-CIO recently reached out to Kotaku about addressing the people who make games. The AFL-CIO represents more than 12 million workers in the United States across more than 50 labor unions (including the Writers Guild of America, of which Kotaku and its sister sites’ staffs are members). This letter from secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler is the group’s first major public statement about organizing game developers.

If an investor was searching for the country’s most explosively successful commodity, they might look to the ground for natural resources or to Wall Street for some new financial instrument. But, the most meteoric success story can be found virtually all around us—in the booming video game industry. Growing by double digits, U.S. video game sales reached $43 billion in 2018, about 3.6 times greater than the film industry’s record-breaking box office.

It’s a stunning accomplishment—one built by legions of tireless game developers. There’s nothing more powerful than throwing yourself into your craft, putting in day after day of passionate, hard work.

Through the fog of sleepless nights that fade into morning, piles of crumpled Red Bull cans and incessant pressure from management, you have accomplished the unthinkable. You’ve built new worlds, designed new challenges and ushered in a new era of entertainment.

Now it’s time for industry bosses to start treating you with hard-earned dignity and respect.

Executives are always quick to brag about your work. It’s the talk of every industry corner office and boardroom. They pay tribute to the games that capture our imaginations and seem to defy economic gravity. They talk up the latest innovations in virtual reality and celebrate record-smashing releases, as your creations reach unparalleled new heights.

My question is this: what have you gotten in return? While you’re putting in crunch time, your bosses are ringing the opening bell on Wall Street. While you’re creating some of the most groundbreaking products of our time, they’re pocketing billions. While you’re fighting through exhaustion and putting your soul into a game, Bobby Kotick and Andrew Wilson are toasting to “their” success.

They get rich. They get notoriety. They get to be crowned visionaries and regarded as pioneers.

What do you get?

Outrageous hours and inadequate paychecks. Stressful, toxic work conditions that push you to your physical and mental limits. The fear that asking for better means risking your dream job.

We’ve heard the painful stories of those willing to come forward, including one developer who visited the emergency room three times before taking off from work. Developers at Rockstar Games recently shared stories of crunch time that lasted for months and even years in order to satisfy outrageous demands from management, delivering a game that banked their bosses $725 million in its first three days.

This is a moment for change. It won’t come from CEOs. It won’t come from corporate boards. And, it won’t come from any one person.

Change will happen when you gain leverage by joining together in a strong union. And, it will happen when you use your collective voice to bargain for a fair share of the wealth you create every day.

No matter where you work, bosses will only offer fair treatment when you stand together and demand it. Fortunately, the groundwork is already being laid as grassroots groups like Game Workers Unite embrace the power of solidarity and prove that you don’t have to accept a broken, twisted status quo.

You have the power to demand a stake in your industry and a say in your economic future. What’s more, you have millions of brothers and sisters across the country standing with you.

Your fight is our fight, and we look forward to welcoming you into our union family. Whether we’re mainlining caffeine in Santa Monica, clearing tables in Chicago or mining coal in West Virginia, we deserve to collect nothing less than the full value of our work.

Liz Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of labor unions. To learn more about organizing your workplace, visit aflcio.org/formaunion.

Source: Kotaku.com

Ben Affleck sends off his Batman cowl in a retirement ceremony on Jimmy Kimmel Live

It’s no secret that Ben Affleck is stepping down from the role of Batman in the DC Extended Universe.

On Jimmy Kimmel Live, the actor spoke about his now-nixed solo Batman film and how even with a good screenwriter, they just couldn’t figure out the caped crusader.

“It’s time to let someone else take a shot at it,” said Affleck.

In memoriam of Affleck’s Batman, Kimmel decided to put together a surprise ceremonial send-off. Enter Kimmel’s “sidekick” Guillermo Rodriguez, clad in an original Robin costume (yes, tight short shorts and all), carrying Affleck’s Batman cape and cowl. But before they could send the cowl up to the studio rafters in the sky, Kimmel needed to exchange another piece of Hollywood costume legacy — in this case, the sparkly thong Matt Damon wore in Beyond the Candelabra. (“Still has that Damon musk,” said Affleck after taking a hefty whiff).

Affleck and Kimmel prepared to say goodbye to the Bat-cape, but Kimmel noticed that beneath the embroidered Batfleck on the back is Tom Brady’s number

“I insisted to Warner Bros. that it be on it the whole time,” Affleck joked. “They actually paid $80 million to digitally remove it.

While Affleck’s Batman may be leaving the DCEU, the solo Batman film is still greenlit, though the role will be focusing on a younger actor. Other upcoming DCEU projects include Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker movie, Wonder Woman 1984, Birds of Prey, and Shazam.

Source: Polygon.com

The Lucrative Government Spyware Industry Has a New ‘One-Stop-Shop’ for Hacking Everything

Photo: Sean Gallup (Getty)

How do you build the next $1 billion unicorn start-up in the hacking industry? One group of spy technology entrepreneurs says it’s found the answer.

Centered in the Middle East and with connections around the world, a largely hidden multibillion-dollar economy focuses on one specific task: Hacking into iPhones, breaking wifi security, as well as eavesdropping on conversations and data chosen by governments willing to pay a premium for access to everything connected to the internet.

The spy tech industry’s most famous company, widely known as NSO Group but now renamed Q Cyber Technologies, sells hacking tools to governments on every continent with little apparent oversight and targets ranging from drug cartels and terrorists to journalists and human rights activists.

As in every lucrative business, competition is heating up.

A host of nascent hacking firms, some with roots within NSO Group itself, plan next week to formally announce a close business alliance known as Intellexa with the goal of building a “one-stop-shop” for quick and effective hacking of any target no matter the circumstance. The ambition is to sell powerful hacking tools targeting virtually everything on the internet, a product line that can compete with the likes of NSO Group and firms like Verint, a billion-dollar company with a global interception and surveillance empires.

On Thursday, NSO Group was sold for $1 billion from the American private equity firm Francisco Partners back to the company’s founders Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie along with European private equity firm Novalpina Capital. The company reported dozens of customers adding up to revenue of $250 million in 2018.

Inside Intellexa itself, the new deal is being compared to the Star Alliance, a partnership between 27 airline companies allowing each company to have global reach through the alliance, according to Tal Dilian, one of the founding members of the Intellexa alliance. Intellexa’s member companies hope to bring to market offerings that will provide the world’s governments increased ability to target anyone they choose.

Silicon Valley tech titans have long taken close notice of the rising industry and are devoting increasing money and resources to understanding and, they hope, beating the well-resourced adversaries and their government customers. Inside the tech industry, the view is that companies like NSO Group or Intellexa endanger Silicon Valley’s already rotting reputation, put users at risk, lack real global oversight, and often sell their wares to despots and dictators. Several security officials from Silicon Valley companies spoke to Gizmodo about the issue but none were authorized to speak publicly.

“The industry has realized that all of these guys are a pretty big threat and nation-states are turning more toward using these private industry third-party hacking solutions than rolling out their own program from scratch,” said Cooper Quintin, a technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s often cheaper and it makes attribution harder. If these guys get caught, you might be able to say this is Intellexa malware, but you’ll have a much harder time figuring out which country paid Intellexa for that malware.”

Quintin warns that the offensive hacking industry has exploded in recent years, thus further endangering those who may be targeted by their wares. “We can see this from the number of countries getting into the game,” he said. “It’s growing and getting cheaper.”

The last five years have seen an unprecedented spotlight thrown on this industry including a mountain of critical articles. If you think that’s hamstrung the businesses, however, you’re mistaken. The last five years have been good for the “interception” industry, Dilian said, and even the negative press drastically raises awareness for the latest hacking tools on the market and can act as a global advertisement. He estimates it’s now a $3 billion per year industry and growing.

“It goes to show there is commoditization of these hacking tools,” said Michael Flossman, head of threat intelligence at the security company Lookout. “It’s quite easy for buyers, regardless of financial constraints or technical sophistication to buy into this space, either through vendors offering tools or groups internally developing these tools themselves.”

Intellexa’s marketing boasts of its ability to intercept 2G, 3G, 4G and wifi communications. The companies within the alliance provide both remote stationery and close-proximity mobile systems ranging from vehicles to backpacks or specially equipped drones and helicopters.

“Intellexa will provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies with an end-to-end intelligence solution, including a premium field intelligence collection platform as well as robust remote collection and analysis systems,” the group’s marketing material, included below, reads.

Publicly, the Intellexa partnership is made up of Nexa Technologies, WiSpear, and Cytrox. The alliance also includes five other non-public partners, according to Dilian.

WiSpear is a wifi interception firm founded by Dilian who previously worked on Circles, a telecom-interception firm that was acquired by NSO Group. WiSpear recently acquired Cytrox, a European firm specializing in developing exploits that can break into devices used by a target.

The alliance also includes Nexa Technologies, a French firm previously known as Amesys, that’s been under investigation for sales of surveillance technology to the military dictatorship in Egypt. One of the original players in this industry, Amesys was named one of the world’s “Enemies of the Internet” in a 2013 report from Reporters Without Borders. They’re perhaps most famous for selling packet monitoring software to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed in 2011.

Intellexa operates offices in Tel Aviv, Paris, Dubai, and Jakarta in order to give close geographic support to the alliance companies’ existing customers. The group also has current customers in Latin America and hopes to establish an office there soon.

“Our immediate goal is to become a one-stop-shop for all of our customers’ field intelligence collection needs,” Dilian said.

Intellexa will be first announced at IDEX, a military industry conference in Abu Dhabi famous as an event for buying and selling cutting-edge hacking tools. The Persian Gulf region is currently the world’s foremost hotbed for the hacking market, Dilian told Gizmodo, largely because Asian and African governments feel comfortable purchasing these tools in that region. Critics say it’s an environment that offers little legal or ethical oversight of their growing business.

“I think there is growing awareness that these companies exist and [of what] their capabilities are exactly,” EFF’s Quintin said. “Whereas companies like NSO Group or DarkMatter are providing very high-end services, what you’ll see is a medium to low-end range of companies come on the market as well that can cater to countries that don’t have as big a budget for these operations.”

The industry has a global reach but is most successful in key areas like the Middle East, Africa, and some particularly tumultuous areas of Latin America.

“We see a lot of comparisons to areas with kinetic warfare,” Lookout’s Flossman said. “The Middle East is a really good example of that. Volatility in the physical world bleeds over into the digital world and increases demands for these kinds of hacking tools.”

Dilian strongly disputes the hacking industry’s dark reputation, saying they are the people giving governments the necessary modern tools to defend against criminals and terrorists. He repeatedly told Gizmodo that his company and the industry are “the good guys” due to their work with law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Dilian knows, however, that there is a growing chorus of critics including EFF’s Quintin.

“The problem with these companies is that they don’t seem to care whether the governments they’re selling to are acting within the rule of law or within international human rights norms,” Quintin said. “It’s extremely problematic. It is on these companies to make sure they’re not selling these technologies to countries that will use them to commit torture or kidnap people. It’s important the companies know who they’re selling to and what we’ve seen is these countries selling to countries that are extreme violators of human rights like Gaddafi. That doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop. They’re still willing to sell to anyone.”

If you have an inside perspective on the interception industry, intelligence, or Silicon Valley, Gizmodo would like to know more: Email [email protected] or use Signal to message +1-650-488-7247.

Source: Kotaku.com

Daemon x Machina’s Demo Is Pretty Good

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

I knew two things before playing Daemon x Machina. First, it has a wonderfully inscrutable name. Second, it has giant robots. The latter part is all that really matters to me—I adore mechs, from Gundam to Armored Core. After playing Daemon x Machina’s demo, I’m excited for the full game, even if the action doesn’t quite have the gear-grinding grit that I crave.

Daemon x Machina is developed by Studio 1 and includes a few mech veterans, such as Shoji Kawamori, who handles the game’s mechanical designs and worked on things like Armored Core and the Macross series. A demo version dubbed the “Prototype Missions” released on Switch this week. It’s both exactly what I wanted and a little rough around the edge. You play as a sort of mech-piloting freelancer taking on missions to defend cities and fight colossal mecha monstrosities as well as enemy aces. It’s a pretty standard format, a sort of Armored Core meets Monster Hunter. Time is split between your home base, where you can wander about and tinker with your mech, and the field. It’s straightforward: take missions, loot mech parts, customize your robot, and then take more difficult missions. Whether you’re kitbashing together different mech parts or sitting down to customize your paint job, Daemon x Machina does a good job streamlining your mech building without ever making it feel too perfunctory.

Combat is the game’s weak point, not because it isn’t fun, but because it never quite captures the tactile feel of mech combat. Part of the appeal of giant robot fights comes from the ways in which they break. There’s an intensity to the bodies we put around our bodies shattering and melting. Games like Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes captured this by keeping the camera in the cockpit, while last year’s Battletech focused on a painful war of attrition. Parts broke, damages had cost, and there were never clean fights. Daemon x Machina has the flair of combat you might expect from an anime like Macross or Code Geass but never quite finds a sense of weighty danger. There are no breaking parts, and attacks have a limited amount of impact. Instead, Daemon x Machina focuses on the spectacle of mech combat. Whether that means dashing away from an enemy’s laser sword or picking up a discarded beam cannon to blast a titanic mecha beast, there’s a lot of flair. It’s a shame that things feel so safe most of the time, excepting moments where you have to eject from a damaged mech and run around on foot.

I have highly specific things I love in mech stories. I love when machines break, I love when the mech bodies we pilot mask who we are, I crave the moments when aces clash until the layers are broken away and there’s nowhere left to hide. Daemon x Machina’s demo doesn’t quite have the grit of an Armored Core or some of my favorite Gundam series, but when things come together—on the customization screen or in the field—it starts to capture some of the things I love about giant robots.

Oh yeah, and if you play with Japanese voices on, two rival aces are voiced by the actors for Gundam’s Amuro Ray and Char Aznable. That’s game of the year levels of self-awareness right there.

Source: Kotaku.com

Destiny 2 Season of the Drifter set for March, Trials postponed indefinitely

In this week’s This Week at Bungie — the studio’s weekly blog — the developers revealed the fate of Trials of the Nine and the release date for the game’s upcoming season of content.

Trials of the Nine — known as Trials of Osiris back in Destiny, referred to together as “Trials” — was a competitive multiplayer mode in Destiny 2 that ran every weekend. But Bungie put Trials of the Nine on hiatus for Season 4, hoping to rework it after players stopped playing it as fervently as Trials of Osiris in Destiny.

In this week’s blog post, Bungie announced that Trials won’t be coming back in Season of the Drifter, and that its future is looking grim for the rest of this year. “Until we have a solid prototype for a pinnacle PvP endgame activity, Trials is staying on hiatus indefinitely and will not return over the course of the next few seasons,” said the design team. “When we have those new plans ready, we’ll be sure to share them with you.”

Destiny 2’s second Annual Pass season and sixth season overall — Season of the Drifter — begins on March 5. Bungie has created a week of transition for previous seasons, offering some new cosmetic rewards but no new content for the Annual Pass. It’s currently unclear if March 5 will bring with it the new Gambit experience promised for Joker’s Wild, or if players will have to wait until March 12 to get their new, PvEvP fix.

Bungie promised to reveal more about the Season of the Drifter and its content offerings in the next few weeks.

Source: Polygon.com