While at PAX East I finally had the opportunity to try Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. What I played left me intrigued but ultimately underwhelmed. Of all the Castlevania-inspired games due out this year, like Cyber Shadow and upcoming DLC for The Messenger, I’m now less excited about the one actually coming from one of the series’ most renowned developers.
Ritual of the Night was announced as a Kickstarter in 2015. Koji Igarashi, a Konami veteran who worked on the Castlevania series for nearly two decades, asked fans for $500,000 so his newly-formed game studio, ArtPlay, could make a spiritual successor to the series. The campaign ended up raising $5.5 million.
Since then the game has been delayed twice. The Wii U, PS Vita, Mac and Linux versions of the game were cancelled, and a Switch version was announced. It’s now set to arrive later this year, releasing at least on the Switch by this summer, according to a trailer from the February Nintendo Direct.
On paper, Ritual of the Night looks like a Castlevania game. Everything you’d expect is there: conjuring various familiars, enemies knocking you back when you get hit, and even a connection to the previous games via Igarashi. But in the demo I played, things don’t quite come together. Everything felt a little off, like a piece of furniture that looks fine from afar but wobbles when you use it.
My session started in the middle of a giant clock tower in Demon Castle. Miriam, the main protagonist, has awoken from a 10-year coma after magical crystals were put into her body. She’s ventured to the castle to kill another subject of the experiment who’s letting demons take over the world. At the demo’s start, she had already collected a number of crystals enabling her to perform all sorts of special attacks. Her inventory is likewise full of various regenerative potions, crafting materials, and other loot. With all of this in tow I set about exploring my surroundings.
The first thing I noticed was how dark and grimy the world is. Ritual of the Night isn’t exactly an ugly game, but at least in the demo I played, Miriam and the other characters felt detached from the environment, like actors performing in front of a green screen. Miriam’s animations are fluid but she’s not quite tethered to the ground. In a platforming section involving spinning gears, she stood just above them as they turned. While the arcs of her double-jump feel accurate and satisfying, they feel out of sync with the various platforms jutting out in the game’s 2.5D world.
This lack of harmony carries over into some of the combat. Miriam can handle various medieval weaponry and dodge backwards or slide forwards to avoid foes. She has special attacks like fireballs, and throwing knives, and she can summon demonic tentacles to attack, each of which consumes magic points. These special attacks are helpful for dealing with less conventional monsters, like a flying harpy or armored knight hiding behind a giant shield.
Special attacks don’t feel as powerful as they should in moment-to-moment combat. Damage is shown via numbers, but there’s little in the sound or visuals to make the math feel visceral. Sometimes fights can feel like clumsy brawls where you just exchange health with opponents until one of you dies.
This came through strongly during the demo’s boss fight. A two-headed dragon cornered me on one level of the tower, with each head taking up one side of the screen. I had to dodge their biting and fire attacks and then counter with my own, but I often found myself confused about where the enemy’s hitbox began and mine ended. Miriam would take damage but not suffer the normal amount of knockback, and my attacks landed with little visual or auditory feedback. The combat animations looked great, but the actual fight felt like tangoing with a ghost.
Ritual of the Night is ambitious, both in its visual style and scale. Igarashi has said the size of its castle will be twice as big as anything he’s done before, and the levels I explored certainly backed that up. But they also felt sparse. It’s hard to know how much of this will be recalibrated or polished before launch, but Ritual of the Night feels unwieldy compared to some of Castlevania’s more recent homages.
I spent the weekend at PAX East, and while I didn’t play nearly all of the games I wanted to, I got to play quite a lot and even discovered a few I’d never heard of that I’m now extremely excited about.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of them, which is still only a fraction of what was there.
Cyber Shadow (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Retro action platformer with a beautiful faux-8-bit art style; the game’s developers told me the game takes its cues Castlevania and Contra. It feels like we get at least one standout version of this type of game every year at this point, and Cyber Shadow looks to be the next one of these. If I could only play just one other ninja game this year, I’d want it to be Cyber Shadow.
Silver Chains (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Adventure horror game that has you exploring a creepy old house seemingly haunted by your dead mom and sister. There’s a lot of contrast between light and shadow; the lamp you hold changes the look and feel of the rooms as you move through them. Too scary for me, but some of the best hardwood floors I’ve ever seen in a game. Only crashed on me once.
Vambrace: Cold Soul (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, April 25)
Looks like a clone of Darkest Dungeon with anime vibes, but its developers told me the game is heavily inspired by FTL: Faster Than Light. The goal is to get through dungeons before various meters run down, with every new room you enter taking its toll on you. Unlike Darkest Dungeon, there’s much less grinding, with overall progression pinned to collecting pieces of armor rather than experience points. Hallelujah.
Colt Canyon (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
Twin-stick shooter in which you play as a minimally-pixelated person in a cowboy hat and poncho searching for their loved one by painting the desert red. With blood, of course. It’s a roguelike, so the map is procedurally generated. While the controls were snappy, the map felt a little boring to explore. Great pixel-splatter effects, though.
Dead End Job (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
A ’90s mashup of pop culture references and proletariat drudgery. The art style and humor have the feel of Ren & Stimpy,while the premise is basically Ghostbusters in an office complex. You explore these white collar dungeons by going room to room, killing various creatures, then hoovering up their ghosts to gain XP and earn new abilities. It’s another roguelike, and while the Office Space vibes weren’t doing it for me, the Saturday morning cartoon look makes it a nice, more colorful analogue to The Binding of Isaac. Also Clippy, Microsoft’s troubleshooting paperclip, is one of the bosses, ’cause why not?
N1RV Ann-A (Switch, PS4, PC, 2020)
It’s the sequel to VA-11 HALL-A, but with a bigger selection of spirits to choose from. You pour drinks for customers and then see what pours out of their mouth, like a visual novel where you color in the pages with booze. Very much looking forward to this game. Hopefully it comes to Vita. (It’s not coming to Vita).
Project Downfall (Switch, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
The developers described this one as Hotline Miami transformed into an old school first-person shooter. The art style was definitely cool, but the movement made me queasy, so I stopped playing after only a few minutes. But with a controller in my hand and the sensitivity turned down it looked like it would be great nightmare fuel.
World of Horror (Switch, PS4, PC, 2019)
The world is coming to an end as evil spirits begin to take over. Part visual novel and part role-playing adventure game, it reminded me of the first Mother game, Earthbound’s predecessor, refracted through the lens of a Japanese occult horror flick. I was supposed to complete a magic ritual in my character’s school to banish evil, but I ended up in a fight with a weird squid women who tore my head off.
Windjammers 2 (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
I wrote about Windjammers 2 over the weekend. I’m excited for it to fill the casual sports game hole left by Rocket League (which I still love but don’t play as much anymore). It’s like if the characters from Running Man decided to quit killing one another and go on holiday in 1960s Marseille and play beach volleyball with a frisbee until the sun went down. I was not in the film Running Man, have never been to Marseille, and did not grow up in the ’60s, but 30 minutes with Windjammers 2 made me feel like I’d done all those things.
Samurai Shodown (PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019, Switch, TBD)
Another classic series is getting rebooted, and it’s a fighting game at that. The developers kicked my ass, but I was still able to appreciate the game’s emphasis on being patient and waiting to exploit openings rather than just try to aggressively bang out combos nonstop. The visuals look okay most of the time, but they get especially gorgeous during scene animations and special attacks, during which everything on screen feels like it’s painted on a scroll and fluttering in the wind. In those moments, it reminded me of Okami.
Creature in the Well (Switch, Summer)
One of my favorite games of the show. It was first revealed during Nintendo’s recent Nindies showcase, where we learned it would mix together overhead dungeon-crawling with pinball. I got to explore several rooms, came across some interesting puzzles, and almost beat a really fun boss, all by knocking projectiles around a room with a sword. The gameplay is clever, it looks amazing, and there’s just enough background world-building to imbue everything with a sense of foreboding and mystery.
WRATH: Aeon of Ruin (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2019)
I’m terrible at old-school first-person shooters, but that didn’t keep me from appreciating the artistry and retro appeal of WRATH. It’s built in the original Quake engine, and as a result, it moves and controls incredibly fast, but the focus is on swapping through your arsenal for the most effective tool for the job at any given moment. You can fly through levels and unload ammo onto skeletons, demons, and aliens, but the point is to approach each encounter effectively and efficiently, rather than through pure aggression. Hands down the most responsive game I played at PAX East.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes (PS4, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
The studio that made one of 2017’s best games is bringing it back for a tactics spin-off. It’s still very early, so some of the assets were borrowed wholesale from Divinity 2 and parts of the UI were incomplete. Still, the level I played was enough to grock what Larian Studios is trying to do, which is: dive deeper into some of the series’ systems and world by focusing on discrete battles connected by a choice-driven narrative. Everything, from units to items, can be acquired through completing objectives and advancing the story based on particular choices, so there’s no grinding. Instead of overpowering enemies, the point is to outsmart them by weaving together a complex cascade of elemental attacks and effects based on each unique environment. I’m really excited for this one.
Panzer Paladin (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, TBD)
I had no idea Tribute Games, the small indie studio behind Mercenary Kings and, most recently, Flinthook, was working on something new until I stumbled upon Panzer Paladin on the showfloor. You play as a warrior piloting a mech suit and explore 8-bit inspired side-scrolling dungeons full of enemies that look like they came straight out of Zelda II. Throughout this process, you pick up tons of weapons that can be wielded, thrown, or even broken to release special magic attacks. In the short time that I messed around with this mechanic, my imagination lit up with all the interesting possibilities for making a retro-Zelda game play more like Mega Man.
Aye Captain (TBD)
You’re a pirate commanding a small galleon on the high seas, which are ruled over by a malevolent empire. Everything is procedurally generated, with a map that can be explored in real time from an overhead camera angle. You swap into tactics gameplay whenever you run into another ship and decide you want to kill its crew and take everything they’ve got. Before every encounter, you take part in a short conversation during which you can choose whether to try and escape if the enemy is too strong, bombard them with your cannons first, or negotiate with them for mutual gain. I’m not big on the art style, which is just a hair away from going full-blown Captain Crunch at times, but the role-playing systems and tactical gameplay all felt deep and well thought-out.
Hundreds of PAX East attendees crowded around a small stage in the expo hall last Saturday afternoon to see if Seth, one of the top-ranked Smash players in Chicago, could keep his team alive in Nintendo’s North America Open against his opponent Poltergust. As both players deployed deadly items and Final Smash attacks, the hall blew up with shock and cheers until Poltergust eventually edged Seth out. The crowd erupted in applause, but for many diehard Smash fans, this wasn’t the tournament they’d wanted to see.
The event drew such a large crowd that some gave up on trying to watch from the show floor and instead walked up to the sky bridge overlooking the stage and watched through the glass walls. A few attendees had brought camping chairs. Others sat on the ground with their legs crossed, some of them playing Smash Bros. Ultimate on their Switches during the tournament’s commercial breaks. Almost all of them seemed confused by the setup. Smash Balls? Assist Trophies? Team battles? I overhead a few people mocking the rules, but they stayed and watched nonetheless, “Ohhh-ing” and “Ahh-ing” with everyone else. One of the vocal non-believers still screamed “That was savage!” in awe every 30 seconds.
Nintendo announced its North America Open tournament on January 22. At first, fans were excited. Then, they read the actual rules, and the news became the latest flashpoint in the Smash community’s ongoing debate over how its competitive scene should grow and evolve. Many had been waiting for a long time to see Nintendo take a more active role in shaping and supporting competitive Smash, but the North America Open, the first Smash Ultimate tournament hosted by Nintendo since the game released, wasn’t what some had had in mind.
Rather than gaining entry into the finals by performing in local events, players had to compete for spots through a series of online qualifiers. The PAX East finals had an unusual format, too. Instead of matches being one-on-one, the finals would feature four teams of three players, each team representing a region of the US. These teams would compete in a series of Squad Strike battles in which each side would go into a match with roster of three fighters at one life each. Most blasphemous of all (at least, for hardcore competitive Smash fans), the matches would have items and Smash Balls turned on, which could potentially provide some players with big advantages if they were simply enough to scoop up a powerful item or ultimate attack before their opponent.
Fans voiced their surprise and confusion in the comments under the Nintendo Versus Twitter account’s announcement of the tournament, as well as on a thread sharing the news posted on the Smash Bros. subreddit. “This is a joke, right?” wrote one person on Twitter. “Do they not know the tournament standard?” wrote another on Reddit. Others were more open to the ruleset, seeing it as a way to appeal to a broader audience and even finding the prospect of Squad Strike grand finals enticing, but many still took issue with Nintendo’s approach. “Items are fun. Final smashes are fun. Differing formats offer unique experiences,” wrote a player on Twitter. “But given how long [Nintendo] has ignored our community, it hurts when they won’t use the ruleset widely agreed to be the most competitive.”
DTFaux was one of the players to come up through this system. A 28-year-old based in Virginia, he’s played Smash Bros. for two decades now, but had never been to a tournament on the scale of the North America Open until now. He almost didn’t make it, too, failing to enter the first round of the qualifiers due to an administrative error and then losing in the finals of the second wave. On his third try, however, he managed to go all the way and win a spot on the Northeast team.
“I would say—personally, I can’t speak for anyone else—there’s room in the community to allow all different types of tournaments, even if it’s not the usual kind that the majority of the community might like,” DTFaux told Kotaku during a phone interview. “It gives multiple people a chance to shine.”
Though DTFaux has participated in a dozen or so local tournaments, he said he was never an aspiring pro player, just someone in love with the game in all of its forms. In a way, he’s the ideal sort of player for a hybrid event like the North America Open, offering a bridge between a rarified scene dominated by top-tier players and the game as every passionate but casual fan has experienced it in their own home.
“If the people agree to play by those rules then they have to expect that,” he said. “They can get salty, but if they agree to play by that then they have to accept the results.”
Smash players have spent decades analyzing, debating, and refining the competitive rulesets used for most premier tournaments in order to try and remove randomness from the equation. Smash Balls and items are seen as anathema to that, as well as certain stages that strongly favor some fighters over others.
In some pivotal moments, Saturday’s tournament showed why. In the first round of the bracket, Northeast played Northwest on Gerudo Valley, a stage where it’s easy to knock opponents off the sides of the screen. Early on, a player named Mystic was fortunate enough to pick up a Gust Bellows item. This allowed him to simply blow his opponent, Seth, off the stage, putting Northwest ahead in the set that would eventually end up sending Seth’s team down into the lower bracket.
D’Ron “D1″ Maingrette, a Smash Bros. Community Manager on Twitch and a longtime caster, told Kotaku at the event that it’s moments like these that make him hope Nintendo adopts more standard rulesets for at least some of its tournaments in the future. “If you really want me to be 100% real, just [use] our rule set, that’s it,” he said. “We do so much already behind the scenes when it comes to figuring out what helps eliminate random wins. It’s not like we’re try-hards, we just want to eliminate any factors that can make someone feel robbed of a win.”
Despite making it to the North America Open grand finals with items turned on, Seth agreed that items can undermine the spirit of fair competition. “In a lot of my matches, I felt I was unlucky because my opponent would have stage control thanks to items spawning in favor of them,” he told Kotaku in an email. “I think all my opponents were skilled, but the outcome of the sets certainly could have been different without items changing the pace of games.”
Smash Balls are another point of contention. First introduced into the series in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a Smash Ball is a special item that spawns at random and hovers around the stage until a player manages to break it. The player who does so then starts to glow and, after a button press, they can unleash an ultimate attack called a Final Smash. The random nature of the Smash Ball plays into the series’ party game origins and cuts against its more traditional fighting game elements.
“If there was a way to make Final Smashes where if you threw it out and got punished for it and it was super risky, so that when they actually do land, it’s insanely exciting, it would be a lot more fun,” Austylavista, a Smash Bros. esports commentator told Kotaku in an interview. “But right now, as it stands with a lot of final smashes, people don’t have to think, they can just use B and probably get a kill.”
He contrasted that with moments in Saturday’s tournament during which talent and knowledge helped make a Final Smash deadlier than it otherwise might have been. At one point during the finals, John Numbers, a 2015 Nintendo World Champion playing for Northeast as Wii Fit Trainer, managed to blast his opponent off stage, even though his Final Smash had been launched in the opposite direction. That’s because there’s a small range from which the attack can hit from behind, which Numbers was able to deploy to corner his opponent. The crowd exploded when they saw Numbers’ gambit was successful. His victory in that moment was both exciting to watch and, also, felt earned.
While the event didn’t seem to convince anyone that Nintendo’s ruleset was superior to the hardcore Smash community’s, it helped open up space for both to evolve. “I think it was a fun tournament to watch, but if you’re going to talk about more serious prize pools, you don’t want people to be able to say ‘Oh, he only [won] cause of X,’ you want it to just be ‘He was the better player,’” said Richard Corey, a Smash fan who had watched the event live and talked to me on the show floor afterwards. He and his friend, Ben Rudy, said they were used to traditional Smash tournaments, but after watching the North America Open, they both said they wouldn’t mind seeing Squad Strike tried out more in those other settings. “I don’t think it’s necessarily uncompetitive,” Corey said. “I think the team that won [today] had really good players and played really well.”
One thing they didn’t want to see ever come back were items, especially Assist Trophies. “The Assist Trophies are just so random on top of random,” said Corey [or Ben idk]. The player who gets this item never knows what AI-controlled ally they’ll be blessed with. The Nightmare trophy, for example, causes the entire screen to go dark, which happened at one point during Saturday’s tournament and wasn’t fun for anyone, including the audience.
The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate World Championship tournament is set to take place in June in the run-up to E3. Southeast, the winners of the North America Open, will represent the US at the event, but the company hasn’t yet disclosed what the ruleset will be. Whatever the rules end up being, players are still waiting for Nintendo to take its involvement beyond these exhibition tournaments and finally sponsor something like an official circuit, or at least a national tour—especially given the blockbuster status of the Switch and Smash Ultimate at the moment. Even with its unusual format, the North America Open still drew some of the biggest crowds at PAX East by far. Clearly, fans want to watch high-level Smash.
“In that one trailer where they revealed the Switch, they had the stadium and all that stuff, it kind of made people dream about that and think ‘Oh, this could actually happen,’” said Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada, one of the best players to come out of the Smash Bros. Wii U era, at PAX East. “It hasn’t happened yet, but it doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen.”
On its 25th anniversary, Windjammers is finally getting a sequel. But despite a new art-style and slightly more complex gameplay, the studio behind Windjammers 2 said it wants to stay as true to the pure joy and simplicity found in the original.
I played the game for half an hour at PAX East, and while the show floor was packed with people, it was easy to get lost in the loud electronic sounds, flashing neon colors, and twitchy action of DotEmu’s modern take on Ice Hockey meets 90s arcade brawler.
The original Windjammers was created by Data East for the Neo Geo in 1994 and was recently re-released on PS4, Vita, and Switch. In it, two players fling a glowing disc back and forth trying to get it to hit the other’s net. The disc speeds up with each throw until someone eventually scores. The disc can bounce off walls as well as be tossed up into the air forcing the other player to come out of their net to catch it. Different characters have different strengths and weaknesses but otherwise, that’s it. Decades later the formula still works, but the game executing it has clearly aged.
Windjammers 2 is an attempt to excavate that infinitely satisfying loop and give it a fresh coat of paint and a few new bells and whistles, with emphasis on “few.”
Rather than go recreate the pixel art of the original, Jordi Asensio, one of the game’s developers, told Kotaku DotEmu wanted to do something a little different to make the sequel stand out from a lot of the retro-remakes going around. So instead, the team opted for a new look inspired by the original game’s arcade cabinet art. Still colorful and fluid, the new hand-drawn style looks crisp in HD while still playing into the bright, beachy, laid-back aesthetic of the first game.
The biggest new addition to gameplay revolves around an EX meter players can build up during a match. Using it deploys a special power shot that’s different for each character, sometimes sending the disc whizzing by in elliptical orbits while other times snaking around in a series of 90 degree turns reminiscent of Centipede. There are also new types of reverse shots that add provide a few more tools for dealing with what your opponent throws at you.
The leap reminded me of going from Street Fighter II to Street Fighter III. It’s frantic but snappy, and even standing at a booth amid a mass of thousands, I still got bit by that “just one more match” bug.
“It’s Windjammers but it’s more fast-paced than the original,” Asensio said. “Not by speed but because you have more moves you have more decisions to make in the same amount of time.” There are still some open questions like how the game will handle on Switch (I demoed the game on PC), especially with the Joy-Con since local coop is a big part of the game’s appeal. Robust online play is another important feature that I wasn’t able to test out. Even the smallest bit of extra lag could make the game incredibly frustrating to play.
“We actually tried to play Windjammers on an old CRT and it’s even better because you have no lag,” said Asensio. “Today you have lag with the Bluetooth controller, with the internet connection, and with the monitor—you have a lot of frames of lag. In the old system, the arcade, you are connected to the game, you’re really moving transistors when you move. It’s like an electron cannon that is bombarding your brain through your eyes.”
His hope is DotEmu can bring as much of the magic of the original arcade experience, from the cabinet art to the lightning-quick responsiveness, to a new generation. There’s no set release date yet beyond this year, but Asensio said the team plans to start testing Windjammers 2 with some of the best old-school Windjammer players by this summer.
“I’m a little worried,” I overhear someone say while we wait in line for Bethesda’s fan event at PAX East. “There’s a live Q&A.”
The line-waiter was talking about an upcoming panel discussion with some of Fallout 76’s developers, including director Todd Howard. But the live panel came and came and went without incident. No one asked awkward questions. No one heckled. No one threw a plastic Fallout 76 bag loaded with rotten tomatoes at the developers. Whatever people on the internet might say about Fallout 76, or Bethesda in the wake of its terrible launch, the fans at Bethesda’s Game Days event haven’t lost faith.
“From what I heard, it sounds like they’re making Fallout 76 into a game I actually want to play,” Nadav Kolodner, a fan and modder of previous Fallout games told Kotaku at the event while sitting at the bar. He abandoned the game after only playing for around six hours the weekend the game launched and doesn’t remember the period fondly.
“People were crashing servers, and taking game-breaking items and bringing them into starter areas, and setting off nukes that blew up the whole map to crash servers,” he said. Kolodner was referencing an incident from the first weekend when a number of players who had reached the end-game from playing during the beta period crashed the server they were on by launching too many nukes at once.
“I was online when that happened and that was not a fun experience,” he said. People were like, ‘Oh, that was so cool,’ and for the people who did it that was a pretty cool thing, but for me as someone who had just started the game it was kind of like, ‘Oh, everything is frozen, my game is crashing.’”
Kolodner, like a bunch of people, was turned off by how unstable Fallout 76 was when it launched, and all of the disparities between the vision Howard had shared on stage at Bethesda’s E3 press event and the actual experience people were able to play.
“When a studio comes out and they say that a game is going to be one of the greatest they’ve ever made, when they say it’s going to be open world, when they say it’s not going to be broken, that it’ll be balanced, and we’re going to be able to have hours and hours of fun and you’re going to be able to have this occupy maybe a year of play time, and then it comes out and it’s a buggy mess and servers are crashing and they didn’t iron any of this out in the beta, then it’s just kind of puzzling to me,” he said.
This is the second year that Bethesda has hosted a fan event adjacent to PAX East. Across the street from the Boston Convention And Exhibition Center, a motley collection of gamers descends on an Irish pub and the comedy theater above it to pay homage to the company responsible for some of the best open world role-playing games ever made. Or to play the hands-on demos for Rage 2. And in some cases, just to snag the free T-shirts Bethesda gives out. There’s also free booze and food for anyone who happens to show up, which is part of why the event attracts a line that snakes out into the lobby of the adjoining hotel.
Whether it’s the Fallout and Elder Scrolls-themed cocktails or the piles of hamburger sliders and baked macaroni sun-bathing beneath pale heat lamps, the people I talked to inside were, for the most part, all onboard with what Bethesda is doing with Fallout 76 going forward. Those plans, best summarized in a year-long roadmap that Bethesda released in February, revolve around rolling out timed seasonal events, slowly adding new gameplay features, and eventually introducing dungeons, four-player raids, and more story content.
In the over 100 days since it came out, Fallout 76 has received seven numbered patches and plenty of hotfixes. Some have improved stability and removed bugs, while others have done just the opposite. The latest updates have also been adding new content, though, which has given players something more positive to focus on. In the update titled Wild Appalachia, the highlight so far has been the Fasnacht Parade, a time-limited event where players teamed up on the main street of Helvetia to take down a legendary sloth and earn rare masks. It’s brought people together in a way the game’s existing public events and end-game nukes hadn’t. It’s also shown that the Fallout 76 experience can meaningfully evolve from whereit began.
“It doesn’t really force you to do any teaming up,” said another player, Jaime Galvin, explaining the reasons he fell off the game. “You’re kind of just doing a solo game with other people there.”
Galvin came to the event with his friend Derek Tee, who said he sees events like Fasnacht as a way out of that. “If it’s meaningful in the world in some way and has other players coming together for a common goal, I see that as a good option,” he said.
The loneliness in the game goes beyond just the options for engaging with other players, though. Everyone I spoke with at the event was also desperate for Bethesda to add non-player characters to the world.
“I’d prefer NPCs instead of just little robots everywhere,” said Rachel King, who has put over 100 hours into the game. “The other Fallout games, I got really into the story. This game, if I didn’t have a group to play with, I probably wouldn’t be playing anymore.”
Michael Southwell, who arrived to the event decked out in a faux-leather Fallout 76 jacket, agreed. “I think if they just add more stuff to do, more NPCs,” he said. “When you listen to the radios or the holo tapes, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I want to know this person,” but then it’s either they’re dead or they’re a robot or something.”
The panel discussion at PAX East made him more confident about the future of the game, he said.. “I think the fact that they’re acknowledging that it’s been a bumpy road—like, a really bumpy road—they’re not just like, ‘Oh, whatever, we’ll get past it.’ They’re actually paying attention and listening,” he said. “That makes me feel a lot better.” Southwell said he was talking specifically about a moment early in the panel discussion, when director Howard talked about the game’s “ups and downs.” For the Bethesda diehards, that’s apparently enough.
Another fan, Jessica Kelley, said she is so happy with where Fallout 76 has gotten to after its rough start that she’s started spending more money on it. Her first big spend was upgrading her account to the $80 Tricentennial Edition, which netted her the celebratory Vault Boy saluting emote.
While Kelley agrees that the beta could have gone on longer and things could have been handled better, she wouldn’t have wanted Bethesda to delay the game to fix its issues..
“I think if it was released now, people wouldn’t have been as upset, but I think you’re always going to have a vocal minority that are going to be very loud and very angry about things they didn’t like,” she said.
For Kelley, it’s been a great experience, despite the bugs. “I’ve met more women in this game than I have in any other game,” she said. “How crazy is that? It’s like The Sims with murder.”
Shirley Curry, the 82-year-old grandmother and YouTuber known for her Skyrim videos, will make an appearance in The Elder Scrolls VI. Bethesda will use photogrammetry technology to scan the legendary Skyrim enthusiast and add her to the game.
Bethesda revealed new information about the technology behind The Elder Scrolls VI today at PAX East during the Elder Scrolls 25th Anniversary Panel. In a video about the series, the company explained their planned use of photogrammetry technology, which can take scans of real-life objects and translate them into high detail 3D. This will be used for the game’s environments, and similar scanning technology will be used to add “Grandma Shirley” to the game as a character.
“This means a lot to me,” Curry says in the video. “Because I would be extremely happy to know that somebody else was playing with my character in a future Elder Scrolls game.”
Curry boasts 483,000 subscribers on YouTube, where she posts Let’s Plays of Skyrim and speaks to her viewers through vlogs. Curry confirmed her addition to The Elder Scrolls VI on Twitter, where she also showed off a tee shirt she received visiting Bethesda’s studios, saying:
“Well, since they made the announcement today about me, as a character in the next TES game …I can show my favorite thing I brought away with me!!!”
It’s a pretty nice tee-shirt.
We don’t really know much about when The Elder Scrolls VI will release but eagle-eyed fans will have to look out for Curry, whose specific role is also unknown. She might end up as a tough bandit, but I’ll guess that she’s a friendly adventurer with sagely wisdom to impart.
Cyber Shadow is a retro-looking action platformer that that looks beautiful and controls just as tightly. There have been a lot of those recently, like The Messenger, which channeled Ninja Gaiden, as well as Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon, a mini-ode to classic Castlevania. Cyber Shadow isn’t entirely original in that regard, but based on two of the stages I played here at PAX East in Boston it’s as good as any of them.
You play as a ninja trying to rescue the rest of his clan from a master-race of robots that’s harvesting them for their ancient, mystical ninja powers. Using a sword, your jumping prowess, and special ninja abilities acquired from destructible objects littered throughout the world you navigate a series of stages that play like a mixtape rather than one-to-one homages of some classic games. There are elements of 8-bit Ninja Gaiden, some Mega Man and the snaking paths and occasional backtracking of a Castlevania.
Here is our hands-on with Cyber Shadow, transmitted from PAX East back to Kotaku HQ
There’s also an industrial, sci-fi edge to it all. The side-scrolling backgrounds depict cities ravaged by the uncompromising march of artificial intelligence. Robots fused to the environment fill corridors with deadly plasma blasts. While Cyber Shadow’s presentation and feel are dripping with nostalgia, its world is brought vibrantly to life thanks to the detail and effects afforded by modern hardware.
Aarne “MekaSkull” Hunziker, the game’s creator, told Kotaku in an interview that there are other influences as well, including Batman on the NES whose bold, black-based backgrounds sit in strong contrast to more colorful contemporaries. Cyber Shadow is a passion project for Hunziker, what he called “a gift to myself.” While Yacht Club Games, makers of Shovel Knight, are publishing the game and assisting with QA testing, the only other people involved are composer Enrique Martin and sound producer Jake Kaufman.
Hunziker said he started his journey into making games by hacking ROMs, manipulating the visuals of classic games to transform them into something familiar but new. He then set out to make his own game seven years ago, only to scrap it four years later and start coding what would eventually become Cyber Shadow from scratch. Even when things were finally coming together there were times he felt like bailing.
“There were a couple weeks where I was like, this isn’t going to go anywhere,” he said. “Doing it alone and the scope of the game, I just had some weeks where I was only 20 percent done and thinking about the years I still had left to do it.”
I was only able to play two stages during my demo, but during that time it certainly felt like that time has paid off. While elements of the gameplay, like expending magic points to throw shurikens or breaking a lamp to pick up a new fire ball ability, have a clear and obvious lineage, the world they play out in feels distinct and fleshed out, despite how rarely I was able to directly interact with it.
The gameplay isn’t shallow either. At the end of the demo, with no introduction, I was thrust into a fight with a cyborg ninja dual-wielding an assault rifle and a katana. Even without any narrative dressing, the stakes were palpable, and the encounter took on an interesting arc of its own as I realized the a fiery ball of light orbiting my character could be manipulated like a yo-yo by timing my movement and attacks correctly. Rather than fighting the cyborg head-on I was able to rip him apart by dodging his other attacks. For the most part. I was able to take him within an inch of his life before dying myself.
Hunziker said almost every little thing in the game has some significance to him. A series of antenna towers that appear in the background at one point aren’t just part of the general, post-industrial aesthetic that permeates the game but one of the tools its AI-based creatures use to communicate with one another, at least according to the more detailed fiction presiding over Cyber Shadow in Hunziker’s mind.
The game doesn’t have a release date yet but it is planned for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.