Category Archives: Game Previews

The Falconeer First-Look Preview – PC

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure to be playing an early build of Tomas Sala’s upcoming game, The Falconeer, and I have to say I am very impressed.  I really had no idea what to expect going into this; perhaps a twisted version of actual falconry where handlers were weaponizing their birds?  I had no idea the falcons in this game were of mythical scale, the size of the fabled Roc from Middle-Eastern culture.  Marco Polo even wrote about these mammoth creatures, and yes, in The Falconeer your bird is large enough to saddle and support a passenger.

I’ll get this out of the way at the start.  This game could have just as easily been designed with dragons, dragon riders, breath weapons, and all the medieval trappings, so I want to applaud the designer on creating something truly unique and special here.  Let’s take off…

My preview copy had a prologue and the first few chapters of the game which offered a surprising amount of content.  There are already cutscenes, narration, and hours of professionally recorded voiceovers for a variety of characters including your spunky wingman – more on him in a bit.  The prologue sets up the story of you engaging in a performance test to prove you are worthy to be in the service of the Empress; a slick way to hide the tutorial that will teach you just about everything you need to know to play the game.

You control your falcon with the left stick and pan the camera with the right.  Buttons and triggers handle dashing, evasive rolls, and firing your electrical weapon.  It’s pretty basic stuff but nicely designed so you are instantly comfortable flying and fighting, plus the way the missions are designed you are eased into the more difficult aspects of gameplay the more you play.  You’ll learn to dive and rebuild stamina so you can pull off dash and roll moves and you’ll learn how to fly through electrical storms to recharge the batteries on your back that power the electric lance.  Oddly enough, they never did teach me about diving down to catch red and blue fish to eat them and replenish my health and stamina; had to figure that out myself and it’s super-useful.  You’ll earn money after each mission that can be spent on upgrades needed for future assignments.

Each chapter offers a home base with multiple NPC’s offering up a variety of missions and challenges as well as an item vendor where you can purchase assorted upgrades for your bird like weapons, armor, and mutagens that will boost your attributes like speed and agility.  There is a nice selection of mission types like patrol, combat, delivery, salvage, bounty, escort, and minesweeping, and sometimes these will combo like one mission where you had to salvage an item then deliver it to another island.  Every chapter has a primary list of missions along with challenges and even races.  The longer missions will often have you traveling with a wingman that you can command with a button press to attack your target.  He’s surprisingly useful and not just a distraction.

Speaking of islands, The Great Ursee is basically one massive body of water with all sorts of islands scattered about; some big enough to build a city and others too small to land.  Opening up the world map was a jaw-dropping experience just seeing the sheer scale of the world and the endless potential for adventures.  A smaller window to this map can be found in the mini-map which also shows your flight path and nearby wind currents.  Tailwinds will boost your speed while waterspouts will send you high into the clouds.  Electrical storms are also shown on the map and useful if you need to recharge during a mission, but don’t overcharge or you will explode.  There are over 60 discoverable locations and activities scattered about the world map, so there is no shortage of things to do between missions, and you are always free to simply take off and explore.

The look and feel of the game is surreal; almost like a 70’s album cover came to life.  The Falconeer isn’t going for photorealism, so the water may look simplified and the polygon count for the rocky islands might be average but that doesn’t matter in this hybrid world of Steampunk pirates and quasi-Vikings all trapped in some ancient mythical universe.  What truly stands out is the color and lighting and how they interact with the clouds and water.  I’d stack these clouds up against Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator game.  There is a day/night cycle with gorgeous shifts in color and light including some breathtaking sunsets and sunrises and when the stars come out at night it’s magical.  The game is loaded with subtle details including some fantastic bird and other creature models, interesting Steampunk airships, and boats, and some unique city designs integrated into what almost looks like procedurally generated landmasses.  Even the air currents are visually represented so you can aim toward them or avoid as needed.  I appreciated the minimal HUD as well as the ability to remove or add back just parts of the interface such as the compass and mini-map.  There is even a Photo Mode if you want to capture and share a moment.

Sadly, my biggest complaint with the game, at least in this current preview build is that it is just too difficult and combat is simplistic and boring.  I was immediately reminded of playing Ace Combat or just about any other flight combat game only in this game you don’t have rockets and sidewinders.  This is pretty much dogfighting, which was always the weakest part of those games and certainly is here too.  You’re constantly trying to aim for the erratic circle lead indicator and if it ever stops long enough for you to get off some shots it also means you are in their sights as well.  At least there is a generous aim assist in place, but even after 30+ missions I never scored higher than a 23% hit percentage. Combat is an endless cycle of circling each other, braking to let them fly through your crosshair, and spiraling away before they shoot back.  Thankfully there is a target camera lock that you can press to keep your enemy in view during these twisty combat maneuvers. You can also target lock ground/water targets, which makes it much easier to fly over and drop bombs or make cool strafing runs.  I’m really hoping they somehow tighten up the combat system or at least expand upon it in some meaningful way.  The Falconeer is so conceptually brilliant in every other facet I hate to see it ruined by tedious and repetitive aerial combat.

Picking the right bird for the job can help with combat and so can equipping the right cocktail of mutagens to boost those stats.  Obviously HP and the ability to regenerate HP are going to be important.  I’m not sure if the difficulty is going to get balanced better.  As it stands in the current build I had to lower the difficulty to Easy to get past the missions in the first chapter.  There also needs to be mid-mission checkpoints, as some missions are extremely long (20+ minutes) and if you die you start completely over.  The mystical death narration and having to click through missions briefings again is also annoying.

One thing that would be cool is a falcon vision mode that would highlight important objects like schools of fish or the numerous bits of salvage you are supposed to pick up.  I spent nearly ten minutes looking for a bit of salvage I had already located because it was the same color as the water and it was bobbing up and down beneath the surface.  At least let me lock onto the object like an enemy so I have a target to aim for.  Thankfully, the floating mines have flashing lights on them, which is great for me but wouldn’t that defeat their purpose; easy to spot and avoid.

Aside from a few minor nitpicks The Falconeer is shaping up to be one of the more original and challenging games coming out this November.  If you love flight combat games, especially those with an emphasis on dogfighting, then this game definitely has that Red Baron feel to it only now you are flying a giant bird fighting off crazy pirates as you try to rebuild your kingdom in some insanely hostile conditions.  The sheer scale of the world along with the variety of mission designs, activities, and collectibles should keep you flying high until next year.

We’ll be back with a full review of the final game in November.

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The Vale: Shadow of the Crown Preview – PC

Usually, when a game is being reviewed or discussed, one of the first things that it is judged by is the graphics. Some might argue that there are exceptions to this, such as with retro-style games where the graphics are less of a focus. I would argue that in games like that, the intentional choice of using a retro style is just as much of a design choice as hyper-realism. But what about a game that is designed, essentially from the ground up, as an audio-only game? The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is a game that is not only designed around the core concept of being a blind-accessible game, but where the main character herself is blind. The gameplay is focused entirely around audio cues and sound design to create the sensation of moving through a world that you cannot see.

From the moment you boot up The Vale, it is apparent that it was designed to be able to be played by someone who is visually impaired. While there is a graphical menu, each option is also voiced when you highlight it, allowing you to navigate the entire game without using your eyes.

Once you start a game, your screen will be mostly black with only some slowly shifting motes of light, almost like dust particles. These are the only “graphics” of the entire game. They will sometimes change color (blue during a night-time scene, for example) or move (early on, your character slides down a river embankment and the motes shift up to convey the sensation of falling), but otherwise, the entire experience is through sound. Also, these visual cues are so unimportant that you can easily play the game without being able to see the screen and have the same experience. In fact, there were times while playing that I found myself closing my eyes in order to truly immerse myself in the game as it was meant to be experienced.

The interface of the game is entirely through the keyboard or by using a controller. The controls are fairly simple. You can turn your character left and right, move forward and back, and then you can attack in front, to your left, or to your right. Power attacks become available as you progress, as well. You also have the ability to block attacks, use a bow, and use magic once you gain favor with the fae.

So, since there is no way to judge the game on its visual merit, it comes down to judging it on its other qualities. At the time of this report, while the game is still being completed for its official release, I would have to say that the voice acting and audio quality is superb. Since it is ultimately imperative that you be able to detect where others are using only visual cues, the binaural design is essential to the success and playability of the game. I felt that there was never an issue for me to be able to determine the direction or source of a sound while I was playing the game. Also, the acting is very well done, conveying character and emotion from each unique character. Using sound queues like the crunch of earth, or the shifting of leather or metal, you are able to figure out what the people around you are doing, whether they are a threat to you or not, etc.

Not often do games come along that give you the opportunity to experience a world in a truly unique way. The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is a unique experience and one that I am very excited to experience in full once it is complete and released.

Add to your Steam wishlist today.

Everspace 2 (Prototype Build) – First Impressions

Everspace 2 is currently in a prototype phase on Steam and I was fortunate enough to get a very early sneak peek into the game and take it for a test spin.  The original Everspace came out in 2017 and met with very positive reviews. It was a unique approach to the roguelike genre of games, providing the player with a first- or third-person perspective to explore a highly detailed and intense star system.

This second installment in the series looks to be shaping up to take all the things that were great about the first and improve upon them for an even better, more intense, and more enjoyable experience than the first.  The controls of your ship are fluid and immersive, allowing you to fly in all six degrees of space, giving you plenty of tactical choices when going up against the ever-increasing amount of enemy ships that you will face in your quest.

As you progress, you will be awarded experience points and credits which you can use to improve your ship through new weapons, equipment, and abilities. There are many different types of weapons that are available in the game, which will have different types of damage output to shields and armor. Some weapons will do a lot of damage to shields while doing very little damage to armor and others are the opposite. Finding the right balance to put into the weapon slots on your ship is quite a fun part of the game. There are also secondary weapons like homing missiles and mines, as well as various components that you can upgrade, like your boosters or your armor plating, which will help you survive encounters more easily.

The visuals are absolutely stunning. Bright glowing engines streak across the sky trailed by blazing bolts of laser beams or streaks of tracers from gatling guns. Explosions are epic and devastating. And it is all set on the backdrop of the stunning system that you have the freedom to explore as you wish. There are massive ringed planets that will take up a majority of your view with breathtaking color palettes and tones. Also, there are massive structures like space stations and asteroid fields that give you plenty of variety in what you can use as cover during battles or just have fun flying through and around as you go. There is also the ability to fly down on planetary surfaces, which adds a whole different feel to exploration of the environments available in the game.

Scale is something that many space games struggle with. It’s hard to convey the size of things in space, apparently. But, one thing that I found while playing the Everspace 2 prototype was that it seemed to do a wonderful job of conveying the varying sizes of things. Big stations and capital ships felt huge compared to my single-seat fighter. Asteroids seemed to be immense, and planets really felt like planets…giant looming things, not just little orbs floating in space.

Everywhere you fly you will come across things to gather up from ore that is deposited in random asteroids to floating chests full of random loot to gather and either use to upgrade or sell for cold hard cash. Also, destroying enemy ships allows you to loot them for their leftovers as well.

I felt that the game, in its current state, was already very well polished and provided a fairly intuitive difficulty curve. It was challenging without feeling overwhelming.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the game is like upon its initial early access release which is slated toward the end of 2020 and can only imagine what it will look like once it’s ready for full release.

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Wasteland 3 (Beta) – First Impressions

I recall when Wasteland 2 came out in 2014, it was surrounded by the hype of being the Fallout sequel that we deserved, but never got. I had never had the pleasure of playing the original Wasteland back in the ‘80’s, but I did mess around with Fallout and Fallout 2 enough to see how adjacent the two franchises had begun. Then Fallout 3 went in the direction of a first person perspective RPG adventure with a stronger emphasis on the shooter genre.

The Wasteland games have maintained the top down strategic gameplay design of the original, while expanding on the concepts of cause and effect and the ripple effects of hard choices. Wasteland 3 is planning on doing that in spades. In the introductory portion of the beta demo that I was given access to, there are so many choices and variables that get introduced, even from the beginning, that it is obvious how much of a branching storyline the game will have. Choices really matter in these games, which is not something you see very often anymore. Even in Fallout 3 and 4 it seemed that choice was merely an illusion, that no matter which path you took, you’d end up in largely the same place.

In Wasteland 3, even seemingly small choices can have major repercussions later in the game and they are often presented in such a way that there is no obvious “right” or “wrong” answer. Many times, you just have to go with your gut and find out later whether or not it was a good decision. Sometimes, you may never know for sure.

Adding to the complexity of these spider-webbing effects that these choices have, Wasteland 3 is being designed to be able to be played with a friend using online co-op. This fact alone is exciting enough, but the plan is not to make this just a game that you play through with a friend, experiencing the same events side-by-side. No. Instead, the design idea is to create an asynchronous experience, allowing both players to experience the game together, but in their own way. Each player leads their own squad of rangers and can choose to accompany each other on the same missions, or divide their resources and take on two separate missions at once. The choices made by one player would then become a part of that world, which would then impact the experience of the other player, as well. I am very excited to see this first hand, as it sounds truly revolutionary to the genre as a whole.

The game itself plays similarly to its predecessor as far as the basic mechanics go. There is an Action Point economy that you use during combat dividing between movement and various attacks. There are many different characters, weapons, skills, perks, etc. that all add up to a very diverse combination of gameplay approaches to various situations, whether they are socially oriented, combat heavy, stealthy, or what have you.

The graphics have seen a decent improvement from Wasteland 2, and the focus of the new setting, Colorado, is on the icy cold wasteland instead of the arid desert of Arizona. The ice and snow effects are quite well done, and definitely convey a sense of bitter hopelessness at times. There are a few details that feel a little light, graphically, such as a noticeable lack of detailed shadows from the characters, but that is perhaps something that will get fine-tuned as the game gets closer to release.

Ultimately, a Ranger never gives up and fights against all odds. After getting to play through the introductory teaser portion of the game, I very much look forward to the full release in May and will probably be going back and playing through Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut again in the meantime.

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Hot Brass (Alpha) – First Impressions

Hot Brass is a game reminiscent of the SWAT series in its design and approach to scenarios, if you combined that game with the top-down perspective and control scheme of something like Hotline: Miami. The goal is not to kill everyone on the map. Instead, you have to go into the situation like a real SWAT officer, tasked with taking control of the scene. Your ultimate goal is to try and take everyone alive. Sometimes, those people will give up quickly and easily at the first sign of law enforcement. Other times, they’ll fight back, forcing you to have to come up with outside-the-box solutions to try and disarm them, or overwhelm them and convince them that there is no other option than to surrender. Sometimes, someone will decide that they’re not going to be taken alive and will leave you no choice but to return fire. But the way the game is designed, they really encourage you to try to find alternate solutions to each scenario than all out bloodshed.

One of the first things that you notice about Hot Brass is the simplified icon system used for representing the characters in the game. At first, I thought that would detract from the feel of the game. Seeing people as a mere icon that shows what they’re holding in their hands seemed to take away from the otherwise highly detailed nature of the rest of the game. After playing the game, I quickly realized that the icon system is a genius and masterfully designed way of relaying all of the pertinent information about the characters in the game to the player. The icons aren’t static, either. Instead, they are animated and will change depending on the events occurring around them. Surprisingly, this is a very effective way of showing the player exactly what is going on with very little chance for misinterpretation, which would have been much harder to execute using more realistic looking character models from a top down perspective.

In a game where split second decisions need to be made about whether or not to shoot a suspect based on their intentions, whether they are hostile or not, the icon system is an extremely intuitive way of showing the player the character’s subtly changing intentions in a quick, clear way. It takes only a little time to pick up on the subtleties of the system, but once you get the hang of it, you can very quickly determine the difference between someone who is merely holding a gun to someone who is intending on using the gun in a hostile manner toward the officers trying to control the scene.

This game is intense. It requires you to approach each situation from a very tactical mind-set. Sometimes, a suspect will attack if you give them the opportunity, but if you overwhelm them with surprise, they’ll surrender, allowing you to arrest them without having to use deadly force. You have the ability to shout at the suspects to get them to surrender, taze them if they resist, and handcuff them to keep them subdued while you clear the rest of the map.

Nearly every part of the environment is destructible, so if you go in with a breaching charge, you can blast holes in walls, or even shoot smaller holes in the walls with your guns, if you need to have a better angle on something going on in the next room. You can equip yourself with various tools that will help you in each scenario, as well. Arming yourself with night vision goggles on a map that is dark will obviously give you an advantage over the suspects on scene. You can use cameras to look under doors and get an idea of what’s waiting for you on the other side. The limit to the solutions available to you for each scenario is pretty much left to your imagination and the tools available to you at the time.

You can either play the game solo or with up to three other people to make a squad. It is extremely challenging to play the game solo, but definitely possible. Playing with others will allow you to work together to come at a room from multiple angles, or to have one person throw in a flashbang while the other breaks in through a window on the other side of the room, for example.

I am very excited to see how this game develops and looking forward to kicking down some more doors with other operators in the near future. For people who like games that require tactical thinking and problem solving and aren’t all about just killing all hostiles, Hot Brass is one to put on your Steam Wishlist

Close to the Sun First Impressions Preview – Xbox One

When you first load up Close to the Sun, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is a Bioshock clone. It’s not just the nautical setting that causes these comparisons, but even the art style and character models resemble the 2007 classic. There’s more than that here though, with inspiration also coming from games such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and even Alien: Isolation. At its heart, Close to the Sun is an atmospheric walking simulator with brief bursts of high intensity action, but it’s also a grab-bag of mechanics and visual design from a variety of well-regarded games released over the past fifteen years or so.

In Close to the Sun you play as the journalist Rose who, upon receiving a letter from her sister Ana, decides to take a trip to the mysterious Helios, a giant seafaring vessel run by Nikola Tesla, who offers a haven for the best scientists and thinkers of the age. As soon as you step on board the Helios, however, you realize that things aren’t exactly going to plan. There’s no-one in sight to greet you, for a start, and the documents that you’ll find early on are rife with paranoia, fearing the intrusion of spies and government interference aboard Tesla’s floating metropolis. There’s also a definite sense of foreboding, added to by the heavy clanking and whirring of Tesla’s machines, which give the Helios a definite steampunk aesthetic.

Close to the Sun is broken into chapters, with each taking place in a particular part of the Helios. The first few chapters, or at least those that I have so far experienced, aren’t especially long in terms of direct narrative, but there is a lot of exploration to do, and plenty of collectibles to pickup, some of which give further context to the main story, and some of which fill in blanks about the larger world of the game. So far, the story is intriguing, and unsurprisingly it feels as if there is plenty of mystery laying just below the surface of the main narrative, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the initial thrust of the story is soon moved aside for something far larger and far more dangerous than what I’m currently experiencing.

Close to the Sun has been available on PC since earlier in the year, but will be releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch on October 29th. From what I’ve played so far, I’m eager to dive back into the game, and I’m fascinated to see what Nikola Tesla and the Helios have waiting for me. So far I’ve had just enough of a vibe that all is not what it seems to get my brain ticking, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

Crookz – The Big Heist First Impressions Preview

I don’t know what it is about strategic, top-down heist games set in the ‘70’s recently, but this is my second one in a very short amount of time, the first being The Masterplan. Because of this, it was nearly impossibly for me to play Crookz – The Big Heist without drawing comparisons. There are some very big differences between the two games. The Masterplan is much grittier in most respects. The graphics, the interface, the way the heists play out, the game is much rougher, in both senses of the word.

Crookz is a much cleaner game. The graphics are 3D top down, as opposed to 2D from The Masterplan and they are a lot crisper. The interface is much cleaner, as well, making it a lot easier to get into in the beginning. I always felt, with The Masterplan that I wasn’t exactly sure if I was doing anything right. In Crookz, it is fairly clear when you do something right, and if you screw up badly enough, you just have to start the level over again. In The Masterplan, it was possible to completely fail a heist, but escape, and continue on.

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But, enough about the other game, let’s focus on Crookz, shall we? The game starts you off with a tutorial that walks you through all the basic commands and mechanics of the game. At first, it all seems rather overwhelming and confusing, until you actually start doing it and then you realize that it’s quite simple and approachable. You basically have an overview of the heist location and are able to point and click your various team-mates along routes using waypoints and action commands to get them to whatever the level’s objective is and then escape undetected.

While progressing you are in complete control of time, being able to pause whenever you want in order to adjust your plan or think something through in depth. It almost feels like playing a game of chess, where you’re encouraged to try and see a few moves ahead, but you can also get in there and micro-manage and go step by step. It would be entirely possible, also, to plan out every step each member would take ahead of time and then sit back and watch it all unfold with very little additional interface, which is pretty cool.

As I stated above, the basic storyline is pretty predictable, but I was able to get into enough that I didn’t care that I had a pretty good idea of where it was all going. And the voice acting is pretty amateurish, but again, it didn’t ruin the experience for me.

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You start each mission by setting up who you take with you for the score. Sometimes you have a choice and sometimes you don’t. Each person on your crew has a different ability. The team leader, a strong black female, is twice as fast as everyone else. One guy is a lockpick. Another guy is a technician and can operate computers and the like a lot better than everyone else. Another female crook is a contortionist and is able to fit into places that no one else can. And there are more. So, each heist has these different routes that are only accessible to one crew member or another and you have to work your way through, opening and closing doors, deactivating cameras and other security measures, avoiding patrolling guards or knocking them out, etc.

Upon completion of the level’s task, you are rated based on how long it took you to complete the mission, your level of detection, and any secondary loot drops you may have picked up along the way.

I have always liked strategy games that find a good mix between turn-based and real-time and giving you the ability to pause the game very easily at any time and adjust your plans while time is stopped is a very nice feature. I like being able to look at everything from all angles. Is it realistic? Probably not. But then again, if you were going to conduct a heist in real life, you’d probably spend a lot more time planning ahead of time, so maybe this makes up for that loss by not making you just figure it out on the fly while everything is moving around you. Either way, I felt like it was a nice solution. And when you hit play and watch everything you’ve plotted work exactly like you had imagined, it’s all the more satisfying.

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So, even though this is an early access preview of the game, I will say that I was very pleased with what I saw.   It is a solid, enjoyable, strategy-based heist game with a fun atmosphere. I think that people who enjoy this genre of game will be pleasantly surprised, as well.

Pro’s – Simple to learn interface for a surprisingly challenging strategy game set in the very groovy ‘70’s time period. Each level is like a puzzle that can be solved in a few different ways. Coming up with the best solution is rewarding.

Con’s – The voice acting is pretty bad. The storyline is predictable. But it doesn’t take away from the gameplay. In fact, there is part of me that thinks they did the voice acting badly on purpose to fit with heist movies from that era, but who knows?

If you want to see the game in action you can check out my

First Impression Twitch Stream video. 

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Into the Stars – First Impressions Preview

This preview article is based on the version 0.02 build of this game, which is, as is obvious by its version name, in very early development. I hesitate to be too critical of any features at this early a stage in development, so I will refrain from making too bold a judgment of this game until release.

When I first heard about Into the Stars, it was described to me as a better-looking Faster Than Light. I have played FTL. I liked it. I like the types of games that have a basic concept, but that give you enough freedom and randomization that no two playthroughs are exactly the same. I like the concept of a game that isn’t afraid of killing you and making you start over from the beginning. I also like games that take place on spaceships. So, Into the Stars was a logical choice for me to immediately cozy on up to and smile longingly, hoping for the best.

The similarities between FTL and Into the Stars are readily apparent, but I also feel like it is unfair to draw such a direct correlation between the two games. The one is not a clone of the other with a new coat of paint. Into the Stars offers a much more visceral, immersive experience than FTL could ever hope to, just by virtue of its 3D interface, especially when you’re sitting in the captain’s chair, gazing out over your massive bridge and crewmembers all manning (or womanning) their stations and seeing the beautifully represented starscape out the window. The way you navigate in the game is much more free-form than FTL, as well. You actually pilot your ship, which flies like a gigantic ocean liner, just as it should. Your Ark is a massive beast of a vessel and they convey that very well by how it handles.

I actually would draw more comparisons with how the game feels to Battlestar Gallactica. After all, the story is familiar. You are one of the last ships to survive the destruction of your home planet and you are on the run from those who destroyed it. You must hop from planet to planet, trying to scavenge for all the resources you need to continue your journey to the final destination, while trying to stay one step ahead of your hunters the entire time.

You begin the game by choosing from various modules that make up the components of your ship, giving it its capabilities. You then select from a list of available crewmembers to try and get the best combination of stats. Each crew member is necessary to complete tasks in the game. From piloting a mining probe on a planet, to being a part of an away team that goes down to try and bring back as much as they can, to dealing with any number of emergency situations that arise on the ship itself.

As these crew members perform their duties, they can sustain damage and even die. Your ship has its own health, as well as the health of all of the individual components. You also have a constantly consumed supply of food and oxygen on board, which you must replenish as well, or your civilian population dwindles rapidly.

Combat is approached in a unique way, as well. At first, it was very confusing, but after a little practice, I began to understand just what I was supposed to do and once I did, it became much more satisfying. Each weapon and shield has three color-coded frequencies, red, yellow and blue. You can set the frequencies of your weapons and shields on the fly. If a weapon hits a shield of the same color frequency, it is blocked completely. As you combat your opponents, you have to read their ship and see what color shield frequency they’re using and what color attack they are sending your way and constantly adjust your own settings to both block their attacks and penetrate their own shields.

There is a mining probe that you can pilot down to planet surfaces that turns into a mini-game of moving a drill object around on a 2D screen as it digs deeper and deeper, trying to collect all the materials you need while avoiding the red pieces of earth that damage the drill.

The away missions usually give you a choice of about 3 different sites to visit and then they give you a scenario and ask if you would like them to proceed in trying to solve the problem or negotiate with the natives, or whatever, or just return to the ship. These missions seemed to be the highest risk. I lost two different crew members to away missions. I did not complete one that made me think that it was all that worth it for the risk involved, but perhaps there are things you can obtain on these missions that the simple mining missions or probes cannot get.

On my first playthrough, I ended up getting stuck. My engines became disabled, rendering me immobile while I was still in high orbit around a planet. I was close enough to mine for supplies, but I think that being that close made it so that I could not be attacked by the enemy ships. So, I was able to keep myself alive, but there was no way for me to repair my engines. The only way I found to repair them was by destroying enemy ships and getting scraps from their destroyed ships. So, I was basically floating helplessly above this planet, delaying the inevitable. Eventually, I just stopped mining for supplies and let my crew starve to death, a slow and painful fate, to be sure.

I don’t want that to sound too critical though, because, as I stated before, this is a very early iteration of this game, and I’m sure that things like this will be addressed as the game develops further.

The only real down-side that I see about this game is that, while the navigation is done through this beautifully rendered 3D environment, the real meat of the game is all done through a point-and-click interface of boxes and buttons. The mini-game feel of a lot of the missions did begin to feel slightly repetitive even after just a few hours of gameplay. So, while the game boasts the ability to play it over and over and experience a new adventure each time, at this point, I’m hoping they add a few more mechanics to widen the array of possible events and to make the experience feel a little less like just clicking boxes.

I look forward to seeing where this game goes. I think it has potential to be very fun and interesting. If you would like to see some footage of me playing Into the Stars for the first time, check out the archived video on my Twitch channel.

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WildStar Beta – Hands-on with Housing, Adventures, and Dungeons

With the open beta underway, I was able to spend more time with WildStar. Having grown sick of the Dominion experience, I had changed to my Aurin spellslinger, finding the Exile zones much better designed, and my progress helped by a new addition to the UI, which showed which quests were part of which plotlines, and how important those plots were. I had also spent much more time on housing, which was a part of the game I had written off, until I realized just how fun it was to mess around with furniture and make little displays and customize my weird little hick shack.

There are items you can put in your house to get more rest XP, grouped into four broad categories, but the bulk of things are just plain objects with no real purpose but to look cool. I put a mushroom on a shelf and then positioned a robot arm to reach out for it. I took a hammock, shrunk it to cat-size and imagined that I had a space cat that slept in a hammock. A bedside table went next to my bed, and a mug of tea went on the table. I just made a cozy little hut, but with the degree of placement and sizing customization, more ambitious home owners could make anything from mazes to jumping puzzles, or more engaging social spaces.

I was quickly done questing and playing with my space dream house, though. This time, I was focusing on adventures and dungeons. With the first available at level 15, each adventure is meant to be its own experience, with its own mechanics. On the Exile side, there’s the Hyrcrest Insurrection, where you go into a simulation of a Dominion farming village and give aid to the peasants as they revolt. For the Dominion, there’s Riot in the Void, where you’re in a simulation of a prison riot in a penal colony built onto an asteroid. Each adventure is a non-canonical scenario, pretty much a what-if in the world of the game, which seems like fertile ground for interesting stories once the game’s characters and plotlines get better established.

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While later adventures experiment with gameplay that ranges from tower defense to the Oregon Trail, the first adventure for either faction feel more like a quest line. When you enter Hycrest Insurrection, you make a jump from a dropship and meet up with a local rebel cell, where you pick your first choice from a set of three options along with the rest of your team. The game lets players secretly vote on what path you want to take, whether it’s freeing hostages taken by the Dominion, or bringing a mad scientist to justice, and each choice effects what happens down the line. After playing the adventure several times, I’ve had impressively different experiences in each run. For instance, one run at Hycrest Rebellion ended with sneaking into the city to assassinate its governor, while the next ended in a desperate scramble to disable a prisoner transport and survive an orbital bombardment.

Each choice you make has a significant effect on how the adventure plays out, but it’s hard to tell what exactly is causing what. It would be nice to have things spelled out better, but as it is, it makes for a holistic experience, and I’m sure wikis will say what literally everything does within a couple weeks of release. Overall, though, the experience is really what sold me on adventures, and I’m looking forward to seeing what later ones are like.

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Dungeons, meanwhile, are pretty standard MMO fare, albeit with the twist of WildStar’s mechanics. The very first dungeon is Stormtalon’s Lair, where you and your team fight your way through an ancient temple, where alien birdmen are trying to use lost Eldan technology to raise one of them into a storm god. It’s got trash mobs, bosses that teach you group mechanics, and neat secrets to find as you go.

The one downside of dungeons is that, thanks to the interrupt armor mechanic, even normal trash pulls can require a lot of coordination, more than you’d need in most other MMOs. People in your group will need to have crowd control skills already slotted into their limited action set, and they’ll need to time them to land within a few seconds of each other in order to interrupt enemy casts. The game can be pretty low on visual feedback, and after a few runs, I’d be hesitant to do dungeons as they stand now without my guild and mumble.

Still, the encounters were fun, the use of telegraphs made the boss mechanics clear, and I have faith that the rough stuff will get cleaned up at some point in the future. With the game coming out in just a few weeks, there are still plenty of things that are a little bit off right now, but there’s still a chance they can be fixed. Hopefully, after release, I’ll be able to bring a more comprehensive look at the game’s systems and content, but for now, even with these issues, WildStar is still looking to be one of the best MMOs in a while, all the more so if the issues can be resolved after release.