Hexplore It’s unique mix of dragons, dry erase markers, math, and maps that matter

, | Game reviews

All right, let’s get this out of the way. The name “Hexplore It”, or “HEXplore It” if you want to get technical. Why would someone call this game that? Maybe it’s a warning that the map has hexes, but who’s still scared of hexes these days? I’m more scared of square tiles. Can I move diagonally? Does it cost extra? Why not? There’s less to remember with hexes. The Hexplore It developers went further, though. One of the faces on each die is marked with a HEX logo. Replacing the 6 on the d6 makes sense, since a hexagon has six sides, a six-sided die, fair enough. But how do they explain the 1 on the d10 being replaced by a HEX logo? And more importantly, why would a crunchy, in-depth, detailed, hardcore fantasy saga get a name that sounds like something inflicted on third graders forced to learn geometry? Fortunately, the folks who made this game gave it the subtitle “Valley of the Dead King”, which is a much more sensible name for a hardcore fantasy saga. They’re currently Kickstartering a sequel subtitled “The Forests of Adrimon”. Think of Hexplore It as an unfortunate prefix.

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Divinity: Original Sin 2 on consoles will be a fiddly player’s dream

, | News

Using thumbsticks and selection wheels to combine crafting ingredients, resolve dialogue puzzles, and conduct pixel-accurate tactical battles? There’s an audience for that. The mostly excellent Divinity: Original Sin 2 from Larian Studios is coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in August.

The original Divinity: Original Sin was upgraded to an “enhanced edition” for its console release in 2015, adding full voicework for all characters, controller support, and a host of tweaks. The current sequel on PC already has fully voiced characters, controller support, and a few patches worth of enhancements. It remains to be seen what Larian can add to the game.

Ghost Recon Wildlands is getting another year of support

, | News

Over 10 million people have played Ghost Recon Wildlands according to Ubisoft. That’s a lot of open-world shooty drone janky physics driving tomfoolery. The game’s community is healthy enough that the developer is giving it a second year of updates. Starting April 10th, this additional year of support begins with the first of four free special operations packages. Sabotage brings a new mode and five maps for the player-vs-player Ghost War, a new multiplayer class, and a campaign mission. The free update will also add the ability to use your unlocked cosmetic items on your single player AI teammates. Time to dress them to look like the chatty idiots they are!

If you desire more cosmetic junk (I can’t imagine anyone actually needing more than what you can get in the basic game for free) Ubisoft will be offering a Year 2 pass for $30 that comes with eight loot crates and early access to new Ghost War classes. Semper crate!

The Steam Machine is quietly dying

, | News

Do you remember Steam Machines? The high-concept idea first floated by Valve in 2012 was built around an affordable semi-standardized computer running a Linux-based ValveOS which would give customers an easier entry into PC gaming. It was also meant to be a sort of bulwark against what some in the industry saw as over-aggressive attempts by Microsoft to turn Windows into a walled software garden cutting Steam out of the future.

Steam Machines launched in 2015 as offerings from various hardware manufacturers. Along with the Steam Controller amd the Steam Link, some pundits saw a potential Valve end-run around Microsoft. Alas, it was not to be. Muddled messaging, controversial pricing, and a campaign that never overcame the inertia of the market hobbled the effort before it ever really began.

Valve has quietly taken the Steam Machines page from the front of the store client, and they’ve removed the listing under the hardware dropdown. Although you can get to the page via a direct link, potential buyers without may never find it on their own. A Steam death sentence for sure.

The kicker is that the catalog alteration may have occurred on March 20th. It took the fansite, Gaming on Linux to notice the change a week later! A sad indicator of just how few people cared.

Dying Light refuses to die

, | News

Techland continues Dying Light’s year of free add-on content with the fourth and fifth installments. Drop 4 is a Prison Heist game mode set in a new penitentiary location. Players must break into Harran prison and get in the armory in solo or co-op modes while fending off hordes of undead. Drop 5 is the addition of a new wandering mini-boss named Sgt. Deathrow to Harran’s Old Town area.

Additionally, Dying Light is celebrating the holiday by having an in-game Easter egg hunt. Players have until April 3rd to find at least 25 eggs hidden around the zombie-infested land to snag a sweet chicken outfit and a special weapon.

Dying Light’s pivot from a one-off product to the games-as-a-service model has been fascinating to watch. Midway through the developer’s 12-month support plan, players have gotten free weapons, characters, cosmetics, new game modes, and a steady drip-feed of community events. Pretty good for a game that came out in January 2015!

Behold the deadliest enemy in Far Cry 5

, | Games

The North American turkey. Staple of Thanksgiving dinner tables and renaissance fairs. In Far Cry 5, they are murderous foes capable of pecking and gobbling an adult human or mountain lion to death in seconds. They are the merciless ninjas of Montana. Beware! Beware the mighty turkey!

Scaredy-cats can now enjoy Outlast 2

, | News

If Outlast 2’s frantic scramble through backwoods mutant village horror was just too much for you, there’s a new mode that may tune the game to your liking. The Story Mode update adjusts the game so enemy numbers are decreased and there’s more time for exploration. One of the criticisms of Outlast 2 was that it was paced like a non-stop chase, negating any attempt to appreciate the creeping dread of the plot. Developer Red Barrels cautions that players can still die, there’s just more room to breathe along the way. The studio says the update reinserts content that was cut to get an M rating for the game’s launch as well.

In related news, the game is launching on the Nintendo Switch today. Even Mario fans get to enjoy the hillbilly killer zealots!

Acclaimed boardgame Through the Ages is more useless than ever

, | News

Czech boardgame developer Vlaada Chvatil’s Through the Ages is a nearly unplayable masterpiece recreating the sweep of history with a handful of elegantly interlocked systems. It’s hard to learn, even harder to learn to play well, and even harder than that to actually get through a game. Playing Through the Ages competently requires failing Through the Ages several times over, wasting your and your friends’ time when you all could have been playing something you already knew and enjoyed.

For some reason, the boardgame’s publisher figured they’d make an iOS port of Through the Ages. As if. They didn’t have any experience doing videogame ports of boardgames, much less boardgames as sweeping, unmanageable, and esoteric as Through the Ages. It was bound to be a disaster. Instead, in one of last year’s biggest surprises, it was a triumph. It turned Chvatil’s unplayable masterpiece not only into a playable masterpiece, but an accessible masterpiece with a clever and funny tutorial, a built-from-the-ground-up interface that makes information intuitively available, as competent an AI as you want, a set of engaging challenges that will help you flex various ways to play, and smooth multiplayer support for real-time or asynchronous games with friends, enemies, or just strangers. It is the best boardgame port I have ever played.

Today it’s available for the PC with thorough cross-platform support to play with iOS players. It even synchronizes your progress with any challenges you’ve beaten on your iPad. Through the Ages is available on Steam for $16.

Most games on Steam will make less than minimum wage

, | Games

The indie game scene on Steam, once filled with rags to riches stories, has become a place for dreams to die. Mike Rose of No More Robots, told attendees at the 2018 Game Developers Conference that their wide-eyed optimism for success on Steam was an error. According to his data, the average game on Valve’s PC gaming service makes about $30,000 in sales in its first year. Sales decline from then on. For small studios with more than one person working a ton of hours to bring their indie vision to life, this is sobering news.

“A lot of people are coming to me saying things like ‘our game’s a bit like Limbo, and Limbo sold millions of copies.’ Oh god, that’s not how it works.”

The problem, of course, is an over-saturated platform. In 2017, over 6,000 games launched on Steam, and thus far 2018 is looking to double that figure. Rose’s advice for indie developers? Have a plan to sell on other platforms, and make your product stand out from the overcrowded space. Even then, Rose cautions indies to prepare for less-than-stellar sales.

Kingdom Death: Monster: a lion in summer

, | Game diaries

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

This is what I say out loud. I’ll mutter things from time to time. But this I say. Out loud enough that the cat mewls because he thinks I’m talking to him.

Yes, I tell him.

The best peak moments are in games that also have the lowest bleak moments. Kingdom Death: Monster is nothing if not bleak. It will test your willingness to subject yourself to the ruthless whims of the random number gods. You will roll Blood Geysers, Exploding Heads, leprosy, and two 1’s when you only need one of them to be a 3 or higher, so your population drops because a woman just died in childbirth. It exists to kill you so that you’ll be elated during moments when it doesn’t.

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One whale’s spending made Warframe nix a microtransaction

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Digital Extremes removed a microtransaction from Warframe based primarily on one player’s behavior. Studio manager Sheldon Carter explained in a Noclip interview that the team disabled an “insanely profitable” in-game option to change the fur pattern and color of an animal companion when they realized it enabled gambling. For a little less than a dollar, players could push a button that randomly mixed the appearance of a pet kubrow, a sort of alien dog. The team observed one player that spent over $137 almost immediately in an effort to get his perfect cosmetic mix, which brought the team to an uncomfortable realization.

“Oh my dear God, what have we done? We’ve created a slot machine.”

It took the team a couple of days, but they rolled back the change and disabled the cosmetic mixing button. According to Carter, the behavior was not desired because they’d rather have players support the free-to-play game with transparent and non-predatory purchases.