Blizzard finally noticed how much World of Warcraft’s beginning sucks

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Blizzard is adding a new starting zone and newbie quests to World of Warcraft. Exile’s Reach, a small island springing up in the upcoming World of Warcraft: Shadowlands expansion, features a “new starting experience” for levels 1-10. It’s a more guided and linear set of quests meant to present a better first impression to new players. It even has tutorials for signature class powers.

Since the MMO was overhauled in 2010 with the Cataclysm expansion, scant attention has been given to the beginner experience. Blizzard has focused most of its development on providing a steady stream of high-level content for vets, but the opening twenty levels have remained the same slog it’s always been. The current unguided, and largely lore inconsequential, opening is infamous for being something players just have to grit their teeth and bull through to get to the good stuff. The studio hopes to change that roadblock for attracting new players with Exile’s Reach.

The ESRB steps up its euphemism game with a new way to call out loot boxes

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“Includes Random Items” – that’s the new descriptor the ESRB is adding to its “In-Game Purchases” warning text on videogames. It’s meant to call out when a game features randomized loot boxes, card packs, or prize wheels. The group has been on the forefront of doing everything it can to prop up loot boxes as a legally and morally fun way to enhance games. It’s not gambling, the ESRB has pointedly reminded everyone. It’s opt-in random rewards.

“According to research, parents are far more concerned about their child’s ability to spend real money in games than the fact that those in-game purchases may be randomized.”

The ESRB introduced the “In-Game Purchases” text in 2018, so why did it take the ESRB so long to add a descriptor for loot boxes? Surely, the fact that some high-profile games have started stepping away from loot boxes had nothing to do with it.

At least there’s another game in Borderlands 3 to play

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There’s a new mini-game in Borderlands 3. If you go to the infirmary in Sanctuary III, you can find an arcade machine with Borderlands Science, a matching puzzle game that can unlock cosmetic doodads for your character as well as some in-game temporary XP or money boosts. It’s all in the name of real science, as Mayim Bialik explains in the intro video. The simple matching game ties into the Microsetta Initiative’s effort to map strands of DNA in poop. Yes, dookie. It turns out computers aren’t great at lining up the sometimes vague data from our doo-doo, and players can contribute to the task by simply being better at guessing.

It’s not always possible to line up all of the tiles correctly, but attempting these puzzles is still helpful as you’re identifying errors in real-world computer analyses.

Congratulations, vault-hunter. You’re a real science person now.

The next version of Artifact won’t have the most common part of collectible card games

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Valve is still working on Artifact. In the latest blog post, Valve revealed that their big plans to revitalize the virtual card game include a feature that bucks the trend of most other collectible card games. In the future, they’re not going to have any ways to purchase cards with real money. The only way to gain more cards will be to play the game. No cards for sale! Valve will undoubtedly sell something to players to generate a stream of revenue, but the actual bread and butter of the genre will be awarded by actually playing the game.

We have some ideas about what we’d like to sell, but none of them are cards/packs.

Vets of card games are likely scratching their heads over the decision. How will they buy their way into winning decks? How will they use the power of their wallet to overwhelm their opponents and fill their collections?

Sim racing gets into the lead during the pandemic

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Sports have taken a beating during the global novel coronavrius pandemic. Games are happening in empty venues or being delayed indefinitely, which impacts the viewership and money the events can generate. A third option has emerged from the world of automobile racing that keeps the cash flowing. Networks are hosting the races virtually with the help of sim games.

Last Sunday Fox Sports broadcast what they’re calling an “eNASCAR” event. The iRacing Pro Invitational Series featured popular drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch and even had commentary delivered by the normal Fox Sports broadcast crew. It attracted over 900,000 viewers and was successful enough to convince the network to continue the series.

Best thing you’ll see all week: Blow the Man Down

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You don’t see enough Greek choruses anymore.  At some point during the last few millennia, the Greek chorus fell out of favor.  So one of the first delights in Blow the Man Down is realizing that this New England noir about unlikely femmes fatale comes with a Greek chorus.  It opens with a bunch of sailors singing a rowdy sea shanty. They’ll be back, but not as often as I would have liked. And I’m not sure how relevant their sea shanties are to the narrative action.  But I appreciate the idea, and it’s emblematic of how Blow the Man Down has some great ideas, even if it does struggle to present them.

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Valve expects some modder will fix Half-Life: Alyx

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Half-Life: Alyx, Valve’s return to the universe of headcrabs and Combine radio static may be great, but if you don’t have the VR gear, you can’t play it. Don’t fret about missing out on the greatest Half-Life since Lost Coast. Valve’s Robin Walker fully expects someone clever will mod the game so even the non-VR plebs will be able to play it. In an interview with VGC, Walker says he’s looking forward to it, because he thinks it will make people appreciate what the studio did even more.

“As a result, what I’m confident will happen is that when people get that butchered version, and they’ll have lost all the things that we’ll have got from moving to VR, they will then understand very clearly why we made that choice.”

You don’t miss what you never had. Later in the exchange, Robin Walker says whether or not Valve’s next Half-Life story is VR-exclusive will depend on the reaction to Alyx.

Stanley’s Color Out of Space is more Lovecraft than Lovecraft’s Colour Out of Space

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Warning: if you haven’t seen Color Out of Space, this review is basically one big spoiler.

Colour Out of Space is an odd fit among H.P. Lovecraft’s works.  It’s about ordinary people — farmers, to be precise — on whom something fell.  They were just going about their business, herding sheep and sowing crops and whatever farmers do, when a meteorite landed on their farm and infected everything with an alien presence.  They were driven insane and died and the land was barren from then on.  

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GameStop will heroically remain open for business during the pandemic

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It’s a trying time for everyone. As COVID-19 races around the globe, and governments declare states of emergency, GameStop wants everyone to know that they’ll be ready and willing to sell you a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Like many businesses, they’re adjusting their policies to comply with Coronavirus “social distancing” guidance, but one particular corporate decision seems to run against the prevailing wisdom. In areas where only “essential” places are allowed to remain open, GameStop feels they’re included in that category of business along with pharmacies, grocery stores, or urgent care facilities.

“Due to the products we carry that enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home, we believe GameStop is classified as essential retail and therefore is able to remain open during this time.”

Kotaku obtained an internal memo to GameStop employees informing them of this policy and directing them to tell authorities that want to shut them down to call headquarters instead. I imagine that conversation would end with the police agreeing that society cannot possibly function without stores offering used games or Funko Pop dolls.

No Man’s Sky has hit its final form with bobble-heads

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That’s it. There’s no need to craft or explore anything else in No Man’s Sky. There are now bobble-heads. The in-game doodads can be installed in any ship cockpit and come in two models: Specialist Polo and Priest Entity Nada once you buy them from the Quicksilver Synthesis Companion merchant in a Space Anomaly. Who cares what other galactic mysteries are out there? I have a bobble-head.

The Oldest House awaits your return in Control’s first expansion

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Control, Tom Chick’s pick for second-best game of 2019, is finally getting an honest-to-goodness expansion. The Foundation is launching on March 26th. It’s the first of two proper expansions coming this year. That’s great news for fans of the Finnish telekinesis-and-bureaucracy action game. More spooky physics-defying illusory hallways. More bland office cubicles transforming into blasted heaths of cyclopean horror.