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    Valve To Unveil Half-Life: Alyx For VR On Thursday

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,
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    Half-Life fans have long waited for a conclusion to Half-Life 2, and Valve may finally be coming around on the idea of returning to this beloved story. Valve announced on Twitter that it will unveil Half-Life: Alyx on Thursday at 10 a.m. PT, describing it as a flagship VR game.

    Outside of knowing Alyx Vance is likely returning, we don't know anything else about this project. Is it the sequel fans have been waiting for? A prequel? Something different entirely? We'll have to until until Thursday to find out. Regardless of what it is, I think we can all agree it's great to see Valve making a new Half-Life game again. It's been too long!

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    Inside The Story Of Overwatch 2 With Lead Writer Michael Chu

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,
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    In another video interview from our month of Blizzard coverage, Overwatch Lead Writer Michael Chu joins us to explain the setting of Overwatch 2's story experience and the philosophy of the writing team as they head into untested waters with fan-favorite characters.

    Enjoy the quick video above, and be sure to click the banner below to check out other exclusive content within our Blizzard Issue, including gameplay from Overwatch 2's story experience:

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    New Gameplay Today – Google Stadia

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,
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    Google Stadia launches tomorrow, giving players another way to consume games. The twist here is that Stadia users will be playing games by streaming them online, without having to download anything on their Chromecast devices or browsers. We've seen streaming services before, with varying results. Has Google finally cracked the code? If only there was a new episode of NGT that tried to answer that question...

    Think of the November 19 launch as a soft launch. Much of the platform's most-interesting functionality, such as shareable save states, isn't available for people who bought the Founder's Pack. Check out today's episode to see how hot releases like Destiny 2 and Mortal Kombat 11 fare on the tech.

    For more on Google Stadia, you can check out Ben Reeves' review

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    An Exclusive Tour of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands' Revendreth

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,

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    For this zone, the team was trying to tackle the question of: “What would WoW Translyvania look like?” It takes the form of a gigantic gothic castle sprawling over a misty forest and a curious pit. Carriages, floating vampiric aristocracy, gargoyles, and little Igor-style gravedigger minions called dredgers mill about. The zone is colossal, so my guided tour through the realm of sinners – who can still be redeemed in some form – took me through each of the castle’s five wards.

    The entryway itself is suffering disrepair, as are the buildings and structures across the castle grounds. This is a problem that many of the Shadowlands zones have, as no new souls are coming in due to everyone being routed to the Maw. The castle proper looms over the zone like an oppressive titan, towering over the Village Ward where players enter and can get the lay of the land. Sin stones, gravestones with the soul’s crimes listed upon it, litter each pathway. Souls sent here can etch these sins off their stones over time as they prepare for the afterlife, but the Venthyr’s methods are often horrific and torturous. While the Venthyr may have an important purpose in the Shadowlands, with their task of preparing tainted souls for the afterlife, you can’t help but think these vampiric, bickering aristocrats have a serious streak of sadism.

    The souls that show up here under normal circumstances are “bad guys,” prideful, and perhaps having justified terrible things, and have a chance at redemption over eons of suffering in the Shadowlands. A famous character from Warcraft that ended up here is Kael’thas Sunstrider. Carriages are a frequent sight throughout the castle grounds, and beyond being a cool aesthetic addition, players can hop on and off at will to help speed up travel or get through pockets of aggressive enemies. The Village Ward is mostly exterior environments, various dilapidated buildings, and a view of the fog-filled forest where the Venthyr schedule hunts on tortured souls, sending them out with a false sense of security and hope they run away, then track them down and “humble” them.

    The next stop on the carriage-ride is the Cathedral Ward. It’s a mix of interior and exterior space and significantly higher class than the village below. One of the major dungeons of the expansion, Revendreth Cathedral, is located here. Elevators are scattered everywhere, allowing players to move from ward to ward and explore the vertical space of the zone. Along the way in this area, we spot someone who looks decidedly out of place, a sort of Ethereal-looking merchant that’s part of an organization known as the Brokers.

    The Brokers are a faction separate from the Covenants and the Maw, sort of soul-traders, that can move freely around the Shadowlands. In the wake of the recent calamities, the Brokers have taken this chance to capitalize on new opportunities for profit and perhaps more. They are similar in appearance to the Ethereal faction from multiple expansions, and the team’s comments lead me to believe they’ll be just as shady and manipulative throughout this expansion as our old friends.

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    The Ember Ward is a stark contrast to the rest of the space. This is the only spot in Revendreth where the light has actually broken through, and hence is the worst nightmare for our light-vulnerable friends. This area is destroyed, and the unfortunate Venthyr that have been sent here as punishment are either dead, driven insane by the light, or battling each other for the scant pockets of shadow that dot the ward. The ruling class of Venthyr can’t torture each other like they would other souls, but they have the Ember Ward to handle dissidents and rabble-rousers. Outside of being burned to death by the light, the exposure also slowly turns Venthyr insane. This isn’t a fun place, but it’s thematically awesome – the Venthyr have even turned their torturous pursuits to utilizing mirrors as weapons with the stray light.

    The Venthyr’s massive gargoyle army is housed in the Military Ward, but this area and the gargoyle forces are both in disrepair due to the soul drought. We spot a dredger being created out of a giant pit here – they’re just made from muck. The dredgers keep attempting to rebuild and keep the wards active, but it’s a battle they’re losing. The Military Ward is an endgame centric area featuring catacombs, hostile enemies, and cool animated weapons and items that the Venthyr have shoved souls into.

    A quick jaunt around the Castle Ward highlights multiple points of interest. Various districts make up the Castle Ward, designed for those who curry favor with the countess, a place for old money, dark favors, decadent delights, and grisly parties. This is also the first chance I get to look at the area below the castle, a spooky place known as Endmire. Endmire is where creatures end up that have moved from realm to realm in the Shadowlands, twisted and misshapen as a result of the anima ending up in the wrong place. The stuff down here isn’t necessarily the creepy Bloodborne-vibe of the parapets above, instead, it’s a different blend of strange, an unnerving warped reality composed of creatures that defy sense and explanation, with a wide assortment of aberrations and colors flitting about in an unchecked bog. Under normal circumstances, the gargoyles would keep these manifestations under control, but now they’re simply tossing these creatures down. Creatures with two heads. Creatures with no heads. Energy spiders. The denizens down there are super weird, and kind of awesome, like a Princess Mononoke/Spirited Away bestiary gone wrong.

    My tour of Revendreth left me a bit awestruck. It’s rare that I can’t wait to get in and begin what will inevitably just be distilled down to grabbing a bunch of quests and doing them most efficiently to level up, but I’m more excited for the prospect of what happens after. Once players complete their trial period in each of the four core realms, they’re given a choice at a level cap that starts a post-level campaign, full of quests and adventures that players selecting the other options won’t get to do. These choices flesh out the zones and cultures even more while bringing the player into the fold of that covenant and their particular challenges and stories. It’s difficult to say right now, but I think Revendreth has a good shot at ousting Karazhan as my favorite WoW environment of all time.


    Click the banner below for more on World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, Overwatch 2, and Diablo IV!

    This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Game Informer.

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    Confronting The Challenges Of Moderating Online Games

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,

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    Ever play an online game and feel your blood pressure rise over complete frustration with poor sportsmanship, or even worse felt your anxiety spike due to harassment and bullying taking place right before your eyes?

    A game is only as strong as the community that supports it, but what happens when a few bad apples disrupt the flow and prevent others from having fun? Most gamers have a story where they’ve experienced griefing or team-killing, or even worse had another player verbally insult them in a way that goes well beyond “trash talk.” In fact, a recent study by anti-bullying organization Ditch the Label reported that 57 percent of the young people it surveyed experienced bullying online while playing games; even more alarming was 22 percent said it caused them to stop playing. Instead of drawing people to games, are more people turning away from them due to these unpleasant social interactions?

    Negative experiences playing games online aren’t anything new; you can go back to the earlier days of commercial MMORPGs, such as EverQuest and Ultima Online, and find plenty of examples of these scenarios. A common perception among gamers has been it just comes with the territory if you want to play online, but that doesn’t make it okay. Playing games should bring people together, and as gamers, we all know how powerful these experiences can be. Nobody should have to tolerate hate speech or threats to their safety to simply engage with their hobby online.

    This issue has only continued to heat up as more games are evolving and becoming online-centric. The extra emphasis on their social aspects has forced developers to get creative to help encourage players to “play nice.” With more initiatives and efforts in this area, we chatted with leaders across the industry, from developers figuring out solutions to companies that specialize in moderation, to gain insight into the ever-growing and complex issue. Read more...

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    Google Stadia Reviewed – Against The Stream

    GameInformer
    By GameInformer,

    p6_fe_r03.jpeg

    By the mid-2000s, Blu-ray felt like the future of media. Blu-ray video looked incredible and offered cleaner picture and sound quality than previous media formats. “Surely,” we thought, “the technology that comes after Blu-ray will look even more impressive!” But then something strange happened; as streaming services like Netflix took off, more and more of us ditched physical media in favor of the cloud. Streaming didn’t offer the same level of fidelity as Blu-ray – or sometimes even DVD – but it was good enough. More importantly, it was convenient. The desire to watch anything anywhere outpaced our desire for image quality. 

    Now it’s 2019, streaming services have come a long way, and tech goliath Google thinks it has figured out how to Netflix the gaming industry. The tech is surprisingly functional, but its ability to upturn the industry will depend largely on its ability to implement its grand blueprint. Sadly, Stadia’s current design is missing several important pillars.

    Gaming on Stadia

    Stadia’s concept still sounds a bit like science fiction: Earlier this year, Google sold a vision of players using wi-fi-enable controllers to communicate with a hive of supercomputers in the cloud, which would allow users to stream the most advanced gaming software to decade-old laptops and mobile phones. Google’s system worked well at trade shows, but those were highly controlled environments. How does the service work now that we’ve been able to test it in the wild? Surprisingly well … if you have a stable internet connection. 

    On the whole, Stadia performs better than I expected. The high-speed internet at the Game Informer offices regularly gets download/upload speeds of 280 Mbps, so I rarely noticed even a hiccup while playing games at work. Mortal Kombat 11 on a stable Stadia connection feels about as responsive as its console counterpart, and I had no problem dialing in combos and Fatalities even though my inputs had to travel through miles of infrastructure to bounce off Google servers.

    Unfortunately, the experience quickly degrades as your internet speeds dial down. At a nearby coffee shop, where I recorded download speeds of 38 Mbps, I noticed a few frame skips every couple minutes. At home, where my speeds regularly drop to 20 Mbps, I noticed some visual artifacting and a regular picture stutter. With these slower internet speeds, I didn’t feel competitive in Destiny 2’s PvP modes, but I was able to complete a strike without a problem. Everyone’s tolerance for this kind of experience will vary, but my frustration over the occasional hiccup was mitigated by the revelation that I could play Destiny 2 in public on my phone (see the controller sidebar for more).

    Stadia’s service only dropped out completely on me once due to a poor signal, but an instance of my game was saved and I had five minutes to hop back online and pick up where I’d left off. I wish Google would extend that grace period and allow users to create their own state saves (a feature that is still in the works), but I never lost any progress in a game, and my experience was stable enough across the board that I didn’t live in fear of being unable to access my games. 

    Google’s service isn’t a one-size-fits-all streaming solution, and you should carefully measure your internet speeds before committing to the platform. Many will find Stadia’s occasional stutters unbearable, while others will feel that it’s good enough. Personally, I can’t imagine trading any of my game consoles for a Stadia stream anytime soon. 

    Click image thumbnails to view larger version

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    What about that controller?

    An online-only streaming service seems like a bold new direction for the gaming industry, but Google isn’t interested in reinventing the controller. The Stadia controller smartly hews close to modern controller design. The pad itself has a nice weight and feels a lot like the PS4 controller thanks to its ergonomic shell and symmetrical analog sticks. The buttons produce a satisfying click and feel sturdy, and I got about seven hours of use from a single charge. Google has its equivalent of the start, options, and home buttons. However, Google also added a screen capture and virtual assistant button to the mix, and this creates a jumble of buttons near the center of the controller. I constantly hit the screen-capture button when I meant to pause a game, which was frustrating.

    At launch, the controller also doesn’t work wirelessly with any device other than the Chromecast. This means that in order to play on a laptop or phone, you must connect your device to a controller using a USB C cord, which I found cumbersome. In fact, I was actually a little embarrassed to pull out my tangle of gadgets to play games at Starbucks.

    I also couldn’t connect the Stadia controller to wi-fi that featured a web browser login, meaning you probably won’t be able to use Google’s controllers wirelessly in locations like hotels that require a secondary login screen. The Stadia controller might be a nice piece of physical hardware, but these tech issues need to get ironed out as soon as possible. 

    Under Construction  

    Google’s streaming tech might be ready for prime time, but its service certainly isn’t. Many of the more exciting features either aren’t available for launch or won’t roll out until 2020. For starters, Google’s Pixel smartphones are the only phones that Stadia users will be able to use for streaming at launch. Achievements also won’t be viewable at this time, but Google says that Stadia is recording your progress, so once the feature is enabled, users will receive credit for everything they’ve done since then.

    The Google Assistant is another exciting feature that is being kicked down the road. During the Stadia reveal event, Google said that with the tap of a button users could speak into their Stadia controller and pull up YouTube walkthroughs or other helpful advice for any game they played. This feature is absent at launch. Google says that the Google Assistant will be available soon, but even then, the Assistant will only be available from the Stadia home screen and only allow users to launch games or turn on their TV.

    Stadia’s incomplete feature list is so long it’s a little embarrassing. What about Stream Connect, which is Google’s way of supporting multiplayer by allowing Stadia users to create local couch co-op experiences via split-screen? Coming later this year. What about Family Sharing, which lets you share games with other users in your family? Sometime soon. What about Crowd Play, which lets streamers play games with their viewers? Hopefully, sometime next year. What about streaming over cellular networks? I’ll let you take a guess. If Stadia had all these features, it might feel like the next big leap in gaming, but as it is, the platform is just a basic streaming platform that offers less than a home console. 

    In the end, Stadia's biggest problem is likely its lack of software. Stadia doesn’t have many dedicated experiences that will drive longtime gamers to the platform. The system’s launch lineup features some great games, such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Red Dead Redemption 2, but those are all more than a year old and there isn’t a single triple-A exclusive on the horizon. This is a big problem for Google. If the company hopes to attract more people to the service, it needs to provide a reason to be on Stadia. In other words: It needs more games.

    stadia_data_center.jpg A look at Google's data center that allows Stadia to run

    Google Stadia Launch Lineup: 

    • Assassin's Creed Odyssey  
    • Attack on Titan: Final Battle 2
    • Destiny 2: The Collection (available in Stadia Pro)
    • Farming Simulator 2019
    • Final Fantasy XV
    • Football Manager 2020
    • Grid 2019
    • Gylt
    • Just Dance 2020
    • Kine
    • Metro Exodus  
    • Mortal Kombat 11
    • NBA 2K20
    • Rage 2
    • Rise of the Tomb Raider
    • Red Dead Redemption 2
    • Samurai Shodown (available in Stadia Pro)
    • Shadow of the Tomb Raider
    • Thumper
    • Tomb Raider 2013
    • Trials Rising
    • Wolfenstein: Youngblood

    Reportedly Releasing Before The End Of 2019:

    • Borderlands 3
    • Darksiders Genesis
    • Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
    • Ghost Recon: Breakpoint

    The Bottom Line: 6 out of 10

    Stadia seems tailored for a different crowd – the kind of game-curious individual who only pays attention to the occasional blockbuster release and isn’t willing to throw down a few hundred dollars on a dedicated piece of gaming hardware. Next year, when Google launches the free version of the Stadia service, the platform might find that audience. On the other hand, Stadia’s service isn’t currently valuable enough to justify the $129.99 early adopters price tag. Anyone devoted enough to follow industry trends probably cares enough about this hobby to spend the extra money on a console that provides a lag-free experience.

    Still, I want something like Stadia to succeed. Purchasing a game and immediately booting it up without concern for downloads or updates is liberating, and when you have a stable internet connection, streaming games off the cloud feels like magic. Oddly enough, Stadia filled me with excitement for a game-streaming future, but it left me with less confidence that Stadia would be the platform to usher us forward.

    Understanding Pricing

    On day one, consumers can purchase the Stadia Premiere Edition for $129, which includes three free months of Stadia Pro, a Google Chromecast Ultra, and a Stadia Controller. Stadia Pro is Google’s subscription service, which costs $9.99 a month and gives players access to the highest quality streams (4K/60 fps/HDR/5.1 sound) as well as exclusive discounts on game purchases, and occasional free games. This month, pro users receive Destiny 2: The Collection and Samurai Shodown. Early next year, anyone with a Google account will be able to stream games through Stadia at no cost; however, the streaming quality will be throttled to 1080p/60fps with stereo sound. No matter how you approach the service, games still must be purchased à la carte.

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