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Virtual Reality Will Change Not Just the Video Game Industry, But the Entire World. Here’s How.

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For those who don’t already know, Playstation is just about to release the first ever (quality) virtual reality gaming system in October of this year. Other anticipated VR systems are launching for consumers shortly as well, like Oculus and the HTC Vive.

Undoubtedly, VR will be the most awesome technological advancement of the video game industry this decade, and it will open up new realms of possibility for the next. Imagine being inside your game environment, able to manipulate it, and being able to interact with it in ways never before possible. It’s going to be incredible!

But VR’s application to the video game industry is just the start. Now, imagine all of the practical ways that this technology can be used for other industries and practices moving forward…

Military Training

For instance, think of how this technology could be applied to military training. The US has been employing virtual reality training for a short amount of time, but this new technology will be able to take their training modules to an entirely different plane when it comes to soldier readiness for real-world scenarios.

Educational Advancement

Or, try this one on for size…what if schools, especially elementary schools, began to implement virtual reality in small ways to teach important lessons.

I know that, personally, I never cared much for school growing up. It was impossible for any teacher to keep my attention without holding a cookie in front of my face to get me to focus. And I was just one of many other kids who were just like me. But what if we could use VR to game-ify the educational system and really make learning fun?

Furthermore, if this new virtual reality technology could be connected to wireless ports, imagine the implications that it could have for collegiate professors who want to be able to teach online classes in new and creative ways to their students.

Endless Possibilities

Truly, the possibilities are endless for virtual reality technology. Perhaps scientists, business people, NASA, and others could use it to construct formulas for possible outcomes of different planned scenarios (i.e. how a new spacecraft would make it through the stratosphere, whether sales could continue to grow, etc.) and use VR to watch their what-if analysis play out in real-time.

The potential impact is huge here. It may take time for the bugs and kinks to get worked out, but virtual reality is the way of the future. I know I’m excited. How about you?

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Halo 5: Guardians Review

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The Halo universe is one of the most interesting, intriguing in the FPS genre, and Halo 5 both benefits and suffers from this fact. Compared to other FPS games, Halo 5 is a work of art, with fantastic, tightly-tuned controls and gorgeous visuals. However, when compared to each of the other Halo games (which I marathoned through one week before the release of Halo 5), Halo 5 was disappointing.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time playing Halo 5; on the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I don’t think it’s unfair to have extremely high expectations for a Halo game. Read on for my full analysis, which covers only the single-player campaign.

Story & Characters

I won’t spoil any elements of the story here. 343 Industries took a notably different route with character development after taking over for Bungie, opting to build Master Chief’s character, in particular, as well as his dynamic with Cortana. In Halo 5, Spartan Locke is introduced as the primary protagonist, a new character in the series. Locke’s story isn’t developed to much extent; the player knows that Locke has been sent on a mission to stop and capture Master Chief, who has disobeyed orders, and the player assumes the role of Locke on his mission.

Locke is accompanied by a trio of teammates, who chatter throughout the campaigns, remarking on terrain, enemies, and other tidbits related to the mission. While this presence of teammates and chatter is a nice addition to the Halo franchise, it doesn’t do a very good job of building any of the characters. The lack of competent AI controlling those characters didn’t help, either. I often found my teammates meandering around while I was engaged in a heated firefight. Directing them to attack enemies was mercifully an option, but it seemed like without my orders, they wouldn’t contribute much help. They were, however, good at reviving me when I was down.

When playing as Master Chief, which happens less frequently than playing as Locke, you also have three teammates. The same problems are present. So, while I commend 343’s decision to expand the character building component of the franchise, it wasn’t done with much effectiveness.

The most intriguing character development over the course of the previous installments in the franchise has been that of Master Chief and Cortana. The events that unfold throughout Halo 5 certainly continued that character development, though not in the way I (or probably any fans of the franchise) would have expected.

Sound

The soundtrack of Halo 5 was energetic and inspiring. Old classics were remixed in catchy new ways, and new themes were effectively implemented as well.

Perhaps one of my favorite small changes was the re-addition of grunt personalities. Covenant grunts were fondly remembered in Halo: Combat Evolved as having fun, humorous personalities, often providing comic relief. That personality seemed to disappear until its reappearance in Halo 5. It was mostly a nostalgic feeling, but I enjoyed the return of grunts with personality.

Enemies

The Covenant, Halo’s original enemy faction, makes an expected return in Halo 5, though the Prometheans, first introduced in Halo 4, are now the most common enemy faced. Unfortunately, while beautifully-drawn and animated, Prometheans were a rather boring enemy to face. They lacked any personality, and instead were reminiscent of the Vex from Destiny; a mechanical enemy that doesn’t speak or really do anything other than try to kill you. The covenant, brutes, and even Flood have been more interesting enemies throughout the Halo story.

Vehicles

One of the most fun things to do in every Halo game has been driving its vehicles. Halo 5 introduces new vehicles of promethean origin, notably the Phaeton, a flying fighter-type vehicle that’s similar to the Covenant banshee. I enjoyed piloting the new vehicles, but was disappointed in the minimal opportunities I had to do so. The level design in Halo 5 is much more vertical than in any of the other Halo games, meaning there are more barriers, platforms, and structures in which battling takes place. While this creates an interesting shoot-out dynamic that requires new tactics and strategies, it eliminates the usefulness of many vehicles.

Gameplay

Halo 5: Guardians has clean, tight controls that were responsive and satisfying. The new “boost” capability, which allows you to quickly boost in any direction while in midair or on the ground, was semi-useful. I may just be spoiled from having a double-jump in Destiny, but throughout the game I wished I had a double-jump instead of the lateral boost ability.

Another new functionality, the ability to hover in midair while aiming down your sites, seemed gimmicky and largely unnecessary. While I can certainly see usefulness for it in competitive multiplayer, it had no utility in the single-player campaign. It does look pretty cool when you do it, though, so if you want to impress your co-op partner ocassionally, it’s good for that.

Final Verdict

Halo 5: Guardians is a great FPS. But for a Halo game, it left too much to be desired. If you love Halo games, you’re going to love Halo 5, but don’t expect it to be your favorite in the series. Personally, I enjoyed each of the other Halo games more than Halo 5, with the exception of Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST. Again, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Halo 5; it just means that I had my expectations too high for Halo 5 and, as such, it was a disappointment when compared to the other games in the series. Should you buy it? Absolutely. But don’t get your hopes too high.

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PAX Prime 2015: Super Dungeon Bros Review

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The very name “Super Dungeon Bros” evokes a Marioesque vision without the Mario. While the popularity of the famous plumber’s exploits are widely known, the soon-to-be-released dungeon fighter has only been played by a select few at gaming conventions.

While it is billed as a co-op, rogue, dungeon fighter, the blend of genres is more like “heavy metal four-player dungeon comedy”. If that sounds like the makings of an interesting game, you’re in for a treat. However, this is nothing like Gauntlet or other four player dungeon battles.

The co-op portion of the game is dynamic, fun, and hilarious. There are special fighting techniques that are available when the champions stack on top of each other. However, it is also possible to throw teammates off the side of bridges, staircases, and so forth. The ability to intentionally kill allies in a co-op game will no doubt lead to a lot of yelling and screaming when a troll ends up on a team, but it added to the fun during my demo.

Graphically, the game features an isometric viewpoint like Diablo, but the graphics are only a slight improvement over Minecraft. That’s forgivable, since the retro look is all the rage, and the gameplay is enthralling.

The continual thrashing music successfully adds to the fun, while adding a distinct personality to the game. Also on the audio front, the catchphrases of the characters are entertaining.

Next is the rogue-like element. For the uninitiated, that means the dungeons are generated randomly so that no two games are exactly the same. What is exactly the same, however, is the goal: To save metal music. If this sounds like a great plot for a dungeon fighter, it’s certainly unique.

I thoroughly enjoyed my demo time with the game and will be buying it, though I wouldn’t play it without at least one co-op partner. The game hasn’t been released yet, though it is  scheduled for release in September 2015.

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PAX Prime 2015: Divinity: Original Sin 2 Review

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Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a new, amazing turn-based combat RPG. Built upon the success of the first game in the series, Divinity: Original Sin 2 has a much broader story line than the original, with a ton of new features and content. There are countless hours of exploration available, and dialogue is extremely dynamic, and unique to each character, which makes for a highly engaging and immersive experience. For example, during my demo, the developer showed what happens when an elf enters a city by running past a guard vs. a dwarf. According to the lore, dwarves are unpopular in the city, and thus the dwarf is not allowed in (and received a separate set of dialogue than the elf). This presents multiple intriguing options for how to proceed, such as by sneaking into the city another way, trying diplomacy to convince the guard to let you pass, or even brute force (attacking the guard) which could set the entire city into a frenzy.

The game offers multiple classes to choose from, suiting just about any playstyle, whether you like playing as a tank melee or a mage sniper. Divinity: Original Sin 2 allows the player to kill any player or NPC, and dead characters return as ghosts. Certain classes can communicate with the ghosts, which can also be captured and used to boost certain powers and abilities in each character. The developers put a lot of care into making sure that this game was as open ended and has as much freedom as possible.

Original Sin 2’s combat supports up to four players, and when playing co-op, players share the same screen (ie, true couch co-op). When players get too far apart from each other, the screen splits dynamically to accommodate the view of both players. When players are close enough together, the screen combines back into one, seamlessly and automatically.

The combat involves saving and using “action points” which are used to carry out specific attacks. The game is designed to be fast and strategic, and the environment is entirely interactive. This means that if you see a puddle of water on the ground, you can shoot a lightning bolt into it to electrify any enemies standing in it, or if you see an oil slick, you can set it on fire to block an enemy’s path or burn them. Players are encouraged to be creative as they explore the lands. Certain spells can be crafted by mixing multiple spell books together, which allows the player to come up with unique strategies for taking out specific enemies. For example, the player can combine a mute and summoning spell to create a stealth spider. There are also many different environmental hazards within the game which players must navigate strategically using their abilities and spells. Many quests are based around teamwork and each character’s specific lore, similar to how tabletop role playing games are designed.

The game has beautiful graphics that look sharp, crisp and vibrant, and the overhead view makes it easy to see combat. Players will likely spend a lot of time exploring the world and looking for unique ways to progress, as well as helpful loot.

The developers at Divinity: Original Sin 2 have put an amazing amount of detail into this game, and I can’t wait to pick it up. Anyone looking for a great fantasy RPG they can enjoy with a friend should have this on their must-have list.

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PAX Prime 2015: Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords for iOS Review

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based on the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, a popular card game based on Dungeons and Dragons: Pathfinder, a Tabletop Role-play game. The mobile game is based on gathering and using cards to overcome a series of challenges, including puzzles, combat scenarios, and diplomatic conflicts.

The game starts out with each of up to four players creating a character by choosing a race (from a set of fantasy races, such as Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings) and a class. Playable classes in Pathfinder include Warriors, who use traditional weapons and armor, Wizards, who use powerful spells and rituals, and Rogues, who use stealth and precision. There are other classes, but the playable classes for the iOS title have not yet been confirmed. The combination of race and class determine the cards each player can build their starting deck from. There are also pre-built characters for players to use.

As the game progresses, the players use their cards, which include weapons, spells, and other abilities, to solve puzzles and win fights, and as they complete these challenges, they gain experience, which they can use to acquire new spell and ability cards, and they may find or buy new weapons and armor over time. They also earn “feats” -powerful specializations and abilities- as they progress.

While the mobile game plays nearly identically to the card game, there are a number of additional features that are not possible for a non-digital title.

The first of these are animated cut-scenes featuring a number of well-known Pathfinder characters. These scenes are reactive, featuring branching dialogue trees and meaningful, diverse choices for the players to make. Additionally there is the addition of enhanced and animated backdrops for all locations and encounters, an extensive playable tutorial, and a single-player mode.

I was extremely impressed by the iOS version of the game; it translates perfectly from a tabletop card game to a tablet, and my expectations were far surpassed.

The game is being developed and published by Obsidian Entertainment, the publisher behind a number of popular titles such as Knights of the Old Republic 2: the Sith LordsFallout: New Vegas, and South Park: The Stick of Truth.

More information will be released by Obsidian in the coming months, and you can sign up for the newsletter here. If you want more information, the official articles published by Gamingcypher and Toucharcade have most of the currently available details.

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PAX Prime 2015: Pollen Review

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One of the most interesting titles at PAX this year was “Pollen,” a first-person space exploration game set in a research station on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Developed by Mindfield Games Ltd., “Pollen” is meant to be played while wearing the Oculus virtual reality visor.

“Pollen” isn’t exactly action packed. In fact, the game focuses far more on atmosphere, puzzles and world-building than it does on combat. You play as a researcher investigating strange developments in the research station and the surrounding area. Mindfield Games is hoping to create the kind of slow burning tension you would see in classic science fiction films.

The PAX demo was played on a Windows PC using an Xbox One controller used for character movement. An Oculus VR was used to control the camera. The Oculus isn’t required, but Ollie Sinerma, lead designer, stated that the development team always had virtual reality technology in mind. In fact, a significant amount of time was spent trying to overcome motion sickness, typical in VR, for players using the Rift. In-game camera movements were optimized to fool the player’s brain into thinking the game’s camera and visuals were a part of the real world. That attempt at mimicking the real world also extends to the game play of “Pollen.” Unfortunately, I was only able to keep the Oculus headset on for about 90 seconds before being overcome by motion sickness, at which point I ended the demo.

The world of “Pollen” is meant to be fully interactive so that the player feels like they’re in a real environment. Mindfield Games wants the research station to feel like a real place that people would reside in. Things like microwaves, food and other objects found in the environment will be manipulable. This ability to interact with the environment will be crucial to solving the game’s puzzles, surviving and exploring the environment.

In the demo, the player character seemed to be alone in the space station, but Sinerma stated that later there may be others for the player to interact with. It seems that players will spend most of their time exploring the research station M and Titan’s strange landscape of craters and caves, shown in the game’s teaser trailer.

Overall, Pollen’s demo lacked significant gameplay, but the atmosphere and story are so intriguing that I can’t help but be captivated by the possibilities. The focus on VR technology is also fascinating, assuming they can overcome motion sickness.

Pollen will be released at some point later this year to coincide with the commercial release of the Oculus.

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PAX Prime 2015: Broforce Review

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Devolver Digital’s paean to both the action movies and the side-scrolling run-and-gun games of the 1980s and 1990s has been kicking around in one beta form or another since 2012, but it crept much closer to fully playable reality at PAX Prime 2015. Devolver had a demo on hand featuring simultaneous play with up to four people, but the final release date still has yet to be announced.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, “Broforce” is essentially “The Expendables” in game form, but with the violence and mayhem cranked up appropriately given the lack of any of the barriers of reality (or film budgets). The team behind this was actually hired out to create a standalone version to promote “The Expendables 3.”

For the main game, however, an all-star team of characters from action movies of the ’80s and ’90s (such as Indiana Brones and The Brominator) fight their way through various levels taking out stereotypical action film villains like European criminal gangs and Middle Eastern terrorists.

Though the game can be played alone, it benefits greatly from getting a team of bros together. Players can rescue their downed companions, which also offers them an opportunity to jump back into the fight as another character. An arena deathmatch mode is also planned for the finished product. Players will also be able to climb an online leaderboard for bragging rights and share levels made with a level editor when all is said and done.

The other big feature of the game is destructible terrain. “Broforce” takes this to about as much of an extreme as possible, with everything except for the American flag subject to destruction. The game has drawn early comparisons to “Terraria” just in the sheer scope of how much the terrain can be altered by player weaponry. Destroying terrain isn’t just a source of mindless catharsis — players can often gain a tactical advantage by digging under or around a cluster of enemies that are waiting in ambush. “Broforce” manages to make its playfields totally destructible by cleverly building them entirely out of square blocks, which also adds to the retro ambiance.

“Broforce” doesn’t pretend to be anything but mindless mayhem and a nostalgia trip back to a more violent and patriotic era of film, but it’s likely going to have a large player base that appreciates it for what it is. The developing beta version is available on Steam, and the full release is planned for sometime in late 2015.

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PAX Prime 2015: Top 10 Games of Show

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PAX Prime is a video game conference held every August in Seattle, Washington. Some of the biggest video game developers in the world went to PAX Prime 2015 to show off their upcoming games. While the conference was filled with exciting new games, these were the top 10 of show.

1. Rise of the Tomb Raider

The “Tomb Raider” reboot was one of the most impressive games of 2013, and “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is only enhancing the experience. It is guaranteed to be one of the most visually stunning games released in 2015.

2. Dark Souls 3

“Dark Souls 3” will be extremely difficult, but that should not keep you from playing this great game. FromSoftware took the defense mechanics from “Dark Souls” franchise and combined it with the character mobility seen in “Bloodborne” to make their best game yet.

3. Super Mario Maker

“Super Mario Maker” is the dream game for every Nintendo fan because it allows you to create your own “Mario” levels. The simple creation tools make it easy to create an entire level in just a few minutes.

4. Just Cause 3

“Just Cause 3” is bumping up the wild gameplay that made everyone fall in love with the franchise, which makes it one of the most anticipated games of 2015.

5. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

The “Assassin’s Creed” series has hit a few rough patches, but the new stealth gameplay in “Syndicate” made it one of the most impressive games at PAX Prime 2015.

6. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

“Mirror’s Edge Catalyst” looks and feels a lot like the “Mirror’s Edge,” but that’s not a bad thing.

7. Street Fighter V

The easier controls in “Street Fighter V” will bring in a new set of fans without discouraging die hard “Street Fighter” players.

8. For Honor

Not many people had seen “For Honor” before PAX Prime 2015, and it didn’t disappoint. The large hack and slash battles shown in “For Honor” were enough to get every gamer excited.

9. Halo 5: Guardians

The “Halo 5: Guardians” multiplayer gameplay shown at PAX Prime 2015 will certainly excite fans of the series. The gorgeous graphics and fluid frame rate should make “Halo 5: Guardians” one of the best multiplayer experiences in video game history.

10. Chasm

PAX Prime is one of the few large video game conferences that puts an emphasis on indie games. While there were a ton of great indie games on display this year, none of them were able to top the platforming action of “Chasm.”

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PAX Prime 2015: Enter the Gungeon Review

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The huge video game convention PAX Prime 2015 just concluded a few weeks ago in Seattle. PAX Prime started as a small conference honoring independent video game developers when it debuted in 2004, and they still honor that rich tradition today. PAX Prime 2015 had one of the largest displays of indie games you’ll find at one of the major video game conferences of the year, and while there were dozens of great indie games on display, “Enter the Gungeon” was easily one of the most impressive shown at PAX Prime 2015.

The title of “Enter the Gungeon” accurately describes this great indie game. Enter the Gungeon successfully and uniquely marries dungeon crawling with shoot-em-up gameplay, featuring lots of dungeons and lots of guns. The combination of the two styles of gameply make for a fun-filled, loot-dropping adventure that’s super fun with a co-op partner.

The simple dual-stick controls make shooting easy and intuitive. Defensive maneuvers are one of the things most over-the-top indie shooters fail to accommodate, but that is not the case in Enter the Dungeon. The dodge roll maneuver makes it easy to avoid getting hit, while allowing you flexibility to shoot back at enemies without losing much time. It only take a few hits before you die in Enter the Gungeon, so mastering the art of both defensive dodging maneuvers as well as carefully-aimed shooting (which is necessary due to limited ammunition) provides a satisfying skill curve.

One of the best things about “Enter the Gungeon” is the replay value of the game. Everything you experience in each dungeon is randomly generated, which means that every time you play, it’ll be a new experience. Just about anything can happen when you enter a dungeon, and that’s exactly what makes this game so special. While the dungeons are procedurally generated, the loot consists of guns and power-ups totaling over 200 different drops. During our demo, we were shown a machine-gun rocket launcher as well as the “Unicorn gun” which shoots a rainbow beam. Both were pure awesomeness.

Once you make your way through the dungeon to the boss chamber, you’ll enter into a boss fight. Each boss has a wacky design to add a little humor to the game. Despite the humor associated with the boss fights, Enter the Gungeon is a difficult game, but it never takes away from the fun experience. It doesn’t get much more entertaining than “Enter the Gungeon,” especially when played with a co-op partner. This is a must-buy.

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PAX Prime 2015: Falling Under the Spell of Sword Coast Legends

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As the Sword Coast Legends PAX Prime 2015 trailer began, nostalgia cast its spell over me. Failing my saving throw, I was instantly transported back to the days of my weekend marathon Dungeons and Dragons sessions.

Sword Coast Legends begins as you would expect from a dark, fantasy adventure. Your character awakens from a terrible nightmare to find yourself hunted by dark forces as you try to unravel the mystery behind the annihilation of your guild. Your quest will lead you north, along the legendary Sword Coast, in the iconic Forgotten Realms setting. But who is your character?

During character creation you will craft your hero from five playable races and six classes, with many customization options to ensure your character is as unique as your own personal style. There are two modes of game play-Player Campaign and Dungeon Crawl.

As the Player Campaign story unfolds, you will gather together a party of adventurers to aid you in your quest. These companions will interact with you and other npcs, adding another layer of immersion to the game. With an intuitive point and click interface, spells and abilities are assigned to the familiar action bar. Combat is in real time, but you can pause the game and micromanage your companions for a more tactical approach. You can choose to play alone, or in multiplayer with up to three friends; each creating their own
custom character.

Dungeon Crawl mode is what really sets this game apart.  DM mode allows a player to assume the role of the Dungeon Master, customizing the game experience in real time. As the players progress, the DM accumulates threat-the currency with which to purchase
their nefarious bag of tricks. I really loved the homage to the pen and paper game, from the glowing twenty-sided dice floating above customizable encounter areas to the miniature figure depiction of placed monsters. I was also impressed with the DM loot drop feature, which keeps the Dungeon Master engaged by offering random bonus content to throw at players.

My time with Sword Coast Legends conjured fond memories of my friends and I hunched over a table strewn with pizza stained character sheets, graph paper maps and hand painted miniatures with our Dungeon Master leering menacingly over his DM screen. Developer n-Space seeks to revive the pen and paper feel of classic Dungeons and Dragon CRPGs, and in my opinion they have succeeded.

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