Category Archives: On our Radar

Games that we’re looking forward to in the coming months

Stationeers Preview

Yesterday, at EGX Rezzed, we go to go hands on with Stationeers and speak to the man behind it all, Dean Hall. For those who haven’t been following RocketWerkz, Dean Hall is the man behind the DayZ mod for Arma II that eventually became the DayZ game on Early Access. Unfortunately remembered for broken promises, an incredibly long development cycle, and Hall leaving the project unifinished, it’s easy to forget just how amazing DayZ is. A huge open map, realistic combat, the constant risk of losing everything not just from a stray sniper, but from hunger, cold, or thirst. We put over 500 hours into the DayZ mod and another 100 into the full game, mostly because the player interactions were unlike anything else. In the early days of the mod, people didn’t just kill on sight, people would trade, gang up, help each other, and even travel across maps to fix someone’s broken leg. Some of our favourite gaming moments came from the emergent gameplay afforded to us by Dean Hall trying something different, and it looks like he’s going to try again.

His new company RocketWerks have taken the approach of not wanting to show anything until they have something to show, and it’s worked. In a small room in the basement of Tobacco Dock, London, Hall and two other developers from the six-man development team stood near four computers running their latest game, Stationeers.

In Stationeers you are in charge of building and maintaining a Space Station. The graphics are simple and blocky, but that’s purposeful, it takes attention away from what looks realistic and focuses on what matters, the systems. In Stationeers as much as possible is properly simulated. The space station itself doesn’t move through space, it’s on a fixed plane and everything else moves around it, and as this is a very early version of the game, plenty of systems are quite there yet, but as a proof of concept it’s enthralling.

As I sat down to have a go I found I was in some kind of engineering room surrounded by pipes and what looked like large pumps or boilers. On every machine and on plenty of the pipes there were readings, describing the exact pressure inside them. There were loads of numbers that I didn’t know how to interpret alongside complex interactions of conveyer belts, machinery, and supporting structures. Hall explained that the idea behind the game is to not take the player out of game too much by giving them information directly. Instead things must be read from displays. If you can’t work out why not enough Hydrogen is being provided to your water creation, you need to find where the pressure is dropping. Perhaps a valve has been left open, perhaps it’s being re-routed somewhere else, perhaps you have an unfinished pipe leaking into space.

Currently the game is strictly creative mode, there’s no way to get new raw resources, but you can refine them using the machines. Different elements react and combine in the way you’d expect so you need to be careful about the oxygen mix in the air, or hydrogen leaks leading to catastrophic fires.

The game we were playing had four people all in one server, but I was assured they’ve got it working with up to 16 players so far and are still finalising how big they want these servers to be. As I pottered about exploring the station I regularly game across the other players doing their own thing and editing the station as they saw fit.

I opened up an airlock and went for a float outside. Seeing a long tunnel of girders I ventured inside the end and travelled up to what looked like an airlock that was holding back a great deal of fire. “You probably don’t want to go in there” a dev explained, ” that guy’s trying to build a railgun.” Another guest at the show had apparently spent most of the day before and all of that day stuck to the game, seeing how far he could push the simulation. He had built up a huge amount of energy and pressure within one compartment then used an airlock system to load some shot (in this case some loose canisters) into the ‘barrel’ and a final airlock to hold it all in while he built up the required power. I rush out of the barrel and took a vantage point a little way away. Quickly a mass of blue fire enveloped the space station, what he was doing was incredibly destructive, but impressive. The fire raged through the compartment, built up to the airlock, then when it was remotely opened, canisters fire at speed out of the barrel. A success! As I was marvelling, the shockwave hit me and sent me tumbling a little bit backwards.

It’s not all 100% scientifically accurate (yet), and many are going to be wary of any promises that Hall makes, but I’m already eager to put my money in for Early Access. It’s a fantastic project and what little there already is would be more than enough to provide hours of entertainment to anyone with a mind towards experiments. Here’s hoping the world of internet negativity doesn’t stifle this kind of creativity in games development. Yes Rocketwerkz might be taking a lot of risk, but I’m glad they are.

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Conan: Exiles Cinematic Trailer

Conan: Exiles is only five days away now and we couldn’t be more excited. Funcom have just released their cinematic trailer and if anything it just made us want to build a pyramid. This might not show off much of the game but if you want to get hyped, this will do the trick. Come back on January 31st to see our livestreams of the game and all of our coverage of the launch.

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Why We’re Excited About Conan Exiles

It’s no secret that we’ve been playing a huge amount of Ark lately. There’s something addictive about building up a base with your friends and always having goals that you can log on to work towards. Of course there’s the (very real) risk that someone will come and destroy everything you’ve done, but the risk makes what you have all the more valuable.

In a couple of weeks Funcom are bringing out Conan Exiles, which is a very similar kind of game, but set in the Conan world. Of course that piques our interest, but why not just carry on playing Ark? Well here’s some reasons.

  1. Funcom

Funcom are a developer that gets very little attention despite having a pretty consistent record for excellent  and innovative games. The Secret World is probably our second favourite MMO running, tackling a huge range of different environments, with different gameplay styles, huge amounts of content and an interesting levelling system that doesn’t tie you down to a single class. Age of Conan (the MMO that this game is definitely using some ideas from) was also trying plenty of new things and had much more exciting melee combat than the usual fare. Even Hide and Shriek, a tiny multiplayer horror game where you’re both invisible, is a ton of fun. So when Funcom are ready to try their hand at a new genre, I’m always interested in seeing what they’ve come up with.

2. Conan

While I might not be a big fan of the Conan books, films, or comics, there’s definitely an appeal to the universe. It’s a throwback to the pulp stories of the past where overly dramatic adventures could take place, without the emotional turmoil that seems to be a necessary tick box for modern game stories. You’re a giant muscley man or woman who’s going to go out into a horrible environment and kill things. Sometimes that’s all you need. There are gods, monsters, slaves (but they’re just NPCs so it’s probably ok) and giant sandstorms. This is the sort of universe where you can build an 80ft statue of yourself and no-one thinks it’s weird.

3. Slaves

Not to sound like I’m obsessed with the slavery thing, but as a mechanic it could be genius. Much like Ark has its dinosaur taming, Exiles lets you knock out NPCs, tie them up, drag them across the desert, then break their will on a giant ‘wheel of pain’ before you set them to work for you. Normal ‘thralls’ might be set to guard a gate or wall, or to gather a simple material, more skilled ones might be useful to put at a crafting station to make the most of their skills. This will lead to you searching out for particular people who you want working for you, then mounting a giant kidnapping mission to get them back. Sounds like fun.

4. It’s new

While Rust and Ark and DayZ are all still in Early Access, they’ve been mastered. You can go on wiki sites and find out everything about the game instantly. It’s all been worked out, it’s all been solved. With a new game, there’s a sense of mystery. We don’t know how everything will work, or what the best layout will be, or what secrets are hidden on the map. By getting into the Early Access straight away you can get ahead on a server and be one of the pioneers. Thanks to internet wikis, most MMOs and exploration-based games have lost a lot of their wonder for the sake of efficiency, and while that might be inevitable, it’s exciting to be able to avoid it, even if it’s just for a little while.

So we’ll be streaming the Early Access build of Conan Exiles as soon as the doors open, and if you want to join our tribe just let us know through our Discord (look to the left) or leave a comment below. The more the merrier!

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Perpetual Night Preview At Norwich Game Festival

2D atmospheric puzzle platformers have become surprisingly commonplace since the incredibly innovation that we saw with games like Trine, LittleBigPlanet, and Limbo a whole generation ago. It’s a crowded market thanks to the comparative ease of developing in fewer dimensions and the capacity to create stunning and effective artwork with control over how it will be seen. You can see why Perpetual Night took this route, it’s a beautiful game already and while at this early stage some of the puzzles can frustrate and confuse you, the joy of finding a new environment or pulling off a perfect leap is hard to deny.

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Perpetual Night is a puzzle game more than anything. You run, you jump, you pull switches and you stand on moving platforms. The innovation comes from the use of light. Once you move into a turquoise light you become your shade, a huge skeletal Moose-like creature that is much more agile and can climb different kinds of walls. What starts off as simple and fun exploration quickly gives way to some challenging and precise jumping puzzles where you need to make sure you transform at just the right movement to make a leap to the next platform before you move out of the light.

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So far, so familiar, but what sets Perpetual Night apart for me is the quality of the writing. In our short demo with the game we got to play through a decently sized section of it that took us through what seemed like catacombs and caves filled with interesting characters. You’d expect them to be melancholy and cryptic like in Dark Souls, but in fact they were often cheerful and at times hilarious. The writing is on point and the tone might be what sets this game apart.

We’re looking forward to spending some more time with Perpetual Night but for now it’s early days so you’ll have to make do with this video.

 

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Night Blights Preview at Norwich Game Festival

We played through a single night of Night Blights – an upcoming horror game – at Norwich Game Festival. It was hardly an appropriate setting to be playing it, with quite headphones in the brightly lit forum surrounded by people, but it was enough to make us want to play much more.

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Night Blights takes a fairly simple (and innovate) premise. You are a young child who has to stay up at night to protect his family from the blights. In the first night (the one that we played) you had to rush around the house finding toys to feed the monsters under your parents’ and sister’s beds, and close all of the cupboards around the house as they opened. At first this is easy, there are toys everywhere and it doesn’t take too long to get between the rooms. As the night continues on however, you quickly find yourself running out of accessible toys. You have to resort to climbing and exploring to grab toys off shelves and do all kinds of things parents wouldn’t approve of, just so you can prevent the blights from murdering your family.

Should you succeed, and make it through to the morning (which we thankfully did on our one attempt) you then get to move on to the next night where new mechanics take over and the house expands into something much more intimidating.

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Visually the game is functional more than anything, this is a fairly simple 3D environment but instantly recognisable as a perfectly normal house. The slightly lower viewpoint of a toddler and the haunting familiar quiet of the house adds to the tension and we quickly found ourselves thinking ‘we need to rush to the fridge’ or ‘maybe there’s a toy on the mantelpiece’. While the whole game takes place in this single house, there’s plenty to do and to get a perfect three-star rating you need to master your routes through the house, shutting every cupboard before it opens and organising your toy/food collection well.

We should be able to play a little more of this game very soon but for now you can check it out on Steam here Steam Greenlight

 

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Black Desert Online Beta Impressions

We’ve played an awful lot of MMOs in our time but it feels like that era is coming to an end. Once you could always be excited for the next ‘WoW-killer’ but those have all come and gone and none of them managed the job. With high-profile and ridiculously high-budget games like SWTOR struggling to find a significant audience publishers are understandably not to keen to fund a new AAA MMO, but thankfully the Koreans don’t seem to have got that memo. Black Desert Online is a new MMO in the mold of older games like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Warcraft fans will feel fairly at home with levelling up, hotbar skills and quests, but there’s definitely more freedom and less hand-holding to be found here.

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We’ve only spent a short time with the second closed beta but it only takes a few seconds to realise how spectacular this game could be. It looks absolutely stunning with a new game engine created specifically for the game allowing for highly detailed and customisable character models. The landscape might feature some quite plain geometry and textures in places but the lighting is incredibly and weather effects actually have an effect on combat beyond just adding to atmosphere. The animation, too, is a league above everything else we’ve seen in the MMO-space (except perhaps another Korean MMO, Tera) with combat animations for our berserker coming across as suitably violent, including one where he grabs the enemy by the neck and smashes them down on the floor. That’s simply not possible with the WoW engine.

Korean MMOs have always been accused of being too grindy and we don’t feel that Black Desert is going to do much to change that impression, early quests involve you going somewhere to speak to someone then having to kill an arbitrary number of progressively more powerful enemies. Gathering skills are measured in the 100s rather than an individual attempt being worth anything. We’re not high enough level to take part in the group content yet but hopefully that ends up being a little more tactical and interesting.

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The big selling point for Black Desert is the freedom. We’ve seen people cruising the oceans hunting for whales, guilds can take over areas to get an income of resources, maps are huge and sprawling as opposed to the theme park-style MMOs we’re used to. As it stands, Black Desert feels simply like a modern update for a stale genre, but we think that with a bit more time and the full release it could open itself up to be more player-driven than anything we’ve seen in over a decade.

We’ll bring you more impressions when the full game releases later this month.

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Crossout Hands On Preview

It’s difficult to write about Crossout without hyperbole. In a year that’s brought us Mad Max, Metal Gear Solid V, The Witcher 3, Until Dawn and Splatoon, this might still be the best thing we’ve played. Imagine The simple controls of War Thunder, the world of Mad Max, the building of Kerbal Space Programme and the procedural damage of Besieged and you’re only part way to imagining how good Crossout is. Oh and it’s going to be free. We’ve been playing the ‘Battle-Test’ (Alpha/Beta) of Crossout for a while and if they released it right now and slapped a £50 price tag on it we’d buy without question.

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The user experience is so good it puts nearly all other AAA titles to shame. You start in the main menu with the usual free-to-play options in front of you, you can see who’s online, join various types of games, or tinker with your vehicle, which sits front and center. The tinkering is incredibly immediate and uses Kerbal-esque control so you simply drag and drop parts around, taking new bits from your storage and attaching them wherever you want. At first it seemed restrictive when we saw we were building around the chassis of a pickup truck, but we quickly realised you can take that apart too, building a new vehicle up from small parts. If you want three wheels on one side and one on the other, try it. If you want to add guns on the side, top, and bottom of your car, do it. As soon as you’ve made a change you can take it for a test drive and rather than being taken to a loading screen, you simply drive out of the menu and into a small arena where you can see what the monstrosity you have created is capable of. Here you can drive around, take pot shots at another inert version of your car (seeing what’s vulnerable and what will break off) or set up some enemies to try out your skills. The handling is sublime and there’s a real sense of connection between your vehicle and the ground, something that is sorely missing in the majority of driving games. If you lose a wheel or some suspension you’re not out of it, you can still limp on with the handling affected proportionately. You have to worry about your centre of gravity and how wide your wheelbase is. You’re guns are usually on a swivel but will stop firing if they’re going to shoot through a part of your own car, this leads to some interesting conflicts about whether to put a gun in an exposed position to give you 360 degrees of targeting, or whether to cover them up a little and accept that your will have to be thinking about positioning all the time.

Once you’re happy with your vehicle you can lunge into an online game and see what your car is made of (scrap, mostly). The game types are fairly familiar to anyone who has played World of Tanks and you’re generally trying to capture a base or kill the opposing team (whichever happens first). Coming up against other people’s designs is absolutely thrilling and strategy is hugely important. Some people stick huge howitzer style cannons on their cars, which are massively powerful but also easy targets. Keep to their sides and focus down the gun and they’ll be defenceless. Others will focus on ramming and try to chase you down. Occasionally you’ll underestimate a wounded enemy who still has a working turret and be ripped to shreds from behind. The vehicles disintegrate into their constituent parts in a very satisfying way and the combat is always brutal, fast and entirely skill based.

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We’re very excited to see Crossout release and anyone who has ever carried a passing interesting in competitive gaming needs to at least give it a try.

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The Curious Expedition Hands On Preview

It feels like during the early PC/Amiga days there were plenty of games about arriving in a new and unusual place, exploring it, and managing your camp. For a long while that genre was lost, with only occasional jokes about dying of dysentery in the Oregon Trail to mark it’s existence. With the indie revival of the last decade there’s definitely been a resurgence in interest in this kind of procedural strategy-heavy game, and The Curious Expedition is one of the most interesting we’ve seen so far.

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In a strictly single-player affair, you choose an explorer (from a cast of famous faces including Darwin and Marie Curie) with their own unique perk, and then you choose to go off and explore a location. At it’s heart, this is exploration for exploration’s sake, although you do often get offered extra missions like finding a deserter or delivering a missionary to a village. You pack your bags (buying things like dynamite, whisky and marbles) then you set off.

Every game is essentially the same in terms of set-up. You’re on a hex grid and spawn in the middle of nowhere. Around you there might be jungles (hard to cut through), mountains (impassable without dynamite), hills (hard to climb but giving you a good view) and interesting features noted by question marks. They might be villages, old camps, caves, shrines, or even the golden pyramid which is your goal in each stage. You click on a hex to move and can set up a route, and you will see how much sanity it will cost you. You see sanity is the main resource in the Curious Expedition. Money is useful, but you’re always going to end up running out of sanity eventually. Every movement costs some, and fights or making bad decisions might cost more. Walking through fires or being chased by villagers or animals is devastating, and the only ways to get some back is to rest somewhere safe or use some of your resources, like whisky or chocolate, to make your group feel better.

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On your trip to find the golden pyramid (which lets you leave) you are trying to do things like capture butterflies, paint locals, collect artifacts, or simply learn more. Obviously some of these things, like stealing artifacts from temples, comes with a cost. Villagers will grow wary of you or even violent, sometimes even more radical things happen like causing devastating climate change or starting a flood or fire. Rather than being a game about finding the best strategy, this is a game about decisions, and being the kind of explorer you want.

You might start with high principles, never stealing and never angering the locals, trying to be morally righteous in your peaceful exploration. But then what if you’re running desperately low on funds to the point where you know you can’t afford another expedition, and there’s a gold statue right there next to the golden pyramid. Stealing it couldn’t hurt. Could it? Or if your team has been savaged by a tiger and you need more people to carry things back, but the only option is a nearby slaver’s camp. Is it ok to bring slaves back?

Every expedition turns into its own story and we haven’t had many dull ones in all our time with the game. From finding ourselves lost in prehistoric lands to causing a flood that destroyed an entirely peaceful region, it’s always exciting, which is saying something for a turn-based pixel-art game. The graphics are more than functional, they’re reminiscent of the exciting worlds of Monkey Island and the early settlers game, dripping in charm and information at the same time.

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At the moment The Curious Expedition is available on Early Access and we’d say there’s already plenty enough game to warrant the £10.99 asking price. If you’re fond of strategy and happy to face the possibility of permadeath when your expedition is picked apart by bears, starvation and forest fires, we say get it.

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Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Hands On Preview (Gamescom)

It’s almost become an annual ritual now, spend the first hour of one day of either Gamescom or Eurogamer Expo (EGX) to go queue up for whatever the new Call of Duty is. Knowing the queues will be much longer later, never expecting much from the game, then being pleasantly surprised. This year was no different, we can’t wait to play Black Ops 3 again.

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The demo we were treated to was a simple match of Kill Confirmed followed up by a Team Deathmatch. We could select from a small choice of operators (Call of Duty’s new classes that have a special ability each that charges up to be used at various points in the game) and we got to play on two separate maps. I used one operator who could launch nanobot mines, they would latch on to any surface and then kind of deny an area, if you went too close to them the nanobots would swarm and attack you. Another had a bow and arrow. This has a ridiculous amount of autoaim so as long as you are vaguely looking at an enemy you will find them and kill them. This allowed for some amazing looking shots where people would leap into the air, spin around and kill two people before landing, but I get the impression this might end up being nerfed somewhat.

Gameplay wise it was very similar to Black Ops 2 crossed with a little Titanfall. Movement is less chaotic than Advanced Warfare and much more ground-based, but you can still do a little boost to climb up somewhere higher or even wallrun for a surprisingly long time. This means you still need to be aware of more verticality than we were used to with older CoD games, but you don’t have people bunny-hopping all over the place. The new weapons all had weird names but very quickly you could identify them as the new SCAR, the new AK, the new M4. Time to Kill seemed exactly the same as Black Ops 2 to us, it wasn’t instant, but if someone got the drop on you, you’d probably be dead before you could turn around.

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Killstreaks were mostly the same as in previous games, a lucky care package scored me a carpet bomb at one point which seemed devastating in the tiny map we were playing (it killed the whole enemy team) and UAVs and anti-UAVs were rampant. The little remote control cars also make a return, but it seems they can now jump to get to better vantage points.

The most striking thing about the game was the colour. This is the polar opposite of Homefront with it’s muted greys and browns. Black Ops 3 is unbelievably colourful and bright and every element of the map was detailed and interesting. The map design itself was curious, with some bottomless pits in the center of the map that could be traversed with some clever wallrunning. They definitely haven’t strayed too far from what makes CoD great, but they’ve brought in enough innovation to keep it fresh.

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We’ll bring you more after the beta which launches next week so stay tuned! (Or favourited, whichever you prefer, leaving a window open all weekend is a bit weird).

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Devilian Preview

A few days ago we got an exciting look at Trion Worlds’ next project. Trion are well known for their commitment to MMOs over the last few years with some truly impressive titles including Rift, Defiance, Archeage and the newer and quirky Trove. They’re at it again with another interesting new idea they call ‘Devilian’.

Devilian isn’t quite the MMO you’d expect if you’ve played the dozens of copycat clones that have launched since Everquest. Taking more of a Diablo/Torchlight view on the world, Devilian is an action-RPG created by a Korean developer that allows for up to 200 players to be in the same region at once. There’s clearly elements on Diablo that have been hugely influential with four gender and race locked classes hunting though regions for loot and experience to bolster their equipment and skills.

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Not only are there the ‘usual’ types of equipment you see in ARPGs, but there’s also mounts and pets that do more than provide a bit of cosmetic flair to your play. Riding a polar bear reduces your aggro range, even having a little (adorable) pet Corgi follow you around confers more benefits. While the gameplay is a skills-oriented hack ‘n slash with plenty of stats and hit points flying everywhere, there’s a few new twists like the titular ‘Devilian’ mode that turns you into a more powerful version of yourself for a limited time, possible helping you to overcome a boss or turning the tide in a multiplayer match.

In a usual game you will wander through the regions where you will run into other players going about their own business. This is managed by ‘shards’ (similar to Destiny or Marvel Heroes) and if you want your friends to accompany you, you can join up into a group and all get on the same shard. You can also enter some of the three player dungeons, of which we were told there are “dozens at every level”. For the end game there’s a single raid at the moment that can take 9 players, and there’s sure to be more to come. However the real focus seems to be a push towards 20 vs 20 multiplayer PvP battles. These kinds of numbers haven’t really been seen in a game in this genre as far as I know and it’ll be interested to see how the games play out. There’s also 3 vs 3 arena style matches for some sharper and more focused competition.

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The PvP appears to be spilling into the regular game world too as you can sign up to a guild and if your guild declares war on another, you can launch into open-world PvP and fight over world bosses and regions in the game.

What we saw was all single-player but it looked surprisingly polished for an unannounced title and while the graphics might not be technically spectacular, the art style was clean and interesting with a clear style of its own with a blend between high fantasy and more steampunk/frontier oriented clothes and skills. The characters themselves are clearly Korean in style and despite some smallish player character they seem to have avoided the weirdness that is often associated with Korean MMO character types (I’m looking at you TERA).

This is fairly early days in terms of what we’re learning about the game but it’s going to be free to play with a marketplace for cosmetic items and they’re hoping to launch it this year, with a beta coming soon.

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We were impressed we’ve what we’ve seen so far and we’ll be sure to bring you more impressions as soon as we get hands on at Gamescom in August!

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