Fortnite

The Parents’ Guide to Fortnite

Posted by | Feature, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Tips for Parents, Xbox One | No Comments

Shove over, Minecraft and Pokémon GO, there’s a new gaming phenomenon in town. Over the last year Epic Games’ Battle Royale-style shooter Fortnite has become one of the most popular games on the planet.

Even if you’re not a teen or the parent of a teen, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of Fortnite. But what is it exactly? Is it okay for younger kids to play? How much of it is online interaction? What does Battle Royale mean? Read our Parent’s Guide to Fortnite for answers to these questions and more.

What is Fortnite?

Fortnite was developed by Epic Games, the makers of Gears of War, and first launched in Summer 2017 as a paid Early Access title. The plan was to allow people to pay to jump in and play the game in an earlier, beta testing state, while transitioning the game into a free-to-play title supported by paid loot boxes in 2018.

The game was actually much different than the popular version that everyone players today. It was originally a cooperative tower defense and action game. Up to four friends and online players could jump into games together and select a map with an objective. From there everyone ran around collecting loot while building bases and defending against waves of enemies.

The action was light-hearted and reflected the cartoony art style, but the gameplay was mediocre and repetitive. Read our Early Access Preview.

What about Battle Royale?

“Fortnite” technically refers to two separate game modes, which have since evolved into two distinct games: Fortnite: Save the World and Fortnite Battle Royale. The original tower defense game mode became known as Save the World when Fortnite Battle Royale was released.

Last year PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) was heating up as an extremely popular online game, featuring a Battle Royale free-for-all.

fortnite battle royale

Battle Royale is a subgenre of competitive online shooters and action games. It takes its name from the 2000 Japanese film in which a class of teenage students are captured, dropped onto an island, and forced to kill each other to survive. Think government mandated Lord of the Flies. Or The Hunger Games.

In video game terms, Battle Royale games drop their players (both PUBG and Fortnite use 100 per server) onto a large island. Everyone starts empty-handed and must quickly scavenge for weapons and supplies. A shrinking circle keeps everyone close together, and if you die, there’s no respawning. The last player (or team) standing is the winner.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds popularized the concept, but Epic Games applied it to Fortnite, creating an entirely separate free-to-play game mode called Fortnite Battle Royale. Now when anyone refers to Fortnite, they’re most likely talking about Fortnite Battle Royale. Fortnite: Save the World still exists, but lacks the popularity of its PvP sibling.

It’s free to play? Can players spend money?

Yes and yes. Fortnite Battle Royale was launched as a completely free-to-play game, and it’s available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, as well as mobile devices.

Fortnite is primarily supported by its seasonal Battle Passes (in Battle Royale) and random loot boxes (in Save the World). The Battle Pass allows players to unlock a series of cosmetic loot rewards, such as new outfits and parachutes. Players can then either earn them through playing, or pay more money to unlock them faster. Think of the Battle Pass as an optional subscription service, each one costing about $10. Players can also buy cosmetic items directly from the shop.

Loot Boxes have come under fire in the gaming industry as a controversial form of gambling. In Fortnite’s case, all of the purchasable items and loot are cosmetic only, leading Fortnite to be considered one of the less insidious free-to-play games.

Many consider Fortnite to be an example of free-to-play done right, and players can easily enjoy themselves in the game without spending a dime. That Rangarok outfit sure looks cool, but it confers no actual in-game bonuses or advantages. It just looks cool.

Note that consoles and mobile devices have parental controls allowing you to disable in-app purchases.

fortnite

What about the rating? Is it okay for kids to play? Is it Online only?

Fortnite is rated T for Teen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The primary gameplay involves eliminating other players, but the action, like the art, is very cartoony and stylized.

The Battle Royale mode is technically a bit less scary than the original Save the World incarnation, as it lacks the hordes of cartoonish monsters. On the other hand it’s all too easy to be eliminated quickly, through no fault of their own, and be left spectating for the rest of the match. Fortnite is highly competitive, and like any competitive match, can bring out both good and bad qualities.

As an inherently online game, it’s saddled with the typical toxic chat channel that plagues many online games. There’s no voice chat at all in solo mode. Text chat be be turned off in-game, but there’s no parental lock for it. The general consensus is for kids to be at least 13 before venturing into any online game.

Note that the other popular Battle Royale game, PUBG, has a Mature rating and features more realistic visuals and depictions of violence.

Is it okay for my kid to watch others play Fortnite?

As a highly competitive, tense game, Fortnite is increasingly popular as a spectator sport. In the growing age of YouTube, Twitch, and constant live streaming, Fortnite’s popularity for streamers is undeniable.

But this question is more about YouTube and Twitch culture than it is about Fortnite specifically. Find out which streamers your kids are watching and do a bit of research into their personality and their video content. Most streamers are charismatic and entertaining for young people (and quite skilled at the game), but some have unsettling videos or toxic beliefs that they readily impart on impressionable viewers.

Currently the most popular Fortnite streamer is Ninja (neé Richard Tyler Blevins), who has risen in popularity along with Fortnite itself, becoming the most popular streamer on Twitch with nine million followers. Ninja is sponsored by Red Bull and has helped raise money for charity, as well hosted celebrities on his Fortnite stream.

Fortnite Battle Royale

Are my kids playing too much?

The primary concern about Fortnite isn’t tied to the game itself, but how much time kids and teens are devoting to it. To much of any activity, to the exclusion of anything else, is a bad thing, and that can include gaming.

With Fortnite it may be easier to set limits on matches rather than a set time. An average Fortnite match takes about twenty minutes, and players aren’t going to want to stop playing in the middle if they’re still alive. Thus “one more match,” may be easier to dictate than “10 more minutes” when setting time limits.

Fortnite continues to grow in popularity, recently surpassing an astonishing 100 million downloads on mobile devices. It’s not going away anytime soon, but with a little understanding it needn’t be so worrying.

jurassic world evolution

Jurassic World Evolution Tips and Tricks Guide

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Jurassic World Evolution isn’t a particularly challenging or demanding theme park sim, but it has its quirks, and does a poor job explaining many of its systems. On any of the remote tropical  islands within the Muertas Archipelago the Oooh-ing and Ahh-ing can quickly devolve into running and screaming. Or worse, you simply run out of money, whether through guests’ lawsuits or poor planning.

We’ve compiled a list of helpful tips to help prove that a dinosaur theme park can be a successful, and profitable, venture.

One Career, Six Islands

Jurassic World Evolution operates a bit differently than most building sims. You have a single career that carries over between islands. Your progress towards dinosaur DNA as well as all research unlocked at the Research Center carries over between each island park. Cash, however, is tied to whatever park you’re currently playing.

This means it’s a good idea to stay on an island even after hitting three stars and unlocking the next island. Since you should have a sizable cash flow by then, finish getting 100% on each dinosaur fossil you have access to as well as any research. This will make starting over again on the next island a bit easier.

jurassic world evolution

You should also try and complete each of the division Missions before moving on, as you cannot complete the next island’s Mission until the previous one.

The island parks are paused while you’re not running them. You can easily return to earlier islands after unlocking better dinosaurs and research, which will make attaining the full five stars much more manageable.

The sixth island, Isla Nublar, is the infamous site of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, and also a big money-less sandbox. Build the park of your dreams!

Request Contracts

Each island will feature multi-step Missions for each of the three divisions: Science, Entertainment, and Security, as well as smaller, randomized Contracts. You don’t have to wait for these Contracts to periodically appear.

Go to the Control Center, and the Contracts tab in the lower left. From there you can Request a New Contract to randomly generate a new one. You can even choose from the three divisions. It may not be one you can complete in a timely fashion; you can always decline them without any repercussions.

Because of the chance for high cash rewards, you should always be working on a full queue of three Contracts at all times.

Jurassic World Evolution

Maintain Balance Between Divisions

It can be tempting to focus on increasing your reputation with only one of the three divisions in order to quickly unlock their rewards. Increasing reputation also comes with a nice cash loyalty bonus if you favor a certain division, and their building, should you build it (unlocked from the first island’s reputation), will yield more income.

However, you run the risk of sabotage from any of ignored divisions. That’s right, if you ignore their contracts and mission for too long and don’t fill up the bar, they will actively sabotage your park, including poisoning your dinosaurs and shutting down the power. This can create some devastating scenarios at inopportune times. Try to keep all three reputation bars steadily increasing to avoid any nasty sabotage.

Apply Building Upgrades

Remember that building upgrades aren’t automatically applied after you research them. You have to manually apply them to the appropriate building. If you research Improved Output 1.0, for example, go to a power station and click over to the upgrade tab to apply it.

Note that most upgrades cost a bit of power, so make sure you have a surplus.

Improved Ouput and Outage Protection are must-haves for every power station. The Ranger Station upgrades are also solid, given that you’ll be using them to do just about every task in your park.

Dino Care

Guests needs are important, but priority should always go to your dinosaurs. An unhappy dinosaur is a security risk and a huge financial liability. Viewing a dinosaur’s statistics will let you see their various needs and ratings for food, water, and population. The most important bar is Comfort. A distressed dinosaurs will slowly lose comfort. Once it reaches their red bar, it will attack the nearest fence and escape, wrecking havoc on nearby guests.

Some dinosaurs are much easier maintained than others. Typically more expensive, higher rated dinosaurs are more difficult to keep happy, and require very specific parameters of grass, forest, and population numbers, which is mostly discovered through trial and error (or this excellent spreadsheet).

Be especially wary of dinosaurs with a large red bar in their comfort level, like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Indominous Rex, and Velciraptor. Those dinosaurs will break out at the drop of a hat.

Jurassic World Evolution

Social vs. Population

Each dinosaur has two separate bars for Social and Population. Social is how many of that dinosaur’s own species they like to have around them. Large carnivores, for example, typically don’t like to compete, though you can house up to three Ceratosaurus fairly peacefully.

Some dinosaurs will panic if they don’t have enough of their own kind. Torosarus and Dracrex will immediately start panicking if they don’t have a buddy nearby, and preferably at least a handful.

Population is the total number of dinosaurs within an enclosure. While Dracorex loves having a couple of its own kind, its Population tolerance is actually low. Put more than about half a dozen dinosaurs with it and its unhappiness will lead to attacked fences, escapes, and constant headaches for you.

On the other hand, the hadorsaurus family (Corythosaurus, Edmontosaurus, Parasaurolophus) have large Social and Population thresholds – they love having lots of friendly herbivores around them. Use them along with other friendly, social herbivores like Triceratops and Brachiosaurus to fill out a large mega-herbivore enclosure in every park.

jurassic world evolution

Double The Fences

Something I discovered by accident is that you can build fences on top of fences, creating a double perimeter. The new fence will automatically wrap around the old. It’s not a bad idea to double the fence line for your more ornery dinosaurs, giving you some extra time to either fix the dinosaur’s needs once they start attacking, or fire up the ACU and Ranger jeep for the inevitable break out.

Wildlife Photographer

If you don’t like getting up-close with your dinosaurs, you’re playing the wrong game. Manually driving a Ranger vehicle lets you take pictures of your dinosaurs. Photographing certain dinosaur actions, like hunting, fighting, and eating, can satisfy some Contracts, but it’s also a nice bit of side income when you don’t have any pressing concerns and you’re waiting for the coffers to fill.

Taking pictures doesn’t cost you anything but time and can net thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. Try to stage as many dinosaurs as possible in a frame.

Mixing Carnivores and Herbivores

Generally meat-eaters and plant-eaters aren’t going to get along very well, even in a very large enclosure with multiple goats running around. T-Rex wants to hunt, after all. However, there are a few successful combinations.

Dinosaur size is the biggest thing to be aware of when mixing. If herbivores are significantly larger than the carnivores, the carnivores won’t be able to mess with them. Though the herbivores may feel panicked on occasion. There are some exceptions. Try putting several Velociraptors in a pen with a defenseless Corythosaurus. Maybe save your game first.

An example of a successful mixed enclosure is a handful of Deinonychus with a pair of Ankylosaurus. The Deinonychus won’t be able to touch the lumbering tank-like Anks. Just make sure the enclosure is big enough where the Anks won’t feel threatened all the time, and put their feeders on opposite ends.

jurassic world evolution

Killer Dinosaurs

In the early stages of each park every single dinosaur matters. Everything outside of the Struthiomimus is fairly expensive. You definitely don’t want them eating each other.

But once money becomes less of a concern, you can employ the dubious tactic of breeding dinosaurs for the sole purpose of feeding them to your big carnivores. These large meat-eaters, such as the early game Ceratosaurus, can attain very large star ratings by fighting and killing other dinosaurs, like Torosarus.

Modify the genes of your large predators to increase their attack and defense ratings, then breed unmodified herbivores with weaker stats, but who can still fight, such as Torosaurus. Winning battles will earn them Combat Infamy and a bonus to their star rating. It’s a particularly good tactic for islands where you don’t have space for more dinosaurs and enclosures, such as Isla Pena.

Give your star predators time to heal between bouts. You can also hop in a Ranger jeep and shoot them with medical darts, which will actually heal them during the fight!

Use the Management View

The eye icon is the Management View, and it lets you cycle through several different overlays of your park. This is important to see where you need to build your guest amenities such as gift shops.  and fast food.

Guest needs are primarily built around two areas in your park – hotels, and all of your various viewing galleries, platforms, and gyrospheres. While it may make aethsetic sense to drop a row of shops and eating at your park entrance, it’s not going to make your guests happy unless they are near a hotel or a dinosaur enclosure.

Think of all these guest facilities as having a hidden radius around them, and you want that radius to touch as many of your viewing galleries as possible. Since hotels house a large number of guests, you should also surround them in food, drinks, and fun.

We Need More Burgers

Every guest building can only serve a certain number of guests, depending on how many staff members you have empoyed. It’s hidden behind the dollar sign tab on each buildling, which also lets you adjust which item is being sold and for how much.

If you see the number of guests are full (like 320/320), click on Manage Staff to to hire more staff and accomadate more people. Always do this before buying an entirely second building to fill the same needs. On an island, space is a premium!

One Big Monorail

Every park has a Transport Rating, and the only way to improve it is with a monorail. The monorail’s job is to ferry folks from your park entrance to your hotels, reducing the downtime between arrival and dinosaur viewing.

If you go to the Management View you can also see that monorails act as mobile viewing galleries. Build them so they weave their way around and through your dinosaur enclosures to improve your Dinosaur Visibility rating.

A single monorail track should be able to cover your entire park. Stick a a few stations near hotels and hotspot locations, and your Transport Rating should remain solid all the way to five stars.

jurassic world evolution

Clever Girl

Fans of the movies will recognize the Velociraptor as being particularly dangerous. It’s no different in Jurassic World Evolution. Their Comfort threshold is exceedingly low, meaning they’ll get upset and attack the fences at the slightest provocation, whether it’s too many trees, too few of their own kind, or adverse weather conditions. This makes raptors rarely worth the headache of breeding them compared to other dinosaurs – but you’ll need them to complete several Island Missions.

To avoid instant Social concerns breed multiple raptors at a time and release them one after the other. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Gears 5

E3 2018 Was All About the Leading Ladies

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Four years ago at E3 2014, Ubisoft blundered into a PR nightmare by weakly defending why both Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 lacked playable women characters in their multiplayer modes – they would require too much time and resources to animate.

Female representation in big, blockbuster games has been sporadic at best. Yes we can point to the same franchises like Metroid and Tomb Raider over and over again, but that just proves the point even more.

But there is good news. In recent years diversity and inclusion has become a major focus for many game developers and publishers. The fruits of those labors are beginning to show. We could call it the Overwatch or Wonder Woman Effect, or just a sign of many game companies hoping to avoid stagnation and seek out progressive voices and audiences.

At E3 2018 we were impressed with the number of women characters, both old and new, showcasing AAA games. In case you missed it, let’s run through the new era of leading ladies from E3 2018.

Battlefield V

Technically Battlefield V was announced ahead of E3. The reveal trailer featured a female soldier who had the best lines and most badass moments. EA even went so far as to feature a female soldier on their cover art.

At EA Play 2018 they teased a single player campaign that also starred a woman fighter’s story of revenge and survival during World War II.

Battlefield V is a great example of the struggles a big studio and franchise can face for daring to include diversity in their games. That reveal trailer currently has more dislikes than likes, with both numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It’s sparked numerous outrages and debates about the game’s historical authenticity versus political virtue-signaling.

It’s endlessly disappointing that including diverse characters has become a political, hot-button issue, and the main reason why many big game companies steer clear. For what it’s worth, EA and DICE have committed to inclusion in their games.

Gears 5

I confess I’m not familiar with the Gears of War franchise beyond playing the first game nearly a decade ago. Kait Diaz was apparently a major player in 2016’s Gears of War 4, but in Gears 5 she takes center stage as the primary playable character.

The trailer, shown at the Xbox E3 2018 conference, featured both a cinematic cutscene with Kait, Marcus, and the rest of the team, as well as gameplay starring the young heroine.

Sea of Solitude

Sea of Solitude isn’t a AAA game, but it is being published through EA’s EA Originals brand. An announcement trailer was shown during the EA Play conference, revealing the personal story of loneliness and depression from game designer Cornelia Geppert.

Geppert was one of the few women game designers to take the stage at any of the press conferences. The game stars Kay, a young woman whose emotional issues have transformed her into a literal monster. She has to save both herself and her fellow monsters amidst a ruined, flooded world.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

One of the biggest female-led series has been riding high in the last few years thanks to a successful reboot by Crystal Dynamics. The third game in the rebooted Tomb Raider series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, features an even darker, more brutal story as Lara must prevent a Mayan apocalypse, which she herself helped set into motion.

In the gameplay trailer we see Lara go full-on Predator, stealthy hunting foes with bow and blade in a new outfit that proves high-stakes action-adventure makes for a solid work-out regiment.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

One of the most surprising announcements from the Bethesda E3 2018 conference was a spin-off co-op sequel to Wolfenstein II. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is set in 1980s Paris, far after the events of Woflenstein II.

The bad news is that the alt-history Nazis are apparently still in control (in France at least). The good news is that BJ’s grown twin daughters are ready to fight the good fight.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

With BioWare making Anthem, the torch of romancing NPCs in a gender inclusive universe has apparently fallen to Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. Newly announced Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks absolutely gorgeous, taking place in Ancient Greece and featuring the same great series improvements found in last year’s Origins.

But the real talked about feature is choosing to play the entire game as either male character Alexios or female character Kassandra. Both are fully voiced and remain the stars of their stories. And yes, apparently you can romance multiple characters no matter whom you choose to play as.

Beyond Good & Evil 2

The original 2003 Beyond Good & Evil is still one of the most mentioned games when talking about female-led games. That’s pretty sad, yet Beyond Good & Evil has also become a cult favorite. Beyond Good & Evil 2 has been in development hell forever, eventually turning into this big AAA prequel starring a new female character as the leader of her own motley space crew.

The prequel has astonishingly great animated cinematics, but we also got our first look at some pre-alpha gameplay, which lets you fly to different planets and explore in third-person action-adventure. It looks incredibly ambitious. Unfortunately we still don’t have a release date.

Control

As revealed at the PlayStation E3 press conference, Control is a brand new game by Remedy, developers of Quantum Break and Alan Wake. Jesse assumes the role of Director of the Bureau of Control, giving her supernatural powers and a fancy shifting gun.

We don’t know much more about it, but it definitely looks a lot like Quantum Break.

The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II may be the single most anticipated sequel of the year, though we still don’t have a firm release date. The new trailer showed off the most memorable scene from all of E3, an older teenage Ellie passionately kissing her new love, Dina. Not only is it a sweet moment, it’s also incredibly well animated. How far we’ve come in four years!

The gameplay portion showcased the familiar brutality of The Last of Us, confirming that Ellie is the main protagonist in the sequel, and that human enemies are just as harrowing as the Clickers.

Playing mostly as Joel shepherding Ellie in the original 2013 game while switching to Ellie for the sequel is a great metaphor for the progress gaming has made over the years. Gaming is for everyone, and it’s nice to see women get more seats at the grown-ups’ table.

jurassic world alive

Jurassic World Alive is a Better AR Game than Pokémon GO

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I love Pokémon GO. I fell in love with the brilliant concept of hunting Pokémon in the real world and forgave the horrendous networking issues along with everyone else when it launched two years ago.

Jurassic World Alive borrows much of the basic gameplay and mechanics of Pokémon GO, using dinosaurs in place of Pokémon. Even if you’re not a big dino-fan, Jurassic World Alive improves upon Pokémon GO in several key areas, making it the AR game I’m more likely to play when I’m out.

Bingo, Dino DNA

Inn Jurassic World Alive you are a member of the Dinosaur Protection Group. Your mission is to save dinosaurs by, uh, shooting them with tranquilizer darts, creating genetic hybrids, and battling other dinosaurs. Who knew prehistoric conservation could be so much fun?

jurassic world aliveJust as in Pokémon GO, your primary job is to collect creatures on an augmented reality map, localized to your current location. Dinosaurs and Pit Stops are scattered around the world, the latter giving you darts to capture dinosaurs and gold for upgrading them.

When you find a dinosaur you enter a timed mini-game. The dinosaur runs around as your flying drone attempts to fire tranq darts from above. A crosshair reappears in different places on your target as you hit the marks, upping the challenge. It makes capturing the dinosaurs far more engaging and less frustrating than flinging a bunch of poké balls.

The other key difference is that you never capture a single dinosaur. Instead you collect a number of DNA points, depending on how well you hit the crosshairs. A direct bullseye will net over 10 DNA per shot, while a grazing shot gives half of that. If you miss the crosshair you’ll receive none at all.

Since each capture session is timed, you can only get a limited amount of DNA from each dinosaur. This provides a welcome incentive to capture duplicates dinos.

Gather a certain amount of DNA and you can create that dinosaur. Rarer, stronger dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurs Rex require much more DNA. Each dinosaur can also be leveled up by collecting additional DNA, with upgrades granting more health and stronger attacks. You’ll definitely want stronger dinos because the turn-based combat is legitimately fun.

We Need More Teeth

Combat in Jurassic World Alive isn’t limited to Gyms as in Pokémon GO. You simply select the Battle button from the menu and match up with a similar rank opponent. You can bring up to four dinosaurs on your battle team, with the goal of defeating three of your opponent’s dinosaurs before they do the same to you.

Battles are intuitive and fun. Unlike the constant clicking chaos of Pokémon GO, combat in Alive is entirely turn-based. Each dinosaur has two to three moves you can choose from. Most include secondary effects like slowing down an opponent, or adding a protective shield for your next turn. Passive abilities include armor that reduces damage, or automatically counter-attacking after receiving damage.

jurassic world aliveThere’s enough variety in the starting common dinosaurs that I’ve already been adjusting my team several times over as I find the right mix. The Velociraptor, one of the easiest dinosaurs to level up in the beginning, hits extremely hard with an ability that does an additional x2 damage. It has very little health, however, making it good for a strong opening attack that I immediately switch out with something beefier, like the Euoplocephalus.

While many of the abilities are outlandish and very video gamey (like the aforementioned shield, which literally looks like a sci-fi hologram in front of the dinosaur) I appreciate that most of the dinosaurs are drawn from real world creatures. Each stat sheet includes a nice little About This Creature section, featuring a few sentences of science facts. Euoplocephalus, for example, means ‘well-armed head.’ It’s not exactly National Geographic but it’s nice to see some effort made to create some educational content in a game about collecting and battling dinosaurs.

In another improvement, the Supply Drops, Jurassic World Alive’s equivalent of Poké Stops, are much more frequent and accessible. This makes a huge difference to folks living in more rural areas, where the dearth of Poké Stops makes Pokémon GO almost unplayable. A free incubator is also given every six hours, which always includes a pack of 20 darts, no matter where you are.

You can purchase additional incubators (essentially loot boxes), gold, and darts with cash, and cash can be acquired with real money purchases. But it never pushes them on you, and I haven’t felt the need to spend any real money despite devoting quite a few hours into my new dino collecting hobby.

If I have one complaint, it takes a long time to level. Like Pokémon GO, your character also levels up. Reaching higher levels spawns better and rarer dinosaurs in the wild. The leveling feels painfully slow, even early on, limiting you to seeing the same few dinosaurs everywhere.

As it cross its two year anniversary Pokémon GO’s star-studded status has faded from the public view. Pokémon remains a stellar franchise and finding Pokémon in an AR game is still very enjoyable. I have no doubt that the upcoming Switch tie-ins, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, will spark a wave of new interest.

I love Pokémon and Pokémon GO, but Jurassic World Alive does a better job of everything Pokémon GO does. At this point I have fully switched over from Gotta Catch ‘Em all into humming that classic John Williams theme.

stardew valley

Stardew Valley Co-op is a Wonderful Excuse to Return to Pelican Town

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Ever since Stardew Valley captured our hearts two years ago, fans have been clamoring for one new feature above all others: multiplayer.

But the pixelated farming sim was never designed as a multiplayer game. It took a dedicated team from indie publisher Chucklefish over a year to build the networking code, but the results are stunning.

Currently multiplayer is only available on the PC version of Stardew Valley in a beta stage. Enabling the beta is incredibly simple thanks to Steam and GOG Galaxy’s built-in beta features. Publisher Chucklefish has outlined the specific steps for hosting and joining games.

Once the beta patch is applied, it’s a simple as one player hosting a co-op match and the others joining. You can continue your same games and build cabins for joining players, or simply start a a fresh farm with those cabins already built.

Joining a co-op game feels a bit like being a sidekick in another person’s story. The host player gets the house while joining players are regulated to smaller cabins away from the mailbox and roads (although the inside of the house and cabin are about the same).

Everyone gets their own starting tools, energy bar, and freedom to tackle whatever they wish. Having multiple farmers running around tackling different projects opens up a whole new world of speedy efficiency.

One player can explore deep into the mines, upgrading their pickaxe and returning with artifacts and ore. Another can make loads of money improving their fishing skills, while one person keeps track of crop rotation and watering needs.

Share the Wealth

Players still have to work together for one crucial reason: everyone shares the same chunk of money. If someone upgrades their pickaxe, you may not have enough cash to buy seeds at the start of the next month. One player may be gathering wood to buy a chicken coop, but another grabs 300 wood from the storage chest to repair the bridge at the beach.

Coordination between players becomes key. An unruly player could easily tank the entire farm, much the same way they can destroy your hard-earned work in Minecraft or Terraria. That being said, the community around Stardew Valley seems genuinely sweet and earnest.

If playing with friends and family and those who have a shared goal of success, Stardew Valley is absolutely magical. Sharing money becomes a wonderful exercise in mutual responsibility and future planning. Can we splurge on a new fishing pole right now? Do we have enough cash to get all our crops started next month? Are you going to spend all day fishing again? Yes, yes I am.

stardew valley

The shared money pool also acts as an interesting teaching tool for shared bank accounts with couples. Just as in real life, couples need to maintain an open, honest dialogue when it comes to spending and saving money. Making big purchases without consulting your co-op partners could result in hurt feelings, unfinished projects, and a disastrous experience.

Having multiplayer characters with a shared money pool also provides an interesting quirk to the game’s balance. Previously the game was balanced by having tons of stuff to do each day, but with a limited pool of time and energy. Time remains a factor but multiple players means multiple energy bars worth of tasks that can be accomplished per day. This seems like a huge advantage until you realize you also have that many more tools to upgrade in the early game.

Although still technically in beta, I’ve found multiplayer to be extremely stable, with only a few minor hiccups and stutters. The biggest issue is that one-time rewards, like the chests every five levels of the mines, are only given to the person who opens them. Already Chucklefish has responded, and they’re fixing it so everyone gets a chance at the unique loot.

When Stardew Valley first launched my spouse and I sunk dozens of hours into it. We played our own separate games but loved updating each other on how we were building our farms, and any neat little tips and tricks we found. It’s one of the few games she has logged more hours that I did, and I practically play games for a living.

The 1.3 multiplayer update has rekindled our mutual enjoyment of the charming indie game. I cannot thank the designers enough for pledging to add a highly requested yet significantly challenging feature, and following through so successfully.

Stardew Valley’s multiplayer is available via beta on PC. The 1.3 update is coming next to Switch, followed by PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

co-op

Divinity: Original Sin Is One of the Best Co-op Games for Couples

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Seven months and 80 hours later my partner and I finally put down our PS4 controllers in triumph to watch the end credits roll on Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition.

We have played many cooperative games together over the years but none have enthralled both of us quite like D:OS. Its rewarding tactical combat system, huge world, and most importantly, a story that weaves together both characters equally kept us invested in one of the best cooperative gaming experiences we’ve ever had.

Divinity: Original Sin was part of the new wave of Kickstarter indie games back in 2013, riding the explosion of successful multi-million dollar campaigns like Project Eternity, Wasteland 2, and the Double Fine Adventure. The common thread through most of these campaigns was nostalgia. Indie developers wanted to bring back niches genres that weren’t popular with major publishers, such as point and click adventures, and tactical computer role-playing games. Two of my favorites.

Divinity’s campaign was a big success, releasing in 2014 on PC. As a fan of classic PC RPGs like Fallout 1-2, Baldur’s Gate, and Planescape: Torment I immediately devoured it. While it definitely fits the mold of a classic cRPG, Divinity goes beyond what I expected. It takes its open-world cues from the even older Ultima series and adds gameplay functionality that’s closer to actual tabletop Dungeons & Dragons than anything else.

A year later, in 2015, it released on consoles with an Enhanced Edition upgrade. It would be several years before we finally caught up with modern consoles and I considered giving it a replay, this time cooperatively with my partner

I was unsure it would be a good fit for us. Until then we’d enjoyed quicker, easy-to-digest co-op games like Diablo 3 and the entire Borderlands series. Divinity: Original Sin is a huge, dense, lengthy RPG that refuses to ever hold your hand. Yet we completely fell in love with it.

It Takes Two

Want to pick a lock and steal from someone’s home? Go for it! Want to murder everyone in sight? You can certainly try. Just want to head into a dungeon and find some sweet loot? Now we’re talking!  These things have all been done before, and done well, but Divinity: Original Sin puts a unique cooperative spin on everything. One character can distract a guard while another sneaks past. One can be in the middle of a lengthy dialogue session with a dangerous cult leader while the other can get into a battle with mutated plant life outside of town.

The seamless split-screen opens up the possibilities in an already player-driven world, allowing couples to join forces or separate to do their own thing as much as they want.

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The story focuses on two main characters who are equal in every way. Instead of having a second player tacked on as a sidekick or hireling, both are Source Hunters, essentially federal agents who hunt down dangerous magic users in the fantasy world of Rivellon. In Single Player you customize both of them at the beginning. Obviously in multiplayer we each get to choose and make our own Hunter. My partner created a mage who specialized in Fire and Earth magic, while my rogue wielded a bow along with some useful Witchcraft abilities.

While both characters begin the game as blank slates, we’re given numerous opportunities to flesh them out. Throughout several key moments in the story, our characters indicate they wish to chat. We had some fun roleplaying our characters with each other. Our responses earn points towards various personality traits, such as Romantic vs Pragmatic and Forgiving vs Vindictive. These traits don’t influence the game much (a +1 to a minor skill or so) but do wonders to bring our characters to life.

These moments are also baked into the single player, leading to some challenging exercises in juggling multiple character roles. Divinity is built from the ground-up for two player co-op, but playing single player is equally viable thanks to its carefully tuned turn-based combat.

You Have My Sword

Combat in Divinity is challenging and complex, which are not typically hallmarks of a good couch co-op game. It’s completely turn-based, with characters receiving a pool of Action Points each turn. Everything from moving to attacking to casting spells costs a certain amount of AP, along with putting spells and abilities on cooldown. Learning how and when to use skills is paramount.

Even more challenging is that characters don’t automatically learn new skills when they level up. Skill books must be found or purchased from vendors. This grants total customization to how we want to play our characters, but can be overwhelming in the beginning with so many options available.

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Complexity brings perseverance, and Divinity’s combat is very rewarding. Many abilities can be combined with the environment for satisfying effects. Cast a lightning bolt on a puddle to create an electrified zone that stuns anyone inside. Shoot a fireball into some oil barrels and watch the gigantic explosion that sets the ground aflame. Coordinating together is the only way to win many battles. Nearly every turn we had to discuss how best to utilize our abilities in any given situation, like the best cooperative board games.

I’ll never forget the time I lost my characters midway during a battle with some nasty giant spiders in the desert, only to have my partner pull us through with careful coordination and strategic planning. What seemed like a quick reload turned into an epic comeback as she gradually prevailed, and we cheered together at the end.

Thankfully Divinity’s battles prioritize quality over quantity. Many RPGs, particularly Japanese RPGs, are plagued with repetitive random battles designed to gradually drain your resources. In Divinity all enemies are visible directly on the map, and they’re relatively few and far between. Individual battles last much longer but are also much more meaningful, which is more how tabletop D&D operates than many hack and slash video games.

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Divinity’s huge world and length can be off-putting for many couples. Eighty hours is incredibly intimidating if you want to see it all the way through. If you do the math we averaged only about three hours a week, and that was typically long sessions on weekends.

Firing up the game became like our weekly D&D adventures (shameless plug): getting together once a week to unwind and play the next phase of a story together. The familiarity of jumping in to accomplish the next tasks at hand – rescuing an imprisoned witch, avoiding deadly patrols in a mine, helping a sentient wishing well find his brother – provided a strong sense of purpose and organic narrative throughout many weeks and months.

Completing Divinity: Original Sin has left a temporary void in our gaming schedule. Yet we’re also excited to jump into Divinity: Original Sin 2 when it launches on consoles this fall. I’m sure it will take us another 6+ months to finish. I wouldn’t have it any other way.