Marcus Stewart
 

 
Square Enix unveiled the first full trailer for its next piece of Final Fantasy XV story DLC. Prompto follows in the steps of Gladiolus with his own episode that places the pistol-toting goofball under a far less jovial light. 
 
Episode Prompto follows the titular character as he uncovers the truth surrounding his origins. Combat focuses heavily on gunplay, with explosive over-the-shoulder-style firefights. Check out the trailer below, although players who have yet to play or complete Final Fantasy XV will see spoilers for one of the game's murkier subplots. Just a heads up. 
 
 
Episode Prompto becomes available for download June 27. For more on Final Fantasy XV, read about Square Enix's upcoming updates. 
Marcus Stewart

 
Upon entering the arid and scenic Sand Kingdom (after turning down a romp through New Donk City), I decide to visit the local shop. I pursue its wares and notice a snazzy black suit and matching fedora up for sale. How can I resist? I drop my hard-earned coins and within moments, Mario’s stomping on goombas dressed as the world’s most adorable mob boss. That’s just an example of Super Mario Odyssey’s delightful strangeness. After getting my hands on the hotly anticipated title during E3 2017, I’m itching for another chance to return to the plumber's wackiest outing in years. 
 
Mario’s new adventure takes place far away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Joining him is Cappy, a sentient top hat somewhat resembling a Boo, who resides within Mario’s cap. I played Odyssey using the twin Joycon configuration. Swinging both Joycons up in the air, down to the floor, or in a horizontal circle sends Cappy flying like a Frisbee in the chosen direction. Players can even manipulate Cappy’s trajectory by tilting the controllers mid-flight, allowing for quick adjustments. Motion controls felt very responsive, and tossing Cappy around is strongly reminiscent to lobbing the wrench in the Ratchet & Clank games, functioning as both an effective long-range attack and a useful method of snagging distant collectibles.
 
Speaking of collecting, Mario hunts new Kingdom Coins in addition to the traditional gold coins. These purple-colored currency are kingdom specific, meaning they can only be spent within the world they occupy. The Nintendo representative manning my demo informed me that there were a hundred of these coins in the Sand Kingdom, which I imagine will be the case for every world. Kingdom coins are spent in stores to buy items such as health and clothing, such as the Sand Kingdom’s sombrero. Additionally, green moons have replaced the signature gold stars as Odyssey’s primary collectible.
 
If you've seen any of the bizarre gameplay videos, you know that throwing Cappy at other characters lets Mario possess them and gain their unique talents. I hijacked a Bullet Bill which allowed me to soar past platforming segments and even reach a moon stranded on a distant pillar. However, Mario can only stay in Bullet Bill form for about 15 seconds before it explodes, reverting him back to normal.
 

 
My Nintendo rep proposed a trip to a secret area, an offer I promptly accepted. She led me to a hidden sand vortex that transported to a platforming gauntlet that reminded me of Super Mario Sunshine’s secret areas. This world consisted of a series of slippery, narrow ice bridges. Waiting at the end of each pathway were bounce pads that led to higher, more difficult frozen platforms. My mastery of the controls was pushed to its limit here. I had a tough time adjusting the camera using the right stick while simultaneously spinning the remotes to attack without veering off the edge. It’s far too early to tell if Odyssey’s control scheme is flawed, but it did take getting used to. 

After I escaped my frozen hell I met Jaxi the Taxi, a sphinx that can give Mario a lift to almost anywhere in the level. Jaxi accelerates on his own while players steer. Controlling Jaxi was easier said than done as he sprinted like a wild horse while I fought to aim his trajectory. I eventually got him to drop me back on the main path as I continued my trek towards my goal: an inverted pyramid. 

One of the neatest mechanics showcased in the demo were the 2D NES segments. Echoing the wall painting ability from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, entering special pipes protruding from walls transforms Mario into his 8-bit sprite. That surface then forms the canvas for a classic-style platforming segment as players hop on pixelated blocks and confront vintage versions of enemies. The effect is like playing a scrolling animated wallpaper–even my gangster suit made the 8-bit transition in a nice attention to detail. I used this ability to make my way up a towering pillar, evading Bullet Bill sprites along the way. Upon reaching the top I was tasked with locating five shards in order to open up the overturned pyramid. Unfortunately, my 10-minute time limit expired before I could enter its mysterious walls. 
 

Overall, the entire level felt straight out of Super Mario 64. The Sand Kingdom's design resembled the open hub-style worlds of that game, filled with side diversions that I could explore at my leisure. The traditional three-hit health bar returns, ditching Mario 3D Land/World’s incorporation of mushroom health into the 3D format. If you loved Mario 64 or Sunshine, you’ll likely get a kick out of Super Mario Odyssey.

I walked away from my session wanting nothing more than to barricade myself in a room and play the full game. The possession feature opens a wealth of gameplay possibilities as players are no longer constrained by Mario’s specific skillset. Using the Bullet Bill to skip platforming segments almost felt like I was breaking the game but Odyssey accommodated for it. I'm curious to see how the rest of the design caters to what could be a plethora of different abilities. Once I'd gotten a handle on the controls, platforming felt as polished as you would expect from a mainline Mario title. Perhaps most of all, I simply can't get enough of the game's surreal premise and tone. As the catchy theme song suggests, Super Mario Odyssey should be a wild and wacky time when it launches for Nintendo Switch October 27.   
Marcus Stewart

 
WWE 2K18 has found its poster star. Former world champion Seth Roll–excuse me–Seth Freakin' Rollins graces this year's cover.
 
Rollins joined WWE's developmental system in 2010, going on to become the first ever NXT Champion. He would debut on the main roster in 2012 alongside Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose as part of The Shield, who would go on to become one of the most popular and successful factions in modern WWE history. After breaking up the group in 2014, Rollins' singles accolades have included becoming a 2-time WWE Champion, United States Champion, and a Money in the Bank winner. Take a look at the "Architect" in his full glory: 
 

 
2K also announced the contents of WWE 2K18's Deluxe and Collector's Editions. Both versions grant four-day early access prior to release as well as in-game bonuses. Deluxe owners specifically will also receive season pass content (to be detailed in the fall), pre-order digital items, and the content of the Collector's Edition, the specifics of which will be announced this summer.
 
WWE 2K18 releases October 17 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For you wrestling fans, how do you feel about Rollins making the cover? 
Marcus Stewart

 
Pokemon Go may not dominate the public consciousness the way it once had, but that hasn't stopped Niantic from improving the game with updates. The company announced two big (and free) updates are heading to mobile title.
 
Gyms are receiving a massive overhaul to make "ownership more collaborative" and encourage players to interact with their gyms in new ways. Prestige and training no longer dictate how Gyms operate. Players can instead store Pokemon in six permanent slots, with challengers battling a Gym's monsters in the order they were assigned. A new motivation system impacts a Pokemon's CP by lowering it with each defeat. However, friendly trainers can boost motivation by feeding defending Pokemon berries. The Gym's Photo Disc can now be spun to obtain items (just like with PokeStops) and Badges can be earned and leveled up by interacting with your team's Gym. 
 
Raid battles allow trainers to face powerful Pokemon in 20-player strong battles with raid bosses. These timed events temporarily take over Gyms, and defeating these bosses will reward valuable new items as well as the chance to capture the boss. Players will also be able to invite friends into private raid groups using a custom code system. 
 
Keep an eye for these changes to start rolling out in the coming weeks. You can read more about the updates on the Pokemon Go blog. If you haven't opened Pokemon Go in a while, are these changes enough to lure you back in? 
 
Naomi N. Lugo

 
In 2014, Polish developer 11 bit studios released the award-winning This War of Mine, a survival game focused on the civilian perspective of war. Last year, the developer announced their return to the survival genre, this time in a vastly different setting. Enter Frostpunk, a brutal look at the struggle of surviving in a frozen wasteland. 
 
 
Frostpunk's first trailer, "The Fall," released last August. In it, viewers got to get a glimpse at the perils that this new frostbitten world would unleash. During E3 2017, developers divulged gameplay details. 
 
Rather than centering on the individual like This War of Mine, Frostpunk looks at society as a whole and how it handles the most extreme situations. "What [is] society capable of when pushed to the limits? Are we able to survive? Who do we become in the process?" asks the informational materials for the game. 
 
Frostpunk takes place in an alternate reality 19th century with civilization erased by a deep freeze and only small bits of humanity remain. The player takes control of an expedition seeking means of survival, and in this world, that means finding a generator. They locate this crucial resource, but of course, plans have gone awry. A storm has isolated the small band of survivors around a frozen generator inside of a crater.
 

 
As the game begins, the player will have to get the generator going by gathering supplies before beginning construction of a city. From there, gameplay takes the approach of the city builder with resource gathering limitations and daily survival goals such as warmth and food. What differentiates it is the emotional element. Every decision the player makes will have some sort of consequence for the individual inhabitants as well as the society as a whole. Choices will come down to morality weighed against survivability. 
 
"The game is about survival, but it's really about survival of the society, not any one particular individual," said Jakub Stokalski, Senior Lead Designer at 11 bit studios during an E3 demonstration. The leader mechanic forces players to make far-reaching decisions that look out for the good of the group (aka a rational strategy for survival). But the game's design will have the player be up and personal with the personal impact of those decisions. 
 
Enacting laws is a core feature of Frostpunk. An early example may be the choice to use child labor or how to deal with the sick and injured. Survivors will then gain or lose "hope" or "discontentment" metrics based on decisions. The society then shapes around not only chosen laws but how they are established. The survivors won't merely do the bidding of the player. They react and form opinions.
 
For example, if a player decides to use child labor, the citizens will generally accept the necessity of the act but will comment about it. The long-term consequences unveil as the game plays out. 
 

 
Players will start out with an initial group of survivors, but beacons will let any others discover the location of the settlement. Utilizing the workforce effectively will be a challenge for players. They are key to building resources like medical posts or even shelters, but they are a limited supply. Pushing the workforce to work in unsafe or cold conditions can lead them to be sick or injured and that will strain the population. Research unlocks new technology, but that, of course, requires labor. The world initially starts in the crater but expands to more locations (the scope of exploration is not yet known). 
 
Like any city builder, the goal is to create an impressive settlement, but the survival element adds the need for planning. "You are expected, as the leader of these people, to strategize into the future and not just react to problems as they come," said Stokalski, "doing that will get you nowhere." 
 
Frostpunk will have a sandbox mode with randomized challenges as well as a story mode. Stokalski estimated that the story mode would take players around 30-40 in-game days to complete. The game is currently in pre-alpha and the developers are hoping to finish by the end of 2017. Stokowski, however, did mention that the team has a focus on quality, and if the game needs more time, it will be taken. 
 
Marcus Stewart

 
For a long time, story modes in fighting games were largely forgettable affairs that felt tacked on for the sake of checking a box off a feature list. Then Netherrealm rebooted Mortal Kombat in 2011 and implemented a cinematic story mode that was so well-received that it would appear in follow-up games, Mortal Kombat X and the Injustice series. Capcom wants to try its hand at doing the same, first with Street Fighter V and next with Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite. But after playing the 25-minute demo for the latter, the decision feels ill-conceived.
 
For me, the main appeal of Netherrealm’s story modes is the ability to learn a character by taking them through a series of successive battles. By the time a new fighter is introduced, you have a decent handle on the previous one. Marvel vs. Capcom throws that out the window by giving you two characters at once, making it more difficult to become intimately familiar with a single combatant. It doesn’t help that MvC’s bouts are faster paced than most fighters, so it’s harder to take your time figuring out button combinations. Exacerbating things further is that the story demo forced me to use a new combination of fighters in nearly every bout. Within 25 minutes, I went through 10 characters – nearly half of the announced roster – in rapid fire fashion. Since I was hoping to get a real taste for newcomers like Captain Marvel and Mega Man X, this drove me nuts.
 
Dialogue was incredibly lame. The script so far feels like it was written by a cheese-obsessed fan fiction writer, and the delivery isn’t much better. Iron Man teasing Arthur about his huge lance “compensating for something” nearly made me abandon the demo station in embarrassment. Some interactions felt out of character, such as Rocket asking Dante to loan him his handguns and Dante replying “For you Rocket, anything” with a cringy affection and no trace of the demon hunter’s signature snark. It didn’t help that everyone appeared to be largely familiar with each other, which took away much of the fun novelty of seeing these disparate universes collide. 
 
 
The story’s tone feels weirdly straight-faced. Marvel vs. Capcom is an inherently goofy premise but Infinite seems like it’s trying to tell a serious tale and make sense of that absurdity. I mean, Thor expresses actual pathos at seeing Asgard defiled by Ultron Sigma. Instead of just being a silly thing that knows how dumb it is, it seems like they’re actively trying to explain something that doesn’t require any logic. Worsening things is that the stilted cutscenes and aforementioned rough dialogue negate a lot of the weight the story is attempting to establish.
 
One of the reasons Marvel vs Capcom works for me is that, outside of its stupidity, the character interactions are appropriately humorous but also relatively brief. They don’t draw out the joke for too long, leaving me wanting a bit more but not much. So far, Infinite feels like it may be stretching out that joke to its breaking point while also painting it in a coat of grim. You know what this story reminds me of so far? Modern day Sonic the Hedgehog plots, particularly Sonic ‘06. Then, we had talking cartoon animals in a convoluted apocalyptic narrative. Now, we've got Chris Redfield hanging out with Rocket Raccoon and they're getting mauled by a killer robot–and its no laughing matter. 
 
Some fans have fussed about Infinite’s art direction and I can’t say I’m a fan either. While the game performs well enough, the more realistic and unified design removes some of the flair that the comic style brought. Certain character models appear just…off, with Chun-Li and Gamora being the most egregious examples. Gamora has a strangely blank expression and Chun-Li looks like a slightly melted action figure in some scenes.
 
During E3, Capcom released the Marvel vs. Capcom story demo for free on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, so you can check all of this out for yourself and see what you think. As for myself, the story mode feels like a bad move in an already divisive entry in the beloved crossover fighter. 
Marcus Stewart

 
Tactical RPG Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is already available on PC, but console players have been on the outside looking in. That changes when the title launches for PS4 later this year. I got a chance to take Masquerada for a spin during E3 and walked away eager to wrap my hands around the finished console port. 

Masquerada stars Cicero, an exiled private investigator who returns to the city of Gitte della Ombre after years of banishment. He’s tasked with locating the whereabouts of a missing diplomat, kicking off a grander political mystery. Ombre has been embroiled in a civil war over the possession of mascherines, masks that grant tremendous powers to its wearers. Rebels have been stealing mascherines from the oppressive upper society that have long hoarded the magic to themselves.   

Combat blends tactical planning with real-time action. Cicero can move freely around the battlefield, dealing automatic melee attacks to targets. It felt liberating to maneuver around skirmishes as I pleased, letting me flank enemies for maximum damage. Combat can be paused to let players strategically plan actions that then play once when gameplay resumes. The mechanic is not unlike the tactical style of Supergiant Games’ Transistor, a title the developer cited as a primary influence for Masquerada. Pausing the action is extremely helpful in hectic situations, especially for lining-up projectile attacks.  
 

Mascherines come in four elemental classes–air, water, earth and fire–that grant specialized attacks, such as the air class' cyclone blade assault. Three Stances grant buffs such as increased movement speed and reduced damage while remaining stationary. Party members only sport one Stance, but Cicero can utilize multiple Stances in a chosen element. The Stance’s button placement on the D-pad made swapping between them on the fly quick and intuitive, letting me constantly adapt to changing battle conditions. 

Magic can be chained together via an Elemental Tag system. In one battle, I conjured a water spell and followed up with a flurry of ice projectile attacks that dealt bonus damage due to the enemies being soaking wet. It’s a neat wrinkle that provides further strategic options in combat.  

Although the prologue was slow to ramp up, Masquerada became good fun the moment Cicero donned his magical party mask. Gameplay features a breath of strategy and the colorful Venetian aesthetic combined with a fleshed-out and imaginative universe, giving the game unique flair. If you own a PS4 and dig tactical RPGs, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is worth keeping on you radar. 
Joseph Knoop

 
It’s a golden rule of gaming, especially mobile, that you’re eventually going to want some cool accessories on the go. It can be a tricky minefield of first-party bank breakers or third-party cheapskates, though, so it’s helpful to have a guiding hand in making your accessorizing decisions. We stopped by Nyko’s booth at this year’s E3 to check out their immense collection of Nintendo Switch accessories and determine which might be good fits for owners of Nintendo's hybrid device.
 

 
Power Shell Case
Release: July 2017
Price: $39.99
 
The kingpin of Nyko’s lineup, this hardshell case not only holds your Switch and up to 12 games, but it also stores up to three hours worth of charge for the Switch. The case doubles as a stand, with the USB plug-in resting at its bottom, allowing you to charge while playing stationary. The Power Shell Case might be a solid idea if you tend to play rough or have yet to pick up a case at all.
 

 
Dock Bands
Release: June 2017
Price: $4.99
 
Simple and stretchy, these little bands may not look like much. But for those worried about scuffing or scratching the screen on their Nintendo Switch, this item might be a lifesaver. The bands slip over the sides of the Switch’s screen and provide a protective buffer between the screen and dock when you insert it. 
 

 
Swivel Grip for Switch Controller
Release: August 2017
Price: $9.99
 
Want a little extra grip on your Switch Joy-Con but don’t want to spring for a Pro Controller? These cheap plastic grips attach to the bottom of either Joy-Con and swivel out to form the traditional, not-quite-banana-like shape of most modern controllers.
 

 
Charge Base for Switch
Release: August 2017
Price: $29.99
 
The Switch is designed for portability, but it’s home dock definitely isn’t. If you’re the type to bring your Switch to a party, it’s easy to run out of power before the night grows old. Bringing the charge base along with you will allow you to restore battery life while you prop up the Switch on your friend’s mom’s dinner table.
 
Which of these accessories do you think will be a good fit for you? 
Marcus Stewart

 
At Monday's PC Gaming Show, Tripwire Interactive pulled the curtain back on Killing Floor 2's first seasonal event. Dubbed the Summer Sideshow, the carnival-themed event brings a slew of new content to the game for a limited time. 
 
 
Among the new additions is a new map set in a deranged circus that host new objectives titled The Tragic Kingdom. Over 50 new cosmetic items, both free and paid, will be introduced, including an exclusive Sideshow Hazmat suit that's earned by completing The Tragic Kingdom missions. Additionally, two new weapons, the HZ12 shotgun and the Centerfire Lever Action, will become available for the Support Perk and Sharpshooter/Multi-Perk with Gunslinger, respectively. 
 
Look for the Summer Sideshow on PC from now until July 11. Concurrently, Killing Floor 2 is on sale for 50 percent off and is having a free week on Steam. PS4 players will receive the update at an unspecified time later this summer. 
Joseph Knoop

 
Assassin's Creed: Origins was one of E3 2017's worst kept secrets thanks to numerous pre-show leaks, but it made its official unveiling at Microsoft's E3 press event. The debut trailer confirmed the rumored ancient Egyptian setting, detailing the story of the first group of people to call themselves assassins. 
 
The gameplay demonstration introduced players to Bayak, described as an "Egyptian sheriff" of sorts named, sliding down the side of a still-young pyramid. He faced off against armored enemies in a coliseum using various methods including the traditional blades, a sword and shield combination, and multi-shot bow and arrow strikes. Bayak's also shown swimming underwater, avoiding deadly threats like hippos and crocodiles. Among the locations players will explore include the Mediterranean Sea as well as the numerous royal tombs that dot the city of Giza. 
 
 
 
 
A long-form demo showcased additional gameplay from Origins, detailing new mechanics and stealth maneuvers. Using a trained eagle scout and pinpoint enemies, Bayak infiltrates the grounds of a local ruler's stronghold. The eagle seems to have replaced the series' signature towers for gaining new geography intel. Bayak used the tall grass to sneak up on guards and perform traditional takedowns. The demo concluded with Bayak taking down the ruler with a single bow shot, guiding the arrow's trajectory with a slow motion, first-person view.
 
Assassin's Creed: Origins launches October 27 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Do you feel the Egyptian setting and origin story are enough to shake-up the long-running franchise? 
 
 
Joseph Knoop

 
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 made a big splash during Nintendo's E3 Direct presentation. The direct sequel to the Wii/New 3DS' Xenoblade Chronicles still doesn’t have a specific release date, but fans only have to wait until the fall of this year to get their hands the Switch JRPG epic. 
 

The next entry in the Xeno series puts the spotlight on two new protagonists on a journey to a mysterious land known as Elysium. The trailer shows off the expansive world that blends traditional fantasy with science fiction, as well as some of the new faces players will encounter. We also get a glimpses of the flashy combat against the intimidating creatures dominating both land and the skies.
 
Are you looking forward to Xenoblade Chronicles 2? How do you feel about the new art direction, setting, and characters? 
Marcus Stewart

 
Knack was the poster-child for the typical launch game: a decent showcase of the PS4’s technical capabilities while just being serviceable as an entertaining video game. While I feel Knack receives more vitriol than it probably deserves, the throwback-style platformer also didn’t light my world on fire enough to have me salivating over a sequel. But that’s what we’re getting, and after playing Knack 2 at E3 2017, I'm not convinced that there's much there to sufficiently separate itself from its predecessor. 

Knack 2’s primary hook is the addition of two-player co-op. Players can romp through the colorful world together, whether from the outset or during single play thanks to a drop-in/drop-out feature. Platforming makes my soul smile, so I coerced my fellow attendee into choosing the traversal-focused opening segment (the other available level was an action-heavy combat showcase). Knack 2’s mechanics and design are identical to the first game save for a new shield Knack can conjure to repel attacks, adding a wrinkle of depth to the beat-em-up-style combat.  
 

The cooperative gameplay design featured in this slice was nothing remarkable. Seesaw platforms, ziplines across gaps, floors that dip in and out of walls. It sounds like I’m skipping details, but I really can’t think of anything mechanics worth discussing in-depth. Knack 2’s challenge mainly derived from my less-than-skilled partner struggling to keep up with me (not his fault. I’m quite adept at platformers). Thankfully, hitting the right trigger lets players instantly warp alongside their companions, which helped keep our adventure rolling along. A team-up attack is also present, although there weren't any enemies worth using it on. We did, however, gang up on some unsuspecting crystals and crates. 

As we hopped about and pummeled anything that wasn’t made out of metallic Toblerones, I couldn’t help feeling I’d had my fill of the game once the demo wrapped up. Everything felt like an extended déjà vu sequence guest starring a stranger, and nothing presented in my particular demo (I never got around to the combat scenario) compelled me to want to play another Knack game. Co-op worked well enough and should be welcome addition for fans, though that’s primarily because most games are inherently more fun with someone else and not because anything Knack 2 did with the feature. We’ll see how everything comes together when Knack 2 launches September 5. But unless you’re a diehard Knack enthusiast or feel deprived of 3D platformers and will take anything, I wouldn’t expect much to get you on board if you weren’t keen on the first title.