James Davenport: Stardewing it right
I was wrong about Stardew Valley. There are twenty melons growing in my yard. I’m 40 floors deep into the mines. The wizard refuses to kiss me. I was very wrong about Stardew Valley. I’ve never enjoyed a Harvest Moon game. Maybe there wasn’t enough variety, or the text conversations were too easy to mash through, or I didn’t feel precise and efficient with the controls. Maybe I just wasn’t ready, because now there’s nothing I want more than to make locally sourced mayonnaise.
And that’s no joke. Stardew Valley digs at genuine moral dilemmas. Do I buy local at a higher price or hit up the corporate chain for cheaper goods? The decisions you make can have a real impact on what happens to Stardew’s little community. It’s not a matter of pressing the red or blue button, of killing someone or not, that video games so often depend on to create decision-making pressure. Stardew Valley is relatable. I might never be a space marine, but I could very well head home and start baling hay, join a produce farm on the fringes of Missoula, or forage for mushrooms—though I hear those types are territorial. I won’t do any of these things. I like it here well enough. But even though Stardew is a mostly meditative game, it’s asked me to reflect on how the small decisions I make might affect my community. I’m glad. Plant turnips, get woke.
Tim Clark: The call of C’Thun
Every time a new Hearthstone expansion is announced it’s like wizard Christmas for me. This week I was lucky enough to fly to Blizzard HQ for a preview of the next set and to play some games with C’Thun and a few of his cultist chums. C’Thun’s funky buff mechanic is so core to the new set that everyone’s going to be given a free copy of him, plus two Beckoner of Evils and three packs, just to be sure no-one misses out. You can see what the pros make of the card here, but it seems fun. I really hope it doesn’t end up being either so good that almost everyone runs it, or so gimmicky that it ends up only run in troll decks.
My real high, though, was putting Polygon’s reporter to the sword. Particularly as he was ahead on board for the whole game, and it took a patient Flamestrike followed by a giant C’Thun to secure my glorious comeback. Does posting about that here make me the smaller man? Almost certainly. But after our Dota2 shame at the hands of Rock Paper Shotgun, we’ll take any sort of win. And, yes, we both BM’d each other throughout.
Phil Savage: THUMPing good
THUMPER looks great. A while back, I played an IGF build, and, even at that early stage, it was clearly something special. It's like being forced at breakneck speed through an anxiety attack; like if Audiosurf was bitten by radioactive EDM. It's rare and somewhat novel to play something that genuinely feels like it doesn't like you. Like it wants you to fail, and have an unpleasant time doing it. That probably sounds horrible, but it appeals to a very specific, masochistic part of me.
There's still no confirmed release date, but we do now know that it will be out this year. There's also a new trailer of a later level. It's like everything I previously experienced, but more so. Go and look at it. Look at it, and fear it.
Chris Livingston: Hello Dark Zone my old friend
I was initially a little dubious about The Division's PvP Dark Zone, figuring it would be nothing but players killing each other on sight for loot. After a few trips in this week, I'm actually really enjoying it. Sure, there are definitely some KOS types there: James and I got stomped by some higher-level rogue agents on our first trip to the DZ, though we eventually brought them down with help from another player.
Generally, other players have been really cool. Most everyone we've encountered in the DZ either says a few brief words of greeting as they pass or stops and hangs out for a little chit-chat. One guy was nice enough to cover us while we extracted some gear—we returned the favor a few minutes later—and we teamed up with a few folks we randomly met on the streets. Admittedly, my experiences represent a small sample size, but so far it doesn't feel like a 24/7 murderzone. It's a good balance at the moment. There are enough rogues to keep you guessing, but plenty of players who want to team up, help out, or just say hi.
Samuel Roberts: Hitman is here
Last night, behind the catwalk of the fashion show where Hitman’s ‘season premiere’ level takes place, I waited for a model to walk past then shot Viktor Novikov, his bodyguard, and three models stood behind them in a panicked frenzy of gunfire that can only be described as Tarantino-esque. After making a quick escape, I walked to a dock outside the mansion, strangled the security guard and took his outfit.
I then headed back into the mansion, tracked down Novikov’s partner, set off an alarm and forced them into a target lockdown zone. I walked closely behind them and took them out with my silent pistol before making a quick escape to the floor below on a ladder. I swaggered up to a helicopter on the lawn and took off. The game gives me a zero out of five assassin rating. Nice.
This is the new Hitman, and I’m loving it. There’s enormous potential in the levels ahead for the game—and still so much I haven’t yet seen in the Paris level included with this opening chapter. Check out Phil’s impressions of episode one here, and we’ll have a review up on Monday.
Angus Morrison: AMA of Empires
If I were a billionaire, I can imagine I’d soon get bored and have to come up with increasingly zany ways to tickle myself. Like intervening in the fate of Age of Empires, for example, which is what Bill Gates got up to in his most recent AMA.
I know there’s only so seriously we can take his response, but I want to believe that the former Microsoft CEO made the comment, then picked up the phone and dispatched the paramedics to revive one of the greatest RTS series in existence. I have no doubt that when his time isn’t taken up with philanthropy Gates enjoys steamrolling rival civilisations—he’s a computer nerd; the need for vengeance is genetic.