Preview! ‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity’ Goes Red and Black

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AC Unity P.1

ASSASSIN’S CREED: UNITY takes us to the most revolution-y of revolutions, the French Revolution. You can also play the new installment of the franchise on the PlayStation 4.

Note: Some spoilers from previous Assassin’s Creed games follow.

On November 11, our hidden blade will have a new opportunity for use in the setting of the French Revolution. Assassin’s Creed: Unity will feature Arno Dorian, who was raised by a Templar after his Assassin father was murdered. Fans of the series will recognize this dichotomy from the prequel novel to Assassin’s Creed III which featured Haytham Kenway, a Templar who discovers his own father was an Assassin.  A new twist is a love relationship with a Templar, Elise. Although details are scarce on the sub-plot scened in the present, a recent article in Game Informer confirmed that Desmond’s story is finished and this will be something different. I can’t help but think the Ubisoft Montreal and Bioware Montreal guys have been drinking together at the local pub and resolving their main characters to rest…for good. Of course, some hold to a hope of their respective returns.

As for details on the game, there are some interesting details put forth. Unity actually started right after Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. It appears that a development group split off during ACIII. The major advancements in ACIII were arguably the weather versatile environments and ship combat that spawned the subsequent release of Black Flag. Unity has been said to return to the core principles that resonated with the first three installments of Assassin’s Creed. Players will have to get to know their targets before dispatching them. Swordplay has been redone to focus on the mechanics of fencing. Navigation has been retooled to have easier upward and downward parkour movements.

AC Unity P.2

Do you hear the people sing? DO YOU?

Perhaps the biggest change coming is a cooperative mode where friends can join in on your current mission (from the last save point) as other friendly assassins. Another substantial change is that the missions will no longer “desync” you for not being stealthy but rather adapt to how you want to play the game. Finally, the buildings themselves will actually be able to be explored on the inside with special animations & sequences for combat, escape, and general exploration.

For fans of Les Miserables, this sounds to be an enjoyable visit to the violent and dynamic period of the turn of the 18th century. This title has us at the Backlog interested enough to keep tabs on and perhaps visit our local video game store to put down a preorder. The releases of this fall weigh heavy on the size of the backlog so we may need to let it slip until Christmas. Keep posted fellow assassinos!

– Dinmyer

NEWS! NEW ‘STAR WARS: REBELS’ SHORT FOR EZRA

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Happy Labor Day, everybody!

To mark the occasion (or to market their product), Disney/Lucasfilm has released the fourth Star Wars: Rebels short, this one featuring Ezra being up to no good:

What really strikes me about these shorts is their production quality: the music is the Star Wars soundtrack, not a sampled version of some of its themes; the animation is fluid, and the characters’ movements natural; it’s funny without being silly.

But what is really striking about this “Not What You Think” short is that the show and its characters are beginning to feel like Star Wars. We’ll have to reserve final judgment on that until we see how the show does, but what we’ve seen from this show looks very promising.

– Vandal

Discussion! Dragon Age: Inquisition Multiplayer Trailer

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The biggest news from the Xbox One dashboard remains the Dragon Age: Inquisition multiplayer trailer that BioWare revealed last week before PAX Prime in Seattle.  We’ve watched a fair few times, and present it to you below so that you can do the same:

Five things that really jump out to me, aside from the beautiful presentation that Frostbite 3 offers:

1 – Lovely lady Leliana and her voice-over.  It sounds more than a little like she’ll be the in-game contact person for our avatars during co-op, as she specifically takes responsibility for directing the missions at 0:11.

2 – The objectives that appear on the player’s HUD at 0:19 and 0:27.  We see only two here, but the on-screen directions that appear suggest that there will be a variety of things to do as we slay our way through dungeons, looting treasure and stacking DPS.

DAI MP Archer Preview

One of the 20 classes available at DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION’s launch will be the Archer, whom I will immediately dress in green and name “Ollie.”

3 – 12-character kits.  The ones we see at 0:30 include an Assassin, a Keeper, and a Legionnaire, all of which refer to specializations available to players and party members of the previous games in the Dragon Age franchise.  As the DLC will be free of charge when it comes, it’s not unreasonable to assume that we’ll have far more options than these robust dozen before too long.

4 – The crafting menu.  At 0:43, we see the option to make something called the “Highever Weave.”  This is a reference to the human noble path for warriors and rogues in Dragon Age: Origins, and suggests not only that the equipment system Inquisition will go deep, but that the lore of Thedas will be integrated in to the multiplayer mode as well.

5 – Ability combos.  One of most enjoyable things about Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer was the trial-and-error of figuring out how to tear down Banshees with carefully timed biotic explosions, which could also be used to launch Husks into the stratosphere for fun during less-stressful waves.  Vrin and I had numerous classes set aside for just that purpose, and we have mused more than once that the Dragon Age character system might be even more suitable for cross-class devastation–we get a look at some of these at 1:01.

BioWare has also offered a FAQ on its multiplayer mode on DragonAge.com, and what they’re promising us sounds like they’ve taken the fun of Mass Effect 3‘s jolly cooperation and translated it with even more depth into the Dragon Age franchise.

There may have been some well-warranted skepticism from players and pundits alike regarding BioWare after the controversy-laden releases of both Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3, but what the Canadian developer has shown from Inquisition outstrips either of those games’ marketing strategies, and after hugely successful presentations at E3 and Gamescom, and with a huge lineup prepared at PAX Prime this weekend to showcase Inquisition, they don’t seem to have missed a beat; rather, BioWare looks better than ever.

– Vandal

Discussion! Bats v Supes and the Super-Serious DC Cinematic Universe

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It’s no secret that Warner Bros. and DC Comics have more than a bit of work ahead of them to catch up with Marvel in terms of establishing a cohesive cinematic superhero universe. When Jon Favreau’s Iron Man hit theaters in May 2008, the world was awaiting the second installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight. Both, of course, were huge hits, but ol’ Shellhead’s film debut was the first in a series of movies that built up to the super-team mega-blockbuster, The Avengers, while the Batman sequel was part of a stand-alone—oh, I’ll just say it—”epic” with no connection to a larger superhero continuity.

Batman BvS

The first image from SUPERMAN v. BATMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was this still of Ben Affleck as Batman, brooding away in a Frank Miller-looking suit in front of a new Batmobile design.

And, really, super-powered folks would’ve been out of place in Nolan’s very grounded take on DC’s Caped Crusader.

Still, after seeing The Avengers in 2012, every comic book fan worth his or her weight in back issues had to be wondering, “Where’s my Justice League movie?” Meanwhile, Warner Bros. had announced Man of Steel, a Superman reboot to be directed by Zack Snyder, but it wasn’t clear if it would establish a connected DC Comics cinematic universe.

Then, suddenly, it was clear.

Superman BvS

Henry Cavill’s Superman looks more ripped than ever, but the costume and the brooding jawline remain seemingly unchanged.

So, Man of Steel hit theaters in June 2013, and I loved it. More than just a little—from Henry Cavill’s earnest Clark Kent/Superman to Amy Adams’ gutsy Lois Lane to Michael Shannon’s driven General Zod to the gloriously otherworldly vision of Krypton. However, I’m not one of those people who can’t the faults in the things they love, and my big problem with Man of Steel was that it was little too dour. Outside of the scenes in which Superman perfected his flying early on and confronted the general with the satellite at the end, the rest of the film was a fairly somber affair.

All of the Marvel films had their fair share of lighter moments—as do many good comic book stories, so why no fun for Superman? Sure, he had to deal with an uber-patriotic group of superhuman who wanted to terraform Earth and make it suitable for Kryptonians—thereby wiping out humanity, but, for the love of Pete, he can fly and lift mountains over his head—surely there’s some fun to be had in that.

So, what does all this have to do with the price of eggs in Metropolis? Well, the road to Justice League is paved with good intentions and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel that will introduce Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and build a DC cinematic universe—all of which sounds good to me. However, I’m hoping that the online rumors of a Warner Bros. decree that there be no humor in the DC movies are false. How do you get folks like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together and not have a bit of fun?

Wonder Woman BvS

Gal Gadot made her first teaser appearance as Wonder Woman at Comic Con in this past summer, striking a menacing pose in a familiar suit of Amazonian armor.

Like any good fan, I was overjoyed with the Comic-Con footage of a fiery-eyed Superman descending through the beam of the Bat-signal on a dark and stormy night to confront an armored Batman. Too, the first photo of Gal Gadot in full Wonder Woman regalia thrilled me to no end. No smiles, though. Perhaps those will come from Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Cyborg—each of whom may make a cameo appearance in Bats v. Supes. Still, Aquaman is an occasionally savage warrior-king and Cyborg’s origin story is fairly tragic, so I may have to depend on the Flash and Green Lantern to lighten the tone.

What I’m getting at is that I want Bats v. Supes to be awesome, and I think it will be; however, I hope it will also be fun. With any luck, Snyder has looked at Bruce Timm’s take on the team in the Justice League and Justice League United animated series. There, the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader, and the Amazing Amazon were anything but stodgy, and that’s because the writing was lively and inventive. That’s the tone I want for Bats v. Supes and Justice League.

(Incidentally, anyone read Justice League: Origin by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee? There was more than one or two laugh-out-loud moments in that sprawling six-issue story!)

So. How am I feeling about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League and whatever else is to come down the DC blockbuster pike? Incredibly optimistic. I like Henry Cavill as Superman. I am happy with Ben Affleck as Batman. Gal Gadot looks like Wonder Woman to me. But I want to smile, not feel like I’ve watched a Bergman film with fight scenes and explosions.

–  Mou

Discussion! ‘Destiny’ Matchmaking

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13 days to go, friends–Destiny is on its way to rob us of sleep, sunshine, and sadness.  Today we’ll take a peek at the two matchmaking modes that Activision’s next shooter will offer players, one cooperative and one competitive.

STRIKES
Strikes are missions that, depending on the level and familiarity of the three-person fireteam, can take anywhere from 20 minutes to well over an hour of time to complete, and this is likely to increase as Bungie adds Strikes to the Destiny playlists via DLC and weekly events.

Destiny Beta Strike

Strikes are a great way to team up with your friends in the DESTINY universe, and the challenges that they are sure to offer to players look like they’ll be readily offset by regular, excellent loot drops to make the next Strike a little more manageable.

During the Beta, players were offloaded into a battle zone between  two factions of enemies—the Fallen and the Hive—and fought their way through several objectives that were similar to those featured in the other game modes.  After the final fight, each member of the participating fireteam received gear as they did when they completed story chapters, and then returned to orbit.

This game mode—the strongest that the Beta offered from a technical and cooperative perspective—boasts real challenge, as respawn rules become increasingly stringent and coordinated teamwork becomes necessary in order to finish efficiently, if at all.  We played this event several times with several different fireteam arrangements, and the party build that made the event most manageable was that of Hunter/Titan/Warlock, allowing each class’ advantages to limit the other class’ shortcomings.

This warrants Bungie’s earlier claims that the game’s focus on cooperative play would in no way be harmed by the all-but-certain popularity of the Crucible, and those less interested in competing than cooperating (as is true for us here at the Unending Backlog) wouldn’t see their rewards limited in any way.  In our trips through the Strike, all equipment rewards at the end of each time through the strike were of equipment scaled at least the level of the characters we were playing at the time, and some were even above the levels of our characters.

Destiny Beta Crucible

The Beta only featured one game mode from Destiny’s competitive gameplay, but it enjoyed a lot of participation and will surely be a hit when the game launches in two weeks.

THE CRUCIBLE
On the competitive side of Destiny, the Crucible and its competition was perhaps the most familiar element of the first person nature of the “shared-world shooter”; the one available competitive mode, Control, shares a great deal of its structure and objectives with Call of Duty’s manic ‘Domination’ mode, in which players rush to claim waypoints that contribute to their teams’ scores.  Here, though, the gameplay of Destiny really shines, as while its quality in the single-player and cooperative elements is good, the balance the game strikes between all play types loses nothing in the transition to a competitive arena.

While I was playing, I observed that the players that were winning did so with familiarity and skill within the rules of the game, and not on equipment, class, or level.  Teams that worked together were successful, and those that did not struggled.  This promises the kind of inclusive playing grounds that have made Call of Duty so successful, and it comes as no surprise that Activision’s involvement in Destiny’s development has seemingly lent the same advantages to Bungie’s new game.  If the Beta was the test that Bungie wanted it to be, the Crucible will be a very busy place for a very long time.

CONCLUSION
Multiplayer modes offer players a chance to team up with or compete against their friends, and Destiny will in no way be short of that.  Both the Strike and Crucible game modes offer a lot of options for gamers of any sort, and both are certain to be regular visits for Guardians in their quest for both loot and challenge.  We are looking forward to seeing what Bungie has for us when we team up for the first time on September 9th.

– Vandal

Discussion! ‘The Flash’ Teaser Poster: Don’t Blink, You Might Miss It

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The CW just released a new poster for The Flash and it’s a great image.  But is that all it is?

"Pilot"The Flash is so fast that he leaves an after-image.  In the poster, his after image is the shape of his insignia, a lightning bolt.  But is that all of what’s happening in this poster?

No.  Not even close. As comic artists are wont to do, they’ve made this poster FULL of Easter Eggs.  And a few of them are seriously great!

First, some shameless CW cross-promotion:

  • In the top right corner you can see the Queen Consolidated building from the CW’s Arrow.
  • On the right toward the bottom is Big Belly Burger, another Arrow reference

But that’s not all…

  • In the bottom right corner, chalk writing says “Grodd Lives”.
  • The AmerTek building is seen on the middle of the left side.  AmerTek is the employer of John Henry Irons (DC Comics’ Steel)
  • The Kord Industries building can be found toward the middle of the picture.  It’s founder, Ted Kord, is better known in DC Comics as the Blue Beetle.
  • Across the street from Kord is S.T.A.R. Labs, DC Comics’ super science lab.
  • And to the left of Queen Consolidated is a skyscraper with blurry logo.  I’m not 100% of what this logo is.   What major DC corporations are left? Wayne Enterprises? Lexcorp?  Stagg?  Something lesser known?  I feel like I’ve seen the logo before but I can’t place it. Here’s a blown up (but mildly blurry) image:

The Flash Preview 3What do you think it is?

That’s all I could find.  Let’s talk about some implications:

  • Gorilla Grodd, the telepathic gorilla in perpetual search of minions to rule, will eventually be part of the show.  In Flash lore, he’s a serious heavyweight with his character ranging from would-be ruler of Gorilla City to conqueror, King and would-be owner of the Speed Force.  He’s taken Barry to the brink of defeat more than once.
  • The Queen/Arrow references are shameless cross-promotion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Comic books have held crossovers for decades. In fact, Barry’s appearance on Arrow was a Season 2 highlight!  According to sources, the first Flash/Arrow cross-over will take place in each show’s episode 8.
  • John Henry Irons superhero Steel may make an appearance.  His first appearance was as a hero helping to bridge the gap after The Death of Superman.  He has remained a popular character ever since.
  • Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle, may make an appearance as well.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
The Flash is a 10/10 must see.  I haven’t seen anything to make me think it’ll be anything other than a knockout hit.

Here’s what I know for sure: I’m looking forward to The Flash more and more every day.  Why isn’t it October 7th yet????

Vrin

Preview! New Star Wars Rebels Shorts for Sabine, Zeb

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Sabine was here.

Disney/Lucasfilm is starting to ramp up its marketing for its new show, Star Wars Rebels.  While others around here will tell you that The Flash is this fall’s can’t-miss new show, I am here to provide, shall we say, an alternative view.

Posted to the official Star Wars YouTube channel have been several TV spots that are currently airing across broadcast and cable televisions, but more interesting are the three-minutes short films that each center on a single member of the Ghost‘s crew.  A few weeks ago, we blogged the first of these, an Episode IV-spirited look at Chopper the astromech.

Since then, Lucasfilm has sent two more character features our way, with the first focusing on Sabine Wren, a renegade Mandalorian with artistic inclinations toward the civilly-disobedient:

And yesterday, Lucasfilm set us up with a short featuring Zeb, a member of the acrobatic Lasat race whose species is a new addition to the panoply of central characters:

Both shorts give us a glimpse into the nature of these main characters, their looks and personalities, and show off just how terrific this show is going to look and sound when it comes on the air in early October.  We’ll have another preview of the characters when John Jackson Miller’s canonical novel Star Wars: A New Dawn hits store shelves next week, but for now, these short films (and the three we’re still waiting for) should get us through until then.

Star Wars is coming back in a major way this fall, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

–  Vandal