Saturday, November 27, 2021

Fortnite Chapter 2 Is Coming To An End, See The Trailer, Learn How To Be A Part Of The Action

Click here to watch embedded media Epic Games is ending Fortnite's second chapter sooner than expected. On December 4 at 4 p.m. ET, the Cube Queen is waging war against all of the combatants on the Island in a new limited event called "The End." This event is a one-time instance, meaning you won't be able to play it again after you complete it. Epic recommends content creators and players record their playthrough as it will be the only way to see it again. The End allows for groups of up to 16 players to queue together. Friends can get together 30 minutes before the event begins. This current season is ending a day earlier than Epic originally announced, so anyone who logs in now between December 4 will receive a 225,000 XP reward. Players who compete in The End event will earn a themed loading screen and wrap. From November 26 to 29, Epic is holding a power-leveling weekend with supercharged XP to help players complete the battle pass. What comes next is anyone's guess. Epic will likely continue on with Chapter 3 and a new theme. We know Boba Fett is coming to the game, and there are rumors that The Matrix will be involved as well. What do you hope to see from Fortnite next? And what did you think of the current chapter? Let us know in the comments section below!
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    Fine-tuning The Last of Us Part II’s interactive guitar

    Music has always been a cornerstone of Naughty Dog titles, but with The Last of Us: Part II we knew we wanted to take things a step further, and put the music directly into players’ hands. The idea sprung first from a narrative angle: between our first internal story pitch and our first external trailer, […]

    Animal Crossing: New Horizons Thanksgiving Cook-Off

    Is there anything better than sitting down to a big feast, surrounded by friends and family on Thanksgiving? Yes. Absolutely crushing a culinary rival before sitting down to that feast. Which is why, this year, I sparked up a totally friendly cooking competition with Game Informer’s resident Instagram chef, Brian Shea. Of course, I have no cooking skills. Even the least flammable foods turn to fiery ash as soon as I enter the kitchen. But that doesn’t matter because I have a virtual ace up my sleeve. I’ve been putting Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ newly introduced stove through its paces, growing crops, stealing techniques from villagers, and gathering all possible ingredients to whip up some mouth-watering dishes. So, instead of a fair fight that I’d lose, I challenged my fellow editor to a battle between his real-life creations and my, obviously superior, New Horizons masterpieces (the secrets of which I’m ready to share). I’ll leave the reader to decide who gets the gold as we go through several courses, but I’ll bet a million Bells I know who wins. Click image thumbnails to view larger version                                                                                                                Course: Appetizers Okay, first round. And right out of the gates, I’m already smoking the competition with some mixed-fruits sandwiches. Those street tacos are no slouch, I’ll give you that, but the ingredients and teamwork put into my refreshing appetizer are clearly showing through. Anyone looking to replicate my success should start getting friendly with a culinarily inclined villager for the recipe. It also wouldn’t hurt to shake every tree you can find for an orange, pear, and peach. Oh, and put on your farming gear because you’ll need wheat for that delicious, fluffy bread.     Course: Salad In this salad showdown, you can go ahead and toss my competitor’s lettuce letdown right in the trash because my turnip salad is unbeatable. Anyone familiar with the Stalk Market will know the best and most valuable root vegetables come straight from Daisy Mae on a Sunday morning. What you might not know is she overnights her favorite customers the instructions for her secret turnip-themed dishes after a sale. So, if you want full wallets and full bellies, invest in this cash crop. You know Brian wishes he did.   Course: Sides I found this delectable bread gratin recipe in a bottle just sitting out on the beach, so it seems like fate wanted me to win this side dish category. Hopefully, the amber waves of grain in your wheat field are bountiful because, for this dish, you’re going to need enough to make regular flour and its whole-wheat variant. But pound-for-pound, bread gratin is going to give you a more satisfyingly cheesy mouthful than any macaroni. So, who can complain about waiting days for Leif to finally sell wheat starters or the slow work of picking crops one-by-one when the final reward is crushing my fellow editor?   Course: Fish Sometimes a perfect plate doesn’t need a ton of extra ingredients and effort. Case in point: carpaccio di marlin blue. Sure, some chefs may prefer to cook their fish, place it over rice and throw in some greenery for good measure. But, for that elevated simplicity in your Animal Crossing cuisine, you just need to catch one blue marlin at the nearest pier, chop it up, and serve it still tasting of the sea. And if you don’t hook the impressive cerulean creature right away, you can always give the unwanted fish to other cooks so they can make inferior meals.    Course: Dessert With my Roost sable cookies up for the dessert round, you can stick a fork in this competition – and my rival’s waffle – because it’s done. It was a hard path to the winner’s circle on this one, as I had to order coffee from Brewster for six days, and drink every cup under the pressure of his judgmental stare, to convince the barista to give up the recipe. I’m either feeling the thrill of victory right now or the copious amounts of caffeine, paired with this winning sugar-and-flour-filled treat, are sending my energy levels through the roof. If you're looking to get in on the cooking action with an impressive dish, head on over to my rival's recipe of how to make the Leblanc Curry from Persona 5.

    Every Video Game Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Ranked

    Thanksgiving Day used to be the start of the holiday shopping season, and the parade Macy's holds in the middle of New York City every year is designed to promote the biggest names and brands you'll be hearing about for the next month. Given how big of an industry video games have become in the last 40 years, you'd think every other balloon in the show would feature a memorable Nintendo or Sony character hovering down the chilly street. Surprisingly, that's not the case, and only a handful of characters and games have had the honor to join in the festivities. We've collected them here in one place for you to gawk at, and have ranked them for your enjoyment. Here are all of the video game balloons featured in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade over the years: 9 Red 2015 – 2017 Technically designed after the character from the Angry Birds movie, we'll still allow Red on this list because he also originates from a video game. You know what? This balloon is a messed-up inclusion for this event. Angry Birds love to be flung at buildings to take them down. They're beings of pure destruction that should not be anywhere near tall structures in a crowded city. It's just not safe for a nice, family-friendly event. On the other hand, it looks just like the character from the movie, so mission accomplished there. 8 Pikachu (Version 1) 2001 – 2005 The Pokémon craze hit America hard in 1998, captivating the hearts and minds of children across the nation. While it was arguably the biggest game phenomenon in recent memory, the enthusiasm arrived too late to be included in that year's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Somehow, it took three years for Pokémon's most prolific mascot, Pikachu, to make his Macy's Parade debut and start its journey as the video game character to appear the most times.  Pikachu's 2001 design is noticeably different from the electric rodent we know today. It has a protruding snout, more pronounced cheeks, and straighter, pointier ears. Its pose is a nod to the flying Pikachu from Pokémon Yellow, which has the mascot floating with the help of several attached balloons. How fitting!  7 Eruptor 2014 – 2016 Remember toys-to-life? Well, this is toys-to-larger-than-life (believe me, I'm not too fond of it either, but it had to be said). Eruptor made his gaseous, inflatable debut in the 2014 Macy's parade and managed to stay in the show for three years. Maybe one of the best-realized recreations on this list, this sole Skylander representative features a fun, active pose that makes it look like he's trotting through the streets of New York City. It's too bad this massive Eruptor didn't make the PR cycle for Skylanders: Giants because that would have been *chef kiss* perfection. Honestly, I was going to bury the Skylanders franchise here a little, but this fiery fiend is growing on me. Maybe I should check eBay quick to see if anyone is selling their figures...  6 Pikachu and Eevee 2021 Here's our newest Pokémon balloon, set to debut in 2021. For the first time, Pikachu isn't the only Pokémon floating through the NY streets. Eevee is included since it's become the co-mascot for the franchise, thanks to 2018's Let's Go games elevating the adorable creature to that status. Both are seated in a Pokéball sled, reminding us of the coming winter and snow. Replacing the snowman Pikachu, this balloon celebrates the 25th anniversary of Pokémon. It's ... fine. The sled brings the design down a notch, and Eevee could stand to have its own giant balloon and crew pulling it along.  5 Pikachu with Snowman (Version 3) 2014 – 2020 It's a Pikachu wearing winter weather gear and snuggling a little snowman Pikachu. What's not to love? Having the second-longest reign of the Pikachu balloons in parade history, it's not hard to see why this one was kept around until recently. It's adorable, seasonably appropriate, and will be sorely missed in the line-up this year. 4 Sonic The Hedgehog (Version 1) 1993 – 1997 While it’s not the most impressive balloon in the history of Thanksgiving day parades, it is high on this list for one notable reason. This inflatable Sonic is the first video game balloon to fly in the annual event. The year this balloon debuted was even a notoriously off year for the blue blur, with the highly anticipated sequel Sonic 3 missing the vital holiday season the parade is meant to advertise for and instead released a few months later, in February 1994. In an unfortunate series of events during Sonic's inaugural 1993 parade, the balloon was caught in some strong winds, blowing the mascot into a lamppost and puncturing its eye. It deflated then and there, with pieces of the lamppost injuring two parade-goers. Not the right foot for video game balloons to start on, but luckily the floating blue hedgehog was patched up and flew in the parade for a few more years before being replaced with an updated design. 3 Goku 2018 – 2019, 2021 Okay, so technically, Goku isn't a video game balloon, but he has been in some great games. Also, I feel bad for the folks who wanted to see him in Smash Bros., so this is my slight nod to the Saiyan fighter. It's not often Goku is lauded in a grand American spectacle, especially at an event that even Mario has never appeared in, so we're going to highlight this small win for anime's most well-known himbo. Goku didn't appear in the heyday of Dragon Ball Z, nor is he in his iconic Super Saiyan form. His first time entering the parade was in 2018 to promote the newest iteration of the series he hails from, Dragon Ball Super. Adorned with blue hair, this is, of course, Goku in his Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan form, also known as Super Saiyan Blue. Surprisingly, his appearance wasn't just a one-off, having appeared in the Macy's event in 2019 and is returning for 2021. 2 Sonic The Hedgehog (Version 2) 2011 – 2013, 2021 Now, this is a Sonic. Look at those lanky limbs, that cool mid-run pose, friendly smirk, and a thumbs up... thumb pointing at... I don't really know what that thumb is doing. Taking inspiration from the modern Sonic design, which debuted on the Dreamcast, this balloon is begging to fly through the city streets like the end of Sonic Adventure. Only without all of the flooding and destruction. Although, it would be cooler if this were Super Sonic instead. Minor point deductions there, I guess. This Sonic was brought out of retirement after spending seven years off the parade route, and will fly again this year in honor of the franchise's 30th anniversary. Points reinstated for making it this long, my spikey azure friend. 1 Pikachu (Version 2) 2006 – 2013 The simplicity of this Pikachu balloon is key. It's huge, cute, playful, and most importantly, recognizable from blocks away. Out of the now four different Pikachu balloons, this has to be the best. It's the character in its purest form and has light-up cheeks. In the early years of its run, this balloon was paired with a large Pokéball floating out in front of it, making the overall presentation even better. I don't know what else to say. This is hands down my favorite of the character balloons. Let's hope someone is brave enough to top it one day.  

    Expanding Visions And Expectations – How Heart Machine Hopes To Wow Players With Solar Ash.

    Solar Ash represents a dramatic leap forward for Heart Machine. After eleasing the 2D Zelda-inspired Hyper Light Drifter in 2016 to critical acclaim, fans of the game clamored to see what was next and many were surprised to see something totally different. Solar Ash is bigger and bolder than Hyper Light Drifter in every way, from its switch to a fully 3D world to its new emphasis on high-speed traversal over combat-focused dungeon crawling. But what is Solar Ash? Heart Machine’s creative director, Alx Preston, took us through a tour of the game to discuss its origins, gameplay, and how he is coping with the fear of the sophomore slump. In Preston’s words the “stupid elevator pitch” for Solar Ash is Super Mario Galaxy meets Shadow of the Colossus. Given that Solar Ash takes place in a beautiful abstract alien world, features tons of platforming, and pits players against titanic bosses, the description has merit. Unlike the 2D pixels that built Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash’s fully realized 3D environments give Preston the chance to craft the sort of worlds that provided an immersive escape for him during the advent of 3D graphics. “I definitely at a certain point had ambitions beyond just 2D that I wanted to get into with 3D because that's where I think games really changed my perspective on what was possible creatively,” says Preston. “My first few 3D games I truly loved, like [Super] Mario 64 and all that stuff, it just opened my eyes to a whole new world.” Heart Machine is still keeping most of the details about Solar Ash’s plot close to the chest, but we do know that players control a voidrunner named Rei. What is a voidrunner, you ask? Think of them as cosmic spelunkers who explore black holes in search of resources. Preston describes Rei as a “very capable” voidrunner with a good head on her shoulders. She’ll need to be good at her job, because one particularly dangerous black hole known as the Ultravoid threatens to swallow her home world. To prevent this, she’ll have to dive head-first into the Void to uncover a way to save her planet. Within the Ultravoid lies a fragmented world of surreal alien beauty. Tree-sized mushrooms, sea anemone-like grass, and luminous orange rivers – all surrounded by a layer of thick green clouds – are just a few of the natural sights players will admire. Solar Ash is a trippy visual delight that pops with color. The Ultravoid is divided into various expansive biomes, fragments of the worlds that have been consumed over presumably eons. Everything is designed to emphasize the game’s primary selling point: high-speed platforming. While designing Hyper Light Drifter, Preston originally wanted the game to feature speedy traversal elements. However, those ideas fell to the wayside due to Drifter’s more limited scope and to focus on its stronger combat aspects. Rei is quickness personified, gracefully exploring the Ultravoid using a form of skating that Preston says is inspired by games such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Jet Grind Radio, and Super Mario 64. For Mario in particular, Preston was primarily fascinated in how speedrunners chain together plumber’s moves to complete the game in quick fashion. “Watching speed runs and how they do it's like, there’s a flow to that. That’s super inspiring to me,” Preston says. In addition to skating and jumping, Rei can also grind on rails and utilize a handy lasso to hook onto grapple points to pull herself across gaps. Solar Ash is all about flow of movement and traversal, and Preston hopes that seamlessly stringing these moves together to overcome obstacles feels as satisfying as it looks. It looks so cool that it hurts the ego to miss a jump but thankfully nothing else thanks to the lack of fall damage. Along the way various monsters will appear to impede Rei’s progress. They don’t present a steep challenge; you can take them down in just a few hits. Don’t expect to learn new combo strings or anything complicated like that, either. Heart Machine wants to keep players moving so combat consists of simple hack-and-slash elements while using speed boosts and dodging to outmaneuver foes before quickly returning to exploration. Since you’ll still likely be in the middle of platforming while engaged in combat, the depth comes from how players incorporate the environment into their offense. “We throw a bunch at you during platforming challenges to kind of elevate that,” Preston explains. “So, it's a blend between the environment that they're in and the individual mob or mobs themselves. It's kind of that interplay and intersection that we're trying to balance out.” To that end, expect to face plenty of flying enemies or foes perched on platforms firing ranged attacks, in addition to opponents that just come at you head-on. But at the end of the day, enemies are more or less glorified speed bumps. They’ll get in the way, but if you’re both quick and savvy enough, you can drop them without losing your forward momentum. You don’t have time to sweat the small fry for too long anyway. Your primary order of business in each zone is to seek out and slay its Remnant. These massive beasts come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re hidden and must be drawn out. To summon the Remnant, first Rei has to take out Dregs, strange eyeballs attached to walls and other surfaces that are scattered around the environment. It’ll take some platforming finesse to reach and destroy them all, but doing so provokes the Remnant to arrive in all of its majestic beauty. The Remnant we got to see takes the form of a massive flying serpent protected by a thick, bony armor resembling a spinal column. Of course, getting the beast to show its face is the easy part. The real challenge comes in taking it down. Defeating this particular Remnant requires Rei to leap atop its back and work her way to its head. The Remnant soars through the air, challenging the player to stay on board as it twists its body in an attempt to knock Rei off. Rei gradually jumps and skates her way towards the front, taking out glowing nodes along the way until she reaches her target. Once perched atop the skull, she delivers a final stab to the head as a killing blow, the impact of which washes out the screen in a black and white flash for a striking dramatic effect. Although I got to see how Rei takes down this specific Remnant, Preston says other Remnants possess different behaviors and patterns. In terms of the number of Remnants players will face, Preston simply says there will be “a good amount” of them. Once the Remnant falls, a node on a towering device called the Star Seed lights up. In every level we saw, this strange contraption can be seen from pretty much anywhere, and the central goal of the game is to activate all of its nodes. Visiting the Star Seed reveals that the imposing corpse of the Remnant Rei just killed now rests at its base. One would assume that this area will be the final resting place for the other Remnants but Preston cryptically says that “they lay as long as they may lay.” Zones within the Ultravoid may appear to be little more than a series of platforming challenges but there’s plenty of secrets and lore to uncover should you decide to poke around. Certain pockets, which Preston refers to as narrative spaces, allow players to take their time inspecting ancient architecture and artifacts for information that feeds into the game’s world-building. Solar Ash spells out its narrative in a more straightforward fashion compared to Hyper Light Drifter. It has actual text, for example. Converse with NPCs and they’ll share personal stories about how they ended up inside of the Ultravoid. Why Not Hyper Light Drifter 2? Fans of Hyper Light Drifter were surprised and, in some cases, even disappointed to see how different Solar Ash was. Despite Drifter’s success, Preston says a sequel wasn’t ever a guarantee as he generally prefers to tackle new worlds and challenges. “My attitude is really pretty fluid about what’s next in a lot of ways,” Preston explains. “It’s how drained I’m feeling on a particular world or set of designs or ideas or how excited I am about something new and fresh. And so, I kind of just let that creativity steer me, and I think near the tail-end of Drifter it’s like, ‘Yeah, I think I’m good on this world for a while’, and maybe I’ll never revisit it. But never say never. Because who knows?” The same attitude applies to Solar Ash. No matter how well the game performs critically or commercially, Preston says he may abandon this concept too in favor of the next exciting idea. “It’s not just, ooh, the mystery of ‘What’s Heart Machine going to do next?’ It’s really just about ‘What do we feel like doing?’” “Our crews put a lot of time and effort into fleshing out and expressing a lot of different ideas about the kind of events that have happened here and sad or tragic stories that have occurred throughout these different biomes that have been sucked into the Ultravoid, “says Preston. Speaking of other characters, Rei will also receive assistance from allies. One of them is Cyd, a sentient A.I. that provides guidance about each zone and backstory on the voidrunners. She also outfits Rei with some limited upgrades. There’s also the giant, ethereal humanoid seen in the trailers. Rei visits this being often, and its role is one of the game’s most tantalizing mysteries. However, Preston still isn’t ready to delve into that element of the story just yet, so the creature remains left to our imagination. Solar Ash has been in development for four years now, and Heart Machine has grown from having under 10 regular employees during Hyper Light Drifter’s production to more than 20. Much of that growth has been staffing up on designers with expertise in crafting 3D worlds, and while the learning curve has brought its share of challenges, Preston says the secret to coping with those hardships has been ensuring he has good people on his team. “I think that's the key for me, was making sure to keep bringing over talented, good-natured people that wanted to build really dope stuff together that were good collaborators … it becomes a whole lot more enjoyable and easier to bear the burden of the challenge.” Of course, for every studio that has a successful first outing, there’s always the fear of the sophomore slump. As a designer, Preston says he suffers the same anxieties about failing as any other creative person. He’s his own worst critic, and despite his overwhelming pride for Solar Ash, the fear of disappointing players who loved Hyper Light Drifter occasionally rears its ugly head. “That being said, you can’t let it get the best of you,” says Preston. “And you have to be able to push forward and focus on the stuff that’s right in front of you. Not the what-could-be's or anything like that. Otherwise, you’ll spiral, you’ll just get trapped. And that's all it is. It’s a trap.” Despite those anxieties, Preston couldn’t be prouder of what Heart Machine has accomplished with Solar Ash and firmly believes it’s created a fun and unique experience. “Regardless of scores, of people being disappointed because it’s not Hyper Light next, or whatever else, there’s a ton of really cool stuff in here that you'd be a fool to miss.” This article originally appeared in Issue 337 of Game Informer.

    Top 10 Co-Op Games To Play Right Now

    Local co-op might’ve taken a nosedive in recent years, but multiplayer is still an intrinsic quality of some of the game community’s most popular genres, namely shooters and action/adventure. We want to take the time to highlight some of the best cooperative titles out right now, from wacky platformers to CRPGs. Here are ten games that you and your core group of friends shouldn’t ignore. It Takes Two 2 Players – PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC It Takes Two is an imaginative case study on heavy topics like divorce and emotional trauma. As wooden/clay miniatures of parents Cody and May, you and a friend (locally or online) must survive angry bee armies, a threatening space monkey, and more to help rekindle the couple’s love and mend a troubled relationship with their distraught daughter, Rose. The journey to rebecoming life-sized versions of yourselves includes a delightful array of team-based mechanics. Cody and May often have individualistic abilities and can’t find success without assisting one another. Perhaps, you’ll be piloting a fighter plane, swerving out the way of tree branches, while your co-op partner engages in hand-to-hand combat with a militaristic squirrel atop the aircraft’s rickety wings. It Takes Two is a quirky love story that’ll bring you and your friend or significant other that much closer. | Our Review Back 4 Blood 1-4 Players – PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC Back 4 Blood, like its zombie-slaying sister franchise, Left 4 Dead, pits four survivors against a horde of grotesque “Ridden” across an infested, decimated American landscape. The AI-operated Game Director creates variations in campaign playthroughs so that each level constantly feels unique. For instance, sometimes, the Ridden mobs will be relatively absent. Other times, you’ll fight to the death in daring boss battles. A card system adds more nuance to the gameplay as your crew enters matches with stat increases or entirely new abilities. What you spend your accumulated skill points on – extra lives for the squad or personal buffs – gives Back 4 Blood a satisfying class-building metagame. And if you’re in the mood to truly tighten your bonds (or tear them apart), queue into Swarm Mode to take on waves of player-controlled monstrosities. | Our Review Cuphead 1-2 Players – PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac Studio MDHR’s homage to retro cartoons and run and guns is about reaction speed, perseverance, and communication. Cuphead is far more than its vintage, hand-drawn aesthetic. Behind a welcoming theme park backdrop and jazz-inspired score lie sneering medusas and three-headed dragons. You and a friend hop into the brown loafers of Cuphead and Mugman to defeat the wily debtors of Lucifer himself throughout an arduous odyssey where minor mistakes meet swift punishment. However, the game also rewards chemistry. Weapon types – like homing bullets – ultimates, and special abilities (called charms) add cool variances to the freneticism. Whether you’re slaying an animated birdhouse in aviary combat or stomping out a mustachioed cigar, Cuphead is a fantastic cooperative title that perfectly balances both pain and pleasure. | Our Review Destiny 2 1-6 Players – PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC It is important to keep in mind what is going on within Activision Blizzard at this time regarding ongoing allegations about the work culture. The ongoing lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) against the company is over-reported toxic workplace culture. The bulk of the suit focuses on "violations of the state's civil rights and equal pay laws," specifically regarding the treatment of women and other marginalized groups. To learn more about the proceedings thus far, including details listed in the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, please check out our previous coverage here. So, you and your pals downloaded Destiny 2 and don’t know where to start. That’s fair. Bungie’s latest space opera series has an overwhelming amount of content. Expansions like Shadowkeep and Beyond Light (to name a few) come with enticing lore, locations, gear, and missions – the features that make the game so timeless and iterative. Destiny 2 might not be the most accessible entry on this list, but it gracefully leaps over this hurdle with fun endgame challenges prioritizing gunplay, strategy, and synchronization. Your squad might choose to play Crucible and prove their skills to the world. Or, they might opt to try out Destiny 2’s popular PvE playlists. Raids are the ultimate test, forcing six players to survive high-stakes scenarios for hours on end. Yet, emerging victorious from these legendary bouts with a dedicated fireteam is always worth the immense effort and time sink. | Our Review Diablo II: Resurrected 1-8 Players –PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC Diablo II: Resurrected is wonderful ARPG nostalgia repackaged with a 4K sheen. Grim isometric environments come to life like never before in Blizzard’s classic 2000 dungeon-crawler. Matchmake (on console) or create lobbies (on PC) to vanquish legions of grotesque ghouls and defeat the deific Lord of Terror himself. With such a high player count, you’re better off prioritizing team-friendly builds to breeze through skirmishes and boss encounters. Watching casters like the Sorceress or Necromancer fill the battlefield with elemental attacks and summons, respectively, while melee fighters like the Barbarian and Paladin cover the flanks never gets old. | Our Review Divinity: Original Sin 2 1-4 Players – PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, iOS Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of the most acclaimed western RPGs in recent memory and the highest-rated game on this list. Brimming with an ensemble cast of oddball characters as well as an open-ended, choice-driven approach to almost every situation, you’ll occasionally find yourself overwhelmed with Original Sin 2’s sheer depth. Spice things up by adding three other players (or one more for split-screen) to the mix. In Original Sin 2, the actions of your player-controlled party members can lead to unexpected emergent/divergent narratives. Deviants might get you in trouble with the law or other NPCs, while altruistic supporters do the opposite. Throw in turn-based combat, and that same chaotic quality bleeds into every aspect of the game. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is sort of like playing through a J.R.R. Tolkien novel with a party of your favorite genre fiction pals. | Our Review Monster Hunter Rise 1-4 Players – Switch, PC Monster Hunter Rise didn’t immediately impress us as much as World did, but venturing beyond the gates of Kamura Village with others guarantees exciting engagements. For example, mounting (wyvern riding) the Magnamalo while three other hunters buffet the malicious beast with charge-blade artillery, coated arrows, and hunting horn strikes is when Rise truly shines. But let’s not just forget about experiencing the game’s quieter, more immersive moments with friends: sprinting through lush forests teeming with unique fauna, galloping down ruined villages with a pack of multi-colored palamutes, or grappling/climbing ancient temples to the tune of an epic orchestral soundtrack. Even playing the lackluster tower defense “rampage quests” with companions is a treat. Rise is a solid Monster Hunter entry made way better with a dedicated friend group. | Our Review Sea of Thieves 1-4 Players – Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC Sea of Thieves didn’t set sail as smoothly as Rare wanted it to. Initially plagued by a lack of noteworthy content and task diversity, these issues have since been remedied with “seasons” of deliverables, including new cosmetics, missions, and PvP/PvE support. And now that the legendary swashbuckler himself, Jack Sparrow, is a full-fledged member of your seafaring posse, there’s never been a better time to be a pirate. Grab a troupe of gold-loving deviants and take to the endless blue waters while staying a few nautical miles ahead of tentacled krakens, leviathan sharks, and Davy Jones. When all is said and done, drag your collected treasure chests onto the ship’s bow, then break out the mugs and accordions. Leading up to its release, Rare emphasized that Sea of Thieves is a “pirate simulator.” This statement still rings true today. Now, go grab four people with sturdy sea legs and dive in. | Our Review Phasmophobia 1-4 Players – PC Ever found yourself surfing the horror section of YouTube, watching clips or low-quality reruns of Ghost Hunters with a bunch of friends? Phasmophobia lets you live out those paranormal fantasies. A first-person perspective throws you and your buds right into the action, exploring abandoned cabins in the woods, maze-like high schools, and sterile prison complexes with faulty flashlights, wooden crosses, camcorders, etc. There’s nothing quite like entering a seemingly vacant (and frostbite-cold) garage and watching your avatar’s shaky breaths become visible wintry whisps. When that ax-wielding animated corpse or nightgowned wraith comes rushing around a blind corner, the hairs on the back of everyone’s neck are bound to stand up, followed by a flurry of laughs and screams. Simply put, Phasmophobia is wicked fun. Tabletop Simulator 1-10 Players – PC, Mac Didn’t see this entry coming, did you? Tabletop Simulator beat out other heavyweight co-op titles because of its unparalleled uniqueness. There might’ve been a time when analog games only appealed to a niche audience, but nowadays (especially during a pandemic), gathering around a virtual table to roll dice, read cards, or place tokens is a solid game night option. Hell, you can even flip the table if you get frustrated! There’s an unfathomable number of multiplayer titles to check out – we recommend Hanabi and Betrayal at House on the Hill.  Moreover, creation tools offer a rare chance to make your own tabletop projects. And let’s be honest, designing games with friends is a cooperative/collaborative experience like no other. Are we missing any of your co-op favorites? Let us know in the comments section! If you enjoyed reading this, check out some other genre top 10s by clicking on our “List of Lists” hub below.

    The Best Family Meals In Video Games

    With Thanksgiving upon us, there are two types of people out there: the person who’s been thinking about the upcoming turkey meal since November 1 or the person who jumps straight to the winter holiday of Christmas, Hanukkah, or something else. Regardless of where you land, there’s a good chance that you’ll be eating some kind of breakfast, lunch, or dinner with family and friends sometime in the next two months.  These meals can be fantastic, but they can also be a nightmare for those that hate these typical family gatherings. The same can be said for family gatherings and meals in video games, and we’ve gathered up some of our favorites. Here are 10 of the best family meals in video games. Assassin's Creed Odyssey Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a massive game – the golden path spans at least 40 hours but can easily climb to over 100 hours with all that it offers. At the center of the playthrough is a story about a broken family, desperate to become unified again. It doesn’t help that one of the central figures (Kassandra or Alexios) is brainwashed to become the brutish killing machine of an ancient cult.  When your big fat Greek quest comes to an end in Odyssey, depending on your choices in the game, you’re treated to the one thing your character has been after the entire journey: a family meal. It’s more than a meal, though. It’s the family reuniting for the first time in forever, and everything is tastier as a result. It’s sure to warm your heart upon watching, and it serves as a great reminder of all that you fought for over your dozens of hours with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Final Fantasy XV When you think of video game food, there’s one game that’s sure to come to mind: Final Fantasy XV. The game is about four bros taking a road trip, and right from the jump, the themes of family, love, and friendship are strong. The entire game, which runs for hours and hours, centers on those same themes, and throughout the experience, you’ll bring food to the metaphorical friendship table. As anyone knows, food is the great unifier, and Final Fantasy XV makes that clear.  The food, cooked by Ignis, looks delicious, and each recipe rewards you with some kind of stat boost. More importantly, though, every meal in Final Fantasy XV is a chance for your four-person unit to grow stronger. It’s a chance to reflect on what’s happened thus far and how much everyone on the team cares about each other. Be it a hot soup on a wooden table or a quick sandwich on a beach, the meals in Final Fantasy XV are sure to make you drool. Persona 5 Like many others on this list, Persona 5 is about friendship (and friends-turned-family) at its core. It’s about going the extra mile, doing what’s right, and ultimately, relying on each other to succeed. One of the best moments of the entire 100-hour-plus RPG is the meal that happens after completing the first palace. You’ve just risked your life to save someone in your school, you’re downright exhausted, and as expected, you’re hungry.  You’ve also got a nice amount of money in your pocket too, so why not treat the Phantom Thieves of Hearts to a delicious meal? Joker and the crew head to a local Shibuya restaurant and chow down. It costs a lot of money, but the sounds of the Phantom Thieves crushing plates upon plates are so satisfying. The team deserves it; the food looks delicious, and it’s the perfect way to bring everyone together for one big congratulatory celebration. There’s more eating and chewing than talking, but that’s always the sign of a good meal.  Red Dead Redemption II Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sprawling Western that connects directly to the first game. In the epilogue of Red Dead Redemption 2, which is nearly a dozen hours long, you’re treated to dinner with the Marstons: John, Abigail, Jack, and of course, Uncle.  It’s a family unit we haven’t had the chance to sit down with like this since the first Redemption game - now over a decade ago - and while it’s short and sweet, it’s exactly what we wanted. John ensures that Jack is growing up to be someone like him; someone that would protect his family at all costs. He also lobs sarcastic jokes at Uncle just as we all do with that one uncle at Thanksgiving. And never mind the food on the table – seeing this family gather in a newly-built house is exactly the vibe we’re looking for this holiday season. Celeste Celeste is one of the best platformers released last generation. It’s challenging, backed by a powerful and unique score, and centered on a heartfelt story that keeps the momentum moving. Simply beating a Celeste level feels like a win in and of itself, but there’s a moment that tops all of it (yes, even reaching the mountain’s summit): the celebration meal that closes out the game. First off, the “meal” is a delicious strawberry pie cooked using the strawberries you collected throughout the game. Any meal that starts and ends with dessert is top-tier.  Celeste and all the people she met along the journey gather around the pie. Everyone’s happy (well, maybe not the ghostly Mr. Oshiro) and excited to be together. It’s also an on-screen representation of Celeste’s happiness, something she only just achieved after reaching the mountaintop. The meal gets some bonus points, too, because it uses just a single photo to exemplify all these feelings. Stardew Valley Stardew Valley features seasonal and holiday-centric festivals. They’re fantastic examples of what the farming game is all about: how each person’s contributions can make the whole experience better than it was before. While the events are entirely optional to attend, doing so is worth your while as it provides you opportunities to make new friendships and strengthen old ones.  Even better, your town’s community space is lined with tables of food, flowers, and more. All of that was made possible by you and your neighbor’s efforts. It’s a special moment in real life to see people come together over a meal you made, and Stardew Valley captures that feeling perfectly with its community feasts. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Assassin’s Creed is known for many things, but it’s not often associated with tears. The pirate take on the formula in Black Flag brought plenty of them, though. Perhaps one of the best pirate games ever made (that just happens to feature some assassins), one of the greatest joys of Black Flag is sailing around with your crew, singing shanties, stopping at ports to take down some Royal Navy soldiers, and finding treasure. Over the game’s narrative, you take new members to the Jackdaw crew and alliance. Eventually, you have the likes of Blackbeard, Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, and more on your team.  But, as any good pirate knows, the golden age can’t last forever, and that’s the crux of Black Flag. This is personified in a heartbreaking scene during the game’s final hours where Edward Kenway is drinking. While not technically a meal, a good round of drinks can be just as engaging as food. He looks around and sees all of the infamous pirates that accompanied him on his sea-faring journey. Then, they begin to fade ... because they’ve died. Edward is drinking with the ghosts of his friends. Some meals are remembered because of laughter and smiles; this one, though, is remembered for the heartache Ubisoft used to signify the end of the golden age of piracy. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales Spider-Man: Miles Morales is an excellent game for a lot of reasons – it’s built on the foundation of 2018’s awesome Spider-Man game on the PlayStation 4, it’s set during the winter holidays, and it features Miles Morales. However, one of the best parts of this succinct Insomniac title is a dinner scene in its opening hours.  What makes it so great is that it’s the most classic Spider-Man thing ever – something goes wrong, so Miles has to find a way outside to fix the electricity problem sneakily. It’s Spider-Man antics you’ve seen dozens of times in comics, movies, and TV, but playing it is even better. You have to sneak your way back to the dinner table, too, and once there, you’re treated with a heartwarming scene that showcases the importance of family to Miles. Telltale's The Walking Dead: Season One Okay, so we didn’t necessarily say that every family gathering and meal on this list would be rooted in the warm and heartfelt emotions typically associated with Thanksgiving and other winter holidays. Case in point: Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1.  In a now-infamous scene, you escape a locked room as Lee Everett in a house full of cannibals. Clementine, the person he’s trying to protect, is seated at a table with these killers, unaware of what they’re dining on. As Lee barges into the room, he must stop her from eating a piece of human meat. It’s disturbing, especially when you consider the way different choices can play out, and it’s one of the most memorable parts of that entire season. What did it teach us? If someone tells you not to eat some mystery meat at Thanksgiving this year, listen to them. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Alright, you can’t say you didn’t know this one would be on here after reading the entry above. Resident Evil 7 was a great revival of the horror aspects of the franchise, and a dinner scene with the deranged Baker family during its opening hours establishes that from the jump.  After Ethan kills his own wife, patriarch Jack Baker gives him a good sucker-punch and it’s lights out. When Ethan finally awakes, he’s strapped to a chair, looking at what might be the most grotesque dinner in all of video games. Sure, the table is full, but it’s not your mother’s trademark stuffing or your grandpa’s 24-hour pot of beans. No, it’s human organs and guts. Delicious. Jack, unhappy with his son Lucas’ table manners, proceeds to cut off his son’s arm right in front of everyone … and it seems like a standard occurrence based on the reactions of all in attendance. Then, Jack has his way with you by way of a big rusty knife.  After that, everyone but Grandma Baker gets up from the table, upset and angry at the events that have transpired. No family meal should end that way, so hopefully, yours is much better. Are there any family gatherings or Thanksgiving-like meals in video games that we missed? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

    Top 5 Video Game Characters That Would Make Thanksgiving Awkward

    Thanksgiving sucks. It's the one time of year you see all those family members you spend the other 364 days of the year avoiding. You know, the cousin that's way into NFTs and meme stocks. The uncle who listens to the Joe Rogan Experience and somehow finds a way to reference it at every drop of the hat. It's all just exhausting.  And that doesn't even get at how bad turkey is. Turkey is like the Bunny Bread of meats. Dry, flavorless, and gross. Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday for many reasons, but I think turkey is the cherry on top of this crap sundae. How have we made such a bland, ugly bird the centerpiece of this entire annual tradition? Don't get me started on those weird things under turkeys' chins. I find it unfathomable that people eat these creatures.  I tend to skip my family's Thanksgiving. While that might make me a bad son, family member, and overall person, it makes me healthier mentally. I just cannot bring myself to deal with the awkward conversations Thanksgiving forces out of people. No, AJ, I do not want to hear your thoughts on the Bored Ape Yacht Club; it's a bad investment. Mitch, I absolutely do not need to watch this clip of Joe Rogan interviewing Dave Chappelle on your iPhone 7. Literally, why does Jacob have a gun on him? In case the pumpkin pie tries something funny? What does this have to do with video games? Not a lot. But since we're off this week and need to fill the website with content, here are my picks for the five video game characters that would make Thanksgiving awkward. 5: This little person from the game Minit (not sure if they have a name) If there's one thing you can say about Thanksgiving, it's that it lasts way too long. But you gotta be there, attentive, and conversable to keep up appearances with your family. So could you imagine if every 60 seconds, one of you literally died and had to start the whole day over? I don't know much about Minit – I've never actually played the game – but thanks to its Wikipedia page, I know that you play the game one minute at a time. Once that minute is up, you die and start over.  This would be the most obnoxious way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Everyone is suffering through this whole ordeal together, but this lil guy, Mike Minit, as we'll call him, keeps starting over every 60 seconds. He walks in, says hello to the family, shakes one or two hands, grabs a plate, eyes the stuffing, then dies. Moments later, he walks back in the door, repeating the whole process.  Sounds annoying. I couldn't deal with it.  4: Heartman from Death Stranding You know what, while we're at it, this guy would be even worse than Mike! Every 21 minutes, Heartman's heart stops, he dies, and he goes to the Beach to search for his wife and daughter before being revived three real-world minutes later. That's not quite as bad as Mr. Minit – but Heartman spends 21 minutes on this mortal coil constantly pontificating and over-explaining the science of the natural world. My God, you can't get a word in edgewise with this guy.  Here I am, trying to grab a second helping of dinner rolls, and this freaking guy is telling me about extinction entities. Shut the hell up! The only thing that will be extinct around here is my patience if you don't leave me alone, Heartman.  3: Mara from the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series   You can just look at the picture; I don't gotta write anything here.  ... ... Actually, while we're on the subject of the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series, those games are chock-full of gross (and confusingly sexy) creatures you shouldn't invite to your Thanksgiving get-togethers. I mean, look at this! You know, for a series about high school kids, Persona and Shin Megami Tensei games are filled with creatures either closely resembling or outright brandishing their down-south features. Which, now that I think about it, it is somewhat appropriate given what's on most high school kids' minds.  Nevertheless, you can't invite any of these folks to your family Thanksgiving! That's a dang cancellable offense if I've ever seen one. How are you in good faith going to walk in with Arioch (second from the left) and ever look your grandma in the eyes again? They're too sexy! You expect me to be able to eat mashed potatoes when Master Therion (far right) is across the table from me with all that going on? I don't know about you, but I'd be too confused, distracted, and confusingly intrigued to get through dinner. At best, I'd need a moment to lie down and fan myself off.  Heck, if one of my family members brought any one of these creatures over to dinner, you best believe I'd be more than happy to talk to AJ, Mitch, and Jacob. Perhaps all three at the same time!   2: Trubbish from Pokémon Hey, Pokémon fans, explain this one to me. Trubbish is literally just a trash bag with some googly eyes stickered on the front. The Pokémon Company is a multi-billion dollar company and this is what the brain geniuses over there are coming up with these days? That's some rubbish if I've ever heard it.  Anywho, you can't bring trash to your Thanksgiving get-together. Your aunt is already bringing her new boyfriend!  1: Wyzen from Asura's Wrath He's too big! What're you gonna do with this guy? Even if you lived in the Boeing Everett Factory – which CNET tells me is the biggest building on Earth, based on volume (3.5 billion gallons) – you still couldn't fit this guy in your house.  Even if you could accommodate Wyzen's size, how could you possibly feed him? He could eat all the Thanksgiving food prepared in all the homes that participate, and his stomach probably wouldn't even register the difference. It'd be like you offering a normal human six dust mites and calling it a meal.  If Wyzen shows up to your Thanksgiving, you know you're in for an awkward evening. Unseatable and unfeedable, you'd better leave him off your invite list.  Wow, so there ya have it, folks. Was our list correct? Let us know what you think! What video game characters do you think would make for an awkward Thanksgiving? Make your voice heard in the comments. Please, I'm begging you, engage with this story. Leave a comment. Any comment. The longer your comment, the better. Show a friend this article. Bring it up during Thanksgiving to your family members. Encourage everyone you know to sound off in the comments below! Please! PLEASE! 

    Most Underrated Games of 2021 | GI Show

    Click to watch embedded media The Game Informer Show is back, and we're discussing some of the best games of the year that may have not gotten the spotlight they deserve. We chat about Inscryption, Before Your Eyes, and so much more with special guest Ty Galiz-Rowe, editor-in-chief at Uppercut, a video game site focused on insightful features, articles, and reviews from people that come from marginalized groups. As always, we end the show with another fun round of listener questions as we wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving! Follow the crew on Twitter: Alex Stadnik (@Studnik76), Alex Van Aken (@itsVanAken), Jill Grodt (@Finruin), Marcus Stewart (@MarcusStewart7), Ty Galiz-Rowe (@owoathkeeper) The Game Informer Show is a weekly gaming podcast covering the latest video game news, industry topics, exclusive reveals, and reviews. Join hosts Alex Stadnik and Alex Van Aken every Thursday to chat about your favorite games – past and present – with Game Informer staff, developers, and special guests from all around the industry. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. This episode is sponsored by GeForce NOW, NVIDIA's cloud gaming service that transforms nearly any laptop, desktop, tablet, and smartphone into a powerful PC gaming rig. With the new GeForce NOW RTX 3080 Membership, you can upgrade nearly any device to a GeForce RTX 3080 powered gaming machine, unlocking up to 1440p, 120FPS, and 4K HDR. Pre-order a GeForce NOW RTX 3080 Membership for the best cloud gaming experience at GeForceNOW.com.  Every Thursday, GeForce NOW adds support for more games! Check out the GFN Thursday blog to learn more.  Check out the timestamps below to jump to a particular point in the discussion: 00:01:05 – Introduction 00:01:05 – Special Guest Ty Galiz-Rowe (Uppercut, Upcomer) 00:12:00 – Most Underrated Games of 2021  02:01:15 – Housekeeping 02:07:46 – Listener Emails Topic Of The Show: 2021's Most Underrated Games 2021 has been a fantastic year for video games despite the rash of delays. But in a year so stacked with great titles, it's easy for smaller gems to fall through the cracks. Before we ramp up our Game of the Year talks, we wanted to take a moment to shine a spotlight on some of the best indie titles and underrated gems of the year, including chats about Loop Hero, Inscryption, and so much more! Read our Inscryption review here. Listener Questions: The Game Informer crew answers your burning questions. Another week means another round of listener questions, and we're playing a new Thanksgiving-themed game and answering the age-old question of what controller does player two get! Read their questions below, or submit your own via the Official Game Informer Community Discord or by emailing us at [email protected]: Hello all, Below is a list of game properties, which I want the panel to rank based on their personal fatigue for the said franchise. But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like the panel to rank them using terminology for the holiday. Starving - I haven't had anything for what feels like years. I need more! Satisfied - I'm satisfied but I could have seconds in a moment. Stuffed - Please, no more. There's literally no room left for me. -AnAttackCorgi (Email) I never understood the sentiment of giving player 2 the crappier controller. For me, player 2 is usually a friend or family member who may not be as used to the game as me so I usually let them have the edge and use the better controller to play with. Do you guys give player 2 your older/worse controllers when you game? -Landon VA (Email) For more Game Informer podcasts, be sure to check out Video Gameography, our video game history podcast, and All Things Nintendo with host Brian Shea which deep dives into Nintendo's library of games every week.

    How Halo: The Master Chief Collection Rebounded To Become A Fan-Favorite Compilation

    When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was announced in 2014, fans were excited at the prospects of bringing forward the mainline Halo series to the brand new Xbox One with myriad enhancements and ways to engage with the multiplayer. Unfortunately, the launch of the compilation, which originally included Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4, featured several problems surrounding the multiplayer suite and The Master Chief Collection seemed like it was well on its way to being one of the cautionary stories of unfulfilled potential within the games industry. The disappointing launch, underwhelming feature set, and broken matchmaking could have been the way we look back on Halo: The Master Chief Collection in 2021, but developer 343 Industries wasn't satisfied with releasing an unsatisfactory product meant to celebrate Xbox's flagship franchise. We spoke with several key members of the Master Chief Collection team to learn how 343 Industries righted the ship and elevated the compilation to one of the industry's models for how to listen and act on player feedback. Wake Me When You Need Me In 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was introduced as a way to not only celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the beloved Halo 2, but Master Chief's saga as a whole to that point. 343 Industries, which was founded to take over the Halo franchise from Bungie following Bungie's split from Microsoft in 2007, was currently working on Halo 5: Guardians, but a separate team within the studio began exploring ways to celebrate Halo 2's anniversary similar to how it did in 2011 with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. The basic idea of Halo 2 Anniversary, which includes revamped visuals and audio, all-new cutscenes from renowned visual effects company Blur Studios, and terminals that connect the story to that of future games, expanded on what the team did with its inaugural project with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. 343 even remade some fan-favorite maps from Halo 2's multiplayer from the ground up, giving players modern, high-fidelity versions. In addition to all those elements, 343 Industries wanted to reduce the friction players felt in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary when going between the classic campaign and the multiplayer, which was based on Halo: Reach's engine.  However, the team began looking into what it could do to further celebrate the launch of the Xbox One as well as Master Chief's story to that point. "The team got really excited about thinking through kind of a bigger project, which would encompass this larger story of all these games," design director Max Szlagor says. "Then it became a design challenge to think about if we look at a collection of Halo titles, how do we bring them together in a way that feels very seamless, making it easy to jump in and move between the titles, making sure the controls, the user interface, the networking, the ability to move between games was all as seamless as possible?" Halo: The Master Chief Collection's emphasis was not to deliver a completely faithful experience of how Halo: Combat Evolved through Halo 4 played at the time of their respective releases. Instead, 343 Industries looked into ways to improve the modern experience of playing these classic games. "We were trying to deliver the experience of these games as people remember them, which isn't necessarily one-to-one with what the game is," Szlagor says. "It was an evaluation of 'How do we rebuild this mode or this map?' What adjustments make sense in terms of the maps themselves because the maps received some changes: the weapons, the game modes, just a variety of different things in terms of how do we provide that extra value, extra options. Just more ways to really engage with that, fill out that sandbox, and make you feel good." The MCC developers examined things like user interface, matchmaking systems, and more to see what pieces the disparate games all had in common. The idea the team settled on was to have all the games connected, with matchmaking designed to allow players to bounce between the various titles in the compilation. Not only that, but Master Chief Collection unified control schemes, and added leaderboards to the campaign, as well as special features and achievements to give additional replay value to the campaigns many had already played through multiple times. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 2 Anniversary were clearly the biggest leaps forward from the original versions, but Halo 3 and 4 also received boosts, with 60 frames-per-second performance and cleaned up user interfaces. While the two later games didn't receive the visual and feature upgrades of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 2 Anniversary, Szlagor doesn't want to glance over how big of an undertaking the improvements of Halo 3 and 4 were. "It's a big deal for those games," he says. "They were really optimized for the hardware at the time these games were launched." As the compilation approached its November 11, 2014 launch, 343 Industries was feeling confident about what it had created. The team was excited for both new and old Halo players alike to get their hands on the game and get caught up on Master Chief's story prior to the impending 2015 release of Halo 5: Guardians. Unfortunately, the launch didn't go as expected, and The Master Chief Collection quickly became synonymous with disastrous game launches. Give The Covenant Back Their Bomb When Halo: The Master Chief Collection launched, it received strong critical praise across the board, receiving a 9.25 out of 10 from Game Informer and high praise from most other outlets given access prior to launch. Unfortunately, as the servers opened to the public and players tried to jump into the robust multiplayer package, the cracks surrounding the game's PVP suite presented themselves in obvious ways. Immediately, players complained about a wide range of issues largely centered on the game's online modes. These problems ranged from inaccurate in-game stats and uneven team compositions to players' ranks being reset at random and matchmaking just outright not working. On top of that, players couldn't join up with friends, in-game chat was spotty at best, and players were subjected to absurdly long load times. The campaigns were largely solid, but under the weight of the public trying to play the highly anticipated compilation, Halo: The Master Chief Collection's competitive multiplayer crumbled. As a result of the problems following the launch, 343 Industries and Xbox experienced backlash from both fans and critics. Halo: The Master Chief Collection gained long-lasting infamy for how poor its launch was. While players were shocked at the poor performance of the collection, 343 Industries seemed equally as surprised. "That was not the sentiment that we had expected," Szlagor says. "It was a learning experience for us in terms of a big project without the infrastructure to test online services at the scale that's needed for something as big as this." On launch day, both the developer and Xbox representatives recommended exiting and re-entering matchmaking if it didn't work within the first few minutes, but despite the studio's statement that it was "actively working on a fix" for the problem, widespread issues would plague the compilation for many months. The day after The Master Chief Collection launched, executive producer Dan Ayoub released an apology, calling the complaints "well deserved." Ayoub also told the community, "You deserve better," before laying out a plan of server-side fixes to try and improve the state of the game.  "A game as large as Halo: The Master Chief Collection has a massive surface area, and while we made every effort to have the best launch possible for our fans, issues surfaced with the launch and we're committed to improving this as fast as possible and get you all into matches," the November 12, 2014 statement from Ayoub read. "We're committed to improving things as fast as possible so you can have the Halo experience you've been waiting for." As the problems persisted nearly two weeks after launch, head of 343 Industries Bonnie Ross issued another apology, largely echoing Ayoub's sentiments that the community deserved better and that the team will work to make it right with the fan base. "I personally apologize for this on behalf of us all at 343 Industries," her statement on November 24, 2014 read. "Our team is working around the clock until these issues are resolved." The problems persisted beyond the launch window. In December 2014, 343 Industries and Microsoft made the call to delay the Windows-exclusive Halo: Spartan Strike in order to focus on fixing the game's matchmaking. Later that month, 343 Industries laid out a roadmap for how it planned to make it up to players. "That really was a good point for us to look at things like building the Halo Insider program and pivoting our communication to be more transparent," Szlagor says. "Having this greater dialogue and honesty with our community." With community faith at an all-time low, 343 Industries needed to regain player trust and work to make Halo: The Master Chief Collection not only the product the company originally envisioned, but improve upon every facet to create the compilation fans deserved. I Think We're Just Getting Started At launch, Master Chief Collection featured 2011's Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4, complete with all the multiplayer maps and extra features. However, once the state of the game was apparent, 343 Industries began looking into ways to make it up to players. As 2014 winded down, 343 Industries released a blog post detailing the first steps of rectification. The company announced every Master Chief Collection player would receive a free month of Xbox Live Gold, an exclusive in-game nameplate, and an exclusive in-game avatar. Not only that, but 343 Industries added an extra remake of a Halo 2 map, plus the campaign of Halo 3: ODST to the Master Chief Collection at no additional cost.  In March 2015, 343 Industries released perhaps the most significant patch to date to Master Chief Collection's matchmaking and party systems. However, with the collection nearing six months since its launch, many players and critics began wondering if the project was beyond saving. The development team was not giving up, though, with both 343 Industries and Xbox doubling down that fixing the compilation remained a top priority. "Going into the launch, our internal processes and testing methodologies had told us that we had a game that was ready to launch," head of Xbox Phil Spencer told Game Informer at Game Developers Conference 2015. "Then, when it launched, we learned some things we didn't know going into the launch – which is something we need to get better at; you can't simulate the real-world environment inside of any sterile, fixed environment." To remedy this problem, the development team continued implementing deeper and more solid lines of communication with active and enthusiastic members of the community. "Reaching out to our communities is super important in engaging with them," lead producer Michael Fahrny says. "If we had one secret sauce to our success for MCC over the last few years, it's a group we have that we call Reclaimers. They're members of the community; think of them as ambassadors. We give them access to a lot of the ideas, builds, features, content – all that stuff that we're doing for MCC – and we get raw feedback from them. They help us gauge the temperature of where our readiness is and how the community is going to react to things." In the time since Master Chief Collection's launch, 343 Industries and the game development scene as a whole has become much more reliant on the gaming community to ensure it has remained in touch with the wants and needs of the most passionate fans. Community managers, developers who are embedded in the various communities, are now essential members of most game studios. To deepen that connection with its community, 343 implemented a flighting program, where the developers could interact with Halo Insiders to ensure the game is reaching certain goals. Among many checkpoints the team engages with through this flighting program, matchmaking time is one area where the developers check in to make sure the times are satisfactory and only take within 30 or 40 seconds. "Flighting is like a backbone to us," producer Sean Swidersky says. "We will flight everything we can if we have time to do so. It's an essential part of our development process." The studio worked tirelessly to improve the experience and ensure that The Master Chief Collection became the product fans wanted. After several patches and server-side updates, players began seeing marked improvements in the performance. The fixes to matchmaking and the overall multiplayer experience continued rolling out, and as the product stabilized in the year following launch, 343 Industries once again returned to focusing on content. The Halo 3: ODST campaign was released to The Master Chief Collection in 2015, and in 2019, Halo: Reach joined the compilation alongside seasonal content as a result of fan feedback.  "We're always thinking about what the collection includes and certainly that's a great question mark: What else can we add?" Szlagor says. "Initially, there's a good story to tell in terms of The Master Chief Collection with the Master Chief story. I think there was a question of, thematically, does it make sense to include [ODST and Reach]? Certainly from a fan perspective, all the Halos is better than not all the Halos. There was definitely some discussion around that and it was just a matter of what could we do in what time frame and what makes sense for the theme." Part of the reason new content and upgrades continue to join The Master Chief Collection is that the team is full of people who had an appreciation and love of the Halo franchise before their job was to work on it. In addition to longtime developers, 343 Industries includes people who worked on Halo mods or were active in the Halo esports scene. The result is a constant stream of passion projects from individual members of the development team, many of which make it into the living product of MCC. "We're constantly surprising ourselves with some of the ideas we come up with and then we sit down and talk about it and figure out if it makes sense to put it out to retail MCC," Fahrny says. "More often than not, we end up doing it because as Halo fans, we think it's going to be cool and then we start the whole process and go through flighting and everybody really loves it. We end up doing all these things. That's how the new Firefight options that came out with Season 8 came to fruition." Though Halo 5: Guardians will no longer be the flagship Halo title when Infinite launches in earnest on December 8, 343 says there are currently no plans to add it into the Master Chief Collection. While much of the MCC updates and seasonal content is coming to a close in the near future, 343 Industries has proven that sticking with a game, even one that launches in a bad state, can prove worth it. "The thing I'm proud of is how committed the team is to solving this problem – that commitment to delivering what our customers want is great," Spencer told Game Informer in that 2015 interview. "Now, anybody can throw a rock at me and say, 'Hey, we shouldn't have been in this situation in the first place.' And that's fair enough, but nobody's thrown up their arms and run away from it. The team has doubled down." Finishing This Fight With The Master Chief Collection now one of the gold-standard redemption stories in the games industry, 343 Industries has continued supporting the compilation, even expanding to new platforms. In addition to receiving enhancements on Xbox Series X/S when those new systems launched in 2020, 343 Industries made the bold leap to PC. For the Master Chief Collection team, bringing the product to PC was an important step in the project's post-launch lifecycle, but before they committed to doing it, they wanted to make sure they could do it right. "For us as a studio, PC was never a first priority, but what does it mean to actually be a modern PC game? Can we even bring The Master Chief Collection – all the games in the collection – up to that standard?" Fahrny says. "We sat down and did a lot of evaluations of competitive products – good and bad things that competitors have done – and we built a plan around it, and then evaluated it. We said, 'We think we can do this and we think we can do a really good job at it. On top of that, let's go back and learn from these past mistakes." This time, 343 Industries was much more methodical about how it approached bringing the collection to this new platform, rolling the games out one by one rather than all at once. Over the course of a year (starting in December 2019 and ending in November 2020), PC players gained access to each of the six titles in the current version of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The rolled-out approach allowed 343 Industries to learn its lessons one title at a time rather than all at once. Then, when it wanted to address a problem, it was more manageable and able to be implemented at launch for subsequent titles. For example, Reach's high refresh-rate interpolation didn't reach the standards the development studio hoped for, so it improved it within Reach, then made sure the five remaining games hit the mark the team desired. With the transparency the team acquired from its rough, early days launching the Xbox One version, as well as the preexisting lines of communication with the community, the PC version was a success. It showed just how much the team has changed its approach to ensuring a game is ready for launch and listening to the community to improve the title in the following years. The team even introduced cross-platform play in 2020 – a huge leap forward when you consider how many troubles the game initially had only executing single-platform multiplayer – and mod support to the PC version this past summer. To this day, Halo: The Master Chief Collection continues to receive updates across all platforms. 343 doesn't plan on stopping support for Halo: The Master Chief Collection, but the eighth season, which started in October, is the final season of content for the long-running compilation. Going forward, in order to avoid providing seasonal updates for both Master Chief Collection and Infinite simultaneously, 343 will continue to deliver new features and fixes in MCC, but it will do so through smaller patches instead of large, season-sized updates. "At a high level, the MCC support is changing; it's not ending," senior producer Matt Hohl says. "We've still got mod tools to deliver. We've still got more games with [Custom Game Browser] to deliver. We're still viewing ourselves as the stewards of these classic games. [...] We're looking forward to the complementary relationship of Infinite and MCC next year." As 343 Industries turns its focus towards Halo Infinite, you can see that the lessons the studio learned from the early stumbles and later success of Halo: The Master Chief Collection paid dividends. In addition to listening to community feedback and delaying Infinite a full year (even if it meant missing the opportunity of being an Xbox Series X/S launch title), the studio held multiple technical tests during summer 2021. This gave players the ability to provide input into the direction of Infinite's free-to-play multiplayer. "The community along with the flighting program helped us, not only for MCC but helped us pave the way for the studio as you're seeing now with Infinite and their technical betas and flights," Fahrny says. "We've been leading the charge and feeding all that back into the wider studio teams so that we can continue this great process that really helped us succeed as well. It's been really good to see." During the Xbox 20th anniversary livestream on November 15, 2021, Xbox and 343 Industries announced a surprise soft-launch of the Halo Infinite multiplayer, giving all players immediate entry to a beta that provides access to the full suite in the lead up to launch on December 8. Players have already provided feedback on things like the slow progression of the multiplayer's Battle Pass, and members of 343 Industries have already been implementing changes.  Now, as the team moves forward into what appears to be a very promising new chapter, it carries with it the valuable, often-harsh lessons it learned following the troubling launch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. In doing so, the team hopes that all subsequent launches will avoid the need to bounce back in the manner that its celebratory compilation had to. With developers now interacting with the community on such a collaborative level, it's clear that the lifecycle of The Master Chief Collection changed the course of 343 Industries for the better. To learn more about Halo Infinite, be sure to visit our coverage hub by clicking the banner below.

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