Smite and Paladins 2017 World Champions Crowed at Hi-Rez Expo

The 2017 Hi-Rez Expo has come to an end after four days of intense competition, and fan celebration of all things Hi-Rez Studios.

Over the course of the weekend three major tournaments were played: The Smite World Championship for PC and console, and the inaugural Paladins Invitational. The Paladins Invitational was the first time Paladins teams have come together for an intercontinental competition, paving the way for a world championship to be organized in the future once the game has made it out of beta and into final release.

Smite and Paladins 2017 World Champions Crowed at Hi-Rez Expo

Paladins made for a tense and complex spectator game in its first major LAN tournament, with matches often coming down to the wire. Eventually team Burrito took home the grand prize of USD$75,000 in a close final against fellow European team District 69. Australian team Abyss eSports made a name for themselves, surprising spectators, commentators, and analysts alike by dominating in the early stages, only to be knocked out by Burrito in a nail-biting overtime decider.

The Smite World Championship also came down to a pair of European teams for the first time, with Obey Alliance and NRG Esports competing for the right to raise the Thor’s hammer trophy aloft for 2017. Reigning champions NRG successfully defended their position against Obey, securing the USD$500,000 first prize. Another surprise performance from an under-represented region came from Latin American team LichT eSports, taking third place.

Smite and Paladins 2017 World Champions Crowed at Hi-Rez Expo

Hi-Rez Expo brought more than 4000 attendees to the Cobb Energy Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and boasted more than 100,000 concurrent viewers on livestreams.

Over the course of the expo, Hi-Rez announced a series of updates to Smite and Paladins, a new mobile game in Smite Rivals, and a closed beta for its new strategy/card game Smite Tactics.

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XXX: Return of Xander Cage Review

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We could do with a nice sit down after this.

It’s been 15 years since we last saw Vin Diesel in xXx as thrillseeker/secret agent/big-coat-wearer Xander Cage and, since then, the series has matured very little. xXx: Return of Xander Cage lobs out one ludicrous set piece after another, giving you very little time to think about the nonsense you’re seeing onscreen, which is a good thing because the film seems like it was written by a child.

The thing is: that child is best friends with Vin Diesel, so it’s kind of okay.

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According to 2005 sequel xXx: State of the Union, Xander Cage was killed in an explosive attack, but in this sort-of threequel, he is very much alive, with no real explanation as to why. The way we know that Xander Cage is alive is because he’s reintroduced to us in the film by jumping off of a dangerously high satellite pylon and skiing down a jungle, which is something dead people very rarely do. Despite being up to his old death-defying tricks, Cage is no longer an agent-for-hire and instead spends his days watching football in the slums of Brazil.

The xXx programme, which recruits daredevils and turns them into terrorist-hunting spy-people, doesn’t care that Xander Cage is retired because they need him to hunt down some government-attacking radicals led by Rogue One’s Donnie Yen. You know Yen’s character is bad because in his first scene he wears a leather jacket and smokes a cigarette and then does a 90ft jump through a window into the NSA headquarters, duffs up a load of suits and steals a big remote control that can shut down satellites and crash them into earth. This is something the NSA doesn’t want to happen and so Xander Cage needs to not be retired.

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The plot may seem boringly straightforward but that barely matters, because the story is pretty much a thin piece of string that ties each silly stunt scene together. There’s almost never a dull moment in the film – even an exposition-heavy scene featuring three people chatting at a table in a bar is helped along by them chucking a grenade at one another before the whole thing breaks down and Vin and his pals continue their little back-and-forth on the back of two motorcycles whilst riding on the sea.

D.J. Caruso directs each set piece like an impressive Red Bull extreme sports promo – fitting, given that actual professional extreme sportspeople replace the actors for many of the sequences, most of which are almost entirely (and unbelievably) based on real-life stunts, and performed by real-life mad men and women.

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The cast is incredibly diverse and, coincidentally (or cynically depending on your opinion), manages to draw on talent from major worldwide cinema-going markets including the UK, India, China, Thailand and Australia. There are also varying degrees of acting ability on offer, from Academy Award Nominee Toni Collette to potato-faced hardman and UFC champion Michael Bisping. Brazilian footballer Neymar also makes his Hollywood debut in a touching breakfast scene with Samuel L. Jackson that culminates in the striker stopping a robbery by volleying a table napkin holder at a gunman’s head.

There are very few films where this scene can happen at all, let alone appear and not be the most ridiculous thing in the entire film. Somehow, in the xXx world, this is a thing that can just happen and everyone continues to go about their days. As for Vin Diesel, he’s given the main bulk of the absurd lines and scenarios, which is lucky as only Vin Diesel could get away with walking topless into a room full of basically nude women, having sex with said women before remarking, “the things I do for my country”, then leaving the ladies asleep the next morning and presumably never calling them again.

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As well as questionable post-coital etiquette, the film is overflowing with cliched lines about getting positive results despite doing naughty things and the characters tend to mostly speak in Nike slogans, which can get tiresome but somehow doesn’t manage to hurt the overall entertaining spirit of the whole affair.

The Verdict

You probably already know whether or not you should go see xXx: Return of Xander Cage – it depends on your willingness to accept entirely farcical and nonsensical plotlines, dialogue and situations just because they feature the inhumanly charismatic Vin Diesel. It’s an utterly ridiculous ride that doesn’t dare take itself seriously, nor hang around long enough to ever commit the twin sins of getting boring or making you question the ludicrousness of what you’re seeing onscreen.

Why Final Fantasy XV’s Maligned Thirteenth Chapter is Important

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Opinion: there’s thematic rationale behind FF XV’s 13th chapter.

Warning: Contains spoilers for Final Fantasy XV’s latter half.

After a decade in development hell, Final Fantasy XV released late last year to critical acclaim thanks to a vastly improved plot over its previous single-player only predecessor, a slick combat system that straddles real-time and traditional JRPG elements brilliantly, and an utterly gorgeous and expansive world to get lost in.

Still, while the stunning open-world of Lucis is the most celebrated feather in Final Fantasy XV’s cap, what criticism the game has received has been aimed at its final third, as its open-world focus narrows into finely structured, linear chapters in the build up to its dramatic finale. Chapter 13 in particular bears the brunt of this negativity.

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The reasons for the hostility towards Chapter 13 are well documented: It’s too long and poorly paced, it’s too linear, and the combat isn’t as fun as it is in the rest of the adventure. The complaints have been repeated by so many that Final Fantasy XV’s developers have felt the need to respond, admitting they could have made certain elements clearer, and will do so in a future patch.

While I agree chapter 13 is comparatively longer chapter than the others, and you are undeniably locked into tighter environments and, yes, the tools you’d just spent umpteen hours honing are stripped from you, it is thematically at least the most important stretch of the game, even without the incoming improvements.

When Final Fantasy XV opens, it does so with a glimpse of Prince Noctis at a time when his friendships are at their strongest. His ride, the Regalia, has broken down, yet the manner in which the group press on together in good humour, joking around as they push the vehicle to the nearest garage speaks volumes about their dynamic. Over the many hours that follow you see just how important this dynamic is: You see how much Ignis fusses over the others, you see how worthless Prompto would feel were it not for the three close bonds he’s forged, and you see how Gladiolus tries to keep them all focused and prepared for the challenges ahead. Most importantly, though, you see just how much they rely on each other.

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It’s a stark contrast to (many) hours later when Chapter 13 begins, at a point where these friendships have been pushed to their absolute limits.

In the few in-game days prior, Noctis has seen his betrothed murdered before him as she tried to tame and secure the services of a reluctant deity on his behalf. Ignis, meanwhile, was blinded during the fights that ensued, as Noctis was preoccupied and unable to help him. Thanks to the deception of their enemy, Ardyn, Noctis pushed best boy Prompto from a moving train, either to certain death or into the hands of the empire – he is unsure as to which. All the while, Gladiolus has been on his case endlessly for not being mentally stronger, for not taking all these events in his stride, and chastising him at any sign of… well… a normal human reaction.

As a result, I’m sure that when separated from the others during their raid on Gralea to retrieve Insomnia’s stolen crystal and to rescue Prompto (if even still alive), Noctis, in other circumstances, would secretly feel a little relieved, but then he’s also lost his ability to summon weaponry.

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Noctis is broken and alone, and is suffocating under the weight of his own guilt. Nope, he is not having a good time, and that means you’re not going to either. For a bit.

And while this portion of the adventure sees our hero chasing ghosts and creeping cautiously through an enemy facility without his or the game’s strongest assets – his friends and weapons – it does so with good reason. It’s a message through gameplay that, while not strictly “fun”, aptly represents the density of Noctis’ guilt for failing those closest to him, and emphasises his mental struggle to come to terms with it.

His road to redemption (Redemption being the name of the chapter), however, leads right to his friends.

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Figuratively speaking, it’s no accident that Noctis is without his ethereal swords at the exact time that he’s without his Royal Bodyguards. It’s no coincidence that after re-establishing his resolve to find his buddies that he’s given access to one sword (his Father’s) and is shortly thereafter reunited with Gladio and Ignis when feeling more like himself. It should certainly be no surprise that it’s only once Prompto has been found safe and sound, once all four are together again, that Noctis is able to regain his full set of abilities.

The reason that none of the above should be surprising, then, is that it’s not only consistent with the message that Final Fantasy XV has been conveying the entire time, it’s the most powerful demonstration of it: Noctis’s strength and resilience comes through his bonds with his chocobros. Without them, he is simply less.

And that is largely why Chapter 13 is what it is. Its purpose is to firmly underline Final Fantasy XV’s strongest primary theme, and I think that if nothing else, for all the ‘crimes’ that people believe it commits, it at least succeeds at that much, even in its current state.

Andy Corrigan is a freelance games journalist based in Australia. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Why Ewan McGregor Had to Rerecord His Beauty and the Beast Song

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Beauty and the Beast will hit theaters on March 17.

Ewan McGregor might be no stranger to musicals, but recording his musical number as Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast proved trickier than he initially expected.

While promoting Fargo: Season 3 at the 2017 winter TV Critics Association press tour, McGregor opened up about to a small group of reporters about why he botched “Be Our Guest” on the first go-around.

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“I hadn’t been in a recording studio for a long time, and I was in a recording studio in London when we recorded the song for the first time. There was an enormous amount of pressure, I thought,” he recalled. “I had only just arrived, I was jet lagged from LA. I got off a plane one day and the next day I was in a recording studio. It’s very nerve-wracking recording, because you’re in a quiet room and through the glass there’s people who are looking at you, and they speak to each other and you can’t hear them. In this instance there were 50 people in there, and I was standing jet lagged alone trying to sing in a French accent this big number. Every time I stopped they would go, ‘OK, hang on,’ [and talk amongst themselves]. I became terribly scared they were going, ‘What the f–k are we going to do with him?’

“We did it, it was fine, and then I asked Bill, I said, ‘Look, when we’re working on the dialogue next time, can I have another shot at it?'” McGregor continued. “So we went just privately, me and him and a few people in New York, and we recorded it a second time.”

McGregor, who is Scottish, found nailing down Lumiere’s French accent tricky. He found himself leaning too far into the French dialect, in line with Jerry Orbach’s take on the character in the 1991 Disney animated Beauty and the Beast, whereas Disney wanted him to dial it back some.

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“I was in very good hands with Bill Condon, the director. I didn’t think very much about it — I just did it,” McGregor said. “Partly that was interesting because I had to do a French accent, and I’ve been married to a French woman for 22 years, and my house is full of French every day. My kids all speak French to their mother, and I found it very difficult to do. I rather arrogantly thought I’d just be able to do this French accent without very much work, and when I tried to do it, I didn’t do it very well. Also Disney wanted the full French sound, they didn’t want the ‘r’ sound, so when you put an ‘r’ in a French accent it turns Spanish or Mexican, so that was an issue. I came back to it afterwards and rerecorded the whole thing again with Bill Condon in a studio, so we had two shots of it and we improved it. By that time, I’d got a candle on my French accent.”

McGregor said he loves getting to shoot a musical again, describing himself as “a musical person” who loves singing and dancing”: “It’s very much in my wheelhouse.” That’s why he was surprised that he never got more opportunities to star in musicals after the success of Moulin Rouge in 2001.

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“I was never offered one after Moulin Rouge. I went on stage doing Guys and Dolls in London in the West End for six months, and then I was never offered another one,” he said. “There’s not many around, to be honest. I had hoped — and I thought — after Moulin Rouge came out, and then there was a great musical movie called Hedwig and the Angry Inch that came out at the same time. I felt the combination of Moulin Rouge and Hedwig might be the start of a new musical cinema, and it just didn’t. The next thing that happened was Chicago, which was very much a film version of the stage play, which wasn’t pushing the musical into a new area like Hedwig had done. It just didn’t sort of materialize. I don’t know why. And now of course with La La Land, that might do it.”

Beauty and the Beast will hit theaters on March 17.

Terri Schwartz is Entertainment Editor at IGN. Talk to her on Twitter at @Terri_Schwartz.

Fire Emblem Heroes Announced for Mobile

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Nintendo’s tactical RPG finally has a name on smartphones.

During a Nintendo Direct today, Nintendo fully revealed its Fire Emblem mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes, which will be available on Google Play for Android on February 2nd, and “soon” on iPhone and iPad.

An animated cutscene intro was shown off for the game, and Nintendo confirmed that the game features “brand-new art, hand drawn by a variety of artists” and “newly recorded voices.” Each map will be an 8×6 grid built for smartphones. Players can drag an ally to an enemy unit to attack, or use traditional Fire Emblem controls on the touch screen. The series’ weapon triangle will also return.

Players will take on the role of a summoner and summon characters from the Fire Emblem series to build their team. Orbs are used to summon additional characters, and they can be earned through gameplay or purchased within the app. Players will also be able to visit a Training Tower to level up their heroes.

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According to the game’s Google Play page, additional modes include Arena Duals, which lets players “fight against your rivals around the world,” and Hero Battles, where players can “defeat the Heroes who oppose you to convince them to join you as an ally.” Like Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes also requires internet connectivity to play.

Nintendo launched a “choose your legend” event on its official site where players can vote for their favorite characters from Fire Emblem history. The characters that win will be featured in Fire Emblem Heroes with “special versions.”

Nintendo originally announced a Fire Emblem mobile game alongside an Animal Crossing game early last year. At the time, at least one of those games was planned for fall 2016, until Nintendo delayed both to 2017.

This marks the third of Nintendo’s mobile projects, following Miitomo in March of last year and Super Mario Run in December. While Nintendo’s original mobile announcement promised five Nintendo mobile games, Nintendo revised that plan late last year and said only four Nintendo mobile games will be out by March 2017.

Andrew is IGN’s executive editor of news and is happy every time he sees the Nintendo logo on his phone. You can find him rambling about Persona and cute animals on Twitter.