Urban Empire Review

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This city-builder is more about politics than plopping down buildings.

There’s a case to be made that Urban Empire is a perfect city sim for our times. Many traditional city sims grant us autocratic control, and the whims and wants of the populace largely remain abstractions and jumbles of figures. Urban Empire, though, focuses on the grim reality of the bickering, backstabbing, and befriending that goes on in a mayor’s relationship with multiple political parties before any proposal becomes a reality. It’s an approach that’s commendable for its realism, but in this case, it’s one that quickly grows predictable and occasionally dull.

It starts out promisingly enough. Urban Empire keeps its ambitions manageable by limiting the gameplay to the two-century span between 1820 and 2020, and it injects some volatility by mirroring the economic effects of events like the recession of the 1840s and the First World War. It drives home its focus on people by making you not a detached puppet master, but rather a member of one of four dynasties with different histories and ambitions. There are the starkly conservative Von Pflizens, for example, and the Sant’Elias clan who believes good technology can fix everything.

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The approach adds a welcome dose of roleplay to the main campaign, as events pop up demanding decisions that can affect the heirs that become the new heads of the family as one era gives up to the next. These dynasties also grant bonuses for their mayors from each era, which can help them push through controversial edicts through smart use of the goodwill stat. Likely as a means of softening the challenge of the first hectic years, Urban Empire presents each mayor as appointed by the Austrian emperor, making them impossible to remove. When a wider embrace of democracy comes along toward the end of the 19th century, their positions depend on the favor of the city council.

One roughly six-hour playthrough doesn’t differ terribly from the next.

In practice, though, one roughly six-hour playthrough doesn’t differ terribly from the next, regardless of whether you’re playing the working class-oriented Kilgannons or the posh Shuyskys family. History as we know it marches on regardless of what decisions each mayor makes, and the cities grow almost identically, thus removing a great deal of possible “What If?” scenarios that could have rewarded (or punished) you if you take a different view of European life than the one we’re familiar with today. There are three compact scenarios that allow a for a more focused playthrough (including one that actually asks you to lower your population), but even there the overtures remain the same.

That’s partially because strictly speaking, Urban Empire isn’t a city builder in the traditional SimCity sense. You can guide the graphically attractive towns through choices on a sprawling technology tree that lets you go down paths including everything from refrigeration to internet development, and you can place unlocked buildings like clinics and railroad stations, but for the most part they grow on their own. Yet Urban Empire doesn’t even let you map out the positions of industrial, residential, and mixed zones aside from tinkering with a slider that randomizes their placement. You can allocate funds for management, but you can forget about laying down your own creative roads. This isn’t that kind of game.

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That’s where Urban Empire’s true nature as a city-based political sim comes in. To do almost anything, whether it’s placing a new building or banning pornography, you need to run it by the city council, who will then vote on whether it passes. Unfortunately, for all the focus on the playable family, these council meetings and their political parties always remain abstract. The council supports more political parties as time moves on, involving almost constant use of prompts to demand or threaten them, or to just have a friendly chat in order to sway them to vote a certain way. Later, you can even blackmail parties by sending agents to spy on them (although, as with most actions, this is never more visually interesting than clicking on prompts in a menu). Most of Urban Empire’s action consists of watching these guys vote in their crowded semicircular room, and the work outside in the visual world tends to chiefly involve waiting for them to get ready for the next vote. Early on in a campaign, this makes for many nail-biting moments when cash is scarce and your prestige stat hasn’t built up.

Yet as your power consolidates, this dance rapidly grows dull. It certainly doesn’t help that the parties don’t always act as you might expect them to based on political alignment, as even the conservatives will usually eagerly warm to the idea of taxing everyone into the poorhouse if there’s a deficit. Through only moderately careful maneuvering, I could usually generate enough prestige to override their stubborn votes if necessary in the late game. And once I fell into this rhythm, I found it difficult to lose.

It’s possible to artificially make Urban Empire harder by doggedly pursuing a right-wing agenda, as its clear desire to follow the general trends of European history until now amounts to progressive ideals being favored at almost every decision. The challenge to maintain rule by championing child labor and such can be fun at first, but when elections start to matter as the world enters more modern eras, this leftward tendency makes it almost certain you’ll get the boot. Finding the necessary rhythm can also be a challenge at first, as Urban Empire’s tutorial enjoys relaying the basics but almost nothing about the specifics. Tooltip use is unfortunately sporadic as well, and sometimes it asks you questions like how you’d like your train station’s interior designed with zero hints as to the resulting effects that pop up after you click.

The Verdict

Urban Empire‘s premise of focusing on the political tumult that’s usually behind city planning is a good one, and the emphasis on four families allows for some lightweight roleplay in how you guide your city to greatness. Unfortunately, the personal approach tends to stumble as each game more or less plays out like the last, and the constant juggle of votes makes for an experience that’s more exasperating than exciting.

Between the Panels: Can Secret Empire Be Marvel’s Rebirth?

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It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Civil War II is over, which means Marvel Comics is already busy teasing its next big crossover event. That isn’t exactly a thrilling prospect considering the generally lackluster quality of Marvel’s major event comics in recent years (Secret Wars notwithstanding). But there actually is reason to be optimistic about Secret Empire. For one thing, it’s an offshoot of Captain America: Steve Rogers, which has numbered among Marvel’s better ongoing series over the past year. But more crucial is the fact that Secret Empire has the potential to address a lot of the storytelling mistakes Marvel has been making lately. It could easily wind up being Marvel’s answer to DC Rebirth.

Between the Panels: Can Secret Empire Be Marvel's Rebirth?

Secret Empire teaser art by John Cassaday. (Marvel Comics)

There are certainly comparisons to be drawn between the current state of Marvel Comics and DC as it existed even just 12 months ago. The DC You relaunch spawned a handful of critically adored, low-selling, esoteric titles, but too many of DC’s core superhero titles drifted away from what made the characters appealing in the first place. Major status quo changes like a de-powered Superman, a renegade Hal Jordan and whatever the heck was up with Wonder Woman failed to resonate with readers. The DCU had become far too grim and joyless. DC needed Rebirth to serve as a catalyst, one that could re-align the company’s most popular heroes and restore the luster that had been lost.

As the new Marvel NOW relaunch unfolds, Marvel seems trapped in a very similar place. There are still plenty of great books coming out of the Marvel offices. Given the sheer volume of comics they publish these days, that’s inevitable. But there’s a growing sense of apathy surrounding the general direction of the Marvel Universe (a notion I’ve explored in the past), and that apathy has only increased thanks to the poorly executed Civil War II. Like the pre-Rebirth DC, the current Marvel Universe is a dark, dismal place where heroes are too busy fighting heroes to remember the lessons of the first Civil War. Spider-Man is no longer Marvel’s plucky everyman hero. The Fantastic Four are but a hushed memory. Half the X-Men are dead and the other half are busy waging war against the Inhumans.

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At this point, Marvel really needs its own Rebirth – a story that can help shift the Marvel Universe off the path it’s been following these past few years and towards a brighter future. DC really hit the nail on the head with their Rebirth tagline, “Heroes. Now more than ever.” The world is in pretty cruddy shape right now, and the last thing comic book fans need is to see their favorite heroes acting like villains.

That’s where Secret Empire comes in. This week, Marvel gave readers their first real taste of what this event entails with the release of Civil War II: The Oath #1, an epilogue issue that also directly set the stage for what’s to come in 2017. Secret Empire builds on the controversial revelation that Steve Rogers has been a Hydra double-agent since childhood. With the help of his star-spangled minion, Red Skull is busy stoking the fires of racism and xenophobia in America, paving the way for a new grassroots version of Hydra to rise up and take control of the country. Cap made it abundantly clear that he won’t rest until the world the Avengers have fought so many times to protect comes crashing down.

Between the Panels: Can Secret Empire Be Marvel's Rebirth?

Cap makes an oath to Iron Man. Art by Rod Meis. (Marvel Comics)

On the surface, that doesn’t sound like the sort of story that can put the shine back on the Marvel U. and make it a brighter, more heroic place. If anything, it sounds like the grimmest premise for a Marvel event since the days of Dark Reign. But that’s the point. The only way to jolt the Avengers back to reality is to pit them against a foe so all-encompassing in its awfulness that they’re forced to remember what made them Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the first place. They need a challenge that can draw a clear line between good and evil again.

Marvel’s heroes are about to face one of the gravest evils they’ve ever dealt with, an evil that’s managed to corrupt even their most benevolent and morally upright ally. They’re also dealing with a world that’s become totally disillusioned by its heroes. As Cap himself explains in Civil War II: The Oath #1, the general public are tired of heroes who have lost touch with the people they claim to be defending. They’re sick of seeing Avengers fighting other Avengers rather than focusing on the true villains. Hydra’s resurgence is built on exploiting and harnessing that disgust with the status quo.

I don’t think I even need to point out the similarities between Marvel’s current incarnation of Hydra and the real-world political developments of the past couple years. Writer Nick Spencer has never been shy about drawing from current events as he’s shaped his Captain America saga. Regardless of your thoughts on Donald Trump’s presidency or the Brexit vote, we can all agree that those unexpected developments would never have been possible unless a large swath of voters were completely fed up with the status quo. The apathy and anger and helplessness felt by millions around the world is mirrored in the way the denizens of the Marvel U. are now turning on their once beloved heroes.

That’s what makes Secret Empire such a potentially resonant story. Marvel really struck a chord with the original Civil War and its exploration of the post-9/11 struggle between national security and personal liberties. No Marvel event since then has really connected on that allegorical level, but Secret Empire just might. It’s a story that can speak to the tumultuous, uncertain state of the world. And it’s a story that will force Marvel’s iconic heroes to be the best versions of themselves if they have any hope of overcoming the Hydra threat. It’s a real “do or die” moment for the Marvel Universe.

Between the Panels: Can Secret Empire Be Marvel's Rebirth?

DC Rebirth art by Ivan Reis. (DC Entertainment)

Hopefully, Secret Empire will help Marvel’s creators get back in touch with what makes these character so inspiring and enduring. Marvel is at a point where they need a back to basics approach – something that can re-center the Marvel U. and wipe away that sense of apathy so many readers are feeling these days. DC had its Rebirth, and now it’s Marvel’s turn.

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly column from Jesse Schedeen that focuses on the world of comics. You can see more of his thoughts on comics and pop culture by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.

Days of War Will Feature 100-Player Battle Events

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The WWII multiplayer shooter is available on Steam Early Access now.

Developer Driven Arts has released WWII multiplayer shooter Days of War on Steam Early Access, announcing the introduction of 100-player battles on the game’s Omaha Beach map.

Driven Arts notes the feature in still in development and is not in the base game yet but the first 100-player battle weekend event will run from February 3 to 5. Further details can be found at the game’s Steam Hub.

“We love tight competitive gameplay more than anyone, but World War II was defined by its massive battles and invasions, and we want to bring that experience to Days of War with 100-player combat,” explained lead designer Lee Snodgrass.

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According to Driven Arts these 100-player battles will initially be offered as scheduled events so the team “can fine-tune the details and performance.” When the team is content everything works the server cap will be raised from 32 to 100 so players can host their own 100-player matches.

Days of War is a class-based multiplayer shooter inspired by WWII shooters of the 2000s, with Driven Arts namechecking the likes of Day of Defeat, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty 2, and Wolfenstein Enemy Territory as key inspiration.

Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.

A Complete Guide to For Honor’s Preorder Bonuses

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Get the best deal possible.

For Honor is coming soon, and it has an axe to grind with you.

For those who are a bit behind, check out our For Honor multiplayer preview, where we learn first-hand just how dangerous the Shugoki warriors can be.

As with most major releases, multiple versions of For Honor will be available when it is released on February 14. Plus, if you’re planning on preordering, some retailers offer much more bang (and exclusive goods) for your buck than others. If you’re a more casual player, the standard $60 version ($48 with Amazon Prime) will be just fine, but we’re here to break down all the various preorder bonuses and exclusives if you want something more.

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For Honor – Deluxe Ediiton

Price: $70

For Honor – Deluxe Edition includes the base game plus the Deluxe Pack, which features exclusive customization items, a special execution effect for all heroes, and more.

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

For Honor – Gold Edition

Price: $100

For Honor – Gold Edition includes the base game, plus the Deluxe Pack from the Deluxe Edition, plus a season pass so you’ll have access to upcoming content immediately as it’s released.

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

For Honor – Collector’s Edition

Price: $130

Sold only through Ubisoft’s official store, For Honor – Collector’s Edition includes the Gold version of the game, plus:

  • For Honor’s soundtrack
  • Exclusive lithograph
  • 3 faction helmets with a decorative stand

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

For Honor – Apollyon Collector’s Edition

Price: $220

Sold only at GameStop, the Apollyon Collector’s Edition includes For Honor – Gold Edition, plus tons of collectibles including:

  • 14″ statue of Apollyon, For Honor’s main Warlord
  • Exclusive Apollyon lithograph
  • An “origins note” that reveals secrets of Apollyon’s past
  • Premium Collector’s Edition packaging

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

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Preorder Bonuses

Preordering For Honor from many major retailers grants you the Legacy Battle Pack which includes three exclusive armor designs “inspired by the ancient tales that embody the legendary warrior spirit of the factions.” The skins are for the Warden, Raider, and Kensei warriors.

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

Below, we’ll tell you which retailers offer the Legacy Battle Pack and which retailers are sweetening the deal with retailer-exclusive deals or bonuses. Check them all out and decide which is right for you.

Amazon

Standard Edition price: $60 ($48 pre-order price for Amazon Prime members)

Deluxe Edition price: $70

Gold Edition price: $100

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

Deals and preorder exclusives:

  • 20% off your preorder of For Honor standard edition with Amazon Prime ($48 instead of $60)

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

GameStop

Deluxe Edition price: $70

Gold Edition price: $100

Apollyon Collector’s Edition price: $220

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

Deals and preorder exclusives:

  • GameStop is the only retailer selling the Apollyon Collector’s Edition. This premium $220 edition includes a 14” statue, a lithograph, and more.
  • Receive one of three exclusive pins, chosen at random, for preordering This does not apply to digital versions of the game.

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

Best Buy

Deluxe Edition price: $70

Gold Edition price: $100

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

Deals and preorder exclusives:

  • 20% off your preorder of For Honor standard edition with Gamers Club ($48 instead of $60)

A Complete Guide to For Honor's Preorder Bonuses

Target

Deluxe Edition price: $70

Gold Edition price: $100

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

Steam

Deluxe Edition price: $70

Gold Edition price: $100

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

Microsoft Store

Deluxe Edition (download code) price: $70

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

PlayStation Store

Deluxe Edition (download) price: $70

Gold Edition price: $100

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

Deals and preorder exclusives:

  • Pre-order and receive six PSN avatars at checkout: Samurai Emblem, Kensei, Knights Emblem, Raider, Vikings Emblem, Warden

Toys R Us

Gold Edition price: $100

See For Honor – Gold Edition at Toys R Us

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • None

Ubisoft Store

Deluxe Edition price: $70

Gold Edition price: $100

Collector’s Edition price: $130

Standard preorder bonuses:

  • Legacy Battle Pack

Deals and preorder exclusives:

  • The Ubisoft Store is the only retailer selling the Collector’s Edition

Brian is a freelancer at IGN. You can follow him @albinoalbert on Twitter.

New Galactic Civilizations 3 Update Out Now, Refines Diplomacy And More

Almost two years after its initial release, a big new update for Galactic Civilizations III has arrived.

Among the key additions in the 2.0 update are Starbase Administrators and diplomacy improvements. Administrators are a brand-new resource needed to construct Starbases. Developer Stardock said this “will take some of the pressure of feeling like you need to mass-produce Starbases off your shoulders.

New Galactic Civilizations 3 Update Out Now, Refines Diplomacy And More
New Galactic Civilizations 3 Update Out Now, Refines Diplomacy And MoreNew Galactic Civilizations 3 Update Out Now, Refines Diplomacy And MoreNew Galactic Civilizations 3 Update Out Now, Refines Diplomacy And MoreNew Galactic Civilizations 3 Update Out Now, Refines Diplomacy And More

“You’ll start with a number of Administrators based on the size of the map, and each Starbase will consume one. Researching certain government-related techs will allow you to hire more Administrators. This new resource gives some advantages to smaller empires who can now choose to use Starbases to improve morale and productivity in their home systems.”

Diplomacy, always an area in need of improvement in strategy games, receives what Stardock calls “some major work.” AI players now factor in more things–such as how much they like you–when deciding on trades. Additional information will also be provided to explain why a trade was or wasn’t accepted. In a press release, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell said, “[T]he diplomatic AI is more sophisticated and plays a lot like a human would both in terms of trading and how they deal with the complex web of foreign relations.”

You can check out the full patch notes below for a more in-depth rundown on what’s been adjusted in version 2.0.

Coinciding with the release of this update, Steam has discounted Galactic Civilizations III. From now until January 30, you can pick up the base game for $13.59 (down from the usual $40). Its DLC is also on sale, most of it for half price. Its most significant piece of DLC, the Mercenaries expansion, is 75 percent off, bringing it down to $5.

Galactic Civilization 2.0 Update Patch Notes

Starbase Administrators

Starbases are under new management. Each Starbase now requires an Administrator to run it. Your starting number of Administrators is proportional to your galaxy size. You can also research techs in the government tree to train more Administrators. As part of this change, we’ve greatly decreased the minimum distance between Starbases.

Diplomacy Improvements

We reworked the AI to make it more active and smarter in trading. Be careful you don’t loose your shirt while trading!

Change Log

Administrators

  • Starbases now require one “Administrator” to build
  • Number of starting Administrators depends on galaxy size
  • Research certain Government Technologies to increase the number of Administrators
  • Current number of available Administrators can be seen on the resource bar or the Starbase list tab.

Diplomacy

  • General pass on conversation weights such that the AI will talk more and offer more interesting trades.
  • AI players who dislike you will charge you more in diplomacy
  • Changed diplomacy attitude label from “allied” to “loves” (they’re not allied)
  • Changed diplomacy attitude from label “war” to “hates” (they’re not at war)
  • AI should be better at focusing on a given weapon or defense tech rather than trying to research multiple paths.
  • AIs will heavily weight their relations with other players based on who is at war with whom and why
  • AIs will tend to come to the aid of their friends even if the enemy is more powerful
  • AI now has the capability of explaining in detail why they rejected (or accepted) a trade offer (though will require translation of new strings)
  • AI will use a redlining system of evaluating proposals such that each sub-AI routine will add marks to the proposal with potential veto power.
  • AI now has the capability of explaining in detail why they rejected (or accepted) a trade offer.

Balance

  • Home planet production points base increased from 1 to 10
  • Significantly reduced starbase spacing radius to 2 tiles, allowing you cluster them closer together.
  • AI is substantially better at evaluating what ship to build, when and where
  • Early game improvements made less expensive
  • Late game improvement benefits reduced slightly
  • Research improvements have been rebalanced.

UI Improvements / Bugs

  • By default, the auto-generated military ships will have their categories folded for easier UI navigation.
  • When a player designs a ship, it will, by default, be added to the favorites
  • Added the currency, morale, population, and turns information to the planet and shipyard window
  • Changed Terran and “space monster” fighters size from small to tiny, matching the sizes for other factions. This change prevents a crash in the ROT campaign
  • Map Editor: Fixed a problem that prevented the Mini-map Preview from working.
  • Replaced Diplomatic Specialization 3 to be “Efficient Administration” on all trees. (Base Game and Campaigns.)
  • Fixed bad Matter Disruption Cost multiplier that was making Matter Disruption 2.6 times more expensive than it should have been.
  • Changed the width of the asteroid tooltip window and “nearest owned planet” value so that the value can no longer overlap
  • Changed the width of the “nearest owned planet” value in the asteroid context window so that the value can no longer overlap
  • Updated map lighting settings to decreased ambient light and increased key light to make the ships look less flat.
  • Mercenaries: Ships that you can’t afford are greyed out.
  • Fixed issue where Ancient Kinetic Augmenter had weapon FX even though it is a support module.
  • Removed military ring Starbase range boost now that we have implemented Administrators.
  • Fixed a problem that was causing rebellions in peaceful corners of the galaxy.
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