The week's highs and lows in PC gaming

Fallout 4 dog


James Davenport: The RPGood Life
I can always remember where I was, and who I was, when a new Bethesda game arrived. Because of their scope and density, I associate them more with a sense of place than most media. I was 16 when Oblivion came out. My stealthy Khajiit named Barb was a bit antithetical to my boisterous teen self. What was important during the Oblivion years: football, crushes, eating burgers with four patties, fighting with my dad. A few years later when Fallout 3 came out I had started my freshman year of college. Barb was still stealthy and still antithetical to my awkward young adult self. She was confident, mean sometimes. Important during the Fallout 3 years: punching doors, Frank Zappa’s profundity, Pabst Blue Ribbon. Skyrim met me near the end of my college career in 2011. Barb went Argonian, but stuck with stealth. Priorities then: being angry about paperwork, Tuesday drinking habits, black metal, greek yogurt.

And here we are in 2015 just after the release of Fallout 4. I’ve moved on from Barb to GRONnifer, and stealth isn’t my M.O. anymore. My personal priorities mostly revolve around eating and acclimating to city life (the buildings, they go into the sky!) rather than being angry about everything. It’s hard to see exactly who I am right now, but I know that by the time the next open-world Bethesda game rolls around, I’ll see 2015 in sharp relief and some overwrought waves of nostalgia will reduce me to a puddle of sad, sappy, super-contented goo. Fallout 4 is far from perfect. Every Bethesda game is. But each functions as a space where I’m forced to get to spend time with myself. When I make the decision to be a jerk, or subvert every obstacle by hacking, the decision extends beyond what I think is ‘cool’ at the time. Those decisions are extensions of me, and so every iterative Barb or GRONnifer isn’t just a character. Wastelands and Tamriel aren’t maps. They’re the places and people I’ve been.

Chris Livingston: Can we talk?
I don't like to listen in video games. My typical disposition toward talkative video game characters is: hey, can you shut up so I can play? It's not always the case: I loved a number of characters in the Mass Effect series, and was almost always interested in what they had to say. I'm finding, a bit to my surprise, something similar in Fallout 4. Not with your average wasteland schmoes and quest-givers—I do still skip a lot of chatter—but with several of the companions.

I won't be specific, but two of the companions I've traveled with are really enjoyable to talk to. As you spend time with them, and provided they grow to like you, they'll occasionally pull you aside for a bit of conversation. Ordinarily, a follower in a game wanting a time-out for chit-chat would annoy me, but I'm genuinely excited when these characters want to talk to me, share their thoughts, and tell me more about themselves. And they don't just want to talk to me, either. One follower excused himself and had a brief and entertaining conversation with another NPC, and now I'm just leading him around to other areas, hoping he'll chat with other people. For the first time in a Bethesda game, I'm being a good listener.

Hearthstone League of Explorers Slide

Tim Clark: BlizzCon too fun, nerf pls
Seeing as BlizzCon ended in a blaze of Linkin Park last Saturday (by which point I was mercifully on a plane), I suppose it can’t be my high of the week. But I will say that if you’ve ever had any inclination to attend a BlizzCon, you should definitely go for it. I generally hate being in any gathering of humanity big enough to fill a minibus, but Blizzard superfans are just so goddamn nice that it was a pleasure drifting between panels, tournaments and interviews as they chattered about DPS maxing, hero choices, and OP decks. A truly special event.

My actual high, predictably, is the release of Hearthstone’s League of Explorer’s adventure yesterday. I was a little down on the set after the announcement, because I couldn’t see it remedying some long standing issues with the way the game’s structured and balanced. But while those doubts persist to a degree, I had undervalued how much fun any injection of new cards is—and there are some doozies in here.

Reno Jackson is already getting brewed into Control Warrior and Priest decks for his powerful mega-heal effect, and the unfancied Summoning Stone seems to be proving surprisingly strong in a new Freeze Mage variant. If you fancy watching some Hearthstone this weekend, check out the Seat Story Cup IV. The “relaxed” vibe (read: “sometimes drunk”) is the antithesis of the World Championships at BlizzCon in terms of seriousness, but Seat Story still has some of the best players in the world competing and casting. Head here to watch.

Wes Fenlon: Free rats! Praise the Vermintide
I haven’t played as much Vermintide as I’d like, but I really dig it: Left4Dead with weighty melee combat and an addictive loot system. I’m glad it’s been successful (300,000 copies!) and I’m glad to see Fatshark patching the game and adding its first update for free, with improvements and additions to the loot system. Sigmar’s Blessing, the update coming on December 3, adds a new loot class and ways to buff your existing weapons. Also, it won’t be the last bit of free DLC for the game: the rest of the releases will alternate between free and paid. Hopefully the paid updates feel substantial enough to be worth the price. So far, I’m optimistic about Vermintide having some life in it. Now for that mod support, please.

Don t Starve Together Slide

Tom Senior: Work hard, Klei hard
Invisible, Inc is a turn-based spy game, and one of my favourite games of 2015. Mark of the Ninja is a gorgeous 2D stealth game. Don’t Starve is a surreal sandbox survival sim that is very, very hard to switch off. All are free to try this weekend on Steam. It’s a great opportunity to sample the works of a studio that’s been quietly producing brilliant stuff for years.

Perhaps you only have time for one, which to pick? Mark of the Ninja is the most accessible and immediately satisfying of the bunch. Invisible, Inc’s punishing campaigns might seem initially frustrating, but it’s absolutely worth persisting with so you can replay the game at increasingly interesting difficulty levels. Plus, it’s about to get a DLC pack that adds more agents. Don’t starve is great, too, though you’re better off asking Tim about his 271 day survival streak to find out why. Ultimately, Invisible, Inc has my vote, though I do love spies enough to enjoy Alpha Protocol more than it probably deserved.

Tom Marks: I want to believe
I think Edmund McMillen might be trolling the most dedicated part of his playerbase, and I love it. I spent my morning researching an absolutely ludicrous Binding of Isaac ARG that may not even be a real thing. It probably is, but we really don’t know yet. Whatever the heck is going on, it’s a whole lot of fun to follow. McMillen commented on my inquiry about it by saying only “bring a shovel!”, which I imagine will be more significant to those down in the dirt already digging through cryptic messages.

I love ARGs like this. So far none have been able to match the scale and wonder of Valve’s Portal 2 ARG from 2010, and I don’t think this one will get that big, but it’s great to see that weird feeling of wonder and confusion wash over a gaming community again. It’s easy to get caught up in.

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