This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

THE HIGHS

Andy Kelly: Pyramid scheme

I'm about 10 hours into Assassin's Creed Origins—for my money the best Assassin’s Creed since Black Flag—but for the last two or three hours I haven't completed a single quest or murdered a single evil death cultist. I've just been riding around on my horse (and sometimes a camel) soaking in that incredible, impossibly large world.

It has the sweeping, dramatic feel of The Witcher 3’s Northern Kingdoms, but with the added bonus of being set in ancient Egypt—a period of history I've always been fascinated with. And as I gallop around, I keep cresting hills and seeing knockout views like this. It's so vast, so beautiful, and so atmospheric that I'm happy to just wander and gawp.

I'm also enjoying the built-in photo mode. You can see some of the prettiest shots I've taken here. As someone who loves a bit of the old virtual photography, I'm glad this feature is becoming more common in big games. It's really in a developer’s interest to have players showing their worlds in the best light and sharing it with people.

Joe Donnelly: Back in the dugout

Ahead of its November 10 release (next Friday), Football Manager 2018's pre-launch beta is live, and I'm now shin guards-deep in tactics, training drills and disgruntled supporters. As is the case with each passing instalment of the esteemed soccer management sim, FM 2018 adds a number of new features—the most interesting of which, I reckon, is its Dynamics system. Here, you're tasked with managing your players' behaviour in the dressing room, how they mix with one another, and how this in turn informs their performances on the pitch. 

Social groupings see players buddying up in relation to age, nationality, and how long they've been at the club. Crucially, keeping your most influential players onside is of paramount importance—lest you encourage an internal revolt. As if winning the league and trumping my rivals Sevco wasn't stressful enough! There goes my relaxing weekend.

Evan Lahti: Curveball

Continuing our sports theme: I don't like baseball. My roommate had to drag me to a bar to watch the unprecedentedly crazy World Series games between LA and Houston. I give all my attention to hockey (come hang out with us in our #iceboys Discord channel if you're a PCG Club member), but on PC, I've got few choices for any sports at all. 

Last weekend I was looking for something arcadey to play on a controller while I watched TV. The World Series reminded me: Chris reviewed Super Mega Baseball a couple years ago and loved it. Suddenly I've spent 14 hours playing the sport I allegedly don't like during one of the busiest gaming weeks of the year. SMB's system-specific difficulty settings are excellent, pitching and batting both have depth without being too technical, and the game really respects your time. I discovered yesterday that there's a sequel coming in 2018—instant add to my wish list.

Bonus High: StarCraft 2 goes F2P in less than two weeks. Terrific for the RTS community.

Steven Messner: Battle for Azeroth

For a World of Warcraft fan, the opening day of Blizzcon 2017 has been pretty nuts, what with the announcement of a new expansion and World of Warcraft: Classic servers. As much as I do love me some Vanilla WoW, it's the former that has me really excited. I've enjoyed Legion a lot, but always resented how Warcraft was ignoring one of its most compelling conflicts: the Alliance versus the Horde. Battle for Azeroth appears to reignite that conflict in exciting new ways, with each faction getting their own separate continent to explore before setting out to wage war on each other.

There's a few new features that I can't wait to learn more about, like Warfronts. This new PvE activity is supposedly inspired by Warcraft's real-time strategy roots, letting you command AI troops on the battlefield as you siege key strongholds along with 19 other players. It's an example of how experimental WoW is getting with its design, something that I spoke with game director Ion Hazzikostas about several months ago. I love that World of Warcraft is taking new risks, but also dumping old systems at the same time. As much as I hate to say goodbye to my Legendary weapon after building it up over the past year, cutting ties with the old and saying hello to the new is a great way of making Warcraft feel exciting again.

Jody Macgregor: Exhibitionism

I normally don't go to PAX because even though it contains a thing I like (videogames) it also contains things I hate (loud noises, people). But I went this year and I lined up and I listened to esports commentators and hardware vendors shouting and I made it to the indie section and suddenly everything was OK. Shaun Prescott and I already listed the best new games we saw but it was also nice to see a few we've already covered, like Knuckle Sandwich and Forts and West of Loathing.

But the best thing I did, right before leaving on the Sunday afternoon, was hunt down an exhibition half the people I spoke to didn't even realise was there: a 'xxxhibition' of adult games. Rather than feeling exploitative it was actually a mature space in both senses of the word, a little nook of calm where games that dealt with sex both seriously (like One Night Stand) and not so seriously (like Genital Jousting) were given context, presented in a matter-of-fact way, and still allowed to be fun. In a country like Australia, which had to campaign for years to get an R-rating for games equivalent to the one movies have, it felt like a step forward for the way we see games.

Also I got to play Genital Jousting with a dildo controller and that was a riot.

Tyler Wilde: Duty calls

After almost exactly 365 days, Call of Duty is back, baby. Right on time. Except this year I'm more excited than usual: I really enjoyed the Call of Duty: WWII multiplayer beta, and I'm keen to put the M1 Garand to work again this weekend. The (ever so slightly) slower pace has made me feel competitive again, and I appreciate that it's not just an SMG and quickscoping show: LMGs and the semi-auto Garand were viable in the beta and that seems to be the case post-launch. The simple, three-lane maps can be quickly grasped if not outright memorized, and I'm having a good time both flanking and going head-to-head down middle lanes. Nothing wrong with exchanging fire from behind a couple tanks. I probably won't bother playing the campaign this year, though—it doesn't sound like much has changed.