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This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

THE HIGHS

Fraser Brown: Rome improvement

Paradox has once again declared war on my free time, combining my twin loves of sprawling, complex grand strategy games and asshole Romans. Imperator: Rome is very good. So good, I stuck a very high number on it. It plucks systems from Paradox's previous endeavours and then reshapes them, so you've got lively characters and politics evocative of Crusader Kings and Victoria, but it's still a Europa Universalis-style broad strategy romp. 

It's familiar, then, but all the systems interact with each other in interesting and unexpected ways. Take my conquest of Carthage, for instance. I'd sent Rome's greatest general and his loyal troops to take the capital, which they managed to do quite easily. And then I left them there. That was my mistake. Bored and not exactly fans of Carthage, they started looting and pillaging, and I couldn't disband the army because they were so intensely loyal to their leader. The Carthaginians weren't pleased, so they then rose up, starting a civil war in North Africa. At least the general ended up cleaning up his mess. 

Tom Senior: Boxed in

I finished The Room: The Old Sins this week and already miss the series. They are lovely, gentle puzzle games that have you open intricate, beautiful puzzle boxes to discover dark secrets of the universe. I wish these puzzle boxes really existed, and if I ever become preposterously rich I will dedicate my resources to building them myself as tiny follies that explorers can discover after my death. In fact I would like to be buried in an impossibly complicated mahogany and brass construct that takes five or six hours—the length of a Room game—to complete.

You’ll find the series on Steam. If you have an iPad or touchscreen capable device then it’s better to play them there, because the touch controls are lovely.

Tyler Wilde: Kombat training

As Fraser and Wes explain in the lows, there are a couple of very good reasons to criticize Mortal Kombat 11 right now. One thing that really impressed me about it, though, is its tutorials. Getting good at fighting games is hard, especially if you're not already well-versed in the genre's quirky love of complex inputs and combo systems. But for MK11, you won't have to wait for lengthy FAQs from fans to start learning the stuff that used to be treated like forbidden knowledge. Its tutorials not only show you how to do moves (general and character-specific), but when to use them and why. I've never seen better tutorials in a fighting game.

Wes Fenlon: Geralt rides again

Some potentially exciting news this week: Thanks to a hard-working modder, it's possible to craft and implement new quests into The Witcher 3, using new assets and the ones that already exist in the base game. It's not simple or easy modding, but it could mean that six months or a year from now, some diehard Witcher fans drop cool new quests on us, and we can take Geralt out on some new adventures. Wouldn't that be grand.

Steven Messner: ✌️ FULL EXONERATION ✌️

Weeks ago I reported on EVE Online's developer banning a lawyer and lobbyist who had leveraged his real-world career to get elected into EVE's own in-game political council. As CCP Games said, this individual had shared confidential information to friends so they could get a competitive edge in the game—which is strictly not allowed. But something didn't sit right with me at the time: Why would this guy risk tarnishing his real-life reputation over videogame money? It seemed like a such stupid decision.

Well, as it turns out, this guy is completely innocent. After conducting an investigation (why this wasn't done before banning him, I do not know), CCP Games found that this guy did nothing wrong and unbanned those involved. It was an egg-on-your-face moment for the MMO developer, but I'm happy to see this player's honor restored. At the same time, I can't help but wonder if this was all an elaborate scheme hatched by other players with opposing motives? EVE Online schemes are as dastardly as they come, and I'm not so sure CCP Games is even safe from them. 

THE LOWS 

Wes Fenlon: Kombat crunch

Mortal Kombat has been in the news a lot this week. As Fraser and Tom points out, MK11 has some annoying microtransactions, but it's still a great fighting game aside from that. Then there was the mini scandal (despite nothing being scandalous) about Jax's slavery-erasing ending. And on Friday, we published a report based on several interviews with former NetherRealm developers who decided to speak out about a history of crunch and poor treatment of contract workers at the studio. This is the one that's truly important, and I hope that it gives more developers the opportunity and courage to talk about their own experiences with crunch and push for better.

Tom Senior: Grinderman

To all players who put dozens of hours into unlocking Destiny’s two best PvP guns, the nerf hammer tolls, and it tolls for thee. The reign of Luna’s Howl and not forgotten may soon end in the Season of Opulence. It’s the natural life cycle for these weapons. They rule supreme for six months or so, and then Bungie shuffles the deck and another hard-to-get weapon dominates instead. Rough news for the gun owners though!

Also this week: tough tower challenges with meagre rewards in Mortal Kombat 11. Fixes are afoot, but the balance made players suspicious that they were being shepherded towards the game’s microtransaction shop. Both examples show that a long grind creates strong and mostly unpleasant feelings when you don’t receive enough rewards for your time. Are we too accepting of long grinds in games? I understand why living games like Anthem want to string players along for a long time, but why a fighting game? Why am I chopping Kano’s head off thousands of times for new hats? What has Kano done to deserve this??

Fraser Brown: Mortal Akkountant

I did not buy Mortal Kombat 11 to accrue resources and currency and open boxes, but since finishing the excellent campaign, that's really all I've been doing. Like Tom mentioned, it's easy to see why people might feel like they're being pushed into spending money to avoid the grind, but even if the grind is reduced by the upcoming patches, the shitty systems will still be left behind. 

There are four (!) currencies, which is at least three more than it needs, and entire modes built around earning and spending them. Now I have to walk around a boring island, smashing down walls and opening boxes just to find more sunglasses for Johnny Cage until I run out of hearts or coins or whatever I need and get back to my other job. NetherRealm really needs to chuck the whole Krypt into the bin and just let us unlock stuff by kicking the crap out of people.   

Tyler Wilde: Up all Fortnite

My low is that employees being overworked, which has been a problem in the games industry for a long time, is still a problem. It wasn't just NetherRealm, but also Epic taking heat over crunch this week. Obviously the unreal success of Fortnite was unexpected, but that shouldn't have been a bad thing for the people working on it. 

At least we saw some encouraging words from Respawn, which says it isn't going to move too fast to avoid overworking anyone—though we need to be sure it follows through on that promise.

Steven Messner: Do you know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby!

Earlier this year I wrote about my newfound obsession with League of Legends, a very good game that I am still hopelessly addicted to. Though starting out wasn't as harrowing as people would have you believe, there is definitely a steep learning curve to LoL's various roles—but none more so than jungling.

Feeling confident with my skills in top, bot, support, and mid, jungling was the only role I had no experience with. I wanted to change that, so this week I started queueing up as jungle, watching guides, and memorizing routes. But, holy shit, jungling is hard. It's a game of information warfare, where every mistake can set you behind and I have had some terrible games as the jungler. 

In the hundreds of hours I've played so far, I've never felt quite as tilted as I have with jungling. I've died and, like a child, thrown my hands in the air and shouted "FUCK!" so… not proud of that. It was enough that I stopped playing League for a few days and wondered if I'd even go back. I'm not going to quit that easily, though. I've since read more guides and had a few okay games that make me believe I am learning. But damn, sometimes you just gotta sit back and wonder why you're even playing a game if it makes you so angry.