This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

The Lows

Evan Lahti: The last roar

Following the news in March, Lionhead officially closed today. The UK studio, founded in part by Peter Molyneux in ‘96, spent half its life under the ownership of Microsoft after being acquired in 2006, following the Xbox 360’s launch in 2005. Although most of its games released on PC, most gamers knew the studio as the creators of various editions of Fable for various editions of the Xbox.

Lionhead leaves an interesting legacy, as memorialized by our writer Richard Cobbett in March. Being co-founded by Molyneux imbued the studio with certain ambition: its first game was a god game, and another, The Movies, set out to simulate an entire industry and to generate  machinima from the fake films your studio made (in 2005, no less). I was disappointed that Lionhead was never able circle back to Black & White—as recently as 2014 we’d heard that Lionhead was working on something that wasn’t Fable. More broadly, the closure doesn’t help Microsoft’s reputation with PC gamers, especially following the closure of Ensemble in 2009, and as it continues to ruffle feathers with its plans for a Universal Windows Platform

Samuel Roberts: Remaster of none

One of the reasons I don’t buy anything but exclusive games on consoles these days is that backwards compatibility seems to be very low down on the manufacturers’ list of priorities—so much so that it was a massive deal last year when Microsoft announced that the 360’s back catalogue would be made compatible with Xbox One (and by all accounts, they’re doing a great job with that, which is a lovely bonus to owners of that console). Instead of making backwards compatibility a standard feature at launch, they’ve found ways to make players pay all over again for slightly nicer-looking versions of games they already own, instead of making the games they already own work with the hardware they’ve paid for—and it’s really annoying, particularly on PS4, where everything from God of War 3 to Heavy Rain has been resold to players in slightly shinier editions. Perhaps it’s too cost prohibitive to make these games work on newer hardware, but billing the player for those games again is a pretty weak solution to me.

I love PC gaming because I only have to buy something like BioShock Infinite once to own it forever—imagine someone telling you that your Steam games only ever work on the first PC you play them on. That’s basically the attitude of releasing HD remakes of games on newer consoles. This week, a COD 4 remaster was teased by Activision’s social media channels, and I wonder if the kids asking for this stuff have even heard of Steam, where you can play a 1080p 60FPS version of COD 4 at any time—and you only have to pay for it once! The novelty. I don’t think nicer textures would be enough to justify paying for it again. In fact, unless we’re talking about fully remade games like Homeworld Remastered, which are hard to come by, perhaps HD remasters shouldn’t have a place at all. 

Tim Clark: Got soul, but not a soldier

This week James Davenport bravely, some might say stupidly, volunteered to be my Dark Souls daddy. I’ve given up on all the previous games after less than an hour because—well, let’s not gussy this up—I’m an enormous baby who tilts at the slightest setback. But it turns out when you’ve got a grizzled veteran to guide you through Lothric’s blighted hallways, they ain’t so bad after all. We had a great time repelling invaders, scooping up sweet loots, and generally dicking around with axes. (As the series clearly should have been called). Keza MacDonald wrote for us this week that the magic of the Souls games really is in the multiplayer, and she’s spot on.

However, because James is so good at the game, I’m probably not improving much at the painstakingly exacting combat system, or really learning the layout of the world properly. (Because why would I, with James as my ethereal GPS?) But that’s not why this is a low. So long as I can keep entrapping James into keeping me company, I’m fine with being carried. This is a low because between password foibles and server snafus it took us an entire night before we could get summoning working correctly. I get that a big part of Dark Souls’ attraction is its opaqueness, but did that esoteric sensibility really need to extend to such basic functionality as launching co-op? Don’t answer that, Miyazaki superfans. 

Wes Fenlon: Steam sales are down

There are a lot of games on Steam. I don’t know if there are too many—I think it’s a great thing that anyone with a dream of making a PC game has a path to get it in front of as many eyes as possible—but according to data from SteamSpy, median game sales were down on the whole. SteamSpy didn’t predict that this was the market hitting a saturation point, but there are definitely a lot of new games releasing on Steam that don’t do great sales numbers. Should that be worrying? Right now, probably not. But it makes me look forward to 2017 and 2018, when even more games will be releasing on Steam every single day. I hope Valve has some smart people working on discoverability and new ways to present, categorize, find, and recommend games on Steam to better surface more of the catalogue to more people. That’s going to be key to a healthy marketplace in the near future. 

Andy Kelly: Loot who’s talking

Remember The Division? For about two weeks it’s all I played. I was playing on my lunch break, before work, at home. Basically whenever I got a spare minute. In the end I clocked about 40 hours, which is a big chunk of time. Any piece of entertainment that can hold your attention for that long has to have done something right, surely. But there came a moment that I lost all desire to play it.

Looking back, I think it’s the loot. The real-world setting certainly looks amazing—Ubisoft Massive’s vision of a virus-infected New York City is stunning—but it just doesn’t translate to satisfying or interesting gear. I thought about what I’d get if I kept playing, and the idea of rare kneepads failed to ignite my passion. I knew that when I finally reached the level cap, my dude would look vaguely the same. My guns would all feel and look the same, but deal greater damage. I’d be still be shooting guys, but with deeper pools of health.

I had some great times with friends in co-op, and I enjoyed exploring the city, but there’s nothing driving me to continue levelling up. In World of Warcraft you have elaborate high-level armour and weapons or mounts to aspire to when you’re slumming it with a leather jerkin and an iron sword. There are ‘legendary’ weapons in The Division, but they’re just more boring shotguns and pistols. So for now, I’m going to have to leave New York behind, and I don’t think the DLC will be enough to get me back on the chopper. 

Angus Morrison: Far future

When Cyberpunk 2077 was announced I was still learning my times tables. That it’s still a terribly long way off is exhausting news.

Visual effects artist Jose Texiera revealed that the project is still at a tool development and learning-from-The-Witcher stage. It could be a clever bluff. I hope it’s a clever bluff. Perhaps CD Projekt Red is planning to pull a Bethesda and drop it on us tomorrow. A Saturday would be a strange time to release a game, but I’m desperate, alright? I need to believe a horrible dystopian future is just around the corner. 

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