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This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

The highs

Chris Livingston: Star search

This week I finally tried out Star Citizen, and after posting about my fumbling attempts to figure out the finer details of flying a ship and not falling on my face, I was contacted by a number of people in the space sim's community. I'm really happy to say nearly all the emails and tweets I got were from people very politely offering to teach me how to play, to spend some time with their communities, and to show me around the game. That's really cool.

In fact, I've already spent some time online with a couple very knowledgeable players, and I've accepted a couple of more invitations to meet a few others. Plus, I got to ride on one of Star Citizen's really, really big ships the other night, which I'll post about next week.

Chris Thursten: Somme like it hot

I've been playing a bunch of Battlefield 1 since it entered its early launch period on Tuesday and I'm really impressed. The last Battlefield game I really enjoyed was BF3, and it's great to see DICE's design advance in a load of key areas. Older weaponry and vehicles feel like a better fit for the formula, with low accuracy and lethality creating more interesting firefights. I also like the elegant solution they've found for tank and aircraft spawns and the use of map-wide events as a comeback feature: the battleships, zeppelins and armoured trains granted to losing teams to even the odds.

The singleplayer is much more substantial than I expected, too, with just enough going on underneath the hood to elevate it above the traditional bolt-on six hour rollercoaster. There's stealth, and silenced weapons, and enemy tagging! None of this is up to the genre's highest standard—it's no Far Cry—but it's not a series of quicktime events, either.

The setting still feels a little strange to me, however. Perhaps this is a consequence of being British, but I've never seen World War I given the action movie treatment sometimes applied to WWII. That's not to say that it can't work, but I've grown up seeing this war as nothing less than a tragedy—a civilisation-wide loss of innocence in the face of mechanised brutality. The game plays with those themes at times, but it also wants to be a spectacle, and it doesn't quite work. I'd probably have preferred it if they went all-in on fun. As it is, the game's tone is defined by its bizarre anachronistic splash art: World War I as a sad war fought by hot young men in vintage clothes.

Samuel Roberts: Dragonborn supremacy 

I played Skyrim for about 30 or 40 hours at release, which is a solid chunk of time, but by no means as comprehensive as my time spent with Bethesda's Fallout games. That's why I'm delighted that Bethesda's own enhanced version of Skyrim is mere days away—it's a nice gift to players who bought the game and DLC at some point over the last five years. 

Fingers crossed it's a more successful special edition than BioShock was. The early screenshots are certainly encouraging, and even if it's not, there's still the option to mod the original. Is it healthy that one of my most anticipated games of this year is five years old? I don't care, it's a pretty cool thing to get for free. Wheel out your old arrow to the knee memes boys, it’s back.

Tom Senior: Tricky thump

I’m almost at the end of Thumper, which makes me sad and relieved at the same time. Once I’ve polished off level nine I won’t have to spend any more time flying at tremendous speed into a monster’s face in a nightmarish world of robots and quicksilver snakes—hooray! Although, actually, I quite like it there. You’re confined to a narrow bobsleigh route that plunges into the misty bowels of hell, and it looks amazing. I love the silvery surface of your beetle’s carapace. It’s the kind of metamorphosis I can get behind.

Thumper is a surprisingly complex little rhythm action game too. Maintaining combos and super-slamming glowing bass notes unlocks hidden notes that give you a chance to lock down that section’s ‘S’ rank. Even though you’re locked into a route most of the time (occasional sections have you dodging laterally for short stretches), there’s an element of improvisation and route selection to the course. In these late stages I’m simply trying to stay alive, but I can imagine sinking more time into getting good at Thumper. If only there weren’t so many good games coming out. Oh well, it’s a nice problem to have.

Tyler Wilde: Pressing forward

Happy Civilization 6 day! I remember when Civ 5 came out and I spent a bus ride from South San Francisco to Napa playing on an old Dell laptop that wasn't meant to play games—getting about 15 fps and not caring at all. I started Civ 6 last night on a more capable machine and naturally stayed up until 3 am with it. I hardly have the experience of our reviewer, TJ, but I already see why he loves it. I thought I'd reject the new art style, but I hardly notice it once I'm embedded in policy decisions and barbarian battles. And anyway, there are mods to look forward to. I'm still waiting on word from Firaxis about mod tools—I'm told we'll hear all about modding once they're "ready to start talking" about it—but I can't wait to see what the community puts together. Even if I can live with the art as it is now, I’d happily take an overhaul that emulates Civ V’s grimier game board.

Bo Moore: Balance of power

This week, Blizzard announced that the Overwatch PTR would be doing something a little bit different. Rather than simply using it as a staging ground for content and changes that would be pushed live shortly, this time around the public test server will last much longer and be used to actually test large balance changes among the community. 

Blizzard has made balance changes to heroes before—Zenyatta and McCree have both been yo-yo'd back and forth between overpowered and overnerfed, for example—but every time changes were made, they were decided upon internally, briefly tested on the PTR, and then pushed live about a week later. By extending the length of the PTR and letting players know that the tweaks that appear there may not end up making it to the live server, Blizzard has the freedom to try out more drastic balance changes. 

This is exactly the approach the company needs to take with Overwatch. Despite a roster of 22 heroes, it can often feel like the competitive metagame only has room for 10 or so. Heroes like Widowmaker and Soldier: 76 are simply not as good as McCree, while poor defenders Hanzo, Torbjorn, and Symmetra (I don't care if she's listed as support, she's a defender) are considered so underpowered that picking one often draws the ire of your teammates. With the PTR now empowered to test larger changes, it'll be easier for Blizzard to safely buff underperformers and avoid the back-and-forth approach to balance we’ve seen so far. 

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