It's videogame season. Don't get us wrong—we're playing games year round—but fall is here, and that means the big hitters are coming out for the holidays. We're looking backwards to think about our games of the year and prepping for some big events, like BlizzCon and the launch of Google Stadia. Here's how we think the rest of 2019 is going to play out—the stories and games you'll be reading about on PC Gamer in November and December.
Google Stadia's technology will be cool—but beyond the buzz, won't make a big impact anytime soon
Jarred: I think Stadia will end up being a fairly tame launch, and it's definitely not going to be an overnight success. Large numbers of people will try the free version, and there will be some problems with long wait times at first when everyone tries to jump on at the same time. But overall, it will be fine—the quality and latency will be "good enough." It will be a foot in the door, a juggernaut that's slow to get moving but eventually becomes impossible to stop.
Short-term, gamers that already have a current gen console or PC aren't going to switch. But as the years tick by, more and more people are going to look at the price of admission and the growing library of games and say, "Yeah, actually, Stadia Pro at $10 per month is better than spending $500 for a new console or graphics card upgrade." Or alternatively, "Buying games on Stadia and streaming for 'free' at 1080p is more than sufficient."
It's not going to end PC gaming, but cloud streaming from Stadia will become a viable and profitable business for Google. It will eventually support VR and be renamed the Oasis. (Not really.)
Joanna: The other take-away about Stadia from GDC 2019 is that Google is designing its own methods for games to be developed entirely in its cloud. Without knowing how far along Google is with this tech, it's hard to say if we'll see the first video game designed specifically for Stadia in 2020, but it's possible. The industry still loves its exclusives, across platforms and virtual stores, so it's not far-fetched to say that Google would want to draw as many users as possible to Stadia with exclusive releases. At the very least, we could hear some buzz around someone making a videogame designed entirely in 'the cloud' for the first time in 2020.
But Microsoft is still working on its Project XCloud, and that could very well overshadow any buzz Google Stadia gets into the new year. Microsoft company has the advantage of its huge database of games (over 3,500), as well as its Azure cloud server network that has included game development tools for a while. Microsoft also has one of the largest networks of data centers around the world, so if it's able to reduce latency better than Google just because they are able to better serve more local game requests, it was nice knowing ya Stadia.
Red Dead Redemption 2 will split opinion, just like it did on console
Andy K: Some people really don’t like Red Dead Redemption 2, while others reckon it’s Rockstar’s finest moment. Its games are always divisive, but opinion on RDR2 was more split than usual—and the discourse will be the same on PC.
The slow pace and weighty character movement were perhaps the biggest points of contention. I happened to enjoy its single-minded focus on being a cowboy simulator, and the sedate pace suits the mood of the game. But I can see why some people bounced off it. Personally, I think it's Rockstar’s best game after Grand Theft Auto 5.
Interestingly, a recent update for Red Dead Online tweaked character movement to be more responsive, with less weight and momentum. So I think, similar to what happened with The Witcher 3, an ‘alternative’ character movement option, based on the Red Dead Online update, will be added to the PC version to combat this criticism.
Call of Duty will be good this year
Tom Senior: Infinity Ward's nostalgic big-budget reboot of the Modern Warfare series is perfectly placed to exploit a weak release season. Doom has dropped to 2020, so if you want to shoot a gun in a videogame this Christmas, Call of Duty is a reliable go-to choice. The story may be new, but the guns will still feel great. Multiplayer will be satisfying fast food that will contrast with the grind of Borderlands 3 and Destiny 2. Plus there's a dedicated co-op mode and the annoying map packs are gone.
It's perfectly placed to clean up the holidays.
At BlizzCon, Blizzard will unveil Diablo 4, new Overwatch, and everyone will be happy. *record scratch* Actually, BlizzCon is going to be a mess
Bo: Blizzard had a pretty shaky BlizzCon last year. Expecting a full-blown Diablo 4 announcement, fans were instead treated to Diablo Immortal, a mobile spinoff that looks like a Diablo reskin of another hack-and-slash mobile game. Needless to say, fans were pissed.
This year was going to be Blizzard's chance to win them all back. I fully expect an actual Diablo 4 announcement, along with possibly something big in the Overwatch universe—a true singleplayer campaign maybe? But Blizzard has bigger fish to fry when it comes to winning back the trust of its core fans. Earlier this year, the company posted record profits but then laid off hundreds of employees. Now the company is facing massive backlash after kowtowing to Chinese interests by throwing a Hearthstone pro under the bus for supporting Hong Kong protestors.
Blizzard, and especially BlizzCon, relies on the sentiment that its fans treat the company as a friend, not a soulless billion-dollar corporation. That relationship with its fans has been tenuous in the years since Blizzard's merger with Activision, especially with the high-profile departures of most of the company's original founders. This was the year Blizzard needed to win back its core fans, but the way things have been going, that's going to be a tall order.
Chris: And as everyone should know by now, appeasing oppressors doesn't actually work. Even after banning that brave kid for simply voicing his support of democracy, I wouldn't be surprised if Hearthstone gets banned in China anyway (much like NBA preseason games did after a similar controversy). If so, Blizzard will have earned the disgust of its fans and customers worldwide and still wind up losing the Chinese market.
Disco Elysium might well be Game of the Year
Andy K: Having just sunk 16 hours into a preview build, I think Disco Elysium definitely has a shot at being the, or at least one of, the year’s best games. It’s one of the most impossibly deep RPGs I’ve ever played, and the writing is fantastic—if a little indulgent at times. What makes it special is the sheer number of skill checks in every interaction and conversation, with more permutations than I think any single human could ever realistically see. It’s a role-playing game in the truest sense, allowing you to shape your alcoholic detective in a terrifyingly dense variety of ways. I’ll hold off on proclaiming it GOTY until I get my hands on the review code, but for now, it’s a very strong contender indeed.
Jody: I thought Torment: Tides of Numenera was going to scratch that Planescape itch, but it kept repeating scenes, characters, and themes from the original only in a different setting, like one of those cover versions that takes a song you like then turns it bluegrass or whatever. Disco Elysium is another RPG with gleefully lurid writing about an amnesiac so it's close enough to Planescape to scratch that itch, but being a detective game makes it feel like its own thing. Basically, I agree with Andy. Unless it suddenly adds tedious boss fights or something it's got Control beat for my personal GOTY.
Nah, Slay the Spire's 4th character will solidify it as GOTY
Evan Lahti sees no need to defend this statement at this time.
Sorry, the GOTY will actually be Planet Zoo
Fraser: I can’t even begin to recollect all the games that have already come out this year, but Planet Zoo has already captured my heart with its beta, so sure, I’ll call it a potential GOTY. It’s got pretty much everything Planet Coaster has (including incredibly dumb guests), and then this elaborate environmental system on top of it. Instead of worrying because a ride has broken down, you’ve got depressed turtles, horny warthogs and animal jailbreaks to juggle—it’s a lot less predictable. I spent a whole night just tweaking a single enclosure, painstakingly putting together a shelter made up of individual rocks and making sure the ecosystem had just the right number and type of plants, which I now realise sounds a bit like a chore, but it was worth it to see my turtles all cheered up. It’s shaping up to be everything I wished Jurassic World Evolution was, but with cuter animals.
Epic will stop being the (main) bad guy
Jarred: Going along with what Joanna was saying in regards to Stadia, I'm calling it here: Google is going to buy and/or pay for a bunch of Stadia exclusives next year. I get why people are upset about Epic Store exclusives, but in my mind, platform exclusives are a far bigger crime. I have never played a large number of games that have been console exclusives. At least with Epic I can still play on PC. I guess I can sort of play on PC (or tablet or phone) with Stadia as well, but I'm not looking to buy any games on a platform other than PC any time soon.
If Stadia buys out some major anticipated game as an exclusive, Epic will look like a saint by comparison. It's possible Google avoids going this route and only pays for new (unannounced) games to be exclusively developed for Stadia. But despite all the anger spewed out against Epic, I don't think Borderlands 3 or Metro Exodus ended up being bad experiments on the part of Epic. Quite the contrary, I think more people are using the Epic Launcher than ever, thanks to these hated exclusives. Mission accomplished, for them.
Death Stranding PC gets announced at The Game Awards
James: We gotta believe Kojima's weird friendship with Geoff has one more awkward announcement left in it, yeah? Maybe December is too close to the November PS4 release for a PC reveal, but I have to imagine Sony isn't all-in on a new Kojima game. If you tread in game-enthusiast circles and nowhere else, the general perception is that Kojima is one of The Names in gaming, a foolproof auteur whether you dig his work as a creative lead or not. Step outside the hobbyist bubble, though, and I challenge you to find any person with a casual interest in games who would A) know who Kojima is and B) show interest in a dour Norman Reedus hiking sim.
I'd wager that Death Stranding is a bigger risk for Sony than we realize—good on it for taking the leap. All that star power and development time can't be cheap, so why limit a big risk to a single install base? Sony clearly wants the bulk of the audience to play on their flagship hardware, but once that base stops buying, it makes sense to turn to a gargantuan international audience on the PC. Sony's chairman of game studios worldwide Shawn Layden has me feeling pretty safe about my prediction, too, telling Bloomberg that some exclusives will likely see distribution on the PC. Death Stranding's PC status has always been in question anyway, recently delisted as an exclusive on the official PlayStation site. Like Digital Reedus, I might be pissing in the wind, but I have a feeling we won't have to wait too long.
Fallout 76 adding human NPCs won't change the game much
Chris Livingston: I bought Fallout 76's scrap-collecting robot—one of the more recent controversies surrounding the game—but as I watched it slowly clunk around my settlement I realized it wasn't just a robot but a precursor to the human NPCs coming to Fallout 76. Bethesda said the human companions, when they arrive later this year in the Wastelanders update, won't follow you everywhere. "The following part, right now, they're basically going to be in your camp," Jeff Gardiner told me when we spoke in June. That's what my robot does. It hangs out in my camp and does very little besides spouting a few lines of dialogue.
The original idea for Fallout 76, where the only humans in the game are players, has never been really embraced, and Bethesda's quick pivot to adding human NPCs is intended to address that. But I don't think it's going to transform the game. They'll still feel like robots, confined to certain areas and locked into obvious routines. Even if the humans are well-written, Fallout 76 is still going to feel like a lonely and barren place, and new NPCS won't do much to recapture the feeling of the earlier Fallout games.
Halo Reach will look and run goddamn great on PC
Wes: 343 Industries is hard at work porting the Halo games to PC (and Steam), and are taking their time doing it. That's actually reassuring—there's no sign the Master Chief Collection on PC will be a rush job like it originally was on consoles, and I think the extra time will ensure good keybinds, mouse aiming that doesn't feel weirdly tied to analog stick movement, and versions of the Halo games that look shockingly good for their age. Halo Reach, which is launching first, had some unfortunately blurry temporal anti-aliasing on the Xbox 360, but we won't be needing that these days. It's going to look like a new game running at native 4K, 60 fps… or 120 fps. The developers are even working on ultrawide support!
Reach will probably be the only Master Chief Collection game to make it out in 2019. It has my least-favorite multiplayer of the series, so I won't be spending much time in there. But I'm gonna be all over that campaign co-op, annoying my friends by stopping to take 4K screenshots every 15 seconds.
Anthem is put on ice, probably permanently
James: Short of a complete redesign, there's nothing that will convince me Anthem is going to make a triumphant comeback. That's been the messaging because of course it has, but let's not simply take what we're given. I'm reminded of an interview I had with executive producer Mark Darrah and lead producer Mike Gamble at PAX West 2018. They spun an aspirational vision for Anthem at launch, an ongoing RPG with live services a layer deeper than Fortnite's novel in-game storytelling updates and imaginative events. None of it showed up in Anthem. What we got was a buggy, incomplete mess.
A few weeks ago, we finally witnessed a pale imitation of those aspirations in the Cataclysm event, a disappointing grind with next to no narrative movement. Shortly after, Anthem's newer lead producer Ben Irving left Bioware. Weeks later, Anthem's roadmap was thrown out for vague seasonal updates. All the while, the messaging from studio leads and EA executives have echoed a commitment to cleaning up the mess, but at what point does is it just not worth it anymore? With another Dragon Age in the works, a name that sells, Bioware will need all hands on deck if they want to get it out in a reasonable timeframe. Besides, to make a dent in Destiny and Warframe, Anthem would need the fanciest damn makeover the industry has ever seen.
It's not going to happen. As we speak, I think Anthem's going on ice. Whether it happens quietly or with an awkward press release remains to be seen.
Fraser: I don’t really think it needs to make a triumphant comeback, though I’m not certain it can make any kind of comeback. Bioware’s been here before, when Star Wars: The Old Republic—one of the most expensive games ever made—started losing subscribers and, a year later, went free-to-play. They’re very different games and don’t have the same business model, but it’s evidence that EA and Bioware are willing to keep big, expensive games running even when they’re not a roaring success. Bioware managed to keep the pretty disappointing MMO afloat and profitable, and eight years on it’s just about to get another expansion. It’s got a much better hook, though, and I can’t for the life of me think what Anthem could do to make me revisit it.
GTFO will be the second coming of Left 4 Dead
Wes: We've been waiting for this one since 2017. GTFO looks freaky, moody, and intense, where Left 4 Dead tended towards goofy more often than not. Vermintide has done a good job of carrying L4D's torch, but I think the PC is ready for a big new co-op shooter to take up that legacy, and GTFO looks like it could be that game.
We still don't know a lot about GTFO, but the developers have said it'll have some progression systems for upgrading weapons and gear. The guns look nice and chunky, there are melee weapons, and flashlights are definitely going to be important. An alpha test is supposedly underway soon, and hopefully the Early Access release sneaks out before the end of 2019.
Valve teases a new game
James: It's time. Over a year has passed since Gabe Newell told PC Gamer "Hooray! Valve's going to start shipping games again.' Artifact was the first of those projects and a flagship VR game, still due for 2019, is another—though I'm beginning to think Valve won't squeeze it into the last month or two of the year just because.
Does Valve want to leave 2019 behind as the year Artifact came and went? The year Dota Underlords did the same thing as Auto Chess and Teamfight Tactics? The year of a new VR headset and controllers without a big fancy game to show them off with? At the very least, Valve could drop a teaser for whatever's coming next, be it the VR game (which is still too niche of an audience for me to really count as a 'true' Valve game) or something else completely. Maybe the rumored Citadel project is revealed as a logo set to a deep, ambient hum. I'd personally love a Left 4 Dead 3 or a new Portal project, though historically I'd look to Valve for something completely new.
Point is, Valve really shouldn't leave 2019 hanging like this. Half-Life 2 defined the '00s in PC gaming. Portal 2 opened the '10s triumphantly. Valve's gotta give us something to look forward to in 2020.