This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

THE LOWS

Tim Clark: No more Mozû (for now)

Nietzsche wrote that whoever achieves their goal also automatically transcends it, and although he also said a load of other batshit stuff, after my experiences with Mozû this week, which came to a grisly end last night, I can’t help but think the old crank philosophized this one right. Now that Mozû is dead, Mordor’s horizons feel like they have shrunk. I now find myself hoping for the arrival of his blood brother, hellbent on revenge, or better still the big man himself making a comeback. Which isn’t exactly unlikely give Shadow of Mordor’s orcs’ propensity to reappear at the most inopportune moments. Look, I’m just going to come out and say it: I miss you, Mozû. Call me, yeah?

James Davenport: King of the Playground

I want to get my ass kicked. 26 hours into Shadow of War and not a single orc captain has killed me. I trusted the normal difficulty to eventually kick in and throw some Mozûs my way, or at least an orc wielding a lute, but my conquest of Mordor flew by without incident. I'm a terrifying and efficient top-level orc manager, and it sucks. I love the nemesis system and what it's capable of, but its random nature is both its greatest strength and weakness. Without a nemesis to haunt me, I left Shadow of War behind with no stories to tell and not a single orc with a name and face worth remembering. What should be the ultimate water cooler game was merely a water bottle game—I'm sitting here drinking alone from my repurposed SmartWater bottle that I should really wash already, keeping my thoughts to myself, because I don't have anything to think about, orc-wise. 

If Shadow of War gets a sequel, I really hope the reels the scope back significantly. Between the fort assault system and the bland loot boxes, orc personalities took a backseat to spectacle and strategy. I'd rather explore a smaller, focused open world populated with a handful of incredibly powerful, unique orc leaders that require extreme power and/or subterfuge to take out. I want a game squarely focused on generating Mozûs. Someone, please recommend a game that will utterly shame me. I want to know what it's like to be Tim. 

Tom Senior: Replicated

I’ve been turning Blade Runner 2049 over in my mind for a couple of weeks now. It has made me think about game worlds, and why they often feel generic even though they are depicting wildly fantastic things. Blade Runner is a tough act to follow, but the sequel manages to hit all of the audiovisual cues that the audience expects from that world while also putting its own spin on the idea. The result is a film that looks and sounds unique. I saw someone on Twitter guessing that Blade Runner 2049 shows us what games are going to look like for the next decade, and there’s a note of truth to that. I struggle to point at games that manage to execute a distinct vision within genre confines, and games do tend to crib a lot from movies and TV.

I’m torn on this, because while part of me wants games to lead the way and introduce extraordinary new worlds like Bioshock’s Rapture, I would also desperately love to go cruising through 2049’s fogged up future city in my own hover car. I am part of the problem. Games have often traded on the fantasy of being able to walk through the screen into our favourite movies and books, and if it is the right film or book, I am right there for that. I enjoyed playing Saving Private Ryan in the early 2000s, via Call of Duty and Company of Heroes. I adored the Blade Runner adventure game in spite of its flaws, and loved Deus Ex: Human Revolution for its take on the synth-soundtracked transhuman future. Maybe CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk will be the first to deliver a Denis Villeneuve inspired futuristic city. There’s even a technical advantage to aping nu-Bladerunner; you can bring the draw distance right down with a healthy application of Turok fog.

Philippa Warr: Worlds disappointing

For every winner there is a loser and thus, depending on how deeply you emotionally invest in each team each best-of-five has the capacity to be either a jubilant success or a devastating low. I was watching this week’s quarter-finals while still in mourning for ClearLove7’s Worlds dreams (he and the rest of EDward Gaming bowed out in the group stages after a strong second week couldn’t undo the damage of the disastrous first) and let’s just say that some of the results from the quarter-finals compounded my woes.

Samuel Roberts: Visceral closing

Visceral Games is closing, it was announced this week, with as many staff being moved to other EA projects as possible. Its long-gestating Star Wars game, meanwhile, is being offloaded to EA's Vancouver studio. The reasoning seemed to get a pretty heated reaction. EA's Patrick Söderlund said "it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game", and after listening to feedback, they're now looking to 'pivot' the design. 

I rolled my eyes at the line about EA "closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace" and making this call based on that. Maybe that's the same 'tracking fundamental shifts' attitude that gets you 'creator' gold like this, I don't know. But I want to play the game that Amy Hennig and Visceral have been making for three years or more. If you want to make a different game entirely, why not just release this first, then make that afterwards? Why waste all those years of work? That's what the statement doesn't really explain, and surely it puts even more burden on this game to be a gigantic hit. 

There are two sides to this story, of course. We know very little about this project, and perhaps the game was irretrievable in its current state. Kotaku noted this in their coverage of the closure: "I’d been hearing rumors for quite some time now that Visceral’s Star Wars game was in trouble, and that studios across EA were brought in to help give it vision and direction." That doesn't sound good. Whatever transpired, the closure of the studio that once made Dead Space is a real shame, and I wish all of its staff the best with whatever they do next. 

Chris Livingston: Stardon't

I don't typically waffle over the decision to buy games, but since its release I've gone to the Steam store at least a dozen times to buy Stardew Valley, only to hover my mouse over the purchase button for long seconds before fleeing. I finally, actually bought it this week, yet I have only .1 hours played, and that's because all I've done is load the game, look at the start menu for a few seconds, and then shut it down.

My reluctance comes due to so many people saying how addictive the game is, how they meant to play for an hour and played for six, how it consumes lives whole like some sort demonic snake. It's been awhile since I've truly fallen into a game, and while it can be great to get completely absorbed it can also mean sleepless nights and bleary days and important real-life tasks going undone. I'm scared of this cute farming game, genuinely scared, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.