Dreamfall Chapters

At the start of the year we brought you the news that Dreamfall Chapters' "Final Cut" update would arrive this March—'March' being a word that here means, apparently, 'July'. OK so it's a bit late, but you can now play Red Thread Games' five-part episodic adventure with enhanced art and sound effects, improved performance, and a few other pleasant additions, and that's not bad at all for a free update, now is it?

The Final Cut update is detailed here on Steam, but it's also available on GOG, and on both stores you can currently buy the whole adventure with a sizable 40% discount. The free patch adds playable deleted scenes, an in-game map, a concept art gallery, and a character library, but also the following stuff:

  • Improved art and sound, including new and revised character models, improved lighting, an expanded soundtrack, remastered voice-overs and reworked sound effects
  • Improved performance
  • Improved controller support
  • Improved German and French localisation
  • Support for save slots
  • Updated Unity game engine
  • A HUGE amount of smaller bug fixes (seriously, the list is too long to post here)
Gigantic

Chris Chung tells me he's an optimist. I'm inclined to believe him because I'm not sure how many people could keep faith after everything his studio has been through. In February of 2016, Chung had to do something that no boss ever wants to do. He gathered Motiga's 75 employees in their Bellevue, WA office and told them that there was no money left to pay them. They were all being laid off. For three years, these artists and programmers had worked to build Gigantic, a class-based shooter with the spirit of a MOBA. But in that moment, it looked like Gigantic was dead.

And it might have been, if Chung wasn't an optimist.

When I first spoke with him over Skype, it was two days before Gigantic launched. He seems almost surprised that the moment he and his team worked toward for four years is just 48 hours away. "It took a tremendous amount of effort in order to get us here," Chung tells me.

Carter McBee, Gigantic's lead designer, speaks up: "To finally get to this point, with a free-to-play game like Gigantic, the end of the development cycle is also the beginning of a new cycle. It's been such a long road to get here, and we're only just at the starting line."

But last year, that starting line looked like a million miles away.

In the shadow of giants 

When Gigantic was first announced in 2014, it was ahead of its time. Overwatch wouldn't be announced for another few months, and the litany of claimants to the class-based multiplayer throne, like Paladins, were years away. Motiga, an indie studio headed up by Chung, who had held various executive positions at Trion Worlds and NCSoft, was poised to cash in on what would become one of the most competitive genres of recent years.

And yet, Chung tells me that Gigantic, despite the similarities, was never meant to compete with games like Overwatch. It's inspirations come from a different genre entirely. "We wanted to take the PvP and PvE elements of an MMO and combine them into a singular experience and build a competitive game around that," Chung says.

We wanted to take the PvP and PvE elements of an MMO and combine them into a singular experience and build a competitive game around that.

Chris Chung

The idea was simple: Two teams of five would rush through a mini-dungeon before colliding in a chaotic three-way fight with a neutral boss monster. "What we discovered was the PvP aspect of it was a lot more fun than fighting this huge boss monster," Chung explains. "So we pivoted and said, hey, what if we take the boss monster and not only make it a part of your team but a part of each team?"

That switch is responsible for what Gigantic is today. Instead of pushing through static rows of towers to destroy a defenseless base like in most MOBAs, Gigantic's objectives are far more exciting.

On each end of its three maps, two colossal beasts wait for their respective teams make them offerings of energy. As you move across the map, engaging the enemy team and working to capture control points, minor victories fill your guardian's energy meter. In the same way that guardians bring MOBA's bases to life, players can summon different kinds of creatures on the map's various control points. These creatures automatically siphon energy back to the guardian, but they also change the strategic landscape you fight on. One creature, for example, might build barriers that force attacking opponents into choke points. Another heals you, letting you get back in the action more quickly. All of them are capable of giving an enemy player a beating. 

When a guardian siphons enough energy, they go on a rampage and that's when things get interesting. A massive, coiled wyvern, for example, springs from its nest and lunges across the map, tackling and pinning the enemy guardian so that your team can damage it while the other team tries to repel the assault. The first time a guardian thunders across the map is thrilling.

"When we pivoted into embracing the PvP and competitive gameplay the goal wasn't to make a different style of MOBA, a different style of shooter, or to even make a different subsection of an MMO-style PvP game," McBee explains. "Really, it was to make a great competitive game."

But regardless of McBee's and Chung's vision, Gigantic is now entering a brutally competitive genre. Overwatch, Battleborn, Paragon, Paladins, Smite—the list goes on. I ask Chung how he's feeling about the launch. "Excited but also nervous," he says, pointing to how dramatically the genre has expanded since Gigantic was first announced. Gigantic was supposed to launch two years ago. But as Chung knows all too well, even the best laid plans often go awry.

Don't turn out the lights 

The day Chung told his 75 employees Motiga was out of cash, no one was surprised. They had watched, week after week, as the final bit of funding ran dry. By now, Gigantic's troubled development was very public.

In 2014, Motiga signed a partnership deal with Microsoft to bring Gigantic exclusively to Xbox One and Windows 10. It was a controversial move at the time and many players weren't happy about it because Windows 10 was far from ubiquitous. It also created problems internally. "We really underestimated the effort required to make games work on a totally new platform," Chung confesses.

McBee tells me that, originally, Gigantic had been built with a web-based front-end somewhat similar to what EA's Battlefield 3 and 4 used. Here, players could connect and chat before booting up the actual game to jump into a match. The problem was that, after Motiga signed their deal with Microsoft, all of it was useless—Xbox One didn't allow for a front-end separate from the actual game. "We had to scrap that whole thing and rebuild everything in-game," McBee explains. "We had months and months of development work that we had to, essentially, start over with. It was a very big challenge for us."

Gigantic had attracted a small but excited community by then, but with core services like chat and matchmaking out of commission, the open beta was struggling. What's worse, those internal delays snowballed, and by the end of 2015, Gigantic suffered its first round of layoffs, letting go of non-essential development staff to stretch their finite amount of funding into 2016. Around that time Chung tells me it became clear Gigantic was in trouble: "We knew we would be running out of funding in February."

He began desperately searching for a publishing partner who would be willing to invest in Gigantic, hoping that, like his team, someone would appreciate how special the game was. Despite several interested parties, Chung says these deals can take a lot of time—time that Motiga didn't have. In the beginning of February, the company coffers ran dry. "The timing just didn't work out right," Chung says. "We ran out of funding so we had to lay off everyone in the company, and I mean it. Everyone."

It was over. Or it was supposed to be.

"The next day everyone showed up to the studio," Chung says, still sounding a little baffled. "They just kept working."

It was a sacrifice the employees I spoke to didn't make lightly.

"Everyone got laid off, but we all really cared about the project," Vinod Rams, Gigantic's senior concept artist tells me over the phone. "It wasn't like other companies where you were like, okay, well I'm going somewhere else. We knew Gigantic had to come out, so we all stuck around. It was really cool."

Even though we were all laid off and we were out of money, no one was willing to accept that this would be the fate of the game.

Carter McBee

"Even though we were all laid off and we were out of money, no one was willing to accept that this would be the fate of the game," McBee says. "We all believed so much in the game, we just thought, there's no way that it's going to end like this. That's what drove us to come back, because we believed we'd been working on something special."

For Chung, the moment he saw almost all of his 75 employees return to work was defining. If they still believed, so would he. "There were a few moments in this endeavor where I shed tears, and that was one of those days. It was one of the most heartfelt things, to see everyone come back the next day."

The next weeks were some of the most challenging the indie studio has ever faced. Both McBee and Rams tell me how scary it was showing up each day, not knowing if or when they might get paid. "The biggest thing was the unknown," McBee says. "It's one thing to say, okay, you're going to miss a paycheck, but there wasn't even that sense of security. We had no idea what was going to happen."

"Let me tell you, I wasn't sleeping a whole lot during that time," Chung says uneasily. "I was making phone calls, writing emails, and making pitches all day. For me, I'm an optimist to begin with, and I was very optimistic that we not only had a great game but a special team that wanted to work together and see this through. I was optimistic that someone out there would help us achieve our dream."

For Rams, that was more than enough to keep him coming to work. "We'd get daily updates from Chris, and he'd tell us about who he was talking to and what's going on. I remember telling my wife that I really trust Chris. I knew he was going to fight tooth and nail to keep this going."

I remember telling my wife that I really trust Chris. I knew he was going to fight tooth and nail to keep this going.

Vinod Rams

For nearly three and a half weeks, most of Motiga's employees continued to work and hope. While some were inevitably forced to move on to meet their financial needs, "around 90 percent" stayed and trusted that someone would eventually step in and save Gigantic.

And then, after weeks of discussions, Yunfan Zhang and Bill Wang of Perfect World Entertainment, best known for MMOs like Neverwinter and Star Trek Online, came to Motiga's offices to meet with Chung. "They were amazed that people were still working at 6:30 at night, weeks after they were laid off," Chung says. "I remember we were working on a patch. After the meeting, Yunfan Zhang grabbed my hand and said, Chris, we're going to make this work."

But many of Motiga's employees couldn't wait any longer, so Perfect World did something bold: "Before we even signed the deal, they sent us the money so we could fulfill our payroll obligation," Chung says. "It had a huge impact [on morale], especially with the loan for the payroll obligation. It gave us a huge boost. We finally had a partner that could help us get to the homestretch."

Motiga was saved, and in May, their publishing deal with Perfect World was made public. Gigantic would no longer be exclusive to just the Windows 10, but would also release on Steam and Perfect World's own storefront.

Just the beginning 

Being a free-to-play game means they've only just reached the starting line everything up until now is just prologue.

Despite the hellish journey getting Gigantic to launch, the bigger battle has just begun. As McBee says, being a free-to-play game means they've only just reached the starting line—everything up until now is just prologue. Chung says the team is confident Gigantic will carve out a space for itself. "There is depth and nuance to Gigantic that isn't really found in the other games that are out there," he argues. 

What's more, Motiga is well prepared for the future. The silver lining of the delay means that Gigantic has been able to frontload their post-launch roadmap and the team has committed to releasing new content on a monthly basis. "What we have released so far is probably less than half of what we have in the pipeline right now," he says.

Since it launched yesterday, Gigantic's success has been humble. Right now, 6000 players are logged in on Steam—only a portion of the numbers Paladins, let alone Overwatch, is attracting. But word seems to be spreading.

Still, for a team that once wondered at what point their office would have its electricity turned off—not to mention when they'd be able to pay their own bills, Gigantic's launch is a resounding success. "We've been through some tremendous ups and downs throughout the history of Motiga," Chung says. "So for all of us, there's a lot of excitement and anticipation that our baby is now going to be out in the big world."

Gigantic's biggest battle will be in the months to come, and it's not clear if the sacrifices of its developers will ever pay off. But Chung is hopeful. He's an optimist.

Mirage: Arcane Warfare

Sorry Joey, the first free content update for the online fantasy combat game Mirage: Arcane Warfare, called the Gladiator Update, does not actually add a Gladiator class to the action. But it does bring quite a bit of new content, including two new arenas, the powerful Greatsword for the Taurant class, additional magical abilities, and—this is the big one—bots. 

"Bot-assisted servers" are a "much-requested new feature," developer Torn Banner Studios said. "On select 6v6 and 3v3 maps and modes, AI opponents will be added or removed as players join or leave to keep the teams populated and even throughout the match." 

The studio acknowledged that it hopes the addition of bots will help address the problem of empty game servers, which is obviously a major stumbling block for a multiplayer game trying to build an audience. "There are a few elements that are targeted towards player retention, with bots being a big part of that. Their design is to encourage more players to join lower population servers, in order to bring more real people into the mix," a Torn Banner rep explained. 

"This new update has been in the works for a while, so we're excited to see players enjoying some new maps and abilities. The bots are also quite fun to battle against, in group fights they just blend right in." 

According to Steam, there are currently 22 people playing Mirage: Arcane Warfare, and so obviously there's a tremendous amount of ground to cover before it even approaches anything resembling viability. But it is a lot of fun, with "interesting classes, engaging melee gameplay, and an exciting arena mode," as we said in our review, and so it's good to see that Torn Banner isn't giving up on it. A full breakdown of the changes and fixes in the Gladiator update is up in the Torn Banner forums.

Starpoint Gemini Warlords

Much has happened to Starpoint Gemini Warlords since we first (and last) looked at it in March 2016, just ahead of its launch into Early Access. It went into full release in May, for one thing, and seems to have been pretty well received overall by both fans and critics. More recently—as in, today—developer LGM Games (that's Little Green Men, by the way) released a teaser for the upcoming Titans Return DLC, which will see the arrival of the massive Titan class ships that made their debut in Starpoint Gemini 2

Three models of Titans, up to four times larger than the biggest ships currently in Gemini, will be added to the game: The Defiance, "an upgraded version of the tactical support vessel from the faction outside of the Gemini borders"; the Legion, a secret Core Worlds Alliance project based on a unique and enormous AI core; and the Juggernaut, a straight-ahead slugger that brings tremendous levels of firepower to bear in a fight.   

The expansion will also add two new factions to the game, and a new storyline to play through. "The Gemini has changed, new adversaries have arrived shattering the stability of the whole galaxy, handing no mercy to anyone," LGM said, dramatically I would imagine. "No second chances. No remorse. How will you act in these moments can decide the fate of the whole galaxy." 

Starpoint Gemini Warlords: Titans Return is slated to come out in August. Have a look at some screens (and a bit of concept art demonstrating the scale of these things) down below. 

Kingsway

I've been cursed! I know this thanks to an unblinking eye that has appeared as an icon in my taskbar, the same taskbar where I adjust my volume and receive important quest notifications. The curse arrived while I was fighting a skeletal boss, appearing as a small window on my desktop, moving and jittering as I desperately tried to click the AVOID button that would spare me, while also trying to click an attack button on another moving window and glug a potion by clicking on yet a third (thankfully stationary) pane. This how things work in Kingsway, an RPG roguelike from Adult Swim that delivers its fantasy adventure by emulating an Windows 95-ish operating system.

After choosing a character class and a creating an avatar, you step off a boat on the western edge of a mysterious world, and begin exploring, fighting, and looting. It's all done on a virtual desktop, where movement and combat are represented with progress bars and everything from the map to your inventory to your friendly and enemy encounters appear as movable (or moving) windows. It's a clever concept and thanks to years of minimizing windows, using menus, clicking icons, and closing pop-ups, it's immediately easy to grasp.

As you travel between locations, more icons appear on your map: dungeons, towns, spooky cabins, mysterious shrines, and random encounters. It's tempting to try to visit every location you spot, but you can't spend much time dilly-dallying. There's a tentacled cloud moving slowly east, cloaking the world in darkness, and if you tread beneath it you'll be swarmed with deadly, shadowy creatures—it's a bit like FTL's enemy fleet constantly hounding you across the map. At the same time, you can't just make a beeline east—the further you travel, the harder things get, and with a limited amount of space in your inventory you will need to backtrack from time to time to sell or store gear in a city.

Combat begins simply as you travel: low-level monsters such as the zombie-like Unburied, skeletons, giant snakes, sentient fungi, and other creatures randomly appear while you're moving between locations. The enemy's window appears on your screen, slowly drifting, and it displays a progress bar as it attacks. You can fight back by clicking a button, block by clicking another, and as you gain experience and levels you'll add new combat skills, some passive and some, like poisoning the tip of a blade or completing a rush attack, that require an additional click.

Some creatures' windows move faster than others, making it harder to select attacks and skills. One monster, when it hit me, could minimize some of my panes (I always keep my inventory windows and character status open in case I need certain items or to swap gear) making me hurry to get them back up on the screen. Windows representing arrows (fired by a bandit or from a dungeon trap) fly in an arc across the screen, bombs will float up and then down emulating a lobbed explosive, and curses will shake and waver as you attempt to click the button that lets you avoid them.

Fighting multiple enemies is trickier. One dungeon boss I fought kept summoning lesser skeletons (as bosses do), and the skeletons' windows would pop in on top of the boss' window, meaning I either had to kill the skeleton quickly or drag its window out of the way to deal with the main event. It's all the frenzied clicking and multitasking you need to do in standard RPGs, but with windows and panes. It's a really clever way to create an adventure game, and can be legitimately stressful at time as you trying to click and reshuffle all the windows cluttering up your screen.

Quests are randomized, and due to that fact I've only completed a few. In one game I was asked to collect four skulls for a reward, and only ran into a single skeleton. In my next game, I collected almost a dozen skulls, but never got the quest requiring them. It's the familiar, often frustrating dice rolls that can determine whether a session is fun and rewarding or a just bit blah.

Dying in a roguelike can be heartbreaking—all those goodies and progress lost forever—but each life earns you gems you can spend on items to help your next character a bit, or even on hotkeys you can use so you don't need to manually click on everything.

I only wish the writing had a bit more flair: strip away the impressively clever interface and it boils down to some pretty standard fantasy fare, at least from what I've seen so far. I'm not asking for Dungeons of Dredmor levels of hilarity, with its Dire Sandwiches and Traffic Cone helmets, but a bit more pep to quest text and item descriptions would be welcome. Still, Kingsway is good fun to play and pretty addictive, and at only ten bucks on Steam it's well worth the price.

Fire Pro Wrestling World

Most wrestling games get it wrong. Matches shouldn’t just be about who wins or loses, but how entertaining they are. WWE games are historically bad at this—they’re afraid to reflect ‘real’ wrestling, where two athletes work together to tell a story while legitimately knocking the piss out of one another, so instead they play like confused fighting games. They often feel indecisive, lacking the sense of momentum recognisable in every worthwhile wrestling match. Fire Pro Wrestling World, out now on Steam Early Access, is different. 

It’s a deceptive game. It looks simple, with stout 2D graphics and graceful animation that recalls ancient coin-ops such as WWF Wrestlefest, but it’s actually complex title that demands finesse. It has excellent heritage, too. While mainstream wrestling games were busying themselves with improved likenesses, entrances, and subsurface scattering, the Fire Pro series was diligently learning to be a more thoughtful  experience—a trend continued in Fire Pro Wrestling World. 

The focus is on the flow and feel of matches. Things start small. Light attacks such as snapmeres, armbars, and haymakers signal the match is in its early stages, easing you into the competition before the high spots. There’s nothing stopping you from hitting big attacks early on, but you’re more likely to land the light ones. In this sense, Fire Pro does a fine job of representing the escalation and narrative of a professional wrestling match. But it’s deeper than that.

It’s not just about how much damage you do. Every move acts like the link in a chain, leading you onto something else. As mentioned above, light attacks are aperitifs, used to kick things off. Medium attacks act like momentum shifts. Opponents stay down longer after receiving them, giving you time to apply holds, draw breath, or climb the turnbuckle. Big moves, however, don’t necessarily keep your opponent down as long. 

This seemed weird to me at first—I expected powerbombs and piledrivers to stagger my opponents—but now I can see the logic of it. Hit a big move and your opponent will struggle back to their feet, dazed, letting you execute more flamboyant attacks you’d normally struggle to land. In real life, wrestlers often pop back up to take another bump to  increasing the pace towards the end of a match, and that’s exactly what this represents. It gives Fire Pro a dynamism that’s missing from WWE games. 

Because of all this, the final two minutes of every match are where it’s at. I found that I didn’t mind when an opponent kicked out of my finisher on a count of  2.9,  just because the match rating was always in the back of my mind. Likewise with the option to play dead. When your opponent climbs the turnbuckle, you can hold a button to remain on the mat. You can be conniving about it, and use the opportunity to roll out of the way at the last minute, or you could choose to sell your opponent’s frog splash for the sake of the match. What could be more like real wrestling than that?

Although the feel of the matches is familiar, the execution takes some getting used to. It’s all about timing. You have to pinpoint the right moment to execute a move. Input an attack too early and you’ll lose your chance; press it too late and your opponent will beat you to it. I struggled to get the timing right until I started listening for the ‘stamp’ that goes with every grapple. It’s a strange system at first, but the precision of it works well in context: lose your timing and you can be on the receiving end of a chain of moves before nailing an attack that will let you shift the momentum. 

There are other limitations that might seem jarring. You can only throw your opponents into the left and right turnbuckles, because you can only run laterally. It feels like an odd thing at first, but I soon discovered it didn’t alter how I felt about matches, in the same way I neither know nor care which corner of a real wrestling ring is being used. In fact, the slight limitations encourage you to use your imagination, in a way that nicely recalls the likes of Warzone or No Mercy. By giving us less, Fire Pro Wrestling World somehow encourages players to be more creative. There are gaps, but you fill them in yourself. 

Nowhere is this more obvious that in the character creation mode, which is comprehensive enough to deserve a feature of its own. After just a week of being in early access, Fire Pro Wrestling World had thousands of custom wrestlers, covering the complete history of the business. Think of a wrestler, living or dead, and somebody has probably made them. Bastion Booger sits alongside Bam Bam Bigelow; Karl Gotch can fight Rugged Ronnie Garvin. It’s the best use of the Steam Workshop I’ve seen, almost as if the community sees creating the most obscure, forgotten wrestlers as a challenge.

And, as you’d expect, it’s not limited to wrestlers, either. My favourite custom match was a Battle Royale featuring Tom, Phil, and Samuel from the PC Gamer team (I was writing a magazine diary, okay?) facing off against Bob Ross, Geralt of Rivia, and Gabe Newell. Always believe in the beauty of your dreams. 

The downside of the focus on matches and wrestlers is that everything else feels sparse. This may come in time—this is an early access game, after all—but right now, the stuff outside ring is the only thing WWE games do better. There are tournaments and leagues, but they lack the long-term drama I want as a wrestling fan. 

When you’ve got such a rich, overwhelming bank of wrestlers (as well as bears, game developers, and wet-on-wet oil painting experts), you want stories that engage those personalities. This can only come from building feuds, beating rivals, and driving storylines. At the moment, there’s nothing in Fire Pro Wrestling World that gives that option, and the lack of a persistent programme of matches is disappointing. The Universe mode has been the most consistently worthwhile element of recent WWE games - something similar would be incredible here. 

I’m having more fun in the matches than I have in any recent WWE title, but the problem is that it selfishly makes me want more. For me, the ideal wrestling game would fall somewhere between a management sim and an RPG—I want to make a character, build their career, and have power over their ultimate success. That extra level of narrative direction is the biggest thing missing from Fire Pro Wrestling World. All the story currently comes from the matches themselves—which is a purist’s dream, perhaps—but more depth would turn a good game into a great one. 

ARK: Survival Evolved

In February, Ark: Survival Evolved developer Studio Wildcard unveiled a sponsored programme that would pay mod creators on a monthly basis for their work. Offering a stipend of $4,000 per month, each individual's work would be evaluated, and it would thereafter be determined if those modders would continue to be paid for the next month. 

With the dino hunter's August 8 PC release looming, however, not much has been said about the programme since—its Ragnarok map has been received well, however we don't know much about what happens next. To this end, I spoke to the developer's Jesse Stieglitz about how he and his team plan to grow the initiative post-launch. 

"We've not dedicated all that much time to promoting it, maybe not as much as we'd have liked to, however that's probably because we've been focused on shaping things up for our retail launch," says Stieglitz. "But we recently put out our next official mod called Ragnarok with a mod team that's now officially supported and we'll continue to have servers up for it and we'll have updates and more polished applied. 

"They basically get not only money from us but they get development support from us and that's probably more valuable to them because we help them shape it up technically and artistically and creatively."

Stieglitz suggests the sponsored community maps will only get bigger and better from hereon, and that the Ragnarok team are among the best level designers he's seen. Development on Ragnarok will continue till completion, and Wildcard plans to launch "at least" one more official DLC this year, with Stieglitz hopefully of a second. 

He continues: "Essentially the official mods, or paid mods pipeline is a way for us to get more free art content to players. We can only do so much ourselves so we look at best of what the mod community has to offer and how can we help them make their content better than it already is—whether it's financial support, but also a lot of the things it's logistics or technical support. There will be others and we use this as a kind of seeding programme to find the next ones. We'll hopefully have more to announce there going forward."

Ark: Survival Evolved is due to launch in full August 8, 2017. 

PC Gamer

When League of Legends first came out, champions tromped happily over the bright green fields with pizza feet and enormous, clunky hair. As the years have gone by, Riot Games have been slowly returning to old champions to get them up to par. Sometimes, these changes are nice and small. When Twitch had his time under the Visual and Gameplay Update sun, he emerged... well, pretty much the same, just better. Meanwhile, Trundle’s visual update changed everything about his champion except for the ‘troll’ bit, giving him a whole new look, story, and motivation. In the July 2017 Champion Roadmap, we found out the next champion to get a VGU: Swain, the Master Tactician.

Release and reception 

I remember following Swain’s development avidly when he was first teased. I had just first started playing regularly after Xin Zhao’s release; Swain was the first champion I was cognizant of. At the time, Swain seemed a step up from the other champion designs being released. He entered the Rift in 2010, coming out amidst a sea of pretty ladies (sure, one of them was a snake, but she fits the bill), classic fantasy archetypes like Galio and Trundle, and various monsters.

Swain was a character with, well, a lot of character. The way he interacted with his raven, Beatrice, as he stood still. Whereas other champions strode confidently or sprinted, Swain limps along with his cane. He was a neat character. When he came out, Noxians were nearly universally depicted as raiding parties, showing up in other champions’ stories to wreck houses and kill families. 

Swain was a weird Noxian. He wasn’t strong; he was visibly disabled. He was climbing the ranks, but found himself caught in politics and bureaucracy. Oh, and he could turn into a giant bird and eat people. LeBlanc, the matron of the Black Rose, was released towards the end of 2010. The Black Rose expanded on the politics of Noxus, and added an underbelly of mystics and intellectuals to the underbelly of the city-state. Noxus became about more than showing up as a bad guy in someone else’s story; it started to strike out and forge its own destiny with its own champions who had actual motives and beliefs.

Caught between creativity 

These were the pre-retcon days, a more innocent time. The League of Legends was a global government, similar to the United Nations, who prevented outright war by putting on 5v5 show matches between champions. We got our lore through the Journal of Justice, an in-universe newspaper. Swain’s story played out in the pages of the Journal of Justice. He allied with LeBlanc, stole Jarvan IV’s blood, and framed Demacia in a bloody conflict over contested lands. The Demacians were shamed, and Swain walked, er, limped away covered with glory.

The previous dude in charge, General Du Couteau (Katarina and Cassiopeia’s dad, and Talon’s mentor), was mysteriously missing. Swain played the game so well, and anyone who could have opposed him was removed. He stepped up as Grand General, LeBlanc whispering over his shoulder as his greatest advisor.

The pieces were set for a civil war within Noxus. Swain picked up Darius as his bodyguard, Cassiopeia picked up a wee curse from Shurima, and then... the story fell to the wayside. Three years ago, the lore was retconned to remove the Journal of Justice, the League of Legends, and the conflict that had swept Swain to power. Valoran was starting from scratch.

For a while, we didn’t hear anything on Swain... until Sion’s REBORN teaser, which reintroduced us to the Noxian political landscape. We met Grand General Darkwill, a man who was backed by Sion as his Hand of Noxus. Sion, one of Noxus’s greatest heroes, was murdered by Jarvan IV after mowing through an entire Demacian battalion. Darkwill, terrified by the imminent gank he was clearly about to receive, called in the Black Rose, who resurrected Sion. 

Sion came back... wrong. He killed Demacians, sure, but he also killed a whole lot of Noxians. Furthermore, everyone was horrified to see a former war hero used as a mindless weapon of war. Darkwill sealed Sion into his hero’s monument, and there he waited... until Swain took over as Grand General. (It’s implied that LeBlanc still posed at Jarvan IV at one point to help Swain get into power as a war hero; he asks her if she has any of the Demacian’s prince blood. She replies “After that charade?” before affirming.)

Using the blood of Sion’s killer, Swain calls in Vlad, and the entire gang teams up to perform a blood ritual that will bring Sion back with some degree of lucidity and intelligence. Swain is now sitting in Noxus’s throne with Darius, the Black Rose, and Sion all hanging out by his side. He’s also on friendly enough terms with Vladimir to give him a little ring a ding if he needs a blood sacrifice made. That’s a pretty strong team to go up against!

Despite this amazing set up for a story, Riot never really managed to follow through in any meaningful way. Part of this is that Swain is all over the place. He wears green and yellow robes, he has a blue mohawk, and nothing about him really says ‘Noxus’. He has a Grand General skin to celebrate his ascent, but it doesn’t matter how fancy his robes are if no one knows what he is supposed to do.

Right now, Swain’s a weird tank drain mage who survives by wading into the thick of battle and just... sitting there. He doesn’t come across as a Master Tactician, a conniving mind, or a brilliant strategist. Everything about his gameplay is centered around being a fat, healing bird. He even acknowledges this in his in-game joke!

It’s always felt like Riot was a little embarrassed to really roll out the Noxian High Command lore while Swain was in this state. Now that he has an update on the table, we may finally get the next stage of the Noxus story that started out so strong.

PC Gamer

The Dota 2 International continues to make headlines and its prize pool has now topped $20.7 million, breaking last year’s record. The tournament is just around the corner, but there’s still plenty of digital events for you to feast your eyes on. Fans of CS:GO can enjoy the intense firefights of the PGL Major Krakow 2017, while DreamHack Atlanta kicks off with a whole host of events to be enjoyed. We even have the Overwatch World Cup: Sydney Qualifier to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: LCS

After six weeks of play North America’s standings have never looked this close as Counter Logic Gaming, Immortals and Team SoloMid are currently first place. These teams are the best in the league at the moment and their mechanical mastery and understanding of the meta has allowed them to obliterate any competition. If these three teams can maintain this performance, their semi-final match up should be a treat for all of League fans. Meanwhile, in Europe Fnatic continues to dominate the Group A standings with seven wins and only one loss, but Unicorns of Love and H2K are close behind them in Group B. We shall have to see whether UoL have what it takes to land a critical blow to Fnatic this Saturday. Both schedules and streams for the EU and NA LCS can be found by heading over to lolesports.com.

Dota 2: DreamLeague Season 7

As the esports world continues to eagerly wait for The International 2017, we have some weekend Dota 2 action to tide us over with the DreamLeague Season 7 playoffs. Four teams from across North America and Europe will head to Atlanta where they will battle it out for their chance to win the title and the $175,000 prize pool. Team Secret is kicking things off today at 08:00 PDT / 17:00 CEST when they take on Planet Odd, while Team Liquid face Vega Squadron at 11:00 PDT / 20:00. The full schedule and stream can be found here.

CS:GO: DreamHack Atlanta

The DreamHack Open returns to the United States where eight teams will clash for a $100,000 cash prize, as well as the Champions' trophy. Teams will play best-of-one, double-elimination matches and the two top teams from each group will secure a placement in the semi-finals. However, those who fail to qualify will face off in single-elimination, best-of-three match-up in a bid to land the final two spots available. Familiar teams like Renegades, GODSENT and Team EnVyUs will be present at the tournament, so expect plenty of tense firefights. HellRaisers are kicking off the event and will take on Binary Dragons today at 10:00 PDT / 19:00 CEST, while Team EnVyUs will tackle NRG at 11:30 PDT / 20:30 CEST. Make sure to head over to DreamHack’s official site to find the full stream and schedule.

CS:GO: PGL Major Krakow 2017

The group stage of the major tournament saw teams from around the world battle it for the chance to make it to this Friday’s quarterfinals. Gambit Esports and BIG came out on top during the group stage and Gambit will be aiming to maintain their performance today at 04:00 PDT / 13:00 CEST when they take on Fnatic. Meanwhile, SK Gaming and Astralis will duke it out at 07:30 PDT / 16:30 CEST to see who has what it takes to make it the semifinals. The full schedule and stream can be found over on major.pglesports.com.

StarCraft II: Global StarCraft League Season 3

The Global StarCraft League continues to heat up as Korea’s finest battle it out for their chance to win the $152,100 prize pool and a guaranteed spot for the champion in the WCS Global Finals. These matches are extremely important to both veteran and rookie players looking to kickstart and maintain their StarCraft II careers, so expect plenty of drama this weekend. Group H’s matches begin today at 21:00 PDT / 06:00 CEST and will continue throughout the day. The full weekend’s schedule and stream can be found by heading over to wcs.starcraft2.com.

Overwatch World Cup: Sydney Qualifier

The Overwatch World Cup Shanghai Qualifier took place last weekend and France qualified after dropping only two out of twelve matches. Meanwhile, China qualified for advancement, going undefeated against Norway, Hong Kong and Romania. This weekend we’re heading to the Star Event Centre in Sydney to see which country will advance to the playoffs. The full schedule can be found by heading over to Blizzard’s official site, while the stream can be viewed over on Twitch.

Hearthstone: Global Games

The Hearthstone Global Games tournament enters week 15 of play today and every team has been fighting hard to claim the top spot in phase two. The Group of 16 matches concluded yesterday for US viewers, but those of you in Europe can catch all the action today at 06:00 CEST. It’s a long road ahead for the pros and every team will be fighting hard to secure the $300,000 prize pool in phase two of the tournament. The full schedule and stream for week four can be found here.

Hearthstone: Grand Prix 2017

The Hearthstone action doesn’t stop there as we head to Atlanta for the DreamHack Grand Prix where players will test their mettle to see who is top dog. The turnout in 2016 was the largest amount of players the Grand Prix has ever seen and DreamHack aims to top this with their latest tournament. However, only the best Hearthstone player will take the title and the £25,000 prize pool. Make sure you head over to DreamHack’s official site to see the full tournament breakdown, schedule and stream.  

Heroes of the Storm: Global Championships Phase 2

Phase two of the HGC is well underway and teams from around the world will continue to battle it out for the $425,000 prize pool. Team Freedom still remains in the lead in North America after they beat Roll20 esports last weekend. However, Tempo Storm will be aiming to stop Team Freedom’s dominant run this Saturday. Meanwhile, Fnatic continues to lead the European bracket and Team expert will be hoping to take down Team Liquid to close the gap. Each team has their eyes firmly set on the next Western Clash in August, so every victory will help increase the chance of taking the title. Make sure you head over to heroesofthestorm.com to find the schedule and stream for all the matches being played this weekend.

Abandon Ship

Any game that describes itself as "FTL-meets-Sunless Sea in the golden age of sea" is likely to turn heads, and, having watched Abandon Ship's first public demo at this year's PC Gamer Weekender, it'd seem Fireblade Software's debut venture is on track to live up to its billing. 

And if the combat and weather trailer that aired back in April teased the challenges of life at sea in Abandon Ship, then the latest 'Sea Monsters and Doomsday Cults' short drives that home hook line and sinker.  

Cue some dogged extremists, hostile sea beasts and monstrous kraken:

"The odds are stacked against you," explains Fireblade's Gary Burchell above in what seems like a gross understatement. "But there are ways to strike back. Throughout your journey you'll acquire the knowledge and power to prevail."

Before you get comfortable, though, Burchell signs off by saying: "However, there may be more to the cult than it initially appears." 

Great.

Abandon Ship is without a hard launch date for now, however is expected at some point this year. Good luck when the time comes. 

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