Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

It’s very convenient that the naming conventions of Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s Orc tribes skew a little towards the literal. What’s in a name? Absolutely everything. So it should be pretty obvious how members of the Machine Tribe like to spend their time. 

What a lovely bunch of tinkerers they seem to be! Diligently working away on the ferocious engines of destruction that Sauron plans to use to conquer Middle-earth—you’ve got to respect these hardworking Orcs. Even if they do want to kill and eat puny humans. 

Hopefully we’ll be able to recruit a few of these smarty-pants Orcs before we destroy their keep and slaughter them by the hundreds. 

Speaking of slaughter, Joe, who is normally a nice boy, went on a rampage yesterday and burned a lot of probably innocent orcs with one of Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s fire-breathing dragons. Rude! Feel free to loudly tut if you see him in Cologne.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene revealed a glimpse of Battlegrounds' upcoming desert map during his Gamescom keynote today, specifically a sand-covered city. Not the sort of place you’d want to take a holiday, but I hear that it’s rich in chicken.

It’s hard for me to not look at the rundown city and see countless places where I’ll probably die. With its plethora of high-rise buildings looking over large open spaces, it looks like a sniper’s heaven, and thus my hell.

The cliffs off in the distance make the city look like a deadly arena, and it also makes me wonder if we’ll be able to climb them. Going on a ramble up a mountain is one of my favourite PUBG activities, largely because I’m a terrible coward and it’s a good place to hide. 

Greene announced a milestone a couple of days ago, revealing that 8 million copies of the game had been sold, and it now boasts the concurrent player record for a non-Valve game on Steam.

Assassin's Creed® Origins

As is traditional for Assassin’s Creed games, Origins will see players rubbing shoulders with some larger than life historical figures, and few are as a big a deal as the likes of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. The newest trailer shows how they and Ptolemy XIII vie for control over Egypt, each trying to grab and consolidate power in their own way. 

While Ubisoft play fast and loose with history, there’s always a kernel of truth in their depictions of historical figures, as well as an air of authenticity, despite the lack of accuracy. This seems to be the case here, too. 

Historically, Cleopatra and Ptolemy were at odds after the siblings were given joint control over Egypt through marriage. Ptolemy, the weaker of the pair, grew jealous of his sister’s popularity and, with some help from nefarious chums, drove her out of Egypt. It was with the help of her ally and lover, Caesar, that she reclaimed her power, after Ptolemy failed to bring the famed Roman leader to his side. 

It remains to be seen how Ubisoft intend to link these events to its increasingly confusing story about pieces of Eden and magical god-like beings. We'll find out when Assassin's Creed: Origins launches on October 27.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Deadly up close and accurate over distance, pistols have played a huge role in the recent meta of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. After months of outcry from several pro players about the balance of the game's most popular pistols, it is no surprise that Valve has begun to make changes to the game's arsenal.

At the moment pistol and eco rounds are unpredictable situations where either side can win, despite a gear disadvantage. Even though Valve has committed to addressing these problems, while encouraging more skilled plays, there is still a long way to go before the community—and the professionals—regard the arsenal as balanced.

With the Tec-9 reduced to a sharpshooting role, the popularity of the Dual Berettas has risen.

The recent changes, which will hopefully bring the average game back to more tactical methods rather than the typical run and gun, began with alterations to the Terrorist’s go-to pistol—the Tec-9. The 500RPM semi-automatic sidearm is a staple at all levels of play, and can kill a fully armoured player with a single shot to the head. It's mainly used in eco and anti-eco situations, at the start of the game or where the team’s money is running low.

The changes to the pistol meant the usual left-click spray as you rush onto a bombsite no longer worked. Initially referred to as a nerf but can be more accurately described as a rework to the way the pistol operates, the patch increased the Tec-9's first shot accuracy, meaning that tap firing is now the way forward. The magazine has also been reduced from 24 rounds to 18.

This has altered the identity of the Tec-9. Instead of using it as a crude, run-and-gun spam weapon, the gun now behaves a bit more like a Desert Eagle, except its one-taps can be hit while running or strafing.

With the Tec-9 now reduced to a sharpshooting role, the popularity of the Dual Berettas has risen. Costing the same amount as the Tec-9 at $500, the Berettas can take 86 hit points off the head of an armoured player, and some in CS:GO's community believe that they will be buffed to fill the gap left by the Tec-9.

To balance the changes on the Counter-Terrorists side, changes were eventually made to the Five-SeveN pistol on August 15 to reward “tactical positioning and defensive play.” The pistol, which costs $500, is the Counter-Terrorist counterpart to the Tec-9, so it's no surprise that the CT sidearm also received a major change. Now the pistol, which is renowned for its large clip and spray accuracy, has been made even more deadly. 

Players spraying with the Five-SeveN have seen slightly improved accuracy but the biggest difference can be felt on defense, when wielding the pistol against enemies who are pushing onto a bombsite. The difficulty for many Counter-Terrorists on eco or pistol rounds is shutting down a rush (where you're usually outnumbered) while the rest of your team rotates, and I think these changes will help. CTs should theoretically be able to hold the bomb sites easier, with improved spray accuracy, but pushes will be penalised—and rightly so.

Valve’s quick patches to the pistols indicate more changes to pistols are imminent and some are calling for the powerful but cheap P250, which can inflict more damage against armoured opponents than the Glock-18, the P2000 or the USP-S, to be examined.

Up close, the P250 can kill an armoured player with a single shot. Strangely, the $3,100 M4A4 rifle at the same range will not, a difference in firepower that epitomises the need for changes.

One thing's for sure—we won’t know exactly how much the structure of the game will be affected until all the changes roll out and CS:GO is run through the filter of a high-level tournament, which tend to reveal any advantages that exist in the game.

The Crew™ 2

Ubisoft has released a new trailer for the air/land/sea open-world racing game The Crew 2 that shows off the new "Fast Fav" feature and reveals that it will be released on March 16, 2018. It also dropped the details on the game's preorder bonus and special editions, which offer access to extra vehicles, the season pass, and a three-day head-start on the action. 

Originally revealed in June, Fast Fav is really just a "catchy" term used to describe the ability to switch between cars, boats, and planes on the fly. Realism obviously isn't the priority here, but it's not exactly a standout offense in a game that features street race ramping between rooftops along the New York City skyline. 

The Crew 2 will be available in three editions: The standard release, the $70 Deluxe Edition that comes with The Crew 2 Motorsports Deluxe Pack (a 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor Race Truck, 2008 Abarth 500 Monster Truck Edition, Pilatus PC-21 aerobatics plane, and three unique outfits) and the $100 Gold Edition, which also includes the season pass and three days of early access. A physical version of the Gold Edition is in the works, but will only be released for consoles. 

Preordering any edition will also net you the Legendary Motors Pack, with the 2016 Mercedes-AMG 3 Touring Car ('touring car," by the way, does not refer to the sort of big, squishy American four-door that you take on a leisurely Sunday tour through the countryside) and the 2017 Harley Davidson Iron 883.   

And last but definitely not least, a Crew 2 beta is also on the way. Dates for that haven't been announced yet, but you can sign up to (hopefully) take part at ubisoft.com

BRINK

Remember Brink? Don't feel too badly if your answer is "no." Developed by Splash Damage and published by Bethesda in 2011, it was intended to blend single and multiplayer combat in a futuristic tale about a battle between the Resistance and Security aboard a crumbling floating city called the Ark. We scored it a very positive 76/100 in our review, but overall it tanked pretty badly and was quickly forgotten. 

All of this leads to today's very short and sweet announcement that Brink is now free to play on Steam. Just download it and start shooting—if you enjoy the experience, you can also opt to spring for one of three DLC packs: The Fallout/Spec Ops combo pack or the Doom/Psycho combo pack, which go for $1 each, or the beefier Agents of Change DLC, which includes new maps, abilities, weapon attachments, and outfits, which is currently on sale for a little under $2.

In case you missed it in 2011, here's the Brink launch trailer.

XCOM® 2

XCOM 2's expansion pack, War of the Chosen, is almost here. We've covered at length the new enemies, factions, zombies, and propaganda, but it looks like even more new features are on the way. Today, Firaxis revealed that War of the Chosen will have a challenge mode—a new feature where players can complete unique challenges, earning points and placements on global leaderboards.

In challenge mode missions, you'll control a pre-determined squad of what looks like either XCOM or Advent forces. Completing mission objectives, killing enemies, saving civilians, and other tasks will score you points, all of which must be done in a limited time frame. Upon completion, you can compare scores against friends and strangers on the leaderboards.

And don't worry if the aliens get the best of you—new challenge mode missions will be available on a regular basis. 

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen launches on August 29.

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord

Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord studio TaleWorlds Entertainment has released a new video showcasing the chaotic combat of the game's multiplayer "Captain Mode." The new mode will enable "large-scale, epic battles" for up to five players per side, each one controlling a unit of infantry, cavalry, or archers. 

The video isn't narrated, but the basics seem clear enough, especially in the second battle. Units can be customized in a variety of different ways—better armor, more speed, modified weapons, and so forth—and then ordered to move, attack, and assume various offensive or defensive formations. As in RTS gameplay, soldiers aren't controlled individually, but instead operate as best they can under the conditions set by the commander.   

It might be pushing the definition of "large scale" a little—this obviously isn't going to operate at the scope of, say, Total War: Warhammer 2—but the action seems pleasingly brutal, and keeping the battles on the smaller side of big will hopefully translate into a more hands-on feeling of command. Relying on the competence of your fellow commanders in a 5v5 showdown should lead to some interesting conversations, too. 

Despite being in development for the past five years, Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord still doesn't have a release date.

No Man's Sky

I'm still star-hopping in No Man's Sky, and finding the interesting new biomes introduced in the Atlas Rises update at a rapid pace. In the past couple sessions I've found a second artificial 'hex' planet and two planets covered with weird supposedly sentient metal orbs.

This morning I came across two more oddities. The first was a planet awash with bubbles. Big bubbles, bigger bubbles, tiny bubbles, medium bubbles, bubbles that were bigger than the big bubbles but not as big as the bigger bubbles, and even some solid iron bubbles sitting on the planet's surface. I named the planet 'Bubble Planet' because I am a creative writer.

The bubble planet, like the hex and orb planets, have the same types of terminals that eject semi-mysterious texts that seem to have been created by some sort of artificial intelligence. The bubbles themselves don't seem particularly intelligent, but even if they are, they're bubbles and I'm not sure how they would display intelligence. They can't go around reading books: they have no arms or eyes or Kindles.

The iron bubbles can be harvested but the transparent bubbles, as far as I can tell, can't be popped.

Meanwhile, In the same system as the bubble planet, I found this even-stranger planet:

I don't know what these things are, but they're really cool looking (you can enlarge the images by clicking on the upper-right corner). These things can be mined with a Colossus laser for Detrium, same as the metal orbs. Unlike the orbs, even the floating ones can be destroyed.

Like the other three new planet types, there are no alien creatures strolling and stumbling around on Thing Planet. These new planets are also bereft of language monoliths and the typical scattering of outposts and vendors as far as I can tell, though they have all contained a habitable base if you want to make one your new homeworld.

Is there anything else new out there? I'll keep hunting. As always, share any new discoveries you've made in the comments.

Cities: Skylines

I haven't checked in on any of my Cities: Skylines creations lately, but last time I looked they were suffering from a number of problems, like traffic, lack of educated workers, a slight overabundance of blimps, and the fact that some idiot built a creamatorium and a garbage dump right next to a playground. Pollution, of course, is an ongoing issue in any Skylines city, but some solutions are on the way.

The next Cities: Skylines expansion will address pollution problems by letting you go green. Green Cities "adds 350 new assets to the core game, adding a massive selection of new visual options, complete with eco-friendly buildings, organic shops, electric vehicles, and new services designed to make pollution a quaint notion of the past."

We don't have a release date—the expansion only promises to arrive on the wind "later this year." We don't have a price yet either, but even if you decide not to buy it there will be the usual smattering of freebies, in this case "electric cars, road modding, changes to noise pollution, and more beautification options in the form of parks and trees, among other things." Find out more here.

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