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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The Best Free Games of the Week">free glitch

This week: a painful coming out, a girl named Tess, a subtly improved Swindon, yet more intentional glitches, terrifying shadow monsters in a monochrome mist world, and one more Hitler than the norm. Read on for some great games that won't cost you a penny/dime/credit/gil of your (presumably) hard-earned cash.

Double Hitler by Damian Schloter Play it online here

Peer closely at any image of Hitler and it soon becomes clear something's amiss. No, not the monstrous fascism (although that was pretty bad), but the fact that he was two kids in an overcoat. Double Hitler recreates key moments in Adolf's adult life, putting you in the role of said kids in said giant overcoat. As you can imagine, even the act of walking is difficult when you're really two children in a big jacket, and about 90% of the game is spent trying to stay upright without toppling over and revealing your secret. Double Hitler is pretty much QWOP: ie wonderfully silly, and told with a masterfully straight face.

Coming Out Simulator 2014 by Nicky Case Play it online here

Nicky Case created the Public Domain Jam, as well as (inventive surveillance-state stealth game) Nothing to Hide. His latest game is more personal: a true, half-true and fictionalised account of the night he came out to his parents. Coming Out Simulator 2014 don't let the zeitgeisty title put you off is at times brutal, sharply observed and hilarious, in addition to being one of the tensest games I've played for a long while. There are several outcomes to the evening, determined via agonising multiple choice answers, though Case never picks the evening apart to tell us which bits of it are completely true or bogus. This stops the game from feeling too uncomfortably personal the witty, self-aware writing also helps. In a way, this is the Schrodinger's Cat of coming out stories: every part of it is true and false at the same time. (Via IndieGames)

Tess by GIRakaCHEEZER Download it here

A strange, sad, Cave Story-ish platfomer set in a dreamlike world. You're Tess, and you appear to be working out the frustrations of a bad day by jumping around shooting at feral plants and other hitpoint-spewing baddies. There's a touch of the Yume Nikki about this one, and Anodyne, and all the other games set in sad and lonely worlds.

Moiety by Dan Stubbs Download it here

Speaking of strange worlds, Moeity is a misty, watery plateau of a game populated by creatures of light and darkness. Encroach too far upon a shadow creature's territory and it will pursue you relentlessly, gobbling you up in a frankly terrifying bit of animation after catching you. Moiety is a piece of formless horror, mood and interrupted serenity, though there is a clumsy You won screen should you do what the game requires. Seek the light. Observe your environment. If you hear noise, it might already be too late.

Fallen Swindon by Richard Cobbett Play it online here

Yes, you read that right: Richard Cobbett did this, who you might remember from PC Gamer's own Crap Shoot or from his exhaustive knowledge of games made before you were born. Cobbett's put his fine words to good use in this affectionate pisstake of Fallen London: the expansive supernatural browser adventure, and the thing what Failbetter Games did before Sunless Sea. Fallen Swindon is set in the arguably less exciting Swindon, and will take you to such exotic destinations as the job centre, the pub and your local Tesco. Only, y'know, with added demons and obsidian spires and that.

Glitch Lab by nazywam Play it online here

Glitch Lab is cheeky, witty, smart and yes it's another platform game. It's quite unlike most platformers (except maybe Fez) though, using its glitch theme to break the game in new and surprising ways on every screen. It's a game that locks you into a battle of wits with its demonstrably playful creator, asking you to fathom the small or major changes they have enacted to spanner up your progress in every room.

detuned by Paul Lawitzki, Christoph Rasulis, Benajmin Rudolf Play it online here

It's a shame detuned ends just as it's really started to get going, as this is an enigmatic, ambient puzzler with a novel central conceit. You use the mousewheel to attune the game's various glitchy purple platforms to a particular frequency: a frequency that will let you step on them without falling through the floor. This idea is expanded and reverted a little before detuned's rather abrupt end point, but it would be great to see this detuning mechanic explored in greater depth. Either way, it's worth a play to experience its abstract, fairly malevolent tower environment, and to see the various ways that detuning is used throughout the game.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Battlefield 4 Dragon’s Teeth trailer is 30 seconds of compressed explosive action">Battlefield 4

This trailer for Battlefield 4's forthcoming Dragon's Teeth DLC might only be 30 seconds long, but only around 10 of those seconds have been wasted showing logos or release dates the rest is riddled with gunfire and explosions and a bit where a train carriage is knocked clean off a track. (Yes, there is a small explosion resulting from that.) Also pictured: the ballistic shields that will be added in the content pack, along with liberal use of speedboats and quad bikes.

Dragon's Teeth, you'll remember, adds four new maps Lumphini Garden, Propaganda, Pearl Market and Sunken Dragon to the game, along with additional equipment and a new game mode entitled Chain Link. It's releasing July 15th for Battlefield Premium members, and two weeks later on July 29th for everyone else.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Nadeo release time-limited TrackMania 2 and ShootMania demos">trackmania 2

Nadeo's shooty ShootMania and drivey TrackMania 2 games have both been given sizeable new demos, with the intention of increasing the player count in both Mania titles. The demos are pretty generous, offering access to a good number of environments, modes, tracks and the full editing suite in both games, although this unlimited access will expire after 48 hours, to be replaced with something perhaps a little more reasonable (an hour of play every day, or more if the player count falls below 100). Head here to check out the TrackMania 2 demo, and here to check out the ShootMania one, or stick around to hear exactly what you'll be getting.

Download the free trial of ShootMania and you'll be given access to the following:

3 multiplayer ranked modes: Battle, Elite & Siege

Full multiplayer experience (Nadeo and user-created gamemodes and Title Packs)

Access to all editors (Map, MediaTracker (Video), Actions & Weapons, Items)

Custom Titles: solo & multiplayer innovative modes

TrackMania 2, meanwhile, has the following to offer:

45 white solo tracks

Access to the TrackMania multi-environment title (Canyon + Valley + Stadium at the same time!)(1)

Full multiplayer experience (Nadeo and user-created gamemodes and Title Packs)

Access to all editors (Map, MediaTracker (Video), Actions & Weapons, Items)

Up to 3 user made solo & multiplayer experiences

Thanks, Blue's News.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Saturday Crapshoot: The Palace Of Deceit">cs

Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, as Cliff Bleszinski unveils his latest game plans, it's time for a quick round of Before They Were Famous. What happened before the 'overnight' success?

Of course, there's almost never any such thing - almost all success coming from much hard work, effort, a little bit of luck, and often less celebrated success. I for instance have been working on death rays for years, yet still write a weekly column on obscure games rather than composing lists of demands to world leaders. Game developers meanwhile often start with, unsurprisingly, games. They may not be great to begin with, they may have the spark of genius right from the very start, or be somewhere in the middle. All that matters is that when you dare to dream, you never know what might come next. Unless you're talking about the game Dare To Dream, in which case it's probably something really, really goofy.

But we'll get to that one soon enough. First, there's a much more obscure adventure to check out.

Give me a Shock Rifle, and we'll see how tough these guys are...

Now, just to be clear, I'm not picking on CliffyB here or trying to poke at his early work in anything other than good fun - the idea just came with the week's news. You don't get to make anything good until you've first made things that are, well, not so good. John Carmack for instance started off with a blatant rip-off of Ultima called Shadowforge, then spent years churning out platformers and less-than-great shooters like Hovertank 3D before id struck bronze with Commander Keen, silver with Wolfenstein 3D, and then a raspberry-ripple type vein of gold and diamonds with Doom. George Broussard of Apogee infamously made the platformed Pharoah's Tomb, notable less for its Indiana Jones pastiching than Broussard managing to misspell his own name on the title screen. Before there was Duke Nukem 3D, the manliest game in the world, there was Duke Nukem, the tale of a man in a pink shirt who just wanted to get home and watch Oprah. Yes, really. This was an actual thing that happened. And at one point, Peter Molyneux made games as well as empty promises. Though it was quite a long time ago, to be fair. Oh, and he also made one called Entrepreneur that he admits sold two copies, and one of those to his own mother.

But what of CliffyB's old games? The one that's usually held up is the aforementioned Dare To Dream, or digging a little deeper, a Shadowgate style affair called The Palace Of Deceit: Dragon's Plight, written in high school. Dragon's Plight was actually a sequel though - the version you can find online marked "2.1". What of the original? Well, according to Archive.org, it was called The Secret Of Castle Lockemoer, and yes, there's a download. Unfortunately I can't get it working on my PC, even after much futzing around with virtual machines. The mailing address seems right, and the shareware screen definitely asks for donations made out to Cliff Bleszinski, along with the cry "LONG LIVE SHAREWARE!", but the actual game is just a blank screen. So, that's a bit disappointing. The only part that does work, but probably shouldn't, is the really odd message that pops up when you try to run it...

"This adventure was produced through many hours of toil and labor on the author's part. He blew off his homework many a night to fix bugs and his grades suffered. He was severely beaten by his mother with a spatula repeatidly (sic). His spelling is now pitiful and he can only groan once for yes and twice for no. On top of it, the only girl he ever loved outside of his spatula wielding mother, the lovely Tammi Lynn Kent, decided to stay with her ugly boyfriend instead of going for this talented, handsome, hung, moderately built dude. He is emotionally crippled from this experience. He needs your donations to get back on his blistered feet and write games, fight off his mother, do homework, and somehow defy the odds and prevent his relocation to California and marry this pretty thing. Asta La Vistsa, Baybeeeee...

-The Roaring Slime (and DON'T call me Bufford!)"

So... uh... yeah. That would appear to be a thing that happened. Either that, or we've just found the most terrifyingly niche hoaxer on the entire internet. I wouldn't want to rule anything out, really...

Before Epic Megagames, there was Game Syndicate. No relation to the game Syndicate.

Despite appearances, The Palace Of Deceit: Dragon's Plight is actually an important game in PC history. It's the game that caught the attention of programmer Tim Sweeney at what was then Epic Megagames, caused Bleszinski to be brought on board, and so starting the path to games like Jazz Jackrabbit. And also something called Unreal. It's pretty obscure. You're unlikely to have heard of it.

So, what is it? It's a point and click adventure that's fairly obviously inspired by Shadowgate, with the copy that's floating around the web officially version 2.1 Gold Edition, because even back in 1991, that stuff was happening. If you've played Dare To Dream, it'll look pretty familiar - it's a forerunner to the Unreal engine called simply the "Really?" engine, with its split windows, giant grey buttons and delightful cyan text that not merely informs you that the status box you are looking at is the StatusBox, but slaps a TM on the end to make absolutely sure. According to trivia on MobyGames (though not in this copy that I can find to confirm...), it also featured a plea for registration with the somewhat mixed message "not only will you get a great product and a company who stands behind it, you will help me to join a company like Sierra or Lucasfilm to make the greatest games ever someday."

So, that worked out, as long as you like shooters more than adventures!

This version does however include a reminder of much more innocent times, with a note saying that if you have any non-hint related issues to call a number and ask for "Cliff". These days, you have to bother registering on Twitter to bug a developer...

The villain may be evil, but at least he follows proper safety procedure when kitting out his slaves...

But let's look at the game! Squinting, because the already tiny window is further shrunk by the odd decision to put all of the scenes into the pages of a book. There's no animation or anything, but I suppose disk size might have demanded it. Also, you'll notice the traditional Windows Blue Gradient in the background, which was far cooler than you might think after the fact. I'm assuming that's not however the Blue Streak that Cliffy's new game is named after though, any more than this.

It's actually an unusual premise for an adventure - you're a dragon. The wussiest, least intimidating, non-fire-breathingest dragon in gaming, but still a dragon, trapped by a powerful wizard who was apparently beaten in the last game but without it managing to stick. This is the land of "Salac", incidentally, which the manual clarifies is pronounced "SAY-LICK", and the name of that evil wizard... is Garth. Not the most intimidating name, but lest we forget, the Unreal champion would eventually be called Malcolm. He's abducted you, you being a blue dragon called Nightshade, with plans to torture the location of your people out of your head unless you can first escape and have a victory that would be much more satisfying if the manual wasn't already talking about him getting up to more stuff in a third game that never happened.

So, um, we doing that torture thing? Anyone? Garth? Well, I'll just let myself out then.

Garth isn't a very good jailer though, having put our dragon hero not only into a cell, but into a cell with a secret passage that even a dragon can squeeze through. That's a pretty impressive oopsie even by evil overlord standards, and his first cells rooms don't show much dungeon keeping experience. For starters, he only has one cell. "Used for special prisoners", in much the same way that a fish and chip shop will sell a 'special' haddock, apparently. Elsewhere, there's a portcullis blocking the exit, surrounded by four buttons - red, yellow, green and blue. Press the wrong one and poison gas floods in for an instant game over. But for some reason, the portcullis also opens, as if to give anyone with the ability to, y'know, hold their breath for a couple of seconds a chance to make it through. Also somewhat weird is that this is only a puzzle, technically, as the previous room has the answer literally chiselled onto the wall.

Okay. Two questions. First, you learned this how? Second, why are you on this side of the lock you know how to open?

On the plus side, at least if you are going to die here, there's more warning than in Shadowgate.

This death, deserved.

Unfortunately what quickly becomes clear is that a better title would have been Castle Of Pixelbitching: The Dragon's Plight. It's a game whose idea of a clue is, if you're lucky, making something a pixel thicker than it might otherwise have been, and if you're unlucky, killing you dead. Here for instance, see if you can spot the hidden lever that opens up a secret passage. I'll give you a clue: YOU GODDAMN CAN'T!

It's in the bottom left. And there's no hint that there's a door, except bloody-minded inevitability.

The most frustrating thing is that as you continue exploring, rooms are full of what might be objects and might just be background decoration, to whatever degree MS Paint can decorate things. Two prominent boxes sitting on the floor for instance. Several different wine racks, of which one has the inevitable secret button. There's never really much of a clue about what you're meant to be doing, with even the occasional character not helping too much - admittedly because Nightshade keeps expecting prisoners and slaves of Garth to be able to tell him how to escape, and they're all too busy not having the answer to that to be able to help. This isn't too bad with the cheery mice who mine his diamonds and crystals, but is a bit weird when you can't even free a talking lobster from his seafood prison.

Huh. That lobster's generous with clues. I thought he was going to be shellfish.

Not a vast amount happens for the rest of the game, really. Nightshade lucks into - wait for it - THE SWORD, the magical weapon used to kill Garth during his last appearance, and due to being either a) strong of heart or b) strong as a goddamn dragon, has no trouble arming himself. Then it's simply a question of trekking through the castle to use it, past enemies like a giant spider, Garth's champion knight, and when all else fails, the villain writing "GIVE UP" on the wall in blood. Someone's blood. It doesn't really matter whose. Though there is one surprise guest to look forward to meeting...

After some of these puzzles, this isn't so much a cameo as a football. Punt!

And of course, the whole thing has a truly dignified finale.

Tolkein, eat your arse out.

It's probably lucky that Tim Sweeney was impressed, because... wow. This is not an impressive game, from its Visual Basic coding to lore so detailed, it would take almost two tweets to fully encapsulate. It's not surprising that it faded pretty fast from memory, and that's not really a bad thing.

Good job no jerk would dig it up now for minor comic effect, huh?

This is what an epic megagame looks like. According to Epic Megagames.

But what followed was notably better... which doesn't mean good, but, y'know, was definitely better. This was - Dare To Dream, a bit of a darling to shareware sections in the early 90s, which used the same - cough - 'engine' and really, really doesn't look impressive now, but was at least a bit different back when it came out, before games like Sanitarium and I Have No Mouth And I Must Play The Kazoo. It was set in the mind of a ten year old boy called Tyler, escaping into a dreamworld that was actually a pretty dark and moody city by shareware standards, to face a villain called Christian who haunts his nightmares. It had a certain charm to it, though the puzzles quickly started making full use out of the dream setting to be 'Whatever!' affairs or just plain odd. Like this description of vaseline stolen from a mechanic - I quote:

"You 'borrowed' this industrial size jar of petrolium jelly from Bouf's back room. He claimed it was for auto repair, but you wonder otherwise..."

The spin-off Dare To Wet Dream thankfully never happened. But whereas you'd think that the dreamworld was full of subtlety and hidden meaning, it was really just a load of random stuff with a side of nonsense, and a few biblical elements and the occasional quote or poorly drawn skull to scream horror, all smelted into a big golden hammer and used to smack the player around the head with the world "SYMBOLISM!" Not really symbolising anything in particular most of the time, just... y'know, symbolic stuff. Or shambolic stuff, like the scene where you use a pair of underpants to safely step in toxic waste and retrieve a shotgun, and this is a thing held up as a thing that makes sense and is a puzzle.

Leisure Suit Larry: The Wonder Years

Anyway, not very long story short, it ends with the shock reveal that Tyler is a little but nuts after the death of his father, with his best friend Terry actually his good self, and Christian his evil one, which you can tell because he has horns and a bowler hat. More important though is the realisation that this makes his alternate selves names' "Terry Christian". Serious questions have to be answered here...

Of course, whether or not these games were good or bad really doesn't matter; either way, the career that follows speaks for itself. Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone hopes to improve. Hitting the ground strolling really isn't such a bad thing, as long as you can build to a run, possibly holding a chainsaw gun. I've never played Gears of War, so I'm not entirely sure what the hell that is, but I like to imagine it's a gun that actually shoots chainsaws as if they were bullets. Maybe it's just because I grew up in the 90s, but I'm fairly certain that, empirically and with reference to the great works of Keats, Tolstoy and Wordsworth, that that is, like, totally the most awesome and badass thing ever, ever!

Except of course, for this. Because as we can all agree, nothing possibly could be.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The PC Gamer Show episode 1: Killing Floor 2, Nidhogg, 4K gaming">pcgamershow-ep1-teaser

It's The PC Gamer Show! For episode one, we talked to Tripwire Interactive about upcoming shooter Killing Floor 2, played a high stakes game of Nidhogg with serious embarrassment on the line, and got our hands on a new Samsung 4K monitor.

In this episode...

Act I: Evan chats with Tripwire Interactive president John Gibson about Killing Floor 2. Gibson talks about what the team has been working on since our Killing Floor 2 cover story, including motion captured reloads and gore that looks like BBQ chicken.

Act II: Wes and Cory take a break from deadline day to play Nidhogg, with high stakes. Guest starring PC Gamer mascot emeritus Coconut Monkey.

Act III: Tyler and Wes talk about the performance and drawbacks of 4K gaming after testing out the Samsung 590D 4K monitor.

The PC Gamer Show is a new and evolving project for us, and we want your feedback to help make it better. What kind of segments do you want to see? What games should we play and talk about? Who should we have on as guests? What's coming up next?

Shout at us in the comments below, or shoot us an email directly at letters@pcgamer.com. We're listening. And we'll see you in two weeks.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to PC gaming hardware market worth more than $21.5 billion globally, new report says">world-of-pc-gaming

The overall demand for PC hardware may be in decline but the market for gaming specific hardware is actually doing quite well, according to a new Jon Peddie Research report (via MCV). The firm pegged the total worldwide market value of PC gaming hardware at more than $21.5 billion, and predicted that it will grow significantly over the next three years.

What exactly the PC and console markets entail within the context of the JPR report isn't made clear, although on the PC side of the coin it includes "computers, upgrades and peripherals used for gaming." What is clear is that the arrival of the next generation of game consoles hasn't had much of an impact on the momentum of the PC, nor is it likely to in the future not because the demand for home computers is growing it's not but because dedicated PC gamers are pouring more and more money into their rigs.

"We continue to see a shift in casual console customers moving to mobile," JPR Senior Analyst Ted Pollak said. "While this is also occurring in the lower-end PC gaming world, more money is being directed to mid- and high-range builds and upgrades by gamers."

He described "committed PC gamers" as power users who aren't interested in "pure content consumption platforms," which I'm assuming is a fancy way of saying "game consoles." Instead, they pay big bucks for hardware that will let them play at very high settings as well as perform other tasks, like video editing, content creation and arguing on internet forums, "with maximum horsepower at their disposal in a desktop ergonomic environment."

The report predicts that the PC gaming market will grow to to more than $23 billion by 2017, driven by the availability of increasingly powerful hardware that allows PCs to do things that consoles cannot. JPR President Jon Peddie noted that 4K gaming is already a reality for "highest-end" systems and said that even mass-market machines can now push 2560x1440 resolution, well beyond the 1080p resolution (1920x1080) offered by the latest consoles.

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime promises “more diverse heroes and content”">World of Warcraft Warlords of Draenor

Earlier this month, a blogger who goes by the name of "Starcunning" wrote an open letter to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime. He criticized the studio's move away from quality storytelling, and more specifically the lack of diversity among the characters in its games. Noting that recent comments from Rob Pardo and Dustin Browder seemed to reject the need for greater inclusiveness outright, he called on Blizzard to "makes the choice and commitment to reflect the diversity of their fans in the worlds and games they create." And in a response posted on the blog with his permission, Morhaime said that's exactly what the studio intends to do.

I don't imagine Starcunning expected a response to his letter, but he wrote a good one anyway, expressing his enthusiasm for Blizzard games while at the same time explaining his decision to move away from them in calm, rational detail. It's one of the more well-worded criticisms of the lack of diversity in gaming in general, and Blizzard games in particular, that I've seen, and maybe that's what prompted Morhaime to reply.

"We are very conscious of the issues you raise and are discussing them more than ever, at every level of the company, in an effort to make sure our games and stories are as epic and inclusive as possible. Blizzard s employees form a broad and diverse group that cares deeply about the experiences we are creating for our players," he wrote. "And we know that actions speak louder than words, so we are challenging ourselves to draw from more diverse voices within and outside of the company and create more diverse heroes and content."

Blizzard is "actively" examining its processes "to ensure that our values are fully represented," he said, adding, "There is no reason why inclusivity should come at the expense of an amazing game experience."

"I speak for everyone at Blizzard when I say that we will always remain open to feedback and discussions to help us improve. This will be an ongoing process for us it s likely that we will make mistakes again in the future, but we will continue to listen, learn, and grow," he wrote. "We care very much about what you think and what you re getting out of our games, and we re committed to reflecting our core values in our words as well as our actions."

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Mighty No. 9 shows off in-game animations in new Kickstarter update">Mighty No. 9

The latest Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter update has the mighty Beck running, climbing and dashing through in-game environments as it explains some of his unique powers, including the ability to absorb the "Xel" of weakened enemies and turn it into power-ups. The second crowdfunding campaign, meanwhile, has been changed up a bit, and now promises both English and Japanese voice acting for another $200,000.

All of Beck's basic movements are in display in the four brief clips of video included in the new Kickstarter update, but it's "the Dash," described as "the heart of Mighty No. 9's gameplay," that's particularly interesting. It allows him to "absorb" weakened enemies, a risky maneuver but one that's necessary for his ability to transform. Transform into what, exactly, Comcept isn't ready to say just yet.

The update also looks at the "lights-on, lights-off mechanic," which some enemies will take advantage of to launch attacks in the dark, as well as the design process that led to the creation of the vaguely Big Daddy-like Mighty No. 2, one of the "Mighty No. Robots" who turned up on the front page of the initial Kickstarter campaign. Finally, it explains the rationale behind the decision to combine the English and Japanese voice acting stretch goals in the new crowdfunding campaign into one big target.

"We were running on the idea that Japanese fans would be more motivated by Japanese voice acting, and English-speakers by an English one. We were surprised (pleasantly so!) by the Mighty Beckers that came out in droves to support the idea of Japanese voice work, asking us why they weren t included in the Stretch Goals to begin with," it says. "This led to our decision to combine both stretch goals into one, larger stretch goal, as you can see now on the Mighty No. 9 site. We understand that you still have concerns about this new process, and please know that this is an ongoing dialogue we want to maintain with the backers."

The new crowdfunding campaign hasn't exactly caught fire at this point, sitting at around $9300 nearly a full week after it began. Unlike Kickstarter, this effort doesn't appear to have a time limit, so it seems likely that it will sooner or later make its goal, but even if it does fall short, some voice acting may still make it into the game.

"If we were not to meet the stretch goal, we d probably try to find some compromise using the funds we do receive. Maybe limited voice overs, or if we were close to the goal, Comcept would pitch in itself and deliver it anyway," Community Manager Dina Abou Karam explained in an email. "That s still a long way off so only time will tell."

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Divinity: Original Sin review">Divinity Original Sin 1

Blood conducts electricity. Of course it does. My supposedly single-target lightning spell arcs from mage to skeleton and on to the ground, where it touches the splattered byproduct of the ongoing melee. From there it reaches my rogue, my warrior, my archer. My entire party is electrocuted in a single moment's miscalculation, and I learn another hard lesson about Divinity: Original Sin's commitment to its own brand of realism.

It's one of those "well, shit" moments that tell you everything you need to know about a game's designers. When you explore Larian's crowdfunded old-school RPG you're exploring a network of interesting, intricate creative decisions that comment on the genre's past and sketch out a new map for its future. That this is a throwback to Baldur's Gate and Ultima means more than the isometric camera, the fiddly menus, the sharp difficulty curve. It's about the freedom you're given to chart your own course through the campaign, freedom enhanced and sometimes swiftly curtailed, as per my blood-lightning accident by a sprawling set of readable, consistently-implemented rules.

Very early in the game your party reaches the city of Cyseal. There's shouting in the harbour. Choose to investigate and you'll see a group of dockworkers crowded around a burning barque, struggling to contain the blaze. This is a quest, but nobody tells you what to do. If you happen to have water magic to hand you can summon a raincloud to douse the flames, earning you a healthy experience boost and increasing your reputation in the town. The problem and its solution are presented to you without the hand-holding you might be used to. It's a liberating feeling, even when its implementation is this simple.

I've become accustomed to RPGs that lock away combat and magic within their own part of the game. I'm used to the idea that a fireball won't work unless it's aimed at an enemy, or that every environmental hazard will be placed such that I'm guaranteed to be able to get past it. I'm used to the idea that some characters can be killed and some can't, that some obstacles are destructible and others are 'just furniture'. Divinity shrugs off those assumptions. Combat might be turn-based when you're fighting an enemy, but there's nothing stopping you from waving your sword around in the middle of town. Fling a fireball at some innocent barrels and you'll start a fresh fire of your own, and this time the locals won't be applauding when you rush to put it out.

Your first task is to investigate the murder of local councillor, but how you go about doing this is largely up to you and the kinds of characters you've created. The story bottlenecks around certain key points, but, like a good pen and paper campaign, Larian provide a huge amount of room to experiment. You can kill key characters if you like, or break into their houses and steal their things. This gives you the power to discover plot points ahead of time if you're intrepid enough, and there's something satisfying about feeling like you've placed yourself ahead of the curve with a bit of enterprising sleuthing.

The counterpoint is that this is the first game where I've found myself genuinely stuck in a long time. It can be unforgiving, particularly as combat becomes significantly more difficult only a few hours into the game. Without clear directions, it's easy to find yourself playing the same battles over and over again without realising that you're marching in the wrong direction. Likewise, the freedom you're afforded to build your characters at the beginning means its easy to waste a couple of hours on a fledgling adventuring party that you subsequently fall out of love with. I had to restart a few times before I felt comfortable with my selection of classes and abilities, something I haven't had to do since Baldur's Gate.

I keep saying 'characters', and that's because Divinity: Original Sin doesn't have a single protagonist it has two, and you create both of them when you begin the game. You can choose any arrangement of gender and class that you wish, and during key dialogues you pick separate speech options for each character. This establishes the relationship between the two, which can be hostile or cooperative, even romantic. Your choices affect certain plot points and sometimes provide stat boosts, but are otherwise there to encourage you to roleplay.

When your characters disagree or when you fall out with your partner in online co-op you pick who wins the argument by playing rock-paper-scissors against yourself. When my archer was invited to join a creepy female-only cult by an imprisoned wizard, she refused. My rogue suggested that this might be a way to get access to the wizard's knowledge and resources and won the subsequent argument. The archer begrudgingly signed up for cult membership, and the characters liked each other less. A strange moment, as the person controlling both, but a story point that felt specific to me and my campaign.

The narrative is standard fantasy stuff, enlivened by Larian's knowing sense of humour and lively writing. Your characters are Source Hunters in pursuit of evil magic users called, er, Sourcerers, and that pun sets the bar for how seriously any of it should be taken. There are some really standout bits of dialogue, much of it hidden away. If neither of your characters have the 'Pet Pal' perk, for example, you'll miss out on being able to talk to animals including at least one brilliantly-written dog, and rats scurrying in every dungeon that offer clues and the odd bit of philosophical perspective. Sporadic voice acting adds life and variety but leaves serious bitemarks in the scenery. That said, one bellowing cheese merchant in Cyseal hawks his wares with such character that I'd probably buy a wheel from him in real life.

The tone of the game reminds me, more than anything else, of the pen and paper campaigns I've played particularly how even serious moments tend to get undermined by the players and their sense of humour. At its best, Divinity feels like sitting down to play D&D with its writers. The weakness to this approach is that it's unlikely to stick with you like Planescape Torment or Baldur's Gate II, and you're equally unlikely to fall in love with the setting over the course of the hundred hours you spend in it.

You should also expect to make unsteady progress in your first five to ten hours. The game is slow to provide geographical variety and slower to explain many key game systems. It can be fiddly and obtuse about simple things like trading and arranging each character's inventories, stuff that can hoover up your playtime if you're not careful. Another pass at the UI would have helped here, and is still possible given the game's active ongoing development.

Once you crack the surface, though, Divinity's combat system alone is enough to sustain long sessions. Every battle feels substantially different, a turn based strategy puzzle that challenges you to twist the terrain to your advantage. This might mean creating a chokepoint with crates or igniting poison gas with a fireball. It might mean using special arrowheads to disable particular enemies or beginning battles with an ambush from stealth. The RPG trinity of healers, damage dealers and tanks is represented, but you're forced out of your comfort zone regularly. When your tank is standing in a pool of fresh blood, electrocuting the skeleton next to them might not be the best idea as I learned to my cost.

One of the reasons the game is difficult is that enemies have access to the same abilities and items as you do. In most games, you know everything about a foe after the first time you fight them. Here, you have to be ready for potions, special arrows, healing spells, and so on, and for the most part these are used intelligently. You can sometimes back the AI into a corner with a well-placed environmental effect, like burning oil, but Divinity is generally good at providing you with the sense that you're fighting a living foe.

One of the joys of playing Divinity: Original Sin is rediscovering things that RPGs used to do well and eventually lost creating new experiences in an old mould. That's the nostalgic sentiment that drove it to success on Kickstarter. But what's really exciting about the game is that it proves that traditional RPGs have a lot to teach present-day designers. Freedom, simulation, depth, and respect for the player's choices. There's power in that old blood.


Expect to pay: 30/$40

Release: Out now

Developer: Larian Studios

Publisher: In-house

Multiplayer: Online co-op, 1-2 players

Link: www.divinityoriginalsin.com
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Pillars of Eternity beta for Kickstarter backers goes live in August">Pillars of Eternity

Obsidian's old-school RPG Pillars of Eternity is slowly but surely coming into the home stretch, and in fact the initial round of beta testing isn't much more than a month away but only for those who backed the game on Kickstarter.

Nearly 74,000 people backed Pillars of Eternity on Kickstarter, in the days when it was known as "Project Eternity," but only about 4200 of them actually pledged at one of the two levels that explicitly offered a beta key. Whether anyone else will be admitted to the club and how it will all come together with the planned Early Access release on Steam remains to be seen Obsidian said it will get into the specifics of the beta in its next update but for now, we at least have a date: August 18 is the big day.

Obsidian also announced a slight change in plan regarding the "making of" documentary DVD/Blu-ray that was intended for the Collector's Edition box. "In order to provide a physical copy of the documentary when the game shipped, we would be unable to show the final leg of production in order to have time to print all of the discs and packaging," the update says. "We want our backers to be able to share the entire experience of making this game with us - from the earliest beginnings to the very end. To do this, we've decided to forgo making a physical copy of the documentary, and will instead release a digital downloadable extended version."

It acknowledged that not everyone will be happy with the decision, but promised that the documentary disc will be replaced with a different reward that will be announced in the near future. It also said that updates will be coming somewhat more sporadically from now on, so the team can "focus as much of our efforts into putting out the best game we possibly can for everyone."

Pillars of Eternity is currently expected to be out by the end of the year.


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