Verdun

Before there was Battlefield 1 there was Verdun, a "realistic" First World War multiplayer FPS released in 2015 by M2H and Blackmill Games. It obviously wasn't as much of a hit as EA's big-budget shooter but its unique, unforgiving approach to online combat found an audience—enough to justify a "standalone expansion" called Tannenberg, announced today and scheduled to come to Steam later this year. 

Tannenberg brings the Russian Empire into the fight on the Eastern Front, in a very different style of fighting than that seen in Verdun. "The Russians and Austro-Hungarians played a huge part in the First World War and we're looking forward to portraying their contribution," Jos Hoebe of Blackmill Games said. "The Eastern Front didn't see the same trench warfare as in the West. In Tannenberg we offer players the experience of a more mobile side of the war which many people may be unfamiliar with." 

The game will feature a new 64-player mode that "captures this more mobile nature of battle." Squads will have access to new, highly-detailed weapons,  and there will be new landscapes to fight over as well, including snow-covered fields, forests, burned villages, and mountainside pastures. And of course, as noted in the Steam listing, there will be plenty of "horrendous gore."

Verdun's "realism" means that it's not the most accessible gaming experience you're liable to have. Most of my time with it has been spent crawling through mud toward where I think the fight is, and then getting killed by someone I didn't see. But I like that there's a place for games like this to thrive, and I hope that Tannenberg does just as well, even if I won't miss those deathtrap trenches. It's slated to come out later this year. 

STEAM HAMMER

Above: This isn't us, but these guys are the extremely steampunk model we aspire to.

“Domani facciamo i motori per volare,” says my new friend. His messages are the only non-Russian text in the chat box, so I know it’s a message for me. I copy the text into Google Translate. “Tomorrow we make the engines to fly.” I know what he means.

I first encountered Nino in Steam Hammer, an open-world steampunk RPG similar to Life is Feudal, before we actually ran into each other. I wandered onto a plot of land and an automated warning message yelled at me. I’d invaded Nino’s land, it proclaimed, and Nino was going to kill me. Being new to Steam Hammer, I wasn’t sure how violent it was, or what the etiquette was, or if some alarm system was going to shoot poison darts at me. I stole some oranges from Nino’s trees and bolted.

About half-a-mile away I found an abandoned hovel and several machines for smithing and woodworking, all operational. And then another small camp, nearer to a hillside rich with iron and copper. These structures weren’t claimed, so I declared them my home and rooted through baskets, pulling out clay and copper ore—slightly worried that whoever built these camps, maybe Nino, would sneak up behind me and whack me on the head for taking their stuff.

Non parlo italiano

I made a few clay molds and fashioned copper tools, and got to work adding to the small camps. And then I heard footsteps.

Around half an hour passed, and despite the Russian chatter scrolling by in the global chat, no one bothered me. I made a few clay molds and fashioned copper tools, and got to work adding to the small camps. And then I heard footsteps. I turned, and there was Nino, standing ten feet away, staring at me. I froze. In two hours of playing on multiple servers, this was the first time I’d seen another player, and it just happened to be the player whose oranges I ransacked minutes ago.

When I looked again at the global chat log, I saw Nino, but to my relief he wasn’t looking for a fight. Though I don’t speak Italian I could tell he was asking if anyone did. “Нет” said one player, saying no. “Rus.”

I had started Steam Hammer on an American server, but after meeting nobody and aimlessly wandering into the ocean and dying—apparently just dipping your head underwater is deadly—I got bored and frustrated and left. I spotted a much more populated Russian server and decided, ping be damned, to give it another go. I was quiet, though, because I felt bad about crashing their party with zero comprehension of Russian. But Nino was in the same place.

“Ciao,” I said. “Non parlo italiano ma posso tradurre.” 

Hello. I don’t speak Italian but I can translate. (Or something close enough to that to be understood.)

“Accetta,” said Nino. “Prendi.” 

Ax. Take.

I try to jump out of a whole I dug myself into.

It was at least 30 minutes before I understood that Nino wanted me to return to the plot of land I d passed through earlier so he could add me to his guild.

This is how most of my conversations with Nino went at first. I would ask some long question in auto-translated, probably unintelligible Italian, and Nino would say something like “circular saw” or “what are you doing?”

It was at least 30 minutes before I understood that Nino wanted me to return to the plot of land I’d passed through earlier so he could add me to his guild (which I’m pretty sure is just me and Nino), and that our goal was to build a sawmill. Nino had started constructing one, but it was missing a blade.

Steam Hammer is in Early Access on Steam, and some features are barebones. I couldn’t find a guild chat, for instance, so I continued using the local chat to talk to Nino. I also couldn’t see Nino on the map or mark locations, so if I got lost, I just had to wander until I found my way back or teleport ‘home’—which only worked half the time.

Back on the American server, I’d been killed by a wild hog beast who clipped through me while I swung at the air above it. I don't get the sense that combat is very far into development. But after meeting Nino, I didn’t encounter any other such dangers in Steam Hammer. It has ‘survival elements,’ which just means that you need to eat, and if you die, you lose your stuff and a bunch of skill points. But it isn’t constantly trying to kill you like many survival games. Eating helps your stamina recharge and some foods boost skill leveling, but I was able to get by fine on oranges, and I don’t even know what happens when the food meter runs out because I never came close to that.

The bulk of Steam Hammer is about building and maintaining tools and structures, and slowly leveling skills through use. The more trees I chop down, the more wooden beams and boards I make, the stronger my construction skill becomes, unlocking new buildings and tools to make. The more I plant trees, scavenge for food and seeds, and work the land, the better my farming skill becomes. It’s a long process, and follows the progression of other survival games: First, gather scrap metal and build campfires and sleeping bags out of sticks and plant fibers. Then, smelt copper in the fire. Then build a smelter. Use it to make better tools, and new workbenches, and eventually mansions, guns, and airships—“the engines to fly.”

The UI is not great, but workable. Right click on a tree, a bush, or a square of land to see a long list of actions: plant a tree, dig a hole, search for alchemy ingredients, and so on. Any action can be set as the default, which happens with a left click, which is essential, especially when trying to level the land. This is the most frustrating part of Steam Hammer’s light terraforming system: buildings must be built on a perfectly level plot, and creating such a plot requires a long process of smoothing grid squares one at a time, checking the build menu to see that no, they still aren’t level, and going back to click around with the smooth action some more.

Trying to make a perfectly level plot is a pain, especially when bugs are biting you.

Ho fatto una pistola 

Our conversations take a while with me alt-tabbing back and forth between the game window and Google Translate.

“Voglio costruire una fattoria,” I tell Nino, after we’ve established the guild and started communicating more clearly. I want to build a farm. I have no idea what the farm structure will do for us—it just looks like a big barn—but I set out to play Steam Hammer as a kindly farmer and I’m sticking with it. I’m happy that Nino likes the idea, though neither of us have the skills needed, so we both set about digging holes in the nearby hills to collect rocks and ores, smelting and making new things.

“Ho fatto una pistola,” says Nino. We stand next to a basket, each of us viewing the contents. Nino puts a pistol into the basket. I add my pistol. It’s an economical way to verify that we understand each other: both that we intend to share everything, and that “I made a pistol” isn’t a threat. We communicate nonverbally in other ways, as well. Steam Hammer doesn’t have many emotes at the moment, but shaking the camera up and down to ‘nod’ and then running in the other direction means ‘follow me.’ Using the ‘rest’ ability to sit down invites the other to do so, and indicates that they should look at the chat—our conversations take a while with me alt-tabbing back and forth between the game window and Google Translate.

It's a slight hassle, but it's a meta-challenge that I'm enjoying. When I say something and it's clear that it made sense, and I get a clear response, I hop up and down and we get to work. And I now know how to say "I made a pistol" in Italian, if that ever comes in handy. Meanwhile, there are several Russian players doing their own thing, and at some point we'll run into them and I'll need to open even more Chrome tabs to keep up.

Sharing guns.

At around 7 pm, I explain to Nino that I’m leaving to eat dinner, and that I’ll come back to build the farm. When I return, Nino is gone—it’s late in Italy, after 1 am, so I’m not surprised. I putter around, learning more about the alchemy system, which I’d ignored before. To gather ingredients, I have to click a piece of land to search, and then harvest ‘herbs’ that pop up around me. It's mindless but satisfying, a little slot machine that might give me what I need, or might give me something I've never heard of. The skill levels up quickly and I’m soon overburdened by arcane powders and minerals. I build a new basket to store them in, figuring Nino will get some use out of my scavenging.

I want to leave more than that, though, so I dedicate myself to building that farm, and a nice streetlight for our settlement. Steam Hammer doesn’t make its numbers visible, so earning a new level is always a surprise. It’s a nice surprise, but the lack of information frustrates when trying to reach a goal. I start grinding: chopping down trees, leveling land, making board after board. The levels creep by slowly and it seems like it’ll take hours to hit Construction level 45, which I need to build a door for my barn. I try a new tactic. I give up on leveling through repetition and start making more advanced things—a repair kit to fix my sawmill, for instance, which requires a long run to the beach for sand and water to make mortar with. It works. Doing more complex tasks accelerates my leveling and I’m quickly qualified in door making.

My barn, facing the wrong way, is on the hill on the right.

The negative Steam reviews aren t wrong: it s buggy, the framerate is unstable, and, yeah, it s a lot like Life is Feudal.

‘Quickly’ is a relative term, of course. At midnight—I ate dinner at my desk, in the end—I had finally done it. I built a barn, the purpose of which I’m still unsure of, and which I accidentally placed backwards, so that the door is facing away from our main settlement. I wanted to stick around, to plow the fields and plant onions and potatoes and carrots to really make my farm look like a farm, but my better judgement logged me out for the night.

It’s easy to bounce off a game like Steam Hammer. The negative Steam reviews aren’t wrong: it’s buggy, the framerate is unstable, and, yeah, it’s a lot like Life is Feudal but without the benefit of the last couple years of Life is Feudal’s development. There are few players online at any given time, which is why I wound up on a Russian server—though, surprisingly, I rarely had connection problems.

If I had played for two hours instead of nine, I’d have come away with nothing positive to say. But sandbox RPGs like Steam Hammer are more than the sum of their bugs. They aren’t any fun without effort—without learning the arcane systems and finicky UIs, interacting with other players (whether or not you speak the same language), setting your own goals, and building things for the sake of making something nice.

Steam Hammer is early in Early Access, so if you’re keen on building airships but want a complete and stable platform with plenty of players, there are lots of reasons to wait. But if you don’t, and you see a backwards-facing farm on ‘[RU] Game server MOW 31,’ feel free to stop by and I’m sure Nino will invite you to join us. (Please don’t shoot at us, I haven’t made any bullets yet and our pistols are still sitting in a basket.)

Cities: Skylines

The Mass Transit expansion brought some new public transportation options to Cities: Skylines, but having already reported responsibly about them it's clearly time to throw a hundred blimps into the sky and see what that's like. My goal isn't just to blot out the sun with blimps, but to design a town around them. I want blimps to not only be the chief form of transportation for my citizens, but their only choice. In the new town of Blimpton, it's blimps or GTFO.

My first step is to plan my three zones: residential, commercial, and industrial. I unlock four extra squares of land (I'm playing with unlimited money and all buildings unlocked) so my buildable area looks like a giant plus sign, and I build power stations, water lines, and roads in three prongs of the plus. Not a lot of roads, mind you: I won't be needing them. But the few roads I build are long, winding, and stupid. My hopes are to discourage anyone from climbing into a car and driving: it'll just take too damn long. Want to get somewhere in New Blimpton? Better take a blimp.

A tool for renaming roads has been added to Cities: Skylines with the Mass Transit DLC, so I name my roads things like BLIMPS ARE REALLY COOL, GUYS and NO CARS ALLOWED. I figure it can't hurt. I throw in police stations, fire departments, hospitals, a cemetery, and a few other amenities. No schools, though. I want my citizens to be dumb enough to think that taking a blimp to the grocery store is a sensible idea.

I stare at the map for a bit, feeling like something is missing. Oh, right! I need to put in blimps. Heh. I build two blimp stops in each area, and connect them first with blimp lines (it dictates the path blimps will fly) and then create the blimp lines themselves. One goes from residential to commercial, one from residential to industrial, and one goes from commercial to industrial. I build blimp depots, to supply the lines with airships, crank up the vehicle count modifier to 500% (thus adding way more blimps) and boost the transportation budget to 150%. My three lines will have the maximum number of airships so there will be no excuses from my residents. I've already got 20 blimps in the air by the time the first house is built. People are moving in.

If only I could build a house on a blimp.

While I watch houses being built, I see a flicker of movement on one of my streets, the street I've named DRIVING IS DUMB, TAKE A BLIMP. It's a car! A car, on my street! I zoom in furiously, ready to expel the offender from my town, feeling the same way God must have felt when he looked down and saw that Adam and Eve had broken his one rule and were driving around the Garden of Eden.

It's a police car. Okay. Okay. Calm down. That's okay. The police are allowed to drive. It's not like they can fly an Anti-Crime Blimp around. Yet. Though frankly, that would be incredible. I also have to prepare myself to see other service vehicles driving on my streets, like garbage trucks, donut wagons, and hearses, because undertakers probably won't haul off the dead in dirigibles, much as I wish they would.

The residential zone quickly fills up with new homes, and I'm pleased to see a total of zero cars on the roads other than the occasional ambulance or garbage truck. My fleet of blimps drifts back and forth between stops, now around ninety airships in all. A bit puzzling, though: there are zero passengers. The people who have moved in are, much to my pleasure, unwilling to drive anywhere. But they also seem unwilling to board one of the many, many blimps that are waiting to shuttle them to the far-flung commercial and industrial zones.

To be fair, nothing has been built in the industrial zone, and while a few stores have appeared in the commercial area, they are all complaining about the lack of workers. Well, yeah, if no one is taking the blimps, no one is getting to work. 

A-ha! Staring at my blimp stats finally pays off, as I eventually see a single passenger using the blimp system! I feel like yelling "We got one!" and slamming my open palm down on the Blimp Alarm Button installed on my desk, like Annie Potts in Ghostbusters, only I don't have a Blimp Alarm Button installed on my desk. Yet.

Ninety blimps, one rider. It's a start. I click from blimp to blimp (to blimp to blimp to blimp), searching for the lone rider. I'd like to see where this brave pioneer is going. Finally, I locate the blimp he's on, which is headed for the empty industrial area. I follow it until it lands, then click on the passenger when he disembarks.

Thanks, Todd.

His name is Todd Harvey, an uneducated adult who works at... the blimp stop. The one he just landed at. The only person using the blimp network is a guy who works for the blimp network. It's like opening an expensive new restaurant and your only customer is the waiter. I'm a little disappointed, though Todd seems pretty stoked. As he should be, since he just rode a damn blimp.

Maybe my residents need a bit more encouragement to fly my friendly skies. After all, visiting stores no one works at isn't a draw, and with no industry there are no real jobs to commute to apart from taking tickets at a blimp stop no one visits. Maybe a little excitement is in order? Some razzle-dazzle? I quickly throw together a new district on the far end of the map and tastefully cram every goddamn specialty building the game offers into two square blocks: the giant shopping mall, the sports arena, the aquarium, the massive office towers, and so on. I add another blimp depot and three blimp stops and create new blimp lines between it and the other existing districts. Surely this will get people breathlessly clawing for some blimp rides.

The Everything District. It's got everything. Except cars.

It works! Instead of only Todd Harvey taking a blimp to his blimp-job, there are now a total of nine people in transit. That's a ridership increase of nearly 1000 percent, which would probably look good on a graph or PowerPoint presentation, but in truth it's still only about one rider per twelve blimps. What else could my town use?

Education, I suppose. I'd originally hoped to teach my residents using only the educational messages on the sides of my blimps, but it doesn't work that way. Instead, the blimp messages only boost the speed in which citizens can complete their education at the actual school buildings. So, I suppose I'd better build some real schools. I plop down a cluster of schools in the middle of the map, throw in some more pointlessly winding roads, add yet another blimp line to the residential area, and wait.

That's when disaster strikes.

Not a natural disaster (I've got those disabled) and not a Hindenburg disaster (blimps never explode). A car disaster. I am utterly horrified to suddenly see cars on my roads. Not service vehicles, but citizen-driven cars. They're everywhere. I'm aghast. I whirl my camera around the neighborhood, unable to believe my eyes. My precious blimps still fill the air but have been ignored by the gas-pumping, gear-shifting, double-crossing, four-wheeling heathens. You bastards.

"Fine, you want to drive?" I mutter. "I'll give you all the driving you want." As threats go, it's not a great one, like saying to someone who has asked for a pizza "You want pizza? Here are ten pizzas!" Also, it's worth noting that I'm threatening tiny computer-generated people who can't hear me. But I'm going to make driving, which is already ridiculously time consuming, even more so.

You are breaking my heart.

I create even longer, more-winding roads, effectively doubling drive time. It doesn't seem to matter. Driving still seems to be faster than blimping, and I think I know why. I've added so many additional blimps to the city that they're all lined up, forming what is essentially a traffic jam in the sky. Much as I love seeing blimps filling every last inch of airspace, it's just not an efficient mode of transport.

It's with great sadness I crank the vehicle modifier back down to normal levels. The extra blimps begin returning to the depot where they'll be taken into the back alley, deflated, folded up, and stored in boxes marked EXTRA BLIMPS (I'm assuming this is what you do with extra blimps).

It does seem to help a bit: the number of riders rises to almost 200, and I see more citizens queuing up at the blimp stops than ever before. Still, for a town of almost 4,000 residents, most people seem to prefer driving their cars along long, winding roads that are named with blimp-friendly phrases than actually climbing on a majestic airship. As if to signify my failure, one of the blimp depots catches fire and burns down.

My dream of a blimp-only town is dashed. I suppose people simply love their cars too much to give them up. My head was in the clouds, but their wheels are on the ground.

Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is pretty fantastic, but it's also been out for well over a year and so there must be a reason if you haven't played it by now, right? If that reason happens to be price (which is still hanging in at the $60 mark), then get ready to rub your face in the post-nuclear future, because beginning tomorrow and until May 28, Bethesda is making the game free to play on Steam

The free weekend will kick off at 7 am ET/10 am PT on May 25, and run until 10 am ET/1 pm PT on May 28. During that time, players will have full access to all Fallout 4 base content and mods. And if, when it's all over (or anytime during the freebie), you find yourself hooked, you'll be able to pick up the game and the season pass on sale for up to 67 percent off. Sale pricing will be in place until 7 am ET/10 am PT on May 29. 

Speaking of mods, here's one that vastly improves settlements, here's one that turns your shotgun into a landscaping tool, and here's one that lets you take people hostage and rob them. Hey, the apocalypse is a rough neighborhood.

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Larian Studios puts out Divinity: Original Sin 2 Kickstarter backer updates on a very regular basis, which is great for anyone following along. But update number 37, released today, is more important than most, because buried within it is a link to a video, and in that video is the announcement of a release date: September 14, 2017. 

Naturally, because this is a Larian joint, it's filled with studio boss Swen Vincke talking excitedly about what's happened since the last update, including details about the Early Access release, stretch goal status, and the player's home base, which has changed quite a bit from what was originally planned. The initial idea was to use the Hall of Echoes as the base, but instead players will set up shop in The Lady Vengeance, a large, apparently magical, sailing ship.  

"All the home base functionality that was planned for the halls is there but more importantly, the Lady Vengeance requires no level switching which means you can split the party between home base and another piece of the map. That's much more convenient than having to gather your party and loading a new level. It's also a much better setting for some of the relationship building that we added to the game," the studio explained in the update. "The Hall of Echos is still part of the game—you actually visit it in Act 1 already—we just moved the home base functionality away from it." 

Finally, at the end of a chase through the Larian's own home base, Vincke revealed and discussed the release date. "This is the biggest RPG we've ever made. There's so much stuff in there, I hope you're going to have a tremendous amount of fun. And I hope that we're going to make that date, because we're starting to get tired and we want to get it into your hands," he said. He added that there will be at least one more big patch to the Early Access version prior to the full launch, and said that the studio still has a few more announcements to make too, "at the appropriate time." 

Speaking of Swen, he stopped by PCG HQ a couple of weeks ago to show off Divinity: Original Sin 2's new "Game Master mode," which sounds incredibly promising. Watch it here

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

Let me start off with a disclaimer: I played Playerunknown's Battlegrounds for the very first time yesterday evening. I'm still at that 'terrified of everything stage', which Michael Johnson—the author of our best (and worst) guns guideassures me is normal. To this end I've spent the first few hours of my time on the island confused, scared and getting my hat/level one motorcycle helmet handed to me at almost every turn.

And yet I've loved every minute of it. Despite the hype, I went into PUBG with a degree of trepidation. I'd seen facets of the interwebs compare it to DayZ and while I enjoyed both its Arma 2 mod and standalone variations once upon a time, I wasn't sure I wanted to return to a similarly lawless playground having left both scenes behind quite some time ago. 

Such a popular game is of course hard to ignore and, like Andy, I was pleasantly surprised to see my cynicism trumped by a suitably frantic and fun survival MMO. Unlike Andy, though, I'm at my best when in the thick of it. Well, best is probably a stretch—rather I enjoy the game most when I'm being stalked and/or carelessly unloading my gun's magazine into a brick wall because I'm shite-scared of my own shadow. 

To be fair, my fear isn't rooted in my stark inadequacies as a hunter/survivor. Nor it is it based on how good the opposition invariably is. My terror is based in something far less organic: doors. Let me explain. 

Okay, for those unfamiliar with the setup: each round of PUBG kicks off with up to 100 players being deployed from above. After parachuting into various corners of the map unarmed, you then race to loot whichever buildings are closest, picking up whichever weapons/armour/clothes are at hand before venturing off into the wilderness to lay waste to whoever crosses your path. Last man or woman standing wins. 

Due to the map's impressive sprawl, however, you'll spend stretches of time on your lonesome before happening upon a single hostile neighbour. Was that someone up ahead? No just a tuft of grass. Is that a… no, a burnout car. Wow, that hedge looks like a… BANG. Dead. It was. Shit. 

From what I've played so far, PUBG does a fine job of balancing these spells of isolation with flashes of confrontation—an ever-enclosing playing area helps maintain this as combatants steadily die off, for example—which is in turn underscored by an ever-present, and ever-burgeoning, sense of anxiety. 

Enter the game's seemingly innocuous doors. When each game kicks off, all functioning doors are closed. If you discover an open door on your travels, this can only mean one thing: that someone's been here before you. 

Now, you could obviously avoid these dwellings entirely. But what if there's some decent loot that whoever was last here has overlooked? You step inside. Panic sets in—what if they're in the house right now? You hear footsteps. Your panic escalates. You run upstairs, no one there. You check each room, empty. It's quiet now. You double back, head for the stairs, and despite the fact the mohawk-sporting topless man stood before you has his mouth covered by a gas mask, you know very well he's smiling. 

The shotgun pointed at your head almost feels like a formality—especially when you've accidentally equipped yourself with a smoke bomb instead of the UMP9 you'd kept fully loaded till now. I clearly don't work well under stress. 

I've faced several permutations of the above scenario now, to the point where I'm starting to get fly for it. I chatted with a few players on the PC Gamer Discord after a few games last night who informed me they make a point of closing every door behind them so as to throw other players off their scent during each game. As such, I've now taken to leaving certain doors open and closing others so as to confuse my foes. 

With this in mind, a very similar situation to the above played out where I was instead the hunter. I shut the front door as my counterpart nipped upstairs, whereby, upon returning to the ground floor, she momentarily paused as if to acknowledge something was off. I came at her with a sickle and finished off the job there and then. It was glorious. 

Another occasion saw me camped out in an elongated cabin-like shack with just one door of entry/exit. I shut myself in and positioned myself so that when someone entered, I'd be hidden behind the door. One player did enter. Sucker, I thought to myself, only to realise I was pressed tight against the wall and couldn't move. In a typically frenzied panic, I started firing shotgun rounds at the ceiling, walls and floor. My house guest shot me in the head without breaking stride. It was a disaster. 

And so I guess much of my passion for doors in PUBG is tied to tricking players and successfully setting traps. I'm not yet skilled enough to take on others in head-on gun fights and while that'll inevitably come, I've thoroughly enjoyed surviving in a world where all and nothing is fair. 

Perhaps that closed door up ahead is simply somewhere no one's been to yet, but then again, maybe people like me await your arrival on the other side. Maybe the door lying wide open means the house's been ransacked already, but what if there's a gun or vest or health pack that's been missed? There are few games that have the power to instil anxiety in players and it not come across cheap. Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, even in its earliest of states, is one of them—and it's all the better for it.

Far Cry®

The official Far Cry 5 reveal is still a couple days out, but Ubisoft today released the first full-on promotional image for the game, and it is—to put it mildly—provocative. 

The image depicts a group of heavily-armed, heavily-bearded men, plus one woman and a wolf, positioned in a very Last Supper-like pose around a table festooned with a slightly-modified US flag—crosses instead of stars—and with a vaguely menacing messiah figure at the center. There are guns and ammo all around, of course, and a badly-beaten man sitting in front, his hands bound and the word "Sinner" scrawled across his back.   

Bringing the series to America in what appears to be a very believable context of religious extremism and right-wing survivalists is a bold move. Previous Far Cry games have been set in remote locales crawling with fictional villains (and even mutants at one point—how far it's all come) and were easy to dismiss as pleasantly distant and fully fictional. That may not be so easy with Far Cry 5, which is bound to upset some people—although I think it's the most interesting thing Ubisoft has done with the series since Far Cry 2. 

The Far Cry 5 full reveal is set to take place on May 26. Have a look at the full art below.

PC Gamer

Photo credit: Riot Games

The whole point of esports, presumably, is to win. That’s why they set up the massive arenas and stadiums, lay out stages, set up teams, bring players out, and have them go against each other. They don’t make the trophies, rings, and medals for fun! They’re to celebrate the best and brightest of League of Legends. Let’s not even get started on the increasingly large prize pots. The point of League of Legends is to win, but how is it possible to win too much?Meet SK Telecom T1. The Korean titans are seemingly unstoppable, especially after picking up another Mid-Season Invitational win. They’ve picked up wins in the Korean region, the last two MSIs, and three World Championships. As we barrel through Summer and towards Worlds, they seem poised to pick up a fourth. It’s enough to drive some fans mad, and it’s starting a discussion about whether it’s possible for one team’s domination to lead to a stagnant scene overall.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Unbroken ground

SKT’s wins are impressive at face value, but it's important to underline just how unprecedented it is. No other team has approached this level of dominance. They’ve won half of all World Championship titles to date. They’ve lost players (although Faker remains the crown jewel of their lineup), they’ve had new challengers approach, and they had one year since season two where they dropped the ball. This is something that is impossible to achieve with luck: this is all skill, hard work, dedication, and determination.

Not only is this a meritocratic accomplishment, but SKT T1 being so good has given us some incredible series over the years. They raise the bar merely by existing, and even if other teams can’t win, their attempts are legendary to watch. ROX Tigers against SKT T1 was an extraordinary series to watch live, and it’ll go down in legend. The new KT superteam built to take down SKT have given us some great games. SKT’s existence raise the quality of League games as a whole. This is the main, and most convincing argument, as to why their constant victories are a good thing, and they must be noted before we address the opposite side of the argument. That’s because there is no logical counterargument. Every problem SKT has produced seems to come from the emotional side of the League fandom.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Gutpunches 

There comes a point where it’s painful to see the teams you’ve fallen in love with run into the SKT meatgrinder. The ROX Tigers struggled, throwing themselves against SKT, and finally succeeding in the LCK. They headed to Worlds as summer LCK champions, and they seemed poised to win in the semifinals. Their Miss Fortune support threw SKT off balance, and for once, SKT looked mad and scared.

And then SKT won anyway.

Imagine you watched a Disney movie where a plucky band of heroes came together and played against the preppy team of unstoppable rich kids, and in the finale, the rich kids won. Okay, in fairness to SKT, they seem like a bunch of really nice young men, and not at all like Disney villains... but when you see them win again, and again, and again, it gets to you. The ROX Tigers ended up disbanding, spreading to the winds. They couldn’t beat SKT, and then they disbanded. It’s a sad fate for a team who talked about each other like family. 

Samsung Galaxy also had a fascinating, emotionally compelling story. They had fought their way down from the lower rankings of the Korean bracket, a team of players who slowly built synergy and scraped their way into Worlds and then made it all the way to the finals. They even fought SKT to five games after losing the first two in a stomp. Samsung Galaxy fought valiantly, Samsung Galaxy fought honorably, and Samsung Galaxy also fell to SKT.

At this point, fans don’t even bother mustering hope for an underdog like G2 Esports. We’re just happy it wasn’t a slaughter.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Changing the standard 

If we agree that the point of League of Legends is to win, and that teams should be focused on winning, and there’s only one team that has a viable chance of winning every time they enter the arena, it shifts the discussion around the event. Every series with SKT becomes “this team made Gods bleed” or “drew blood against legends”. The narrative, and the way that we talk about games, warps when exposed to the gravity well of SKT.

On one hand, they’ve earned this level of respect. A team like SKT likely will not enter League for the rest of the game’s lifespan. On the other hand, it can become stifling, and we see great stories buried under the same tale again and again. Fans who are watching solely for the spectacle of great games are pleased, but it’s lonely at the top, and SKT’s eternity in the limelight has created a legion of fans who are actively rooting against them.

Status quo 

Maybe Riot are aware of this. After all, the new international tournament, Rift Rivals, creates multiple battlegrounds. SKT will still be competing in the Korea, China, and Taiwan Rift Rivals tournament, but other regions will be given their own arenas. Maybe more international competition, even if Korea isn’t in the mix, will allow other regions to grow and challenge SKT’s iron grasp on every League championship they can contend for.

Or, just maybe, it’s time for us to stop worrying and love SKT. Huni and Peanut have both brought a healthy dose of pure likability to SKT’s roster, and it was downright adorable watching Bang on stage accepting his award from Ronaldo at the MSI. We’re living in the era of legends—perhaps it’s simply time to sit back and enjoy it.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve has just announced its Counter-Strike: Global Offensive 'Operation Hydra' event, which will take place on a weekly basis until September. These events will feature "twists on the classic game rules", and will play out on new maps across both casual and competitive.

These events will mostly involve the aforementioned "twists". For example, Wingman, is a 2v2 best-of-16 format, while Weapons Expert is a 5v5 best-of-30 match where the player can only purchase a weapon once. Other varieties come in the form of War Games, which includes Heavy Assault Suit – a bomb defusal round with the added twist that one player is wearing heavy armor. 

Meanwhile, Headshots Only is a War Game which does what it says on the tin; Hunters-Gatherers is a mode where each player drops a dogtag on death, which can be collected to win the game, and Stab Stab Zap involves only a knife, a recharging Zeus and grenades. There are more War Games, detailed over here.

Of course, you can buy an "all access" pass for $5.99 (US), which boosts the XP you earn, while also adding a new Guardian campaign where you and a friend play through a series of missions where, at a hunch, enemies will need to be shot. There are also the usual range of new weapon skins, cases and more. The full rundown can be read over here.

EVE Online

You can’t put a price on friendship, unless your name is Samantha Myth, in which case a friendship is worth just shy of 300 billion ISK. For 16 months, Samantha pretended to be a member of the Amamake Police, a group of EVE Online’s most elite pirates. He fought and bled beside them, gained their trust and friendship, and, just when the moment was right, betrayed them. A 300 billion ISK reward isn’t great for 16 months of work, but Samantha didn’t do it for the money. He did it for the story.

Last week, Tikktokk Tokkzikk, one of the most notable members of the Amamake Police, logged in and a friend immediately messaged him.

“Is this a joke?” They wrote and linked to a Reddit thread. In that thread, Samantha Myth detailed his elaborate heist, how he exploited Tikktokk’s trust and had stolen his pride and joy, a one of a kind ship that Tikktokk had become famous for piloting. And everyone in EVE found out before he did.

“Honestly, at that moment, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not,” Tikktokk tells me. “For us, something like this is just unthinkable.” 

Dogs of war 

The Amamake Police aren’t your regular band of savage criminals. They are combat junkies—unrivalled warriors chasing the elusive high of combat. Death in EVE Online is a whole lot more than a slap on the wrist like in other MMOs. When your ship explodes, it’s gone for good. Months of work can evaporate in the resounding blast of a heavy assault missile. That’s why so many new pilots experience ‘the shakes’ the first time they find themselves locked in combat. And the Amamake Police chase that feeling to the extreme. If adrenaline is their drug, then Alliance Tournament ships are the needle. “A lot of people are very risk-averse and will try to fly as cheap as possible, and we’re the opposite. We try to fly as expensive as possible just for the hell of it,” Tikktokk explains. “We are just a group of friends who have played together for several years, and we trust each other.” 

When a team of pilots wins the Alliance Tournament—EVE’s world championships for PvP—their prize is a fleet of 50 Alliance Tournament (AT) ships, one of a kind frigates and cruisers that will never be manufactured again. These ships are a symbol of a pilot’s skill on the battlefield, but they’re also like a collector’s item, with players happily buying them from the winning team for hundreds of billions of ISK each. They’re so rare, even EVE’s devastating supercapital Titans cost less. The Amamake Police don’t just collect them to keep in their hangars as a trophy, however. They fly them in combat, like driving a ‘67 Camaro in a demolition derby. “I’ve been chasing that high for a while,” Tikktokk confesses. “I’ve been slowly upgrading my ship to more expensive stuff just to get the shakes.

The Chremoas is replaceable, but the killmarks, they re very unique. I was so proud of those. I had 400 kills with that ship that I ve survived.

Tikktokk

Tikktokk’s AT ship, a Chremoas frigate, was remarkable for another reason entirely: It has over 400 killmarks on it. Introduced to EVE two years ago, killmarks are a visible tally of total number of killing blows a vessel had delivered over its lifetime. Having a few killmarks on a ship is pretty common, a hundred is plausible—but 400 and on an extremely rare ship like an AT frigate? Tikktokk’s Chremoas is nothing short of legendary. “The Chremoas is replaceable, but the killmarks, they’re very unique,” Tikktokk tells me. “I was so proud of those. I had 400 kills with that ship that I’ve survived.”

As Samantha explains in his Reddit thread, he was attracted to these expensive ships and dreamed of stealing one. Over 16 months ago, he parked a relatively cheap Keres, an electronic warfare frigate that can jam enemy ships, in Amamake and waited for his opportunity to make an introduction. After a week, Samantha got his chance when another Amamake Police pilot, Casper24, came asking in a public chat channel for comrades to help him take down a rival gang. “I swiftly piped up ‘My Keres is at your command good sir,’ Samantha writes. “Good fights ensued and I was in! I was in the big boys club!” 

Having 400 killmarks (the glowing symbols just below the crest) on any ship let alone a frigate is almost unprecedented.

How to lose friends 

A month later, and Samantha reached the inner circle of Amamake Police by providing intel that was instrumental in bringing down a rival’s AT ship—a staggering 130 billion ISK loss. “From that point I was no longer just a random pubbie, I was a King Of Lamaa, an Officer of the Amamake PD,” Samantha writes.

Now that he was in, it was time to begin working on the heist. As Tikktokk mentions, the Amamake Police are a tightknit group who trust one another completely. As Samantha explains, that bond runs so deep that Amamake Police pilots trade their AT ships around like a “cheap joint.” But in order to get an AT ship, protocol required giving one in turn.

I then did probably the scariest thing I have ever done in my EVE career. I traded Tikktokk Tokkzikk my shiny new Whiptail and asked for nothing in return."

Samantha Myth

In an email, Samantha tells me that he pretended to save up for several months to afford one, but in actuality had a “trust fund” from a previous scam that he used to purchase a 90 billion ISK Whiptail. With an AT frigate to call his own, Samantha’s next move was a stroke of genius. “I then did probably the scariest thing I have ever done in my EVE career,” he writes. “I traded Tikktokk Tokkzikk my shiny new Whiptail and asked for nothing in return, breaking the trend of mutual trades.” 

Samantha’s gambit worked. Tikktokk borrowed the ship and common courtesy now dictated that he repay the favor in kind. A few weeks later, after Tikktokk returned the Whiptail, Samantha asked to borrow his legendary Chremoas. “The contract went up and I had my rental Chremoas for the next week,” Samantha writes.

Casper's Imp didn't have as many killmarks, but the hull is just as rare as the Chremoas.

Then two days later, he decided to see how far he could exploit that trust. “I was hanging out in Amamake with Casper24 and the rest of the gang, I decided to push my luck asking if I could [borrow his] Imp [another, equally expensive AT frigate].”

Casper parted with the ship without demanding another AT frigate of equal value, believing that he could trust Samantha to take good care of it. Then Samantha took it even further, asking another Amamake Police pilot to borrow their jump freighter, a massive and very expensive hauler that can travel between systems without using a stargate. Hours later, he was safely docked up in EVE’s largest trade hub, Jita, with 300 billion ISK worth of ships.

“Mission accomplished.”

It wasn’t until Thursday that Tikktokk realized he would likely never see his baby again. Despite some kind words that Samantha left, the betrayal stung. “I actually didn’t even think about the Chremoas at the time,” he tells me. “I was just sad about losing a friendship. This guy had been flying with me for 16 months, and he’s probably the guy I’ve flown most with in the past year or so. He’s one of the few people who I actually really enjoyed playing with, we shared the same style. I like to do really silly stuff and I quickly get bored, so I move from activity from activity. He shared that passion, or pretended to—I don’t know anymore.” 

It’s hard not to sympathize with him, either. While some scams are for revenge, and others offer lucrative payouts, Samantha’s 300 billion ISK haul is rather underwhelming for the 16 months of effort. While the EVE community appears to appreciate the dedication to the con, it’s evident that Tikktokk’s loss struck a nerve.

“This is the saddest Eve thing I've ever read,” writes MephMitchell on Reddit. “He traded fun in EVE with a good group of people for five minutes of EVE fame.”

It’s here where the normal EVE scam story would end. But, despite being hardened killers, Tikktokk and the Amamake Police’s devotion to the art of war inspire respect from the EVE community. As I was writing this story, Tikktokk messaged me to give me an update. 

A few good men 

Days after Samantha’s heist, Tikktokk was saddened to see his Chremoas and Casper24’s Imp for sale on the EVE forums. At the price Samantha was asking, and with the comments filling up with bidders, it seemed like all hope was lost. That’s when Casper24 reached out to Chribba, EVE’s most trustworthy trade broker, who agreed to start a fundraising campaign to help Tikktokk get his ship back. Then, on the final day of the campaign, the Chremoas was sold off to a random bidder.

Tikktokk was positive he’d never see it again until he got a message from a random stranger named Kobald Simbian who had just bought his Chremoas with 400 killmarks on it. Perhaps one of the few good people in EVE, Kobald offered to trade Tikktokk his old Chremoas back in exchange for another one. With the money Chribba and Casper had raised, a new Chremoas was bought off the market and after a trade, Tikktokk was back in possession of his prized ship.

“Samantha Myth has shown me the dangers of trust, but also the power of friendship,” Tikktokk writes in a Reddit post updating everyone on the situation. “Long term friends can stab you in the back at any moment without reason or consequences. At the same time, those who have the opportunity to, but choose not, have proven [themselves] to be true friends who I hope to keep in contact with long after EVE Online shuts down.”

I ask Tikktokk if he’ll ever lend out that Chremoas again. “I probably won’t be giving it out,” he laughs. “But that’s not so much about the fear of losing the ship, but fear of losing another friend. That’s what affected me the most.” 

Samantha Myth has shown me the dangers of trust, but also the power of friendship."

Tikktokk

I messaged Samantha Myth to see how he feels about everything. “I would like to say that we could still be friends,” he responds. “He is a guy that sees EVE how I see it, as the most complex game of chess in the world. You make enemies on the chess board, but the best players (and he is one of the best players) are able to stand up from it and shake hands after all is said and done, no matter what happened on the board.”

Tikktokk tells me that while he might not harbor a personal grudge against Samantha, it’ll be a cold day in hell before he ever calls him a friend. “You can scam people, we don’t really mind that. But if you scam your friends, don’t expect people to be happy about it.” 

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