Duelyst is a damned good card game. In fact, there's an argument for it being better than Hearthstone, the behemoth that helped inspire it. Since its release last year developer Counterplay Games has dealt regular expansions to players, and next month's one is a biggie. It's adding 100+ cards, but perhaps more importantly there's a new crop of Generals, cards that are at the core of every deck.

The six Generals will be the first to arrive in the game since launch. You can take a sneak peek at them here: they have cool names like Shidai Stormblossom and Maehv Skinsolder and their bloodbound spells (basically unique abilities) range from stunning nearby enemy minions to summoning a Ripper Egg.

As for the 100+ new cards, Counterplay isn't giving much away yet. There's also the promise of "new game mechanics" but again, no detail. 

The Immortal Vanguard expansion, as its called, will arrive "mid-November". If you haven't checked out Duelyst yet, it's free-to-play on Steam. Here's Tom's glowing review.

Dota 2

It was the middle of a Monday afternoon when Marco Cuesta, co-founder of the blockchain esports platform FirstBlood, gave me a call. After plenty of jargon and esports talk had been thrown around, Cuesta's vision for FirstBlood was clear: The future of esports, he says, is one where high-quality competition and rewards systems are made available to everyone, not just professional gamers, and FirstBlood is going to help bridge that gap. But whether or not blockchain technology and cryptocurrency will really help usher in this new era is not so clear.

What is blockchain, and how can esports benefit from it? 

Blockchain is basically a decentralized network that's powered by peer-to-peer communications and transactions. If you're a fan of HBO's Silicon Valley, think of what Richard Hendricks was trying to accomplish with a decentralized internet—it's similar, but different. Instead of having companies maintain everything on a few servers, entire groups of people can interact with each other on a "block" that records data and transactions specifically for those people. Once the interactions are complete, the data is recorded for as long as the network exists, and the next "block" on the "chain" is created after a new set of interactions begins. You can think of each block as a unique page in an ongoing ledger.

FirstBlood takes advantage of blockchain by offering a "juror" system that allows people to review the results of a match if they're disputed.

A big draw of blockchain is the use of encrypted currency, or "cryptocurrency". This is a type of digital currency that's usually invented by a company or organization for its customers or users. What makes cryptocurrency secure is a process called "mining". As defined by Digital Trends, "Mining uses algorithms to go through each transaction, encrypt the cryptocurrency, and add it to a digital ledger, essentially verifying it and cementing its position online." The currency is visible to everyone on a specific block, so it's virtually impossible to counterfeit. 

Esports and blockchain intersect in uncharted and untested waters. While the benefits of this relationship need time to fully manifest, there are a couple of topics we can discuss with some certainty right now. The first is security. Blockchain-based platforms aren't vulnerable to DDoS attacks, which are annoying to users and can cost companies a ton of money to clear up. Since blockchain replaces centralized servers with distributed systems of thousands of nodes, there's no single target for a DDoS attacker to hit.

The second is more pertinent to esports: the need for better scoring systems. Nothing's worse than losing a match due to lag or some other anomaly that was either out of your control, or abused by your opponent. One way that FirstBlood takes advantage of blockchain is by offering a "juror" system that allows people to review the results of a match if they're disputed, and adjust the outcomes accordingly. 

So what is FirstBlood?

In the simplest of explanations, FirstBlood is an app that syncs up with your Steam account, allowing you to compete against other players on a ladder for in-game rewards. Only Dota 2 is supported right now, but more games will be added down the road. Once the competition window is live, FirstBlood tells competitors which in-game custom lobby to join. They risk tokens (FirstBlood cryptocurrency) on themselves, play the match, and the winner walks away with the tokens. The more you win, the more you can compete, and the leaders win items that have real monetary value. It's still in beta right now, and while I can tell you that the ladder rankings have been fluctuating, FirstBlood could not provide user numbers at the time this article was published.

FirstBlood also wants to break more into the professional level of esports. The company already has its feet wet in that regard with Dota 2 thanks to BITS (Blood in the Streets) EU, a tournament the company hosted back in June. Some big names including Team Singularity, Danish Bears, and Gambit Esports fought for their piece of a $5,000 prize pool in front of Twitch audiences that capped at about 3,500 viewers per match. While these numbers aren't a whole lot to write home about, if nothing else, it tells us that blockchain is up to the challenge of hosting significant events down the road. BITS Americas is currently being planned for next month in early November.

Most recently, and perhaps most significantly, FirstBlood partnered with the China General Administration of Sport to host the China University Esports League (CUEL), in which players from thousands of universities compete in each year. If successful, it could be a very big step for the integration of blockchain technology into the esports industry. 

Though these tournaments and partnerships are great for blockchain, it's still a very new and unproven technology in the gaming world. Even in the business world, where blockchain is most popular, analysts suggest that companies be wary of how they utilize this technology.

"Blockchain won't be a competitive differentiator," according to an article by Forbes. "It's an eventual commodity function that will be embedded in every organization's processes where it's needed most. The differentiation will be in how companies use blockchain for competitive advantage." 

The burden on blockchain esports platforms to establish what that competitive advantage is seems hefty. Think about a game like Overwatch for a minute. There's already a built-in ladder, as well as a reward system that's easy to engage with. It's simple, you don't need to constantly win to earn rewards, and your rolling stats are saved to your player profile after you're done playing a match. Blizzard even uses the regional Skill Rating system as a measure of one's worth to Overwatch esports. This isn't unique to Overwatch, either. It would seem as though the highest skilled players would prefer to stick with the in-game ladder for practical and professional reasons rather than compete on another platform, and casual gamers wouldn't have the need for anything beyond what the game already gives them.

There are quite a few possibilities for blockchain in esports, but the real question is whether or not the technology is in a unique position to help the esports industry evolve. There are plenty of companies out there that have some sort of technology aimed at improving or advancing competitive gaming. Some of them tweak latency, some of them have special products, and some even track your stats to give you a tailored path to improvement. Most, if not all, even host their own tournaments with the help of various sponsors. The addition of cryptocurrency is a nice touch if you're into that sort of reward system, but it's difficult to say whether or not the enhanced security and other amenities of blockchain will have a meaningful impact on esports in the long run.

The fact remains that the future of esports is one where the professional product exists alongside similar experiences for players and fans of all levels. In a sense, as certain esports leagues begin to adopt franchised structures to help pull the industry into local ecosystems, other evolutions need to occur at the casual level to propel esports to a visible space within mainstream culture. It may or may not be blockchain that brings about that change, but companies like FirstBlood are ensuring that progress never stops.

Stardew Valley

The Switch release of Stardew Valley has filled my house with that endless, plucky music again. I tried to resist it, but watching all that sick parsnip growing action eventually drew me to my PC to give Stardew my first real go. I played it a bit when it came out, but not long enough to build up a proper farm. 20 hours in now, I am the mayonnaise king.

I've accepted that I'm a bad PUBG player, in part because I'm too focused on getting stuff and not enough on not dying, so it's an appropriate break—all I'm doing in Stardew is getting stuff. A chicken coop. Some chickens. A mayonnaise machine. More chickens. More mayonnaise. An endless stream of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise for everyone in town. My backpack isn't big enough to hold all this mayonnaise. See? It's basically the same game: just like in PUBG, I need to find a new backpack as soon as possible. Except for mayonnaise. It's much more pleasant.

What are you playing this weekend, or whenever you have an evening to play? Let us know in the comments! I've been tempted to play Shadow of War, as well, but I'm worried I'll go looking for, but will never find, a story as good as Tim's. I'll probably recruit a few PC Gamer Club members to play some Rocket League, too, if I'm not too busy handling all this mayonnaise while half-watching a hockey game. 


When T.J. tried it out Early Access RTS Northgard in February he enjoyed the Viking theme and the Age of Empires-style combat—and the game has come a long way since then. Developer Shiro Games has pushed out regular updates, the latest of which adds a new faction to the game called the Kobolds, as well as fresh resource tiles and a mystical hawk that will scout the map for you.

The Kobold will set up camp at various points in the map near precious resources. They're neutral but they'll protect that loot with their life. So, you can set up trade routes with them or, if you're feeling brave, confront them head on and try to wipe them out. But they're tough to beat, and if you do overcome them you won't be able to trade with them in future, naturally. At first glance, it's a neat dynamic.

The update also adds new tiles for the map, namely geysers, lakes and Thor’s Wrath. Lakes are choc full of fish to keep your clan nourished while geysers grant happiness (because you can relax around them), as well as heat that will reduce resource consumption in the winter. Claiming Thor's Wrath will please the hammer-wielding god of thunder, granting you an attack boost.

The last major addition is Vedrfolnir, a hawk that you'll find hidden somewhere on the map. It's hurt, but if you nurse it to full health it will scout the map for you, revealing new areas.

Shiro Games has made smaller changes too: you'll now receive a notification whenever your units enter a fight, for example. The full list of tweaks is in the patch notes.

Half-Life 2

A Half-Life 2 mod released this week adds locations, characters and story beats that Valve cut from the original game. Dark Interval takes all the tidbits of information we know about drafts of the genre-defining FPS and stitches them together into a standalone game. 

This week's release is just part one of the overall project, containing 11 levels in total including a revamped prologue, a reworked Kleiner's Lab section and a new locale called Manhack Arcade, where the player sees citizens of City 17 remotely piloting Manhacks (those annoying flying robots with twirling blades) to kill fugitives in the city.

The development team have filled in some of the gaps too, adding their own original work. "Dark Interval doesn't include original levels found in the 'leaked' version of Half-Life 2, and instead features brand new maps which were built from the ground up. It was decided that this was the only way to make them both stand out and be actually modern and not just modernised fix-ups," the creators said.

You don't need a copy of Half-Life 2 or any of its episodes to play Dark Interval, but you will need to download Source SDK Base 2013 Singleplayer, which is readily available in the 'Tools' section of Steam. Dark Interval can be downloaded here—that page has all the instructions you'll need to get it running. 

Here's some more screenshots from the mod:

Cheers, DSO Gaming.

World of Mixed Martial Arts 3

Professional wrestling is a bit like Santa Claus, in that when you're young you believe in all the magic but when you grow up you realize it's all lies. But unlike finding out Saint Nicholas is a sham, which crushes you and forever scars your sense of wonder, finding out wrestling is all choreography and theatrics actually unlocks a whole other dimension to what makes it exciting. 

Knowing it's pre-determined allows you to really engage with how much goes into putting on a good show, from the performers to the storylines and everything in between. You can see the athleticism that makes up the big spots, the sense of character and delivery in a great promo, and the deft narrative hand that drives a compelling and nuanced rivalry.

Wrestling videogames have often been aimed toward the younger fans and focused on the in-ring action and backstage antics as they'd be shown on an episode of WWE. Almost none of them skew toward the older audience who know how the medium works and for whom the real fantasy would be operating a promotion of their own. 

The Extreme Warfare games felt purpose-made for the more discerning fan, and the fact they were free allowed them to spread far and wide.

Almost none. One series has, over the last 20 years and over half-a-dozen iterations, become the de-facto wrestling management sim: Total Extreme Wrestling.

Created by Adam Ryland, it's a wrestling game that places players in control of their own federation. Entirely menu-based, Total Extreme Wrestling involves managing every aspect of a wrestling company, from writing and booking storylines to hiring and firing staff. You negotiate TV deals, handle press, schedule tours, and micro-manage your roster's gimmicks to make sure everyone's happy and comfortable.

And just like some of the biggest stars in pro wrestling history, its existence was a happy accident. "It was originally just something for me to practice programming with, then I did it as an A-level project at college," Ryland tells me. "I put it online for a few friends and it ended up becoming huge. There was never any plan for it to become a major game or to lead anywhere."

Originally called Extreme Warfare, the game spread quickly among the forums and message boards of the mid-to-late-90s. At that point it was really just selecting match winners along with some accounting elements but, though it was basic, fans responded to this alternative take on what a wrestling game could be. Gradually the series grew, developing a more comprehensive representation of the wrestling landscape and greater mechanical depth.

Players could soon work on the popularity of wrestlers, individual contract negotiations and feuds, and plan a calendar of different sized events to further emulate the differing capacities companies can operate in, all with the tongue-in-cheek humor of the industry and its audience. The Extreme Warfare games felt purpose-made for the more discerning fan, and the fact they were free allowed them to spread far and wide.

...the wrestling industry is often very unpredictable, and programming all the ways it can disobey logic has been a constant concern.

From 1995 to 2003, Ryland kept Extreme Warfare updated more-or-less by himself, keeping up with player queries and patching as needed while he worked a day job. Then he was scouted by Grey Dog Studio, at the time named .400 Software, to turn the game into a full-time gig. "There were a lot of fans talking about Extreme Warfare Revenge [the 2002 release] on their forums which got their attention, and as my games fit perfectly with their existing product line and branding they got in touch and asked me if I'd like to join," he explains. "The timing was perfect as I had been working as an editor and the company I was employed by had literally just gone bust a few weeks earlier, so it was a case of the right opportunity at the right time."

This allowed the series to really expand and explore its potential, starting with Total Extreme Wrestling 2005, the first installment under the Grey Dog banner. Also the first to be a paid-for product, all real-life names and likenesses were replaced with pseudonyms, like the Pro Evolution Soccer series. An editor was added so players could create their own mods (and to offset the disgruntlement at the built-in data no longer reflecting real wrestlers).

Major territories outside America were now playable, such as Japan, Mexico and the UK, match read-outs increased and the AI for rival promotions became more robust, making campaigns more competitive and intricate. But with all this new information came a recurring problem: the wrestling industry is often very unpredictable, and programming all the ways it can disobey logic has been a constant concern.

Characters' career arcs can be a problem for the simulation. "Wrestlers on tiny local shows may be working for free, or no more than a few dollars, whereas you've got guys making huge amounts of money on the big shows," He said. "Unlike real sports, where you'd have a huge gulf between the two, there's not really that sort of split in wrestling—guys can go from wrestling in bingo halls to being major players in a very short space of time. So that sort of scaling is a real issue and is something that has to involve a lot of workarounds and compromises to simulate in any way."

As you might imagine, working on a single venture like this for two decades can be draining, so a few years ago Ryland decided to turn his hand to something slightly different. The World of Mixed Martial Arts series was born. It used the same skeleton as its wrestling counter-part, just modified for the ins and outs of professional mixed martial arts. It favored more straight simulation, since the competitors succeed more on skill, and there's an added emphasis on what happens in each individual fight.   

Working on this new series, the fifth of which is set for release early next year, allowed Adam to stretch muscles he hadn't worked on as much previously. That in turn improved his games as a whole. "I definitely think that one of the reasons that the TEW series has taken a big leap forward is precisely because WMMA came along and shook things up for me," He says. "Doing the WMMA fight engine is actually one of my favorite things, as it's a much more pure simulation task than TEW, and that's where my personal preference lies."

Despite having two successful, ongoing series under his belt that have conquered their own niches and a career that's lasted longer than most studios, Adam doesn't have a lot to say about how he's managed to remain an indie developer for so long. He's largely kept busy by the demands of Grey Dog and their audience, unaffected by wider trends in the videogame industry. 

That said, the one piece of advice he can give for anyone planning on taking on a long-term project like Total Extreme Wrestling is to remember the importance of evolution.

"People always talk about the 'Madden effect' when some games do an annual update where nothing really changes other than a roster update," he says, "and I think the fact that we've done the exact opposite and always looked to make each iteration significantly better than the previous has helped keep people interested and engaged."


Every week, we ask our panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. This week: which old PC game do you revisit regularly? We also welcome your answers in the comments. 

James Davenport: Portal/Portal 2

I can't count the times I've played through Portal and Portal 2. With over 100 hours clocked in each, I'm an amateur speedrunner at this point. I treat every puzzle like a choreographed dance, a nearly unconscious performance that to any observer unfamiliar with the series makes me look like the master of all time and space. Because the Portal series is a game about momentum—you're always anticipating the resulting arc of a 'toss' of your body after leaping from a given height far above one portal—it's become my new way to skip rocks without a pond. Except these rocks tell jokes. And the rocks are always funny. 

Andy Kelly: Broken Sword

I've replayed the first Broken Sword more than any other game. There's an element of nostalgia to it, as it was one of the first games I really loved. But it's also a great adventure game in its own right, with an atmosphere you can get lost in and a genuinely funny script. There are TV shows and films I watch repeatedly because there's something comforting about the familiarity, and Broken Sword is the videogame equivalent of that for me. I know all the puzzle solutions, but I still enjoy reliving that mystery and travelling the world as amateur detective George Stobbart.

Chris Livingston: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I still jump into Oblivion a few times a year. When I do it's often for a specific reason, like to test a mod or write a quick diary for the site (like finding the ugliest NPC or trying to poison everyone with apples) but I always stay a while longer since I still enjoy the game and the world. It's the first Bethesda RPG I ever played, and while it's not much in the looks department (and never really was) it's still one of the best examples of a free and open world where you can do whatever you like, be whoever you want, and tell your own stories.

Tyler Wilde: Quake II

I've played hundreds of hours of Quake 2 multiplayer—CTF, Action Quake 2, Rocket Arena—but I don't think I've ever finished the campaign. Even so, at least once a year I spend an hour getting Quake 2 to launch without crashing to play through the first level. I think I just like hearing the sound effects, which deserve credit for how weird they are. They Quake 2 blaster doesn't sound like any other game's energy pistol, picking up armor sounds like someone chomping down on a bunch of screws, and the Strogg are just bizarre—clipped, blown out, grossly-distorted. The way unique scents can bring back memories, these sound effects do it for me. Now please enjoy a song someone tried to make using the echoey menu sound effects.

Wes Fenlon: NetHack

On-and-off for the past year I've been playing NetHack, which was first released in 1987. NetHack is actually older than me, although it's been updated as recently as 2015. I can't claim nostalgia, here, or some deep childhood bond with roguelikes. I never played Rogue and only played NetHack for the first time a couple years ago. But it's now a regular part of my gaming life, and even when I take breaks from it I'm thinking about my last run. What kind of scrolls I could've written if my blessed magic marker hadn't run out of juice; how unlucky I got rubbing a lamp and spawning a genie who didn't give me a wish; how lucky I was to find an adventurer's corpse wearing dragon scale mail, a key piece of armor that can reflect instakill magic attacks. I've never beaten NetHack, and I don't know if I ever will, but when I play I'm constantly in awe of how broad and deep it is. Last time my pet cat got turned into a magic brain-sucking floating jellyfish, and then turned into a chameleon. NetHack is weird.

Tim Clark: Hearthstone (obviously)

To the surprise of nobody, I play varying amounts of Hearthstone every single day, and have done for three years. During the doldrums between expansions, I just log in and crank out the daily quest to keep my in-game Gold top. But when a new set launches, and I've got a deck I'm really feeling on the go, I might play for as much as a couple of hours a day. The thing with any mulitplayer game, though, is that I feel the serotonin rush of winning acutely, so I find myself Jonesing for that buzz if I stop playing. Equally, the tilt from losing what can feel like unfairly can really sour my mood. So for both reasons I end up rationing my play in a way that I wouldn't with a big single-player game like The Witcher III. Right now I can't envisage a time when I ever stop playing it completely though. Which is both comforting and kinda scary.

Samuel Roberts: Shadows of the Empire

I put Shadows of the Empire in my list of the worst Star Wars games a few months ago, and I'm still sure that was the right call. You sometimes have this weird thing as a critic where something you like is clearly not very good, and you have to call it as such, even if you've got a real soft spot for it personally. This is one of those games. Shadows of the Empire is obviously a pretty bad third-person shooter that made slightly more sense on the N64, and yet I've played the PC version so many times. I'm not sure I could recommend it to anyone but those who played it at the time, though.

I still love it. I played it yesterday, and the opening Battle of Hoth level is still one of the best ever put in a game—and there have been a whole bunch of them now across consoles and PC, almost all of which look better than this. The sound and feel of everything, from the scale of the walkers to the way snowspeeders handle, just feels spot on. On foot, Shadows of the Empire is never as good, but for a Star Wars-starved '90s, playing an original story set between Episodes V and VI was a treat, even if Dash Rendar is a mildly ludicrous figure. I even had the Micro Machines set. 

Divinity: Original Sin 2

Larian Studios, the maker of the outstanding fantasy RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2, took a moment today to tease something on Twitter. Something "wicked."

And that's it—no follow-ups, and no response to replies. Naturally, speculation abounds. Something wicked—a wicked witch, which sounds a lot like the Switch? Possibly, although I'm not sure what an apple would have to do with it. (Not that apples and witches don't have a sordid history, but that's a different story altogether.) Perhaps a Mac version is coming? Or it's something to do with Ray Bradbury? That seems even less likely. The man's been dead for years.

It's possible that Larian is working on a Halloween event of some sort, those are quite popular at this time of year. But you can already play the game as a literal skeleton, so how they'd Halloween that up even further, I couldn't even begin to guess. Or maybe it's just an expansion, or some other kind of DLC. I reached out to a studio rep for more information, but alas, it was not forthcoming.    

When we do find out what's going on, we'll let you know. In the meantime, enjoy some of our best Divinity: Original Sin 2 stories, including Wes' tale about making a pig explode and the time Fraser killed a guy who was just trying to help. 

PC Gamer

I respect a sim that doesn't skip steps. I don't always enjoy a sim that doesn't skip steps, but I respect it. Gold Rush: The Game doesn't skip steps.

As its name implies, Gold Rush: The Game is a game. It's also about mining for gold, not in some cartoony Minecraft-esque fashion but in a realistic sandbox simulation. And this Early Access sim strives for that sort of extensive realism the best sims have. You don't simply tap a key to get into your truck and drive. You open the door and climb in, start the engine, deactivate the parking brake, and—this is so important the game will constantly remind you of it—disable the differential lock while driving on asphalt.

You don't just rent or buy a claim from the menu, you drive to the bank, park your truck, turn off the engine, apply the parking brake, get out, and physically walk over to the building. You don't just pick mining equipment off a list, you drive to a warehouse, walk around it, pick out the items you want off the shelves, go to the cashier, pay for them, then go outside and load each item, one by one, into the back of your truck. 

Perhaps you do this a bit clumsily.

I drive along dirt roads and a few paved ones (always disabling the differential lock) and finally arrive at the claim I've rented. I park and unload the gear I've bought: the Hog Pan (pumpless), the Hog Pan Sluicebox Core, two Hog Pan mats, and a bucket. Once various Hog gear is on the ground, I walk around the claim for about ten minutes until I discover the mining area is actually in one small spot at the edge, so I reload all my gear, drive over, park, and unload everything again. I set up my Hog stuff and excitedly prepare to discover my weight in gold. What I really discover is a lot of digging.

Gold Rush doesn't skimp on the digging.

It's pretty cool that while you're spending long minutes digging shovelfuls of dirt into a Hog that the ground really warps and deforms. I even slid into the hole I was digging at one point and had to hop out. Like I said, respect! And, a lot of boredom. It's just not that interesting to shovel dirt, and you have to shovel a lot of dirt.

It takes 10 shovelfuls to fill the Hog to 100%, and the simulation does not spare you a single one of them. Then you carry a bucket to the stream, fill it with water, walk back to the Hog, pour the water in, and wait as it washes the dirt over the mats. The UI that hovers over the equipment is clean and useful as it shows you the percentage of dirt left in the Hog as it pours down the sluice, and how much of your life you are letting slip away while you watch this:

On the plus side, Gold Rush is quite attractive, and you can see things really working. Things with water in them look like they have water in them and things with dirt in them look like they have dirt in them. You can tell if water is clean or dirty just by looking, you can see the dirt and water pouring and, uh, sluicing, I guess. The point is, it's all visually represented very well. It's nice to have something to admire while standing there endlessly digging and pouring and waiting.

Did I win? Did I make gold yet? Not quite. The idea is to have four mats set up (I have two) and repeat the digging, dumping, and pouring until all four mats are at 100% capacity. I just can't bring myself to wait that long, so I begin pulling the mats out as soon as I see even a tiny bit of gold lodged in them.

Of course, it's not as easy as just picking up a mat and having gold appear in your inventory. Once again, you fill the bucket from the stream, then dunk a rolled-up mat into it. Of course, it's not as simple as that, either: you have to dunk each mat a total four times until it's clean and the presumably gold-heavy dirt has washed off into the bucket. And, you can't dunk all four mats unless you have four buckets, because the bucket water becomes too dirty after a single mat has been dunked.

Once the mat is clean and the water is dirty (and hopefully dirty not just with dirt but with gold) you pour the bucket into the pan. Then you bring the pan to the other, bigger bucket, which you've forgotten to fill with water, and which you accidentally bump into the river and then also accidentally cause to fly into outer space:

But that's okay, you've had the foresight to buy an extra bucket (actually that was an accident too, while shopping, but it saves you a long drive back into town to visit the warehouse, so let's just call it foresight).

When you've filled the backup bucket with water you can put the pan in, and then wonder how this works because the controls menu for this task doesn't actually come up properly, so you just start pressing keys and mouse buttons, which first makes the pan lift up so high you can't see it, then scatters your dirt clumps into the air, as if in celebration of an hour of lost work.

But hey, this is Early Access, so I can forgive a few physics problems. I do, eventually, manage to pan some gold using the gunk from my second mat. After carefully dunking, then sloshing, then peering, a single gold nuggie appears among the wet dirt kibbles. I manage to pry it it out with a special tool, and I'm so excited with my find (it is actually a bit exciting) that I jump into my truck and speed into town (well, I walk to my truck, open the door, climb in, start the engine, disable the parking brake, and slowly drive into town while making sure to disable the differential lock when driving on asphalt).

The bank, unfortunately, doesn't deal in nuggets, only bars. Do I have enough nuggs for a bar? According to the blacksmith, no. My starting gold was .035 of an ounce, and my little nuggie has only brought me to .05 of an ounce. At least I can sell the nugget itself for a whopping $48. Considering the claim I'm jumping costs $25,000, and even just the equipment I've bought cost about $200, I'd say I've got a bit more work to do.

Another way to look at it is that I don't have a bit more work to do, because I'm not going to do this anymore. I respect the simulation of Gold Rush, but respecting it isn't the same as enjoying it. Maybe it does get really fun and satisfying once you've got heavy machinery and automation going, but I played for two and a half hours and didn't even make $50. I think I can chalk up digging alongside my other least-favorite activity: chopping down trees.

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

Mozû is no more. I would like to tell you he died a death befitting his orc supervillain status, or that my revenge has given me some measure of peace. Neither of those things are true. The truth is that the final moments of Mozû the Blight have disgraced us both. This is how it went down…

After the original post detailing my humiliating struggles with the over-buffed orc captain, I got plenty of advice from other Shadow of War players on how to turn the tables. Many suggested enlisting a drake (not the rapping kind) to roast Mozû from above, while others shamefully proposed finding a way to knock him off a cliff. A developer at Monolith who wrote much of the orc dialogue even DM'd me on Twitter with some cockamamie plan involving poisonous spiders exploding from a bonfire. 

I figured he was probably on Mozû's payroll and ignored that idea.

The plan takes shape

Two nights ago, Mozû ambushed and defeated me again, despite the fact I was wearing a poison-resistant cloak in a bid to mitigate the effect of his bombs. This victory raised his level to 33, and made me ditch my policy of only fighting Mozû mano-a-orco. The answer to beating an asshole bully is to find a bigger group assholes, and so I began a recruitment drive. I hunted and dominated the most powerful orcs I could find, in particular looking for those with poisoned weapons in order to exploit Mozû's only significant weakness.

Last night I felt ready. Thanks to some time in the fighting pits, my motley crue of greenskinned scum ranged from level 22 to 26. Individually, nowhere near as strong as Mozû, but together? We had a chance. I queued up the Nemesis mission as usual, but this time issued kill commands to my three best orcs.

  • Narûg the Reaper: My highest level orc, with a nasty trick up his sleeve.
  • Snafû King-Slayer: Missing one arm but wields a poison axe with the other. 
  • Kûga the Obvious: Mounted on a caragor, which can't hurt for crowd control.  

I also assigned Ishmoz of the Spiders to be my bodyguard, who I could summon just before the battle, partly because he attacks with poison weapons, but mainly because the dude wears a hood of cobwebs and I figured Mozû might not be about that life. This particular mission was designated a supply raid, and I arrive to find Narûg confronting Mozû and his crew. I am immediately struck by an inadvertent piece of planning genius on my part. Narûg has the Decoys perk, so is always accompanied by three doppelgangers to confuse the enemy. Sure enough these help tie up Mozû's retinue perfectly. 

Tallion looks away in shame as his orc buddys go to town on a poison-covered Moz .

We all wade in and holy shit Mozû is immediately coated in gloopy green poison. In fact, pretty much everyone is poisoned, but the key thing is Mozû is already at half health. I join the fray and land a few lusty blows. In the chaos a grog barrel explodes, taking out a couple of Narûg's body doubles, but I ignore the inferno and keep swinging. This is it. Mozû is finally on his knees. He makes a little speech about how I've got my revenge at last, up comes the finish him button prompt, and… I whiff.

In my excitement to take some of those swanky Ansel screenshots, I accidentally switched from controller to keyboard and mouse. Mozû makes his exit. An on-screen icon tells me he's now about 2,000 ft away, so I set off in pursuit. When I arrive I realize my mistake. My bodyguard is on cooldown and I haven't set up my other orc ambushers either. I make a decent fist of the fight, getting Mozû down to about a third before his poison bombs do their deadly work. And now he's level 34.

This defeat actually doesn't feel too bad because I know I can correct those mistakes. More importantly, I know know he can beaten. Excited, I set up another Nemesis mission with the same team, this time letting Snafû take point to really ram the advantage home. The mission generated is a duel, and the bad news for Mozu is that we will most certainly not be observing Queensbury Rules. In fact it's more like a scene from Oz. My guys jam Mozû against a wall and set about shanking him. His health is shredded in seconds. I sprint over trying to get the final blow, but am still a few feet away when the slo-mo kicks in."Snafû King-Slayer killed Mozû the Blight." It's over. He's gone.

One of the boys inspects Moz 's corpse, probably thinking something existential.

Here lies Moz , gone from us too soon. Sleep well, poisonous prince.

The orcs go back into their idle animations and start to disperse. Mozû's lies on the ground, the legendary sword he dropped floating over his now inert body. Instantly I feel like this was a huge mistake. Mozû's death should have been more spectacular. I needed to hear him spit out some final words before I made like a deranged sushi chef on his limbs. I already know that the rest of my playthrough will be robbed of the electric tension I felt when taking every step in Mordor, knowing that the big sack of shit could put in an appearance at any time.

But just as I'm almost overwhelmed by unexpected melancholy for my dead tormentor, I remember Mozû's speech from that first failed kill prompt. "You might think you've beaten me, ranger, but wait until you meet my brother." Of course! Mozû has the Blood Brother perk. That means that somewhere out there his sibling is plotting revenge, and it's bound to be terrible

I pray with all my heart that his brother is called Bozû, and that I meet him soon.

Tallion and Snaf have won today, but nervously await the arrival of Moz 's bro.

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