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Peter "Durante" Thoman is the creator of PC downsampling tool GeDoSaTo and the modder behind Dark Soul's DSfix. He's previously analyzed the PC ports of Dark Souls II and Valkyria Chronicles for PC Gamer. Today, he's celebrating his favorite genre.
I like to imagine that when historians of the medium of gaming look back on 2014, they will see it not as the year of half-baked AAA games, not as the time when microtransaction profits surged further ahead, but rather as the first year of the CRPG renaissance.
Asking a fan of the CRPG genre—that is, old-school computer RPGs—about when it reached its peak, you ll likely get a large range of answers, from the late 80s up until the turn of the century. What you won t hear is any year from, say, 2004 to 2013. While the genre has not died entirely over the past decade, it was kept alive on a sparse diet of shoestring-budget indie titles, and the very rare larger highlight, such as 2007 s Mask of the Betrayer.
All of this changed in 2014, and it s not looking to stop any time soon. Even genre aficionados might have had trouble keeping up with the deluge of great games throughout the year—these are generally not short games—and it seems all but impossible for the casual fan. As such, I want to close out the year by providing a quick look at each of my personal highlights, and an even quicker overview of some other worthy candidates.
In a year filled with amazing games in my favorite genre, it s hard to select a single one to stand above the rest. However, if I had to choose, it would come down to Might & Magic X: Legacy. As a grid-based open-world turn-based first person party RPG, it s a representative of what might be the rarest RPG subgenre of them all. Certainly, this is not a choice I d have ever expected to make at the start of the year, but M&MX is the complete package. It combines rewarding exploration and dungeon crawling with great character development and combat systems, and had me glued to my screen throughout its entire duration.
I am still amazed by the fact that this game was even made, and in the shape of a true old-school sequel and not an ill-advised attempt at rebooting the franchise. As you might be aware, Might and Magic is owned by Ubisoft these days, and, as the story goes, it is only due to the near super-human persistence and passion of some of their employees—and the success of 2012 s Legend of Grimrock—that the project ever got off the ground.
I fervently hope it is not the last one.
With Divinity: Original Sin, the fine folks at Larian Studios managed to fulfill their ambition of providing world interactivity on a level with Ultima 7, which has always felt a decade ahead of its time in that regard. But that s not the whole story: in the process of doing so, they also created what might well be the best turn-based combat system in any RPG ever.
I do not say this lightly, or merely to underscore just how good it is having played a good chunk of them, I truly cannot think of any RPG which does turn-based combat better than Divinity: Original Sin. Its combination of a polished action point-based free movement system with highly meaningful and novel environmental interaction and a huge variety of spells and skills allows for almost limitless tactical possibilities. Even over the course of 70+ hours and a very combat-heavy final stretch, this ensured that the encounters never got old or repetitive.
On top of these achievements, Larian have also proven (again, really, after all most of the Infinity Engine games did the same) that it is possible to create an uncompromising, deep, old-school RPG experience while including full campaign coop, a lesson I hope many other developers will take to heart. Larian themselves are already planning two new RPGs based on their engine, and I can t wait to see what they come up with.
Out of the games I ve chosen to highlight, Dragonfall might be the most story- and character-driven. It is set in the Shadowrun universe, a veritable smorgasbord of science fiction, fantasy and cyberpunk, and a personal favorite of mine. While Dragonfall was originally released only as an expansion to last years Shadowrun Returns, developer Harebrained Schemes realized its full potential with a stand-alone Director s Cut version.
This second campaign improves upon its predecessor in many ways, both technically as well as in gameplay design. Saving works more like you would expect in a PC RPG, and throughout the campaign there is a lot more choice in what missions to undertake and their order. Skill checks in dialogue and quests also seem more evenly distributed than in the earlier game, which makes a larger variety of character build choices viable. Finally, your core party is now made up of true companion characters rather than faceless hirelings. And crucially, the developers still manage to nail the mood of the setting.
Very recently, there have been some rumblings about a Kickstarter for a third Shadowrun campaign, and if they pan out I ll make sure to be among the first to sign up for it.
The first big crowd-funded RPG success, Wasteland 2 took a lot longer than expected to reach its full release, and had some significant polish and enhancement performed even beyond that. But the wait was worth it: inXile delivered a huge, sprawling post-apocalyptic RPG with a wealth of unique locations meshing into its central story, old school party creation and a large selection of character skills.
While some interface niggles remain—the relative utility of skills may be somewhat imbalanced and no single element reaches the heights of Divinity s combat system or M&MX s exploration—on the whole Wasteland 2 is much greater than the sum of its parts. As a result, it is perhaps the closest of all the games I ve chosen to highlight to delivering the complete isometric RPG experience which fans have been clamoring for.
One thing is for sure: it comes as a huge relief to me, and probably many RPG fans, that inXile proved their skill to some extent with Wasteland 2. Their next task is, after all, to create Torment: Tides of Numenera, a spiritual sequel to one of the genre s all-time greats, Planescape: Torment.
It feels unjust to cut off the more detailed look at individual games and developers at this point, but sadly time and space are limited. In any other year over the past decade, each of these games would have caused a splash in the RPG community, so relegating them to this part of the article is merely a concession to the massive quantity and quality of this year s releases. Each of them is absolutely worth checking out, and all of them have something unique to offer.
Blackguards hex-based strategy and faithful adaption of the pen-and-paper Dark Eye ruleset are absolutely worth a closer look. And the same applies to the sublime blend of exploration, dungeon crawling, and puzzle solving which can be experienced in Legend of Grimrock 2.
Dead State presents a unique RPG experience and simulation of survivor behavior in a zombie apocalypse scenario, and Lords of Xulima combines isometric exploration with a first person battle system in an interesting reversal of the celebrated Realms of Arkania series.
An interesting note about this renaissance of the CRPG sub-genre is that, despite the huge number of games, it seems to have left other releases in the broader sphere of RPGs mostly unaffected. This might be at least partially explained by the fact that many of these games were made by new companies, or separate teams in established development houses.
Be that as it may, the point is that there have also been a great many action RPGs released in 2014, and some of them of surprisingly high quality. This of course includes games such as From Software s Dark Souls 2, a great sequel to one of the best action RPGs of all time, and solid new entries in established franchises like Risen 3. However, there were also some jewels created by smaller teams, such as the dialogue-heavy Consortium which explores the idea of an RPG taking place in a minimal environment.
And to top it all off, the new trend of Japanese ports exposed PC-only gamers to some true classics of the genre for the first time this year, with the obvious headliner being Valkyria Chronicles. Oh, and there was also a great new console-style RPG released on PC in the form of Obsidian s South Park: The Stick of Truth.
If there were no upcoming CRPGs at all, or if, after 2014, we d revert back to the sporadic release schedule of the past decade, we wouldn t have a renaissance on our hands. 2014 would be an aberration, a glorious one for sure, but still only temporary. However, that isn t the case. While it still seems doubtful that 2015 will deliver the same quantity and quality of RPG releases that we saw in 2014, that is an impossibly high standard to set. Indeed, it is easy to argue that even during the golden age of the genre, the number of quality releases per year couldn t quite match what we have experienced over the past 12 months.
That said, 2015 looks like it will put up a fight nonetheless. There are, of course, the heavy hitters: Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera—though the latter might not quite make it by the end of the year. They are supported by a scaffolding of promising independent games like Serpent in the Staglands, Underrail, and of course the grandfather among them, Age of Decadence. And some of this year s games will see sequels in 2015 already, including Blackguards and The Banner Saga.
I am almost at the point where I would appreciate the releases slowing down a bit so I have more time to catch up.
The 34UM67 is one of three new monitors announced today by LG. The other two—the 34UC97 and 34UC87M—are curved displays and thus cool in their own right, but the UM67 is of particular interest to us because, unlike the others, it incorporates Freesync. That requires a compatible video card to operate, but if you have the hardware for it, it will eliminate screen tearing without relying on the oft-problematic v-sync.
The monitor also offers a "Black Stabilizer," which will illuminate and clarify on-screen areas of deep black, and a "Dynamic Action Sync" mode that LG says will minimize input lag. LG did not say whether the 34UM67 will have an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel as the 34UC97 does, but if so (and Tom's Hardware suspects it will), it will also be capable of recreating more than 99 percent of the sRGB color spectrum, with no color distortion at any angle.
Pricing and release date were not revealed, but I think it's a safe bet that it will be expensive. Very expensive. We'll find out more at CES, which this year runs from January 6-9.
It s a privilege to write about PC gaming. We had a ton of fun doing it in 2014, and we're really grateful you spent some time reading (and watching) our enthusiasm, criticism, evaluation, reporting, verdicts, silliness, praise, and occasional GIF nonsense.
Below are our favorite six or so stories from each month of PC Gamer during 2014, alongside the big reviews from that month. This is the stuff we either devoted the most time and love to in 2014 or was especially well-received.
You can no longer subscribe to the Elder Scrolls Online for longer than 90 days, as Bethesda has - without mention - removed the six-month option from its site.
As noticed by... well, those who play the game, the only subscription selections available on the MMO are now either 30 or 90-day options.
On the French forums this was all explained away by a moderator as being a simple case of people preferring the shorter subs. But that's not a theory that's holding water with a vocal section of the community.
See, other games have removed longer subscription options just before making the leap to free-to-play. It makes sense, as otherwise you're going to have a lot of long-term subscribers annoyed by a big change.
With the Elder Scrolls Online not exactly setting the world of MMOs alight, it might seem a sensible course of action to remove the paywall and encourage any and all to get involved.
Would losing the subscription model help the good-but-not-great MMO? Who knows. But it's certainly not out of the question for a big release to entirely change its business model shortly after launching.
And it works out okay, sometimes.
Anyway, in lieu of actual information from Bethesda we can just look forward to January's release of update 6, with its Champion and Justice Systems.
File it in 'rumours encased in a shell of vague Google translations', but there might be cause to think a Final Fantasy XV-related game is coming to PC, based on a Square Enix job posting.
Said vague Google translation of this career opportunity shows the studio is looking for an online game planner to work on 'new online games related to FFXV'.
As for skills required - and why this is posted on PC Gamer - the post asks for knowledge of and interest in PC gaming.
It could be elements lost in translation, but the fact it's a posting for games 'related' to Final Fantasy XV means we could be seeing some form of spin-off on our beloved PCs. At the same time, it could also be pointing at a service run via PCs, but that supports the console-only main FFXV.
Yes, I'm speculating. It's the end of 2014 and apparently we're out of news for the year.
Final Fantasy XV coming to PC wouldn't be too out-of-the-ordinary, anyway, especially not with Square Enix making a big push in recent months to bring its FF back catalogue to the mighty personal computer.
For the time being, though, this is all to be taken with a pinch of vaguely Google translated salt.
The aforementioned vague Google translation came from both the Square Enix job site, linked above, and GamesTalk.
Along with our group-selected 2014 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen another game to commend as one of 2014's best.
Grimrock 2 tapped into my imagination the most this year. It s pleasantly quiet, great for little, hour-long excursions of exploring, fighting, and learning with my silent party of four; me a kid again, playing pencil-drawn mazes with traps and monsters. It s an action RPG in the old-style (think Ultima Underworld), but though the grid-based movement might seem to cancel out exploration, I m astounded by the amount of stuff I miss. I like playing it in brief sessions, enjoying its island s mystery and serenity for as long as I can before it cripples a party member, kills another, and I need a break from its resistance. Other times, though, I just get lost in getting lost, spending hours poking through dungeons, backtracking, and forgetting whatever it was I was doing when I started.
The puzzles range from simple (put item on switch) to Hey, remember that story about a guy traveling to the tundra and watching the sun set? Move a boulder like that. It can be frustrating, and I m not ashamed to admit I ve consulted a guide, but I ve done it as sparingly as possible. Part of the fun is in figuring out the little stuff, like what to do if a party member breaks their leg, and jotting down notes for the complex stuff, like the spellcasting cheatsheet I made myself.
Though silent, every character I make grows a personality along the way: my ratling farmer who only gains experience when he eats (is that how farming works?); my wizard who accidentally roasted the party with a fire spell; my alchemist whose gun is always jamming. And while combat may seem clunky and outdated, the quick clicking is almost soothing. As I tap on my melee characters every time they re ready to attack, swipe out rune patterns for my spellcaster, and deftly shuttle potions around between my characters, I get into a sort of groove; it feels like a rhythm game.
But soothing only really describes the moments when I m succeeding. It s also really stressful, and really difficult. Grimrock 2 requires a lot of patience and learning, but I ve never felt like my mistakes were unfixable. Sure, I should ve chosen a slightly different party makeup, and slightly-different skills, but so far I ve always been able to progress while telling the story I want to tell. I mean, the farmer class is really dumb, but he s starting to pull his weight just fine, the gluttonous weirdo.
And then there are all the things that make Grimrock 2 a great PC game. It loads up fast, something I really appreciate when I want to hop in quickly before bed, and includes a dungeon editor for community-made adventures. Modders are all over it—mm, longevity.
Grimrock's campaign can feel a little bare compared to the modern world-spanning narratives of games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, but I like the simple quiet (not including the terrifying moment a chest is revealed to be a toothy mimic). It's just me and my party, slowly figuring it out as we go, with no one yapping at us to save the world. It's an old style of game, but updated with so much care that it doesn't feel old—just really, really good.
Microsoft has announced that sales of the original Kinect for Windows will come to an end in 2015. The device was a "milestone achievement," but the release of the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor in October means it's time to move on.
"The move to v2 marks the next stage in our journey toward more natural human computing. The new sensor provides a host of new and improved features, including enhanced body tracking, greater depth fidelity, full 1080p high-definition video, new active infrared capabilities, and an expanded field of view," Microsoft said in a statement. "Likewise, SDK 2.0 offers scores of updates and enhancements, not the least of which is the ability to create and publish Kinect-enabled apps in the Windows Store."
Microsoft said it will do its best to fill orders from business customers who still need large numbers of the v1 hardware, but once the existing stock is gone, there will be no more.
"We know that your proven track record doing great things with the original technology will only get better with v2—the improvements in quality from the original Kinect for Windows sensor to the v2 device are truly immense," the statement says. "And so, we re cheered by the prospect of seeing all the amazing solutions you ll create with this the new and improved Kinect for Windows."
Kinect for Windows v2 is available from Microsoft for $200.
[Update: Electronic Arts says its investigation into the matter has come up empty. "We found no indication at this point of a breach of our Origin account database," an EA rep said. "Privacy and security of user account information are of the utmost importance to us. We encourage our players to use Origin user ID and passwords that are unique to their account, and to report any activity they feel may be unauthorized to EA customer support at help.ea.com."
Customers who use the same password across multiple sites may still be at risk as a result of breaches elsewhere, however; in November, the hacker group DerpTrolling claimed to have access to roughly seven million username/password combinations from various services, including 1.7 million Origin accounts.]
Reports of a possible hack of Origin are surfacing on Reddit, where users are reporting unauthorized purchases and other activity on their accounts. The cause and extent of the breach isn't yet clear, but if you have credit card information stored in your account (and really, even if you don't), this would probably be a good time to double-check your purchase history—and change your password.
Some Reddit users say they've been charged for games they didn't buy, while others have received emails reporting failed attempts at purchasing games through their Origin account; one poster said he realized something was up when he started earned achievements for a game he'd never played, while another discovered his account had actually been banned because someone had used it to purchase FIFA and then farm coins.
The good news is that EA customer support appears to be handling the situation well, although obviously some people are having more (or less) luck in that regard than others. Origin also now supports two-factor authorization similar to that of Steam, which when active will send a security code via email or text message whenever the account is logged into from an unrecognized device. Even if you haven't run into any difficulties, I'd strongly recommend turning it on: You'll find it in the "Account and Privacy—Security" section of the Origin drop-down menu.
Electronic Arts said in an email that it is currently investigating the claims. We'll update when we learn more.