The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

I've never really played much of The Witcher series, but it seems like in a world full of swords, axes, and whistling arrows; a fellow might want to protect himself with a big, thick hunk of wood and metal. Now, thanks to a mod for The Witcher 3, simply called Shields, Geralt can finally use what his enemies probably take for granted. The shields—there are dozens to choose from, representing all the factions in the game—aren't just cosmetic, they really work. Check out the demo video above to see them in action.

I dunno if this is lore-friendly—perhaps there's some deep-rooted reason Geralt doesn't use shields in the first place—but he looks like a real badass holding a shield and it's always cool to have a bunch of arrows sticking out of your shield after a battle, right? That's good enough for me.

The mod can be configured from the options menu, and there's also a nice selection of hoods, robes, cloaks, and armor included. Below, check out some screens—enlarge 'em by clicking the top right corner, because they look frankly fantastic—as well as a full list of the shields, hoods, and armor the mod adds and where you can buy them.

Subnautica

A few days ago, undersea survival game Subnautica received a humdinger of an update that added a new Silent Running mode to your aquatic exploration pod. This plays into one of the update's other big features: dangerous creatures that are newly interested in your previously safe Cyclops vessel. You'll need to enable Silent Running mode to deal with them, which turns off all exterior lights, replaces interior ones with an eerie red glow, and slows your pod the heck down, so you can sneak past those aggressive undersea monsters.

Other new features include a revamped Cyclops UI, a terrain-scanning sonar update, creature-detection on the HUD, and the ability to launch creature-distracting decoys. If the Cyclops vessel has been a harbour of refuge for you from the scary deep, you might be a little concerned to hear that it's just been made more fragile—it can even end up wrecked if it takes too much damage.

"Not only do creatures take an interest in your machine," the extensive update post explains, "but once damaged, the Cyclops can become wrecked. Take precautions necessary to mitigate emergencies onboard your ship. Luckily, Fire Extinguishers now have fancy wall holsters to aid in your firefighting. Use the Holographic Status display to monitor for damage and fires. Once the Cyclops reaches hull strength of zero, it will become wrecked. It can be salvaged for materials used in building add-ons later, but the machine itself can no longer be repaired or deconstructed".

You can read the full details of the update here.

EVE Online

Credit: Queenz

Wars in EVE Online have ignited over everything from personal vendettas to the dire need for resources. But the galaxy of New Eden has just seen the opening salvos of its first ever anime war. Understandably, it has the entire galaxy wondering where the hell things went so wrong for the hardcore space MMO. EVE Online players have a new threat to worry about: weebs.

The origins of the conflict date back months ago to a private Discord server for the WAFFLES alliance. As CEO Reza Najafi tells me, the alliance had previously been using chat programs that didn't support displaying images. But Discord does. Unbeknownst to Reza at the time, WAFFLES was harboring a considerable population of anime fans (or weebs as they call themselves) who were spamming anime memes in the Discord at all hours of the day. "The chat was flooded with so much anime, we had to ban it in our main channel," Reza tells me.

"The chat was flooded with so much anime, we had to ban it in our main channel."

Reza Najafi

WAFFLES's anime fans were understandably crushed by the blow and, for a while, the anime menace seemed to have been quelled. Fast forward to the beginning of April and Reza was asked to be a guest on the Crossing Zebras EVE podcast. There, he planned to talk about his alliance's struggles of living in low security space, a place typically thought of as a haven for pirates. Another guest on that show, Jin'taan, had other plans.

As a member of the Council of Stellar Management, Jin'taan is the closest thing EVE Online has to a politician. This democratically elected official is a part of a small group of players-turned-consultants who assist developer CCP Games in designing new features and making changes to the delicate ecosystem of EVE. That means that, perhaps more than any other player, his opinion matters.

If EVE ships were anime girls. Credit: Tenten Kugisa.

Without getting too bogged down in the nuances of EVE, Jin'taan tells me the two were incapable of seeing eye to eye on certain matters and he wasn't exactly diplomatic about it. "I came off as a massive cock," Jin'taan admits. "I believe I opened by calling Reza a 'disingenuous piece of shit' for lying when he tried to make his opening statement." He tells me he thinks Reza took it rather personally, which would prove to be the spark that would set the anime kindling ablaze. There was one thing Reza, WAFFLES, and the entire galaxy couldn't expect.

Jin'taan is also a weeb.

It's not clear how Jin'taan's entertainment preferences were leaked, but it became the straw that broke the camel's back. Aside from being an elected official of the CSM, Jin'taan is also the head fleet commander of Curatores Veritatis Alliance, a distinguished null-sec entity that has lived in the region of Providence for years. Reza explains that while CVA is sitting on some valuable territory, Jin'Ttan's very public disrespect and his anime-loving tendencies were just what Reza needed to justify an invasion.

Being the leader of his own storied alliance, Reza is also somewhat of a tactical genius. Seeing the rift anime was causing throughout the ranks, he decided to weaponize it. During his "State of the Waffles" address to announce the invasion of Providence, Reza told his soldiers that if they kill Jin'taan 10 times and bring him 10 corpses from the wreckage, he would lift the ban on anime. This upset those that were in favor of the ban, so Reza decreed that if those who were anti-anime worked together and brought him 20 corpses, the ban would become permanent. In response, each group has began calling themselves Team 10 and Team 20. Regardless of whether anime culture lived or died in WAFFLES, Jin'taan had just become one of the most wanted men in EVE. 

Jin'taan depicted as Moses liberating his "people" from Pharaoh Reza. Credit: invisusira.

Anime at the gates

Immediately following the decree, players dubbed the emerging conflict World War Weeb and the propaganda wheels began turning. For a few days, the EVE Online subreddit was flooded with anime as the conflict quickly spread beyond just WAFFLES and CVA. Sympathizers from all over the galaxy have raced to Providence to kill Jin'taan and donate his corpse towards banning anime forever or letting it live free.

For something as contentious as anime, the larger community of EVE players seemed to have let out a long sigh and rolled their eyes. Within hours of the EVE subreddit temporarily becoming dangerously close to an anime forum, posts began springing up imploring the moderators to issue a ban on anime posts. In response, the moderators have created a filter to hide all anime-related posts. "Apparently every alliance in EVE has problems with weebs," Reza says.

"Apparently every alliance in EVE has problems with weebs."

Reza Najafi

I spoke with Matterall, the host of another EVE podcast called Talking in Stations, to get his perspective and learned of Weebfleet, a haven for culturally exiled anime fans. During the quiet hours of yesterday evening, he was able to sneak me into their Discord channel. Unsurprisingly, it's bursting at the seams with anime memes, discussion over who is the cutest waifu, and a whole channel solely dedicated to hentai. It's unclear whether these exiles will organize to push any kind of political agenda at this time. For now, they're too busy discussing the most bittersweet visual novels.

It's not clear how large World War Weeb will grow as the conflict is just beginning to catch fire. Reza is convinced that WAFFLES will be able to push Curatores Veritatis Alliance and its allies out of Providence. Considering WAFFLES is allied with Pandemic Legion, one of the most formidable armies in EVE, that could be a very real possibility. "Yes, I think the South [where Providence is] will be on fire," Reza says. "There are many smaller conflicts happening and it's heating up. There's potential for a southern war in the next months."

As for the fate of anime in WAFFLES, those who want it banned appear to have a lead. So far they have turned in five of Jin'taan's corpses while the weebs haven't collected a single one.

We'll have more on this historic conflict as it unfolds. 

DOOM

We're getting closer to E3 every day, and we're bound to see some new games get revealed once we reach that fabled week. Bethesda is one of the companies we already expected to show off new games, but it seems the Fallout publisher is teasing a couple with its E3 media briefing invite.

The invite included an image (above), which is a cartoony mockup of a fictional theme park called Bethesdaland. Similar to Disneyland, there are several different themed sections to the park, all based on Bethesda franchises. There are areas for Dishonored, Prey, The Elder Scrolls, Doom, Quake Champions, and Fallout, but two of the park's locations seem to be under construction at the moment. This looks like it could point to two new game announcements at E3.

As for what these games could be, we can't be entirely sure. However, there is a sign that says "Pardon Our Dust" on one of the construction sites, so I'm guessing it's a sequel to 2009's Wet called Dust. Or maybe it's a sequel to Rage. Get it? Because the game has all that sand.

Alright, enough with all these dang jokes. Let's get serious for a minute here. There have been some teases and clues over the past year as to what these two games could be. One of the franchises missing from the park is Wolfenstein, and if you remember from last year, Bethesda seemed to tease a new game in that series. As for the other mystery game, it could be a sequel to The Evil Within. A job listing for Psycho Break 2 (which is what The Evil Within is called in Japan) was spotted last month. On top of that, Bethesda VP of marketing Pete Hines stoked the fire pit of rumours at last year's QuakeCon by saying The Evil Within sold enough copies to justify a second game.

Of course, it's important to note we don't actually know if either game will be revealed at this year's E3. This is just speculation. However, we will keep you updated as more information is revealed.

Bethesda's E3 briefing kicks off on Sunday, June 11. Hines tweeted back in February that the showcase would take place at the "same day/time as usual," so expect things to start at around 7 PM PT.

The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

There might be too many good characters in The Witcher 3. When we decided to write about our favorites, we compiled a list that ballooned to more than 40 allies and villains and minor NPCs. We love them all, but there can only be so many characters worthy of being ranked among the best. After assembling the long list of most lovable (and hateable) characters, our Witcher 3 experts voted and fought for this lineup of the greatest characters in CD Projekt Red's greatest RPG. 

It was a hard road. Before we get to the goods, let me just break your heart now: Bart the rock troll, the greatest conversationalist in Novigrad, did not make the cut. These are the kinds of sacrifices we had to make. 

Note: Story spoilers abound for The Witcher 3 and its expansions, so avert your eyes now if you haven't completed the game.

15. Lambert

Wes: God, what an asshole. Geralt gives us the image of the witcher as a stoic hero, but it's Lambert who shows us exactly how twisted the training and mutations behind becoming a witcher really are. He still has a chip on his shoulder, and it seems well-earned: some of my favorite moments in The Witcher 3 are the brotherly ones between Geralt and Lambert, with Lambert drawing out stories about the parts of Geralt's past we know nothing about. Lambert has clearly never quite accepted what happened to him, and that makes him an interesting foil to the rest of the witchers.

And he looks great in Vesemir's hat. 

Philippa Eilhart

Tim: Phillipa Eilheart exists at the exact sweet spot on my hot/crazy axis of videogame crushes. It’s testament to the skill with which CD Projekt introduces her in The Witcher 3, following a brief sojourn as an owl, that you immediately understand what a vital part of the universe she is, even if you haven’t played the previous games. Characters react violently to Phillipa’s presence, and you’re served just enough backstory to make her quest for revenge against weasley King Radovid matter. And so it should, given how he had her blinded with a spoon. With that kind of motivation, it would’ve been easy to present her as little more than a power-mad witch hellbent on vengeance, but she’s way more interesting (and cooler) than that. 

When Geralt meets Phillipa, there’s a vulnerability under all that crackling power—the once mighty sorceress, now on the run and all too aware of the risks. Helping her get payback against Radovid is one of the most satisfying subquests, partly because it’s such a juicy kill—and no accident that the camera lingers on her embonpoint and the dagger afterwards—but also because the Novigrad section has shown us the brutal effects of the Redanian clampdown on mages. Phillipa is essentially a terrorist/freedom fighter on their behalf, like a magical Che Guevera in a busty frock. Oh, and if you really dig Phil, you can even help grow her eyes back, thanks to the wonder of mods

13. Vernon Roche

Wes: Most of my affection for Roche is a holdover from The Witcher 2, where he became a loyal brother to my Geralt. He's hard to like, at first: a dyed-in-the-wool asshole, and part of the establishment that treat non-humans like dirt. But he's also unflinchingly loyal to his unit and to his country. He saves Geralt's life. And his goals, like Geralt's, end up being deeply personal. As a result, the state of the Northern Kingdoms at the start of The Witcher 3, embroiled in civil war, felt like a direct result of the history Roche and I had shared.

With all that history in mind, Roche's smaller story in The Witcher 3 still carried more emotional weight than almost anything else in the game. For the second time, I found myself choosing between the greater good and a character I felt utterly loyal to. After finding his band of resistance fighters, and Roche having my back once again in the battle of Kaer Morhen, there was no way I could betray him. My heart always made me side with Roche.

12. Triss Merigold

Wes: My romance with Triss was a heartbreaker. After two games together, we were separated in The Witcher 3, our relationship complicated by the return of Yennefer. I didn't know how to feel, and when Geralt had to tell Triss he loved her or let her go, I wavered. This led to the most human character arc in The Witcher 3, for me: Triss came back to help Ciri and Geralt battle the Wild Hunt because she loved them both, but our relationship was over. I still think about how bittersweet that moment was.

11. Roach

James: Roach is a horse. 

There really isn’t much to say about Roach that isn’t already made obvious by the fact that she’s a horse. She’s a horse that does horse things, like get spooked by literally anything that moves or snort and steer off Geralt’s intended path. But Geralt needs her because whenever he’s in trouble or needs a ride or someone to hear his thoughts, Roach is there and Roach is listening. For every canyon she gets Geralt stuck in, she gets him out of five more. 

10. This sleepy, rude vampire

Joe: Despite the multitude of customisation options modern games offer nowadays—where just about every aspect of your in-game avatar's appearance can be adjusted—finding a character that's truly relatable to how you see yourself isn't easy. While I'd love to tell you I see some of Geralt in myself, with his dashing looks, glorious hair and charismatic voice, I actually relate best to the rude vampire you catch napping in a coffin during The Witcher 3's A Tome Entombed sidequest. 

"Just five more minutes," the vamp warns when you first interrupt his slumber. "Is it 1358 yet?" he then asks, to which Geralt informs him it is not. "Then fuck off," our downcast neck-drainer responds in an eerily accurate reflection of how I get myself out of bed every morning. 

Should you attempt to disturb him again (which of course you do), the vampire then asks if you "fucking plan to come knocking once an hour now?" Before turning into a hideous hostile Katakan and attempting to rip your head off. Listen, never mess with someone's eight hours/umpteen millennia.

9. Gaunter O'Dimm

Shaun: Right at the beginning of The Witcher 3, when you’re feeling most receptive to the game’s onslaught of new characters, Gaunter O’Dimm seems fascinating. The slightly dodgy former mirror merchant has the air of someone who will factor heavily into the rest of Geralt’s journey except, alas! He disappears. 

He doesn’t return until Hearts of Stone, in which he plays a crucial role. Geralt quickly learns that O’Dimm is just as dodgy as he seemed all those hundreds of hours ago in the White Orchard Tavern, but he’s dodgy in a mysterious, captivating way (not a “charges you 1000 orens for a broken mirror” kind of way). O’Dimm is among my favourite Witcher 3 characters because he very slowly blossoms from a vaguely creepy-seeming character into something a lot more fleshed out, a lot more genuinely disturbing. Also, providing you haven’t played Hearts of Stone, O’Dimm was the first demonstration that even seemingly peripheral characters are capable of being captivating in this game.

James: Dude’s an evil-ish trickster that speaks in riddles half the time. He’s bald and omnipotent and I want to slap him right across the face. During your final encounter with O’Dimm you can choose to fulfill your pact with him or attempt to banish him forever in a clever, time-sensitive scenario that tests your wits instead of your swordsmanship.  

8. Olgierd von Everec

Tim: Brash, Northern accented, and brutishly violent—it’s fair to say I wasn’t predisposed to like Olgierd, but over the course of Hearts of Stone I came to care about his internal conflicts in a way few other RPGs manage. In fact, the beauty of The Witcher 3’s meaty DLC expansions is that the supporting cast gets so much screen time to breathe. As the story plays out we begin to see Olgierd as not just the braggartly leader of the Redanian Free Company, a group of battle-scarred mercs also known as “The Wild Ones”, but also as a tragic hero of sorts. The hints are there from the start in his mirthless laughter, but gradually we learn how his hubris and callousness has cost him both his beloved brother and wife, thanks to a deal at the crossroads with another character on this list. 

So it is that when the time comes for Geralt to decide Olgierd’s fate, it’s really no decision at all—unless your own heart has been frozen. Choose the obviously correct path, defeat their tormentor, and the final mountainside conversation between Olgierd and Geralt is right up there with the fourth-wall breaking wink at the end of Blood & Wine in terms of emotional moments. Despite ostensibly “winning”, Olgierd is so ruined by regret that for once Geralt seems chipper in comparison. And yet both men are able to find some small measure of hope. After all, what else is there to do in The Witcher’s world. Plus Olgierd gives you a sweet sword. Goddamn it, this is how you’re supposed to do DLC.

7. Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon

Tim: Despite effectively sharing co-star billing with Geralt as the second playable character,  it feels like barely anyone talks about Ciri. Perhaps there’s a sense that her “chosen one” magical macguffin status makes her a bit too tropey, or maybe it’s her reluctance to go ham with her powers for fear of the damage they’ll do. Regardless, I can honestly say that when I got to the big finish, and thought I’d fucked up my choices in such a way that Ciri would be sacrificed, I actually shouted “NO!” at the monitor and hard quit. After some spoiler-filled Googling, and having realised my choices were fine and a reunion was still on the cards, I felt a sense of relief unlike almost any in a videogame. The thought of Geralt never seeing her again was unbearable. 

We experience much of Ciri’s arc through Geralt’s eyes, watching with paternal worry, frustration and pride as she goes from ingenue, through rebel, to saviour. But that’s the big picture. What matters more is the dysfunctional family she forms with Geralt and Yenn, the three finding unlikely comfort in each other. Ultimately, these are not characters destined to settle down. Nice though it is, Geralt setting up home with any of his squeezes in Blood and Wine feels like fan service. The ‘good’ ending to the main game, in which Geralt is reunited with Ciri at an inn, and hands her a Witcher’s sword, feels like the truth. There’s joy at seeing them reunited and knowing she’s made her peace with following the old man’s path, but it’s also tinged with melancholy because it means she’s outgrown the family. As all kids must.

Jody: I got the same ending. It feels right to have Ciri replace Geralt. They’ve got so much in common. They both feel like mash-ups of tropes and existing heroes, but where he’s Wolverine crossed with Elric riding into town like The Man With No Name, she’s Nightcrawler but also a Time Lord who happens to be a princess and the hero of prophecy. She deserves to take over from him. She’s the real hero of The Witcher 3, at least in the main questline. When Ciri leaves to save the world she says as much, telling Geralt, “This is my story, not yours.”

But she’s also very human. A recurring theme in what makes a lot of these characters great is that they have some kind of mythic resonance but are also relatable thanks to moments when they’re suddenly down-to-earth. Geralt’s a stock antihero but also a man who likes to get sloshed and pull stupid pranks. Ciri’s a Strong Female Character but also someone who settles arguments with Rock Paper Scissors and enjoys trashing a laboratory full of expensive equipment as much as a snowball fight.

6. The Ladies of the Wood

Jody: It feels like cheating to count these three as one, but the Ladies of the Wood are inseparable. The Crones of Crookback Bog, AKA the Good Ladies, or to give them their individual names the Weavess, the Brewess, and the Whispess, are The Witcher 3 at its most mythic. Somewhere between Baba Yaga and the Greek Fates, they’re almost god-like but also upsettingly earthy. Lascivious and lip-smacking, they call children “sweet as caramel” and the Brewess slaps her butt at Geralt like she’s on the dancefloor. They’re still eerie though, with design touches like the Weavess seeming to have an eyepatch but up close you realize it’s more like an eye made of honeycomb—and only then do you see things fly out of it. The Brewess and the Whispess have creepy voices muffled by their basket and veil, and the soundtrack’s violin and guitar swirling around each other when they’re around contribute to that eeriness too. All these things combine to make them more memorable villains than Imlerith, or basically anything else in The Witcher 3.

Wes: The Crones are like some kind of cosmic revenge for the sanitized, kid-friendly depictions of modern fairytale villains. They're the witch from Hansel & Gretel, except there are three of them, and they're fucking terrifying. And nasty—easily the most memorable character designs of The Witcher 3's incredible monster designs. And defying the usual fairytale ending, one of them escaped death in my game. I'm sure she's still out there, somewhere, making disgusting stew of mens' bones.

5: Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy

Tom S: You see all sorts of vampires in fiction—angry vamps, sexy vamps, shrivelled vamps. Rarely do you see a very reasonable vamp, but that’s Regis. He’s dignified, articulate and a genuine friend to Geralt during his time in Toussaint in Blood and Wine. It helps that he and Geralt go way back, but they strike a special rapport during a drinking session in a graveyard, and during this conversation Regis becomes one of the few characters to show genuine interest in Geralt’s whole deal. After some preamble he suddenly asks Geralt if he regrets becoming a witcher. I deliberated over my response for a few long minutes, surprised that the game had suddenly given me so much power to shape Geralt’s character. 

Regis is one of the few characters in the game able to catch Geralt with his defences down. That’s largely thanks to his charm, enhanced by a great performance from Mark Noble, but it’s also because he and Geralt feel like equals. They’ve lived more, seen more, than anyone else in the kingdom. I really felt that unspoken brotherhood.

4. Yennefer of Vengenberg

Wes: After playing the first two Witcher games, my heart was loyal to Triss. Yenn was the love interest of the old Geralt, before he was reborn with a gaping hole in his memory. Triss was the one who'd been by his side ever since. But there's a reason Yennefer is higher on this list than Triss: she's simply the more interesting character. She and Geralt have a fascinating, torturous relationship and history. They love each other, but are often not good for each other—and are they true feelings, or the result of a spell?

Yennefer's complex relationship with Geralt is great, but she has a personality and motivations that aren't defined by him, too. She's abrasive more often than not, but spend enough time with Yenn and you'll see the vulnerable humanity under the surface.

3. Johnny

Shaun: I’m not going to lie: Johnny is among my favourite characters from The WItcher 3 because he looks funny. With his big yellow eyes–faintly belligerent and even more faintly melancholy–Johnny the friendly Godling feels like a dark riff on Casper the Ghost. He first turns up at Crookback Bog near the beginning of The Witcher 3 and first impressions are strong, chiefly because he can’t talk, but also because finding a weird looking child in the creepy boggy woods is genuinely chilling. Once Geralt has helped him get his voice back, Johnny somewhat lowers in my esteem, but he continues to look funny. He’s just, y’know, really fun to look at.

Jody: I’m not as into Johnny’s swamp-Muppet face. I like his voice, like a guttersnipe urchin transplanted to the countryside. Also his willingness to tell you about his favorite part of the day, which is when he takes a morning dump while watching the sunrise. There’s an appreciation for small comforts running through the grimness of The Witcher 3, whether it’s Geralt in his tub or Ciri at the hot springs or Johnny shitting as the sun comes up, and I love it.

Joe: I agree with Shaun in that there is a certain charm about Johnny's odd features, but like Jody it's his voice that I enjoy most. Well, it's actually his first word: whisky. As a Scotsman, I like to think that my first word, having lost my voice for some time, would be something quite so patriotic. He might spell it wrong by opting for the Irish "whiskey" variation of the word (seeing as whisky was founded in Scotland I'd suggest our spelling is correct, despite what Irish folk may claim), however I can hardly hold that against the lad's indelible excitement as he bursts into song quoting our national tipple.

2. Philip Strenger, the Bloody Baron

Wes: A character so good, we had to write an entire feature about the quest that entangles his story with your own. There's so much to say about the complex and conflicted Baron, but for me it's the end of his lengthy questline that made him unforgettable. As Geralt, I did my best to help him, to save his wife from the Crones of Crookback Bog. But despite my good intentions, she died, he was devastated, and when I returned to Crow's Perch I found him hanging limp from a tree. There was no drama to his death. The most magnetic character in the game was just gone. I felt numb.

Tom S: In my game the Bloody Baron lived. I can’t forgive him for what he did, but I helped him anyway in the hope that I might somehow make things better for his family. He’s a great character because the side you see is affable and funny. You could be friends with this guy, but you know what he’s done, and you see the guilt gnawing at him. 

I’m so used to typically villainous villains in games that a character like the Baron is a refreshing change. But beyond the complexity of his story and the numerous outcomes, I think The Baron captures The Witcher 3’s view of humanity in one jolly rotund frame. He's fallible, corrupt and capable of terrible things, but somehow he earns your sympathy. I don’t know how the writers managed it; some dark sorcery, surely.

1. Geralt of Rivia

Wes: I am not Geralt of Rivia, and that ultimately proves to be the best thing about him. There's so much more to this gruff Witcher than you might think at the outset, which makes him not only the best character in his own game, but a more relatable human than the inhabitable avatars of so many other RPGs. He struggles with being both an outcast and a savior, both shunned and relied upon. He has every reason to be selfish, but The Witcher 3 offers interesting opportunities, again and again and again, to make more noble or more human choices, and to see how those outcomes affect Geralt. In his world, those outcomes aren't always pretty, and one of the great achievements of The Witcher 3's design—and the writing and acting and animation of Geralt's character—is that it feels like both you and Geralt have to live with the consequences of your choices.

Even though he's an established character, there's enormous range in the Witcher series in how you get to define Geralt. In all three games Geralt has to choose sides between humans and non-humans and question his Witcher code of non-involvement. But the way Ciri, Yenn, and Vesemir interact with Geralt in the Witcher 3 give him a family and motivations beyond himself, imbuing his character with purpose and a fragile fatherhood that makes everything that much more personal. 

But my favorite thing about Geralt (at the risk of blabbering on forever) is how convincingly he exists as a person in this world. No other game has worldbuilding writing this good: you have random encounters with old friends and acquaintances, and Geralt makes references to past experiences like you or I would, catching up with an old friend. He never info dumps like so many other game characters. He's not talking to you, the player. He's just talking to an old pal. It's because of Geralt that the Northern Kingdoms feel more real and alive than any other place in gaming.

Shaun: What I most like about Geralt is that, even though he’s a gruff-looking, fairly generic-looking video game hero, he’s funny. His humour is bone dry, often barely detectable, but it’s there nonetheless. Geralt’s charm is a real slow burn. I think a lot of writers are eager to let players know exactly who their characters are right from the outset, in order to captivate audiences immediately. But in The Witcher 3 (and in previous installments), Geralt is marvelously understated: quite a feat given how bland he looks on the boxart.

*0. The true star of The Witcher 3: Tub Geralt

You will live forever in our hearts, Tub Geralt.

SAVAGE: The Shard of Gosen

There are a lot of modern reimaginings of classic games happening nowadays, but Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link for NES is a game I never thought I'd see get that treatment. Widely considered one of the worst Zelda games in the series, most would be happy to forget it altogether, but solo indie developer Matt Fitzgerald thinks there's something in it worth revisiting. You can watch the interview above to hear him talk about his upcoming RPG Savage: The Shard of Gosen, and the video below to see it in action.

Fitzgerald has been working on Savage for over three years now after a modest but successful Kickstarter in 2014. It's a sidescrolling action game with some distinctly RPG elements. You can collect and swap out different equipment which will level up as you use it, and can also improve specific stats of your character as you progress. It's not hard to see the Zelda 2 influence, but I am happy to say it's a much better game at its core thanks to the extra systems.

Savage also has occasional dialogue options, and Fitzgerald told me you can subtly impact the story with your choices. For example, the game starts out with you finding your village under siege. While you'll always end this encounter by being captured, how you get there can change. When I played, I almost immediately got beaten to a pulp, but Fitzgerald showed me what can happen for a more skilled player. In the video below, you can see he makes it all the way to a boss, who he defeats by cutting off his arm. Doing so was his choice, and means that character will look and act differently when you see them again later in the game.

Fitzgerald is making all aspects of the game himself, from code to art to sound and so on. I'm not a huge fan of the game's pixel art, but the regular sidescrolling levels are broken up by a visually distinct pseudo-3D overworld screen. It's not a bad looking game, clearly going for a retro style, but I think it's a more interesting one than its relatively simple character sprites would otherwise let on. 

Savage: The Shard of Gosen has already made it through the soon to be defunct Steam Greenlight, and is set to release on Steam for $10 sometime later this year.

What Remains of Edith Finch

THE HIGHS 

Tom Senior: Home again‘Oh another twee game about walking around a sad house’ I thought as I started up What Remains of Edith Finch for the first time. For five minutes the game stuck to type. The narrator spoke evocatively of old memories and family secrets. Cold sunlight fell artfully through leafy branches. There were violins. It was familiar.

But then I looked up and saw the house itself—a demented construct that looks like a country mansion mashed into a vertical shanty town. Then I looked down and realised ‘oh snap, I’m pregnant!’ Fifteen minutes later I was diving into the diary of a lost family member, zooming into her world and exploring the house and the surrounding countryside from her perspective. It was still sentimental, sure, but it was also sinister, and intriguing. The beautifully modelled house is full of trick doors and hidey holes. The game is resolutely linear, but I still felt like a trespasser sneaking into locked away memories. I won’t spoil any more, but it’s the best entry in the sad house genre since the sad house genre was invented by Gone Home a few years ago.

Joe Donnelly: Into the wilder-yesSort of similar to Tom, I was sent a copy of Marshlight Software's narrative adventure game The Edgelands this week and wasn't immediately taken by it. As one of Failbetter's fundbetter initiative games, I'd had my eye on this 'un for a while but was immediately disappointed in its well-worn amnesiac protagonist introduction. Before long, though, I was out exploring its fantastical world, conversing with its bizarre and outlandish characters, and fumbling through its narrative-led puzzles. Against some striking visuals, and a killer soundtrack, my initial disdain was quickly reversed and I'm now very much looking forward to spending some more time with it this weekend.

As I mentioned in my news write-up, its creator cites Infocom-era gamebooks as a central source of inspiration, but its offbeat world also echoes that of Kentucky Route Zero's—which is easily one of the best modern examples of the genre. The Edgelands is due on May 9, and while I don't know how much it'll sell for yet, I'd certainly recommend it as one to watch out for—particularly if, like me, you're of the adventure game persuasion. 

Wes Fenlon: Old questionsI love digging into the minutiae of game history, and I got to do a lot of that, recently, in the process of writing about Final Fantasy 7's 1998 PC port. I initially planned to write something about the difficulty of porting a console game to PC 20 years ago, but after researching the port's differences from the PlayStation version, I became obsessed with one particular feature: the mouths added to the characters. Nothing else about the character models or designs was changed, but everyone got a mouth! Weird, right? I thought so, and I tracked down some of the developers to find out why. Curiosity is the best research fuel.

Tyler Wilde: Farm lifeThis guy bought a farm to live out his Stardew Valley dreams. I don’t have enough money to buy a farm, and obviously many don’t, so I’m not going to say this is some universal inspiration we should all follow. But I will say that it rules. If you could, how would you live your videogame fantasies? I’m not that into farming games, so I’d probably just buy a car and strap rockets to it and that would be the end of me. It’s probably best that I don’t. But farm guy, he’s still onto something.

Tim Clark: Go into the lightNormal service resumes this week, which means brace yourselves for more Hearthstone talk from me. It’s a relief to have finally published my thoughts on Un’Goro, which I like a lot, despite some concerns about the cost of staying competitive. I also notched up my fourth golden hero, and despite being the wrong side of 40, still get a dumb thrill from playing with Uther’s animated portrait. (Even if it wasn’t quite the as good as the first time.) Really though, I’m just pleased that Paladin is good again. I have long been of the view that Midrange Pally is the only honest and true deck in Hearthstone, so it was painful seeing the class reduced to a shadow of itself prior to Un’Goro. But cards like Hydrologist and Sunkeeper Tarim (my new favourite legendary) have helped Paladin’s board-centric game massively. If you’re looking for a good version to try, check this list out from Jab. Just beware of all the crabs.

Chris Livingston: Far High 2 Yeah, I'm back playing Far Cry 2 again. I needed a screenshot of something for a feature I'm working on, so I reinstalled it and hopped in for what could have been a quick thirty seconds but instead became about two hours. And damn do I love being in that harsh, deadly, unforgiving world once more. I'm aware of—and agree with—most of the complaints about the open-world FPS, but it's still one of my favorite games and favorite places to be. I didn't even do much—just drove around and got into a few firefights, but I loved every second of it. Also, I forgot to get the screenshot I went there for in the first place, so looks like I'll have to play some more this weekend. Not a problem. 

THE LOWS

Tyler Wilde: Duty callsAs a shooter fan, I’m glad Call of Duty is returning to World War 2, and I hope the shift means less focus on gadgets and more on basic level and weapon design. But as a person who regularly has to parse marketing speak, I’m exhausted. The reveal livestream was one of the more embarrassing I’ve seen in a long time, not because it wasn’t well-produced or Call of Duty: WWII doesn’t look good—though I haven’t really liked a Call of Duty for a while—but because Activision has pre-emptively decided that it’s a cultural achievement, a documentary of sorts with such attention to historical accuracy that it has the power to prevent future wars. I’ll call bullshit on that in more words elsewhere, but the short of it is: No, I don’t think Call of Duty: WWII is those things.

Tim Clark: Souls outAnd so it’s over. My buddy Dave and I carried each other limping, crying, and arguing about strats over the line in Dark Souls 3’s The Ringed City DLC. Now there is no more. (For the record I landed the final blow on the boss both times, you’re welcome Dave.) The Ringed City  was a decent send off for a sensational game, even if the ending didn’t resonate especially deeply with me. I think the weight of having to wrap up such a big series was always going to hang a little heavy on what is, after all, an addendum more than an expansion.

For Dave and I, co-op play was primarily a way of catching up, because both of us prefer to talk on Skype while playing something rather than endure the awkwardness of actual phone calls. For me it also meant a relatively easy way into a game that prides itself on not babying new players. If Miyazaki is to be believed, and this really is the end for the series, (he probably isn’t, it probably won’t be), then I’m going to need a new game to stay in touch with Dave. Suggestions below, please.

(Hey everyone, it's James. Tell Tim to play Bloodborne already.)

Chris Livingston: Language, pleaseI played Pinstripe this week, an adventure platformer about trying to rescue your daughter from hell. It's pretty darn spooky in parts, and more than a bit morbid—I might even categorize it as horror. Mr. Pinstripe himself is unsettling and genuinely scary the first few times you encounter him, until he very suddenly isn't because he calls you, and I quote, "douche."

Douche? It's a weird thing for a hellish spectre who has stolen your daughter to say and completely deflates any fear I had of him as an adversary. Perhaps it was an attempt at humor—and there's nothing wrong with adding some levity to horror now and then—but it really shattered the mood and the moment. It's like if Anton Chigurh, instead of saying "Call it, friend-o" had said "Call it, fart-breath." Menace can evaporate instantly, simply due to a poor choice of words. Or, in this case, word.

Wes Fenlon: Net not so neutralI have a feeling this is going to be a recurring low for me for the rest of 2017. The FCC recently rolled back privacy protections for internet users, and it's now proposing to kill net neutrality under the guise of a proposal named "Restoring Internet Freedom." What it really aims to restore is more freedom for the multi-billion dollar corporations that already have a stranglehold on the internet infrastructure of most of the US. The creator of the world wide web has already spoken out against the proposal. Hopefully thousands or millions of Americans adding their voice to hise might make the FCC reconsider. 

Tom Senior: How games dieHow many virtual trees have been made by game artists in the history of the medium? How many brick wall textures? How many longswords? Imagine the millions of hours that people in different studios have funnelled into making the same objects over and over. It’s incredible how much work is repeated and wasted during the creation of the game worlds we enjoy.

So much of it ends up in the bin. This week Diablo 2 mastermind David Brevik worried that many of the original Diablo 2 assets may have been lost, making a remaster more difficult. It reminded me that for every little piece of art, modelling or music that makes it into a published game, more are lost to cancelled projects. Even in successful games, the original files vanish—why spend money to sustain legacy servers for assets that are unlikely to ever be used again? Digitisation has saved old film, music, television and literature from the degradation of physical media, but in the digital environment games can easily fade and die, becoming incompatible as software moves on. Perhaps one day all that will remain of the games we love today will be the words that celebrated them on sites like PCGamer.com. Hopefully not, though.

Joe Donnelly: Punch drunkIn this week's more bizarre-leaning news, it seems boxing kangaroo Roger Jr won't feature in the incoming western interpretation of Tekken 7. Why? Well, I'm not entirely sure. Speaking to VG24/7 it seems executive producer Katsuhiro Harada is preempting "animal activists" from complaining by omitting the fighting macropod, yet is leaving Kuma the bear in place because he’s "obviously stronger than a human being".

Here's Harada's rationale for Roger's removal: "There was a video of a man’s dog being headlocked by a kangaroo, and he punched it in the face. It turned into a big problem. People were complaining about him punching a kangaroo. It seems that in the last few years there’s a lot more animal activists—even though they probably wouldn’t play our game they would still hear about that, about a kangaroo in our game being punched, and would complain about it."Now, I'm by no means supporting organisations like PETA's involvement in videogames over the last several years, but in their defence it seems Harada et al have jumped the gun in this instance. What's your take?

PC Gamer

My name is Edith Finch, and I'm a 17-year-old girl with a problem: My family, going back at least three generations, has a habit of dying young. Really young. Most don't make it out of childhood; my mother Dawn, who lived to 48, was an outlier. Only Edie, my great-grandmother, bucked the trend. Coincidentally or not, she was also the chronicler of the Finch family history, whose strange stories are irrevocably intertwined with the sprawling, bizarre estate that housed the clan for decades. And now, at the beginning of What Remains of Edith Finch, I'm the last one left—and I've come home to suss out their secrets, and learn the truth about the Finch family curse.

The game begins as a Gone Home-like exploration into an empty Pacific Northwestern home. The most striking thing about the Finch manor is how normal it all seems. It looks like a house that people actually lived in, built to proper proportions and furnished in an entirely mundane manner, albeit with more books than you might expect. The sealed rooms, courtesy of Edith's mom, are admittedly strange, but in a way that speaks of eccentricity rather than anything sinister. As I roamed, Edith reminisced about the mountains of canned fish in the kitchen, or the origin of the bricks in the fireplace that dominated the living room. It all seemed safe and unremarkable, like the first steps in a coming-of-age tale about a young woman seeing her family for the first time as an adult.Then I discovered the secret passage, and the shrine to Molly Finch, who died in 1947—nearly 70 years ago—at 10 years of age.

Skeletons in the closet

Molly's story is as out-of-left-field as anything I've ever encountered in a videogame.

My god, what a ride. Molly's story is as out-of-left-field as anything I've ever encountered in a videogame, and it ended on a note of completely unexpected, and thoroughly disturbing, darkness. By the time it was over, I honestly believed that I'd been faked out, and that What Remains of Edith Finch was in reality a straight-up horror tale about a 'real' family curse that only comes out at night. But that, like so much of the game, was a deft bit of misdirection.

The family stories told in What Remains of Edith Finch are filtered through the lens of time, and the closer they come to Edith's own life, the less fantastical they seem. Early tales like Molly's may have only the thinnest basis in reality—or maybe not!—while those of her uncle Gregory or her older brother Lewis are firmly rooted in fact. Yet while their demises grow less fanciful as their lives become more familiar, the impact of their losses strike much more powerfully. Most of us probably know someone like Lewis, a kind young man with a keen mind who just couldn't find his way in this world. And even when the story moves into unambiguously dangerous territory—the death of an infant, which you will not just witness but participate in—it does so with remarkable grace and sensitivity.

It was amazing to see so many different styles incorporated, and handled so well, into a single game.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a very guided tale—a 'walking simulator,' as they say—with few opportunities to explore off the beaten path, and very limited interactivity. Special movements like climbing and crouching happen automatically when necessary, and you'll be prompted to interact with the environment where, and how, appropriate. There's no inventory or choices to be made, and while some hotspots require a little bit of exploring to find, nothing is really hidden.

But the stories of the Finch family tree that are interspersed through Edith's journey more than make up for that narrow focus. Reading each of Edie’s memorials to a deceased family member took me on a unique adventure through different first-person formats: I got to know Grandpa Sam through the lens of an old, manual-focus camera, I flew a kite with Gus over a wedding on a beach, I even became the ruler of a brightly-colored videogame kingdom. None of these interludes are mechanically complex, but it was amazing to see so many different styles incorporated, and handled so well, into a single game.

I was frustrated at first by the checkpoint save system, but they come at a decent frequency, and the 'saving' indicator is easy to see, with bright, bold letters, so I was never unsure about when it was safe to pack it up and take a break. And once I was into the game it became irrelevant anyway: What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t a very long game—I logged about a half-dozen hours into it, and that’s with plenty of poking around—and it was so enthralling that I had no interest in stopping anyway.

There are a decent number of video settings to fiddle with (and it's a very pretty game), but the options to adjust the game's controls are almost completely non-existent. The mouse sensitivity can be changed, although even at maximum it's slow and sluggish, and the WASD keys can't be remapped. On the upside, there are no other controls, so you're not likely to break your brain trying to figure it out.

The end game

What Remains of Edith Finch is a masterful piece of storytelling: gorgeous, skillfully told, uplifting in places, and devastating in others.

As the branches of Edith's family tree grow closer to her own life, and more familiar to her experience, it enables her to speak more personally about them—a shift in perspective that gives her words an emotional heft that's lacking when she's reflecting on a grandparent or uncle she never met. About Lewis, whose room still bears a very familiar, pungent odor when she enters, she says, "Everyone told me to stay out of Lewis' room. Except Lewis." The shift in tone can be seen in the house itself, too, but very cleverly in the opposite direction: Barbara, who died in 1960 under perfectly mysterious (and grim) circumstances, lived in a very humdrum room on the second floor, where she pressed her laundry and did her best to cope with memories of better years. Lewis, who died when Edith was 11, literally lived in a boat in the sky.

The end of the game was intensely sad, not because of the lost family members, but because of the lost family: I could feel the inevitability of Edith and Edie's looming last day together, and it was a right kick in the guts when it came. I was filled with anger, because it was so damned unfair, but I also knew that everyone was doing their best—doing what they believed was right. Knowing that didn't take the edge off. It still doesn't.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a masterful piece of storytelling: gorgeous, skillfully told, uplifting in places, and devastating in others. Avoid seeing too many spoilers— seriously, I can't think of a game more in need of being unspoiled than this one—and play it.

Awesomenauts - the 2D moba

The three-on-three platformer-MOBA Awesomenauts has been around for nearly five years now, and has done quite well for itself in that time. But with all that water under the bridge, and player numbers not quite what they used to be, developer Ronimo Games has decided that it's time to switch things up by making the game free to play. 

"Going free-to-play has always made sense for Awesomenauts, as more players simply means it’s a better game for everyone," the studio said on Steam earlier this week. "It greatly improves the matchmaking and networking experience, and brings more people to community events and the amazing community-made mods." 

The full changeover won't take place until May 24, but the free-to-play beta for existing players went live on Wednesday with the release of the 4.0 update, cleverly called "Going Free-to-Play." It includes a new tutorial and "beginner experience" to help ease new players into the game, a new progression system for both player profiles and individual characters, an "Awesomepoints" in-game currency that can be used to unlock characters, portraits, and "droppods," and medals that will showcase various in-game achievements.   

Real money will remain the only way to purchase character skins, but it can also now be used to acquire individual characters and droppods as well. There will also be a new "Awesomenauts All Nauts Pack" available for purchase that will grant access to all current and future characters, as well as an exclusive "Collector" medal and skin. Existing players will keep all the content they currently own, and everyone who owns the base game and the Starstorm and Overdrive expansions will be automatically upgraded to the All Nauts Pack.

Ronimo rolled out a 4.0.1 update today that takes care of a number of gameplay issues that surfaced in the 4.0 update, which you can read about here

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III

Dawn of War 3 launched on April 27, and you can read our review for our verdict. Prior to release, Relic provided us with a near-final review copy, which includes a benchmark tool, so naturally I wanted to find out what sort of hardware Dawn of War 3 requires.

Note that while there was an open beta this past weekend, it was slightly different than the review copy. This is an important distinction as both drivers and the game engine will likely improve over the coming weeks, but I'm looking at how the game runs right now using the review code (we've also checked some of the features against the release build).

Quickly running through the features checklist, Dawn of War 3 is more limited than many games that I've tested. Resolution support is good, including ultrawide resolutions and even multiple monitors—though there's a quirk to that I'll get to later. And many of the other items like FOV don't really apply, since this is an overhead RTS game.

As far as the settings go, for the performance testing I'm using two options. For the 'medium' testing, I use the 'medium' setting on image quality, texture quality, and physics, with anti-aliasing set to 'off' at 1080p. These are settings that most PCs should be able to handle and it represents a base level of performance.

For the 'ultra' testing, image quality is at maximum, texture quality is set to 'higher,' physics is at 'high,' and anti-aliasing is set to 'low.' Why not 'medium' or 'high' on anti-aliasing? Both of those modes use super-sample AA, which can look nice but is basically the same as running at a higher resolution. I'll discuss the settings more below.

Be sure to check out our performance analysis video as well. Along with the usual suite of benchmarks and charts, the video provides real-time framerate comparisons. I've included three or four cards at each test setting that are reasonable options—so while I did run benchmarks with low-end graphics cards at 1440p and 4K, the video will focus on budget cards at 1080p medium, mainstream cards at 1080p ultra, and high-end hardware for 1440p and 4K ultra.

Dawn of War 3 includes a built-in benchmark, which is great as it means others can use the same tests I'm running. But there's a catch: the results collected by the benchmark include extra frames rendered before and after the actual gameplay, which can radically skew the results. To get around this, I've captured the 30 seconds of simulated gameplay using FRAPS. If you're wondering, at 1080p medium with a GTX 1080, the internal benchmark reports 190 fps average compared to just 135 fps for FRAPS.

For more information on how I'm testing gaming performance, check out our performance analysis 101 article.

MSI provided all of the hardware for this testing, mostly consisting of its Gaming/Gaming X graphics cards. These cards are designed to be fast but quiet, and the fans will shut off completely when the graphics card isn't being used. Our main test system is MSI's new Aegis Ti3, a custom case and motherboard with an overclocked 4.8GHz i7-7700K, 64GB DDR4-2400 RAM, and a pair of 512GB Plextor M8Pe M.2 NVMe solid-state drives in RAID0. There's a 2TB hard drive as well, custom lighting, and more.

MSI also provided three of its gaming notebooks for testing, the GS63VR with GTX 1060, GT62VR with GTX 1070, and GT73VR with GTX 1080. The GS63VR has a GTX 1060 6GB with a 4Kp60 display, the GT62VR has a GTX 1070 and a 1080p60 G-Sync display, and the GT73VR has a GTX 1080 with a 1080p120 G-Sync display. For testing higher resolutions on the GT-series notebooks, I used Nvidia's DSR technology.

Jumping into our entry level settings, 1080p medium is a good target for moderate graphics cards. I've tested the GTX 1050, 1050 Ti, and RX 460 as budget offerings, but if you're looking for older equivalents, the GTX 950, 960, and R7 370 should be similar. By popular demand, I've also included older generation GTX 970, R9 380 4GB, and R9 390 hardware in the testing, though those cards slot in above the budget cards. If you need to boost performance even more, dropping settings a notch or two can potentially double framerates.

Nearly all the cards break 60 fps averages at 1080p medium, though minimum fps is currently well below that mark on many GPUs. Initial testing was done with a preview build, and there's some odd stuttering and fps drops that come into play, but looking at the now-public release this has been corrected. The average fps didn't change, but the minimums have been smoothed out, particularly on faster cards.

Cranking up the image and texture quality while staying with 1080p is what I'll call 'ultra' quality. Anti-aliasing is at low (FXAA), and the performance is still good for mainstream cards. The 1060 3GB and RX 470 4GB both clear 60 fps, and only the 1050 and RX 460 cards (or similar) struggle. Faster cards like the 1070 and 1080 start pushing above 120 fps, and interestingly the Fury X beats the 1070 by a small margin.

With the higher quality textures in play, 2GB cards can also run into VRAM limitations. AMD's RX 460 2GB has a bad showing here, though future drivers will likely improve the situation. AMD did just release updated 17.4.4 drivers, which should improve the situation, with up to eight percent better performance (on the RX 580). I haven't had a chance to retest all of the AMD cards, unfortunately.

Keeping with the 'ultra' settings and cranking up the resolution definitely requires beefy graphics hardware. At 1440p, we're focusing on high-end cards, and the 1070 and above from Nvidia all continue to do well. AMD's previous generation R9 Fury X also performs well, but it's due for retirement. The RX 500 series cards are now available and RX Vega is coming soon, so until that happens Nvidia is basically unchallenged at the top of the performance stack. Everything below the GTX 1070 and Fury X fails to hit 60 fps, though opting for high/medium instead of maximum/higher settings may be enough to get you there.

For anything less than a 1080 Ti, 4K will require either lowering your standards for 'playable' from 60 fps to 30 fps, or else you'll need to drop to minimum/low settings.

Gunning for 4K means bringing the elite units into play. The GTX 1080 Ti does manage to hit 60 fps average, but only barely. You can see in the performance analysis video that some areas will run at close to 70 fps while others sit at 50 fps. This is where technologies like G-Sync and FreeSync are useful, as they link your display's refresh rate to your framerate, avoiding tearing while still delivering smooth gameplay.

For anything less than a 1080 Ti, 4K will require either lowering your standards for 'playable' from 60 fps to 30 fps, or else you'll need to drop to minimum/low settings. This is why I continue to look at 1440p as the sweet spot for high-end gaming, though I won't deny 4K on a larger screen looks great.

You might also be thinking about multiple GPUs. I did some limited testing with 1080 cards in SLI, using Nvidia's latest 381.89 drivers. The best scaling was at 4K, where the second GPU improved framerates by a mere 28 percent. That's just about enough to match the performance of a single 1080 Ti. Hmmm…. Relic's Company of Heroes 2 never got functional SLI / CrossFire support, so at least SLI is doing something here, but at lower resolutions it does very little, and a single faster GPU is the better solution.

I've only focused on the GPU side of the equation so far, but how much CPU will you need to run Dawn of War 3? Your graphics card is the primary consideration, but if you have a fast GPU you'll want a potent CPU backing it up. I ran a collection of seven CPUs through the benchmark, using the GTX 1080 Ti. This shows the worst-case situation for CPU scaling, and mostly things aren't too bad.

At 1080p, there's some clear separation between Intel's Core i7 and i5 parts, as well as from AMD's Ryzen chips. Is it enough to really matter? Only if you have a 1080 Ti—with a GTX 1080 or lower, everything from a several years old i5-4690K through Ryzen and Core i7 is fine. The only CPUs where I'd be worried are Core i3 parts, along with older AMD APUs and FX-series CPUs.

With Core i3 (and a hypothetical 2-core/4-thread Ryzen chip running at 3.9GHz), DoW3 is limited to around 75 fps—and that's in the benchmark sequence. If you were in a highly competitive multiplayer map with potentially two or three times as many units onscreen, those slower CPUs will seriously bog things down. But going from 4-core/8-thread to 8-core/16-thread (the Ryzen 1500X and 1700 lines), the extra cores only help a little bit. Pure quad-core i5 parts (or Ryzen 3 when that arrives) get you almost all the way to the top.

Again, most of these CPU limitations are only visible with an ultra-fast graphics card. Using a slower mainstream card like a GTX 1060 3GB or RX 470/570 4GB, Core i5 and Ryzen 5 are definitely sufficient. I didn't run a full set of benchmarks, but as a point of reference, there's only a five percent difference between the overclocked 4.8GHz i7-7700K and a 3.8GHz Core i5-7500 at 1080p ultra when using an RX 470. At 1080p medium, the gap is 13 percent, while at 1440p the difference is only three percent.

Moving over to the mobile side of things, MSI's gaming notebooks are very nearly the equal of their desktop counterparts. The GT73VR has a GTX 1080, with clocks that basically match MSI's factory overclocked GTX 1080 Gaming X 8G. The differences you see in the charts at 1080p and 1440p are due to the slightly slower i7-6820HK processor in the notebook, and at 4K testing you can see the mobile and notebook 1080 GPUs are tied.

The GTX 1070 and 1060 6GB mobile options aren't quite as fast—they have clocks that are about 10 percent lower than the desktop variants. If that sounds like a big deal, keep in mind the old mobile graphics solutions used to use a lesser GPU with fewer cores, along with lower clockspeeds. It was usually a 30-40 percent difference compared to desktop cards.

The GT-series notebooks also include G-Sync displays, with a 120Hz panel on the GT73VR and a 60Hz display on the GT62VR. The higher refresh rate is the way to go, as it means the performance potential doesn't go to waste. The GS63VR meanwhile has a 4K IPS display, which looks beautiful but unfortunately proves a bit much for its slower GPU when it comes to gaming.

I skipped over the discussion of settings to get to the interesting stuff, but I wanted to cover a few things before wrapping up. Unlike many other games I've tested, the graphics settings in Dawn of War 3 are quite limited. Resolution support appears, but at present it doesn't do what you'd expect. Instead, the game runs at your desktop resolution (as a borderless window), and any resolution you set in the game is rendered internally and then scaled to your desktop resolution. That means alt-tabbing won't usually cause problems, but it's a bit weird to not have direct control over the game resolution.

There's a scaling option that also overlaps this functionality, with three scaling factors: 100 percent, 67 percent, and 50 percent. If you have a 4K monitor, those will cause the game to render at 4K, 1440p, or 1080p respectively, but you get the same result by setting 1440p or 1080p. Note also that if you have a high resolution display like 4K, that still uses more video memory, so you lose a few percent in performance.

In my experience, rather than running at 4K with 50 percent scaling (or setting the internal rendering to a lower resolution), you're much better off running at 1080p via the desktop resolution setting, with 100 percent scaling. That's what I've done for all of the performance results today.

The only options for modifying graphics are the overall image quality, the texture quality, anti-aliasing, and physics. The above gallery shows the difference between the six Image Quality settings, though it's hard to spot the differences once you've moved past minimum and low.

There's a pretty healthy jump in performance going from low to the minimum image quality setting (about 50 percent), but minimum image quality also turns off most of the lighting, shadows, and other graphical effects. Going from maximum to low meanwhile only improves performance another 30-40 percent. Texture quality causes the game to use higher resolution textures, though I didn't see a massive difference between low quality and 'higher' quality. If you have a graphics card with only 2GB VRAM, you'll probably want to stick with the medium setting.

As noted above, anti-aliasing can have a huge impact on performance at the medium and high settings. Medium uses 1.44x SSAA and high uses 2.25x SSAA, the net result being performance that scales just like it would with higher resolutions—4K with high AA is like running at 5760x3240 with Low AA.

Finally, let's talk about the benchmark itself. The built-in benchmark has a moderate number of units onscreen, giving a decent look at performance. If you put as many units as possible on the screen at the same time, it can drag performance down, but that doesn't represent typical gameplay.

Another item to note is that the benchmark runs in a letterboxed mode with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen (at least when using 16:9 aspect ratios). That means fewer pixels to render, so there's a slight difference between the benchmark and actual gameplay. But performance can vary widely depending on what's happening onscreen, and any benchmark is merely a snapshot of performance. Other areas may run faster or slower, but framerates generally scale the same across the hardware configurations.

Real-time strategy games are a bit different compared to first-person shooters. With the overhead view and mouse-driven interface, extremely high framerates aren't quite as critical as on shooters. Unless you're a 200+ clicks-per-minute pro looking for every edge you can possibly find, in which case higher framerates can only help.

As far as AMD vs. Nvidia, AMD's previous generation R9 300-series and Fury cards perform well, though the RX 480 is faster than the 390, indicating Dawn of War 3 benefits from the architectural improvements. For Nvidia, previous generation 900-series GPUs aren't radically different from the 10-series parts, so the GTX 970 occupies its typical middle ground between the 1050 Ti and the 1060 3GB.

Overall, the GTX 1080 and 1080 Ti obviously rank as the top performing cards. Until the RX Vega cards come out, that's not going to change. Just be aware that if you're using such a fast GPU, you'll also want a fast CPU. It's too bad the game doesn't scale much beyond four CPU cores. For mainstream users, AMD's RX 470/480 (and the nearly-the-same 570/580 updates) are a better value, but any of the current generation GPUs can deliver a good experience here.

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