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When does a console generation arrive?
Most people would agree that the seventh gen started when the Xbox 360 launched but that answers a different and thoroughly less interesting question.
It isn't unreasonable to say that the 360 era arrived on the carrier wave of Patrick Stewart's Royal Shakespeare Company tones announcing the final hours of the life of Uriel Septim 7, god-emperor of Tamriel, whose death serves as the starting gun for The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion and quite arguably the golden age of western RPGs that followed. A golden age that includes The Witcher 3, as if anyone needs to be reminded.
There are more wonderful games being released on PC each month than ever before. In such a time of plenty, it’s important that you spend your time as wisely as possible. Thankfully, we’re here to help. What follows are our picks for the best PC games ever made. (more…)
Skyrim's dirty little secret is that it isn't that large. Oh, it remains fairly gigantic by the standards of other virtual landscapes, even next to its youthful imitator and usurper, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But set against what it pretends to be - a kingdom stretching from arctic wastes to the temperate south, racked by dynastic squabbles and laced with the treasures and detritus of millennia - it's actually pretty dang tiddly, a little over 14 square miles in scope.
14 square miles? That's no bygone, mystery-shadowed dominion rearing its shrines and watchtowers amid sunflashed snow. That's a jumped-up theme park, a country music festival. More to the point, that's approximately the same size as The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, a game which has become something of a punching bag for Elder Scrolls aficionados in hindsight - neither as grand as its swaggering barbarian brother, nor as memorably odd as burned-out hippy uncle Morrowind. Steer clear of distractions like temperamental mammoth herds and you can walk from one side of Skyrim to the other in half an hour.
I'm being quite obtuse, of course. If open world games were required to be as large as their inspirations or narrative aspirations they'd never get finished, and in any case, who would have the time to play them? The fascinating thing about open world design is that it's not really about size at all. It's more the art of the deceptive miniature - of making the poky or digestible seem enormous to the point of exhausting, even as distant cities reveal themselves for neighbouring hamlets, fearsome mountains for mere well-appointed foothills. Skyrim is extremely good at this, to a degree I'm not sure any game environment can rival save the corkscrew terrain of the original Dark Souls. It launches on Switch this week, glory of glories, and I've spent a few hours with the remastered PC version to remind myself of its achievements.
The environments of massive open-world games, particularly in recent years, have been rightly praised for their representation, scale and design accuracy. However, there are some gems at the other end of the spectrum - environments that make you feel cramped, tense and desperate for a break. This is an approach to environment design utilised in our real-world, from gardens to architecture, and is mirrored excellently in some game environments, creating areas that trap us in cramped, claustrophobic conditions.
The underground tunnel network of the Metro series, adapted for human life but traversed with trepidation and tension, nailed its own post-apocalyptic look and feel, and had claustrophobia, discomfort and fear oozing from its design. These spaces successfully evoke real-world design principles of landscape mazes and labyrinths, such as dead ends, twists and turns to cause doubling back and elevate desperation, fluctuating size and scale of spaces, and a continuous and monotonal finish (a symphony of grey in Metro's case) that makes every surface and area look the same, but also makes for an unrelenting and repressive aesthetic.
Often, the spaces are not only characteristic of uncomfortable mazes and tunnels, but their disrepair and crumbling structure means they have a constant feeling of pressure and weight about them: the feeling that, at any moment, the space could collapse on top of Artyom's head. The tunnels are also powerful spaces as they are a believable and familiar environment to us; adapting a real-world, recognisably claustrophobic environment makes for a powerfully uncomfortable virtual space.
Update: Patreon has removed the fraudulent campaign page for violating its TOS, specifically with regards to "impersonation:" With allowances for satire and comedy, " You cannot pretend or impersonate another creator, such as using someone else's name, brand, or content in order to raise funds."
Morrowind, the best of Bethesda's long-running Elder Scrolls series (and I'll hear no more about it), is set on Vvardenfell, an island within the Dunmer home province of Morrowind. The mainland is never properly seen: The Tribunal expansion technically takes place there, but it's contained entirely within the walled city of Mournhold and so doesn't really count. It's a shortcoming that the ambitious Tamriel Rebuilt mod, which we took a closer look at earlier this year, aims to overcome by recreating and adding all of that missing landmass to the game.
The project is entirely volunteer, which is one of the reasons there's no end in sight after more than 15 years of work. It's also why you probably wouldn't be surprised to see a Patreon campaign supporting its creation. Don't back it, though, even if you're a big Elder Scrolls fan, because it's a fraud.
"There is currently a link going around to a Patreon page masquerading as our official account, asking for donations to keep Tamriel Rebuilt running," a message on the official Tamriel Rebuilt website warns. "This account is not affiliated with us in any way, shape or form. We do not have, nor do we plan to have, a Patreon account at all."
The mod makers say they've made Patreon aware of the situation, but the campaign remains up for now. Fortunately, nobody has donated to it so far. (And to help keep it that way, I'm not linking to the campaign page.)
Despite not being complete, Tamriel Rebuilt is playable as a work-in-progress. You'll need a copy of Morrowind and the Bloodmoon and Tribunal expansion to dive in—if you've got all that, you can download the most recent release of the mod here.
My earliest memories of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall were of fear and excitement at the boundless possibilities of a true fantasy sandbox. Of amazement at the most comprehensive character creation screen I’d ever seen, and of deep annoyance when I managed to fall through the floor and into an endless void in the first minute of the game.
I’ve spent over twenty years waiting for someone to fix Daggerfall, and that dream seems tantalisingly close to being realised. Daggerfall Unity (Daggerfall ported to the Unity engine, shockingly, and something we’d briefly covered years ago) can now be played to completion, and with greatly reduced risk of falling through a crack in the world.
Bethesda’s new ‘Creation Club’ DLC microtransaction store has launched for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition [official site], following a beta last week and its debut in Fallout 4 in August. It stocks mostly packs of weapons, armour, and bits for a couple of quid each – nothing exciting. Perhaps the biggest bit is Survival Mode, which adds hunger and cold and all those survival things you find in survival mods. To lure people into the Creation Club, Survival Mode is free if you grab it right now. (more…)
After a less-than-successful initial foray into the realm of monetising Skyrim mods, Bethesda are presently rolling out a public beta of their Creation Club – their DLC-esque, more corporate alternative – to the revamped Skyrim Special Edition [official site]. To sweeten the pot, they’re offering early adopters the option to claim a free copy of Survival Mode, a major gameplay modification adding the management of simulated hunger, tiredness and cold to the already-hazardous environment.
A couple of weeks back – when I also went hands-on with both Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and The Evil Within 2 – I goggled up and gave the upcoming VR version of 2016’s Doom a spin, as well as bearing witness to other folks’ flailing and giggling in Skyrim VR and Fallout VR. Bethesda’s triptych of 3D ultravision spin-offs are due before the year is out, with Skyrim only available on PSVR at least initially and Fallout and Doom only officially> supporting HTC Vive, for obvious reasons. Their arrival is a pretty big event for a technology that so far has leaned far more heavily on brand new things rather than established names.
Curious about what this means for the technology and for Doom, Skyrim and Fallout, I picked Bethesda VP Pete Hine’s brains about the whys and wherefores, and what it might imply for the future of their own VR efforts. Also below: my own quick impressions of Doom VFR [official site].
I have never seen a more tragic comments section than the one from a few weeks back when we asked our readers to . Over 200 of you shared stories of despair and woe as hard drives crashed, Uplay cloud saves glitched, or a simple misclick spelled doom for countless hours of gaming.
We've collected the saddest, most heartbreaking stories below so that you can wallow in their misery. And if you didn't get a chance to contribute your own story, do so in the comments.
This one hits hard because the emotional loss is so apparent. It's one thing to fall in love with your Morrowind character and your adventures together, but Bear's story of losing his entire library of collected books in Morrowind because of a virus really stings.
My first Morrowind character. I had made an Argonian and enjoyed the wonders that the game had to offer, discovered mods a number of hours in, got myself a few decent ones, joined House Telvanni to appreciate the irony of being an Argonian and of Telvanni, and progressed very little on the main questline but became deeply infatuated with the world.
I kept telling myself, I'll do the main quest later, and something would come up. When the "something" was the Thieves Guild, I became captivated with in-game theft, and I claimed a home that was empty after I'd murdered the owner as my loot den.
I use the word loot loosely. I was only interested in one type of item to steal: books. I ventured back and forth across the continent stealing every book I could manage, piling stacks of books as high as I could manage in my den of ill-gotten goods, occasionally tossing other stolen things on the floor, but my pride were the hundreds of books stacked taller than my Argonian. The small room would take a good ten minutes to load because of the sheer amount of books. I'd take detours while exploring just to raid places looking for books. Even if I got one book, I was pleased to be able to add it to my collection.
This was the first time I'd pumped so many hours into any game, ever. It was probably 2003 or 2004, and I had a PC that was rough around the edges at best. It was passed to me by my father as a reject for his own uses, no doubt in hopes that I would get my 12 or 13-year-old behind off the family PC with minimal trouble, and it worked. Until my young self made an uneducated choice in my forays on the internet and I picked up a particularly nasty virus while trying to download some free graphics editing software. The PC wouldn't boot. My father refused to help me fix it (apparently he had regrets for giving me my own PC, because my internet usage increased rapidly) and I couldn't figure it out.
My father finally just reformatted the hard drive and when I went to restart Morrowind, my hundreds of hours and couple years of gameplay was lost. I'd just lost the one thing that helped let me escape the troubles of being a bullied, friendless kid so easily before.
Not all of these stories have to do with losing a save file entirely. Some deal with the existential horror of being trapped in one location, never able to escape. Of course, that horror becomes a lot more tangible when there's a giant xenomorph rapping at your chamber door.
Alien: Isolation is a bit mean with the saving system. You have to find what looks like a retro telephone booth and dial a number, making sure that Mr. Alien is not about to skewer you with his tongue or show you his six freaky fingers. You can only go back two save points, so you have to be very careful.
After a month spent hiding in lockers and wetting myself, I'd progressed through the game painfully slowly. I was escaping from the nest and it looked like I was finally getting Amanda off Sevastapol for good. I only had to take a lift up to a safer level. Sadly, I dropped a gun while being chased by the Alien and it got wedged in the door in a very glitchy way. The glitch meant that although I could take the lift, the next level wouldn't load. I was stuck! I couldn't retrieve an early enough save file to avoid the glitching gun. I haven't had the courage to replay the entire game to get to that point, so I'll never know if Amanda made it.
She's left forever in that lift with the Alien banging on the door outside.
Listen, people make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can hurt us, but I'm not sure if I'd ever end a relationship over a lost game save. But I guess The Witcher 3 isn't your average game.
Some time ago, my ex girlfriend wanted to play The Witcher 3 and I shared it from my Steam library with her. One day she played it in my PC, and when I came to play I realized that the save files in The Witcher 3 are the same when you share from your Steam library, and she saved her game in the same slot as mine. I lost my lvl 55 Geralt, my witcher gear and swords—everything. My time in Ard Skellige looking for treasures didn't serve for anything. I broke up with her some time ago and I use this story to explain why she is now my ex hahahaha.
I'm sure parents are equally as responsible for deleted saves as failing hardware. But there's something especially tragic when it all happens because they were trying to do something nice for you.
In the late nineties, my dad surprised me for my birthday with some PC upgrades: a new monitor, bigger hard drive, and new graphics card. Of course, he'd wiped my old hard drive. Ten years of save files, writing, gig upon gig of films and music, all gone.
Commenter Grom Hellscream sums up the tragedy perfectly:
"Happy birthday, son. I formatted your entire childhood."
If you've ever saved immediately before your demise only to find that you're now stuck replaying your death over and over, you can sympathise with Berty Bennish's story.
I was playing the first Call of Duty back when it first came out. I would regularly save my games but in this instance, my last save was a couple of levels before the incident. It was the daylight St. Mere-Eglise level. After destroying the tank that comes out of the wall I ran round the corner heading towards where you would get in the car. I killed a couple of guys and ran a bit further. Game decides to auto save right when a German soldier pops round the corner and blasts me in the head. Instant death.
and so on…
What's hilarious about this particular story is that another one of our commenters had nearly the exact same problem.
When I was playing Call of Duty, way back in the day, there was a tank section. I hadn't saved for the entirety of the (rather long) mission, and contrived to save at the exact moment a shell was fired in my direction, a shell which would wipe me out.
Every time I tried to reload, the shell would fire and I would die. Over and over. I was shattered.
If a psychologist interviews me years from now and asks me why my dreams often have intermittent flashes of light, this is 100 percent the reason. Poor old toddler me.
Parents have unwittingly destroyed thousands of hours of time invested into games, but Zach Fathaigh's story flips the script. I'm assuming his mother had a hard time looking at him for a few days after.
1996's The Realm is a fun proto-MMO that my mom was obsessed with. You get four or five character slots, I can't remember which. My mom let me have one of those slots (thank you, Mom). My older brother asked me what the game was like and I wanted to show him how fun it was to start a new character. So I looked at the list and saw Mom's two really badass characters, my character, and a level 1 naked character. I deleted that one to make room for my brother's character.
The deleted character was a mule with hundreds of hours worth of loot. I forgot about this incident entirely until my mom reminded me of it over the weekend.
We've all had hardware fail. Picking up and starting a game from the ashes of an old save is awful. Having to do it twice? No thanks.
Christmas of 1999, I get the one game I really wanted under the tree. That big, ugly (beautiful?) orange and purple box. Planescape: Torment. From Christmas day until just before New Years, I put about 25-ish hours into the game. I was really into it. Then my hard drive crashed. I was devastated. I had the computer fixed within a week, but it took me another month or two to work up the nerve to start the game over from scratch. I did it, though. Even made some slightly different choices. It was a bit tedious to read ALL that text again, but after a good 15 hours or so, I got back to where I'd been. Played another 20-ish hours and... BAM, another hard drive crash.
Here's a tip, kids: Don't skimp out on your power supply when building a PC. It killed two hard drives before I knew the cause. Anyway, to say it was soul crushing was an understatement. I haven't beaten Planescape: Torment to this day. I've tried going back to it, but I end up losing interest before I ever get back to where I was. Best RPG of all time? Maybe. It's too painful for me to be able to ever know.
Speaking of hard drive failures, I can't stress enough how important it is to back up important projects. We had countless stories about people losing game saves, but entire games? Seriously, don't wind up like Matt.
I once made an entire game in RPG maker VX-ACE. It was called the Tower of Trials. It was short and utilized only the assets the game provided. It had some random elements, little story, and was intended for short-runs about 30-40 minutes long. I worked on it for two years, starting on my old laptop and eventually finishing it on my first PC. It was my own little project and only a few of my friends played it. Then I discovered why people told me not to buy cheap HDDs. My hard drive crapped out on me and two years of work was lost. My oldest version of the game was on my old laptop and only had three floors of the tower completed. Needless to say, my current rig is running on a Samsung SSD.
It's one thing to lose a save file, but to lose the ability to play a game altogether? Now that's tragic.
Back in elementary school, 2001 or so, I really liked Harry Potter. Neither me nor my parents could afford a PC or anything to play modern games (had an Atari 130 XE though), so I was very happy when someone left Philosopher's Stone installed at the school's computer lab.
I could only play video games for a limited time after classes, so I only made it to Herbology Class over the course of several months. The game felt amazing to me, probably because I was reading Harry Potter books around the same time.
Once I went to school as usual, but after arriving I noticed it was completely deserted. Normally, entire halls would be filled with sounds of children playing but there was not a single soul in sight. I went upstairs. After walking around for a minute, I was spotted by the principal's assistant who rushed me to the cafeteria.
When we arrived there, I saw that all students were crammed inside. I quickly learned from colleagues that the school was robbed overnight. Robbers broke the window and stole a boombox, whole bunch of chocolate bars from school's kiosk, and every single PC from the lab. I lost not only the save file I worked for what felt like eternity, I lost the ability to play my beloved game in the first place.
Some comments were edited for grammar and clarity.