Depending on where you are in the world, today or tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The open-world role-playing game was one of a few titles in the early 2000s that genuinely changed my relationship with gaming as a hobby – and kept me engaged when I might’ve otherwise began to drift away. To me, even twenty years later it still represents the high-water mark of the entire Elder Scrolls series, and I’d probably even go so far as to call it one of my favourite games ever.
It can be difficult to fully explain how revolutionary some games felt at the time, especially to younger folks who grew up playing games with many of the modern features and visual styles that still dominate the medium today. But in 2002, a game like Morrowind was genuinely groundbreaking; quite literally defining for the very first time what the term “open-world” could truly mean.
For players like myself who cut our teeth on the pretty basic, almost story-less 2D games of the 1980s on consoles like the Commodore 64 or NES, the technological leap to bring a world like Morrowind’s to life is staggering. Considering the iterative improvements that the last few console generations have offered, it’s something that we may never see again, at least not in such a radical form. Comparing a game like Morrowind to some of the earliest games I can remember playing must be akin to what people of my parents’ generation describe when going from black-and-white to colour TV!
One thing that felt incredibly revolutionary about Morrowind was how many completely different and unrelated stories were present. There was a main quest, and it was an interesting one, but instead of just random side-missions that involved collecting something or solving a single puzzle, there were entire questlines for different factions that were just as long and in-depth as anything the main quest had to offer. It was possible to entirely ignore the main quest in favour of pursuing other stories, and that made Morrowind feel like a true role-playing experience.
For the first time (at least the first time that I’d encountered), here was a game that gave me genuine freedom of choice to be whoever I wanted to be – within the confines of its fantasy setting. There were the usual classes – I could choose whether to be a sword-wielding warrior, a sneaky archer, a mage, and so on – but more than that, I could choose which stories I wanted to participate in… and choosing one faction over another would, at least in some cases, permanently close off the other faction to that character. That mechanic alone gave Morrowind a huge amount of replayability.
To this day there are quests in Morrowind that I haven’t completed – or even started! That stands as testament to just how overstuffed this game was, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, the amount of content in Morrowind eclipses both of its sequels: Oblivion and Skyrim. Morrowind offers more quests, more factions to join, more NPCs to interact with, more types of weapons to use, more styles of magic to use, and while its open world may be geographically smaller, it feels large and certainly more varied – at least in some respects – than either of its sequels.
I first played Morrowind on the original Xbox – the console I’d bought to replace the Dreamcast after that machine’s unceremonious exit from the early 2000s console war! But the PC version gave the game a whole new lease of life thanks to modding – and mods are still being created for the game 20 years later. There are mods that completely overhaul Morrowind’s graphics, meaning that it can look phenomenal on a modern-day PC, and there are so many different player-made quests, items, weapons, characters, and even wholly new locations that the game can feel like an entirely new experience even though it’s marking a milestone anniversary.
Although modding and mod communities had been around before Morrowind came along, it was one of the first games that I can recall to genuinely lean into and encourage the practice. The PC version of Morrowind shipped with a piece of software called The Elder Scrolls Construction Set as a free extra, and it contained everything players needed to get started with modding. I even had a play with the Construction Set when I got the PC version of Morrowind a few years after its release, and while I lack the technical skills to create anything substantial, I remember it being an interesting experience.
I followed a guide I found online and managed to create a companion for the main character, as well as added doors to a specific house so it could be accessed from any of the towns on the map! I also added a few items to the game, like an overpowered sword with a silly name. By this point, Morrowind and its mods were just good fun, and as I didn’t have a PC capable of running Oblivion when that was released a few years later, Morrowind mods were an acceptable stand-in!
Before Morrowind became overladen with mods, though, there were two incredible expansion packs released for the game. This was before the era of cut-content DLC or mini DLC packs that added nothing of substance, so both Tribunal and Bloodmoon were massive expansions that were almost like new games in their own ways. Both added new areas to explore, new factions, new characters, new items, and new questlines. While Tribunal was fantastic with its air of mystery, I personally enjoyed Bloodmoon even more. I like wintery environments, and the frozen island of Solstheim, far to the north of the main map, was exactly the kind of exciting environment that I’d been looking for.
So that’s it for today, really. I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the anniversary of one of my favourite role-playing games, to celebrate some of the things that made it great – and continue to make it a game that I’m happy to return to and to recommend to fans of the genre. Regular readers might’ve seen Morrowind on some of my “PC gaming deals” lists around Christmas or in the summertime, and when Morrowind goes on sale on Steam, for example, the game-of-the-year edition with both expansion packs can be less than the price of a coffee. It’s also on Game Pass following Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda – so there’s no excuse not to give it a try, at least!
In the twenty years since Morrowind was released, many other games have imitated its open-world layout, its factions, its branching questlines, and its diversity. Some newer games have bigger worlds, more characters, and so on… but Morrowind will always be a pioneer. It may not have got everything right, but it’s a landmark in the history of video games that showed us just how immersive and real a fantasy world could feel.
As one of the first games of its kind that I ever played, I have very fond memories of Morrowind. Often when I pick up a new open-world, fantasy, or role-playing title, I’ll find myself unconsciously comparing it to Morrowind, or noting that Morrowind was the first game where I encountered some gameplay mechanic or element for the first time. It really is an incredibly important game. So happy birthday, Morrowind! Here’s to twenty years!
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is out now and can be purchased for PC or via Xbox Game Pass. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Some images above courtesy of UESP.net. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Well that certainly came out of nowhere! Microsoft has opened its wallet once again, this time buying up massive video games publisher Activision Blizzard for a whopping $69 billion. Nice.
After receiving criticism during the previous console generation for the lack of exclusive games on its Xbox One system, Microsoft has stepped up in a big way in the last few years. Early moves brought on board companies like Obsidian and Rare, and then last year came another shock announcement: the acquisition of ZeniMax – the parent company of Bethesda. All of those laid the groundwork for something big, and Microsoft has now added Activision Blizzard to its lineup, bringing on board hugely popular games and franchises like Call of Duty, Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and even popular mobile game Candy Crush.
At almost ten times the price of its Bethesda purchase, Microsoft clearly has big plans for Activision Blizzard and its games. Even by the standards of other corporate takeovers, $69 billion is a lot of money – an almost unfathomable amount. As Microsoft looks to expand its Xbox and PC gaming platforms, though, it makes a lot of sense to bring on board a company like Activision Blizzard.
Keep in mind that Microsoft is currently pushing hard to take gaming as a whole in a new direction, pioneering a subscription model based on the likes of Netflix – indeed, Game Pass was originally pitched as the video game equivalent of Netflix. Though on the surface the company seems to be taking a two-pronged approach, with its Xbox home console family and PC gaming being separate, in many ways that isn’t really the case any more. Microsoft’s goal is to bring these two platforms as close together as possible, offering most games to players regardless of their chosen platform. One need only look to two of the biggest releases of the past year as an example: both Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 came to both Xbox and PC, despite originally being franchises that were exclusive to consoles.
Let’s step back for a moment. My initial reaction to this news was disbelief! But after double-checking my sources and confirming that this was, in fact, not some kind of elaborate prank, my next thoughts were of the Activision Blizzard scandal, and how from Microsoft’s point of view this may not have been the best time to announce this acquisition.
There’s no denying that Activision Blizzard is a tainted brand in the eyes of many players, with the severity of the sexual abuse scandal cutting through to make the news in mainstream outlets when it broke last year. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, the scandal is part of the reason why Microsoft may have felt that the timing was right – Activision Blizzard shares had lost basically a third of their value over the last few months (down from almost $100 per share to below $65 prior to the acquisition announcement). Microsoft arguably made a savvy deal in some respects.
There also seems to be a sense from at least some quarters of the gaming press and gaming community that Microsoft is “swooping in” to save Activision Blizzard from the scandal, perhaps even preserving the jobs of some employees or protecting games and franchises from cancellation. I didn’t really expect this reaction, and while it’s safe to say there’s been plenty of criticism to balance out some of the positivity, overall the mood of players seems to be more in favour of this acquisition than opposed to it.
We should talk about exclusivity before we go any further. Despite the hopeful – almost desperate – claims being made in some quarters, Microsoft isn’t going to publish Activision Blizzard titles on PlayStation forever. Once the deal has gone through and existing contracts have been fulfilled, expect to see all of Activision Blizzard’s new titles and big franchises become Xbox, PC, and Game Pass exclusives.
This is exactly what happened with Bethesda. Some players clung to the argument that Microsoft somehow wouldn’t want to limit the sales of some of these games to Xbox and PC players only, with some even going so far as to claim that we were witnessing the “death of console exclusives.” That hasn’t happened (to put it mildly) and we’re now expecting massive games like Starfield to become Xbox, PC, and Game Pass exclusives.
When Microsoft first jumped into the home console market in 2001 with the original Xbox, a lot of games industry critics and commentators argued that the company would open its wallet and spend, spend, spend in order to compete with the likes of Sega, Nintendo, and Sony. Microsoft certainly made some sound investments in games early on, but it’s really taken almost twenty years for some of those concerns to be borne out – and by now, the gaming landscape has so thoroughly shifted that it doesn’t feel like a bad thing any more.
When Microsoft announced the acquisitions of the likes of Oblivion, Rare, and even Bethesda, there was still a sense that the games industry was pursuing its longstanding business model: develop games, release them, sell them, turn a profit, repeat. But now I believe we’re actually in the midst of a major realignment in the way the entire games industry operates – a realignment that’s shaping up to be as disruptive as Netflix’s emergence as a streaming powerhouse in the early 2010s.
Microsoft isn’t making all of these big purchases just to make games and sell them individually. That approach will remain for the foreseeable future, of course, but it isn’t the company’s primary objective. In my view, this is all about Game Pass – Microsoft’s subscription service. Microsoft has seen how successful the subscription model has been for the likes of Netflix – but more importantly for the likes of Disney with Disney+.
As streaming has become bigger and bigger in the film and television sphere, more companies have tried to set up their own competing platforms. In doing so, they pulled their titles from Netflix – something we saw very recently with Star Trek: Discovery, for example, which will now be exclusively available on Paramount+. Microsoft is not content to simply license titles from other companies – like Activision Blizzard – because they fear that a day is coming soon when other companies try to become direct competitors with their own platforms – muscling in on what Microsoft sees as its turf. If Sony gets its act together and finally manages to launch a Game Pass competitor on its PlayStation consoles, Microsoft will be in an out-and-out scrap, and pre-empting that fight is what acquisitions like this one are all about.
If Netflix had had the foresight to use a portion of the money it had been making in the early 2010s to buy up film studios or television production companies, it would have lost far fewer titles over the last few years, and wouldn’t have needed to pivot so heavily into creating its own content from scratch. I think that the Activision Blizzard deal is one way for Microsoft to shore up its own subscription service ahead of a potential repeat of the “streaming wars” in the video game realm.
So it isn’t just about “more games for Game Pass” – this deal is about Microsoft’s vision for the future of gaming as a medium, and also their concerns about other companies trying to elbow their way in and become serious competitors. Spending $69 billion may be a huge financial hit up front, but if it pays off it will mean that Game Pass will remain competitive and profitable for years – or even decades – to come. That’s the attitude that I see through this move.
And I don’t believe for a moment that Microsoft is done. Activision Blizzard may be the company’s biggest acquisition to date, but it won’t be the last. When the deal is done and has officially gone through – something that most likely won’t happen for at least twelve months – expect to see Microsoft lining up its next big purchase, and it could be yet another games industry heavyweight. There have been rumours in the past that Microsoft had considered making a move for Electronic Arts, for example… so watch this space!
As a player, these are exciting times – but also turbulent times. I increasingly feel that it’s hardly worth purchasing brand-new games, because several massive titles that I’ve spent money on have ended up coming to Game Pass. In the last few days the Hitman trilogy has arrived on the platform, Doom Eternal landed on Game Pass last year, and even Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is now on the platform less than a year after its release. What’s the point in buying any new games any more? Let’s just wait and it seems Microsoft will eventually bring them to Game Pass!
This is, of course, an attitude Microsoft wants to foster. If Game Pass is an appealing prospect, players will stop buying games. Once they’re “locked in” to the Game Pass ecosystem, Microsoft thinks it’s got them for the long haul. This is how Netflix, Disney+, and other streaming platforms view their audiences, too: once someone has been hooked in, they tend to stay hooked in. That’s why they put the majority of their time and energy into recruiting new subscribers rather than ensuring current subscribers stay signed up.
So it’s an interesting moment in gaming, and one that has the potential to herald an entirely new chapter in the medium’s history. People who decry the death of buying individual titles increasingly feel like they’re on the losing side; relics of an era that’s rapidly drawing to a close. Subscriptions have basically become the norm in film and television, with sales of DVDs, Blu-rays, and the like in what seems to be terminal decline. Television viewership, along with cable and satellite subscriptions, are likewise declining.
And who really feels that the death of broadcast television is something to mourn? Subscription platforms offered viewers a better deal – so they snapped it up. If Game Pass can do the same for gaming, more and more players will jump on board.
Speaking for myself, I’ve been a subscriber to the PC version of Game Pass for almost a year-and-a-half. In that time, my subscription has cost me £8 per month ($10 in the US, I think). Call it eighteen months, and that’s £144 – or roughly the same amount of money as three brand-new full-price video games. In that time I’ve played more than three games, meaning Game Pass feels like a pretty good deal. If Microsoft continues to splash its cash on the likes of Activision Blizzard, bringing even more titles to the platform without asking me to pay substantially more for my subscription, then as a consumer I gotta say it’s worth it.
One corporate acquisition on its own does not irreversibly shift the gaming landscape. But we’re on a trajectory now that I believe will see gaming move away from the old way of doing business into a new era where subscriptions will be a dominant force. There will be advantages and disadvantages to this, but I don’t see it slowing down. As the likes of Sony and even Nintendo try to compete with Game Pass, if anything we’re likely to see this trend speed up.
Watch this space – because this certainly won’t be Microsoft’s last big move.
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some promotional screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Halo Infinite, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and other iterations of the Halo franchise.
After the longest gap in between games since the franchise began, Halo Infinite was finally released last week. I haven’t yet completed the campaign, but I’ve spent a couple of hours with the game so far – enough time to give you my first impressions and initial thoughts about Halo Infinite.
First up, make sure you choose the right version when you go to download it! I have Game Pass for PC, and on the homepage of the Xbox app there was a big Halo Infinite icon, so I clicked it and it began to download – taking hours on my painfully slow internet connection. When it was done I booted up the game… only to find I couldn’t play the campaign, just the multiplayer! The campaign is a separate download, so I had to wait another few hours for that. Not the best start – and this should really be made clearer on the Xbox app.
When I was able to load the campaign, I immediately encountered an issue with the audio. I usually play games with headphones on, but although my headphones were plugged in there was no audio. After some investigating, the only way I could find to fix it came from someone else who’d had a similar problem and shared their solution on a forum – I had to go into my PC’s sound settings and change my headphone settings. Something uncomplicated but stupidly obscure; how this person figured it out I’ve no idea! It worked fine after that – but again, Halo Infinite made a poor first impression as a result.
The game opens with a cut-scene showing the Master Chief being thrown into space by an alien monster – the leader of a villainous faction called the Banished. This villain, and a couple of other Banished leaders who we’re also introduced to in cut-scenes across the game’s opening act, all feel quite generic. The vocal performances were hammy and over-the-top, and I don’t really get the impression that the leaders of the Banished are anything other than “evil for the sake of it” kind of villains. By default this makes the game less compelling and less interesting!
I haven’t played Halo 5; it wasn’t included as part of The Master Chief Collection when that was released on PC a couple of years ago, and it hasn’t been released as a standalone title. But the pre-release marketing and chatter about Halo Infinite seemed to indicate that the game was some kind of soft renewal of the franchise and would be a good jumping-on point for players unfamiliar with the world and lore of the Halo series – a series which, lest we forget, has recently passed its twentieth anniversary. Based on my first couple of hours with the game, I have to disagree with that.
Halo Infinite feels like an unapologetic sequel. We don’t find out why the Master Chief happened to be aboard that starship, and pretty quickly as he retrieves not-Cortana from a nearby Halo ring the game seems to reference events that took place in Halo 5 – something about Cortana going rogue and needing to be deleted. At this point I feel pretty lost with the story, with Master Chief blindly shooting his way through waves of enemies without any readily apparent goal or purpose.
I took a decade off from the Halo games after Reach, and it was only when I got The Master Chief Collection on PC that I played the fourth game in the series and the ODST spin-off. So I’m not the world’s biggest Halo fan by any stretch, and maybe big fans of the franchise are having a whale of a time – if so, that’s fantastic. I don’t want to detract from anyone’s enjoyment by being an old sourpuss! But Halo Infinite’s story appears to rely heavily on what came before, so for new fans or for folks who’ve been out of the loop, maybe The Master Chief Collection would be a better way to get started.
I found a couple of very odd graphical bugs during my relatively short time with the game, too. During the second mission, when Master Chief has arrived at the Halo installation, doorways appeared to glitch out: they’d appear to be solid even after “opening” and it was possible to just clip through what looked like a solid, graphically buggy door. Then shortly after, every alien of a particular kind (I think the Elites) were also completely bugged, and they ended up looking all stretched out and just broken. It’s hard to put into words, so see the screenshots below (click or tap the images for a larger version):
All of this kind of added up to mean that the game left a weaker-than-expected first impression. I’d been excited for Halo Infinite; the prospect of a franchise I remember with fondness from the days of the original Xbox getting a soft renewal and a new coat of paint was something I found genuinely appealing. I want to like Halo Infinite – but the somewhat dense backstory, a villain who feels silly at best, and a handful of bugs and glitches that should really have been fixed before launch have definitely got in the way of that.
So that’s the bad stuff out of the way. But my experience with Halo Infinite so far hasn’t been entirely negative by any stretch. There is definitely a good game at its core, one with some truly exciting and fun sci-fi shooting. The guns that I’ve used so far have been varied, ranging from standard rifles and pistols to Halo staples like the Needler. Halo Infinite’s gunplay is fluid, the environments so far have been well-designed, and were it not for those few bugs and issues that I’ve encountered I’d be giving it a ten out of ten for its gameplay.
As a multiplayer player-versus-player online shooter, which is what many folks come to Halo for, I think that bodes well. I can absolutely see it being a game that keeps players hooked well into 2022 and perhaps even beyond that, as there seem to be teases of a lot more multiplayer content to come. And that’s great… for people who like that kind of game. As someone who came to Halo Infinite for its campaign, I feel underwhelmed more than anything else. Halo Infinite’s campaign isn’t exactly bad, it just isn’t as good or well-written as I’d hoped it would be.
So far, in addition to the Master Chief I’ve met two major characters: a pilot and not-Cortana – an AI named “the Weapon.” Both characters seem interesting, and I’m definitely curious to see how their stories progress as the game goes on. The voice and motion-capture performances for both characters have been great so far, with some of the Weapon’s facial expressions in particular being extraordinarily well-animated. The Halo games have come a long way from their 2001 origins in that respect. Were it not for those graphical bugs I encountered, I’d say Halo Infinite makes the franchise look better than ever.
So I guess I need to read a synopsis of Halo 5 or something… get myself caught up with all of the story that I missed (and all the other story that I’ve forgotten about!) Maybe then I’ll have a better time as I progress through the campaign. Halo Infinite has potential, but I guess what I’d say is that I’m glad I picked it up as part of Game Pass; I’d feel far less charitable about its flaws and shortcomings had I paid £55 for it.
If you’re only interested in multiplayer, I think Halo Infinite will be a fine shooter going through 2022. Of this year’s big first-person shooter releases, there’s surely no question that Halo Infinite is the best choice by far. Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty: Vanguard can’t compete, not by a long-shot. If you’re interested in the campaign, though, I think Halo Infinite isn’t as much of a soft reboot or fresh start as I was expecting – so make sure you’re caught up on what happened in previous games before you jump in.
The bugs are disappointing, but so far they haven’t been so overwhelming that I felt the need to quit the game. Hopefully these issues can be patched out in the days ahead. There don’t seem to be as many reports of similar issues affecting the Xbox One or Xbox Series S/X version of the game, which is positive news for those of you using those platforms.
So that’s it, I guess. An unspectacular start, but not a terrible one. Halo Infinite could certainly do a lot worse, and in a first-person shooter market that increasingly only caters to the multiplayer crowd, it’s nice to see that Microsoft and Xbox are sticking with single-player campaigns. It’s also great that Halo Infinite got a simultaneous release on PC, and a day-one launch on Game Pass. Microsoft has become quite a player-friendly company in that regard, and I have to respect that.
If you already have Game Pass, it’s hard not to recommend Halo Infinite – you might as well give it a shot, at least. And its multiplayer mode is currently free-to-play for everyone, Game Pass subscriber or not. For £55/$60 though, the campaign alone might not be worth it. You’re probably better off signing up for Game Pass just for a month, beating the campaign, and then cancelling your subscription!
Halo Infinite is out now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Halo Infinite is also available via Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC. The Halo series – including Halo Infinite – is the copyright of 343 Industries, Xbox Game Studios, and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Starfield.
The in-engine teaser trailer for upcoming space-themed role-playing game Starfield was a bit of a let-down at E3 back in June. There’d been a lot of hype and rumours before the event that something big was coming from Bethesda and that we’d get our first major look at the game, so to only see a highly stylised teaser that might as well have been totally “fake” wasn’t the best. But the company has recently put out three new mini-trailers showing off three of the locations in Starfield, as well as dropping some more tidbits of information about the game, so I thought we could take a look at what’s been revealed and start to get excited!
Remember, though, that too much hype can be a bad thing! Just look at the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077 as a case in point. As fun as some of these bits of Starfield news may seem, it’s worth keeping in mind that we haven’t yet had a real look at the game itself. And as much as I hate to be too negative, Bethesda doesn’t exactly have a good track record in recent years when it comes to big releases. Their overreliance on a massively out-of-date game engine is also a concern. But Starfield is still over a year away, so hopefully there’s enough time to iron out all of the issues!
With that caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about Starfield since E3 – with a healthy pinch of speculation and guesswork thrown in for good measure!
The United Colonies is described as “the most powerful established military and political faction in the game.” Their capital city – or capital planet, not sure how best to describe it! – looks like a futuristic Dubai or New York City; a wealthy, clean megacity. This is the city of New Atlantis, and it’s described as being a “melting pot” of different peoples.
The “melting pot” reference is clearly meant to give the city and the faction an American vibe; the United States often likes to see itself as a mixture of cultures. But it could also mean that the United Colonies is akin to something like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets – semi-independent cultures and worlds co-existing, perhaps under some looser federal form of government.
I could be way off base with this, but it seems like the United Colonies isn’t going to be an evil or villainous faction. I didn’t get the sense that this was something like Star Wars’ Empire or First Order, but the fact that it’s described as being powerful – and with a strong military to boot – could mean that the player character is operating outside of the law, or that large parts of the game take place in areas beyond the United Colonies’ jurisdiction.
There were trees on New Atlantis, so the United Colonies clearly have some respect for greenery and the environment – even if just for aesthetic reasons. This is also something I think we can assume to be positive, as at least New Atlantis doesn’t have that overly industrialised, dystopian feel of some sci-fi megacities.
If I were to hazard a guess I’d say that only parts of New Atlantis will be able to be explored and visited. The teaser image depicted a huge building complex with more buildings and lights in the distance, but it seems like making all of that part of the map might be too difficult to pull off; the last thing any of us want is a bland, mostly empty map that’s superficially large but has nothing going on or no one to interact with (looking at you, Fallout 76). New Atlantis was specifically mentioned in the context of a spaceport, so perhaps the spaceport and surrounding area will be able to be visited.
Going all the way back to 1994’s Arena, Bethesda has created contiguous open worlds – that is, game worlds that are one large, single space. There have been examples where smaller areas branched off from the larger game world – such as Morrowind’s expansion pack Tribunal, for example. But by and large we’re talking about single open worlds. Starfield, with different planets to visit and a spaceship being used to travel between them, seems like it will be a game where the game world is broken into smaller chunks. Some of these planets may be quite large, but the concept represents a change from the way Bethesda has worked in the past.
Moving away from the United Colonies brings us to Neon, a watery planet with a facility run by the Xenofresh Corporation. This floating city resembles a large oil rig, and although the upper levels look well-lit and probably quite wealthy, I wonder if the lower levels of the platform might be home to the kind of sci-fi dystopia that didn’t seem to be present on New Atlantis!
The backstory of Neon was interesting – and perhaps the closest we’ve got so far to any “lore” of Starfield. The Xenofresh Corporation established Neon as a fishing platform, but soon stumbled upon a drug called “aurora” that they used to turn Neon into a pleasure city. Neon clearly operates outside of the jurisdiction of the United Colonies, and is the only place where this drug is legal.
Previous Bethesda games allowed players to take drugs and drink alcohol, complete with screen-wobbling consequences! I can’t imagine that the developers would mention this aurora drug at this stage if players weren’t going to be able to try it for themselves in-game, so I think we can be pretty confident that aurora will play some role in the game’s story. Perhaps smuggling it from Neon to planets where it’s illegal will be an option for players to make some extra cash! Neon also gave me vibes of Star Trek: Picard’s Freecloud – a similarly independent, pleasure-centric world.
The final location shown off was Akila. The Freestar Collective, of which Akila is the capital, is described as “a loose confederation of three distinct star systems.” Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but singling out the word “confederation” could indicate that this faction is villainous or adversarial. The Confederacy or Confederate States was the official name for the pro-slavery southern states that seceded in 1860-61, instigating the American Civil War. We’ve also seen the name “Confederacy” used in Star Wars, where the Confederacy of Independent Systems was the antagonist faction in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Perhaps I have recent news reports on the brain, but something about the concept art for Akila reminded me of Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. The mountainous terrain, smaller buildings, and hooded or cloaked figures all gave me the impression of that kind of settlement. Perhaps a better analogy, though, would be a Wild West frontier town, and this is reinforced by the narrator saying that all of the people in the Freestar Collective place a strong emphasis on personal freedom and liberty. The whole faction seems very libertarian, then!
Akila was definitely the most Star Wars-seeming settlement, and there are several locales from the Star Wars franchise that Bethesda may have used for inspiration here. It was on this planet that we learned about the first confirmed alien enemy – the ashta, described as being a mix between “a wolf and a velociraptor.” Yikes! As above, there’s no way this critter would be mentioned at this stage if it wasn’t going to be something players could interact with, and like other iconic Bethesda open-world monsters like Fallout’s deathclaw or The Elder Scrolls’ slaughterfish, I think this is something we’re going to do battle with!
So we know of three locations, each of which is controlled by a different faction. Presumably the Freestar Collective has at least two other planets under its control, as the narration specifically mentioned that the faction controls three star systems. Whether all three will be able to be visited or not is not clear, so I guess watch this space!
The Xenofresh Corporation could easily be in control of more worlds or settlements; I got the impression that it was the kind of mega-corporation that we often see in sci-fi, and thus it seems plausible that it controls holdings on other planets as well as its settlement of Neon.
The United Colonies would seem to be the most widespread and populous faction, but if players are potentially operating outside of its jurisdiction we may not get to visit all of the worlds that make up the United Colonies.
Then there’s the player’s faction or group – the organisation called Constellation, described as “the last group of space explorers.” The ship shown in the E3 teaser appears to belong to this group, so it’s assumed that the player will have some kind of relationship with them as well. If this faction is interested in exploration, they may not have a large settlement or permanent colony – but that’s pure speculation!
So that’s it for now. Starfield is still on course for a November ’22 release, but it goes without saying that that’s subject to change at any point between now and then. I’m tentatively looking forward to it, and nothing we’ve seen or heard so far has been offputting. If anything, these little teases are intriguing and make me want to learn more about the game, its backstory, and its factions and locales. I’m a little surprised that Bethesda didn’t include some of these details at E3; it would’ve been more impressive to give players a bit more information about the game rather than just sharing that stylised teaser trailer, and none of what’s recently been revealed seems like it couldn’t have been included a couple of months ago. This is all just backstory and concept art – things Bethesda certainly had at the time. But regardless, we’ve got another little tease of Starfield to pore over!
Starfield will be released on the 11th of November 2022 for PC and Xbox Series S/X. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Concept art featured above courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Alert: There are minor spoilers ahead for several of the games shown off at this year’s E3.
E3 2021 is over, and it was an interesting long weekend of games and gaming! I’m sure some people will come away disappointed – a lot of the games that were shown off aren’t being released imminently, with many of the bigger, most-anticipated titles not being launched until 2022. But overall, I had a good time. Because E3 was all-digital this year, the presentations were slicker and smoother, and while there were a couple of cringeworthy moments as presenters and CEOs were clearly talking to an empty room instead of a crowded auditorium, on the whole I think E3 benefits when the public stays away!
I mentioned this last year when Electronic Arts had their big annual presentation, but digital events really feel like the future. Live events have the potential to go wrong – very wrong, in some cases – and also drag on a lot longer. E3 this year was more concise, and several of the big presentations packed a lot of games into their hour or two. Though this is still a pandemic-riddled world, and that’s why E3 has gone digital this time around, I won’t be shocked to learn that future years will keep this kind of format.
With Sony skipping E3, Microsoft dominated proceedings. A number of big Xbox exclusives were shown off, and with the eyes of the world on the games industry in a way that seldom happens, I wonder if Sony will come to see the decision to stand alone as a mistake. There will be a Sony event later in the year – perhaps even this summer – but having missed the party at E3, Microsoft will come away dominating the gaming headlines in the days and weeks ahead.
Pandemic-related delays continue to afflict the industry, and some of the bigger titles shown off won’t hit shelves until next year at the earliest. Despite that, however, there are still big games coming out in the next few months – hopefully enough to tide us over until 2022! Though I didn’t subject myself to every minute of the presentations and chatter, I had fun with this year’s E3. It was generally well done, with plenty of exciting upcoming games to talk about – which is the point, after all.
Let’s take a look at my E3 roundup. I’ve picked out twenty games that I considered to be the most interesting (or the biggest) from this year’s E3. Here they are – in no particular order!
Number 1: Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 4 was the game that tempted me to sign up for Xbox Game Pass last year, so I’m definitely going to take a look at the next game in this fun racing series when it’s ready. Forza Horizon 5 will see the action jump to Mexico, using a similar semi-open world to the previous game, with different types of races, a multitude of cars to choose from, and a focus on a more arcade style of racing over the simulation of the mainline Forza Motorsport titles.
Forza has grown from humble beginnings to become Microsoft’s answer to Gran Turismo, and a fine addition to the Xbox and PC lineup. Mexico is an interesting idea for a setting, and it seems like there will be plenty of dusty deserts and paradise-like tropical beaches to race around. Racing games always manage to look fantastic, and Forza Horizon 5 was definitely one of the prettiest games on show at this year’s E3.
Number 2: Avatar – Frontiers of Pandora
This one was a surprise; I don’t think anyone had it on their radar! Avatar – Frontiers of Pandora was shown off during Ubisoft’s presentation, and was really the highlight of what was otherwise a dull hour populated by updates, expansions, and sequels. The game is due for release next year, which is also when the first of four sequels to 2009’s Avatar is scheduled to hit cinemas. It doesn’t seem like the first-person action game will be a direct adaptation of the film – at least, that’s the impression I got – but the timing can’t be coincidental!
Despite Avatar becoming the highest-grossing film of all time when it was released, more than a decade later it’s not unfair to say that it hasn’t made a huge impact in the cultural landscape, even within the sci-fi genre. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say Avatar has been largely eclipsed by titles released in the decade since, and is almost forgotten at this point. Commissioning what looks to be a big-budget video game of this kind is a bit of a risk under those circumstances, but it seems like it has potential – and the Avatar sequels may succeed at establishing the basis for an ongoing franchise of which this game could be a big part. We’ll have to wait and see! So we can add this one to the pile of games I’m tentatively excited about.
Number 3: Starfield
I was rather surprised to see so little of Starfield – even though its “in engine” trailer was well put-together, and it was certainly our biggest look so far at a game Bethesda chief executive Todd Howard described as both “a new universe” and something set in the future, I had expected to see more actual gameplay. Considering Starfield is still a year and a half away, perhaps the game just wasn’t ready for a more in-depth look.
What we saw was interesting, though. Starfield seems to be doing something superficially similar to television series like The Expanse in the way it handles its spacecraft – a combination of modern military, industrial, and astronaut aesthetics seemed present in the design and layout of the ship we saw in the trailer. I quite like that style, it arguably gives stories a semi-realistic feel when compared to the likes of Star Trek or Star Wars, which both rely on technobabble and fictional technologies. Spaceships in Starfield are said to be fuelled by helium-3 – a real-world substance that can be used for spacecraft fuel.
But, of course, this is the studio that brought us The Elder Scrolls and the modern Fallout games, so it won’t just be a realistic spaceflight simulator! It seems as though there will be exploration involved, as well as encountering alien races!
As I predicted, Starfield will be exclusive to Xbox and PC following Bethesda’s acquisition by Microsoft. This seemed patently obvious to me, but doubtless some PlayStation fans will still be disappointed.
Number 4: Elden Ring
Upcoming hack-and-slash title Elden Ring was one of the first games shown off this year, debuting on Thursday as part of the “Summer Games Fest” presentation. I stated in my preview of E3 that Elden Ring might not be the kind of game I’m interested in, personally speaking… and having seen more of it I can now say that with certainty!
If you’re looking forward to Elden Ring, that’s fantastic. I have no doubt that for fans of certain genres it will be a fun time – but as someone who doesn’t much care for the “extreme difficulty” hack-and-slash gameplay of other FromSoftware titles, this is one I’m going to skip. Nothing in the trailer – from its dark, bland colour palette to its monsters that looked like they’ve been copied and pasted straight from one of the Dark Souls games – appealed to me, and you could’ve told me this was Dark Souls 4 and I’d have believed it.
The involvement of author George R. R. Martin did admittedly pique my curiosity when the game was first announced, and I have no doubt his input will help craft a fantasy setting that is, at the very least, interesting. But that’s about the nicest thing I can say about Elden Ring. It might have an interesting setting with enjoyable lore. Everything else about it makes it look like a game I’ll happily skip.
Number 5: Sea of Thieves crossover with Pirates of the Caribbean
What?! What on Earth did I just see? This crossover between Rare’s multiplayer pirate game Sea of Thieves and Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean looks utterly bonkers, and was a total surprise. Multiplayer generally isn’t my thing, as you may know, so I haven’t played much of Sea of Thieves. But this crossover looks like a blast, and I’m sure fans of the game will have a lot of fun.
Sea of Thieves underwhelmed when it launched in 2018, with criticism for feeling rather barebones. But in the three years since launch, developers Rare have added a lot of new content, and the general consensus seems to be that the game is in a good place in 2021. This crossover with Pirates of the Caribbean will surely bring in a lot of new players, and it looks set to give Sea of Thieves a significant boost.
Number 6: The Outer Worlds 2
The Outer Worlds 2 wins the award for “funniest trailer!” Other than a very early tease at the fact that the game exists, we don’t know much at all about the sequel to Oblivion’s 2019 role-playing game. The Outer Worlds drew positive comparisons to the Fallout franchise; Oblivion having made Fallout: New Vegas a few years earlier. With Fallout 76 floundering, The Outer Worlds was talked up as a kind of spiritual successor. I think that description sells it short – The Outer Worlds is its own thing. And now a sequel is on the way which will hopefully be just as much fun and expand the world that the first game created.
As with a number of big, hyped-up titles this year, The Outer Worlds 2 isn’t coming any time soon. However, knowledge of its existence might be enough to tide fans over until its eventual release.
Number 7: Battlefield 2042
So many games nowadays are ditching their single-player campaigns to focus entirely on multiplayer, and Battlefield 2042 is the latest to do so. Sometimes it feels as though games companies are deliberately making shorter and less interesting campaigns, so that when fewer people play them they can say “see, no one wants a single-player mode! That’s why we didn’t make one!”
Battlefield 2042 was shown off with a very slick cinematic trailer, before showing off proper gameplay during Microsoft’s presentation a couple of days later. The gameplay looks… fine. If you like the Battlefield series, I daresay you’ll find this game familiar and enjoyable when it releases later in the year. Following on from 2006’s Battlefield 2142, as well as the likes of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and even Arma III, Battlefield 2042 is taking a near-future setting that will likely allow for a degree of creativity on the part of developers Dice.
In that regard I have to say I like the diversity of settings on offer from modern shooters. Long gone are the days when everything was either sci-fi or World War II, and after the most recent entries in the series looked at World War I and World War II it makes sense to change things up and give fans a different experience. This won’t be one I dive into, but it looks like a solid shooter for folks into that kind of thing.
Number 8: Age of Empires IV
We’ve known for a while that Age of Empires IV has been in the works, but E3 finally gave us a release date: the 28th of October. I’ve had a great time with the remastered Age of Empires games over the last few years, but the initial teaser for Age of Empires IV a few months ago left me distinctly underwhelmed. The game just looked incredibly outdated, and I was genuinely worried for its prospects.
The E3 trailer, however, looked a heck of a lot better. Though Age of Empires IV will be taking a different approach to past games, and will feature fewer factions at launch, it has potential, and I shall certainly give it a try when it arrives on Game Pass this autumn. The original Age of Empires and its Rise of Rome expansion were two of my most-played games of the late 1990s/early 2000s and cemented my love of the real-time strategy genre. After successful remakes of those classic games, it’ll be great to welcome the Age of Empires series to the modern day!
Number 9: Mario Party Superstars
The Nintendo Direct broadcast began with a far-too-long look at a single new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character that really dragged. After that weak start, however, there were a couple of interesting announcements. Mario Party Superstars is probably the one that seemed most exciting to me, as it will be bringing back boards and mini-games from the Mario Party games of the Nintendo 64 era. I have fond memories of playing the original Mario Party with friends on the N64, so this new game seems like it has the potential to be a wonderful blast of nostalgia.
There is already a Mario Party game on the Nintendo Switch, of course, and at first it seemed as though Superstars was simply going to be an expansion for that title. However, it’s a standalone game instead, and is going to be retailing for full price (£50 in the UK). That seems a bit steep to me, and it might end up putting people off. But the idea is interesting, and I’ll be curious to see how Mario Party Superstars does.
Number 10: Chivalry II
Chivalry II is already out – it launched last week. But E3 provided developers Torn Banner Studios another opportunity to plug the game, and they seized it! The game is a medieval combat multiplayer title, with players jumping into large-scale battles with dozens of others. There are a variety of different game modes, including sieges, pitched battles, and others, and despite the fact that I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, I have to say that the fast-paced hacking and slashing looks like fun!
In a multiplayer scene dominated by first-person shooters, Chivalry II is something different. Stepping back in time to the medieval era, and arming players with swords, shields, bows, and battle-axes instead of guns and rocket launchers really does feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s likely going to remain a fairly niche game by multiplayer standards, but that’s okay. It looks like fun, and maybe I’ll be convinced to check it out some time soon.
Number 11: Shredders
I like winter time and winter-themed titles – especially when it’s summer and there’s a heatwave going on! Shredders will be an Xbox/PC exclusive snowboarding game, and it’s due for release in time for Christmas. The game looked stunning, with great visuals and a snow effect that looked incredibly realistic. The trailer was very cinematic, though, so I’ll wait to see how good the finished product looks in comparison!
There have been some great snowboarding and winter sports games over the years, and I remember games like 1080° Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64 and SSX Tricky in the Xbox days with fondness. Shredders looks to be cut from the same cloth as those older titles, so perhaps it’ll be just as much fun when it’s released this winter.
Number 12: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild II
Regular readers may recall that I haven’t played Breath of the Wild– nor indeed any Zelda game. But fans have been clamouring for a sequel to the 2017 Switch launch title ever since it was released, and Nintendo has been hard at work on Breath of the Wild II (real title unknown!) for some time now. We finally got a look at the game at E3.
It looks like… Breath of the Wild. If you liked the first game, what we saw at E3 should be encouraging because it looks very much like more of the same. Link may have new abilities or new weapons, and of course there’ll be new monsters to fight and a new story. But in terms of visuals and the way the game seems to be played, there’s nothing earth-shattering or radically different from the last game.
Number 13: Redfall
I like Redfall’s visual style. The cartoon-inspired art style takes what could’ve been a horror title, featuring a vampire apocalypse, and turns it into something more fun and casual. Billing itself as a team or co-op shooter, Redfall stars a unique cast of characters tasked with fighting off vampires. It’s a game made by Arkane, the studio best-known for the Dishonored duology, as well as a personal favourite of mine from the Xbox era, Arx Fatalis.
Redfall looks to build on the studio’s work with the Dishonored games, but at the same time will take a different approach. It’s definitely one to watch, and I like the idea of using vampires in this way. Vampires in entertainment often follow the Dracula model: one or two very powerful enemies to outsmart and defeat. Television series The Strain stepped away from that and gave us a vampire apocalypse – and it looks like Redfall will try to do something similar in its own unique way.
Number 14: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania
Super Monkey Ball has always been a niche product, even by Nintendo’s cartoony standards! But there’s no denying that the original game was a lot of fun, and with the series hitting its 20th anniversary this year, Nintendo evidently felt that the time was right for a remaster. That’s what Banana Mania is, in case the trailer wasn’t clear – a remaster of the first three Super Monkey Ball games.
I don’t really have a lot more to say about this one. If you like Monkey Ball games, you’ll probably like Banana Mania when it launches on Switch.
Number 15: Bear & Breakfast
One of the few indie games to really shine at E3 this year was Bear & Breakfast. In short, you run a bed and breakfast (i.e. a small-scale hotel) in a forest. But you’re a bear. That’s the gimmick. The art style looks cute, the premise sounds like fun, and I liked the trailer that new developer Gummy Cat put together. I got kind of a Stardew Valley vibe from Bear & Breakfast, which is certainly no bad thing.
All I can really say is that I like this kind of management/tycoon game, and the uniqueness of the premise, combined with the neat visual style, makes Bear & Breakfast appealing to me. There’s currently no release date, but the developer hopes to have the game ready before the end of this year.
Number 16: Grounded
Grounded is currently out in early access (or a “game preview” as Microsoft calls it). For that reason I haven’t checked it out; early access games are hit-and-miss, with far more misses than hits in my experience. But developers Obsidian have been working hard on this Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-inspired title, and a new update to the game looks to add a lot more content.
Though I’m probably still going to wait until Grounded is ready for prime-time, I love the premise of being shrunk down and playing in the grass. There used to be a Disney World attraction based on the 1989 film in which you could walk through an area of the park where grass and everyday items were scaled-up to huge sizes. Grounded reminds me of that!
Number 17: Halo Infinite
We already knew Halo Infinite was in development, but after a disappointing trailer left fans upset last year, the game didn’t launch alongside the Xbox Series X in November. We got to see a little more of the game at E3, and Microsoft dropped the big news that the game’s multiplayer mode will be free-to-play. This is definitely an interesting development, but the only thing I could think was that most Xbox Series X players will already be interested in the Halo series… so I’m not sure that making the multiplayer free will see Halo Infinite pick up a lot more players! But free things are always nice.
The game has definitely been polished since last year’s controversy, and the graphics look decent. The Master Chief’s return after a long absence will definitely be attractive to fans of the series, and with a Halo television show also in production, it seems like the Halo brand is about to undergo a renaissance after a decade in which it arguably underperformed.
Though the Halo series has been a flagship for Xbox, the sheer number of other games on offer as Microsoft snaps up studios and pushes Game Pass hard makes it feel a little less relevant in 2021. Halo Infinite is shaping up to be a good game – but Xbox’s success is no longer as closely-tied to the series as it once was.
Number 18: Dying Light 2: Stay Human
Zombies have been overdone in the last few years, with so many open-world zombie horror games that the industry is more or less burned out on the concept. Dying Light 2, which fans of the original game have been anticipating since 2015, has a mountain to climb, then – but there are positive signs.
There will be no guns in Dying Light 2, with players having to make use of crafted melee weapons in the post-apocalyptic city they find themselves in. There will likewise be no vehicles – the in-universe explanation being that there is no fuel any more, since the zombie virus devastated the world. Both of those semi-realistic concepts feel like they add value to a genre that’s otherwise played out, and Dying Light 2, with its interesting parkour-based movement system carried over from the first game, may have found a niche that will bring players back.
Number 19: Rainbow Six Extraction
I enjoyed Rainbow Six in the early 2000s, and I had the first couple of games in the series on Dreamcast. Rainbow Six Siege was never my thing; a multiplayer live service just held no appeal. And though Extraction brings back characters from Siege, it does so in a very different way. With a focus on cooperative play as opposed to competitive, and with an interesting-sounding premise involving an alien parasite, Extraction has all the elements in place for a fun experience.
Some have criticised the decision to take the previously straight-laced action series in a different direction, but I think there’s a lot of potential in a series like Rainbow Six trying something new. Siege was something new itself when it launched in 2015; the series had previously been a story-centric game with a main campaign, not a multiplayer one. So let’s see what Extraction brings to the table when it launches in September.
Number 20: Slime Rancher 2
One of the most colourful and vibrant games shown off at E3, Slime Rancher 2 is the sequel to 2016’s Slime Rancher, a first-person farming/life simulator. Though we didn’t see much in the way of gameplay – nor even get any significant details – I assume at this stage that the game will take the same premise as the original title and build on it.
Expect to see more of the same, but with new varieties of slimes and perhaps some new crafting or character abilities as well. It looks like fun, and will be released in 2022.
Before we wrap things up I wanted to mention a few games that were notable by their absence at E3. Though there were plenty of titles we did get to see – the list above is nowhere near comprehensive – there were some titles I was hoping or expecting to hear news of that didn’t appear for one reason or another.
Anything from the Star Wars franchise:
There had been rumours earlier in the year of a Knights of the Old Republic sequel. There’s also Jedi: Fallen Order II (though that’s an EA game, and EA didn’t have a presentation at E3 this year) and Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which has been delayed multiple times. With so much new content to come from Star Wars, and with the brand ditching its exclusive arrangement with EA, I’m sure there must be more video games in the works. I genuinely expected to hear something about at least one of them!
Grand Theft Auto 6:
Still radio-silence on this from Rockstar, despite Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive having a slot at this year’s E3. We don’t even know for certain that Grand Theft Auto 6 will be Rockstar’s next big game, and with the recent announcement of a port of Grand Theft Auto V to new consoles, it seems like they’re planning to continue to milk that 2013 title for as long as possible. Disappointing.
Mario Kart 9:
As soon as Nintendo said, in the first minute of their broadcast, that they would be focusing on games releasing this year I was sure we wouldn’t see Mario Kart 9! The series’ 30th anniversary is next year, and in my opinion 2022 remains the most likely release date for the next entry in the Mario Kart series. Despite that, however, before E3 I felt there was the potential for the game to be announced in order to begin to get fans hyped up.
Originally announced for 2021 before being delayed to next year, Hogwarts Legacy still sounds like it’ll be good fun. Actual information about the game has been hard to come by, though, with no new information since last year’s reveal. The time seemed right for an update on the game’s progress, but alas!
So that’s it.
With Sony and PlayStation being absent, Microsoft and Xbox dominated proceedings. Nintendo showed off a collection of smaller games that will be of note to their existing fans, but their biggest releases – like Breath of the Wild II and the next Metroid Prime title – are still a long way off. There were plenty of interesting games, though – far more than I’ll ever be able to play!
E3 worked well in this stripped-down, audience-free format. I hope they decide to stick with it going forward, even when the pandemic settles and in-person events are okay again. I just found the whole thing much simpler and more enjoyable, with less of a focus on presenters and staging and more of a focus on the thing we all care about: games.
The games I found most interesting are listed above, but there were many more shown off as well. Practically all of the trailers are now online on YouTube and similar websites, so take a look. I’m sure there’s something for everyone!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional art courtesy of Xbox, IGDB and/or E3. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers present for the following games: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Knights of the Old Republic I & II, Mass Effect 3, and Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.
After taking a year off in 2020, the Electronic Entertainment Expo – better known as E3 – is returning later this month. In fact, many large games companies have events or announcements scheduled for June, meaning we could be in for practically an entire month of previews, trailers, teasers, and demos for a number of great upcoming titles. This time I thought it could be fun to look ahead to E3 – and other June events – and maybe make a few predictions about what we might see! There might also be a few wishes or fantasies thrown in as well!
From Microsoft and Electronic Arts to Nintendo and Ubisoft, practically all of the big names in the games industry will have something to say over the next few weeks. Much of the attention will be focused on this year’s digital E3 event, which officially takes place from the 12th to the 15th of June, but I think we can expect other big announcements outside of those dates as well.
My usual caveat applies: I have no “insider information.” Today’s list is nothing more than guesswork and speculation, with a fair amount of hoping and fantasising thrown in for good measure! With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of my predictions (and wishes) for what we might see at this year’s E3!
Number 1: Starfield
Bethesda’s next game has been common knowledge for years, and even while they’ve been working on Fallout 76 and porting Skyrim to smart fridges, development on this sci-fi role-playing game has continued. Rumour has it that Starfield is now edging closer to being complete, and it’s possible we could even see a release date announced at E3 – maybe even for later this year or the first half of next year.
Other than a sci-fi setting that may include some degree of space travel, actual information about Starfield has been hard to come by. The disappointment of Fallout 76, and Bethesda’s refusal to consider developing or licensing a new game engine to replace the outdated Gamebryo/Creation Engine that they’ve used for more than two decades, leaves me at least a little anxious about Starfield’s prospects, with any hype or excitement I might’ve felt at the latest big Bethesda release replaced by cautious interest. However, there’s potential in Starfield, and I hope that we’ll get a fantastic game.
If Bethesda hadn’t learned their lesson following the calamitous launch of Fallout 76, December’s Cyberpunk 2077 catastrophe should serve as another reminder that players simply will not tolerate a broken, unfinished, “release now, fix later” mess. So as interested as I am to see Starfield, I’d very much rather that it was delayed if needs be. It would be great to see it at E3 and begin to get excited for its release, but only if it’s ready!
I’ve talked about the possibility of a new Mario Kart game several times over the past few months here on the website, and the reason is simple: next year will be the Mario Kart series’ 30th anniversary. Nintendo loves to make a big deal of anniversaries, as we saw just a few months ago with the 35th anniversary of Super Mario. Although nothing is confirmed and I should point out that we don’t even know for sure that Mario Kart 9 is in development, putting the pieces together makes this one seem at least plausible!
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has been the best-selling game on Nintendo Switch since it arrived on the platform, but it’s only a port of a Wii U game from 2014. After more than seven years, this is the longest dry spell the Mario Kart series has ever endured, and it seems like the perfect time to give the Switch its own original Mario Kart title.
As a celebration of all things Mario Kart, it would be great to see racetracks from past iterations return, as well as drivers from across Nintendo titles and even from other games altogether. If Mario Kart 9 is to be released in time for the anniversary next year, announcing it at E3 makes a lot of sense – building up the hype and giving fans plenty of time to get excited!
I’m not sure whether to classify this one as a wish or a prediction, because I feel certain that Nintendo will be doing something to mark the Mario Kart series’ anniversary – but will they announce it this month? We’ll have to see!
Number 3: Anything Star Trek
The Star Trek franchise has not done well in the gaming realm. In recent years, Star Trek Online has been the only game in town – literally – and as someone who isn’t big on massively multiplayer online games, it just isn’t “my thing.” I’d love to see ViacomCBS take advantage of Star Trek’s return to the small screen and commission a video game adaptation. Whether that would be something connected to a classic show or something based on modern Star Trek wouldn’t matter to me – though I could see the advantages of a game based on Discovery or Picard from the company’s perspective.
This is definitely a pure wish, because I’ve heard no rumours nor seen any indication that ViacomCBS has any plans to license out Star Trek in a big way. There are mobile games, the online game, and there was even a browser game earlier this year, but when it comes to putting together the kind of single-player title that I’d really love to see, the Star Trek franchise hasn’t shown any interest since the disastrous 2013 Kelvin timeline game.
It’s possible that that buggy, poorly-received title has harmed Star Trek’s brand from a gaming point of view, which is such a shame. There should be a pretty big overlap between Trekkies and gamers, but the franchise has consistently failed to capitalise on that, with Star Trek games going all the way back to the ’80s being of little interest to most folks.
If ViacomCBS could contract a big studio to put out the equivalent of a Jedi: Fallen Order or Mass Effect I’d be beyond thrilled. Will it happen at E3 – or ever? I have no idea. Probably not, but there’s always hope!
Number 4: Fall Guys coming to Switch and Xbox
Though Fall Guyspromised earlier in the year that a release on both Switch and Xbox is on the cards, there’s currently no release date on the schedule. Announcing one at E3 would be a big boost for the fun little obstacle course-battle royale game, and as I’ve said on a few occasions now, Nintendo Switch in particular feels like a perfect fit for Fall Guys.
There have been some improvements made to Fall Guys recently, like the addition of cross-platform play, the introduction of new rounds and round variants, and additional challenges that make logging in and playing more frequently feel rewarding. But there’s still a ways to go for Fall Guys if new owners Epic Games hope to break into the upper echelons of multiplayer gaming.
Fall Guys had “a moment” in August last year, in the days immediately following its release. But issues with cheating soured a lot of players on the game, and there’s work to do to rebuild both its reputation and playerbase. The announcement of Switch and Xbox versions of the game would bring renewed attention to Fall Guys, perhaps convincing lapsed players to pick it up again.
Though developers Mediatonic have stated that there are no current plans to make Fall Guys free-to-play, the delay in getting the Switch and Xbox versions ready makes me wonder if a bigger overhaul is on the cards. Announcing it at E3, with the eyes of players around the world on the games industry, would make a lot of sense and drum up plenty of hype.
Number 5: Knights of the Old Republic III/Knights of the High Republic
Rumours swirled earlier in the year of a new entry in the Knights of the Old Republic series of Star Wars role-playing games. Originally developed by BioWare, with a sequel created by Oblivion, the Knights of the Old Republic games are among my favourite games of all-time, and a sequel just sounds fantastic!
The Star Wars franchise is seemingly stepping away from its exclusive deal with Electronic Arts, so perhaps a studio like Oblivion could come back to pick up the mantle. Or we could learn that BioWare is coming back to the series that laid the groundwork for titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
It’s been 17 years since Knights of the Old Republic II was released, so that could mean a new entry in the series won’t be a direct sequel and will instead focus on new characters. The so-called “High Republic” era is currently a big deal in Star Wars spin-off media, focusing on a time period about 300 years prior to the film series – and several millennia after Knights of the Old Republic. I can’t help but wonder if a new game could be Knights of the High Republic instead!
However, Knights of the Old Republic II definitely teased a sequel, and the stories of both Revan and the Jedi Exile are arguably incomplete (despite some mentions or appearances in the online multiplayer game The Old Republic). The Star Wars franchise has recently been in the habit of announcing games shortly before their launch – like last year’s Squadrons. If that happens again, maybe we’ll get a new Star Wars game later this year!
Number 6: Jedi: Fallen Order II
Sticking with Star Wars, we know that Respawn Entertainment is currently working on a sequel to 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order. Though development may have only begun in earnest when the success of the first game became apparent, it’s not inconceivable that there’ll be something concrete to show off at this year’s E3, even if the game isn’t coming any time soon.
Cal Kestis’ story could take a different direction in the sequel, as the end of the first game left things open-ended and with no clear destination. Jedi: Fallen Order introduced us to some amazing characters, and it’s going to be wonderful to find out what comes next for all of them. I doubt Jedi: Fallen Order II will be released this year – it may not even be released next year – but a little tease to keep fans interested is no bad thing at an event like this!
Jedi: Fallen Order definitively proved to companies that have been moving away from single-player titles that there’s still a lot of room for success and profit in the medium. That’s an incredibly positive legacy for any game, and after fans had been vocal about wanting a single-player, story-focused Star Wars game, the fact that it succeeded and sold millions of copies showed Electronic Arts and other big companies that it’s worth investing in this kind of title.
I’m happy to wait for Jedi: Fallen Order II. The original game was released without major bugs or glitches, something which should be expected but which won it a lot of praise in an industry where “release now, fix later” has almost become the norm. Rather than rush the sequel, I hope Respawn and EA take their time to give it the polish it deserves.
Number 7: Mass Effect 4
It would make a lot of sense for BioWare and Electronic Arts to capitalise on the successful release of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition to at least tease or hint at what’s coming next for the franchise. We know, thanks to an earlier announcement, that Mass Effect 4 is in early development, but aside from a cinematic teaser we know nothing about the next entry in the series.
One of the reasons Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t succeed (aside from its bugs and launch issues) was that it ignored the ending of the third game and tried to do its own thing off to one side. The end of the Reaper War was a significant moment for the Mass Effect galaxy and its races, and piecing together what happens next is something many fans are interested in, despite the disappointment many felt at the three ending options for Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect 4 has a difficult task. It has to follow on from an epic “war to end all wars” type of story in a way that doesn’t feel anticlimactic and small. That’s not going to be easy, and I can understand why BioWare instead chose to tell a side-story in Andromeda instead of trying to confront this challenge head-on. With the game in development, though, I assume they’ve figured something out!
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition can be seen as a test or a dry run for a new game, and judging by the success it’s seen over the last couple of weeks, I have no doubt that a new entry in the series will be highly anticipated by fans.
Number 8: Grand Theft Auto 6
For too long Rockstar have been milking Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode, and it’s time for a change. After the longest gap between games in the history of the franchise, a new title in the open-world crime saga is long overdue, and it would be great to get some kind of news – even just the tiniest tease – at E3.
Rockstar has already committed to porting Grand Theft Auto V to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X, diverting time, money, and development resources away from making a new game. I’ve said before that Grand Theft Auto V has run its course by now, and the disappointed reaction from fans to news of a port to new consoles backs that up. It’s high time for a new title.
Will it happen, though? I mean it will eventually happen, of course; there’s too much money in the brand to let it end with Grand Theft Auto V. But despite the fact that some players have been vocal about wanting a new title, Rockstar has thus far shown no signs of working on a sequel. In some ways, perhaps the success of Grand Theft Auto V has become a problem for the franchise; the more time passes, the harder it will be for any sequel to live up to its illustrious predecessor.
Finding a way for Grand Theft Auto 6 to differentiate itself from the current iteration of the series is also a challenge. Another sunlit coastal city in the present day probably won’t cut it – so where should Rockstar take the series? Maybe we’ll see the first indications soon!
Number 9: Civilization VII
It’s been almost five years since the release of Civilization VI, so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a new entry in the series is in development. The most recent expansion pack for Civilization VI – titled the New Frontier pass – may be the game’s last, with no further announcements of DLC coming since last year. Perhaps Firaxis has already begun to shift development to a new game?
I was pleasantly surprised by Civilization VI when I picked it up in 2016. Having not been a big fan of previous turn-based strategy games I was initially sceptical, but I’m glad I took the plunge! I ended up sinking hundreds of hours into Civilization VIas the last decade drew to a close, and there’s a lot to be said for the series.
A new game would shake up the formula without reinventing the wheel, introducing different ways to play or bringing back successful features from past entries in the series. There would also be the potential to introduce brand-new factions and leaders – a subject I took a look at a few weeks ago.
Series like Civilization, which don’t see annual releases, can sometimes cause controversy if a new entry is regarded as being released “too soon” after the previous one. But the Civilization franchise has usually put out a new game roughly every four to five years on average, so the time could be coming for a new entry.
Number 10: Hogwarts Legacy
Hogwarts Legacy – a single-player action/role-playing game set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – was announced last year with a short trailer. It’s since been delayed, with a release now scheduled for 2022 instead of later this year. But developers Avalanche Software and publisher Warner Bros. might take the opportunity provided by E3 to update fans on the game’s progress.
It’s been a long time since anything set in the Wizarding World was of much interest to me, but Hogwarts Legacyfeels like it has potential. The trailer hinted at a morality system as well as different styles of magic and player choices having an impact on the game, all of which are things I find thoroughly enjoyable in a single-player title. I got a kind of Knights of the Old Republic vibe from the way the game was described!
I’m a big supporter of games being delayed. I’d very much rather a developer take the necessary time to polish their title rather than releasing it too soon to meet an arbitrary deadline. In the wake of the disastrous launch of Cyberpunk 2077 last year – as well as other titles that failed as a result of their “release now, fix later” model – I’m glad to see Warner Bros. and Avalanche are prepared to take their time. But it would still be nice to see some more of the game if there’s something ready to see!
One of the aspects of the game I’m most interested to learn more about is how it’ll handle school lessons within the overall storyline. Games set in schools have not always managed to strike the right balance, and mini-games supposedly mimicking “classwork” have often fallen rather flat. If the player character is a student, surely they will need to spend at least some of their time in class – and figuring out that aspect of the game could be key to its success!
Number 11: Xbox Game Pass
Game Pass has taken off over the last few months, and is one of the most compelling arguments in favour of buying an Xbox right now, as well as offering a relatively inexpensive way into gaming in general. Microsoft will be making a big appearance at E3, and I can’t help but wonder what news they’ll have regarding Game Pass.
Some have suggested that a deal might be on the table to bring Xbox Game Pass to Nintendo Switch or even PlayStation; I’m not sure that’s practical considering the divide between Microsoft and Sony in particular, but you never know! After Bethesda and EA Play have both brought significant libraries of games to the service in recent months, I’m beginning to wonder what’s left for Microsoft to possibly add!
Regardless, I’m sure that any titles Microsoft show off, including big Bethesda titles like Starfield or even The Elder Scrolls VI, will be coming to Game Pass, so that’s a good start. But using the opportunity of E3 to really push the service and show how it’s continuing to expand would be great from Microsoft’s perspective.
PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles are still sold out everywhere, but there seem to be more Xbox Series S consoles available at the moment. Game Pass also makes picking up a pre-owned Xbox One a pretty good proposition in the short term, so Microsoft has a lot of scope this month to hook in and convert players to their platform – and Game Pass is the way to do it.
Number 12: Halo Infinite
Speaking of Microsoft and Xbox, following a disappointing reveal last year, Halo Infinite was postponed. Originally the game was supposed to be the Xbox Series S/X’s flagship launch title, but as I predicted at the time, its absence ultimately didn’t prove a huge hurdle for the new console’s launch.
Since original developer Bungie abandoned the Halo series to pursue Destiny in 2010, the series has struggled to hit the highs of earlier titles. Halo 4 and Halo 5 were both well-received by some fans but disliked by others, and there’s a sense that the Halo series really needs a win with its next iteration. As above with Hogwarts Legacy I fully support developers 343 Industries delaying the project and taking the necessary time to bash it into shape. Maybe we’ll see what they’ve been working on at E3!
With a Halo television series also in the works, it should be a good time to be a fan of the sci-fi shooter series. Hopefully the issues with Infinite have been ironed out, and even if there’s still no definite word on when it’ll be released, there will be something to show off to tide fans over and restore hope in the series’ future.
I enjoyed playing Halo and Halo 2 back on the original Xbox, and I’ve recently had fun with The Master Chief Collection on PC, which included a couple of titles I hadn’t played. I’m interested to see what Infinite will bring to the table.
Number 13: Elden Ring
I have to be honest: I’m not sure if Elden Ring is going to be “my kind of thing.” Don’t get me wrong, I like George R R Martin – who’s working with developer FromSoftware on the project – but the teaser trailer gave off a kind of horror vibe that just rubbed me the wrong way, I guess.
I’m also not a fan of FromSoftware’s “extreme difficulty for the sake of it” style of gameplay. There’s no indication that Elden Ring will be as horribly difficult as the likes of Dark Souls, but the developer’s reputation precedes them, and their unwillingness to add difficulty options in their games is not something I appreciate. For those reasons and more it may end up being a game I skip!
Despite that, I like the idea of a new dark fantasy role-playing game. The involvement of George R R Martin has a lot of fans understandably excited, as he’s one of the best authors working in the genre today. Other than that, and a short cinematic teaser, we don’t know very much at all about Elden Ring – so this could be the moment for Bandai Namco to finally show off some gameplay!
If I were being hopeful, I guess I’d say that I’d like to see a darker, more polished looking version of The Elder Scrolls, with plenty of side-missions, lots of factions to join or fight against, and a main story that can be played through right away or sidelined in favour of doing other things. Whether Elden Ring will be anything like that, or whether it’ll be closer to Dark Souls is anyone’s guess at the moment!
Number 14: Super Mario 64 remake
This is a game that I truly felt was a possibility last year, when Nintendo was marking the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario series. Ultimately the company opted to include a pretty crappy version of Super Mario 64 – with a weird screen resolution that left black bars on all four sides of the screen – as part of the underwhelming Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.
But maybe the rumours of a reimagining of this classic 3D platformer from 1996 weren’t just made up! Maybe Super Mario 64 is being remade using the engine from Super Mario Odyssey, and maybe it’ll be announced this month! Maybe.
There are relatively few games that I’d be really excited to see remade, because in a lot of cases – especially when dealing with relatively recent games – the original versions still hold up pretty well. But after 25 years, there’s definitely scope to remake Super Mario 64, bringing it up-to-date for a new generation of players.
With the game’s 25th anniversary happening this year, perhaps Nintendo’s love of anniversary events will have convinced them it’s worth putting together a remake! Either way, if you can find a copy the original game is well worth playing if you missed it first time around.
Number 15: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
The third Star Wars title on this list is a fun one! Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was originally due for release last year, before being delayed. The game will be a follow-up to the very successful 2007 game Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, which if you haven’t played I can’t recommend highly enough!
The chance to revisit the Star Wars world with a fun Lego twist – in high definition, this time – has been appealing since The Skywalker Saga was announced a couple of years ago, and this is one game I’m definitely looking forward to. When it was delayed there was mention of a 2021 release, but no date or even release window has yet been elaborated on. Maybe E3 could be the right moment!
Though they arguably overdid it and burned out somewhere in the late 2000s or early 2010s, Lego adaptations of popular franchises have been a lot of fun. Lego Star Wars was one of the first to really go mainstream and see big success, but other titles which adapted properties like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean were good fun as well.
It would be great to get a solid release date and see a little more of the game. Adapting all nine films in the Star Wars series into a single game is no mean feat, but it’s a challenge that developer Traveller’s Tales has never shied away from. I’m sure that The Skywalker Saga will prove to be a worthy successor to previous Lego Star Wars titles.
So that’s it! A few of my predictions – and wishes – for this month’s E3.
Could you tell which were predictions and which were wishes? I’m not sure I could tell you which were which in every case, so don’t worry! After a rough year, which hasn’t been helped by myriad delays and shortages, it’ll be nice to see players getting genuinely excited about upcoming titles once again. Whatever is ultimately announced or revealed, I’m sure there’ll be something of interest to me, something I can put on my wishlist for later in the year!
Though I’ve never been to E3, I did attend two iterations of GamesCom – Europe’s biggest games fair – in the past when I used to work for a large games company. As I said last year, these digital events are arguably the future of games marketing. Not only are they substantially cheaper than paying to rent a convention centre in California, but it gives the companies greater control over their own messaging. Though the headline this year is “E3 is back!” I would argue that it isn’t – not really. E3 was an in-person event, an overblown trade fair that started allowing members of the public to attend. What we’re going to see this month will be all-digital and quite different.
I hope this was a bit of fun as we look ahead to E3. There are plenty of upcoming games to get excited about, and I shall be watching the various presentations with interest!
All titles mentioned above are the trademark or copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. E3 2021 takes place digitally from the 12th to the 15th of June, with additional events taking place throughout the month of June. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
EA Play is bringing a huge library of new games to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service! Because it’s been overshadowed by Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Bethesda, and the arrival of those games to Game Pass in recent weeks, this news seems to have flown under the radar. I almost missed this altogether, and it was only when I saw it on Twitter (of all places) that I realised what a monumental win this is for Microsoft, Game Pass, and quite frankly for subscribers as well.
I initially signed up for Game Pass for PC last year in order to play Forza Horizon 4, and it was well worth it! I’ve since played a few other games on there, and it’s easily value for money at £7.99 ($9.99 in the US) per month, in my opinion. One thing is clear, though, and that’s the fact that Microsoft has continued to invest heavily in the service. The addition of Bethesda’s lineup of titles brought the likes of Fallout 4, Skyrim, and Doom Eternal to Game Pass. And now EA Play has brought games like FIFA 21, Titanfall 2, The Sims 4, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and many others to the service, too. It seems all but certain that the upcoming Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will be available there as well – so maybe I’ll play it after all!
Game Pass has expanded rapidly, and continues to go from strength to strength. Right now, there’s no question that it’s the best way to get into current-gen gaming, and picking up a preowned Xbox One or – when availability improves – an Xbox Series S will mean that a huge library of games is available to even players on a limited budget. For less than the price of a Netflix subscription there are more games than I could play in an entire year, including some absolutely fabulous ones!
The only pang of regret I feel is because I’d bought a few of these games over on Steam! Of course if you’re worried about permanence it’s better to buy than subscribe, because it’s possible that EA Play and/or any of its games will be removed from the service in future. But just like we’ve seen happen with television and films thanks to the rise of streaming, many people are quite okay with that concept. Sure, losing access to a title is disappointing, and when Netflix removes a big name there’s often a minor backlash. But people have generally come to accept the impermanence of films and television shows on streaming platforms – so I daresay that will happen with games as well.
In the worst case, if a game you adore is removed from Game Pass, you can always buy it elsewhere. It doesn’t have to be the huge drawback that some folks insist it is. We increasingly live in a society of renting: we rent our homes, vehicles, and sometimes even our furnishings. We rent our films, television shows, and music via services like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and Spotify. And now, Microsoft is pushing hard to convince people to rent their game libraries too.
Having built up a Steam library over the better part of a decade I’m not willing to part with it, and I still don’t see Game Pass as a full-time substitute for buying games in a general sense. But you know what? I could be in the minority on that very soon. As mentioned, Game Pass now offers a colossal library of titles, and not only Xbox-exclusive games like Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Sea of Thieves. The FIFA series of football (soccer) games are literally the most popular titles around the world, and now the most recent entries are on Game Pass, with this year’s entry almost certain to follow. And huge multiplayer titles like Apex Legends are as well. Heck, you can even play Anthem… though goodness only knows why you’d want to.
For a player on a limited budget, Game Pass is now my number one recommendation. Whether it’s on PC or console, I honestly can’t recommend anything else. There’s simply no alternative that offers such a variety of major titles for the cost, and even speaking as someone who doesn’t use it as often as I could, it’s 100% worth it. This new addition of EA titles has taken what was already an enticing offer and made it even better.
There are still some issues with the Xbox app on Windows 10, and it doesn’t always work perfectly. But the games it launches do, and whether you’re interested in a strategy title like Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition or a racer like Forza Horizon 4, there are so many games now that it’s worth a try for almost anyone interested in gaming.
Microsoft took a risk with Game Pass, banking on players turning away from the model of buying and owning individual titles to rent them via a Netflix-style subscription. As the service continues to grow and expand, both in terms of its library and its playerbase, I think it’s fair to say that the risk is paying off.
So what am I going to play first? That’s a good question! I was tempted by the Mass Effect trilogy, which I otherwise only own on Xbox 360. But with Legendary Edition coming soon I think I’ll wait to see if it comes to Game Pass, which hopefully it will. Titanfall 2 is calling out to me, and despite being a big fan of fantasy I’ve never played the Dragon Age games, so maybe I’ll finally give those a shot. Or maybe I’ll go back and replay Sim City 2000 – there’s nothing like a hit of nostalgia, after all. I feel spoilt for choice!
This move makes a lot of sense for both companies. EA’s Origin platform and EA Play have both struggled to bring in huge numbers of players since they launched, and with EA diversifying and bringing many of its titles to Steam, joining in with Game Pass feels like a no-brainer. And from Microsoft’s point of view, anything they can do to increase the appeal of Game Pass shores up the service, and that can only have the effect of bringing in new subscribers as well as convincing existing ones to stick around.
When taken alongside the recent Bethesda acquisition and the launch of the weaker but cheaper Xbox Series S, I have to say that Microsoft is off to a very strong start in this new console generation – far better than I had expected even six months ago.
Xbox Game Pass is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Prices were correct at time of writing (March 2021). This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Earlier in the year I wrote an article looking at Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition and my experience getting back into it after it was remastered. I had a lot of fun with that game, and I’ve even gone back and played a few matches here and there over the summer. I played the first two Age of Empires titles to death in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but when Age of Empires III was released in 2005 I was less than impressed. While the core gameplay was similar, the addition of features like “home cities” and “cards” complicated things and, in my opinion at the time, detracted from the real-time strategy experience that I hoped to have. This also coincided with a period where I was particularly busy with my professional and personal life, and as such there were a number of factors involved in me putting down the game and not picking it up again.
Until now, that is! Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition was released a few days ago and follows on from last year’s Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition and 2018’s Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, completing the trilogy. The remastering process has brought all three titles in line with one another, at least from a visual standpoint, and were it not for differences in building and unit styles, it would be hard to tell them apart. Age of Empires III, being a more recent title, was visually better than the first two titles to begin with, and in that sense perhaps the upgrade doesn’t feel quite so dramatic. However, the game looks great and a lot of work has been put into that side of things.
I wouldn’t have necessarily rushed out to buy Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, especially not this close to its release. But as you may recall, I recently became a subscriber to Microsoft’s Game Pass for PC service, and in line with the company’s policy of bringing every new first-party release straight to Game Pass, it was available to me. So I downloaded it! Game Pass for PC is still not a seamless experience, and frustratingly logs me out every time I so much as minimise the Xbox app. Also, for some reason the download progress bar wasn’t working right; although the title did download, it told me it was stuck at having downloaded 14 megabytes the whole time. These are pretty basic things that Microsoft will need to work on if they want Game Pass for PC to be taken seriously, and now that the service is about to exit its “beta” phase, I hope to see such problems fixed. However, this isn’t meant to be another review of Game Pass!
The first thing players see upon booting up Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is a note from the developers explaining that some changes have been made to the game compared to its 2005 iteration. While there are gameplay changes (quite a lot of them, though many are minor) this message focuses on the way Age of Empires III treated indigenous peoples. The names of the game’s two Native American tribes have been changed – in the 2005 version of the game they were called the Sioux and the Iroquois; in 2020 they use the more accurate native names of Lakota and Haudenosaunee respectively. There have also been some changes to the way Native Americans are portrayed within the game, and Microsoft worked with Native American advisors in order to help shape the remaster.
This speaks to a much broader point, one which a single article can’t sufficiently cover. How can developers make history-based games that accurately depict the vast range of cultures and civilisations that existed? And how can a game like Age of Empires III possibly be made “fair” to all players when there are major differences between cultures and their levels of technology? This is an issue present in a lot of strategy games in particular, and the way developers have tended to handle it has been to “westernise” non-western civilisations, giving them technologies and resources they didn’t historically have in order to keep them competitive from a gameplay perspective. Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition does this too, and we see it prominently in other games, such as Civilization VI.
I don’t have a good answer when it comes to depicting history in media. On the one hand there will be people who say “it’s just a game,” as if to shut down the argument and just focus on whether or not the gameplay itself is good. And there will be others who practically want a boycott of titles that even try to deal with colonialism and the like. In a title like Age of Empires III, the entire aim of the game is to build and maintain a colony. Colonialism is the absolute core of the game, and that can’t be removed without fundamentally changing it into an altogether different experience. However, I like to think that we’re getting better with the way we treat history and different cultures in 2020, and the way that Native Americans are depicted in the game is not particularly historically accurate, despite attempts to make it better.
Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition brings in several changes to the original experience in order to make the game more accessible to new players. One change that I particularly appreciated was to the user interface; there are now options to either retain the original 2005 UI, to use a new UI developed for the remaster, or to use a UI that’s almost identical to the one seen in the first two games. This definitely helps move much more smoothly from one game to the next, and when remastering a title there’s no excuse for things like radically different UI or controls. One thing that I found extremely annoying in the 2018 re-release of Shenmue I & II was that on PC, the main action button (used to interact with the environment) changed from one game to the next. That’s the kind of annoyance that should be fixed in any remaster, and Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition has certainly made changes with players in mind.
As someone who isn’t all that familiar with the original version of Age of Empires III I’m not well-qualified to speak on gameplay changes between the two editions. That said, there are some that seem quite major, such as a big expansion of the “revolution” system, the changing of resource gathering rates, changes to resources on certain map types, and many more besides. For players used to the original version of the game who may have well-established ways to play, it’s worth reading through the entire list of changes on the Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition website. Even having done so, however, it will no doubt take time to get used to the new way everything works!
There are two new civilisations in the game – the Inca and Sweden – bringing the total number of civilisations to 16. Compared to the 35 playable civilisations in Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition this may seem paltry, but unlike in the other two games, each civilisation has more unique features. For example, in Age of Empires II each civilisation would use one of a handful of architectural styles, meaning no civilisation looked unique. In Age of Empires III, each civilisation has its own distinct look.
The addition of home cities (which also look unique for each civilisation) which I disliked back in 2005 also adds further distinctiveness to each civilisation, as do the cards which are used to set up each game. In a way I stand by what I would have said about the game fifteen years ago – these factors complicate gameplay. But at the same time that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and after getting used to the way the game works and figuring out each of the systems, their value to gameplay cannot be understated.
Overall, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition lives up to its name, at least based on the short amount of time I’ve spent with it so far. It is undeniably the definitive version of the game, having not only been given a visual overhaul, but with the development team having worked hard to rebalance the game to address player feedback. After fifteen years of a dedicated playerbase enjoying the original version, the developers had plenty of information to go on! It has been pointed out by those who know more about the game than I do that many of the changes made for Definitive Edition reflect changes and rebalances in some of the original version’s most popular fan-made mods. That says a lot – the developers have listened and tried to make the game as fair and fun as possible while still retaining some of its original quirks.
For me, as a Game Pass subscriber, getting Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition was a no-brainer. On Steam it sells for £15/$20, and for that price I think you’re getting a good strategy game with visuals comparable to any of today’s better games, and gameplay that has been improved based on fifteen years’ worth of player data and feedback. That seems like a pretty good deal, and for that matter all three of the remastered Age of Empires titles have been good value. Though I have heard from others that there are bugs and even crashes, I didn’t experience any of that during my time with the game. I would also add that if there are issues of that nature, they will almost certainly be patched out soon as the team behind Age of Empires are continuously working on updates. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition has received regular updates since it was released last year, and I see no reason why the same won’t happen here. That said, I found nothing game-breaking in my time playing.
Some of the changes made will be controversial with fans of the original version of the game, but that’s to be expected with any major overhaul. In the case of the first two titles in the Age of Empires series, the remastered versions are widely acclaimed and even considered superior in many ways to the original versions by fans. Whether that will be the case here is uncertain, and some of the more contentious issues – like those surrounding the nature of colonialism itself – will take time to settle down. However, for my two cents I think Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is fun, and gives me a second chance with a game I mostly overlooked first time around.
Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is out now for PC. The game is the copyright of Microsoft, Xbox Game Studios, Tantalus Media, and Forgotten Empires. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I’m a couple of days late on this one, but if you didn’t know already, Microsoft surprised and upended the games industry by announcing a deal to buy ZeniMax Media. ZeniMax is the owner of Bethesda – the company behind such titles as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 76. The deal also includes id Software, developers of Doom and Doom Eternal, as well as several other associated companies, including the developers of The Evil Within, The Elder Scrolls Online, and the Wolfenstein series. Wow.
I’ve seen a lot of… interesting commentary to have come out of this acquisition, including people who seem to think this means there can be no more console-exclusive titles ever, and some overly-optimistic PlayStation fans still expecting their favourite Bethesda/ZeniMax titles to come out on that platform. A lot of the details of the deal and its fallout (pun intended) are still under wraps, but I think we can make some reasonable assumptions – and cut through some of the nonsense.
First off, let’s clear something up. Microsoft wouldn’t spend $7.5 billion on this company and its subsidiaries for no reason. There are unquestionably going to be changes as a result of this deal. There are several ways it could manifest, but if we look to recent history we can pick out a couple of examples. The Outer Worlds was late into its development when Microsoft purchased developer Obsidian. With the game already scheduled for release on PlayStation, Microsoft honoured that commitment and didn’t make any changes. Likewise when they bought Mojang, Minecraft didn’t become an Xbox/PC exclusive. Those games were either already released or releasing imminently, likely with deals and agreements already signed, so Microsoft kept to those agreements.
The titles people seem most concerned about are The Elder Scrolls VI, which was announced a couple of years ago but is still several years away, and the next game in the Fallout series. No announcement has been made of a new Fallout title, but the assumption is that there may be one in pre-production. As someone who worked in the games industry for a time, I really feel that no company in Microsoft’s position spends this much money not to have exclusive titles. Unless this is part of some longer-term strategy to force Sony to bring their exclusive titles to Microsoft’s Xbox and PC platforms – which it almost certainly isn’t – we can say goodbye to the idea of any upcoming games being multiplatform. Despite Microsoft’s statements that they don’t care what platform someone plays on, they obviously do or they wouldn’t be investing so heavily in the Xbox brand and in PC gaming.
The Elder Scrolls VI is far enough in the future that I’d argue it won’t affect the purchasing decisions of 99% of gamers in 2020/21. Even hardcore Elder Scrolls fans should feel confident buying a PlayStation 5 if they want to this Christmas, because the next game in the series is years away and there will be time to get a cheaper Xbox Series S later if necessary. But thinking strategically and thinking long-term, the reality is that if players want to guarantee access to upcoming titles in any of these franchises, they’ll need to look at Xbox. That could be in the form of a console or it could mean getting a PC capable of running newer games. Either way, right now there’s no guarantee any of these titles will come to PlayStation – and if I were advising Microsoft, I’d say they’re in a rock solid position to demand compromises from Sony if Sony want to make any of those games and franchises available on their new system.
As we gear up for the launch of the two new systems, it’s hard to see that many people who had been planning to get a PlayStation will be swayed by this move – at least not in the short-term. All titles which have already been released – including the likes of Doom Eternal, Fallout 4, etc. – will still be available on Sony’s systems. On PlayStation 5 specifically, upgraded and/or re-released versions of some games are coming, and backwards compatibility with PlayStation 4 will mean all current-gen titles will run on the new system. Also the upcoming Ghostwire: Tokyo and Deathloop, which have already been announced for PlayStation 5, seem certain to keep their console releases. So anyone looking ahead to the next year or two need not be too concerned. It’s the longer-term prospects that may worry some PlayStation gamers.
With this acquisition, Microsoft will be bringing all of Bethesda’s titles – including upcoming releases – to their Game Pass service. I wrote recently that Game Pass is already a pretty great deal, not to mention the cheapest way to get into current- and next-gen gaming. Add Bethesda’s titles into the mix and the value of the service goes up even more.
This is the real genius of the move. Exclusivity will certainly pull in some players, as those unwilling to miss out will have no choice but to buy into the Xbox ecosystem in some form. But Game Pass is Microsoft’s killer app right now; a subscription service offering players hundreds of games for a monthly fee instead of shelling out $70/£65 per title is not only in line with the way people consume other forms of entertainment (like music and television) but also feels like a good value proposition as we enter what could be a long-term spell of economic uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Game Pass is already available on Xbox and PC, and has been steadily growing its subscriber base. It doesn’t have the library that a service like Steam has, but I can absolutely foresee a time in the future – the near future – where Game Pass will be the platform of choice for many players, perhaps with Steam as a backup to buy occasional titles that aren’t available elsewhere. And once someone has signed up for Game Pass, Xbox Live, and started racking up achievements and making friends, they’re hooked into the ecosystem. It isn’t impossible to switch or leave, of course, but Microsoft will make staying as appealing as possible.
As far back as 2000/01 when Microsoft decided to jump head-first into the home console market, commentators were wondering when they’d start throwing their wallet around. A company with the resources of Microsoft is in a unique position to spend, and we’ve seen them do so several times. On the whole, for players mostly interested in single-player titles I can understand why this feels huge. It is. But at the same time, the deal to buy Mojang a few years back was probably more significant!
In summary, this is good news for PC and Xbox players, and anyone who’s a Game Pass subscriber or on the fence about the service. PlayStation players shouldn’t notice any major short-term ramifications, but if you desperately want to play an upcoming game like the sequel to Doom Eternal, Starfield, or The Elder Scrolls VI, I think you’re going to need a PC or an Xbox.
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. The Xbox brand is the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Xbox Game Pass for PC has been out for a little while now, and after weighing up the options I decided to finally take the plunge and sign up. In this article I’ll cover my reasoning behind becoming a subscriber as well as my initial impressions of the service and its Windows 10 app. This won’t be a fully in-depth review, it’s really just my first impressions of the service.
First up, I’ll explain why I became a subscriber – and why you might want to as well. In short: I wanted to play Forza Horizon 4 and Game Pass was the cheapest option. I no longer own an Xbox One – I gave mine away years ago – so the only way to get that game is on PC, which is my primary gaming platform these days. But the “standard” edition is £50, and with the game not available on Steam (where sales happen more often) I hadn’t felt committed enough to trying it out to spend that much money. It’s rare that I’ll pay full-price for a game these days, and as someone on a limited budget £50 is just too much.
Enter Game Pass. At time of writing, the PC version of Game Pass is still in its “beta” phase, and costs £4 per month with the first month for just £1. That seems like a pretty good deal – even if the price is set to double when the service fully launches at some point in the future. At £4 per month I could play Forza Horizon 4 for a full year, cancel the service, and still have a few pounds left over compared to buying the game outright – and also have access to dozens of other titles to play in that time. It seems like a solid deal, and that’s why I signed up.
In recent months I’ve been critical of Xbox, mostly because of some of their odd decisions in the run-up to the launch of the Xbox Series X. But I have to admit that for Xbox gamers, Game Pass is a great deal. It’s by far the cheapest way to jump head-first into current-gen gaming, and when the Xbox Series X releases in a couple of months, it’ll be the most economical way to get into next-gen gaming too. Even if the Xbox Series X is priced similarly to the PlayStation 5, Game Pass provides an incentive for players to at least consider Microsoft’s platform simply because of the number of titles on offer. We’re primarily looking at Game Pass for PC today, but the console version currently offers more titles than the PC version and is thus an even better deal.
Microsoft currently plans to launch all of their major first-party games onto the service, and besides Forza Horizon 4 you’ll find such titles as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, The Outer Worlds, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and even the brand-new Microsoft Flight Simulator. Upcoming titles I’m looking forward to include Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, and I’m sure that there will be others. Although Xbox’s lineup of exclusives hasn’t been stellar this generation, Microsoft have made moves in that direction in recent years, snapping up studios like Obsidian and Ninja Theory who will now create titles exclusively for their platforms. Obsidian announced a new title a few months ago called Avowed, which looks to be their take on the fantasy/roleplaying genre and seems to have great potential. Avowed is just one title I’m following with interest from Microsoft, and guess what? When it’s released it’ll come to Game Pass.
So those are the key points in favour of Game Pass as I see it. It feels like a cost-effective way to play some of the newest titles, and even if there’s only one or two games on the list that you’re interested in, Game Pass can still be the cheaper option compared to buying them outright.
Now let’s look at the Windows 10 app.
This has been the least enjoyable part of the Game Pass experience so far. The app is very much a “beta” app, with a weird glitch that signs me out often and a small window that seems to constantly try to pop up only to immediately vanish. This happens every few minutes, and if I have the Xbox app minimised it flashes orange on the taskbar. It’s a minor annoyance, and one I’m sure will be fixed in future, but if you like perfect, seamlessly smooth experiences, the Xbox app for Windows 10 isn’t quite there yet!
However, signing in is a simple procedure – which is good considering how often it signs me out – and most importantly, downloads are at least as fast as those offered by other PC game launchers. The area where I live doesn’t have great internet; I don’t have fibre broadband or 5G or anything like that, so my downloads are never especially fast. But those from Game Pass are as fast as I get elsewhere, so from my perspective that’s about as much as I could have expected!
One other issue that I have is that the same notification keeps popping up every time I sign in. It tells me something like: “your Xbox Live Account is not the same as your Microsoft account!” even though they are both the same account, linked together. Not sure if this is an issue which just affects me or if it’s something everyone has to put up with at the moment!
This is an incredibly minor point, but in the past Xbox allowed players to upload custom pictures to represent themselves and their gamertag – as other platforms like Steam do. But the current version of the Xbox app for PC only allows you to choose from a set list of pictures. As someone who has no friends (on Xbox Live, not in real life!) it doesn’t matter all that much to me, but it’s worth pointing it out.
One thing I did like about the app is that is has a “Surprise Me” button – when clicked this recommends a random game from the Game Pass collection. It’s a bit of fun, and for someone unsure what to play next could even be useful! I don’t see myself using it all that often, but it’s a neat little inclusion.
I’m sure that Microsoft is working on the app behind the scenes to fix its issues and get it ready for prime-time. In a way, it makes sense for them to focus on the console market at the moment, with the launch of the Xbox Series X being imminent. Minor gripes with the PC version can wait while they focus on having as good a console launch as possible under the circumstances.
With enough time and attention, though, Game Pass for PC has the potential to go from strength to strength. At this stage I don’t see it as a Steam competitor – there simply isn’t a big enough library to say that. But it is something that PC gamers could use to augment their Steam libraries, as well as a way to save money on some impressive new titles.
The caveat with any service like this is that you don’t own any of the games, and they can in theory be removed from Game Pass at any time. Game Pass itself could also cease to exist at some point in the future, making replaying games more difficult. In that sense it’s less permanent even than a Steam library, which while wholly digital does at least have a degree of permanence in that you “own” the games you bought. As someone who grew up when renting games – and even consoles – was a big deal, however, that doesn’t bother me all that much.
Game Pass aims to position itself as “the Netflix of games”, and just like Netflix adds and removes content, so too will Game Pass. Most Netflix subscribers are happy with the deal – the subscription provides a huge amount of things to watch, and not owning them doesn’t feel like a particularly big drawback. The same applies to Game Pass – it’s a different, but not altogether unfamiliar – way of gaming.
If you’re someone with an unlimited budget for gaming and a full Steam library, perhaps you don’t need Game Pass. But for budget-conscious gamers looking to get value for money, it really feels like a decent offering. At its supposed full price of £8/$10 a month you’ll be paying £96/$120 per year, which is the cost of around two full-price games. But when you consider you get far more than two games included in Game Pass, from my perspective as someone on a low income that definitely seems like a good deal – provided there are two or more games currently included with the service that you actually want to play! For me it was Forza Horizon 4, but I’ll also surely check out The Outer Worlds and several others, and when my first month only cost £1 and I can now play Forza Horizon 4 immediately, it feels like I saved a packet compared to buying the game outright.
Game Pass isn’t going to totally revolutionise the way we play games – at least, not on current form. But for gamers on a budget it offers an inexpensive way into the hobby, as well as a way to complement an existing library of games for everyone else. Despite the issues with the Windows 10 app, I recommend taking a look.
This post was not sponsored; I purchased a Game Pass for PC subscription for myself and these are my genuine opinions based on my experience. The Xbox and Game Pass brands, as well as others mentioned above, are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.