Happy Birthday, Morrowind!

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.

Some great Steam Summer Sale deals for PC gamers!

Important: The Steam Summer Sale has now ended. Prices listed below will no longer be accurate. Check back in December for my next Steam Winter Sale list.

It’s that time of year again! For the next fortnight, PC gaming powerhouse Steam is running its annual summer sale, meaning there are some pretty great deals to be had for PC gamers. For the last few major Steam sales I’ve put together a list of a few titles that I think look like excellent value while they’re discounted, and this time is no different!

As I always say, events like the Steam Summer Sale go a long way to making PC gaming good value for money when compared to consoles. PC gaming can be pricey to get started with – especially at the moment thanks to major component shortages – but sales like this go a long way to making up for it, and over the lifespan of a PC or a single console generation, it’s quite possible to see how a PC player is able to save money compared to a console gamer!

The creation of Xbox Game Pass works counter to that, of course! And if you’re new to gaming and want to get started with a library of titles for relatively little money up front, a Game Pass subscription with either a pre-owned Xbox One or an Xbox Series S is honestly hard to beat.

But we’re not here for Game Pass on this occasion! Let’s take a look at twenty games currently on offer in the Steam Summer Sale.

Important: All prices and discounts were correct in the UK at time of writing. Prices and discounts may vary by region and are subject to change at any time. The Steam Summer Sale runs from today (24.06.2021) for two weeks (08.07.2021) after which prices listed below will no longer be accurate.

Number 1: Jade Empire: Special Edition
75% discount, £3.74

If you’ve been playing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and are craving another BioWare roleplaying game, you could do a lot worse than the overlooked Jade Empire. Released as an Xbox exclusive in 2005, the Chinese-inspired title made its way to Steam a few years ago. Most gamers are aware of the likes of Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, but Jade Empire never quite made it to the same level.

Its graphics are certainly less shiny than modern titles, but if you can look beyond that you’ll find solid gameplay that’s easily comparable to other BioWare titles.

Number 2: Fall Guys
40% discount, £9.59

I’m not sure how long Fall Guys will remain available on Steam following a buyout by Epic Games, so if you want to get this fun obstacle course-battle royale title, now might be a good time. Fall Guys had a moment last summer before an issue with cheating and the rise of Among Us saw it slip progressively further down the rankings. But developers Mediatonic have continued to work on the game, fixing the cheating problem and releasing a number of free updates.

In mid-2021 Fall Guys is in a much better place. With Switch and Xbox releases still hopefully coming soon, the game is set for a second bite of the cherry and may see renewed interest from players. Cross-play is now enabled between PC and PlayStation at least, so getting into a game is easier than ever.

Number 3: Evil Genius 2
25% discount, £25.64

I took a look at Evil Genius 2 when it was first released earlier in the year, and it’s a lot of fun! If you’ve ever wanted to live out your Bond villain/Dr Evil fantasies, this is about as close as you can get while staying on the right side of the law! Building a secret base for your evil empire while also managing the casino used as a “front” is challenging, but if you get hooked it’s easy to sink hours into Evil Genius 2.

I’d happily recommend Evil Genius 2 to any strategy enthusiast or fan of spy thrillers. The cute, cartoony aesthetic adds to the experience as well.

Number 4: Snowrunner
20% discount, £20.79

The sequel to Mudrunner, Snowrunner is all about driving big vehicles – trucks, four-wheel drives, etc. – through difficult terrain. There really isn’t anything quite like it, and it’s a different kind of driving challenge when compared to titles like American Truck Simulator, but with a similar focus on the simulation aspect of driving.

I think Snowrunner would be absolutely cracking to play with a proper sim setup – wheel, pedals, and gearstick. But even just using a control pad it’s a lot of fun.

Number 5: Control: Ultimate Edition
60% discount, £13.99

I think I picked up Control in the last Steam sale, and just recently got around to playing through it. Control is weird, and I mean that as a compliment! I think the best way to describe it would be a psychological thriller mixed with an action game. There aren’t many true horror aspects, but there’s a lot of Lovecraftian weirdness that gives many parts of the game a creepy vibe.

Players take control of Jesse as she explores the Federal Bureau of Control – a mysterious government organisation headquartered in a very unique building! I had fun with Control, but I would caveat that I did encounter some issues with performance – poor frame-rate in particular.

Number 6: Banished
66% discount, £5.09

A mainstay of my gaming lists, Banished is an amazing city-builder. Not only must you construct buildings, but you’re also in charge of managing the citizens of your town. Ensuring that they have enough food, medicine, firewood, and other supplies is deceptively tricky, and this is a game that’s hard to master.

Banished was made by a single person. I say that every time I bring up the game, because I find it astonishing. Even if Banished had been produced by a whole studio I’d have enjoyed it, but knowing it was all programmed by a single person completely blows my mind.

Number 7: Saint’s Row 2
75% discount, £2.49

Saint’s Row 2 to me represents the pinnacle of the series, before this Grand Theft Auto-clone completely veered into the outlandish and wacky storylines that would dominate its third and especially fourth entries. If you’re bored of Grand Theft Auto V, and with a sixth entry in the series nowhere to be found, for less than the price of a coffee you could play through a game that’s as close as you can get to that experience.

Comparisons to other games aside, Saint’s Row 2 offers a ton of player customisation, even having different voices for the player character. The open world is fun to mess around in, and though the story is hardly unique it’s more than deep enough to be an enjoyable way to waste a couple of dozen hours.

Number 8: Pac-Man (Arcade Game Series)
50% discount, £1.39

Can you even call yourself “a gamer” if you don’t own at least one copy of 1980 arcade classic Pac-Man? This is one of the best-known video games of all time, and it’s quite literally a piece of gaming history. There have been many versions released over the last forty years, including some that take the basic Pac-Man concept and really mix it up. This version stays true to the 1980 original.

Gamers of a certain age have a fondness for Pac-Man, but there are a lot of younger players who’ve never tried their hand at the original. For anyone in that situation, I’d recommend giving it a shot. You’ll be experiencing a piece of video game history in the process!

Number 9: Yooka-Laylee
80% discount, £6.99

Yooka-Laylee was criticised upon release… for being a 3D platformer in the style of classics of the genre like Banjo-Kazooie. I genuinely do not understand what people were talking about if they meant that as a negative point. Yooka-Laylee was literally designed from the ground up as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie and those types of games!

Maybe it isn’t the world’s greatest ever 3D platformer, but it’s solid, cute, and a lot of fun, and if you liked those games in their heyday on the Nintendo 64, give it a shot. If you know what you’re getting into and you aren’t asking for a life-changing experience – as some critics seemed to be – you’ll have a whale of a time.

Number 10: Death Stranding
60% discount, £21.99

From famed Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, Death Stranding is a game that a lot of people didn’t know what to make of when it originally launched on PlayStation 4. Is it an action game? A horror game? A walking simulator? Death Stranding is a mixture of different genres and different styles of gameplay. There’s a lot of walking and exploration, and in some respects it’s a slower game as a result.

I’d tentatively put Death Stranding in a category alongside titles like Beyond: Two Souls and others by Quantic Dream. It’s interactive, and there’s a story to follow. And there is third-person action gameplay. But it’s very hard to pin it down and say what it actually is. The visuals are gorgeous, though!

Number 11: Lego City Undercover
75% discount, £6.24

Originally released as a Wii U exclusive, Lego City Undercover eventually made its way to PC. Unlike other Lego games, which adapt an existing entertainment product, it’s an original story featuring a police officer on the hunt for a vicious criminal. Weirdly for a Lego game there are some Grand Theft Auto-esque open world elements, and the story is surprisingly fun.

Lego games have always had a sense of humour, and while you won’t find anything extreme or offensive – this is a kids’ game, after all – it’s still got some real laugh-out-loud moments. I had fun with it when I was one of seven lucky people who owned a Wii U, and developer Traveller’s Tales did a good job adapting the game for PC.

Number 12: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
60% discount, £13.99

I had a lot of fun playing through Jedi: Fallen Order last summer. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker I needed something to rehabilitate the Star Wars brand, and Jedi: Fallen Order delivered. As I wrote at the time, I genuinely felt like I was having my own adventure in a galaxy far, far away.

The game has a strong story with great characters and succeeded at getting me truly invested in what happened to protagonist Cal Kestis and the friends he made over the course of his journey. Coupled with great visuals and fun lightsaber-swinging gameplay, Jedi: Fallen Order was a great time all around. Not only that, but it proved once again that linear, single-player games are still viable as a concept for big publishers.

Number 13: Hades
30% discount, £13.64

Hades isn’t my usual kind of game. But having heard nothing but praise for the indie title I decided to give it a shot, and I can see why people are raving about it! Hades is a difficult rogue-like dungeon-crawler, one that gives players a degree of choice over how to set up their character before proceeding through the randomly-generated levels and tackling monsters inspired by Ancient Greek legends.

It’s a game where failure and defeat are inevitable, yet not one that punishes failing. Though dying in a game never feels great, Hades has found a way to take the sting out of defeat. It’s strangely compelling, and I found myself continuing to play long after the point where I’d have put other games down.

Number 14: Serious Sam 4
50% discount, £15.49

I played the first Serious Sam back in the early 2000s, and I found it to be an incredibly funny send-up of the first-person shooter genre at the time. Though I’m yet to play the latest instalment, which spent years in development hell before being released late last year, everything I’ve heard so far is good and I can’t wait to jump in and give it a go.

Serious Sam 4 feels like a blast of nostalgia; a throwback to when games were less about story and more about shooting as many monsters as humanly possible.

Number 15: Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
33% discount, £10.04

In early 2020 I really got stuck into Age of Empires II, replaying one of my most-played games of the early 2000s. Microsoft put a lot of work into Definitive Edition, bringing in a new graphics engine and continuing to add to and adjust the game even now, more than eighteen months after its launch. It really is the ultimate way to play Age of Empires II.

Age of Empires II is a real-time strategy game with a medieval setting, and Definitive Edition has introduced new gameplay modes, new factions, and a bustling online multiplayer scene for when you’re done practicing against the AI. It’s a time-sink, and it’s easy to lose dozens of hours here!

Number 16: No Man’s Sky
50% discount, £19.99

No Man’s Sky will forever be defined by the criticism it received at launch for failing to live up to the lofty expectations developer Hello Games set. And that’s absolutely fair enough; the “release now, fix later” business model deserves all of the hate it gets. But in the five years since, No Man’s Sky has received a number of free updates and expansions, and has grown to be the game that was promised.

A rare success story for a game that deserved all of the criticism it got, it’s actually easy to recommend the game in its current state. It’s the space exploration and adventure game that folks thought they were signing up for five years ago. It’s a shame things went down the way that they did; had No Man’s Sky been released today, it would be celebrated.

Number 17: Far Cry 5
85% discount, £7.49

Stepping away from tropical islands and murderous dictators, Far Cry 5 saw the first-person open world series head to the United States. The game is undeniably politically charged, looking at political extremism in the American heartland, but it retains that Far Cry over-the-top action and is fun to play through.

If you can’t wait for Far Cry 6, which is due for release in October, it could be worth re-playing Far Cry 5 – or playing it for the first time if you missed out when it was new.

Number 18: Forza Horizon 4
50% discount, £27.49

If you don’t have Game Pass, Forza Horizon 4 is still good value at half price. I signed up for Game Pass specifically to play this game, and it’s been well worth it! It’s a really fun, semi-arcade racer set in an open world based on my native Britain, and there are a ton of different cars and different ways to race. I’m 100% there for all of it!

The Forza Horizon series is a half-step between arcade racers and “serious” racing sims, and if you want a game that’s designed to play just as well with a control pad as a racing wheel, this could be it.

Number 19: Terminator: Resistance
40% discount, £20.99

Terminator: Resistance flew under the radar when it launched in 2019, and a lot of folks missed out on this fun first-person shooter. Set in the world of the Terminator franchise, Resistance succeeds where several recent films failed and actually told a fun, engaging story. It’s not exactly a full-blown “AAA” game, but it’s plenty of fun nevertheless.

If you missed this one a couple of years ago, give it a shot. Any fan of the Terminator franchise ought to at least try it, and if you like first-person shooters with a slight horror vibe, you’ll have a great time.

Number 20: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
75% discount, £3.24

For me, Morrowind still represents the high-water mark of the entire Elder Scrolls series. It has more to do than Oblivion or Skyrim at practically every level: more NPCs to engage with, more factions to join, more quests, more types of magic, and even more weapon types to master. Some people are put off by its lack of voice acting and text-based interface, but to me that just adds to the experience.

Morrowind is outstanding. It’s one of the best and deepest role-playing experiences ever made, and with a few select graphical mods it looks visually stunning almost twenty years on from its original release. If you haven’t played it yet, but you loved Skyrim, you’re missing out! With The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, why not step back and play – or replay – Morrowind while you wait?

So that’s it!

If you were to buy all of the titles on the list above, you’d have spent £250.30, which I reckon is pretty good going for twenty games! I tried to get a nice mix of new and older titles, as well as perhaps one or two less well-known games that you might want to try for the first time. In addition to sales like this one offering pretty significant savings, another of the advantages of PC gaming is that the end of a console generation no longer means leaving games behind. Sure, consoles offer a degree of backwards compatibility, but for my money you can’t beat having everything in one place like you can on a PC.

So all that’s left to say is I hope you found this interesting, and perhaps found a game or two to consider picking up! There’s two weeks to get your purchases in before the sale ends, but if you miss out or you can’t participate on this occasion don’t despair! There will almost certainly be a Holiday Sale in the days leading up to Christmas, and I’ll be sure to cover that here on the website too.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective developer, publisher, and/or studio. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fifteen games worthy of a second look in Spring 2021

Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may still be present for a few of the titles on this list.

Anthem is gone, Cyberpunk 2077 is still a stinking mess, and there are delays aplenty across the games industry as the pandemic rolls on. What’s a gamer to do? Well, I might have the answer for you! Tomorrow will be the first day of March, and to me March has always meant the beginning of Spring. There are small snowdrops beginning to bloom in my garden, and the nights are getting shorter. A few times this past week I’ve even managed without the heating on in my house – much to the dismay of the cats!

There are still plenty of great games that – all being well – will be released this year. If you missed it, I put together a list just after New Year of ten of the most interesting titles! But considering the delays and that this time of year is typically fairly quiet in terms of releases, I thought it would be a great moment to consider a few games that deserve a second look. I’ve limited the list to titles that are readily available to buy on current-gen platforms and PC, so no out-of-print games this time.

Without any further ado, let’s jump into the list, which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

Nintendo’s most recent karting game is a ton of fun. It’s the kind of arcade racer that has a very low bar for entry – anyone can pick up and play this fun title. But mastering Mario Kart 8 – especially if you choose to head online – is no small task, and there’s a surprising amount of skill involved to be truly competitive with the best players! I’ve adored the Mario Kart series since its inception on the SNES, and this version is the definitive Mario Kart experience… at least until they make Mario Kart 9!

Number 2: Fall Guys (PC and PlayStation 4, 2020, coming to Xbox and Nintendo Switch this summer)

Among Us gained a lot of attention not long after Fall Guys was released last summer and stole at least some of the cute game’s attention! The fact that Fall Guys isn’t on mobile probably counts against it as far as finding a broader audience goes, but despite what some have claimed, the game is by no means dead. Season 4 – which promises to bring a new set of futuristic rounds – is being released soon, and for less than £15 (at least on PC) I honestly can’t fault Fall Guys. It’s an adorable, wholly unique experience in which your cute little jelly bean character runs a series of obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout. Each round lasts only a couple of minutes, and it really is way more fun than words can do justice to! I’ve recently got back into playing after taking a break, and there’s plenty of fun still to be had.

Number 3: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC and Xbox, 2002)

You can find Morrowind on PC, and despite being an older title it’s compatible with Windows 10. There has been an active modding scene for almost twenty years at this point, so even if you’ve already played the base game it may still be worth going back for more. In my subjective opinion, Morrowind is the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series. It certainly offers players more to do than its predecessors or sequels – more NPCs to interact with, more factions to join, more types of weapons to wield and spells to cast, and so on. Especially if you hit Morrowind with some of the visual/graphics mods that are available, it can feel almost like a new game!

Number 4: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, 2002)

Another older title that you can find on PC, as well as on iOS and Android, Vice City was one of three Grand Theft Auto titles released between 2001 and 2005. Remember when Rockstar was able to put out more than one game per decade?! If you’ve had your fill of Grand Theft Auto V by now – and it’s been out for eight years, so I wouldn’t blame you if you were ready to play something else – maybe going back to one of the older games will be a nostalgic blast. Many fans of the series consider Vice City to be the best entry, and while I don’t think I’d go quite that far, I had a ton of fun with it back on the original Xbox.

Number 5: Banished (PC, 2014)

There are some great city-builders out there, but one of my favourites from the last few years is Banished. The game was built entirely by one person, which never fails to amaze me! It would still be a fantastic title if it had been made by a full studio, but the fact that the game and all its complex systems were programmed by a single developer is an astonishing achievement. Banished isn’t easy, even on lower difficulty settings, and it will take a little time to get into the swing of how to plan your town and manage your resources. But if you’re up for a challenge it’s a wonderful way to lose track of time!

Number 6: Skully (PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One, 2020)

Skully is a game that I’ve been meaning to write a proper review of since I picked it up last year, but it keeps slipping down my writing pile. From the moment I saw the trailer and heard the game’s premise – a 3D platformer in which you play as a disembodied skull – I was in love, and the game did not disappoint! The environments are beautiful and the game is plenty of fun. It manages to feel at points like an old-school 3D platformer of the Nintendo 64 era, and at others like a wholly modern experience. It’s also an indie title, and it’s great to be able to support indie developers wherever we can!

Number 7: Jade Empire (PC and Xbox, 2005)

If the demise of Anthem has got you missing the “golden age” of BioWare’s role-playing games, make sure you didn’t skip Jade Empire. The Xbox exclusive was overlooked by players in the mid-2000s, and while other BioWare games from that decade, like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age Origins are all held in high esteem, the Chinese-inspired Jade Empire is all but forgotten. When Steam has it on sale you can pick up Jade Empire for less than the price of a coffee, and for that you’ll get what is honestly one of the best and most interesting role-playing games of all time.

Number 8: Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (PC, 1997)

Starfleet Academy is unique among Star Trek games because it features the cast of The Original Series in video clips recorded especially for the game. These aren’t scenes from films or episodes of the show; you literally will not see them anywhere else. Starfleet Academy is a starship simulator, and while its visuals obviously don’t look as good in 2021 when compared to other titles, the overall experience is fantastic. You won’t find another game quite like it – especially because ViacomCBS has all but given up on making Star Trek games since the release of Star Trek Online!

Number 9: Forza Horizon 4 (PC and Xbox One, 2018)

I signed up for Game Pass in order to be able to play racing game Forza Horizon 4 – and it was totally worth it! The Forza Horizon series attempts to find a middle ground between true racing sims and arcade-style titles, and generally manages to do so quite well. Forza Horizon 4 has a map which represents parts of Great Britain, and that’s something unusual! I didn’t see my house, but it’s always nice when a game uses a familiar setting. There are plenty of fun cars to race in, and different kinds of races too, including going off-road.

Number 10: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Multiplatform, 2013)

Is it just me, or has every subsequent game in the Assassin’s Creed series struggled to hit the highs of Black Flag? Origins and Odyssey were decent, but even in 2021, I think that Black Flag is the definitive title in the franchise! There’s something about its pirate setting and the wonderful crop of NPCs that make Black Flag a truly enjoyable experience from start to finish. For a game that’s approaching its eighth birthday it still looks fantastic, too!

Number 11: The Last Of Us (PlayStation 3, 2013)

Despite its severely disappointing sequel, The Last Of Us is fantastic. If you’re looking for a game with amazing characters and a deep, engaging story, it simply can’t be bettered. I put The Last Of Us on my list of games of the decade as the 2010s drew to a close, and for good reason. Joel and Ellie’s trek across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States was absolutely one of the gaming highlights of the last few years. The characters are so well-crafted that they feel real, and every twist and turn in the intense storyline carries emotional weight. The game is being adapted for television, and I’m interested – cautiously so in the wake of The Last Of Us Part II – to see what will happen when it makes the leap to the small screen.

Number 12: Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (PC, 2018)

Though I know Age of Empires II is the title most folks prefer, I’ve always appreciated what the original Age of Empires did for the real-time strategy genre. If you’ve been enjoying the recent remake of the second game, it could be a great time to give the original a try as well. Age of Empires didn’t invent real-time strategy, but it was one of the first such titles I played after its 1998 release – and I sunk hours and hours into it in the late ’90s! There’s something about building up an army of Bronze Age warriors to smash an opponent’s town that’s just… satisfying!

Number 13: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2019)

I played through Jedi: Fallen Order last summer and documented my time with the game here on the website. Suffice to say I had a blast; the linear, story-focused title is exactly what the Star Wars franchise needed after the Battlefront II debacle! Having just seen the dire Rise of Skywalker I was also longing for a Star Wars story that I could actually enjoy for a change, and Jedi: Fallen Order did not let me down! I had a great time swinging my lightsaber across a galaxy far, far away… and I think you will too.

Number 14: No Man’s Sky (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2016)

No Man’s Sky was incredibly controversial at launch. The pre-release hype bubble got wildly out of control, egged on by a marketing push that oversold the game. Remind you of any recent titles? But despite the backlash in 2016, Hello Games has since put in a lot of hard graft, and five years on No Man’s Sky genuinely lives up to its potential. Had it been released in this state I think it would have been hailed as one of the best games of the decade – if not of all time. I understand not wanting to reward a game that was dishonestly sold, and that the “release now, fix later” business model is not one we should support. But there’s no denying that No Man’s Sky is a great game in 2021, and if you haven’t picked it up since its 2016 launch, it could be worth a second look.

Number 15: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2020)

A full remake of the definitive skateboarding game is hard to pass up! In the Dreamcast era, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched an entire genre of skating games, and its amazing soundtrack is a nostalgic hit of late ’90s/early ’00s punk rock. The remade version, which you can pick up on Switch and the two new consoles later this year, is great fun, and has managed to do something rare for a remake: genuinely recapture the look and feel of the original title. Obviously the visuals are brought up-to-date, but the feel of the game and the way tricks are performed are fantastic. I was able to slip right back into playing as if I’d never put the Dreamcast controller down!

So that’s it. Fifteen games that I think are worth your time this Spring.

There are plenty of fun titles on the horizon, but some of the ones I was most looking forward to – like Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Hogwarts Legacy – have recently been delayed, prompting me to look at my library and put together this list.

I hope this has inspired you to find something to play over the next few weeks! If not, stay tuned because there will be plenty more gaming-related articles here on the website. Happy gaming!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten games to play instead of Cyberpunk 2077

Highly-anticipated (and almost certainly over-hyped) role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 releases today. If, like me, you don’t really have £50/$60 to spend on a single game this close to Christmas – or you don’t have a PC or console capable of playing it – I thought it could be fun to go through a few alternatives.

I don’t hate Cyberpunk 2077. It’ll most likely be a decent game, and I’m sure I will eventually give it a shot. But there are many fun titles out there that offer comparable experiences – and most don’t cost as much! Here’s ten options for those of us who aren’t indulging in Cyberpunk 2077 on day one.

Number 1: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic & Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (2003; 2004)

Coming after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left the franchise in a pretty disappointing place, Bioware’s Star Wars epic and its Obsidian-produced sequel were outstanding. At a time when I wasn’t enjoying Star Wars’ cinematic output, these games came along and did a lot to save its reputation. For around £15 (on Steam) you’ll be able to pick up both titles and enjoy two of the best stories in the entire franchise. The two games are significantly better than several of the Star Wars films, so if you’re even slightly interested in a galaxy far, far away but haven’t given either title a try yet, it could be a great time to do so.

Number 2: Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2011; 2016)

When I think about many of the components of Cyberpunk 2077 that people are most excited about – such as the ability to augment your human character, first-person gunplay, and different ways to reach objectives and complete missions – I’m reminded a lot of the Deus Ex series, especially its most recent offerings. Though a far more linear experience, for a lot less money you could play through a couple of solid stealth/action games that offer at least some of the same features as Cyberpunk 2077. It’s even set in a dystopian future where corporations are in charge!

Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)

The Witcher 3 was CD Projekt Red’s last game before Cyberpunk 2077, and it’s widely hailed as a masterpiece. Though the two games are certainly different in terms of setting, point-of-view, and the like, if you’re like me and haven’t yet got around to playing one of the generation’s best role-playing games, this could be a great opportunity to do so. The Witcher 3′s huge success and positive reception is a big part of why Cyberpunk 2077 has seen such a massive hype bubble.

Number 4: Shenmue I & II (1999; 2001; re-released 2018)

Though its story disappointingly remains incomplete, if you’re looking for a game with a truly engrossing narrative Shenmue could be just what you need. These two ambitious titles were originally released for the Dreamcast, sadly sharing the fate of that console and being underappreciated. Both were re-released for PC in 2018 as a single bundle, and if you missed them when they were new it could be a great time to jump in. Shenmue pioneered the idea of an open world before anyone even knew what that meant, and was the first game I ever played that felt genuinely cinematic. I think I’ll be recommending these games to people for as long as I live!

Number 5: Doom & Doom Eternal (2016; 2020)

If Cyberpunk 2077′s big draw was its first-person shooting, Doom and Doom Eternal could be great substitutes. If you want to feel like a total badass, kicking butt and taking no prisoners (literally) then there’s no better choice. The rebooted Doom series ditched the horror vibe of Doom 3 and went back to its roots – shooting demons in the face by the absolute boatload. The two games both have fantastic soundtracks that perfectly suit the fast-paced, explosive gameplay. And Doom Eternal introduces a grappling hook. Need I say more?

Number 6: Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Because of the ridiculous hype bubble that’s grown around Cyberpunk 2077, a lot of players are going to be disappointed when they realise it isn’t “Grand Theft Auto in the future.” So why not play the most recent entry in Rockstar’s crime saga instead? It’s a huge open world, there’s plenty to do, and if you want the experience of running amok causing havoc in a densely-packed city, this is about as close as you can get right now. There’s even a first-person mode (except on the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.)

Number 7: Titanfall 2 (2018)

A fun, futuristic shooter with mechs. That’s what Titanfall 2 is, and this underappreciated gem was sadly released at a very competitive moment in the first-person shooter genre. That led to underwhelming sales, but if you’re willing to give it a shot you’ll find a truly exciting, action-packed experience. Part of the appeal of Cyberpunk 2077 is its first-person perspective, and while you won’t find as many customisation options or a branching story, what you’ll get with Titanfall 2 is some of the best gunplay ever put into a game with weapons that have a realistic kick.

Number 8: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)

One of the best role-playing games every made, and the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series in my opinion, Morrowind is packed full of fun and interesting quests, random NPC encounters, and a diverse set of locations and environments across its open world. Eighteen years after it was released there are quests I’ve never completed and whole storylines I haven’t seen; it’s just too big to fit everything into a single playthrough. Despite being released a decade earlier, Morrowind has much more going on than Skyrim – more weapon types, more factions to join, and even more NPCs to interact with. You just have to look past its text-based interface, which can admittedly feel dated in 2020.

Number 9: Pillars of Eternity & Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2015; 2018)

Both Pillars of Eternity and its sequel have a decidedly old-school feel, thanks in part to their visual style and use of an isometric perspective. Each game takes 40+ hours to beat – longer if you play more side missions and take your time – so there’s a lot of role-playing to get stuck into. It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the experience, but if you’re looking for an in-depth role-playing experience with fun customisation and where your in-game choices truly impact the story, look no further.

Number 10: Halo: The Master Chief Collection (2014; 2019)

When I think about “futuristic first-person shooters,” one series springs to mind ahead of all the others: Halo. The Master Chief Collection brings together the first six titles in the series (or every game except Halo 5) for hours and hours of single-player or co-op gameplay. Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t offer co-op! The exciting tale of humanity’s war against an alien alliance known as the Covenant is detailed in these games, and although the quality of the series has waned somewhat in recent years, even Halo at its worst is still light-years ahead of many other games.

So that’s it. Ten games you could play instead of Cyberpunk 2077 while you wait for the day-one bugs to be patched out and for the game to drop in price! Or because you aren’t interested in one of the biggest releases of the year.

If nothing else, this was an opportunity to talk about some fun games and highlight them in the run-up to Christmas. Remember that the Steam holiday sale is likely coming up in a matter of days; it could be worth waiting to see if any of your favourites will be on sale. I highly doubt Cyberpunk 2077 will see even a 5% discount so soon after its release, but you never know!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten more games I’d remaster (if I could)

A little while ago I looked at ten games from years past that I wish would be remastered and brought up-to-date. That list was fun to put together, but I ended up leaving off a number of titles that I had considered including. This new list will make up for that!

The same methodology applies as last time: more recent titles – which I’m defining as anything from this console generation or the one preceding it – are excluded by default. And the rest are games that I’ve personally played… albeit I haven’t touched most of them in years or even decades. Remember that this isn’t me saying that these games will be remastered. I’m just saying that, if I had unlimited resources, I’d like nothing more than to bring them up to date and give a new generation of players a chance to experience them.

Number 1: Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992) and/or Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64, 1997)

I’d love to replay the classic tracks of the first two Mario Kart titles using the more modern engine used for Mario Kart 8. A few of the tracks from these two titles have reappeared in recent Mario Kart titles, but not all of them and the two games have never been remastered in their entirety complete with all of the tracks and the same roster of characters.

Super Mario Kart was one of the first games I bought for myself in the early ’90s; I think I’d played a demo of it in a shop and desperately wanted my own copy! Mario Kart 64 is probably my personal favourite entry in the series; it had such an amazing set of tracks. If you want to see some of the best racetracks from these titles and others that I think would be great for the next Mario Kart title, I have an article all about that. With 2022 being the 30th anniversary of the series – and with Nintendo’s love of anniversaries – they could certainly take that opportunity to bring one or both of these titles fully up-to-date!

Number 2: Space Harrier (Arcade, 1985)

On my first list I didn’t include any pre-1990 titles. Partly that’s because I haven’t played all that many games from that era, but partly because a lot of older games were rather basic. Space Harrier is undeniably in that category; it’s an on-rails shooter without any real story, the only objective is to shoot at aliens and creatures. But there aren’t many games like that in 2020, and perhaps with a major visual overhaul it could offer something different to players. The other option would be to take its main character, settings, and alien races and expand on them – turning Space Harrier from a run-and-gun shooter into something more like a story-driven action/adventure title in a unique sci-fi setting.

I never had the chance to play Space Harrier in a real arcade. The closest I got to that experience was playing it in Shenmue – that’s where I first encountered the title. But nostalgia is a big deal these days, and perhaps some people would be tempted to see a reworked version of this classic.

Number 3: Spirit of Speed 1937 (Dreamcast and PC, 1999)

Racing games are a lot of fun, and some modern titles do make an attempt to include older vehicles – classic cars from the golden age of motor racing. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s been another game like Spirit of Speed 1937, though, which was set in that era and exclusively featured pre-war vehicles.

I played the Dreamcast version of this game, and it was a lot of fun. It was also something wholly unique among racing games that were either fun but un-serious kart racers in the vein of the Mario Kart series, or modern-day racers and rally games featuring up-to-date cars. I believe that niche still exists today, and it would be a lot of fun to have a classic racer like this to fill it!

Number 4: Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force

I’ve had an article in the pipeline for a while that I haven’t knocked into shape yet looking at the state of Star Trek video games. To make a long story short, while a number of them have been pretty good, practically none reached out beyond Star Trek’s preexisting fandom. Elite Force was different, and some fans of first-person shooters who didn’t give a hoot about Star Trek played and enjoyed the game when it released in 2000. Its multiplayer mode in particular was something gamers at the time appreciated.

Elite Force had a great single-player campaign too, which included down time in between missions where the player character – Ensign Munro – was able to explore parts of the ship. The story was perfectly Star Trek in its theme, and Voyager would even go on to use a vaguely similar premise for an episode called The Void which aired about six months after the game was released.

Number 5: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Xbox and PC, 2002)

It would have been hard to imagine in the 2000s, but there hasn’t been a game released in the Elder Scrolls series for almost a decade. Though Bethesda have promised us that The Elder Scrolls VI is in development, it seems years away. The company has remastered Skyrim several times and ported it to every platform under the sun, and while we continue to wait for The Elder Scrolls VI, why not bring Morrowind up to date?

Morrowind is undoubtedly my favourite game in the series. It massively expanded on previous entries, with a huge variety of quests and styles of play. It was possible to be a wizard, sneaky assassin, warrior, and all manner of other things. Beginning with its sequel, Oblivion, Bethesda actually began cutting content, and the most recent Elder Scrolls titles have far fewer NPCs, weapon types, factions, and so on. While we can argue about which game is “better” and get nowhere – such things are subjective, after all – for my money Morrowind offers players the biggest choice of things to do. It’s been eighteen years since I first played it, and I still haven’t completed every quest!

Number 6: Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)

I kept this title off my first list because there had been rumours floating around of a remaster being worked on. Sadly, as I noted when I looked at Nintendo’s lineup for Mario’s 35th anniversary, Super Mario 64 was only included in its original form as part of a bundle. But replaying this amazing game in the Super Mario Odyssey engine is something I really want to experience, and with the game’s 25th anniversary coming up next year, perhaps Nintendo will finally bring Super Mario 64 up-to-date.

I first played Super Mario 64 when it was released; it was the first Nintendo 64 game that I owned. I’m not sure if it was the first ever true 3D game I played, but it was certainly one of the earliest titles I got to enjoy that wasn’t 2D. It has a special place in my heart as “my” Mario game – I played the SNES versions of classic Mario titles, but even at the time they were “old” games, and Super Mario 64 was the first that I got to play when it was new.

Number 7: Medieval: Total War (PC, 2002)

Medieval: Total War is almost certainly my most-played game of the early 2000s. It followed on from the also brilliant Shogun: Total War, but took the setting from feudal Japan to the more-familiar western Europe. It was a game that was very easy to mod – I remember opening up the game’s files in Notepad and editing things like the year the game began, which factions controlled which province, and even the names of provinces! I loved the dual gameplay, which was unique among strategy games at the time – both a grand strategy game that required detailed faction management and real-time battles were present in the same title.

The Total War series is still going strong in 2020, and recent titles like Total War: Warhammer and Total War: Three Kingdoms are carrying the flag for the franchise on a massively improved engine. Medieval II: Total War did bring the series back to this setting in 2006, but even that game is rather outdated compared to the latest entries, and it would be amazing to see a remake of Medieval: Total War using the technology at the franchise’s disposal today.

Number 8: TimeSplitters 2 (GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, 2002)

Out of all the games I’ve ever played, TimeSplitters 2 may have the best ever multiplayer mode! It was certainly something that was a huge amount of fun to play on the original Xbox, with its goofy time-travel narrative taking players from Prohibition-era Chicago to futuristic Toyko and beyond. The TimeSplitters games were never going to be on par with other first-person shooter titles like Halo or the Call of Duty series, but the series had heart and did what it did incredibly well.

The recent remake of Destroy All Humans shows that there is a market for early/mid 2000s games with a sense of humour to be remastered, and I’d absolutely love to welcome back TimeSplitters 2 after all this time.

Number 9: The Simpsons: Hit and Run (Multiplatform, 2003)

Talk to anyone who was a gamer in the mid-2000s and I bet they’ll remember The Simpons: Hit and Run with a sense of nostalgia! I didn’t actually own this game for myself at the time (being a broke student) but a friend did and we played it regularly when I was at university. The game is basically a Simpsons-themed Grand Theft Auto-clone, playing on the popularity of that sub-genre in the wake of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, and while fans of Grand Theft Auto will find the more extreme violence of that series decidedly toned-down and cartoonish, it’s a solid game nevertheless.

Recent games have steered away from tie-ins with films and television shows, and the days of a big-budget game based on a popular series are all but gone. There was a time when many popular titles got video game adaptations, and while as a whole tie-in games picked up a (not undeserved) reputation for being pretty poor, there are some real gems too. The Simpsons: Hit and Run is absolutely one of them!

Number 10: Operation WinBack (Nintendo 64, 1999)

Despite languishing in relative obscurity in 2020, Operation WinBack – known as WinBack: Covert Operations in the United States – is an incredibly influential title. Doom was the father of the first-person shooter, and similarly Operation WinBack is the instigator of the cover-based third-person shooter genre. Titles like Gears of War and Mass Effect would not exist without Operation WinBack, and while its cover system – which was so unique at the time it debuted – is now a standard feature, there are still plenty of reasons to bring back this fun spy adventure.

Operation WinBack had a good story, one that would be at home in films like the Mission: Impossible or James Bond series. 2016’s Doom has proved that there’s an appetite among gamers for going back to the roots of established genres, so it could be time to return to the world of Operation WinBack.

So that’s it. Ten more titles that are – in my opinion – worthy of a remaster in 2020. Will any of them ever get one? Let’s just say if I were a gambler I wouldn’t put any money on it! Well… maybe one or two? Some of the biggest companies in the games industry have recently put lots of money into remakes and remasters, and some games that I’d never have expected – like Destroy All Humans and Command and Conquer – have been brought up-to-date. So there’s a chance. There’s always a chance!

Though several of these games are undoubtedly out of print, each one is worth playing in its original form if you’re able to track down a copy, and even though it’s been years or decades since I got to play some of them, I recommend every title on this list!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective developers, studios, and/or publishers. Some screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.