Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Sunday, 17 June 2018

A board game catch-up

My home town of Colchester recently opened its first-ever board game cafe, Dice and a Slice, which allows people to try out board games whilst drinking copious amounts of tea or coffee with food. This has provided me with a fine way of trying out lots of board games without having to spend hundreds of pounds, which has been very handy. So here's a look at some of the games I've tried out recently:

Barbarians: The Invasion
Tabula Games

Barbarians: The Invasion can be best described as a death metal version of Settlers of Catan. Each player controls a tribe of barbarians competing for resources (such as iron, treasure and wood) which they can use to muster troops to pillage and ransack nearby civilised kingdoms. The tribes never fight one another, instead competing in a friendly manner to see who can cause the most murder, death and mayhem among civilised folk. Technically it's possible to win by going for economic bonuses, but the victory points you amass from this approach are minuscule compared to those resulting from carnage.

The game's big selling point is the volcano, a three-dimensional model of which accompanies the game. Each player places a figure on each ring of the volcano which determines which actions they are going to to attempt that turn. They can only place figures in a certain linked relationship to the first figure, meaning each player has to carefully plan where they are going to place their figures and what they can do to disrupt their rivals' objectives. In a nice twist, players can sometimes spin the levels of the volcano to throw enemies onto unwanted paths or achieve better outcomes. Each tribe can also build structures for bonuses, worship gods for more benefits and employ a chief with certain skills. If a tribe tires of a chief, they can sacrifice him to the volcano to get even more stuff.

After each go, the players have to either 1) appease a demon who will otherwise rain hellfire down on the tribe in its furious wrath, or 2) go to the pub and chill.

Barbarians: The Invasion is a flat-out insane game which is over-engineered past the point of lunacy and won't use one token when it can use fifteen and three cards instead. I certainly wouldn't recommend buying it - it's very expensive and fiddly - but I'd be happy to play it again if someone busted it out on a games night. Despite its intimidating size, it's a relatively fast and fun game, and worthwhile for someone who likes Settlers of Catan but feels it would be improved by having demons periodically show up.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis
Stronghold Games

Survive: Escape from Atlantis is a reprint of a game that I received as a Christmas present about thirty years ago. It's a very straightforward, fast-paced and fun game. Each player controls a tribe of refugees who are trying to escape from the island of Atlantis before it disintegrates completely. They have to escape by boat to nearby, secure islands, dodging sea monsters along the way.

It's a great game which can be surprisingly ruthless, with players unable to harm one another but they can very easily screw one another over by smashing their boats, or stealing a boat out from under the eyes of another player and so on. It may be the most fun passive-aggressive game ever made.

Taken on its own merits, this edition of the game is very enjoyable and a lot of fun. When you compare it to previous editions, particularly the 1980s original version, it does start to feel a bit skimpy. The original Escape from Atlantis had very well-detailed 3D plastic island pieces and a larger variety of sea creatures (including dolphins and octopuses) as well as allowing for more players. Survive replaces the plastic pieces with flat cardboard hexagons which feels and looks a lot cheaper. It also pulls out the dolphins and octopuses and puts them in an expansion, along with the pieces necessary to take the game to six players, which definitely feels like a price-gouging move given that this is a perfect party game or a game to play with younger players.

If you can overlook this slight cheapness (and to be fair the game is a lot more environmentally-friendly and it is a lot less expensive than other board games), this is a fun, enjoyable game.

The War of the Ring
Ares Games

The War of the Ring is, obviously, a game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novels. The game attempts to retell the entire story of the War of the Ring, with one player taking command of the free nations (Gondor, Rohan, Dwarves, Elves, the North/Shire and the Fellowship of the Ring) and the other taking command of the forces of evil (Mordor, Isengard and Rhun/Harad).

Both sides are looking to score victory points, the easiest way of acquiring such is by conquering strongholds and cities, which is rather easier for the bad guys (whose armies are huge and regenerate after battle) than the good guys (whose armies are smaller and cannot be replenished once their initial forces and reinforcement pool have been depleted). Complicating things further is that the "good guys" are not a monolithic bloc and at the start of the game are actually very reluctant to go into open war against Sauron. Instead the good player has to expend diplomacy actions to bring the various factions into battle, which is easier said than done.

The trump card for the good player is the Fellowship. Each turn the good player can move the Fellowship secretly closer to Mordor with a very clever hidden movement mechanic. The evil player can expend resources to search for the Ring, but these are resources which will not be available for battles elsewhere. If the evil player does nothing, the Fellowship will eventually reach Mount Doom and destroy the Ring and thus Sauron, winning the game no matter how many victory points the evil player has amassed.

This gives rise to an interesting asymmetric game of choice and consequence. Both players have to decide how much effort to expand on either moving the Fellowship or hunting them down, as the actions expanded on this may also be sorely needed to move reinforcements to Helm's Deep or Minas Tirith, or rally the elves of the Grey Havens to reinforce the Shire against an orc army out of Angmar. This is all somewhat familiar, and indeed a similar system was later used by Fantasy Flight Games for the excellent Star Wars: Rebellion.

There is additional complexity to the game as well: both players have access to Characters (aka "Leaders" as seen in Rebellion) who have powerful abilities. Gimli can rally the Dwarves - arguably the good faction least likely to get involved in the war - to battle, whilst both Strider and Gandalf the Grey can level up (to Aragorn and Gandalf the White, respectively), becoming more powerful and adding new abilities to the fray. Evil has access to characters like Wormtongue, who can effectively paralyse Rohan with his poisoning of the king's ear, and the Witch-King of Angmar, who is a powerful general and opponent, but whose very arrival will rally all of the neutral nations to war.

The War of the Ring is a long and deep game, and I wouldn't want to review it further until I have a few more games under my belt. But so far it's a fascinating game with a lot of different strategies, presented with phenomenal artwork and amazingly detailed miniatures. The main negatives I'd say so far is that the miniatures need to be much more clearly differentiated from one another: finding a reinforcement unit for a particular nation in the heat of the moment can be far too difficult.

Memoir 44
Days of Wonder

I've spoken previously of my enduring enjoyment of Axis & Allies, which tackles WWII from a grand strategy perspective. Memoir 44 takes the opposite approach, tackling a single battle from the conflict at a time. Each battle has different terrain, objectives and forces available to both sides, both in terms of units (usually infantry, tanks and artillery) and command cards.

Memoir 44 uses the "command and colours" system used by Battlecry, Battlelore and numerous other titles, and is very simple. On each turn, each player can play a single card. This card will allow for a certain number of units to be moved in a certain part of the battlefield (either of the flanks or in the centre), usually allowing them to move and attack. For each enemy unit completely destroyed, the winner gains a victory point. Depending on the scenario, 4 to 6 points are needed to win. Additional points can be gained from seizing and holding strategically important chokepoints on the map, like villages or bridges.

The result is a game of strategic punch and counter-punch, with units taking damage and pulling back (to avoid total destruction and giving the enemy a victory point), or sometimes brave charges being mounted to allow your troops to rush into pointblank range to inflict heavier damage on the enemy. The focus here is a fast-moving game - the game has a faster turn-around than almost any other modern board I've played - where you can get battles done in under 20 minutes. The game is so fast to set up and comes with so many battle scenarios that you'll find yourself usually playing 3-4 battles in a single session, and you can string your battles together into campaigns.

Memoir 44 hits that sweet spot of being both streamlined and elegant, but allowing for an immense amount of complexity and depth (resembling that other Days of Wonder classic, Ticket to Ride). There are enormous numbers of expansions for theatres like North Africa and Russia (availability is spotty at the moment, though, with even the base game out of stock on Amazon UK but still available in shops) and optional rules for aerial bombardment and naval assaults, but generally speaking the game is fast, fluid and easy to understand, whilst being tricky to fully master. In that sense, it's the perfect board game, and definitely one of the strongest games I've played.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

SF&F Questions: Has Disney turned a profit on its Lucasfilm purchase yet?

The Basics
In 2012 Disney bought Lucasfilm from founder George Lucas, paying $4.05 billion for the company, all of its assets and sub-divisions (including special effects company Industrial Light and Magic), and all of its franchises, most notably Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

A common question that's often been asked recently is if Disney has made back the money on this deal in the last four years, which has seen multiple Star Wars TV shows and video games made, along with dozens of novels and comics and, of course, four feature films (with many more coming).

The answer is that this is difficult to answer definitively - Disney are not exactly releasing detailed financials to the public - but we do have significant evidence to go on.

Profit from the Films: $1.5 billion
Disney, of course, have not just spent $4 billion on buying Lucasfilm, but have also spent significant money on producing the new movies and materials. For that reason we are not interested in the total gross of the movies, but the profit alone (as each film - with the possible exception of the underperforming Solo - has made a profit on an individual basis).

Fortunately, we have figures confirming the profit made from the new movies. This confirms that The Force Awakens made $780 million in pure profit for Disney and The Last Jedi made $415.5 million. That's around 1/3 of the total gross in each case (The Force Awakens' box office total was $2.06 billion and The Last Jedi was $1.3 billion). Extrapolating, Rogue One likely made around $300 million profit from its box office of $1.06 billion. Solo, at this rate, will struggle to break even at the box office and will likely rely on future home media and streaming releases to carry it across the line, so that can be disregarded for now.

Profit from Media Releases: $1 billion
These figures are harder to come by, but it has been confirmed that The Force Awakens has made $151 million in Blu-Ray sales in the USA alone, followed by Rogue One at $66 million and The Last Jedi at $56 million. Worldwide figures can comfortably double this and DVD sales (as DVD remains, bizarrely, a strong-selling format) can double that again. This is also not including media releases from The Clone Wars and Rebels, and Disney's legacy re-release of the original six movies in multiple formats.

Streaming rights to different channels worldwide is also a significant income. I would bet that the home media releases in varying formats match the $1.5 billion made by the films (matching the profitability of the original franchise at the moment Disney bought it in 2012, where home media and box office were at parity), but certainly well in excess of $1 billion.

Profit from the Toys: $300 million
Star Wars has been a phenomenon in toy sales, with combined action figure, vehicle, playset, Lego and costume sales exceeding an astonishing $14 billion by 2012. Sales since then have been more modest (a reflection of kids spending more time and money on video games and mobile devices than physical toys), but Star Wars was still the biggest-selling toy franchise in 2015 and 2016 before falling to second place in 2017. Star Wars toy sales exceeded $700 million in fiscal year 2015-16, did slightly less in 2016-17 and a lot less in 2017-18 (so far), the latter surprising as it's the first fiscal year to see two Star Wars movies released.

Thanks to Netflix documentary series The Toys That Made Us, we know that Lucasfilm's deal with Hasbro (inherited by Disney) gives them 16% of the income from the toys. Assuming $1.75 billion from toy income since 2015, this takes us up to around $280 million conservative.

These figures doesn't appear to include the adult collectable market (which is small in overall numbers but huge in margin), books, comic books, collected graphic novels and the adult-oriented board games and miniature games from Fantasy Flight. Crucially, this figure also doesn't include early sales from 2012-15 as well. On this basis, Disney's merchandising sales likely far exceed $300 million in terms of pure profit.

The total sales and profits of the Star Wars franchise between 1977 and 2012.

Video Games: $500 million
There have been two major video game releases since Disney took over the franchise: Star Wars Battlefront (2015) and Star Wars Battlefront II (2017), along with several spin-off Lego video games and legacy sales of earlier titles. Many classic Star Wars games have recently been released on the GoG store and have cumulatively sold hundreds of thousands of new copies. The MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic has also generated significant income ($140 million in 2013 alone, for example).

We are predominantly interested in the performance of the two Battlefront games. Together, the two titles have sold 22 million copies, Battlefront accounting for 14 million copies sold and Battlefront II about 8 million. This would generate almost $1.5 billion in revenue. Disney's cut is rumoured to be around 30% (which would certainly explain Electronic Arts' bizarre claims about the games "disappointing" in their performance, since their cut is significantly reduced), which gives us an approximate figure of $500 million in profit to Disney. This figure does not include Disney's cut of microtransactions or income from mobile games and services, which are also significant.

Industrial Light and Magic: $1 billion
When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, they also acquired Industrial Light and Magic, a division of Lucasfilm that provides visual effects to the film industry. Since the 1980s, ILM has consistently been the largest and most successful provider of visual effects to the global film industry, despite challenges from the likes of Weta Digital and Framestore.

We know that ILM made over $180 million per year in the late 1990s, at a time when the global effects market was small fraction of its present day size. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lucasfilm and in turn Disney, ILM's profits are a mystery, but they appear to be significant, and certainly far higher than in 1997. The company is the largest employer of digital effects specialists in Hollywood, it has the largest render farm in the industry and it is capable of tackling half a dozen large movies simultaneously. As well as the Star Wars movies, it works on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Disney's new live-action division, as well as providing visual effects for the Transformers franchise.

A reasonable and massively conservative estimate of ILM's profits would be $200 million per year, every year, in 2013-17. This is likely a gross underestimate, not accounting for the sheer magnitude of ILM's global operations and work on dozens of films in multiple countries and franchises. As ILM charges a flat market fee (which is not dependent on the film's final performance, so they still get paid regardless of the film's performance), this gives them a commanding presence in the industry.

Final Tally: $4.3 billion
The final and highly conservative tally falls somewhere around $4.3 billion in pure profit garnered by Disney since 2012. There are significant shortfalls in these figures, however. We don't know what revenues the TV series Star Wars: Rebels have brought in, or the novels or comics (it should be noted that the novels and comics were highly profitable in the pre-2012 era, cumulatively bringing in over $2 billion in profit), nor the amusement park rides and attractions.

The final figure will be somewhat higher than this.

Answer: Since the takeover by Disney, Lucasfilm's franchises and divisions have brought in well over $4 billion in profit alone. George Lucas may have even significantly underestimated the value of the company when he sold. Disney are now comfortably in profit on the overall deal.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Sense8: The Finale

Wolfgang is a prisoner of BPO, but his fellow sensates have taken the enigmatic "Whispers" prisoner in turn. The two sides arrange a prisoner swap in Paris, but both are eager to double-cross the other and gain the upper hand in their clandestine war. For BPO, the sensates are a weapon and a resource to be exploited. All the sensates want is freedom. The two sides are poised for a final confrontation.

Sense8 is one of the oddest shows on television, an anthology show with eight main characters in which the central character of each story can call upon the skills and advice of the other seven, despite each story being very different in tone and ideas. It's also a show that is fairly over-brimming with positivity about humanity and about life. If the relentless cynicism of the likes of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead gets too much for you, than Sense8 is the antidote, a show in which the characters can escape murderous torture, gun down some bad guys, and then get together with their cluster for a telepathically-communicated musical throwdown to Depeche Mode. As you do.

When Sense8 was cancelled after its second season, it was the raucous reception by the fans that saw Netflix agree to commission a TV movie to round off the story. This presented Lana Wachowski with a difficult choice to make. Sense8 was envisaged as a five-season project. With more than half of that material remaining, should she chuck all of that out and craft a simpler resolution to the story, or try to cram in another 36-odd episodes worth of plot into a single special? Her conclusion was to try to do a bit of both. So the central struggle of this finale is firmly on the sensates vs. BPO, with Whispers as the key in that conflict. That's fine and focused, but Wachowski also brings in a huge number of other elements which there is simply no time to develop, such as a neutral council of sensates who have so far stayed out of the struggle but are now willing to support one side and then don't do very much. Some of this excess baggage should have been dropped.

Sense8's finale gives fans a lot more of what they've seen so far: our characters swapping skills, having emotional heart-to-hearts and a couple of musical numbers and party scenes, along with the show's standard, fantastic location filming (the use of Naples is excellent, but the actual use of the real Eiffel Tower for the grand finale is jaw-dropping). However, it also drops the characters' individual storylines to focus on the grand mystery. This is possibly unwise, as the show's central storyline of shadowy government or trans-national organisations and mysteries dating back decades always felt a bit undercooked and took too much time away from the characters (a similar problem to Orphan Black and latter-day Lost). Still, at least the finale straightens out the show's mythology and resolves it with admirable efficiency.

Possibly less successful is the decision to pay off every single character in the show. And I mean every single character. Sylvester McCoy's elderly sensate has a part to play, as does Wolfgang's Conan the Barbarian-quoting best friend, and Kala's eternally confused husband and Capheus's political team and Will's cop partner from Chicago and Riley's chill hippy dad and Nomi's transphobic/homophobic mother and Sun's Korean cop nemesis/boyfriend and that bald girl from the second season and Angelica and her cluster (despite them all being dead) and pretty much everyone who hasn't been killed off. Jamming all of these characters into the special is nice, but unwieldy, massively self-indulgent and not very logical. Even worse, the proliferation of characters beyond the central eight means that some of the main cast of characters, most notably Capheus and Lito, don't really get much to do.

The finale also has some decidedly undercooked action scenes. Sense8's action scenes have always been phenomenal, the Wachowskis relishing their relatively low budget to get back to the ground-level tricks for shooting gunfights and martial arts they haven't had to employ since the original Matrix. For the finale, they clearly had much less money and time available than normal. The fight scenes feel perfunctory and the CG in the gunfights (to simulate bullet sparks) is poorly integrated with the live action. Given there's quite a few action scenes in the finale, this is definitely a bit of an issue, but ultimately a minor one.

But these questions of logistics and over-indulgence and logic are perhaps the wrong ones to address. Sense8 was a show about eight well-drawn characters from completely different backgrounds coming together and finding commonality despite their very different origins, and overcoming the obstacles in the way. The show wasn't perfect - bum dialogue and a tendency to schmaltz dogged it from early on - but its flaws were often endearing, its characters resolutely human and its message determinedly hopeful. Hopefully we will see its like again.

Sense8's finale (****) is available to watch on Netflix worldwide now, along with the rest of the series.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

CD Projekt spill the beans on CYBERPUNK 2077

CD Projekt have revealed a lot more information about their epic, upcoming CRPG Cyberpunk 2077.

The action takes place in Night City, a new conurbation on the California coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Click to embiggen. This map was taken from here.

Cyberpunk 2077 is an epic roleplaying game set in Night City, California in the year 2077. The player plays a character of their own creation. Everything about the character is customisable: their gender, appearance, "life-path" (backstory) and cybernetic enhancements. What is fixed is their handle or nickname, "V", which was chosen to make dialogue more naturalistic. All dialogue in the game has been recorded by male and female actors.

Unlike CD Projekt Red's previous game, The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077 will be played primarily from a first-person perspective. You will see your character in certain circumstances (most notably cut-scenes and dialogue), but the game will be predominantly played from first-person, so more like Fallout or Deus Ex.

Although the game will be set in 2077, it's an alternative timeline that diverged from our own in the 1980s. The Cyberpunk pen-and-paper game history and timeline, which began in 2013 and became most popular through the Cyberpunk 2020 game, will remain intact. Characters from established Cyberpunk lore will appear in Cyberpunk 2077, as will corporations and factions.

Night City has six distinct regions: Watson, Westbrook, Santo Domingo, Heywood, City Centre and Pacifica. Pacifica is a dangerous, lawless slum area (see the map above). Other areas are incredibly rich. The city is very vertical in orientation. The game has a full day/night cycle and numerous weather conditions.
Night City has several megatowers, which are basically Judge Dredd blocks. Each one of these blocks extends for many levels and has its own shops, gangs, factions and a multitude of NPCs and stuff to do, as well as the areas outside and around the city.

You can get around the city on foot, by subway, by car and by motorbike along with other vehicles that haven't been shown yet (but may include taxis, hovercars and ambulances).

There will be ranged combat, focusing on the use of guns, as well as melee. You can also hack other character's cybernetic enhancements, and use stealth to take people down. The game will include weapons that can fire through walls or fire "smart" ammo that can track targets. Combat in the game has been designed so people who enjoy "twitch" combat can dive in with ranged combat and those who are more interested in roleplaying can use smart weapons or even stealth to avoid head-on combat altogether.

There will be three very rough "classes" you can follow: netrunner, techie and solo. However, these classes are highly fluid, allowing you to mix and match skills, attributes and cyber-enhancements as you like. Other Cyberpunk classes and archetypes, like rockerboys and corporate, will appear as other characters.

Advancement will come in two formats: standard EXP is gained from completing the main story quests. Streetcred is gained from doing side missions, killing tough bad guys and even things like wearing a fashionable jacket. Improving your streetcred will unlock new vendors, fixers and contacts who can give you access to new jobs.

As you gain levels, you can improve your skills and cyberware, as well as gaining perks, special abilities you can use in and out of combat.

As with most cyberpunk narratives, the main story will focus on the inequality between the poor people in the streets and the rich people in the towers above.

Cyberpunk 2077 will be released on PS4, XB1 and PC. No release date has yet been announced.

Monday, 11 June 2018

George R.R. Martin, a ton of fans and, er, the guy who founded Craigslist helped save THE EXPANSE

It was an impossible task: to convince Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, to take mercy on the fans of an obscure science fiction show on SyFy and help save it after it had been cancelled. The fans rallied, sending cakes to Amazon TV headquarters, paying to fly a plane overhead for four hours with a banner saying "#SAVETHEEXPANSE" and even sending a model of the spaceship in the show, into space on a balloon.

It all paid off. According to Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, the outpouring of fan affection certainly helped save the show (along with sending her cake), but also key was a lot of critics recommending she watch the show (Bezos was already reportedly a fan of the books), which she did, bingeing the available episodes in just a couple of days. In an amusing moment, she confirms that Bezos was also receiving emails from the likes of George R.R. Martin and Craig Newmark (the founder of Craigslist) recommending he pick up the show.

Ultimately, Amazon decided to pick up the show and did the deal for the US rights from Alcon Entertainment. This is new information, as it suggests that Amazon may not yet have negotiated the international rights (currently held by Netflix), so we'll have to wait to hear about how fans outside the US will get to watch the show. Given that it was SyFy who insisted on the very silly six-month exclusivity period, it might be that, assuming Netflix holds onto the rights, future seasons will air much more closely with US transmission.

CD Projekt unveil CYBERPUNK 2077

Whilst Bethesda were disappointing fans with the news that Fallout 76 is an online-only game and that their next single-player RPGs are still years away, Polish developers CD Projekt Red quietly dropped a nuclear bomb by unveiling the first full trailer for the long and eagerly-awaited Cyberpunk 2077.

Cyberpunk 2077 has been in development since 2012, with CDPR working on the game alongside The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its expansions. After The Witcher 3's release in 2015 (and subsequently selling more than 20 million copies), CDPR moved into full production on the game and have now unveiled their work.

Based on Mike Pondsmith's seminal Cyberpunk pen-and-paper RPG from the 1980s, Cyberpunk 2077 is set in Night City, a fictional settlement on the coast of California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The game allows the player to create their own character and determine their name, gender, appearance and cybernetic enhancements. The game is an open-world RPG with a central storyline but also a vast array of side-quests, sub-missions and optional activities that can be undertaken in Night City. It appears the entire city and its surrounding countryside will be available for the player to traverse, either on foot or by vehicle: taxis, Trauma Teams (futuristic amublances), flying cars and a large subway system appear to be available to use, and it seems that the player can also acquire a car of their own (which bears a passing resemblance to Knight Rider's KITT).

We don't know anything about the story, but there appears to traditional cyberpunk goings-on like rich businessmen employing dodgy gangs to do deniable tasks for them, along with significant action set pieces. The game is definitely aimed at mature audiences, with some disturbing cybernetic enhancements and torture scenes shown, along with a spectacular amount of violence.

CDPR's previous game, The Witcher 3, is for my money the single finest CRPG released this century. If Cyberpunk 2077 is even half as good, it will be an essential Day One purchase.

CDPR also released a statement alongside the trailer, confirming that they are committed to the singleplayer CRPG experience, which may be taken as a sly dig at Bethesda's multiplayer focus for Fallout 76 and former RPG titans BioWare abandoning the singleplayer scene altogether in their new game, generic multiplayer shooter Anthem. That said, it's been an open secret that Cyberpunk 2077 will have an online component, but this appears to be a very minor, optional feature (if it's even still in the game).

Cyberpunk 2077 has no official release date, but it appears likely that CDPR are targeting a late 2019 release if possible. Falling back to 2020, the date of the original Cyberpunk pen-and-paper setting, would also be appropriate.

Bethesda confirm that STARFIELD and ELDER SCROLLS VI are in development

Following the presentation of Fallout 76, a controversial online-only spin-off from the popular single-player RPG series, Bethesda Game Studios also confirmed long-standing rumours that they are developing two new single-player epic RPGs.

First up is Starfield, the first new franchise launched by Bethesda Game Studios since the original Elder Scrolls: Arena in 1994. Details were thin on the ground, but Starfield will be in the science fiction genre and will be set in space and on alien planets.

Long-standing rumours about Starfield suggest that the game will be set predominantly on a gigantic space station, with the player undertaking missions and solving quests in the standard Bethesda manner. At key points, the player can also leave the space station and travel to other planets to undertake extra mission objectives. This makes the game sound very similar to the Mass Effect franchise from BioWare, although presumably Starfield will use Bethesda's traditional first-person perspective and will focus more on solo play than forming parties. The same reports claim that Starfield is set in the far future of the Fallout franchise and may link that universe to the Elder Scrolls setting, although this sounds less likely, especially after Todd Howard's insistence that this is an all-new and totally new franchise.

Starfield has no release date as yet, but late 2019/early 2020 seems feasible given that the game has been in full-time development since Fallout 4's release in 2015, and was in pre-production for some years before that.

Secondly, and far further in the future (as the game is listed as only in "pre-production"), is The Elder Scrolls VI, the follow-up to the immensely successful Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which has sold approximately 40 million copies since its release in 2011, making it one of the most successful individual video games of all time. Apart from a logo, a brief burst of the series theme music and a landscape flypast, the teaser video didn't reveal very much. Fan speculation based on the landscape seems to be that the game will be set in High Rock - the southern coastal region of which appeared in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall back in 1997 - with Valenwood as an outside, alternative possibility.

Bethesda confirm that FALLOUT 76 is an online-only game, for release in November 2018

In a major showcase event at the E3 video games conference in Los Angeles last night, Bethesda Game Studios confirmed that their new Fallout game, Fallout 76 will be an online-only game set in West Virginia. The news surprised many commentators, as previous comments had suggested that Fallout 76 might still be a single-player-focused RPG with some kind of optional co-op or multiplayer component.

Fallout 76 is set in 2102, just 25 years after the nuclear war that wiped out civilisation in the Fallout universe, and long before any of the other games in the series (Fallout 4, by comparison, is set in 2287). The game casts the players as residents of Vault 76, a nuclear fallout shelter in West Virginia. The game opens on Reclamation Day, with players setting out to re-colonise the surface by building new settlements, defeating monsters and coming into conflict with one another.

A more in-depth and fleshed-out versions of the settlement-building mechanics from Fallout 4 is present, with a strong focus on players working together to build up impressive outposts, forts and possibly entire towns in the wasteland.

Something that has elected a lot of praise is the map and environmental graphics. Although still using the positively decrepit Creation Engine (originally the GameBryo Engine and first used by Bethesda for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, released in 2002), the engine has been revamped to allow for larger forests. The game map is huge, a full four times the size of the Fallout 4 map, and covering the entire state of West Virginia. Players will be able to visit the ruins of the State Capitol in Charleston in the south-west of the state, the Greenbrier Resort (which in real life has a nuclear fallout shelter in the basement) in the far east of the state and West Virginia University in Morgantown, on the far northern border of the state. Point Pleasant, the site of the mysterious Mothman sightings of 1966-67 (a creature in the game appears to have been inspired by the fictional entity), and the New River Gorge Bridge are also present.

During the presentation, Bethesda Game Studios boss Todd Howard suggested it would be possible to play the game solo, but later confirmed that there are no human NPCs in the game. Instead, everyone you meet will be another player, with the only computer-controlled entities being monsters. Apparently the game will have some quests and missions in the game, likely assigned by the Vault 76 Overseer, but otherwise the best single-player gamers can likely expect is radiant AI quests generated at settlements, as seen in Fallout 4 (of the infamous "another settlement needs your help!" meme).

The decision to make Fallout 76 an online-only game has proven controversial, especially among those who hadn't been keeping up with the rumours and had been expecting a proper follow-up to Fallout 4 in a similar fashion to how Fallout: New Vegas was a follow-up to Fallout 3. The online-only nature of the game also elicited a negative response from the modding community, as the game will likely not allow substantive modding. Previous Bethesda games have been released in a buggy or subpar state and it's fallen to modders to fix the games and add new gameplay features whilst waiting for Bethesda to release official patches.

Fallout 76 will be released on 14 November 2018 on PS4, XB1 and PC.

Sunday, 10 June 2018


After twelve years in development, Westeros: Total War has finally been released.

Westeros: Total War is a free fan-made mod for the video game Medieval II: Total War and its expansion Kingdoms. It originally started development in early 2006 as a mod for the original Rome: Total War, but quickly transitioned to Medieval II when it was released later that year. The game has been completely revamped with several whole new teams since then.

The game has been released in a beta state, meaning it is complete but some bugs may be present which should be fixed. The team hope to expand the game with new features later on, but clearly given the immense amount of time taken to reach this point this is not guaranteed.

Due to changes in the Total War game engine since Medieval II's release, this kind of "total conversion" is no longer possible for more recent games in the series (like Attila, Rome II, Warhammer II and Thrones of Britannia). You require a copy of Medieval II and Kingdoms, or the complete pack, to play the game.