Tuesday 11 June 2024

Electronic Arts announce release window for new DRAGON AGE game

Electronic Arts and subsidiary BioWare have announced the release date for the latest Dragon Age fantasy RPG. The video game, recently retitled Dragon Age: The Veilguard, is due for release in autumn this year. They have also released a gameplay trailer.


The Veilguard is the fourth full game in the series, following on from Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Dragon Age II (2011) and Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) (though some count Dragon Age: Origins' massive 2010 expansion, Awakening, as an additional full game in the series as well since it is about as large as Dragon Age II). The series is set on the continent of Thedas and chronicles the battling of the player character and various allies against a series of large-scale threats to the continent and the world. Each game in the series has its own antagonists and cast of characters, with relatively light continuity connections between games, although a few characters do appear in multiple titles.

The series so far has acted as something of a travelogue of the continent, with Origins and Awakening set in the kingdom of Ferelden in the south-east; Dragon Age II in the Free March of Kirkwall in the central-eastern region; and Dragon Age: Inquisition in the Empire of Orlais in the centre of the continent. The Veilguard takes place in the Tevinter Imperium, a huge, mage-controlled empire in the central-north region. The game specifically opens in the capital city of Minrathous. The plot follows a new adventurer - yourself - joining forces with a band of seven fellow heroes to save the world from the Dread Wolf, a fallen elven god who banished his fellows and plans to now restore them, despite the fact this will tear open the Veil and release thousands of powerful demons into the world.

The game feels like a bit of a make or break moment for BioWare. The once-lauded RPG powerhouse was famed for its long run of hit games: Baldur's Gate (1998), Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000), Neverwinter Nights (2002), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), Jade Empire (2005), Mass Effect (2007), Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Mass Effect 2 (2010) and, despite an iffy ending, Mass Effect 3 (2012).

However, the wheels seemed to fall off after BioWare was purchased by Electronic Arts (during the development of Dragon Age: Origins). They mandated a quickie Dragon Age sequel, resulting in the controversial Dragon Age II (2011), and both a move to cash in on the open world craze and using the Frostbite Engine, which was not well-suited for open world environments. Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) had a mixed reception, with praise for its story and DLC, but criticisms of its vast amount of filler content; Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) had a similarly mixed reception and disappointing sales. Anthem (2019) was a move to a multiplayer-focused, online style of game which was a bizarre choice for a developer known for deep, single-player roleplaying games. The game was heavily criticised and died almost immediately.

Although Dragon Age II and Inquisition both sold well, Andromeda and Anthem were both flops. This means that BioWare is betting the farm on The Veilguard and a forthcoming new Mass Effect game; if these both do badly, then BioWare's future may be in doubt. More ironic is that the Dragon Age franchise has moved away from the deep, party-based tactical combat of the original game to more of an action game, but Larian's Baldur's Gate III - a sequel to BioWare's own series - sold over 20 million copies by leaning very hard on party-based, tactical combat and even being turn-based.

Whether The Veilguard can stop the rot and rescue BioWare remains to be seen. The game will launch later this year.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

China Miéville completes 1,000-page new novel

Wired has published an interview with British genre author China Miéville about his upcoming collaboration with actor-musician-icon Keanu Reeves, but also touching on his other projects.

As related previously, Miéville has joined forces with Reeves to write The Book of Elsewhere, a tie-in novel to Reeves' BRZRKR comic book franchise. Miéville agreed to tackle the project because he thought it would be interesting to work within the constraints of someone else's fictional universe whilst also delivering a satisfying narrative. The novel will be published on 23 July this year.

However, Miéville fans frustrated with his lack of output in the last decade will be pleased to hear he has a new solo novel in the works as well, and not just in-progress but completed and sent to the publisher. Miéville's last novel was Railsea, published in 2012. He did publish two novellas, This Census-Taker and The Last Days of New Paris, in 2016, and a short story collection, Three Moments of an Explosion, in 2015. However, his fans have been crying out for a new solo novel.

Miéville doesn't reveal much about the new book but at over a thousand pages, it will be his longest book to date (and books like Perdito Street Station and The Scar are not exactly slight novels). Presumably it will be published in 2025, but hopefully we'll get more news soon.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

RIP William Russell

British actor William Russell, one of the original castmembers of Doctor Who, has passed away at the age of 99.

 

William Russell as Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who's An Unearthly Child (23 November 1963, top) and The Power of the Doctor (23 October 2022). The 59-year-gap between his first and last appearances on television playing the same character, and the 57-year gap between appearances, are both believed to be world records.

Born in Sunderland, County Durham, in 1924, William Russell Enoch attended Oxford University and did his national service in the Royal Air Force at the tail end of the war. He went into repertory theatre and began making screen appearances in the early 1950s. He made his film debut in Gift Horse (1952) and his TV debut in the short film Lonesome Like (1954). He made his breakthrough in 1956, playing the role of Sir Lancelot on the British adventure TV series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, which ran for 30 episodes and was a surprise hit on American television (in publicity for which he rode a horse down Fifth Avenue in New York City). He starred in a TV adaptation of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby the following year, and was the lead in the 1960 serial St. Ives and the 1961 drama Triton. These roles, supported by a steady stream of guest roles and supporting film appearances, made him a familiar face on British television and film.

In 1963 he was cast in the BBC's new science fiction drama series, Doctor Who. The main role of the mysterious Doctor had been cast with William Hartnell, who was in his mid-50s but somewhat frail. The producers decided they wanted a younger leading male who could handle fight scenes and more physically demanding work. Russell was cast in the role of Ian Chesterton, the science teacher at Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, London. Along with history teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), he becomes suspicious over the odd behaviour of pupil Susan (Carole Ann Ford), who is brilliant but has strange gaps in her knowledge. Ian and Barbara follow Susan home to a junkyard, to see her enter a police box. Following her inside, they find a huge, futuristic control room, impossibly larger inside than out. Susan's grandfather, the Doctor (Hartnell), explains they are aliens from another time and space, and their ship, the TARDIS, can travel anywhere and anywhen in the universe. The teachers are sceptical, until the TARDIS takes off and lands on prehistoric Earth, where the four crewmembers are inadvertently responsible for a primitive tribe of cavemen in discovering fire. The Doctor is initially suspicious and hostile towards his new guests but takes responsibility for dragging them away for their lives and tries to return them to Earth at the moment of departure, but this is complicated by malfunctions in the TARDIS guidance system.

Ian and Barbara remained the Doctor's companions for most of the first two seasons of the show, chalking up some 78 episode appearances. Remarkably, this run made them the joint-fourth longest-running companions of all time (behind Jamie McCrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith and K9), which they hold to this day. They left the show in 1965, at the conclusion of the serial The Chase (the penultimate serial of Season 2), when they used a captured Dalek time ship to return home to Earth.

The producers of Doctor Who tried on several times to get Russell to reprise his role on the show, but availability was a key issue: Russell continued to have a prolific career on British TV and in film, including a memorable stint on soap opera Coronation Street (blamed for causing Doctor Who's original demise in 1989 during a ratings showdown) in 1992 and a brief, supporting role in Superman (1978), among many others. He finally reprised his role as Ian for the Big Finish audio drama range, appearing in nineteen stories from 2009 to 2020.

He finally returned to Doctor Who in 2022's The Power of the Doctor, reprising his role as Ian briefly in a "self-help group" for former companions of the Doctor. This appearance, coming fifty-seven years after his last on-screen appearance, broke the Guinness World Record for the longest gap between appearances of an actor playing the same role on television.

Russell passed away on 3 June 2024. He is survived by his second wife and four children, including Alfred Enoch (best-known for playing Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies). He will very much be missed.