Game of the Week

That's great, it starts with an earthquake.

Here's what we were picking from: Out This Week.

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine," sang Michael Stipe in 1987, and we all know he was singing with eerie prescience about the end of the videogame industry's annual release cycle. The shops are still busy, the tills are ringing and Nintendo is counting its money, but anyone in search of a brand new gaming experience now has at least two long, cold months ahead of them.

Well, maybe not any more. The slow but inexorable shift towards distributing games over the internet means that it's possible to release a game at any time of the year and the comparatively low costs have sent the volume of games made and sold through the roof.

One of the biggest changes in the way we review games at Eurogamer this year was the launch of our weekly Download Games Roundup and its subsequent spin-off the Mobile Games Roundup. While the rest of us scrabble around for something to review in the lean times, roundup curator Kristan tells me his plate is always overflowing.

This week is a great example. PC gamers could head to PopCap's site to buy Bejeweled 3, the latest version of the evergreen puzzle game that will, by the time it's been released on every platform under the sun, turn us all into Pavlov's gem-matchers again. "It all adds up to another quietly fearsome package: a classic game trying on a range of smart new outfits," said Christian.

In a darker corner of the internet, European WiiWare enthusiasts there must be some somewhere, right? were finally treated to the extraordinary Cave Story. Daisuke Amaya's labour of love was a game out of time even when he began writing it in the late nineties, not to mention when he released it as a freeware PC game in 2004. But its qualities as a finely-tuned platform adventure and a tale at once surreal, innocent and sad are as timeless as ever at the end of 2010, and even more rare.

"The signature moment of the quest has to be the ascent of the floating island's outer wall. As you climb a series of tiny platforms, you're bombarded by ghost cats, sand crocodiles and hopping pincers. Yet this will sound crazy, but it's true there is a haunting stillness to the whole ordeal," wrote John on Cave Story's American release earlier this year.

"Maybe it's the gorgeous, elegiac music (the outer-wall theme is the best song in the game) or the moonlit sky in the background, or the way those ghost cats' torsos flow in the wind. Really, it's a combination of all these things, a lone artist's vision coming into singular focus."

This 9/10 game might have claimed Game of the Week at any other time and it still came very close this week but 2010 had one last momentous blockbuster to unload.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

The launch of the third World of Warcraft expansion was a true sign of the times, spanning the old world and the new. Stores celebrated with midnight openings, but for the first time Blizzard also allowed the new release to be preloaded from its own servers and players to get started the very moment it flicked the switch. It hardly represents a radical move in the world of online PC gaming, but where gaming's biggest cash-cow goes, the rest follow.

Warcraft: Cataclysm's Worgen intro

It's hard to imagine anyone following the mind-boggling creative agenda Blizzard set itself with this expansion pack, though. We're not quite ready to review it yet, partly because I wasn't able to spend much time on the beta, but mostly because it's so immense and multi-faceted and unprecedented. We've simply never seen the like before.

Much of this has been clear since a couple of weeks ago, when Blizzard released a free patch which updated the level-up questing in the "old world" continents, most of which, by this point, was six years old. And by "updated" I mean "junked and started from scratch". The apocalyptic storyline has changed some parts of the world more than others some are untouched, some unrecognisable but the overall experience is dramatically different.

Of course that's thanks to the vastly improved variety, structure and narrative vigour of the quests, but it's also thanks to subtle but substantial changes to the character class design and progression. Fat has been trimmed, focus sharpened and fun punched to the fore, and you can now tear through this gigantic game with almost frightening speed and seamlessness.

We can't quite tell yet if this same freshness applies to WOW's more established and fine-tuned endgame. It certainly does to the new races and new high-level questing zones, while a slick lick of paint for the UI and some lovely new music and graphical effects also help. The guild levelling system, meanwhile, is a quiet revolution in WOW's social engineering.

However, amid all this irresistible novelty, a veteran player like me might experience a nagging sense of loss. Is the game simply too easy now? Is it too eager to shovel fun in your face, leaving you with nothing to work for? Has some of its epic tone been lost in an explosion of light-hearted adventure? Or am I just nostalgic for a time I'd be horrified to actually go back to?

I'm not sure yet. I do know that my favourite game of all time has, in its original form, been lost forever. But I have a new one in its place.

In other words: it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

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