Without being signed up to work on a big franchise, or having successfully developed one of its own over the course of 20 toilsome years, it can be tough for a studio to launch a new 3D open world RPG in a landscape dominated by Witchers, Mass Effects, Fallouts and Elder Scrolls. Piranha Bytes know this better than most, having birthed the revered Gothic series, only to see its legacy undermined by ongoing tangles over rights. It's not been plain sailing for the studio's subsequent Risen trilogy either, as a decade-long tsunami of icon-drenched Ubi-likes has rather altered perceptions as to what an open world RPG can and should be.
Things can only get meta.
It's taken nearly two decades, but they've finally nailed it. Warhammer 2 is Total War perfected.
While Ubisoft's esporting ambitions for Rainbow Six Siege are as explicit in its design as its expanding roster of League of Legends-inspired Operatives and strategically-placed cavity walls, with the recent announcement that 2.3m people play the game every day, there's a sense that the counter-terrorism reboot is finally moving into the big, big league.
I can't see it much myself, but Deathwing is supposed to be Warhammer 40k's take on Left 4 Dead. Sure its multiplayer game is co-op only (and its campaign fed by AI bots), with you and up to three others up against relentless hordes of skittering horrors, but Left 4 Dead's clever narrative framework, its dynamic stage direction and cast of sarcastic characters are hard to make out in Deathwing's grim darkness of the far future. What you get is more of a glorified survival mode stretched thin over nine large levels, with you and your Terminator Space Marine buddies under regular assault by waves of Alien-inspired creatures as you stomp a steady path from one distant objective to the next.
Perhaps you've seen a movie called Cargo? No, Jason Statham isn't in it. It's a dystopian sci-fi film from Switzerland that was a Netflix mainstay for years, concerning the crew of a space freighter and a potentially dangerous cargo that needed delivering to a distant station. Of course the movie description and thumbnail DVD cover had you believe Cargo was yet another attempt to clone Alien. Thankfully over the course of two hours the film revealed itself to be nothing of the sort and was all the better for being more of an indie thriller in space: a little bit of action here and and some tedium there, that together - thanks to an intelligent premise and some evocative set design - ended up being far more enjoyable than it's on-screen blurb was able to let on. A bit like ICARUS.1 in many ways.
Now don't get yourselves all worked up over this, I'm just using them as reference points rather than yardsticks of depth and quality, but when you first fire up House of the Dying Sun (and for quite a long while after you've closed it down), the two games you're likely to be reminded of are Homeworld and Freespace. That's not to suggest what we're dealing with here is the greatest space game since either and that you should should stop reading immediately and start playing instead, but if you did do something along those lines you wouldn't be wasting your time or your money. I'd appreciate it however it if you'd come back later, if only to nod through the rest of what I have to say. You'll do that won't you? Good.
In the primordial soup that is Steam Early Access a new game is being formed. It's called Osiris: New Dawn and since its appearance a few weeks back it's been bobbing about with Mafia 3, Civ 6 and Rocket League in the Top Seller list. If you haven't already taken a cursory gander, you can probably guess from its sudden rise to prominence that it's an open world collect-and-survive game, one of an increasing number of like-minded titles that simmer around Steam's development fumarole, sometimes evolving, sometimes not, and whose creators are often dragged beneath the toxic discourse that bellows up in the wake of an absent, insubstantial or unpopular update.
If you've ever looked at Eve Online's space fleet battles and wished you could participate, but have been put off by the job entry requirements - mandatory game subscription, weeks of basic training, sociopathic tendencies not required but a distinct advantage - then perhaps Fractured Space is worth a look. It's a Homeworld-infused take on League of Legends, offering the kind of year-round competitive play that participants in Eve's annual Alliance Tournament can only dream about.
QI-type question for you: What enduring PC game, first unleashed upon the world in 2002, links this here Eternal Crusade and the recently Death Star-augmented Star Wars Battlefront? Why yes, dear reader, your host does display a mischievous glint suggestive of a trap being laid, but too late - the quick-to-the-buzzer types among you have already blurted out an answer, which is of course wrong.
1993 was a splendid year for PC gaming - perhaps the very best there's been - with Dune 2, Syndicate, X-Wing and Myst all establishing or championing their respective genres. Today of course we're teased flickers of X-Wing in the forthcoming Star Wars Battlefront DLC and with Obduction, released just last week, Cyan Worlds is seemingly back to its old Myst tricks. More substantially we've had a remastering of Day of the Tentacle, a rebooting of Doom and now this re-imagining of strategy classic Master of Orion - surely the most persistent of all the genre titans that were there to witness the birth of the Atari Jaguar.
"It's like Elite Dangerous, but with actual s*** to do" is what a number of space gaming fans seem to think of Evochron Legacy. Most of them, no doubt, would put it in kinder terms: that thanks to all the bolted-on features that have been applied to Star Wraith 3D Games' flagship over the years, there exists within its current iteration a diversity that the 1.4 million buyers of Frontier's space adventure can only dream about.
It's hard to say what the most overused plot in gaming might be, but when it comes to a certain genre it's fair to say that the launching of a fleet of hastily built space arks in an effort to evade extinction is about as derivative as it gets. It's somewhat fitting that the collective history of said games has followed precisely the same trajectory.
We're going to have to change our ways at some point. Year after year we collectively moan about the lack of innovation in first-person shooters, and then, when a game does come along that dares to be different, we shoot holes in it for not being more like those we purport to hate, but actually can't get enough of. Hence the annual updates masquerading as franchise sequels, while the more daring and interesting shooters are overlooked and promptly forgotten about.
I can't think of a game in which it's more enjoyable to lose than Blood Bowl. When you're 3-0 down inside the second half, the dice are forever against you and the chance of a consolatory touchdown seems increasingly slim, there is always a strategy you can turn to that will rekindle your appreciation for the Orwellian sporting spirit: violent conduct. Not the whiney-bitey nonsense we've seen from the likes of Suarez and Costa, more the kind of full-blooded assault demonstrated by Harald Schumacher (no relation) in the 1982 World Cup semi-final, after which the unrepentant West German goalkeeper, since dubbed the Butcher of Seville, briefly beat Hitler into second place as the most hated man in France.
Much has changed since Carmageddon first crashed onto the scene in the spring of 1997. Back then, damage modelling in your typical racing game involved slapping a few scuffs on the paintwork and maybe a crack in the windshield, while the idea of aiming your car at helpless screaming bystanders and having their viscera sprayed at the screen in exchange for added time was seemingly - if the brief period of tabloid hysteria was anything to go by - beyond all common decency.
Barely a week seems to go by without a new star-spanning 4X game appearing on Steam, claiming to either offer another variation of Civ in space, build upon the venerable foundations of Master of Orion, or to head off towards strategy's final frontier in the quest to deliver the definitive game of interstellar domination.
What's been so frustrating about the Homeworld games isn't just that a few people never quite got them, it's that for more than a decade no-one has been able to get them at all, period. In spite of the ease with which PC titles have been sold and distributed since Steam first launched (which, incidentally, was in the same week as Homeworld 2), it seems absurd that such a universally acclaimed series has taken this long to reappear. That the games, sans Cataclysm, are at last available in HD form has almost made the wait worthwhile.
Bloody typical. You wait 12 years for a Homeworld-style space strategy game to come along and, wouldn't you just Adam and Eve Online it, three of the blighters slip into space dock in a matter of weeks. Granted, two of them are still inbound and won't be with us until the end of the month, but even so, that's a fair old chunk of real-time command and conquering to be getting on with given how little of it there's been - space-wise - for most of the 21st Century.
Given how fertile the Warhammer 40,000 universe is when it comes to epic warfare, its crop of turn-based video games has been stupefyingly infrequent. Yes, Dawn Of War looked the part and was an immensely enjoyable take on capture-and-hold real-time strategy, but for all its bombastic violence and blister pack expansioneering, it was about as authentic a mirror of the tabletop wargame as its first-person shooter stablemate, Space Marine. Remarkably, if you want to go back to when the last proper 40k wargame appeared on PC, you'd need to set your time machine for last century. Needless to say that tor a core subset of 40k grognards, the wait for Armageddon has been just as lengthy and frustrating as that which X-Com fans were forced to endure.
With Blizzard halting work on Titan and CCP putting a stake through eight years of World of Darkness development, the number of blockbuster MMORPGs visible on the horizon has slumped to an all-time low. Even the likes of just-released Destiny, which shares as much DNA with World of Warcraft as it does Halo, has been eager to avoid the toxicity of being associated with gaming's unwieldiest acronym. For a breed of multiplayer game that broke so explosively across our CRTs back in 1997 and seemed so utterly dominant just a few years ago, this feels like the end times.
Thorolfur Beck has enjoyed - or perhaps we should say endured - an intriguing career trajectory. He's been a global ambassador for kids TV phenomenon LazyTown, laboured on a Reykjavik building site, produced Iceland's 2006 Eurovision Song Contest entry and spent six months working in a psychiatric hospital. We should add that all these disparate entries on his CV come after his five-year stint as Eve Online's very first lead designer.