Broken dragons: In praise of Morrowind, a game about game design

The appeal of Morrowind for a first-time player today is surely that of getting lost. The game’s once-breathtaking Gamebryo engine may creak with age, and its brittle, RNG-heavy combat may seem relentlessly archaic, but Morrowind’s relative shortage of navigational aids now feels positively radical.

Most currently prospering open world RPGs are littered with waypoints and breadcrumb trails, their treasures and secrets tagged for consumption once you’ve accosted the relevant NPC. Approach somebody about a quest in Morrowind, by contrast, and you’ll be handed a list of directions. There are no omni-visible floating diamond icons, no distance-to-arrival readouts – just a series of landmarks and turnings, scribbled down in your increasingly unwieldy journal. Returned to after a decade’s worth of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, it’s all rather terrifying, like sobering up in the middle of a busy motorway.

The directions aren’t even universally reliable, or exact. Sometimes you have little to go on beyond the name of a region – there’s a mission to locate somebody near Red Mountain that plays out like a Hunter Thompson rewrite of Christ roaming the wilderness, in which you fend off while combing the dunes for your quarry. Due to be remastered this summer as an expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online, Morrowind isn’t a particularly large or impenetrable world – its roads well-signposted, its towns clustered close together – but having to actually look for the place you’re looking for is invigorating, a show of faith in both the player’s patience and the environment’s intelligibility. And my, what an environment to get lost in – with its balding purple hills that reveal themselves to be enormous toadstools on closer inspection, its Dunmer citadels that evoke the stepped sandstone mounds of Angkor Wat.

The Division’s next big expansion is coming to PS4 and Xbox One at the same time

The Division’s third big expansion, Last Stand, is coming out on PS4 and PC at the same time as Xbox One, following a period of timed exclusivity for Microsoft’s console which covered the first two add-ons for Ubisoft’s game.

Last Stand places a focus on the PvP in The Division, adding a new separate game mode away from the Dark Zone where players previously fought each other. ‘Last Stand is session based and features clear objectives and win conditions, while still incorporating aspects of the Dark Zone such as PvE enemies and Landmarks,’ reads

Players will need to be at Level 30 to get in on the Last Stand expansion, and the PvP modes will be 4v4 with teams working to control capture points in matches that last a maximum of 20 minutes. The Division’s twist on a staple multiplayer mode is that NPC enemies will be patrolling the maps, guarding capture points and awarding points themselves when downed.

Ubisoft patched out the weird Assassin’s Creed 2 NPC face that went viral

Remember the weird-looking NPC in Assassin’s Creed The Ezio Collection? You know, the one with the clown face? Ubisoft patched him – his face – out of the game.

In November, that showed off the Assassin’s Creed Ezio Collection in a poor light. The video showcased glitchy climbing mechanics and a horrendous background NPC face that shows up in Sequence 1, Memory 1, aka Boys Will Be Boys.

At the time, Ubisoft pointed out the NPC in question was in the original Assassin’s Creed 2 as well. The original game is darker so he was harder to spot, but he is one of a number of NPC models who can appear in that spot during that cutscene. So, it was entirely possible and indeed likely you would play this scene and never see him.

So, about that Assassin’s Creed Ezio Collection glitch video

Ubisoft has responded to a viral video doing the rounds earlier this week which showed off the Assassin’s Creed Ezio Collection in a pretty poor light.

The video, made by Polygon, showcased glitchy climbing mechanics and a horrendous background NPC face. It wasn’t a good look for a current-gen re-release of a seven-year-old game.

What happened next? Well, the video went viral, and the general online commentary seemed to be that Ubisoft had messed up yet another Assassin’s Creed game launch.

The making of The Witcher 3’s greatest villain

Near the start of The Witcher 3, our hero Geralt enters White Orchard Inn searching for his lost lover, Yennefer of Vengerberg. Here he meets Gaunter O’Dimm for the first time – a seemingly ordinary tavern patron who introduces himself as a “mangy vagrant”. Previously a mirror merchant, he claims the common folk dubbed him Master Mirror, or the Man of Glass.

O’Dimm blends in: with his everyman face, plain clothes and bald head, he could be any other NPC. Perhaps even one you’ll save on the road later. You’d never guess you’d just met Geralt of Rivia’s most dangerous foe.

Going back to The Witcher 3’s prologue armed with this knowledge gives it an eerie edge. O’Dimm can’t be cut down with a silver sword – he could stop time and kill Geralt with a kitchen utensil before our hero had armed himself – yet there he sits, a friendly merchant who’s offering to help our hero at no cost. Of course, nothing comes without a price. Master Mirror is pulling Geralt’s strings before he even steps foot into war-torn Velen, but he doesn’t show his face again until the game’s first expansion, Hearts of Stone. CD Projekt knows how to do foreshadowing.

Performance Analysis: Mafia 3

One week on from release and we think we finally have a handle on Mafia 3, in terms of its console performance and perhaps more crucially, what it actually takes to run this game at 1080p60 on . What’s clear is that this is a game that somehow made it to gamers in a highly unoptimised state, and the amount of bugs, glitches and crashes back to the desktop are legion. Fundamental questions need to be asked about the QA process here – and also of the console platform holders, whose own technical requirements demand a far higher level of stability than what we’re seeing here.

Regardless, it’s all a bit of a shame. The lighting engine is a real high point, and parts – at least – of Mafia 3 feel like they’re genuinely built with modern machines in mind. There’s a subdued beauty to Mafia 3 at its best, and there’s an apparent attempt to match the oil-painted concept art that pan across its loading screens. Seeing flashes of sunlight play across a rain-soaked streets is a purely incidental moment where all its effects combine to create something spectacular. And likewise, there’s a good use of volumetric lighting in interiors to give that a dim, chiaroscuro effect we see in film noir classics.

But that’s the city of New Bordeaux at its best. Elsewhere, it’s often a dark foggy place, which can only go so far to hide the obvious pop-in as you drive fast down its streets. There’s an almost last-gen appearance to the world as a result; not helped by the low resolution, flat textures maps and basic NPC models. Some parts look superb, but others feel like they’re plucked straight from a PS3 or Xbox 360 version that never came to be.

You can voice a character in Mass Effect Andromeda

Now you can roleplay a Mass Effect character for real – BioWare is letting two fans voice NPC roles in the upcoming Mass Effect Andromeda.

BioWare has released scripts for the minor characters and invited Mass Effect fans to share recordings of themselves giving their best performance.

Entries will be judged on voice, performance and a match to the Mass Effect franchise style. Winners will then be provided with transport to a BioWare recording studio (in either London, LA or Edmonton, Canada) and put up in a hotel while the part is recorded.

The Witcher 3 is one of the best war games there’s ever been

The thing that The Witcher 3 does best, better than most other games, is war. This doesn’t sound remarkable until you consider the huge number of games that are specifically about war – that make you do war and be in it – and that war itself never appears in The Witcher, at least not directly. We see battlefields and garrisons, occupations and barricades, but never open conflict. War is in a constant state of passing through, enormous and unseen, always at some distant proximity, but written into the land of The Witcher 3 and the people on it, in magic and misery.

Conflict in the world of The Witcher is born of a political situation so complicated that there is an NPC in Vizima whose only function is to explain to you what side everybody is on. He’s great, actually – Ambassador var Atlre, one of the dozens of quietly human characters that help give the game its sense of remarkable depth. He’s on to a loser here, though, because without obvious heroes and villains his dry account of frontiers and fighting remains impenetrable to all but the Witcher faithful. The war is confusing, indistinct – and that’s about right, actually, because the story of war The Witcher tells is specifically one of ordinary people, for whom war is confusing, and details superfluous.

Actually it’s misleading to call it a story – The Witcher 3 is more like a collection of stories, a chorus of fables and morality plays. So much of the character of the game resides in the weary, accumulated wisdom of the side quests and incidental plotlines that Geralt stumbles into. Here decisive ethical strokes are invariably parried, while a combination of duty, hunger, fear and idealism asserts over and over again the impossibility of neat and total fixes. One of the game’s first quests, Missing In Action, has Geralt searching through corpses on a fresh battlefield looking for the brother of a nervous villager. He finds the man nearby, hiding with a deserter from the enemy army – the two wounded soldiers had helped each other from the field, and now the found brother would shelter his unlikely friend. It falls to Geralt to make the imperfect choice – to murder the Nilfgaardian, or convince a man to put his family at risk for a stranger.

Here’s the first trailer for Dark Souls 3’s Ashes of Ariandel DLC

Dark Souls 3’s first piece of DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, launches on 25th October, Bandai Namco has announced. According to the email blurb, players will travel to an unnamed frozen land, battling new monsters and uncovering a terrible secret pertaining to the deeper lore of the Dark Souls series. If you’ve been paying attention to it all this time, that is.

The accompanying trailer looks pretty good, I have to say; the whole area reminds me a lot of the Painted World of Ariamis, which was a snowy, optional area in the first Dark Souls game.

If you’ve played Dark Souls 3 for any length of time, you’ll know that there is some overlap between its setting and that of the first Dark Souls, so I wouldn’t actually be surprised if there is some connection between Ariamis and this new place, especially since the trailer seems to feature a blank canvas and one NPC offering you a torn piece of some painting.

Watch Yooka-Laylee Toybox demo’s hidden ending

Kickstarter backers for Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee now have access to its , which has a nifty tip should you solve all its secrets.

Our Aoife Wilson managed to to do just that and detailed her discoveries in the spoiler-filled video below:

Should you collect all 100 quills and activate a few hidden switches you can find a few “behind the scenes” nods from the developer. One room contains some sweet particle effects, which a robot NPC boasts about. This gives us a teaser at some of the shiny paraphernalia that will dazzle us upon Yooka-Laylee’s full release early next year.