Its been a fun year, full of fantastic titles and less fantastic industry controversy. So as a final farewell for now, here are some of our writers' predictions for the future of the industry as well as some titles they're looking forward to.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is Creative Assembly’s latest instalment in the long-running Total War series. Set to be released in Autumn, the game will position itself at the breaking point of the Han dynasty in 2nd century China, setting the stage for the establishment of the ‘Three Kingdoms’ period.
Three Kingdoms will follow the release of Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, a standalone spinoff that was released earlier this month. Using a similar map to the Britannia campaign on the Medieval 2: Kingdoms expansion, Thrones of Britannia commences several decades earlier at a point before a united England existed, featuring factions such as the Danelaw and the Kingdom of Wessex.
One successful feature that Thrones of Britannia trialled was a more in depth politics complex to add to the narrative of the game. Though it doesn’t touch on the level of politicking that you get through in something like Crusader Kings, the nobility that you rely on can be treated differently, featuring options such as torture or bribery.
Having been relatively positively received, it’d be unlikely that the developers wouldn’t utilise this feature for Three Kingdoms, however I can imagine that it operating in a style more similar to Shogun, where it’ll manifest in a civil war towards the end of the campaign, no matter how well you keep a handle on it.
Though it’s difficult to see the mechanics of the game being revolutionary, the new era has given the developers the opportunity to explore a new aesthetic. From the trailer we can see some dramatic heroes and villains, at a time of decline and revolution. It mirrors the post-Napoleonic world of Empire and fall of Rome explored in Attila, so we can probably expect a darker apocalyptic feel to this one too.
The era will be familiar to many gamers, who will recognise some of the romanticised storylines from Dynasty Warriors, so when you try to picture the characters from this game, you’ll probably get the wrong idea, although from the looks of the trailer, everything is more romantic than historical. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
DLC stands for dicks launching cu– I mean downloadable content. Back in the late 90s and 00s publishers couldn’t easily release patches or rebalances online, so they would package them in on an additional CD with a large helping of extra content to incentivise purchase. Everyone’s aware that the Age of Empires II Conquerors Expansion added a hefty number of new units and technologies, but often forget that it contains other minor changes such as decreasing Heavy Scorpion damage.
As the Internet took centre-stage in the public domain, expansions and patches alike began to change in response. It was no longer necessary to lump all the extra bits of game into a single CD and hope that people physically buy it; you could instead download it onto their hard drive. (Or in some nefarious circumstances, have the expansion on the original disc but require the player to pay extra money to unlock said content.) This has given developers the freedom to release smaller chunks of DLC, rather than a huge blow-out expansion that may need some patches itself.
Let’s not pretend that the rise of DLC has been wholly positive. Activision, Microsoft, EA, Capcom, and Ubisoft are all well-known for having less-than-admirable approaches to DLC, whether by releasing copious amounts of cosmetic options like a plumber with an artistic streak, or by removing key story points in order to force people to purchase content that should have been there in the first place.
It’s not all bad news, though. CD Projekt Red, a game studio best known for The Witcher III, has also released copious amounts of small, inconsequential cosmetic DLCs. Difference is though, they are free. They also have more expensive old-school expansions which have received high praise from most.
And then there are games that have more content in regularly-released free DLC than on day-one release. This is more the realm of indie games on Early Access – Slay the Spire, Dead Cells, Factorio, these all use player feedback to drive development along the way. On the opposite side of the same coin, you have “finished” games like No Man’s Sky and Sea of Thieves that add constant updates to patch in content that was badly needed on release.
Like it or not, DLC is the future. As developers eschew playtesting in favour of having the entire player base find bugs, the most we can do is ride the wave. Or start buying CDs again.
If you’ve been following the video game industry recently then you’ll have noticed the phrase “games as services” crop up more than a few times. In brief, this refers to the idea of a video game, rather than a singular experience instead serving as an ongoing activity the player constantly goes back to, and a continuing revenue stream for publishers and developers.
Its hardly a new concept, but over the past two years the idea of games as a service has become increasingly prevalent. Unfortunately in practice, the rise of this model has been to the detriment of story driven single player games. The next Call of Duty has reportedly eschewed a single player campaign entirely, opting instead for a battle royale mode, whilst EA cancelled Visceral Studio’s single player Star Wars title, citing a desire to “pivot” the game’s design to a more service based model. In their place, many games seek to become permanent fixtures in their players’ lives like a meth addiction. Sandboxes are ubiquitous to the point of saturation and many games are dependent on their online components and exploitative microtransations.
Is this our future then? Our beloved medium reduced to yet another dopamine fix to pad out our miserable existences? Well perhaps not. Its not exactly gathered much pace yet but I do think we are starting to see the public turn against the idea of games as services. Star Wars: Battlefront II’s lootboxes provoked such outrage it spilled into public discourse, prompting Belgian government to ban the practice entirely. And despite claims from publishers to the contrary, story-driven single player games are still very much in demand as both Horizon: Zero Dawn and God of War aptly demonstrate.
So as my last act as gaming editor before heading off to a wilderness of unemployment and despair, I would highly encourage you all to treasure any decent single player games that come our way, especially from smaller developers. The “Triple AAA” gaming industry might seem bent sapping the joy out of gaming, but I feel there will always be something to be treasured in this medium. Its why I write this shit at least.
The past year has been a bumper one for gaming, but there’s still a lot to look forward to in the future. First and foremost for me are the ongoing updates to Monster Hunter World - Capcom have shown their dedication to keeping the game fresh with periodic updates adding new and returning monsters (the Kulve Taroth siege quest in particular is a cool new structure for hunts that would work brilliantly for some of the series’ classic giant monsters) and that looks set to continue. Mostly though I can’t wait for the eventual addition of G-Rank quests; as every MH veteran knows, these are the true endgame and offer the heftiest challenge in the game.
I’m also looking forward to seeing how Fortnite continues to evolve. The recent addition of a limited time Avengers crossover letting you compete over the Infinity Gauntlet for the chance to play as Thanos is a masterstroke, and shows that Epic has a lot of scope for introducing new dynamics to keep the battle royale formula from getting stale.
In terms of actual new games, I think there are a few sleeper hits on the horizon. Octopath Traveller for the Switch is shaping up to be an inventive change on the JRPG formula with as much focus on how your choice of character changes how you interact with the world outside battles as within, something which is often overlooked in the genre.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is also one to watch. A classic Metroidvania-style game from Castlevania veteran Koji Igarashi, Bloodstained’s Kickstarter campaign met with wild success, and all of that hype is to pay off in the near future. It’s beautifully presented, with a sprawling castle to explore and a wide range of abilities to gather and customize your playstyle with. Igarashi is a master of the genre; with him at the helm Bloodstained is sure to be an amazing game.
Finally, as a bit of wild speculation, I really, really hope this is the year we finally get Golden Sun 4. Maybe once Camelot has finished working on Mario Tennis they can get around to following up on that huge cliffhanger and obvious sequel setup from Dark Dawn. It’s admittedly not very likely given how poorly the DS entry was received, but a man can dream, okay?