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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Here’s what PC Gamer played over the break

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Most of us have returned to the virtual PC Gamer office now, the hangovers are gone and the holidays are an increasingly distant memory. But before we completely forget about what the heck we did in December, we’ve jotted down how we spent the break for posterity. Or at least what we played. You don’t need to know how much time we spent staring into the void of Twitter when we were meant to be relaxing. That would just be depressing. 

And what about you lot? What games dominated your break? Let us know in the comments. 

Cyberpunk 2077 and Airborne Kingdom

I was hoping to finish off 50 games in 2020, and by December I was still seven short. The break, then, was going to be filled with gaming, but instead I just mostly wandered around Night City chopping off heads with my scary stabby arms. Oh well! According to Steam I put nearly 120 hours into Cyberpunk 2077, which is obscene, but I really dug it in spite of its many stumbles. I adore V, Panam, Judy, Jackie—the whole gang. I was feeling pretty lonely over the hols, but my digital buds made things a lot more bearable. 

With Cyberpunk 2077 finished, I returned to Airborne Kingdom, which proved to be a lovely palate cleanser after all that dystopian drama. I’d pretty much finished it before I left work for the break, but I ended up spending many hours just fiddling around with my striking flying city, repainting it, moving buildings around and making all of my citizens absolutely jubilant. As someone who thrives on the complexity of demanding city builders, I was surprised to find that this serene game where so much of the delight comes from its aesthetics gripped me as much as it did. It’s a real treat. —Fraser Brown


In the pursuit of calmer gaming experiences this holiday season, I thought booting up Minecraft and mucking about for a few hours would be a nice way to spend my time. What ensued was a full week of stress, explosions and a bucket of lava I accidentally released inside my meticulously built wooden cottage. My normal chilled-out Minecraft buffoonery had suddenly been replaced with a burning desire to defeat the ender dragon—something I’ve never actually done in my nine years of playing. It took a lot of preparation and a little bit of cheating to find the End portal, but I finally did it. Defeating the ender dragon isn’t much to gloat about these days, but it feels nice to finally say I’ve done it. Though I think I’ll be going back to breeding horses and building cute houses from here on out. —Mollie Taylor

RimWorld, but with more mods

It seems every time I log into Steam, I find myself reaching for that workshop button. I shouldn’t… I don’t need any more RimWorld mods—or do I? Now, having finally got into the isolation-busting gem that is the multiplayer mod, it feels oddly like a bit of a backstep. Sure I get to manage a little colony with my partner, and inevitably get killed by a squirrel at the first hurdle, but there are so few compatible mods I feel naked. How are my colonists to thrive without FishIndustry, or Real Ruins, or Smart Speed? So, for now I’m avoiding multiplayer (much to my partners dismay) just to cling to some of that functionality I worked so hard to amass. It’s not that I don’t want to play with him, really. —Katie Wickens

Dark Souls 3

I was so disappointed with Cyberpunk 2077, but it wasn’t the bugs that bothered me so much as its dull combat and monotonous dialogue. This anaemic McDonald’s patty left me hungering for an action-RPG masterpiece, for a fillet steak, and so I returned to Lothric.

Hidetaka Miyazaki and Fromsoft’s Souls games always had this odd tension between being self-contained entities and explicit sequels, and Dark Souls 3 is where that finally snaps and its universe begins to coalesce into one giant and chaotic mess. That sense of ruined and tainted grandeur so core to the series reaches its apex at this end of worlds, a place where the gods are long-dead and the heroes gone.

The Souls combat system is incredibly precise and absolutely cut-throat. Returning to this world, and especially these bosses, brought an unexpected wave of nostalgia as long-dormant neurons fired once more, and I slowly re-discovered not only a wonderful game, but one that is so flexible in what it allows the player to focus on. My sessions would involve making a little progress through a given area, then some co-op fun on the bosses, then a hefty helping of PvP for dessert. Dark Souls 3’s online still isn’t perfect when it comes to lag and hit detection, but it’s as good as the series ever got and, honestly, the fun you can have with it is like nothing else.

So it was that on boxing day I crept around Farron Keep, hunting hosts with a giant scythe and throwing dung pies. A day later I would be in Irithyll, helping out with the boss Pontiff Sulyvahn and gratefully banking hundreds of thousands of souls. After completing that fight you hit the most active PvP area in the game, and years after release it’s still absolutely crammed with hosts, phantoms, and invaders of all hues. This is where you go for the beanfights involving six players at once, or the PvP fight clubs where everyone bows politely and anyone who doesn’t know the rules gets spanked

I spent a week just luxuriating in this rich, interconnected world, helping and hindering randoms as the mood took. I gave out gifts; I changed my main weapon about fifty times; I got ganked, and did some ganking; I used Chameleon to hide, then scared the crap out of hosts; I knocked countless phantoms off ledges; I got backstabbed. I remembered why I love these games so much, and why Elden Ring can’t come soon enough. Cyberwhat? —Rich Stanton

Death Stranding

I’m not far into it, but early on, Death Stranding (our 2020 Game of the Year) feels like an elaboration on climbing mountains in Skyrim. Rather than wild hopping, a gentle cycle of controller presses keeps Sam from toppling into ravines, but the basic source of amusement is still there: picking a peak and striving to reach it. I’m enjoying that. It’s nice when a goal and all the obstacles between you and it are visible all at once. I haven’t played a ton of Metal Gear (I beat Snake Eater, but that was a long time ago), so I don’t have a ton of exposure to Kojima’s direction, but just a few hours of Death Stranding tells me that the impression of him as a ‘weird for the sake of weird’ guy, or someone who does pure pastiche, is wrong. This is thoughtful game design, not crude wackiness. Although it is pretty wacky. —Tyler Wilde

Paradise Killer, Death Stranding, Black Mesa

My winter break was a game bonanza. I played more in a week and a half than should be legal, but the highlights were clear. Andy Kelly has been singing Paradise Killer’s praises since last year, so I finally wised up and gave it a go. The first 15 minutes is a word vomit of proper nouns that make no sense, but once I pieced together that I’m here to solve a murder on an island of immortal zealots I was in. I also finished my second Death Stranding playthrough, which really means that I skipped the terrible ending and finished my highway project. I’m happy to announce that you can now drive to virtually anywhere on the map without touching a blade of grass.

In the past few days I’ve been diving into Black Mesa, which has been a very fun way to play Half-Life 1 for the first time ever. Turns out there’s no gravity gun in this one? Seems ill-advised, but I’m having a blast. Its modern touches (like smooth first-person animations and punchy weapon sounds) do so much to enhance combat that I now wish I could play Half-Life 2 through the same lense. If Valve isn’t funding that in some way or another, it’s dropping the ball. On the co-op side of things, I’ve spent the evenings with friends slicing up rats in Vermintide 2 and zapping pirates in Elite Dangerous. —Morgan Park

Ghost of Tsushima

Open world games and holidays are meant for each other, so I figured I’d check out PlayStation exclusive Ghost of Tsushima, even though I’m not a big samurai film or Japanese history guy. Surprise! It’s one of the best open world games ever, but what I admire about it isn’t what GoT invents or improves upon. I admire GoT’s restraint and focus. 

The world is stunning, mostly scenery with a few repeating optional tasks dotted all over. I’m partial to bathing in hot springs, and I could play the bamboo chopping game all day, but, like Night City, Tsushima is a stage, not a simulated world. GoT doesn’t tell many stories on its extravagant stage either, but they’re all told so well, especially the character quests. The problems are simple and common—everything is about food, poison, and honor—underlining that good storytelling doesn’t need codices of lore and novel tie-ins to work.

The main quest is essentially about two people throughout, and doesn’t really do anything new, but tells a story of family, suffering, and morality with the style and confidence baked into GoT’s outstanding art direction and performances. Combat isn’t anything new either, just Arkham Asylum with swords and perfect animation, but I’d play 100 more variations of the same thing. Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t innovate (a bad word), but refines the open world towards clear goals of atmosphere, setting, and storytelling. Let’s hope it becomes one of those rare PlayStation PC ports. —James Davenport

Cyberpunk 2077 and The Legend of Zelda

I went into the break having reached the start of the final main story mission in Cyberpunk 2077. And I’ve come out of break still having yet to do that mission, because I started doing a bunch of sidequests first and those sidequests have not come to an end. Whatever your opinion of Cyberpunk 2077, wow, there’s a heck of a lot of game in there. I have no idea when I’ll actually finish because there’s so much left to do, and I’ve already got about 45 hours behind me.

My other goal for the break was to finally tackle Breath of the Wild on my new Switch, but instead I started playing the original Legend of Zelda, the 1986 NES game. And I played it so much over break I never got around to trying BotW. It’s pretty neat how much I remember about the original Zelda from nearly 35 years ago, but I also forgot a ton so it’s been quite a fun adventure down patchy memory lane. I’ve only got a few more dungeons to conquer, so maybe when I’m done I’ll actually try a Zelda game from this decade. —Chris Livingston

Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death and Ion Fury

Over the break I planned to play a bunch of retro shooters, and mostly succeeded! I kicked off the break with Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death, which I finished in a single day. But it was maybe six hours start to finish, so that wasn’t a heroic feat. This game was cool! I mean, actually it was pretty bad—the shooting and movement have none of the snappy precision of Quake or other greats. There are some silly, gimmicky boss fights. The story and writing are about as bad as you’d expect for an early-2000s, mid-budget adaptation of a comic book. But I had a lot of fun with it anyway, because it did manage to capture the Dredd universe quite well. You can swap the fire mode on Dredd’s gun to alternate modes like incendiary or explosive, and you can arrest every punk on the street for looking at you funny. Hell, you can even arrest the robots. In a more realistic game I’d find this chilling, but Dredd is so ridiculous I just laughed.

I’ve also nearly finished Ion Fury, a modern Build Engine shooter published by 3D Realms. I kinda can’t stand the game’s personality—it’s actually more obnoxious than Duke Nukem 3D, which is quite a feat—but it’s very cool seeing a 25-year-old game engine brought into the modern era. Its mix of HD 2D sprites and full-3D is seriously cool. Out of what I’d consider the trifecta of throwback retro shooters—Dusk, Amid Evil, and Ion Fury—it’s so far my least favorite when it comes to level design and shooting, but the visual design is outstanding.

I also played through Quake 2 RTX, but I’ve got a whole separate article cooking about that. —Wes Fenlon

Red Dead Redemption 2 and Umurangi Generation

I didn’t really feel like ‘playing games’ this winter, so much as I wanted a big open world to mosey around in. Figures, then, that I’d spend every spare hour rootin’ and tootin’ across Red Dead Redemption 2 with some pals. I’d never seen the specialist missions before, and running bounties with my mate Sam until she could afford to build a tavern in the hills was a riot. But the best moments were the spaces between jobs—the campfire chats, Saint Denis pub crawls, run-ins with disgruntled NPCs and accidental war crimes that punctuated our trip across the West. What, am I supposed to not use these firebombs?

When the posse wasn’t around, however, I found myself back in the lo-fi streets of Umurangi Generation. An urban photography romp that’s equal parts Jet Set Radio and Neon Genesis Evangelion, set in a distinctly Maori vision of dystopia, Umurangi captured the political anguish of 2020 better than anything I’ve played before or since. More than that, however, the game is a series of dioramas packed with intimate, shocking, and deeply human moments to catalogue. Tauranga’s streets, rooftops, and mech hangers kept me coming back to snap more shots all winter long.

It helps that the soundtrack also slaps pretty damn hard. Forget Wham: my holidays were soundtracked by a talking dolphin’s banger mixtape. —Nat Clayton

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, Airborne Kingdom, Omori

Even though the behemoth that is Cyberpunk 2077 released in December, there were plenty of smaller indies released around the same time, so I decided to dedicate my winter break to playing them. I kicked off the holiday with an appropriately wholesome start playing the nature photography game Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. Skipping around a Mediterranean island, snapping the local wildlife and picking up litter soothed my soul, but I quickly got swept away with Airborne Kingdom, a majestic city sim where you construct a beautiful flying kingdom. I’m a huge fan of Frostpunk, and Airborne Kingdom felt like the apocalyptic city builder’s calming counterpart, but, you know, with less child labour laws and horrific ethical decision making that I lose sleep over.

But my highlight from the winter break was Omori, which released on Christmas day and, my god, I devoured it. It’s an RPGmaker game that feels like the spiritual successor of cult horror classic Yume Nikki, all wrapped up in a pixel pastel art style—who knew a psychological horror game could look this cute? With EarthBound’s heart and Undertale’s humour thrown in, I couldn’t put Omori down, and it easily slipped into my top games of 2020. —Rachel Watts

GTA 5 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

I spent most of 2020 playing live service games as a way to keep up with friends through the pandemic. And after burning out on Apex, and rinsing pretty much everything the current Destiny season has to offer, the new GTA Online heist proved the perfect excuse to return to Los Santos. Rockstar’s crim sandbox remains a bit of a mess, full of eccentricities and infrastructure issues that make it something of a pain to play. But despite all of that, it remains a great playground for sandbox absurdity, and something that will keep us entertained for at least the first few months of 2021.

On the singleplayer side, I’ve continued my streak of letting the release of a new Assassin’s Creed remind me to play its previous entry. Odyssey proved a perfect bit of virtual tourism in a Christmas break spent almost entirely in my own home. It’s a massive, lavish production, and filled with fascinating sidequest chains, many with their own little twists and unexpected conclusions. I consumed it all, pretty much, with just the final few DLC chapters remaining. I look forward to finally checking out Valhalla whenever the next new Assassin’s Creed arrives. —Phil Savage

World of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Shadowlands was the first World of Warcraft expansion launch that I didn’t take time off work to play and so I felt like I was lagging behind the rest of my guild for most of December. Luckily the Christmas break gave me plenty of time to get caught up with gear and get to grips with some of the new Mythic Plus dungeon affixes. I did manage to keep it festive though by wearing my Red Winter Hat as I swore my way through Torghast (pre-nerf).

I was also planning on finishing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla over the break but didn’t get through as much of the story as I’d have liked. Probably because I keep stopping every two minutes to admire the view or take a new selfie with Horace, the best horse. My Eivor also seems to have taken ‘getting into the festive spirit’ to heart since doing the Yule Brawl seasonal quest—she is now drunk every time I log into Valhalla which makes the first couple of minutes of play quite woozy. —Sarah James

World of Warcraft

The healthy catalogue of games that are quickly collecting virtual dust in my collection didn’t really get a look this Christmas. The few moments I did manage to steal away for myself were mostly spent in the Shadowlands. WoW’s latest expansion made for a refreshingly varied experience, with dungeons, raids, PvP, world quests, seasonal events, and pet battles all vying for my attention. Some days I focused on PvP or spent time bolstering the ranks of my growing menagerie, other days I tried getting into dungeons and a little light raiding. Playing a Fury Warrior has meant this wasn’t exactly straightforward as the class is generally considered to be in a sorry place this expansion—it’s second from bottom in DPS output. I could switch to Arms, but I’m actually enjoying Fury, and I played Arms last expansion. This left me eyeing up my tank spec with a mind to slapping my shield into a face or two again. We’ll see. At least it hasn’t felt like I’ve needed to run Mythic+, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out just yet. —Alan Dexter

Everything Star Wars

I think the last time I cared about Star Wars was when I was still young and stupid enough to think Jar Jar Binks was funny. After walking out of The Force Awakens having felt precisely zero emotions, I shrugged and figured the franchise was just never going to be for me.

And then The Mandalorian ruined everything. I was sucked in by how well it worked as just a simple, standalone bit of beautifully-crafted telly—but then season 2 started chucking in cameos all over the shop, and suddenly people were telling me I needed to watch some old cartoon show to understand the true significance of a black lightsaber. Long story short, I watched the entire first season of The Clone Wars over the break, and I’m so deep down the Star Wars rabbit hole that I worked my way through EA’s entire recent slate of games too. 

While Jedi: Fallen Order falls flat for me—there’s something clunky about it that I can’t put my finger on—and The Old Republic is just too MMO-y, I was pleasantly surprised by Battlefront 2. Not only is it enormously improved from its rocky launch, regular updates have patched in… well, everything. Almost every Star Wars thing I know of is playable in BF2, recreated in loving detail, and you can even pick which era you want to play in, letting me mess about in the setting of The Clone Wars to my heart’s content.

The real star of all the wars, though, turned out to be Star Wars Squadrons. I’m not even a big spaceship guy, but I can’t help but adore the lovingly crafted cockpits of its X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Their chunky designs and brilliantly mechanical controls infuse the game with so much wonderful atmosphere and sense of place. It doesn’t hurt that the nippy dogfights are an absolute pleasure, especially played with a full squadron of mates, calling targets and formations as we make frantic bombing runs at an enemy Star Destroyer. —Robin Valentine

Very little on PC

As with any free time I have, this break I was far too optimistic with how much I could get done. And, as ever, the days quickly elapsed without me really playing much at all (on PC). Sat in front of my monitor on my first day of blissful freedom, I felt the familiar indecision as I was faced with the fresh batch of PC gaming riches at my disposal and… played Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS4. 

Yes, between the odd go on Warzone and Among Us, I managed to squeeze a seven-hour game into ten whole days. And I still talk myself into starting open-world whoppers like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Cyberpunk. I put it down to the fact that I don’t have a PS5 or 4K TV, but by swinging about as the Kid Arachnid, I could at least pretend. —Harry Shepherd

Absolutely shit all (and it was amazing)

This isn’t me gloating or anything, but I didn’t play that very many videogames over the holiday break. I could’ve, but I just… didn’t? I logged a few sessions of Rocket League and occasionally lost an hour to running some errands in Genshin Impact, but nothing that really amounts to what I’d consider a concerted, sit-down play session. It was pretty nice, actually! Normally games take up so much space in my mental meat pie that clearing them out for two weeks was refreshing. I got some reading done (slowly chewing through the enormously long The Count of Monte Cristo), watched a fair few movies, and worked through a cool game dev tutorial series where I built my own tower defense game in Unity, which taught me a lot of advanced and very nifty C# programming patterns that I didn’t know. —Steven Messner

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