You’ve got until the end of the year to avenge me in Shadow of Mordor

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the 2014 game from Monolith and Warner Bros. Games, is losing a few features on December 31st. The Nemesis Forge, Vendetta missions, and WBPlay stuff is going away, according to the publisher’s notice on the main Steam page. Nemesis Forge was the system that let players bring their named enemies from Shadow of Mordor into the 2017 sequel, Shadow of War. Vendetta missions gave players the chance to avenge online friends’ deaths by putting the baddies that killed them into other people’s games. WBPlay account linking offered players a couple of special runes, but the publisher will just give those to everyone in an update to make up for it.

None of the bits being removed are essential to enjoying the game. It’s likely most people would never notice anything missing if not for the official warning, so get out there and kill Snazgul Rathammer before time runs out.

Battle Royale is exactly what Age of Empires II has always needed

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The one-year anniversary update for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition includes a Battle Royale mode. No, really. The update will include some UI and balance changes and a quickplay option to get you into a game faster, but you don’t care about any of that nonsense! You want to know about Battle Royale because no multiplayer game can escape the gravitational pull of chicken dinners.

Eight players start in random locations with a small cluster of troops that can capture buildings and resources to add to their armies. They must then crush all enemies before the slowly dwindling circle of fog kills them. The only things missing are cast iron skillets and dance emotes.

The anniversary update for Age of Empires II: DE is coming this November.

Will Assassin’s Creed on Netflix require you to leave the Animus to stop streaming?

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A live-action Assassin’s Creed series is coming to Netflix. All we have is the teaser tweet and the fact that Ubisoft’s Jason Altman and Danielle Kreinik will be executive producing, but it makes sense that Netflix would take on the popular video game. Netflix found success with The Witcher show and Ubisoft has been wanting a live-action series since they first announced the 2016 movie starring Michael Fassbender.

The dozen Assassin’s Creed lore nerds out there will tell you that the events of the critically panned movie is canon, by the way. Will the show also add to the convoluted and increasingly inconsequential modern-day narrative? If it gives us more Jeremy Irons chewing scenery, then it’s worth it.

You’ll need a Microsoft account to play Minecraft’s Java version next year

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Mojang and Microsoft have announced that all versions of Minecraft will require a Microsoft account login by early next year. That will include the popular “Java Edition” preferred by the PC modding community. Mojang says the benefits of two-factor authentication and increased parental controls outweigh any inconvenience.

Now just to be clear, migrating from Mojang to Microsoft accounts is mandatory. If you don’t make the move, in several months you won’t be able to log in anymore – which means you won’t be able to play either.

New players of Mincraft’s Java version will need to create a Microsoft account login starting late this year. Current players will be migrated to the new system in batches in the first half of 2021.

Pinball FX3 is on the verge of its 100th table

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On October 20, Pinball FX3 will get the Williams Pinball: Volume 6 DLC, which adds three new tables.  This will bring the total available tables to 99.  At which point, Zen Studios can’t very well stop, because what sort of failed pinball collection gets this close to a hundred tables without reaching the milestone of 100 tables?  I mean, think about it.  100 tables.  That’s crazy.  If you were to take 100 pinball tables and lay them out end to end, they would circle the globe four times.  If you spaced them 1000 miles apart.  That’s crazy!

So what’s next after Williams Volume 6?  What table is going to tip Pinball FX3 over the 100-table threshold?  Technically, this latest Williams set will include their 100th table. At some point, a soccer table and a skateboarding table were mysteriously disappeared. I think there was even a ninja table, and of course that one would have mysteriously disappeared. But in terms of what’s available, Williams Volume 6 will bring them to 99, and whatever’s announced next will be the 100-table milestone.

Three years ago, I gave Zen Studios some ideas.  I hope they were listening.  Alternatively, I don’t see how anyone can have the Williams license long enough to implement 21 tables, and not a one of them is Pinbot or Bride of Pinbot.

The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game goes offline in a good way

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When Fantasy Flight Interactive shut down in January 2020, many people thought that the fledgling studio’s closure marked the end of The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game as well. After all, a games-as-a-service card game needs constant support, and if the studio that made it went under, filling in would be a tall order for a title that never found profitability. Publisher Asmodee Digital put Antihero Games onto the game, and they’re just releasing the first major content update for it. The patch features a much-wanted offline mode that pulls the title off its dependency on home servers. It also includes a user interface overhaul and mid-mission saves. Not bad for a game that seemed fated to die in January.

The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game will also be getting a new free adventure pack, “The Fords of Isen,” sometime next year.

It’s been a decade, StarCraft II. Time to rest.

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Blizzard has announced that the studio is winding down StarCraft II’s active development. The game will continue to get technical support and will cycle through events, but new content updates and DLC creation will cease. According to Blizzard’s Rob Bridenbecker, they will also continue to support the esports community through their official partnerships with ESL Gaming and GSL.

We know some of our players have been looking forward to some of the things we’re moving away from, but the good news is this change will free us up to think about what’s next, not just with regard to StarCraft II, but for the StarCraft universe as a whole.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, the first of three main campaign episodes for the game, launched in July of 2010. That campaign went free-to-play in November 2017.

Age of Wonders: Planetfall finally launches into space on November 10

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No one who’s actually spent time with Age of Wonders: Planetfall would accuse it of being a sci-fi skin draped over an Age of Wonders fantasy skeleton. There are just too many differences since Age of Wonders was about hobbits and elves and fireball spells. But it is one of those space-faring sci-fi games that has to conveniently omit the actual space-faring. Blame the success of Civilization for codifying how 4Xs work. One planet at a time, please. This isn’t Masters of Orion!

But the idea of amassing a galactic empire composed of multiple planets is finally coming to Planetfall with the Star Kings DLC on November 10th. Accompanying the DLC will be a free update that includes something called the “galactic empire system”. You won’t actually play multiple planets in one game; instead, you’ll play multiple planets in all your games. Paradox describes the galactic empire system as a “meta-layer where each planet you complete gets added to your own Galactic Empire”. According to the initial developer diary:

The planets you conquer in Galactic Empire Mode have special traits, such as having the oceans replaced with impassable void, or being covered in nuclear fallout. These traits are paired with extra secondary objectives for you to clear in order to earn more XP for your empire. Some secondary objectives even grant you the victory upon completion, allowing you to claim planets for your Galactic Empire faster than regular planetary domination! With nearly 60 traits in the update and up to 4 traits per planet, each planet you conquer feels like a new and unique challenge!

As your empire accumulates planets, each one gives you special bonuses you can carry forward to conquer the next planet. And with the experience point system, it sounds like Planetfall is getting a new risk/reward structure to encourage playing harder set ups on different kinds of planets.

The other Cyberpunk game is launching in November too

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Cyberpunk RED, the pen & paper sequel to Cyberpunk 2020, should hit bookshelves on November 19th. Publisher R. Talsorian Games announced the release date at the New York City Comic Con this past weekend. If you can’t wait, or just don’t care about the analog experience of gaming with a physical book, the digital version will launch a few days earlier. If you’re even more impatient, you can check out the Cyberpunk RED Jumpstart Kit that’s already been available for over a year.

If you’re confused about this game coming out when Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt RED will land on computers and consoles at the same time, you should know that they are connected. Cyberpunk RED’s lore begins just before the events depicted in the upcoming videogame. While you can play either without the other, those that do take part in both experiences will likely have a better understanding of Night City and how it all works. Those folks will also make creator and futurist Mike Pondsmith really happy.

They drew first blood in Mortal Kombat

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That’s John Rambo in Mortal Kombat 11. Sylvester Stallone even supplies the voice work, according to studio head Ed Boon. At this point, why not? The game already has The Joker, Robocop, Spawn, and Terminator, so why wouldn’t Rambo tie on his headband and join the fray? Thanks to time travel and alternate universe portals in the lore, you can add anyone to the roster and it fits. I remember a time when Mortal Kombat only had a couple of realms and timelines, and now it’s some unfathomable mess of kids fighting their own parents and future selves while dealing with comic characters.

John Rambo is part of Mortal Kombat 11’s Kombat Pack 2 which will also include fan-favorites Rain and Mileena. The DLC launches on November 17th.

Minecraft’s Steve is coming to Smash Bros. Ultimate

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That’s blocky default Steve from Minecraft in Nintendo’s Smash Bros. Ultimate. Game director Masahiro Sakurai announced Steve’s addition to the game, along with Alex, zombie, and the enderman. Spooky! All the new Minecraft characters will have special moves like using a pickaxe or stacking blocks to create barriers and to reach higher areas of the game. According to Nintendo, all of the game’s existing levels had to be adjusted to accommodate the new Minecraft moves.

The Minecraft additions are part of Smash Bros. Ultimate’s second $30 fighter pass bundle.

FarmVille buys the farm

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FarmVille, one of the first games to hit it big on Facebook, is done. Zynga posted the bad news to its fans and informed them that although the game will remain playable until the end of the year, no in-app purchases will be allowed past November 17th. It marks an 11-year run for the game, a lifetime for social media web games, but with Adobe ceasing support for Flash, the time had come to sunset the title.

“We are also working on fun in-game activities to be announced soon that are designed to make your remaining time with FarmVille even more enjoyable.”

Farmville 2: Tropic Escape and Farmville 2: Country Escape are still available, and there’s a third installment on the way if you feel the urge to give Zynga more money.

The radio stations you enjoy in Grand Theft Auto almost didn’t happen

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One of the more satisfying parts of any open world game with a car is jamming to the licensed music, commercials, and DJ banter in the fake radio stations. Imagine how dull video game road trips and drive-by shootings would be without that mobile soundtrack. We have Grand Theft Auto to thank for that innovation. PC Gamer has a look back at what it took to get those radio stations into the series, and how it almost didn’t become a thing at all.

Back when it was made by DMA Design, the first game almost didn’t have the stations we now take for granted. The game was going to have a simple MIDI-based soundtrack due to storage limitations on Nintendo 64 carts. Thankfully, that N64 version was canceled, allowing the audio team to get more adventurous for the PC and PlayStation.

Colin Anderson, a member of the audio team, explained that the first game’s original music was part of the design. The game took place in an alternate version of this world. Tunes were familiar-sounding, but not specific. It was only after their (at the time) publisher Rockstar had another studio create Grand Theft Auto: London 1961 and the 1969 expansion pack that licensed music was used and became part of the GTA series’ vocabulary.

“That essentially broke the purity of the creative vision,” says Anderson. “I was kind of upset about that at the time, because I didn’t know anything about those products. They appeared from nowhere.”

Rockstar heads Sam Houser and Terry Donovan pushed for more licensed music going forward, whereas Colin Anderson and others wanted to feature original music by relatively unknown artists. Discrete radio stations allowed a mix of both familiar tunes and new songs, but licensed music became the norm.

That in-car radio station feature would eventually give us one of the best moments in gaming: The Take On Me sing-along in Saints Row 2.

The blast of nostalgia in Chip’s Challenge is free

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Chip’s Challenge, the simple grid puzzle game that first appeared on the Atari Lynx in 1989, is now free for your PC gaming pleasure. The title gained fame and fans when it was ported to Windows as part of Microsoft’s Entertainment Pack 4 in 1992 and the Best of Microsoft Entertainment Pack in 1995. PC players discovered how easy it was to create their own levels thanks to a simple text file that made modding possible. In fact, it proved so popular that creator Chuck Sommerville got to work on a sequel, Chip’s Challenge 2, which unfortunately wound up tangled in a legal battle that prevented a quick turnaround.

Sommerville eventually published both games on Steam in 2015 after beginning work on a legally unbound spiritual sequel called Chuck’s Challenge 3D. Now, Chip McCallahan’s adventure to woo Melinda is free for everyone to enjoy like it’s Windows ’95.

Left 4 Dead 2 isn’t dead

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The Last Stand Update, a collaborative PC community update for Left 4 Dead 2 officially sanctioned and created in cooperation with Valve, is coming. There’s even going to be a free weekend to celebrate the launch. The content will be released for Left 4 Dead 2 on September 24th and marks the first official content update for the game since 2012.

The content includes The Last Stand campaign, 26 new survival maps, 4 new scavenge maps, 30 new achievements, and 2 new melee weapons. There’s a whole list of other changes and improvements in the official trailer comments. It’s time to get back to zed-hunting with the game that popularized the zombie horde co-op genre.