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Elden Ring Isn’t Made for All Gamers. I Wish It Were

Elden Ring Isn’t Made for All Gamers. I Wish It Were

Elden Ring is the front-runner for 2022’s game of the year. Reviewers are fawning over it. It’s the title the entire gaming community is talking about and that everyone wants to play. The hype sounds like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild all over again, and that one ended up being so beloved it became one of the best-selling video games of all time. Elden Ring, however, will never achieve that status—the gameplay is just too grueling to appeal to every player.

FromSoftware, the developer behind Elden Ring, is responsible for notoriously difficult games, namely the Dark Souls franchise. They’re designed to challenge the player with constant death, something I—as a parent with limited gaming time—remain very uninterested in. But I wanted to try Elden Ring for a couple of reasons. First, FromSoftware previously addressed the difficulty concerns, noting that while there wouldn’t be difficulty levels (no easy mode!), the game’s open world wouldn’t be quite so challenging, because you could simply avoid a fight until you were ready. (Uh, OK.) Second, I was intrigued by the environment of Elden Ring, which creator Hidetaka Miyazaki built with George R. R. Martin.

Then I died five times in 30 minutes and gave up; the frustration completely negated any fun there was to be had. Elden Ring just isn’t for me—but I wish it was.

I want to explore this open world that people are lauding, to experience its story. I also wouldn’t mind a challenge. (Just because I like easy mode doesn’t mean I crave zero adversity.) But FromSoftware’s insistence on keeping the game nearly impossible for non-elite players feels foolhardy. There’s a lot more to Elden Ring than dying all the time; why not allow a wider audience to experience it?

Screenshot of Elden Ring game featuring characters fighting with magic
Photograph: Bandai Namco Entertainment

In many ways, the discussion about Elden Ring isn’t actually about Elden Ring at all. It’s about who’s allowed to have a voice in gaming, and which segments of gamers are catered to. It’s about the very existence of difficulty modes being abhorrent to a small but vocal subset of gamers, and the toxic discourse over easy mode. If you can’t “git gud,” as they say, you shouldn’t be gaming at all.

From BioWare to Beer: How Greg Zeschuk Makes Dreams Come True

From BioWare to Beer: How Greg Zeschuk Makes Dreams Come True

As a medical student in the 1990s, BioWare cofounder Greg Zeschuk told his future wife that if he could, he’d make video games for a living. But he knew better than to plan his life around it. “It was a pipe dream,” is how he put it back then.

The story of how the pipe dream became a reality—one that saw BioWare turn out blockbuster games including Mass Effect, Baldur’s Gate, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic before being sold to Electronic Arts along with another company for $860 million in 2007—is something of a folk legend in Edmonton, Alberta, where Zeschuk has spent most of his life.

Now Zeschuk, 53, is living another dream: He’s started a brewing company, Blind Enthusiasm, and he runs two microbreweries, the Market and the Monolith, along with a restaurant, Biera, which is considered one of the hottest eateries in his hometown.

Zeschuk always liked beer, and long before it was considered cool to visit craft breweries, he made a point of doing so whenever he was in the United States. However, it wasn’t until he began spending extended amounts of time at BioWare’s Austin, Texas, office in 2007 and 2008 that he developed a genuine passion for brewing as a business.

The craft beer scene in the Texas capital was exploding, and during the rare time Zeschuk wasn’t working on games, he checked out local breweries. A naturally curious person, he soon began interviewing brewers and posting the videos online as “The Beer Diaries.”

In 2017, the PBS affiliate in Austin approached him about doing a bigger, international version of “The Beer Diaries.” Zeschuk had been retired from BioWare for five years by then; running a company had run him into the ground, especially the near-constant travel that kept him from his wife and children in Edmonton.

Still, he wasn’t ready to settle down. He was considering saying yes to PBS. Then his wife pointed out the obvious.

“You quit games because you were traveling so much, and now you want to do a show where you travel around the world and interview brewers?” she asked.

Forced to reassess his priorities, Zeschuk opted for a different angle. “I thought I could make beer,” he says. “I could build a business that made beer. And that’s kind of what happened.”

Alberta is an ideal place to brew. The province’s barley, one of its main agricultural exports, is among the world’s best. Hops grow like weeds, though the market for the Alberta-grown product isn’t nearly as established as that for hops from neighboring British Columbia and the northwestern United States.

For years, the provincial craft beer industry was constrained by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, whose stringent regulations made it nearly impossible for small brewers to gain a foothold.

“They said you had to make 5,000 hectoliters a year to start a brewery,” recalls Zeschuk, whose two facilities currently make around 1,000 hectoliters a year. “All the little startups, the ones with two people working in a storage warehouse, they couldn’t do it because they weren’t big enough.”

That changed in 2013, a year after Zeschuk retired. The handful of small craft brewers who had managed to make a go of things—some by brewing their products in British Columbia—had formed a professional organization, the Alberta Small Brewers Association. They were looking for an executive director. Zeschuk was looking for something to do.

Total War: Warhammer III Is an Epic Final Chapter

Total War: Warhammer III Is an Epic Final Chapter

A horde of grotesque beasts and slavering monsters led by an impossibly huge, flying horned demon wielding a flaming sword threatens to sweep my army away. Arrows, spears, and axes rain down upon impervious scales and gleaming armor. My terrified frontline is already giving ground as this monstrous force drives up the slope. Ammunition is dwindling. When the demon flies overhead, diving to attack from behind, my soldiers waver. They are ready to flee—until my ice queen charges into the melee atop a roaring war bear, unleashing spells that freeze our enemies. She turns the tide. We live to fight another day.

Total War: Warhammer III is the culmination of the finest strategy series ever made, and this is a hill I am willing to die on. This latest entry (available on PC and Xbox Game Pass) hosts the usual struggle for dominance between disparate factions—some familiar, some new—but for the first time, we must rally our troops and lead them into the Chaos Realm to face horrors that will challenge their very sanity.

The scale of this game is incredible, with a campaign map that dwarfs its predecessors, new playable factions with different styles, and a compelling narrative that weaves in your aged Advisor and his Tome of Fates. Veterans will feel right at home with this blend of real-time battle and turn-based strategy, but there is an excellent tutorial to refresh your memory and arm newcomers with the knowledge they need to march into battle.

The Evolution of Total War

Screenshot of Total War WARHAMMER III game featuring characters fighting
Courtesy of Creative Assembly

The Total War series captivated me at inception with Shogun: Total War back in 2000. I have fought for the glory of Rome, unified China, and led Napoleon to victory in Europe. I even watched Time Commanders, a strange TV show where historians (with little to no experience of video games) reenacted famous Roman battles in the game that became Rome: Total War. The chance to rewrite history was tantalizing, but the tactics and military units employed by different nations often came to feel very much the same.

The fantasy world of Warhammer freed Total War from the limitations of historical accuracy and Warhammer II was a game you could play forever. Stirring magic into the mix invigorated the series with elves, goblins, dwarves, undead hordes led by vampires, and abominations from the chaos realm, alongside human factions echoing chivalrous knights or Vikings. Playing as different factions meant adopting new tactics, understanding divergent underlying mechanics to grow civilizations, and satisfying disparate goals to achieve victory.

In Warhammer III, you can choose from seven factions (eight if you preordered). The human options are the familiar Kislev (clearly inspired by medieval Russia) and the Grand Cathay (based on imperial China); then there are the four Chaos Gods (Khorne, Tzeentch, Nurgle, and Slaanesh) and the Daemons of Chaos (allowing you to play as the winged and horned Daemon Prince I mentioned earlier). The first downloadable content (included for anyone who preordered) is the grotesque Ogre Kingdoms, which views all enemies as food for the Great Maw.

As always, you battle for dominance of a campaign map. But while you can win by destroying certain factions and maintaining control of 50 provinces, there is another path to victory.

The Chaos Realm

Screenshot of Total War WARHAMMER III game featuring large demon character in snow
Courtesy of Creative Assembly

The great Bear-God Urson is a prisoner to upstart Daemon Prince Be’lakor, and his periodic death throes open rifts in your world. Your faction leader can take an army through these portals to the bizarre domains of the four Chaos Gods. By completing the trials, you can face off against each of them and claim a Daemon Prince’s soul. Collect all four souls, and you can take on the big bad Be’lakor and seal Urson’s fate.

Each of the chaos realms has its own style. The main challenge is to defeat a series of armies to reach the showdown, but things are spiced up by temptations that may divert you from your path. Competing factions are also racing to claim those souls, so you must wrestle with a series of agonizing decisions.

Rewilding Asks: What Will You Do After the Climate Apocalypse?

Rewilding Asks: What Will You Do After the Climate Apocalypse?

Roads got so hot in the Pacific Northwest this past summer that the pavement cracked and buckled. Hurricane season grows longer every year. As the polar ice dwindles and wildfires level suburban backyards, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine life as it exists in the game Rewilding—scorched, smoggy, and devoid of life as we know it.

Rewilding, under development by indie studio Heavy Meadow and the recent recipient of a grant from the NYU Game Center, begins in the 2200s, after we’ve snuffed out America’s ecosystems and retreated to resilient megacities.

The main character, Syd, has been tasked with restoring a small parcel of land in Upstate New York, transforming a barren waste into a functional ecosystem. They’re employed by ReGen, a megacorporation that sees restoring the planet not as a moral imperative, but as a juicy opportunity for a tax break. If that wasn’t fraught enough, the rewilding process will take hundreds of years, so Syd manages their little chunk of greenery between extremely long naps in a cryogenic pod.

Syd is rightfully skeptical of ReGen’s intentions. Their questions about the value of the work is offset by the bubbly pronouncements of an AI companion who’s been programmed for blind optimism about the project. Together, they monitor soil conditions and plant seedlings, then check back in as the years fly by to see the results.

Rewilding, with its focus on the degradation of the natural world and the possibility of restoring it, belongs to a long tradition of games that grapple with environmental issues. 1997’s Final Fantasy VII influenced an entire generation of young gamers by casting large corporate polluter Shinra as the villain and a group of scrappy eco-terrorists as heroes. Another PlayStation RPG, 1999’s Chrono Cross, explores humanity’s careless extinction of other species and asks if we deserve to live at all. Games like Okami and Flower let players bring vibrant ecosystems back to life.

It’s no surprise that as climate change transitions from disquieting possibility to lived experience, games that incorporate environmental collapse into their themes or mechanics are increasingly common. But many of them offer easy solutions to complex problems. The lone protagonist of 2016’s critically acclaimed Abzû can bring balance to the ocean’s ecosystems in a single afternoon. Okami‘s celestial paintbrush restores nature with divine power.

Other recent games with environmental themes indulge in naive fantasies about the control of nature, rewarding players for mastery over it. Terra Nil, another game about rewilding promoted as a “reverse city builder,” falls into familiar patterns, exploring nature as a resource to be managed. Its top-down perspective evokes a godlike dominance over the landscape, taking the ruined earth as a blank canvas on which mankind can start fresh.

Rewilding offers a bleaker but more sophisticated portrayal of the end of the world. Its development team set out from the beginning to emphasize the player’s lack of control. In a wide-ranging interview with WIRED, Rewilding‘s creators stress that they wanted to make something that questioned the extractive calculus of farming simulators and other resource management games.

This Fallout TV Show Is a Terrible Idea—Unless It’s a Comedy

This Fallout TV Show Is a Terrible Idea—Unless It’s a Comedy

Ever since Cats of Zero Wing delivered the oddly worded threat “all your base are belong to us” some 30 years ago, the writing in video games has been received with varying levels of enthusiasm. Often, it’s denounced as stilted, hackneyed, and just plain nonsensical. At the same time, it has become a much loved, instantly recognizable genre unto itself. While the earliest iconically bad dialog mostly derived from poor translations—like Magneto in the 1992 X-Men arcade game introducing himself as “Magneto, master of magnet!” and shouting “Welcome … to die!”—a lot of it has been terrible all on its own: Peter Dinklage, for example, tried to take a subtle approach to the lines he was fed in Destiny and sounded unmistakably like he’d been drugged.

Infamously, Hollywood has spent billions of dollars trying to adapt game franchises into movies and TV shows, yet decades since a goggling Dennis Hopper horrified children across the world with his turn as Nintendo’s Bowser, it still hasn’t succeeded. The latest show about to embark on this quest? Fallout. News broke earlier this month that Amazon is working on an adaptation of Bethesda’s game franchise, and on paper a post-apocalyptic, retro-futuristic wasteland—a bombed out version Don Draper’s Manhattan, with robot butlers—sounds like a prestige TV slam dunk. But here’s the problem: The game’s creator has done more to advance the idea that video game writing is awful than any other modern studio. From furious orphans in Fallout to lusty Argonian maids in The Elder Scrolls, characters frequently engage in what players, who catalog the moments on YouTube, call “Bethesda dialog.” Endless examples abound. Fallout 4 alone had 111,000 recorded lines and now some unlucky screenwriters are going to have to weave together the franchise’s dire plots with 7-foot yellow mutants bickering about who has to “collect more humans.”

This isn’t to say it’s impossible. Porting the franchise to TV will allow the show’s writers to refine clunky exchanges and capture the series’ epic lore, but sometimes giving a messy idea more room to sprawl only makes more mess. Instead, to truly adapt what Bethesda hath wrought with Fallout there may only be one solution: Make it a surreal comedy.

One of the main reasons Bethesda has been able to get away with being so hokey for so long—the reason their games are still popular meme fodder years after release—is that the dialog takes place in a game. It contains tension. It plays out like a debate, invigorated by the suspense of choosing the right thing to say. Turn that into something where the player/viewer lacks agency, where a scriptwriter has made the decision for them, and it falls flat. The internet has repeatedly pointed out that the dialog in the original Fallouts and Fallout New Vegas is superior to other entries. Yet even New Vegas’ endgame conversation with the red-feathered, gold-masked warlord Legate Lanius is less of a thrill if you’re not the one trying to convince him not to sack the Hoover Dam.

Often viewers, particularly critics, miss what is great about a piece of art because they come to it expecting it to fulfill some preconceived expectation—in this case, recognizably human conversation. But what if they—and by “they” I mean Fallout’s screenwriters—didn’t? Bethesda, unintentionally or not (and probably more intentionally than people give them credit for), create bizarrely surreal worlds. In one of the first pieces I wrote for WIRED, about the comedic uncanniness of bad artificial intelligence in video games, I quoted the academic Peter Stockwell, who argues it is “incongruity” that defines surrealist humor—jokes which “draw attention to their own landscapes as absurd landscapes … and resist sustained immersion.” Bethesda’s worlds are Truman Show–like dream worlds, populated by automaton people who live out their lives in absurdist cycles.

This absurdity extends to the writing, whether it is experienced through the white on-screen text or overheard as chance encounters. Bethesda’s dialog is combinatory, feeling like each line is only tangentially related to the next. Popularly, most people are aware of this type of speech in the work of David Lynch: the cryptic statements, the disconcerting pauses, the non-sequiturs, the feeling that the characters are speaking into thin air, off cue cards, rather than to each other. Bethesda’s worlds are similarly compelling. The studio has taken two of the most overused modern settings—fantasy and apocalypse—and injected them with chaos. Clichéd characters—Elder Scrolls’ Fithragaer, the smiling elf, for example—often end up in horrifically dark situations, like cheerfully bidding the player “farewell” as he is launched into a stone pillar trap. Bethesda games are anti-immersive, constantly alienating their players by drawing attention to the existence of the game itself. This is the ultimate dark joke about Bethesda’s characters: They aren’t just living through the apocalypse, or fighting off dragons in a Tolkien-lite world; they are trapped in a wildly incompetent game.