A lot of things can happen in a decade. You might be working for the resistance as you attempt to reclaim the world from the machines. Perhaps London will become the new Atlantis. Maybe you’ll have a bigger TV. Who cares about any of that, though? The important question is: what will today’s biggest game franchises look like?
If you’re more interested in the past, here are the best PC games of 2015.
Fallout 4’s gift to the series is one I doubt Bethesda is going to ignore as the franchise moves forward: settlement construction. It was fiddly as hell, laden with frustrating restrictions, and it didn’t have much purpose, but it was perhaps the greatest addition to the series. See, the Fallout universe has always felt a bit like it was in stasis. It’s been centuries since the bombs fell, but judging by society’s level of development and the games’ ramshackle settlement, you’d be forgiven for thinking it happened yesterday. Settlement construction went a long way to fixing that.
In a decade’s time, I think that taming the wasteland will be just as big a theme as blowing it up again and again. The modern Fallouts have been more about empowerment than survival, and what’s more empowering than rebuilding society? In Fallout 4, it felt like an experiment, but now that it’s proved to be a successful one – with players obsessively tending to all manner of post-apocalyptic homesteads – it would be mad if Bethesda put it back in its box.
Imagine how it could be expanded: instead of just assigning people to farms or stalls, you’re the mayor, solving disputes, organising patrols, meeting with the leaders of other settlements… there’s so much potential it could be its own game. A Fallout management sim? I’d sacrifice my non-existent first born for something like that. I’d sacrifice yours. As an aside, I am free to babysit on most weekday evenings as long as your first born doesn’t have a problem looking after itself while I get drunk and play loud videogames.
On the subject of babysitting, it would be nice to see Bethesda improve on its companion system. The leap between 3 and 4’s companions was ginormous, but they’re still just glorified packrats that repeat the same lines of dialogue over and over and over again. But! You can sort of date them and they react to your decisions. In ten years time? We’ll probably be 3D printing them and wedding them in an intimate, post-apocalyptic-themed ceremony.
It’s more challenging to predict the scale of future Fallouts. The Commonwealth of Fallout 4 is around twice the size of Fallout 3’s DC Wasteland, and densely packed to boot, but Bethesda doesn’t always make their sequels larger in terms of square miles. For instance, Oblivion is actually bigger than Skyrim, while Arena is the largest of them all. They do tend to become denser, however, and Fallout 4 added a level of verticality that previous games didn’t possess, so perhaps the future of Fallout is higher rather than bigger.
Since Altair climbed his first tower in 2007, Ubisoft have churned out nine Assassin’s Creed games, and that’s just in the main series – outside the main series it’s more like 20. The only way there won’t be Assassin’s Creed games in a decade’s time is if people stop buying them. By 2026, we might be up to 40 games in total, though recent rumours suggest that Ubisoft is dialing back the annual releases.
But what will it look like in ten year’s time? Towers, maps fat with icons, lots of historical murder – so probably the same as it’s looked over the last nine years. It’s not exactly a series with a history of taking risks.
I find myself surprisingly optimistic, however. We already know that the series has the power to occasionally surprise – Black Flag was a massive departure from the norm, and so is the Chronicles series – and Ubisoft’s already been making changes. Just look at the differences between Unity and Syndicate. The former was a beautiful, broken mess and possibly the worst offender when it came to fluff and maps full of meaningless diversions. Syndicate, though, with a new studio at the helm, scaled back the unimportant stuff, spaced out the potentially repetitive side-missions and made massive strides when it came to updating traversal so that it was fresh and fun again.
The next game is rumoured to take place in Egypt, and may not come out until 2017. Perhaps Unity actually did teach Ubisoft a lesson; certainly the publisher has admitted that it was a black mark they’re keen to wash away. I don’t expect gargantuan, game-changing improvements, but it does feel like Ubisoft has perhaps remembered what was fun about the series in the early days, and is now taking a more thoughtful approach.
Call of Duty
When I’m 120, people will still probably be playing Call of Duty, unless our robot overlords deem it illegal. Imagine a world without Activision’s annual shooter. Without an outlet, the world’s angry young men would probably organise and make assumptions about your sexual preference based on your aptitude with throwing knives right to your face while you’re eating your cornflakes.
In the slightly nearer future will the series still be familiar? I’m excited to think that it won’t be. For one: fancy exoskeletons and robo-soldiers might actually be a regular part of modern warfare, making them crap fodder for sci-fi. More importantly, though, the main campaign might actually be a selling point.
Madness, right? People buy CoD for the multiplayer; they don’t spend 50 quid for a five hour campaign full of corridors surrounded by window dressing and non-interactive set pieces. It’s a good thing that Black Ops III already changed that, then. Okay, so the campaign isn’t going to be fondly remembered for years to come – though I am a big fan of cyber-Christopher Meloni – but by making the campaign co-op and expanding the intricacy of the maps and the ways players can fight their way through them, Blops The Third breathed new life into an aspect of the series that’s been left to rot for too long.
Perhaps we’ll be done with annual releases as well. On PC at least, exhaustion has started to set in, and I’m just not sure if even Activision will keep on trying the same thing year in, year out. Sure, each Call of Duty is a massive seller, but it’s inconsistent game to game and player retention can fluctuate dramatically. A free-to-play model with perpetually updated multiplayer would make sense for the franchise and it’s a little strange that it’s not already made the move outside of China.
The future of Creative Assembly’s humongous strategy series is certainly looking brighter now than it was when the studio launched the disappointing – but now greatly improved – Rome II. Attila was one of the most transformative installments, Creative Assembly’s concept album, experimenting with new mechanics and systems that added layers of intrigue and tension the series had never possessed before.
The big question, whenever one attempts to predict the future of Total War, is what era it will take place in. But with Total War: Warhammer on the horizon, that question must be expanded. Now it’s not just a matter of era, but universe. It would have to be one where giant pitched battles featuring hordes of troops clash makes sense, but that hardly narrows it down. It doesn’t need to be an existing universe, either; though Creative Assembly has yet to make a wholly original world.
Wishful thinking time: 2026’s Total War will be a grand strategy game. Since Rome II, Total War has dabbled in politics, originally poorly, but with Attila it was a greater success. Family bickering, civil war, political intrigue – they’re all part of the war ecosystem. What I’m imagining, frankly, is a dangerous combination of Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis and Total War.
Don’t pretend you haven’t dreamed about it: the complexity and thoughtfulness of a Paradox game with the epic, testosterone-fuelled battles of Total War. It’s already so close. In Attila, I made my wife castrate my brother for planning to usurp the throne, which led to her being assassinated by members of my inner circle, and it doesn’t get much more CKII than that.
World of Warcraft
In 2026, World of Warcraft will be old enough to drink pretty much everywhere. And it will probably drink mightily, and well it should, because bloody hell that’s a long time for an MMO to keep ticking. It’s not crazy, though – Ultima Online will be 20 next year and Everquest will hit that milestone in 2019.
In 2014, Tom Chilton revealed that six or seven expansions were being planned, which would keep WoW in new content for the next decade. So we’re not talking about a gaming artefact being kept alive by digital archeologists. Keeping it profitable and popular for that long, however, that’s going to take some doing.
WoW was six years old when it got its first serious overall, Cataclysm, updating almost every part of vanilla WoW, including the eye candy. Blizzard smartly chose an art style that makes the game age well, but over the next decade it’s bound to be updated again. It might have to be an even bigger update than the controversial Cataclysm though, bringing big changes to the various expansion zones, like Outlands and Northrend, which already look significantly more dated than the rest of the game.
Blizzard have typically launched their expansions every two years or so, and aside from Mists of Pandaria, the expansions have all been released between November and January. With that in mind, the first future expansion, Legion, could very well drop at the end of the year.
I worry. I worry because it feels like Blizzard already perfected their MMO years ago, and since then they’ve just been adding more stuff. It’s monumentally huge now, and the vast majority of it is easy to miss as you whiz your way to the newest content. It’s become even more like a ride, and a ride with a shrinking – though still massive – audience. What will be done to shake it up? Not a year goes by without us wondering if now is the time when WoW will go F2P.
It’s the End of Days. In 2026, our children are no longer ours. They are minions of Microsoft, driven by a never-ending hunger for Minecraft videos. Not Minecraft itself, mind you. Only YouTubers play it now, but everyone watches it. Children watch it even before they’ve popped out of the womb, while adults are forced to by their diminutive overlords.
Humanity now measures time based on Minecraft’s update schedule, which sees new versions of the game appear ten or more times a year. In antiquity, otherwise known as 2015, we didn’t celebrate Christmas in December, because December no longer exists. We celebrated Christmas in 1.8.9.
It’s hard to imagine a time when we could go to the shops and not have a screaming child demanding that we buy them a blocky action figure based on a person who records videos of a game that they like. Who are these people, and how can we get some of their money?
In a gaudy pad in LA, Notch laughs. He hates us and he created Minecraft to destroy us. Microsoft probably didn’t realise until it was too late. We shouldn’t blame them; they are just playing their part. Wait… what’s that noise? It’s Herobrine, come to take the last of our children.
Hang on. Did I say 2026? I meant 2016.