Oh, what could have been. Thanks to a lovely bit of reporting from Eurogamer, we know that Obsidian may be one of the most jinxed studios in the history of game development, at least until relatively recently. Stormlands was going to be one of the flagship titles for the Xbox One (and potentially PC later on). A sprawling, unique RPG world that pushed boundaries in terms of imagination, scale, and technology, but sadly Microsoft pulled the plug on it in 2012.
Sad though it may be, don’t weep for Stormlands. We live in a golden age of PC RPGs.
Stormlands was envisioned as a Witcher-esque action-RPG, but with the addition of NPC party members offering direct assistance through context-sensitive cooperative moves, similar to what we’ve seen in Dragon’s Dogma or Final Fantasy 15. A large part of the pitch was what Microsoft called the Million Man Raid; a theoretical massively-scaled multiplayer event, where dozens or hundreds of parties could converge on a single world-threatening foe that could only be defeated through massive cooperation.
If that sounds unrealistic today, you probably know why. Sadly, a lot of Microsoft’s vision for Stormlands hinged on the game leveraging The Power Of The Cloud, which they so enthusiastically pitched as the industry-shattering debut feature of the Xbox One. Sadly, the cloud never quite materialised, signalling a dry spell that Microsoft's console fully recovered from. The best anyone got was a mild drizzle in the form of shared data such as Forza’s Drivatar system (which eventually made it to PC as well), which is nice enough… but not exactly on par with their proposed Million Man Raid.
While Stormlands was technically intended to be an Xbox One exclusive, we should well know after this year’s E3 that Microsoft’s definition of ‘exclusive’ tends to include the PC nine times out of ten. And thus comes one more painful twist to the tale. Thankfully, Obsidian are still going strong, with Tyranny receiving an expansion this week, South Park: The Fractured But Whole out next month, and the sprawling Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire set for release sometime in 2018. We wish them good fortune, and hope for fewer massive cancellations in future.