As the Microsoft-Activision merger approaches, a classic FPS license reappears, for free

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heretic and Hexen are back in a curious way.”/>

Enlarge / This week, the classic RPG-FPS series Heretic and evil spell the series are back in a curious way.

While we at Ars Technica don’t necessarily cheer when giant gaming conglomerates gobble up other giant gaming conglomerates, we also have a faction that champions efforts to preserve and re-release classic video games. These two philosophies collided this week, leaving us a little dizzy.

The good news in the end: four underrated classics from the id Software universe are closer to a wider re-release and are currently free to download. This appears to be related to Microsoft’s planned $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard’s vast catalog of game development and publishing properties.

An announcement Thursday from Microsoft’s Xbox division confirmed that five “Bethesda” video games are now available for modern Windows PCs through the Microsoft Store, albeit via an unusual path. These games, including the first two old scrolls adventures and three handset fantasy tinted shooters Heretic and evil spell series, should be accessible through the Xbox Insider hub on Windows 10 and Windows 11 PCs, as they were “previews” intended to solicit “feedback”. Joining the Xbox Insider Hub on Windows PCs is free and doesn’t require a Game Pass subscription, meaning these games are now free to download for participating members (at least until MS revokes their availability on the Insider hub).

A welcome return to D’Sparil’s Dome

It only takes a moment to see why these games would receive such a soft, Insider Hub-bound launch, as they currently run through DOSBox emulation – a clunky system that recreates the old-school feeling of booting up your favorite old games. on a text-only command prompt. For anyone expecting Windows Store game launches to “just work”, the results are inelegant, especially allowing players to adjust visual options or remap controls. Still, they do the job and they come highly recommended as gifts.

But that’s not why we’re here; after all, the same antiquated builds had been on sale on storefronts like GOG and Steam for years. And they remain highly recommended FPS classics wherever you buy and play them, because they injected the kinds of fantasy and RPG-related benefits the genre desperately needed in its 90s heyday. (The original earthquake was close to delivering similar systems before its developers abandoned such aspirations in the face of development pressure and crisis.)

Rather, the Heretic and evil spell the games are notable for being in publishing limbo for years. When Microsoft acquired Bethesda and its publisher and developer subsidiaries in late 2020, the resulting addition of Bethesda-related games to Xbox Game Pass, an apparent flex of newly owned licenses, was not complete. This was no doubt due to the service’s focus on consoles, which excluded older PC-only games, but over the next few months the PC-specific Game Pass tier never tasted like games. specific. Which made us wonder: Was it a question of crossed license threads?

This is where things get confusing. If you watch this week Heretic and evil spell games on digital storefronts, they list id Software as the publisher – and once Microsoft owned id as part of the Bethesda acquisition, you’d think that’s where this topic begins and ends. However, Activision acquired the developers of these games from Raven Software in 1997, and as part of the deal Activision took over all ownership rights for the handset. Heretic and evil spell series. Adding to the confusion, id Software is listed on digital storefronts as a 1998 publisher Hexene IIbut this is technically incorrect, even though at some point this game has been for sale on the old Bethesda launcher. Thus, we cannot say that Steam’s id credit as an alumni publisher Heretic and evil spell games are accurate either. (In any case, we haven’t yet seen any hints of Hexene II land on the Xbox Insider Hub.)

A way to re-taste beef Strogg-anoff

It’s unclear whether Microsoft, Activision, and Bethesda ironed out a few small licensing issues ahead of the closing of the corporate triad acquisition before opening the bigger floodgates to series like Call of Duty. This is just an educated guess at this time, as Bethesda representatives did not respond to Ars’ questions prior to publication.

The emergence this week of Activision-related software on Microsoft’s platforms follows the late June launch of Earthquake IVThe PC version of on the same Xbox Insider Hub interface. (This version is also completely free, no Game Pass subscription required.) This 2005 shooter was also made without the involvement of id Software, which at the time was led by Raven Software and Activision. But it does have a clearer, Activision-free path to joining Xbox Game Pass, as Bethesda jumped through the proper hoops to release the game’s official re-release in 2012. Still, that game’s absence from the aforementioned dump of the Game Pass 2020 has us wondering there were still a few Activision licensing issues to resolve.

We haven’t seen yet Earthquake IVThe Xbox 360 version is coming to modern hardware like the Xbox Series X, and Microsoft has previously said it’s done adding more classic games to its library of backward compatible consoles. Still, we’re hoping this Insider Hub access on PC could mean the series gets a second lease on console life – and it seems to be teasing that Xbox Game Pass subscribers, at least on PC, will soon be able to sample a more historical record. full of id Shooting software.

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