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Our 35 Most Anticipated Games of 2018 (Part 2)

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2017 was such an incredible year for video games that chances are, most gamers will be playing catch up with all the great titles they didn’t have a chance to play well into 2018. And if you are one of those gamers and you have a large backlog of games, you best get started soon because 2018 looks to be another banner year for the industry.

We here at Goomba Stomp have gone ahead with our yearly tradition of providing you with a list of our most anticipated games. Last year, almost every game we chose wound up somewhere in our list of the best games of the year. Hopefully, the majority of these picks will equally impress us, if not, exceed our expectations. Here is the second part of our list.

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The Last of Us Part II

It’s a testament to the brilliance of the 2013 original that, despite having released only two inscrutable if tantalising trailers to date (trailers which ask far more questions than they answer), The Last of Us Part II won the award for most anticipated forthcoming title at the 2017 Video Game Awards just a couple of short weeks ago.

I mean, aside from creator Neil Druckmann’s declaration at the 2016 PlayStation Experience that an older, wiser, more bitter Ellie will be taking over protagonist duties from Joel, the only specific information we have regarding the highly-anticipated sequel is that the game will focus on hate, rather than love, and will feature a mysterious cult characterised by its penchant for disembowelment and disarming people (almost literally) with household tools.

But, for fans like myself, that’s more than enough to be going on with. We know inimitable developer Naughty Dog is at the helm, after all, which in turn means we can reasonably expect to be enjoying another rich and engrossing narrative when we finally get our hands on the game, filled to bursting with incredible characters, high-octane action set-pieces, and zombified fungus mutants inspired by a BBC nature documentary; set within a post-apocalypse that never feels tired and derivative.

With no release window provided as yet, let alone a definitive date, however, I’d say there’s a better than even chance we won’t see The Last of Us Part II until 2019 at the earliest. Still, we can dream.

Mega Man 11

The last few years have been rough for retro-style game fans. Kickstarter has been a rough place to be if you’re a fan of a particular developer, as dev teams and directors behind titles like Banjo-Kazooie and the original Mega Man floundered to recapture what made those games special (even if other people have already done that for them). It seemed like there was no hope for a new “blue bomber” following the disappointment of Mighty No. 9. Capcom had been quiet and resting and their laurels, and maybe throwing a bone to fans every once in a while with Mega Man cameos in fighting games or HD repackagings… at least until the past winter when we got our first look at Mega Man 11.

I am of the mindset that I never want to go in getting too excited about things until I’ve had a chance to play them, but Mega Man 11 is one of those few rule breakers. The visual style in the trailer feels like a natural evolution of the franchise. I know there are plenty of people who would want to see a continuation of the pixel style seen in 9 and 10, but Capcom has done the franchise some visual justice that no other fan-game or “creator revival” has ever done. Sleek, stylish, and back on track, Mega Man is looking to make an amazing return in 2018. (Taylor Smith)

Metroid Prime 4

No, it hasn’t been officially confirmed for release in 2018, but a sequel to one of the greatest series of all time bears exception. Announced back at E3 2017 during one of Nintendo’s greatest E3 presentations in recent memory, Metroid Prime 4 looks to build upon an impressive resume set by the previous three games and bring yet another heavy hitter to Nintendo’s hottest selling console. While we’ve seen nary a hair of Metroid Prime 4, the game remains Nintendo’s largest on the horizon and one that, if it lives up to expectations, is sure to bring about a new era of excellence for the Switch and fans of the Metroid series alike. (Iszak Barnette)

Metro Exodus

Despite the industry move to largely online experiences, we are somewhat spoiled for great single-player shooters. The recent Doom and Wolfenstein games from Machine Games, the Far Cry and Shadow Warrior series, and indie titles like Dusk or Immortal Redneck have all kept the torch lit in the early days of gaming alight. One series that’s done extremely well was the Metro series, based on the post-apocalyptic novels by Dmitry Glukhovsky, and after an extended gap, we’re finally returning to the beautiful hell of the Moscow underground.

Or rather, partially returning, as from the two explosive trailers reveal that much of this game is going to take place topside, and the name itself alludes to leaving Moscow in search of something better. Once again players will be filling the radiated shoes of Artyom, a young but skilled ranger who seems adept at surviving everything the Metro can throw at him. There are monsters of both the beast and man variety, cobbled together weapons, and new to Exodus is the inclusion of large, non-linear levels that you’ll explore with your punk-as-hell Russian steam engine. Overall it looks like what fans loved from the series is still going to be there, but this time it’s bringing a lot more to the table, and that’s more than enough to get excited about. (Andrew Vandersteen)

Mulaka

Mulaka is an action-adventure game created by Mexican developer Lienzo, due to be released early this year. Inspired by the ancient culture and mythology of the Tarahumara tribe, Mulaka looks absolutely stunning, bringing a curious ?kami vibe entangled with the animatic charm of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

The setting of ancient America is unique in itself, with the beautiful spirit of nature residing across the map and in the people you meet; the ability to transform into some of Mexico’s and ancient America’s most spiritual animals, such as a bear or an eagle, appears to be part of solving some of the puzzles. The adventure confronts you with many challenges, particularly some gorgeously animated creatures that each require different techniques to defeat. From the Nintendo Direct last year, some appear to be based on the Native American myth of the Chenoo, a kind of elemental golem from the region.

The emphasis on ancient American cultures, combined with gameplay inspired by The Legend of Zelda, places Mulaka as one of the games to watch for this year. It’s already won the award for the best game in the National Games MX Contest, and with its release imminent, we will all soon find out why. (James Baker)

Monster Hunter World

Monster Hunter finally makes the leap back to home consoles this month, and fans are simply foaming at the mouth to get back into the hunt. Luckily, Capcom has provided players with a couple betas to whet their appetites, and the impressions are very promising. The basic Monster Hunter feel is alive and well in World, with weapons feeling fairly similar to how they felt in previous entries. The maps themselves feel dense and convoluted, with tons of secret paths and an opening connecting one area to the next. The loading times have also been completely removed thanks to the more powerful hardware, which is a blessing to longtime fans of the series.

However, there have been tons of quality of life improvements to the formula to help newer players get into the game. Glitterbugs help you track monsters and not get lost in the gigantic landscapes. Items can now be mapped to a selection wheel to make them easier to use mid-combat. There are also more movement options like swinging on vines and mounting monsters. It all works perfectly and feels like a natural evolution of the franchise.
The monsters themselves have never looked more intimidating. Their behavior patterns change depending on their surroundings, such as what other creatures are around them. For example, the Barroth will roll around in muddy areas to cover itself with a shield. The players can also use the environment to their advantage to deal damage to the monsters, such as knocking one down a waterfall. These new offensive options are a blast to take advantage of, and it will be interesting to see what other types of landscapes the finished product will have.
Monster Hunter World is shaping up to be one of the best entries in the series history. Capcom has also promised the inclusion of free monsters via DLC, which is a nice change of pace for the industry. Hopefully, the full release will maintain the depth that the series is known for. (Zack Rezak)

Necrobarista

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t realize that Melbourne has a unique coffee-house culture; but it does. Route 59 is delving deep into that world with their upcoming game, Necrobarista. In the demo previewed at PAX West, players got a chance to peek into the game’s stylishly supernatural world. With its mix of anime-inspired character designs (somewhere between FLCL and Cowboy Bebop) and somber magical-realist environments, Necrobarista is nothing if not visually striking.

Although people have described it as a 3D visual novel, Necrobarista pushes the boundaries of what most may expect from the genre. In lieu of static backgrounds and stiff character sprites, Necrobarista uses a highly stylized and cinematic presentation to place the reader into its world. Through a mix of kinetic typography, interactive environments, and dynamic camera movements, the game feels detailed, deliberate, and alive.

Blocks of dreamy prose float amidst the half-shadowed dusty air of a coffee-house cellar. The world seems to hold its breath as focus shift onto two figures opposite each other at a table. One beat. Two. Electric pulses that jolt back and forth, the camera moving and swaying to the rhythm. A necromancing barista and a ghost who wants to fight for time.

While Necrobarista’s PAX demo only gave me a sip of the game, it was enough to have me eagerly awaiting its release. (Kyle Rogacion)

Ooblets

Ooblets is the mishmash of Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Pokemon that you never knew you wanted. Developed solely by two-person team Glumberland and published by Double-Fine, Ooblets’ greatest asset is its overly abundant cuteness and charm. The game is aesthetically similar to both Slime Rancher and Adventure Time—not necessarily in art style, but in overall tone and atmosphere. It’s evident even in its early stages that Glumberland has done a splendid job of creating a world that feels supremely inviting, silly and comforting.

Aside from just feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, there seems like there’ll be a ton to do in the world of Oob. Players start out in a small town where they can decorate and furnish their own little homes and fully customize their characters. Everyone gets a little farm to both grow ooblets and food for them, though the exact number of attainable ooblets has yet to be revealed. Once you have a decent party of ooblets you’ll be able to go out and explore the land complete with location-specific ooblets and characters. Many questions remain about the finer details of the game (i.e. can you have a home in every location? What’s the game’s endgoal? Are there gyms or competitions like in Pokemon?), but the groundwork is already laid for what could be a magical experience later this year. (Brent Middleton)

Project Octopath Traveler

Not to be its release title, Project Octopath Traveler is an upcoming RPG by Square Enix and Acquire with no official release date other than this year. The game puts players in the roles of eight different characters, all who start the game in very different ways. Each character has a unique ability that can be used when interacting with NPCs, for example; Primrose can allure characters to follow her, while Olberic can challenge characters to battle him. These unique abilities ensure every game of Project Octopath Traveler is different.

The game features turn-based battles, with a variety of weapons and elemental magic used to defeat your foes. Playable characters receive boost points, which can be stored up five at a time. During their turn, a player can use three boost points to boost a command, allowing the player to increase an ability.

The games unique animation style, coined as ‘HD-2D’ by the developers, is quite the beautiful feat. It combines 16-bit style character sprites and textures with polygonal environments and high definition effects. The gorgeous art-style is enough to put this as a game to watch out for in 2018, and hopefully, it’ll release sooner rather than later. (James Baker)

Red Dead Redemption 2

It’s probably safe to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 is the most anticipated game of 2018.Red Dead Redemption was an astounding game set in the American West. The first game was a masterpiece of western mythology and gun-slinging action. It combined the wonder of roaming the open plains with one of gaming’s best narrative stories. Like a trusty horse, Red Dead Redemption 2 is saddled with heavy expectation. Even today, Red Dead Redemption holds up amazingly well, and Rockstar announced a sequel, well a prequel, back in late 2016, and fans are chomping at the bit to immerse themselves again in the well-defined world of the unforgiving American heartland. There’s not too terribly much to know about the game, Rockstar studios are very good at keeping the lid on whatever project they’re working on. What we do know is the possible foundation- our main character is Arthur Morgan, a troubled cowboy who has riled band of people across the Wild West intent on pursuing him. There’s a possibility of seven playable characters, with the possibility of John Marston being one of them, along with the open world will lead to a mass online multiplayer experience. Red Dead Redemption 2 is set to release in the 2nd quarter or late spring of 2018. (Katrina Lind)

Sea of Thieves

Titles like Assassins’ Creed: Black Flag and Blackwake have both proven there’s a market for pirate-themed games, a market that gaming legends Rare are looking to step into with their coop pirate-sim Sea of Thieves, releasing on PC and X1 on March 20. The feature list is exhaustive, and it’s clear that this definitely needs to be on the map of anyone looking for a new coop game for their group.

Everything’s better with friends, and in Sea of Thieves that everything seems to be all-encompassing, as every action can and should be done with a group. Be that sailing across the seas, battling other ships, searching for treasure, and taking down the undead hordes that guard the riches. Even better is the promised connectivity, allowing groups to work together, or more likely duke it out both at sea and on land.

Finally, the entire thing is covered in that Rare sheen, a mix of serious craftsmanship coupled with a great sense of humour. You can fire yourself out of a cannon, eat bananas to stay healthy, and the game never seems to take itself too seriously. Everything shown about the game seems to point to a great experience, and this is certainly one to watch in the spring release window. (Andrew Vandersteen)

Shin Megami Tensei V

Hoping for a 2018 release on this one is probably a long-shot, especially since we only just recently had the official announcement that the upcoming Switch game is Shin Megami Tensei V. ATLUS has an amazing track record when it comes to their flagship series, and SMTV looks like the console-based SMT game fans wanted out of IV. There’s nothing wrong SMTIV, it’s a beautiful game, and I think being on the 3DS did it wonders in terms of sales and tolerability, but I’m happy to be back on a console with high-end graphics. The painterly style MegaTen games adopted in the PS2-era is one of my favorites, I love dramatic cel-shading. Shin Megami Tensei V’s trailer shows off a lot of the game’s visuals, and they look awesome in HD. (Taylor Smith)

Spider-Man

The idea of a 3D Spider-Man video game sounds like heaven, but it’s not something that has been executed all that well more than perhaps once.

Many hold 2004’s Spider-Man 2 (a loose adaptation of the Sam Raimi-directed movie of the same name) in the highest esteem, touting it as the best Spider-Man game to ever exist. There’s ample reason for that, as the game was able to successfully transfer the feeling of freedom that comes with being Spider-Man, swinging around NYC all fluid and parkour-ish, like never before. There was an emphasis on movement and, frankly, style, that Spider-Man games since have foregone.

Instead, in recent years, there has been a push to linear, controlled experiences in video game outings with Spidey. While there’s nothing wrong with that idea (outside of the games being poorly received, critically), the prospect of a modern Spider-Man game that could potentially bring back the skyscraper-swinging adventures which we’ve been missing for over a decade is, well, pretty amazing.

Translating “being Spider-Man” into a believable video game is not an easy task, as there might be a bigger demand for believability and (somewhat) realism from mainstream gamers today. But, as Rocksteady did with Batman in Arkham Asylum (a game Insomniac’s Spider-Man is taking very obvious gameplay cues from, with its sneaking and combat elements), it’s all within the realm of possibility in the hands of the right team. If Sunset Overdrive is anything to go by, though, then this might indeed be the right team over at Insomniac.

While what we’ve seen so far does show some worrying signs of shoe-horned fan service within the weak-looking story (lol Miles get it?) and hand-holding quick-time event scenarios where the player simply, passively, watches Spider-Man do cool stuff (like in the Uncharted series), we’ve also seen enough of the combat and movement mechanics that should give us hope that Insomniac will let us, once again, “be” Spider-Man. (Maxwell N)

Vampyr

Since making its E3 debut in 2016, DONTNOD Entertainment have been crafting a cutting-edge, RPG experience that takes players back to 1918 London at the height of the Spanish-flu pandemic. As newly-turned vampire Dr. Jonathan Reid, players will find themselves constantly at battle with other creatures of the night—vampire hunters, undead Skal—and the monster within themselves. Choose between honoring the doctor’s hippocratic oath to save London’s citizens from death, or choose to satiate the doctor’s blood lust?

It’s a huge, messy conundrum the Life is Strange developers have created—a winding, interconnected web of consequences that give players the potential to destroy entire districts should they become too thirsty or too hell-bent on destruction. And making decisions between life and death will not always be easy, but this system is at the heart of Vampyr’s gameplay. Players will have to decide who to feed on, and who to spare, conscious of their need to increase their strength to prevail in combat. Jonathan’s vampire impulses will always be working against his human side, however.

Combat difficulty can be affected by player actions out of combat. Feeding, for example, provides massive XP boosts that make combat easier but can come with narrative consequences. Combat also allows Johnathan to fill his Blood Gauge; the fuller it gets, the more destructive spells and abilities he can unleash on his enemies. As players gain XP, new items on their non-linear skill tree unlock. The items can be unlocked in any order, which allows players to create their own archetypes to match their play styles.

Oh, and one other caveat—all decisions are final, so there’s no piecing back together a completely demolished London. Vampyr is slated for release Spring 2018. (Joanna Nelius)

The Walking Dead: The Final Season

While many people seem to have become somewhat bored by the repetitive nature of The Walking Dead television series – Rick’s group of resolute, at times morally questionable but ultimately good band of survivors encounter an unscrupulous rival gang, more often than not led by a charismatic leader, who they then proceed to wage war against for a season or two before triumphing – it’s fair to say that same sense of déjà vu hasn’t affected Telltale Games’ superb interactive drama series of the same name.

Over the course of four seasons, not counting the stand-alone Michonne mini-series that released in 2016, Telltale’s The Walking Dead has treated us to some truly compelling stories, changing cast and setting on a routine basis to ensure fans of the zombie apocalypse sub-genre always have something new and interesting to sink their teeth into. However, though this formula has been invaluable, the key to its success has been Clementine: an unlikely heroine who holds these disparate narratives together. And it’s the opportunity to conclude her arduous tale of seemingly endless suffering, punctuated with the occasional ray of sunshine, that has me and many others excited for next year’s finale.

Story details are thin on the ground at this stage, but it seems safe to assume the first episode at the very least will follow Clem’s attempts to locate and reunite with her adopted son AJ. What happens thereafter is harder to pin down, though, given that The Walking Dead is hardly known for its happily ever after’s, we can be similarly confident that it won’t be plain sailing for the young survivors.

Nevertheless, despite my innate pessimism, I hope The Walking Dead: The Final Season bucks the trend and gives Clementine a much-deserved break. A quiet settlement somewhere far away from the monsters (both human and undead), where she can live in peace and try to process the shocking events she’s experienced over the course of her short life (which, on my file, includes eating human flesh. Oops).

Wattam

The world has been devoid of the oddly care-free, experimentally entertaining, brain bursts brought to life by visionary game director Keita Takahashi for far too long. His previous creations like Noby Noby Boy and, more famously, Katamari Damacy and We Love Katamari have lodged themselves hard into the creative consciousness of video games by this point in time and space.

Officially revealed back in 2014, Wattam seems like yet another entry in Takahashi’s catalog of positive destruction. It’s hard to discern exactly what is going around in this particular virtual playground that Wattam takes place in, outside of the fact that we (at least initially) assume the role of a mustached cube man known as “The Mayor” on our journey to “create joyful explosions” (as per the publisher’s description) and learn about the citizens in the world of Wattam (including 3D poop dudes), which seems to serve as a primary puzzle-solving mechanic. Maybe?

One thing is for sure: You’re better off expecting a fun, silly time and leaving any preconceived notions of a “video game” behind. Takahashi’s worlds don’t exactly share the stage with conventional gaming, and are better off for that. Wattam, it seems, is set to fill out that niche just as well as its predecessors. And that’s an exciting prospect.(Maxwell N)

We Happy Few

What do you get when you mix 60s psychedelia with George Orwell’s 1984? We Happy Few stood out last year, introducing a retrofuture post-war England where citizens are dependent on a hallucinogenic drug called Joy, and the streets are filled with deliriously happy and murderous neighbours. As a ‘downer’ who refuses the happy pills, you are hunted down by drug-addled citizens, forced to find places to hide and craft items for survival all while the regime’s reality is torn down around you. We Happy Few has been one to watch ever since its impressive first E3 trailer, but the game has since struggled with the misconception that it would be a heavily narrative-focused RPG, and suffered further outcry with the announcement of a price rise from the game’s original $29.99 to $50.99. However, the game price hike and partnership with Gearbox Software suggests a much better chance of the game delivering on a true open world narrative, one which makes each run through the game feel fresh and shocking, and with as many stories and hidden paths to follow as any Bioshock title. We Happy Few has certainly been the victim of its own high expectations, but with the main story still under wraps, it is perhaps time to be tentatively excited once more for the full release coming this year. We Happy Few has thus far shown creative talent that makes it undeniably original amongst other titles and if the team can deliver on a story to back up the world they’ve created we’ll certainly be in for a treat. You can currently check out We Happy Few in early access, but the game and main story mode will be released on the 13th of April. Compulsion Games have struck on a brilliant concept with We Happy Few, so with a little Joy, we hope to see them do justice to an exceptional survival horror for the spring of 2018. (Helen Jones)

Where the Water Tastes like Wine

No matter what your take on contemporary America and its role on the geopolitical stage, as a country it’s beyond remarkable. It is one of the most populous and powerful nations in history, with a rich and diverse cultural heritage that scarcely seems possible for a country that’s not even three hundred years old. From its beginnings as a colonial melting pot to its undeniable present day pre-eminence as a self-contained empire, with all the associated sorrows and triumphs in between, America has always been a treasure trove of stories. It’s these stories that serve as the conceptual inspiration for and gameplay foundation of Where the Water Tastes like Wine. An intriguing blend of “walking simulator” and interactive narrative this title promises to offer something unique in the modern gaming market.

By weaving together stories that range from the comic to the tragic, this flagship title from Dim Bulb Games presents players with the opportunity to travel across a living tapestry of gloriously grim Americana. Each tale offers its own take on the development of modern America, not from a dispassionate historical perspective but rather from a deeply personal point of view that goes beneath the States’ glamorous facade to get at the bizarre and beautiful truth. With a soundtrack that is a melancholy fusion of Bluegrass and classic Folk accompanying tales penned by an eclectic group of writers, this game uses small-scale stories to build an overall narrative that is as epic as the factual history of America as a whole. It may not be the most bombastic titles scheduled for release in 2018, but if what we’ve seen from trailers and industry expos thus far is to be believed then it is unquestionably going to be one of the most captivating and innovative games of the year. (Christopher Underwood)


The Wolf Among Us 2
 
The Wolf Among Us was one of Telltale’s best narrative-driven adventure games, taking place in a modern New York City in which fairytale characters live alongside humans in secret. Part fantasy, part hard-boiled detective story, with a killer synth soundtrack and a sweet ’80s vibe, The Wolf Among Us told the story of a reformed Big Bad Wolf trying to solve a series of murders within the fable community. Famous fairytale characters were frequently subverted in the story, with Beauty and the Beast racking up substantial loan shark debts to live beyond their means, The Little Mermaid working at a strip joint ran by George Porgie, and one of the three little pigs sleeping on the Big Bad Wolf’s couch, knocking back scotch, and bumming cigarettes. It took three years for a second season to be announced, but in 2018 we’ll finally get to see what happens next for Bigby Wolf, Snow White, and the rest of weird and wonderful residents of Fabletown. (John Cal McCormick)
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Dunphy

    January 23, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    No Ni No Kuni II? I might actually do the unthinkable and buy it at full price if the PC version turns out OK.

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.

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xo19

Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.

All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.

10. Everwild Reveal

It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.

We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.

The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

xo19

Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.

The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.


7. Halo Reach Release Date

xo19

The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.

It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.


6. Grounded Reveal

xo19

Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.

Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

xo19

Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.

Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

xo19

Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.

Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.

The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.

Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.

Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together

Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.

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Death Stranding

Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.

While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death. 

Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.

Death Stranding

This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s. 

Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.

The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.

Death Stranding

The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .

In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.

Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope

One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community. 

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.

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