Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.

Happy Wednesday, everyone.

Stephen Totilo here solo, as Megan and I move to phase two of our newsletter plan: trading off issues to allow us time to focus on bigger stories, while still giving you a big helping of gaming news each day.

⚡️Situational awareness: As expected, Sony has delayed its next big PlayStation exclusive, "Horizon Forbidden West." It'll be out on Feb. 18, 2022.

Today's edition is 1,260 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: A game review, with one less string attached

Screenshot of a video game character: a man in sunglasses holding a lightsaber-like weapon
Screenshot: Marvelous/Grasshopper Manufacture

It’s unclear if the upcoming Nintendo Switch releaseNo More Heroes 3” is good or bad, but an outcry over its review embargo raised a red flag.

Driving the news: A restriction that would have blocked critics from reviewing the game until nine hours after it went on sale was altered last night, in a reminder of how fraught the game-reviewing process tends to be.

  • Reviews of games are logistical challenges that often force critics to grapple with numerous publisher-mandated restrictions, and these limitations can obscure whether a game has serious problems.

The details:

  • Until last night, the publisher for "No More Heroes" had stipulated that reviews of the game couldn’t run until 9am ET on Aug. 27, nine hours after the game’s release.
  • After members of the media and some fans slammed that limit, saying it would leave early purchasers in the dark about the game’s quality, the review embargo was moved up to midnight, the minute the game launches.
  • “We originally set our review embargo date to minimize the chance of spoilers for fans, as they have been waiting for quite a while for the third installment," a PR rep for the game said in a note to reviewers about the change. “But in light of fan demand expressed today online, we are re-adjusting the date.”

Between the lines: Gamers usually expect reviews to run on or before a game’s release.

  • That requires reviewers or their outlets to get copies (these days, usually a download code, not a disc) from a game developer or publisher in advance.
  • Most game makers are pros about this, but it puts some pressure on smaller media outlets to avoid angering a company, lest the codes stop showing up.

With those early copies come restrictions:

  • When the review can run.
  • Whether it can include screenshots and videos taken from the game.
  • What content is off-limits (often just the ending).

All of those restrictions can be reasonable, but game makers have been known to go overboard in ways that can (surprise!) hide a game’s problems:

  • In 2014, Ubisoft prohibited reviews of its biggest game of the year, “Assassin’s Creed Unity,” until 12 hours after it went on sale, an egregious gap given how buggy the game was.
  • Last December, CR Projekt Red blocked reviewers from including any video of "Cyberpunk 2077," also obscuring some of that disastrous game’s performance issues.
  • In the bizarre case of a game many reviewers liked, Sony barred critics from discussing the crucial second half of last year’s “The Last of Us Part 2,” even though spoilers about it had leaked weeks earlier.

The big picture: The solution to this, such as there is one, is more transparency, as outlets and reviewers become bolder about pushing back against unreasonable limits that hide a game’s quality or make it awkward to explain what a game really is.

  • But gaming remains a tightly controlled industry, one in which even the date of when a review embargo lifts can itself be embargoed.

2. We’re awash in Marvel games

Poster art of Marvel super-heroes dressed in black and gold
Image: Marvel, Take-Two Interactive

The rumored Marvel super-hero game from the acclaimed makers of “XCOM” was officially revealed today.

  • It’s called “Midnight Suns” and is described as a turn-based tactical role-playing game that doesn’t quite follow the “XCOM” rule-set (no permadeath, spaces to explore between missions).

Why it matters: New games from Firaxis are always a big deal.

  • But “Midnight Suns” also may as well serve as confirmation that video games, like movies before them, are now (and forever?) going to be a conveyor belt of major Marvel releases.

Between the lines: The biggest mobile Marvel game in ages, “Marvel Future Revolution” is out today.

  • Then a “Guardians of the Galaxy” game from Eidos Montreal comes out in late October.
  • “Midnight Suns” will follow in March.
  • These follow last November’s release of “Miles Morales: Spider-Man” from Insomniac Games, a studio that is sure to make more games in the series.

The big picture: While a constant flow of Marvel releases could be tiresome, the strategy from Disney is setting up the games to excel.

  • The entertainment mega-corp has focused in recent years on licensing its characters and franchises to external studios, rather than focusing on building its own studios.
  • It’s clearly targeting partnerships with elite teams: Firaxis (owned by Take-Two Interactive) Insomniac (owned by Sony) and Eidos Montreal (owned by Square Enix) have all released critically acclaimed games.
  • The caveat is that sometimes the best plans don’t deliver: last fall’s “Marvel’s Avengers,” made by top-flight studio Crystal Dynamics, has been a critical and commercial dud.

3. “Halo Infinite” gets a release date

Video game trailer still showing a man in armor looking at a computer-generated woman
Image: Microsoft

“Halo Infinite” will be released on Dec. 8, Microsoft announced today during a Gamescom kick-off event, following a morning leak.

Why it matters: Microsoft has taken its time announcing the release date for the Xbox’s biggest 2021 game, which was supposed to have been its biggest game of 2020.

  • Microsoft strangely didn’t announce during their big Xbox showcase yesterday and just last week acknowledged that some parts of the game — co-op mode for its campaign and the Forge level editor — wouldn’t ship until 2022.

Launch dates for “Halo” games past:

  • Nov. 15, 2001 — “Halo: Combat Evolved”
  • Nov. 9, 2004 — “Halo 2”
  • Sept. 25, 2007 — “Halo 3”
  • Sept. 22, 2009 — "Halo 3: ODST"
  • Sept. 14, 2010 — “Halo Reach”
  • Nov. 6, 2012 — “Halo 4”
  • Oct. 27, 2015 — “Halo 5”

What’s next: No, the list above isn’t truncated. There hasn’t been a main “Halo” game released in six years, and never one released so late in the calendar year.

4. Need to know

👨🏻‍⚖️Popular YouTube video game streamer Dr. Disrespect has told his viewers that he is suing Twitch, the streaming giant that dropped him last year with no explanation, just a few months after signing him to a splashy, exclusive partnership. It’s unclear if a suit has actually been filed or if he simply plans to.

💰Heritage Auctions and game-grading service Wata are pushing back against an investigative report on YouTube that alleges the two firms are artificially inflating the price of retro games — leading to headlines about some classic games suddenly and inexplicably selling for more than $1 million — to enrich themselves. VGC summarizes the video and the denials. Wata said the video is “baseless and defamatory.”

🌃South Korea is ditching a law implemented a decade ago that blocked underage users from playing video games after midnight, the Korea Herald reports (via Kotaku).

👩🏽‍🦳A special “League of Legends” competitive gaming event in September will feature 10 highly skilled female gamers, part of an effort by “League”-maker Riot Games to diversify the pro scene for the game, the studio said in a new blog post. Players who are interested are urged to apply.

5. Worthy of your attention

"The cost depends on the skill level and prestige of the coach. A 30-minute seminar on how to succeed in esports with famed Valorant streamer and pro player Dicey costs $30, but a spectator game with him for 60 minutes is $120. 'He also offers a boot camp,' says [Sam Wang of US-based ProGuides]. 'For $500 you get a session every week and he’ll try to get you to the highest rank possible. He is always booked out.' ”

6. Everyone’s gone fishing

Screenshot of a video game character fishing
"Guild Wars 2." Screenshot: Arena Net

The hot new game design trend of 2021 appears to be one of the medium’s oldest, as game after game is getting a new fishing mode.

Hey Rockstar, are you adding fishing to November’s “GTA V” remaster?

🎁 Like the newsletter? Refer Axios Gaming to your friends to spread the word and get free stuff in the process. Follow the link here to begin.

🐦 Find us on Twitter: @megan_nicolett / @stephentotilo.

Review copies of the Axios Gaming newsletter available upon request.