Jun 16, 2021

Axios Gaming

Welcome back to Axios Gaming with Megan and Stephen in a post-E3 world.

Today's newsletter is 1,269 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: The rest of gaming's 2021 takes shape

"Forza Horizon 5." Image: Microsoft

A cascade of game announcements over the past week has shown that the remainder of 2021 may be lighter in big releases than the norm, but it won't be barren.

Why it matters: The impact of COVID on the games industry hit more in 2021 than 2020, as production schedules were delayed due to the challenge of working from home and, of course, flat-out human survival.

Between the lines: All those E3 conferences established some key points.

  • Microsoft's one-year game drought is probably over: The company will release an Xbox port of "Flight Simulator" this July, the multiplatform "Psychonauts 2" in August, a new "Forza Horizon" racing game in November and "Halo Infinite" some time this holiday season.
  • Nintendo is prolific as ever: After going light on releases in late 2020, the Switch maker is back to a monthly cadence with five notable releases from October to December.
  • But a lot of companies are going lighter: EA is skipping "Need for Speed" this fall to focus on October's "Battlefield 2042." A possible release of "Lego Star Wars" aside, Warner Bros. has shelved its biggest in-house games until 2022 or later.

Some unknowns remain, including just how impactful new-gen console versions of some of the biggest games in history — "The Witcher 3" and "GTA V" — will be this fall. Other question marks:

  • 2021 editions of annual stalwarts still haven’t been revealed. Activision's next "Call of Duty" and Take Two's "NBA 2K" are expected for the fall (and normally would have been announced by now). This year's "Madden" will be unveiled tomorrow, a month later than 2020's.
  • Sony's next announced in-house PlayStation exclusive, "Horizon Forbidden West" isn't guaranteed this year, in part to COVID-related production delays.
  • PlayStation's biggest fall console exclusives could turn out to be "Deathloop" and "Ghostwire: Tokyo," which both come from studios now owned by Microsoft but under timed exclusivity deals with Sony.
2. Your big game calendar, July-December

Promotional poster for "Deathloop." Image: Arkan Lyon/Microsoft

With apologies to all the great indies likely to make the rest of 2021 terrific, here's a list of notable releases for the second half of the year, mostly from the big publishers:

  • July: "Monster Hunter Stories 2" (Switch), "Microsoft Flight Simulator" (Xbox Series), "F1 2021" (PC, console)
  • August: "12 Minutes" (Xbox), "Kena Bridge of Spirits" (PC, PS), "Psychonauts 2" (PC, PS, Xbox)
  • September: "Riders Republic" (PC, console), "WarioWare: Get it Together!" (Switch), "Deathloop" (PC, PS), "Rainbow Six Extraction" (PC, console), "Diablo II: Resurrected" (PC, console)
  • October: "Far Cry 6" (PC, console), "Metroid Dread" (Switch), "Back 4 Blood" (PC, console), "Battlefield 2042" (PC, console), "Guardians of the Galaxy" (PC, console), "Age of Empires IV" (PC), "Mario Party Superstars" (Switch), "Ghostwire: Tokyo" (PC, PS)
  • November: "Just Dance 2022" (PC, console), "Forza Horizon 5" (PC, Xbox), "GTA V remastered" (PS5, Xbox Series), "Shin Megami Tensei" (Switch), "Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl" (Switch), "Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker" (PC, PS)
  • December: "Advance Wars 1+2" (Switch), "Dying Light 2" (PC, console)
3. When Sony made a game for Xbox

Image: Major Leage Baseball

Microsoft tried for years to get Sony's "MLB The Show" series on Xbox platforms before finally succeeding this year, Xbox executive Sara Bond told Axios.

The big picture: Big platform holders can hope to get their competitor’s games on their own systems all they want, but it rarely happens.

Between the lines: Bond's Xbox team had with Major League Baseball throughout the past decade to work on releases of the multi-platform arcade-style series "RBI Baseball."

  • "'The Show' always came up," she said. "We always said, 'We love this game. It would be a huge opportunity to bring it to Xbox.'"
  • But Sony long had exclusive rights to make realistic baseball games and only made them for PlayStation.
  • Then MLB made it happen. In 2019, they announced a new deal with Sony, requiring the company to also make its "The Show" for rival consoles.

The new MLB deal led to an unusual situation last year: Microsoft sending its as-yet-unreleased consoles to a Sony development studio, as they worked on the first Xbox edition of "MLB: The Show."

  • "It was a real, real sign of industry trust," Bond said.

Xbox then pulled off one of the craftiest deals in years, securing rights to offer the game at no extra cost through its Xbox Game Pass subscription service even as the game sold only at full price on rival PlayStation.

4. Hands-on with (working) "Stranger of Paradise"

Image: Squre Enix

After a rocky start (see: complete failure to run), Square Enix's demo for its newly announced "Final Fantasy" spinoff, "Stranger of Paradise," is now playable.

The big picture: "Stranger of Paradise" is a collaboration with "Nioh" developer Team Ninja.

  • Although it feels similar in some ways to "Final Fantasy XV," where you fight in real-time alongside a group of friends, it's bloodier and more action-heavy than most "Final Fantasy" games.

What we're saying: After some hands-on time with it, Megan would like to share some thoughts, with the caveat that a demo is not indicative how how a game's final experience will be.

  1. It's harder than I expected. The demo teaches you the basics in a tutorial before it dumps you into the big chaos palace, but enemies hit hard and it's easy to get overwhelmed when more than one comes after you. Sometimes the best strategy is running ahead.
  2. Don't go backwards. The demo is marked by cubes that will restore your party and mark your place if you die (which, you will). If you move back to one, whether it's to heal up or by accident because of the game's bland level design, you'll trigger the same encounters all over again.
  3. The team's boring. Aside from the bare minimum of help in fights and the kind of quips you'd expect (a fire pun when faced with flame-spewing enemies, for example), there's very little personality from either hero Jack or his companions.
  4. If you hate Jack's T-shirt, good news: any armor you equip will appear instantly on the character. Now the bad news. A pair of pants I picked up are a dead ringer for some fantasy JNCOs.

What's next: The demo is only on PS5 until June 24, so play while you still can.

5. The best game series you've never played

Image: Nintendo

During Nintendo’s E3 presentation, it’s possible you missed one of the most exciting announcements: A package of Spike Chunsoft’s murder mystery games, Danganronpa, is coming to the Nintendo Switch.

The big picture: "Danganronpa" began as a PlayStation Vita-exclusive series, but has since migrated to platforms such as Steam. It's story-driven mystery, where high school students are forced into a killing game: in order to escape, they have to commit a murder and get away with it. The surviving students, meanwhile, have to figure out who committed the crime or be executed themselves.

  • "Danganronpa Decadence" is a bundle of the original trilogy, plus "board-game style" bonus game "Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp."
  • The jump has given the series another chance to move on from the flailing handheld. In a 2015 GDC talk about the series, creator Kazutaka Kodaka included an exasperated slide reading "Why won't people buy a VITA!"
  • Last July, publisher NIS America announced that several of the games would be delisted from PSN.
6. Worthy of your time

🎮 Tencent studio calls a halt to "996" working hours. (Wang Lianzhang, Sixth Tone)

💰 "PUBG" maker plans to raise $5 billion in landmark Korea IPO. (Sohee Kim, Bloomberg)

🤔 Nintendo says there's a reason it's keeping the name of "Breath of the Wild 2" a secret. (Matt Kim, IGN)

7. Demo drops everywhere

Image: Raw Fury

If you're in the market for something new (and unreleased) to play, Microsoft put out 40 demos of unreleased games for Xbox Series X|S, including titles such as "Sable," "Trigger Witch," "Mad Streets," and "Lake." Over at Steam, Valve has hundreds to try out, some of which overlap with Microsoft's.

Got a tip? A story you want us to cover? Email us at megan.farokhmanesh@axios.com or stephen.totilo@axios.com.

🐦 Find us on Twitter: @megan_nicolett / @stephentotilo

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Wait, did we say E3 is over? There's another Xbox gaming showcase tomorrow.