Sep 13, 2021

Axios Gaming

Happy Monday, everyone. It's Stephen Totilo here with way too many sound effects from the new "WarioWare" buzzing in my brain.

Over/under on a Nintendo Direct happening this week?

Today's edition is 1,104 words, 4 minutes.

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1 big thing: Microsoft’s game-quality turnaround

"Deathloop." Image: Arkane/Microsoft

Rave reviews for this week’s time-traveling assassination game “Deathloop” officially make it a trend: Microsoft is finally on a streak of producing terrific games.

Why it matters: Game quality has been an issue for Microsoft for years, while console rivals Nintendo and Sony have flexed their ability to repeatedly make Game of the Year contenders.

The details: “Deathloop” follows August’s much-praised “Psychonauts 2” and 2020 Game of the Year candidate “Microsoft Flight Simulator.”

  • All three are a result of Microsoft aggressively expanding its gaming operations.
  • “Deathloop” comes from Arkane Lyon, a subsidiary of Bethesda Softworks/ZeniMax Media, which Microsoft officially purchased this year for $7.5 billion.
  • “Psychonauts 2” came from Double Fine Productions, a team it bought in 2019 amid a studio-buying spree.
  • 2020’s “Microsoft’s Flight Simulator,” which was developed by third-party studio Asobo, saw Microsoft put more focus on PC gaming and successfully revive a neglected franchise. (The game came to Xbox in July.)
"Psychonauts 2." Image: Double Fine Productions/Microsoft

There’s a catch: Only one of these games is Xbox-only, which prevents Microsoft from using this streak to immediately sell its gaming ecosystem.

  • “Psychonauts 2” released on PC, Xbox and PlayStation, honoring a multiplatform commitment made prior to its studio’s purchase.
  • “Deathloop” is, weirdly, only available on PS5 for a year, the result of a timed-exclusivity deal between Bethesda and Sony that was struck before the Microsoft purchase.

The big picture: Microsoft’s streak may be covered in asterisks, but it’s real, and it’s meaningful to those who knew why Xbox had been selling itself based on its services, not its exclusive games.

  • Microsoft’s blockbuster franchises “Halo” and “Gears of War” had cooled in the past decade and other Xbox productions failed to reach the quality levels of the best on PlayStation or Switch.
  • In 2019, Xbox chief Phil Spencer acknowledged the company’s struggles to make great games, blaming some of the problems on rigid production timetables that didn’t give teams time to make spectacular releases.
  • Microsoft’s solution involves buying great studios that already existed outside of Xbox, fund their best ideas and give everyone more time.

What’s next: The streak is likely to continue with November’s “Forza Horizon 5,” the latest in a reliably strong series.

  • But all eyes should go to December’s “Halo Infinite,” the work of an internal team that’s had its ups and downs and was given an extra year to make something terrific.
2. What “Deathloop” actually is

Image: Arkane Lyon/Microsoft

“Deathloop” puts players in control of a man named Colt Vahn, who wakes up on a beach and quickly discovers he’s in a violent time loop.

  • I’ve played the game for three hours and have been delighted to slowly learn the secrets of its puzzling world.

How it works: Players see the world through Colt’s eyes and can explore four major zones of the island at four times of day, before the loop resets.

  • Gameplay involves sneaking past or defeating creepily masked guards who patrol the island, while hacking computers, reading documents, cracking safes and generally exploring the world to figure out why it’s in a loop.
  • As players progress, the game tracks their discoveries and lets players set goals for the next step. For example: A key code discovered late in one loop might be used to unlock a door early in the next.
  • The ultimate goal is to kill eight enemy leaders in a one-day loop, a feat that initially seems impossible given their locations and the limited time available.

Why it matters: It’s not just a notable chess piece in Xbox’s rivalry with Sony and Nintendo. It’s a new game in a genre — so-called immersive sims — that has been loved by critics for two decades but has rarely generated blockbusters.

  • Such games focus on giving players freedom of choice: to sneak instead of kill, hack an alarm to distract, crawl through an air duct to avoid or poison a meal at a party rather than pull a trigger.
  • The genre is a specialty of Arkane’s, which previously developed “Prey” and “Dishonored,” themselves descendants of old-time greats “Thief,” “System Shock” and “Deus Ex.”
3. “Fortnite”’s big Sunday

"Fortnite" season-ending event, as seen during a stream by Easy Allies. Image: Easy Allies/Epic Games

Epic Games filed a legal notice on Sunday vowing to appeal its loss to Apple in its antitrust “Fortnite” suit.

  • Just a couple of hours later, it hosted a dramatic season-ending event in “Fortnite,” an explosive finale that warped players up to an alien mothership, blew it up and sent them flying back down to the game’s island map.
  • The game then went offline for half a day to prep for its newest multi-month season.

Why it matters: The near-simultaneous efforts were striking: a sign of Epic’s ambitions to unclench a tech giant’s control of its marketplace and enrapture millions of players into its version of cross-brand virtual entertainment.

  • As we watched the live event unfold, the alien ship filled with players adorned with the bodies — skins in the game’s parlance — of characters from "Star Wars," “Street Fighter” and “Rick & Morty.”
4. Need to know

💰 The new update for "Genshin Impact" generated $151 million in revenue in its first week, more than it made in all of August, according to Sensor Tower.

〽️ Nintendo is dropping the price of the main Switch by £20 ($28) and €30 ($35) in the U.K. and Europe, though no such drop has been announced for other regions.

🎾 U.S. Open winner Daniil Medvedev celebrated his victory by flopping on the court in an imitation of a victory celebration from the EA Sports "FIFA" gaming series, Kotaku explains.

5. Worthy of your attention

PlatinumGames Interview with Atsushi Inaba [Andy Robinson, VGC]

Inaba: In my time in the games industry, there’s actually only been one title that went according to schedule. Pretty much every game is going to have issues come up at some point, so it’s hard to say specifically if it’s because of the pandemic or if it was something that would’ve happened naturally.
With remote work, there are of course some difficulties, but you can’t really attribute any particular loss to something right now. Maybe once we’re hopefully out of it, it will be easier to look back and see. We’re just handling things as they come right now.
6. So many PS5s
Image via Twitter

The head of South Korean game studio Shift Up has bought his 200+ employees PS5s, according to Gamemeca (via the Twitter feed of Niko Partners’ Daniel Ahmad).

  • The purchases were said to be a celebration of the studio’s next game, “Project Eve,” appearing in last week’s PlayStation showcase.

But: All those PS5s!

  • Yes, this is a painful sight for anyone who has been struggling to find Sony’s new console in stock since its November launch.
  • At this rate, it just might be easier to get a job at Shift Up if you want a PS5.

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

Can someone please put a fruit basket on my chair?