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The Week in Gaming: Back 4 Blood goes live; Harry Potter squads up; Blair Witch in VR & more
Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
Wanna drop some zombies for free this weekend? The Open Beta for Back 4 Blood is in full swing, bringing the spiritual successor to the Valve-published Left 4 Dead (originally launched in 2008) into the 2020s to clean up in the messy aftermath of a new, but definitely no less deadly, apocalyptic outbreak.
Turtle Rock studios and publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment are behind Back 4 Blood, which is set to arrive for PC and consoles this fall. Turtle Rock is the same team that developed Left 4 Dead in the first place, and anyone who’s spent hours trying to survive in L4D will almost instantly feel right at home in B4B — even as the new game, whose lack of a lore connection to its spiritual predecessor doesn’t at all obscure its shared DNA — brings a couple of new tricks to the table.
Zombies in Back 4 Blood are known as “the Ridden,” and it’s your job to survive alongside your teammates (y’all uninfected humans are known as the “Cleaners”) long enough to take them out, one frenzied horde at a time. Loading out is a key new part of the B4B experience: a new deck-stacking card system allows you to decide from the start which perks you’ll need to craft your character’s playstyle. Boost your health, stamina, and ammo if you want to rush in and tank away, or hang back in a medic role with cards that bump your first aid inventory while expanding your support range with deeper pockets for grenades.
Either way, you won’t go it alone. Just like Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood is a multiplayer experience, meaning you’ll be part of a four-player cooperative team in the main campaign mode (and yes, the game provides three AI teammates to round out your squad if you just want to hop in fast and set out by yourself). New in Back 4 Blood is an 8-player PvP “Swarm” mode that pits your squad against unfriendly online competition in three-round matches, though campaign versus mode — a fan favorite from the original Left 4 Dead — won’t be coming to B4B, either for the Open Beta or the finished game.
Is there a story? Sure — at least, as much of one as anybody could need to justify jumping into the middle of a zombie wave and start creating FPS chaos. Back 4 Blood begins in the wake of “a catastrophic outbreak where most of humanity has either been killed or infected,” Turtle Rock teases at the game’s FAQ. “Hardened by the unspeakable events and emboldened to fight for humanity, a group of veterans of the apocalypse called the Cleaners have rallied together to take on the parasite-infected horrors known as the Ridden to take back what is left in the world.”
What more do you need? The Open Beta lets players push all the way to the end of Act 1, where players will have access to a pair of early-game areas (Blue Dog Hollow and Evansburgh) that get them in the rhythm of stacking out their card loadouts and juggling their survival arsenal. The beta period is already underway, and runs through Monday, Aug. 16, ahead of Back 4 Blood’s full release on Oct. 12 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC. Do your part for humanity and head over to the game’s Open Beta page to get started on your weekend zombie kill streak.
Indie highlights from Nintendo & Xbox
Back 4 Blood has the biggest new-game buzz going this week, but there’s a generous handful of just-announced indies in the pipeline. Nintendo and Xbox each held online showcases this week to tease dozens of under-the-radar titles that’ll soon be heading our way, and we’ve picked out the trailers that, at least to our eyes, look the most promising. The list of indies bound for both the Xbox console family and the Switch is super-long; check out the full rundown here for everything Nintendo teased, and here to see what Microsoft has in store.
An adventure game with RPG elements, Eastward links you by rail with the hubs of a “decaying continent” to thwart the “tyrannical clutches of a subterranean society.” It’s a pixel art adventure laced with moody, melancholic nods toward old-school RPG greats like Secret of Mana, framed by a cool ‘80s-style summer synthwave soundtrack as the trailer backdrop to its dystopian, shattered-city setting. Eastward heads to the Nintendo Switch as a timed exclusive from developer Pixpil and publisher Chucklefish on Sept. 16.
Astroneer looks sorta like what you might end up with it you combined the planet-roaming features of No Man’s Sky and Outriders, coated everything in a layer of cute cartoonish paint, and turned it into a base-building sim with terraforming features. Already available for Xbox and PlayStation platforms as well as PC, the procedurally-generated sandbox adventure blasts off for the Switch in January of next year.
Spanish developer Lince Works found sleeper success with 2016’s Aragami, a supernaturally infused action stealth adventure that puts your shadow spirit assassin on the hunt for reconciliation and redemption in a myth-infused land where light is the currency of power. For the sequel, your ninja assassin is once again in control of the shadows, with the addition of a new 3-player co-op system that the studio teased at length earlier this year in a deep dive at the PlayStation Blog. Though the trailer popped up this week during Xbox’s indie showcase, Aragami 2 is multi-platform: It’s heading to the full slate of PlayStation and Xbox consoles, as well as the Switch, PC, and MacOS, on Sept. 17.
Harry Potter summons the squad with Puzzles & Spells
Hogwarts conjured a mobile hit with last year’s debut of Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, and now the tile-matching adventure is set to take full advantage of its connected features with its first-ever Club Challenge in-game event. Available now to players everywhere, the limited-time event series “dares player Clubs to enter the Forbidden Forest to navigate, explore and overcome a new interactive map brimming with hidden obstacles, special encounters and rewards,” according to developer Zynga and publisher Portkey Games.
The first in a planned recurring series of community challenges, this one is for seasoned spell casters: the new Club Challenge unlocks at level 55, where players will be greeted by a “new, separate interactive path to the game’s solo journey” with its own slate of exclusive points and rewards. In each of the upcoming challenges including this first one, you’ll be transported to a “unique, interactive map location” where teamwork alongside other players will point the way through the maze-like map — all on a progression path toward boosting your Club’s overall league ranking.
For the current Club Challenge, the Forbidden Forest is your destination, where you’ll “uncover rare but revered Artefacts from the wizarding world, like the coveted House Cup or the Sword of Gryffindor, to gain access to the final puzzle,” teases Zynga. “In the final showdown, players must team up to defeat some of the most ferocious creatures found in the forest, including the Mountain Troll and Hungarian Horntail, or Ron’s most loathsome foe, Aragog.”
Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells is available for iOS and Android devices, as well as on Amazon Kindle and Facebook. Check out the game's website to get your key to Diagon Alley and work your way up to Club Challenge greatness.
- We’ve been kicking around the past few weeks amid some of Tokyo’s coolest street scenes in NEO: The World Ends With You. It’s Square Enix’s colorful action-RPG sequel to 2007’s The World Ends With You, an adventure that developed a cult following for its funky-yet-challenging story of city kids swept into the Reaper’s Game, a supernatural survival saga that forced players to battle it out among Shibuya’s iconic landmarks to prevent an early date with death. Unlike its 2007 predecessor, NEO sports full 3D environments while preserving the signature stamp of legendary character creator Tetsuya Nomura (of Final Fantasy fame), who also pulls double duty this time out as the game’s creative producer. Though you’re far from Final Fantasy territory in NEO’s graffiti-laced, hip-hop and rock-infused Tokyo vibe, the battles are all Square Enix: control each of your characters while summoning the power of “pins,” well-integrated collectibles that conceal combat powers that far outweigh their superficial appearance as mere backpack bling.
It’s a slow acclimation for newcomers, but once the story gets going (and the game’s comic book panel presentation inevitably grows on you), NEO: The World Ends With You is as deep (and as tough) as any console RPG you’d expect from Square Enix. And — though we’re nowhere close to the end — it’s honestly a lot more lively and engaging than the original. Chalk it up to Nomura’s free rein to conjure characters with current-gen technology or just the game’s overall plugged-in & modern feel, but either way, it’s definitely worth a spin for RPG fans (or anyone who wants a stylized, music-driven virtual tour of Tokyo…with monsters, of course).
Grab NEO: The World Ends With You now for PlayStation 4 (where it was voted by fans as July’s best new game), Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- We should know better by now, but the new trailer for Bloober Team’s VR version of Blair Witch makes us want to head straight back into the woods. An all-new edition built specifically for VR players, Blair Witch: VR Edition “is a brand new version of the Blair Witch story” with redesigned environments, new creature encounters, and a new interactive control system all aimed at dialing up the horror immersion factor to levels that’ll test your will to face the terrifying unknown. Strap in if you dare: Blair Witch: VR Edition for PlayStation VR and Steam VR is available now.
- The long volcanic winter is far from over. Frostpunk creators 11bit studios are back for more strategic survival challenges with Frostpunk 2, the upcoming sequel to the well-received 2018 PC game that’s since found its way onto PlayStation and Xbox. The sequel unfolds 30 years after its predecessor, putting you back in charge of a “resource-hungry metropolis where the expansion and search for new sources of power is an unavoidable reality,” as 11 bit teases. There’s no release date set yet for Frostpunk 2, but it’ll initially arrive as a PC-only title (though we won’t be at all surprised to see a console version break through the ice at some point).
- With Bethesda now fully under Microsoft’s umbrella, the first QuakeCon event since the Fallout maker’s major buyout is set to kick off next weekend. QuakeCon 2021 will be an all-online affair this year, with Microsoft this week releasing the full schedule of what fans can expect as they stream in from home. In addition to celebrating the 25th anniversary of the original Quake, there’s a deep dive panel on the making of Arkane’s upcoming Deathloop and tons more. The three-day event kicks off on Aug. 19; visit Microsoft’s preview page for all the hour-by-hour scheduling details.