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SYFY WIRE The Week in Gaming

The Week in Gaming: Deathloop preview; Overwatch 2 shakeup; TLOUII gets a PS5 boost & more

By Benjamin Bullard
Colt Vahn in Deathloop

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!

The trailers haven’t shown it yet, but Deathloop has a lot more in common with its studio predecessor, Dishonored, than the upcoming PS5 exclusive’s glitzy sheen, funk-infused gangster vibe, and swingin’-1960s setting first suggest.

Arkane Studios, the in-house Bethesda developer responsible for the steampunk-infused industrial Victorian world that captivated players in the Dishonored series, let the gaming press in on an extended hands-off preview of Deathloop last week — and it’s beginning to look more and more like a Dishonored heir at heart; one that evolves on that franchise's mix of stealth, player’s choice of takedowns, and union of melee and supernatural abilities to reach the center of its central mystery.

In a hundred subtle ways, Dishonored and Dishonored 2 were games with extremely mature themes, but Deathloop wears its expletive-laden adult vibes proudly on its sleeve. It’s set on the beach-y island of Blackreef, a place packed with degenerate partiers who all want you dead. It’s the kind of place where debauchery leaves a perpetual mess for someone else to clean up, as its NPCs — along with protagonist Colt Vahn — all wallow through its graffiti-covered streets, alcohol-soaked mansions, and derelict alleyways.

But like Dishonored, Colt can pick up some next-level powers that complement his growing (and by the look of it, hard-earned) arsenal of shotguns, SMGs, rifles, and even a nail gun. Like Corvo’s “blink” power in Dishonored, Colt acquires the ability to teleport over distance; he can wield telekinesis; he can invoke a resource called Residuum to keep the game going (up to two times) even after he dies; and he even gets a souped-up code-cracking tool (called a Hackamjig) that’s one part lockpick, one part hacking device… and one part mayhem instigator.

Deathloop Eternalists combat

There’s also more to Deathloop’s much-hyped time cycle than earlier previews let on. Colt can respawn and end up visiting different areas around Blackreef over four distinct time periods throughout the day, and each period comes with its own unique time-of-day traits that might open up access to new areas or find one of his eight targets (called Visionaries) going about a different, game-altering part of their routine. Like the Hitman series, the game encourages you to orchestrate a perfect assassination run as you fail and fail again: success comes only after you’ve learned about the spots where you’re likely to encounter trouble, and pieced together a start-to-finish strategy that lets you take out your level-finishing target.

Colt can also pick up accessories called Trinkets that let him slot and swap out power-ups and enhancements in the same way Dishonored let Corvo mix and match his abilities with Runes. They can open up new powers for weapons (“Silence Death” is a silencer perk; “Mind Leech” drains enemy power when it lands, and so on), or boost Colt’s traversal attributes (adding a double-jump ability, reducing fall damage, or making less noise with the stealthy “Creeping Death” Trinket).

Deathloop Blackreef Map

Rarer, but more powerful, are "slabs" — artifacts Colt occasionally encounters that add to his arsenal of supernatural gifts. Colt’s ground-covering “Shift” ability comes from a slab; other slabs will let him absorb and then unleash incoming enemy damage, link damage from one enemy to several, make him invisible under certain conditions, and more.

Most innovative of all, perhaps, is the way Deathloop lets players deal with Julianna Blake, Colt’s biggest nemesis and a skilled equal who stalks his every move, craving nothing more than to permanently take him down. Arkane’s preview revealed that Julianna can go about her dirty business as a computer-guided AI, just like every other big-game baddie. But a second human player also can take control, turning your cat-and-mouse quest into a fully interactive battle of player-on-player skill. For good measure, Julianna seems suspiciously well-informed about Colt’s time trap situation, and has an abiding and effective gift (we won’t spoil how) for persistently messing with his head.

Julianna Blake in Deathloop

Deathloop is billed as a timed PS5 console exclusive, making it the last Bethesda-published game that’s certain to grace a Sony console before Bethesda begins rolling out future titles (like Starfield and the still-mysterious The Elder Scrolls VI) under Microsoft, its new corporate owner.  It was originally set to arrive today (May 21), though it’s clear from Arkane’s sneak peek that the additional development time can only burnish its heavily stylized animated world and fluid gameplay that — at least in the hands of a skilled demo player — is already buttery smooth.

For now, we have a better sense of the story, as well as confirmation of some surprising connections with Arkane’s familiar Dishonored DNA — and it all feels like a welcome gameplay evolution, rather than a reskinned Dishonored retread (which, if we’re being honest, we wouldn’t have complained about at all). Deathloop is set to arrive on Sept. 14 for PlayStation 5 and PC.

The best of the rest

Overwatch 2: Blizzard shakes up the formula

Blizzard gave Overwatch players its best look yet this week at the changes set to arrive when Overwatch 2 does, running through a 2-hour livestream whose biggest shift was easy to spot. Version 2.0 will move away from the six-on-six matches that have long defined the game’s PvP mode and instead switch to five-on-five battles, essentially reshuffling a gameplay formula that’s become an esports mainstay for years.

Game director Aaron Keller said during the stream that the big move will come with a new team configuration made up of two damage heroes, a pair of support heroes, and only a single tank (because, as he put it, “tanks can be problematic.”). Overall, it’s meant to make the on-screen action a little less chaotic and confusing, allowing “players to understand everything that’s happening around them and make better choices.”

Though Blizzard’s landing page will enlighten longtime players more than newcomers, the bigger story and plot changes in the works didn’t reveal themselves during this week’s stream. But expect some changes to longtime character abilities as well: Blizzard revealed that Winston, Mei, Zarya, and Reinhardt (and perhaps more) all will show up in Overwatch 2 with new attributes, while all players will be getting a new passive healing ability (which itself could make for a big strategic shakeup in the competitive gaming world).

First announced in 2019, Overwatch 2 doesn’t yet have a release date — though it reportedly won’t be arriving this year.

Lookin’ good on PS5: The Last of Us Part II

For a game that nearly everyone seems to have played, Sony’s reveal this week of a PS5-boosted performance patch for The Last of Us Part II sure generated a lot of buzz. Naughty Dog and SIE revealed via the PlayStation Blog this week that Ellie and Abby can now duke it out on the PS5 with a choice of frame rate modes, upgraded graphics, and other visual tweaks.

It’s not a fully-overhauled PS5 version, but the new patch is meant to give backward-compatible players who pop in a PS4 disc an experience that matches the power of their new-gen consoles.

“Once patch 1.08 for The Last of Us Part II is installed on your PS5, you will find a toggle in the Display options that allows you to choose between a Framerate Target of 30 FPS or 60 FPS,” Naughty Dog’s Arne Meyer explained ini the blog post. “This allows you to choose your preferred framerate to complement the rest of the enhancements that are part of the PS5 backward compatibility with PS4 games, such as an enhanced resolution, faster load times, and more.”

On top of that, it sounds as if Naughty Dog does have bigger PS5 plans for the game that lit up last year’s awards circuit. “This patch is just the first step,” Meyer teased, adding that the development team is “digging  into the PS5 hardware and the possibilities it unlocks” and will have more TLOUII news to reveal in the future.

Spare parts

- Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart looks so good that Sony and Insomniac could probably just remove the gameplay, string together the story scenes, and publish it as a standalone mini-movie. Insomniac dialed up the hype another notch this week with a new trailer that shows off the insanely detailed new worlds we’ll be exploring next month, including the always-on urban sizzle of Nefarious City, the acid swamps of Sargasso, and the far-flung dangers of Molonoth Gulch.

“Our journey includes new planets, new versions of old planets, and alternate dimension versions of old and new planets!” our Zurkon emcee madly belts as visions of Rift Apart’s ridiculously next-gen planetary environments float past. The PS5’s fast load times mean planet-switching will feel less like an immersion-breaking chore and more like a callout to the “rift” part of the game’s title. “Thanks to the PlayStation 5 console’s ultra-fast SSD, you can traverse a variety of planets and their interdimensional counterparts near-instantly,” Insomniac’s Aaron Jason Espinoza writes at the PlayStation Blog.

Sony’s already teasing a new story trailer in the days ahead, but the wait’s not long — either for more trailers or the game itself. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart releases as a PS5 exclusive on June 11.

- After a long wait, Biomutant finally arrives next week, and developer Experiment 101 is going all in to flesh out how you’ll flex your raccoon-ish hero’s fighting powers in a new combat clip that shows off the game’s unique, mutated spin on doing battle in its colorful, overgrown world. As your looks change, so too do your abilities. “Our goal was to create fast-paced and action-packed combat with a mix between melee, gunplay, and mutation,” the studio explains in a blog post at Xbox Wire. Check out the new trailer and strap up for action: Biomutant arrives on May 25 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

- A new take on the classic Pinocchio story that trades Disney-like pluck for a Souls-like dark fantasy quest: that’s the pitch for Lies of P, a new action-RPG announced this week from publisher Neowiz Games and developer Round 8 Studio. Pleasure Island this ain’t: “As Pinocchio himself, you must navigate through a dark Belle Epoque world where all of humanity is lost. The once beautiful city of Krat has become a living hell, and you must find the famed Mr. Geppetto to unravel the mystery of what happened to both yourself and the world around you,” the publisher teases in the story trailer’s accompanying setup. There’s no release date set, but Lies of P will arrive as a next-gen game for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

- Top-down sci-fi action-RPG The Ascent (from indie studio Neon Giant) has a release date, coming to Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC on July 29. Developed by Neon Giant and published by Curve Digital, The Ascent was among the first games Microsoft showed off last year as part of its renewed focus on in-house Xbox exclusives, and its cyberpunk-y setting — playable both solo and in 4-player co-op mode — lights up the Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC beginning July 29.

- A new TimeSplitters game is in development from publisher Deep Silver and developer Free Radical Design (the same name behind the earlier TimeSplitters titles), and the team making the game includes some key creatives who’ve been with the franchise since the old days. Beyond that, there aren’t a lot of early details — but it’ll be the first new game in the long-dormant series since TimeSplitters: Future Perfect all the way back in 2005.

- Uncharted director Amy Hennig and former collaborator Todd Stashwick (a writer on EA’s canceled Star Wars: Project Ragtag) are coming together to create a new action-adventure game to be announced and published by Skydance Media. Is it Star Wars-related? As Yoda would say, difficult to see — but the project’s future already in is motion, with Stashwick putting out the call on Twitter for new team members who “want to push-state-of the art animation tech” by joining a “a core team of industry vets.”

- Xbox Game Pass has revealed 15 new titles heading to the service starting in June, including ManeaterConan ExilesPlants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, and tons more. Check out the full lineup at Microsoft’s landing page.

- This is pretty cool: Final Fantasy XIV players are paying in-game tribute to the late Manga mastermind Kentaro Miura, who died this month at the age of 54. As creator of the sprawling, incalculably influential dark fantasy manga epic Berserk, Miura’s original ideas inspired legions of creators, who went on to incorporate elements of Berserk’s diverse lore and arresting visuals into games and series of their own. In FFXIV, players in the Dark Knight class wield giant swords after the fashion of Guts, Berserk’s big-sword hero — and hundreds (if not thousands) are lining the game’s virtual streets this week in a community tribute to one of the fantasy genre’s most unique minds.

Debuting in 1989, Berserk would go on to become one of the longest-running mangas in history, in the process transcending a single genre and influencing future comics creators, as well as video game classics like Final Fantasy VII and the Souls series. Miura passed away on May 6.