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The Week in Gaming: Guardians of the Galaxy teases Lady Hellbender; next-gen console sales soar; Evil Dead delayed
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!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 isn’t hitting theaters until the spring of 2023. But by then, anyone who’s aced the next entry in Square Enix’s ongoing video game partnership with Marvel should be able to anticipate Star-Lord’s every move — probably long before he does.
That’s our takeaway from this week’s new cinematic trailer for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the upcoming adventure game from SE and Deus Ex: Human Revolution developer Eidos Montréal. Quill’s just as attention-starved in his video game form as he is behind Chris Pratt’s MCU mask — and it’s tough to deny: in this admittedly limited early look, that familiar brand of MCU funny seems to translate pretty well.
Guardians, say hello to Lady Hellbender:
In comic book lore, Lady Hellbender is supposed to have a thing for collecting monsters, which in fact is why the Guardians are dropping in on her here in the game trailer. But monsters aren’t the only thing on her mind, because she quiet-storms into her gaming debut with an apparent thing for collecting…Drax? Just like in the Marvel movies, Quill can’t get arrested so long as he’s vying against Drax for the undivided attention of the queen of Seknarf Nine, who brandishes a hilariously stoic flirtatious side that zeroes straight in on the one Guardian who might just be her spirit animal.
Guardians marks Square Enix’s second big-time foray into the Marvel gaming-verse, coming in the wake of last year’s initial crossover with the Crystal Dynamics-developed Marvel’s Avengers. And just like Avengers, the aim here is to serve up a fresh reimagining of the game’s comic book source material, rather than directly mimic the familiar faces, raccoon tails, and Groot-branches of the blockbuster MCU movies.
“Lady Hellbender is a fan-favorite character from Marvel’s recent comic lore, and we were keen to ensure her place in our Guardians universe reflects the complex personality, depth, and nature fans expect to see, explains Darryl Purdy, the game’s cinematics & animation director, in Square Enix’s latest update. “And with humor instilled in every aspect of our game, this gave us an opportunity to flip expectations with the story and introduce an unexpected dynamic between her and a certain Destroyer.”
Though it’s just a snapshot and doesn’t spill too much overarching story info, we could pretty much just binge on more cutscenes like this one and forget we’re supposed to pick up the controller again at some point and, y’know, actually keep on playing — it’s that polished. Whether players will be equally engrossed by Guardians’ actual gameplay is anyone’s guess until the game arrives later this fall, but at least our cutscene-watching binge wishes aren’t a mere fantasy: Square Enix says there’re nearly six hours’ worth of in-game cinematics like this one.
Marvel’s Avengers is still enjoying plenty of fan engagement and ongoing content support, even as last year’s September initial launch divided players over its loot-happy scavenging system and a main campaign wrap-up that, at least in the early going, offered little incentive to dive back in. Crystal Dynamics has answered back with a steady stream of post-launch updates and new character storylines, including the upcoming Black Panther — War for Wakanda expansion that’s set to arrive on Aug. 17.
Will Star-Lord and his team of misfits bring an awesome mix of story and gameplay when the Guardians get their turn this fall? We’ll find out soon: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is set to release for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC on Oct. 26, with the Nintendo Switch getting a cloud version of the game (for select regions) on the same day.
Console wars? What console wars?
If you’re making a mainstream game console in 2021, you’re probably not too stressed out by your competitors’ success. Why? Because everybody’s pretty much winning in their own way. New sales figures from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo show that players are gobbling up consoles of all stripes nearly as fast as as they roll out the door, with Sony reporting faster PS5 sales (more than 10 million) through its first eight months on the market than even the PS4 enjoyed following its late 2013 launch, via IGN.
Through this year’s first quarter, that translates into a 26 percent jump in PlayStation’s operating profit ($2.57 billion) versus a year ago, per the report, but it’s not just Sony that’s reaping the rewards of players’ hardware hunger. Microsoft didn’t share hard numbers during its recent sales report, but said during an earnings call last week (via Eurogamer) that the Series X and Series S have been its “fastest-selling consoles ever, with more consoles sold life-to-date than any previous generation.”
And new numbers from Nintendo (via Game Informer) show the Switch is still managing to break records…even when it’s not breaking records. In spite of a 21.7 percent dip in Switch sales versus the same period last year, the Big N reported its hybrid console has now sold a lifetime total of 89.04 million units. That eclipses both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on the all-time list of top sellers, and puts the Switch only 12 million units away from overtaking the Wii’s lifetime total of 101 million. With the Switch OLED model set to debut on Oct. 8 alongside a new Metroid game (and a Breath of the Wild Zelda sequel and Metroid Prime 4 coming later), it’s safe to say the Switch has plenty of momentum (and then some) to get there.
Delays: Evil Dead, Kena & more
We’ll be waiting a little longer to break out Ash Williams’s chainsaw in Evil Dead: The Game, which publisher Saber Interactive revealed this week has been pushed from its expected 2021 release date until February of next year. It’s probably worth it, though: the co-op and PvP game features the voices of Bruce Campbell and other stars from Ash vs Evil Dead, and is still on track to land on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Also getting a slight delay is the much-buzzed indie adventure Kena: Bridge of Spirits — though thankfully, it’s still coming pretty soon. Developer Ember Lab has gotten a ton of buzz for the game’s colorful, Zelda-like quest (the game even made the list this year as 2021 Tribeca Festival Games Selection), and the studio says Kena — initially announced for the PS5 — needs the extra time “to polish the game across all platforms.” With its new Sept. 21 release date, Kena: Bridge of Spirits will be a timed exclusive for both the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4, with a PC version also bound for the Epic Games Store.
Finally, Amazon has delayed its long-developing New World MMO by one month, from its planned Aug. 31 release until Sept. 28. The ambitious alternate-history adventure brings players to the shores of Aeternum, a supernaturally-shrouded island modeled after the pre-colonial Americas. Already delayed multiple times from its original launch target of May of last year, New World has built enough anticipation to attract more than 1 million players to its recent open beta, in the process becoming one of the “most watched games on Twitch,” according to Amazon.
Sony showed off a highlight reel this week of indie games headed to PlayStation, and sitting at the top of the list is the upcoming sequel to 2015’s spacey Metroidvania side scroller Axiom Verge. Original creator and sequel developer Tom Happ wrote at the PlayStation Blog that the second installment is aiming far higher than “just creating a new map layout and new weapons for Axiom Verge and calling it a sequel,” and that Verge 2 will feature “two worlds in one,” with players exploring “another interconnected breach world in an alternate dimension” behind the game’s previously-teased main overworld map. A final release date hasn’t been announced, but when it takes off, Axiom Verge 2 will arrive on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via the Epic Games Store.
Also part of Sony’s indies spotlight was Sol Cresta, the retro vertical shooter from NieR: Automata contributor Platinum Games with a funny pedigree that (at least for a while) had fans thinking it was just Platinum’s idea of an April Fool’s joke. Though it comes with the backing of a major studio, the development approach to Sol Cresta is indie all the way, as creative director Hideki Kamiya explains in a deep dive at the PlayStation Blog. Coming from the same team that brought us the Bayonetta series, Sol Cresta doesn’t yet have a firm release date, but is slated to launch for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Last on the curated list of indies that caught our eye during Sony’s showcase is Carrion, a side scroller from Phobia Game Studio that comes with an interesting reverse-horror twist. “Carrion immerses you in the role of an abominable alien creature as it awakens in a secret, underground laboratory. With no explanation how it arrived there or for what purpose, there is only one thing on the mysterious monster’s mind: escape! And eat people,” teases designer Krzysztof Chomicki at the PlayStation Blog.
In other words, you may be the monster, but you’re the one who’s trapped in an existential crisis with a big mystery to solve. Publisher Devolver Digital already has given Xbox, Switch, and PC players a crack at Carrion with the game’s summer 2020 release, but it’ll come chewing its way toward the PlayStation 4 sometime later this year.
Square Enix keeps rounding out its refreshed collection of old-school Final Fantasy classics for mobile and PC, and the latest installment in its Pixel Remaster updates brings modern quality-of-life upgrades and subtle graphical retouches to the first three games in the iconic series. Check out the trailer for the remastered versions of Final Fantasy I, II, and III — complete with fully intact musical scores from legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu —and then grab a piece of video game history.
The three Final Fantasy games that started it all are available now in all their retouched 2D glory for iOS and Android devices, as well as at the Steam store.
This week marked the launch of the new Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh content update for Dungeons & Dragons Online, the long-running MMORPG from Standing Stone Games. The new update brings “a classic D&D adventure for low and high level players based around saving a seacoast town on the edge of civilization under threat from mysterious forces,” the studio teases. Check out the trailer — and then check out the update's patch notes to get started.