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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 start of 2021 is a monstrously busy time for Capcom. When it’s not throwing a jam-packed year-long birthday party to celebrate 25 years of Resident Evil, the iconic studio is riding a wave of Monster Hunter energy, and the early response to Monster Hunter Rise — debuting for the Switch this week — hints that owners of Nintendo’s hybrid console are in for the same kind of killer good time that PlayStation and Xbox players were treated to with 2017’s Monster Hunter World.
Rise releases today, but critics who’ve gotten their hands on it already are putting Capcom’s addictive giant-slaying formula on a high pedestal. On day one, it currently commands a cozy 87 Metascore at Metacritic with 67 reviewers reporting in — pretty much in the same kind of gotta-play ballpark as World’s 90 Metascore for the PS4 and Xbox One.
The setting for Monster Hunter Rise puts players in the colorful, highly populated & Switch-friendly hub of Kamura Village, a place that’s under colossal threat thanks to the “Calamity” — basically an all-star conclave of MH baddies just outside the gates, hungry to satisfy their sweet tooth for world-threatening destruction. Longtime fans know what comes next: Gear up, head out, and start taking down menaces like Rathalos and Tigrex...while putting all your hard-earned loot winnings to their highest and best level-up use.
Rise also boosts players’ bond with their sidekick palicos and palamutes — the series staple feline and canine companions that can go off on their own to scavenge resources, serve as mounts when you’re out exploring expansive new areas like the Flooded Forest or Shrine Ruins, and optimize their battle gear. There’s a new hub area called The Buddy Plaza that’s all about training and taking care of your animal pals, including a handler who can even add new pet warriors to your team to assemble a small, choose-your-fighter style beast squad.
At its heart, though, Monster Hunter is all about elevating the basics of the action-RPG genre into a unique and distinctively stylized art form. The premise of the series is right there its name, leaving Capcom to iterate on and perfect the gameplay loop of besting giant beasts, upgrading your gear, and setting out for new places to do it all over again. With Rise bringing the Monster Hunter franchise over to the Switch just at a time when we’re aching for a new Nintendo hit, it’s pretty much a must-play straight out of the gate.
Monster Hunter Rise ascends today as a Switch exclusive, with a PC version planned to arrive sometime next year.
The best of the rest
BAFTA’s big game winners
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) handed out honors this week for the 17th annual BAFTA Games awards, and a trio of well-decorated titles took home more than one. Switch console exclusive Hades, the virtual ceremony’s big winner, had a heck of a week by walking away with five — including Best Game, by far the hottest award of all.
Supergiant Games’ hack-and-slash action RPG beat out a stacked list of contenders to earn its Best Game honors, while scorching the awards list with additional wins for Game Design, Narrative, Artistic Achievement, and Performer in a Supporting Role (for the versatile Logan Cunningham, who voices multiple Hades characters including Hades, Poseidon, Achilles, Charon, Asterius, and The Storyteller.)
Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, last year was a stellar one for games — but Hades’ throwback isometric gameplay and procedurally generated roguelike environments still managed to topple a pantheon of big-name games to earn its Best Game salvation. It's a familiar lineup for anyone who played games in 2020, with Best Game nominees including The Last of Us Part II, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ghost of Tsushima, and Half-Life: Alyx.
The Last of Us Part II and Animal Crossing: New Horizons were the other big BAFTA Games winners, with TLOUII scoring a trio of awards and ACNH picking up a pair. Naughty Dog’s tragic tale of Joel, Ellie, and new character Abby was nominated in 13 categories and won three — including the fan vote as 2020’s EE Game of the Year.
TLOUII also scored winning nods for Animation and voice actor Laura Bailey. Bailey earned Performer in a Leading Role honors for bringing incredible nuance to Abby — a polarizing TLOUII newcomer who somehow managed to pull off both brutal villainy and sympathetic heroism in the same game. New Horizons, meanwhile, won Nintendo a distinctive duo of awards in the Multiplayer and Game Beyond Entertainment categories. That last one feels like especially apt recognition, as ACNH’s zen-like resource management vibes took on pop culture sensation status during the long, housebound days of last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns.
Visit the BAFTA Games Awards website for a complete rundown of all of this year’s winners — and congrats to this year's winners and nominees all around!
New this week: Godzilla & more
Switch players aren’t the only ones getting monstrous new stuff to play this week. Here’s a peek at what’s brand-new and ready to play for PlayStation, Xbox, and — thanks to a big fella named Godzilla who’s agreed to be shrunk down to smart phone size — even mobile devices:
He may be an oversized epochal reckoning for all the natural imbalance that we people can cause, but Godzilla’s not above getting small and doing battle in tiny spaces when he’s gotta. Right on time to absorb all the movie buzz from this week’s big-screen premiere of Godzilla vs. Kong, our Atomic-breathed hero is calling on smart phone players with a trio of new mobile games.
Releasing this week for iOS and Android is Run Godzilla, described by TOHO Games as “a bizarre casual game where you raise Godzilla” and check in on his progress whenever you’re ready — because even while your attention’s elsewhere, “Godzilla and Kaiju become stronger while you're away.” Pre-orders for a pair of future mobile Godzilla games, Godzilla Destruction and Godzilla Battle Line, also went live this week.
Of the two future titles, Godzilla Destruction is the one that really catches our eye, thanks to TOHO Games’ enthusiastic press release: “Become Godzilla and crush cities underfoot! Step inside the monstrous body of the legendary Godzilla and terrorize all corners of the world! Destroy cities across the globe in this exciting and easy to play game!” Hey, what’s not to love about stomping entire cities to bits with a few flippant flicks on your smart phone? Key in to upcoming game release info at TOHO’s all-encompassing Godzilla website.
Immortals Fenyx Rising — Myths of the Eastern Realm
Immortals Fenyx Rising is set to enlarge Ubisoft’s magic-infused of world of ancient myth this week with Myths of the Eastern Realm, a DLC expansion inspired by Chinese mythology and featuring new playable character Ku — “the last remaining human following a catastrophic event.” Explore all-new game areas set among “clouds and jagged mountain peaks” as you fight to help creator goddess Nuwa keep reality from collapsing into “primordial chaos.”
Ubisoft also teases that the new DLC comes with a big variety of “environmental puzzles, formidable monsters, and elements of myths that have largely been unexplored in video games” — which is pretty much what Immortals Fenyx Rising has been about since its vividly reimagined world of Greek legends debuted in the base game last year. Myths of the Eastern Realm is available now as a DLC add-on for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Google Stadia.
Branching out into the world of playful platforming, Square Enix and co-developer Arzest are debuting all-new IP Balan Wonderworld this week, putting a whimsical fantasy spin on a hallowed genre forged by the likes of Mario and Sonic. Good thing, then, that original Sonic creator Yuji Naka is at the helm: Balan Wonderworld is the first game from Balan Company, Naka’s new in-house Square Enix studio.
The trailer gives a mash-up of quirky and colorful Square Enix vibes reminiscent of past RPG greats like Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X-2. Your duo of kid protagonists must wield “special abilities from a multitude of characterful costumes” (kind of like X-2’s Dressphere system!) “as they adventure in the bizarre and imaginary land of Wonderworld” — a labyrinthine platforming paradise that doubles as a “mysterious musical theatre.”
Balan Wonderworld is available now for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. And a health-minded heads up: Be sure to install the day-one patch, which eliminates some in-game screen flashes to address “a photo-sensitive epilepsy risk,” according to the studio.
- Hitman 3 is getting a 7-part DLC expansion called (aptly enough) Seven Deadly Sins. Greed, the first installment, will put Agent 47 to the test against just one of his inner demons, with the full gamut of his sinful struggles set to release “over time through seven unique content packs,” according to IO Interactive. If you’re greedy for fresh new assassination challenges and even more zany disguises after stealthing your way through the main game’s locomotive finale, at least the wait’s not long: Greed arrives for Hitman 3 on March 30.
- Ready for the May 7 release of Resident Evil Village? Capcom’s apparently got more scary RE news to run with (or run from) before then, because the studio’s already teasing a new Resident Evil digital showcase — the second one this year — to take place sometime in April. They’re not ready to share what’s in store yet, but the first showcase in January saw the surprise release of a PS5-exclusive Village demo…with the tease that another demo for all platforms would be coming later. That’s more than enough to get our attention, so stay tuned to Resident Evil’s bio-hazardous Twitter feed for news on when the April showcase will launch — and what dark mysteries may await.
- After falling largely silent for a while, Sméagol is beginning to scurry as Daedalic Entertainment debuts the just-launched official Twitter account for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. Shared this week as part of GamesRadar’s digital Future Games Show, a handful of gaming insiders got to spend some hands-on time with an early build of the upcoming action-adventure game set in J.R.R. Tolkein’s iconic LOTR-verse, and came away craving more precious Gollum moments. It’s not every day that you get to see the world through Gollum’s twisted eyes, so give him a Twitter follow while keeping up to date on the game’s progress toward its planned 2022 release for PlayStation and Xbox consoles, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- Pre-orders for Biomutant, the “open-world, post-apocalyptic Kung-Fu fable RPG” from developer Experiment 101, went live this week ahead of the game’s May 25 release for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Check out the new trailer above to get a feel for the fun, Marvel-meets-Overwatch character types that have us suspecting this is one delayed RPG that may end up being worth the wait.
- Classic real-time strategy game Rome: Total War is getting a modern-day remaster, and it’s on the way soon. Watch for Total War: Rome Remastered to land at Steam on April 29.
- Back 4 Blood, the spiritual heir to Left 4 Dead, has been pushed from its planned June release to Oct. 12. Developer Turtle Rock Studios says it’s using the extra time to make Back 4 Blood “the best game it can possibly be at launch,” and teased that an open beta play period is zombie-stalking our way sometime this summer.
- Similarly, Humankind, the historical strategy game from the Sega-owned Amplitude, has been pushed from its planned April release until Aug. 17. Scope the Humankind developer blog for details and future updates on a long-brewing RTS that reminds us a little of a wilder, more nature-y take on the iconic Civilization sim series.
- Microsoft is rebranding Xbox Live under the new banner of the Xbox Network. Though players won’t notice any change in service, the name change is meant as a disambiguation move; a way to “distinguish the underlying service from Xbox Live Gold memberships,” via The Verge.
- ICYMI: Jin Sakai is going Hollywood. Ghost of Tsushima’s samurai anti-hero (who’re we kidding here; in our book he’s just a straight-up hero) is getting his own feature film, and it’ll be helmed by John Wick director Chad Stahelski. Scope our early details here — and keep your fingers crossed for foxes to play a supernatural guiding role.