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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!
Okay, we’ve got a confession to make: We’ve tried. We’re still trying. We’re gonna keep right on trying. But like many of y’all, we still haven’t been able to nab a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X to call our own. Those online shortages are hitting us all these days, while we resort to reading about how great Demon’s Souls and Astro’s Playroom look and feel with Sony’s new DualSense controller.
It’s not all bad, though, because the console waiting game has opened up a new opportunity to check out another piece of new-gen gear we have managed to get our hands on: the new Oculus Quest 2 VR system.
The Quest 2 has been out in the wild for a couple of months now, and we’re finally getting the chance to put the sleek white headset through its VR paces — and of course we skipped past many of the (admittedly) cool-looking games on the Oculus storefront (like first-person VR shooter Superhot, or escape survival adventure The Room VR: A Dark Matter) and, like any good sci-fi fan, headed straight for a date with Darth Vader in the galaxy far, far away.
Booting up Vader Immortal on the Quest 2 is a great introduction to some of the features that distinguish the new gear from the original Quest (as well as everything else out there)…plus it’s just a terrific VR experience no matter which way you saber-slice it. Vader’s 60-minute playtime won’t sweat the Quest 2’s estimated 2-hour-plus battery life (on par with its original Quest predecessor), and with the new headset weighing in slightly slimmer than the Quest, dashing through those lightsaber battles and vertigo-inducing ladder escapes didn’t have us ready to rip off our gear — at least, not before the credits rolled.
Anyone who’s been spoiled by 4K console gaming on a giant TV might not get too excited about the Quest 2’s 1832 x 1920 resolution (measured in pixels per eyepiece), but coming to the Quest 2 from other VR sets’ lower resolutions will notice a welcome upgrade. Mustafar’s lava cliffs and cavernous nether reaches inside the Imperial base convincingly make you forget you’re standing in the middle of a room with a crazy contraption on your head — so much so that finding fault with the resolution is the kind of quibble you might only think about after the fact.
Anyone who remembers picking up a Nintendo Wii controller for the first time and realizing the new possibilities that come with extending gameplay mechanics into the realm of gesture controls will greet the Quest 2’s handheld control cuffs as a huge step forward. Throughout our time in Mustafar, syncing the controllers’ motions to the actions required onscreen felt completely natural, and never frustrated our efforts and doing the intuitive, obvious thing. By the time we got our hands on the lightsaber in the main Episode I campaign and made short work of our droid trainer, the combat clicked in a way that just felt right (again, thank the boosted resolution for a lot of the sensory improvements here.) Even the Quest 2's onboard sound was more than enough to feel immersed in the action, though an aftermarket set of headphones, as you'd expect, still makes a huge difference.
At the end of the day, there are really only two big asterisks that come with picking up a Quest 2 — and at $299 (down a full $100 from the previous version), price isn’t one of them. For one thing, anyone who’s determined to stay away from Facebook won’t be making it past the setup screen, because a linked Facebook account is now required to configure the hardware and start playing. So if you're wholly opposed to the social media connection, it could be a problem. Since the bottom line is that a Facebook account is a must if you want to play the Quest 2 — no ifs, ands, or buts.
The other caveat isn’t unique to the Quest 2 — in fact, the new device is as good as it gets right now in the VR space, at least in our opinion, when it comes to playability. But even at its lightest and most comfortable, VR hardware is still relatively bulky for super-long gameplay stretches, and the kind of thing you’re always aware of while you’re wearing it. Until the tech pushes past the heavy-headset stage and reaches the point of small-scale gear that’s as welcoming as daily eyewear (anyone remember Google Glass?), the sheer bulk of a VR headset means you’ll likely confine your gameplay sessions to an hour or so…before you’re just ready to shed the headgear and take an extended break. But there's no doubt the Quest 2 is one of the biggest steps yet toward cracking the code.
It’s a blast to break out of confinement with your trusty hydrospanner and stalk Vader Immortal’s incredibly realistic Imperial corridors. And the Quest 2, which syncs to your smart phone’s Oculus app to streamline the game selection and browsing process, has tweaked the user-friendly features to a level that’ll feel secondhand and familiar to anyone with an Apple or Android device.
With VR game-changers like Half-Life: Alyx also playable through a PC-to-USB connection, and a growing library of games that make incredible use of the Quest 2’s spatial depth, dropping $299 to jump into the VR space has never been an easier call to make. Virtual reality has definitely matured beyond the point of feeling like a truly niche phenomenon that appeals only to early adopters. We’re just eager for the endgame, when strapping on a pair of super-lightweight glasses is all that’s needed to swap one reality for another. But for now? The Quest 2 will do the trick.
The best of the rest
Cyberpunk 2077: The final countdown
Whatever games you’ve been playing lately, there’s a good chance it might all come to a smoking halt next Thursday. Nearly 8 years after CD Projekt RED first teased Cyberpunk 2077 with a stunning trailer and concept art that showcased an augmented femme fatale in a Blade Runner-like streetscape, the real deal is finally at hand.
Until it’s ours at last, there’s not a lot we can say about 2077 that hasn’t already been said. All the Night City Wire webcasts have now been cast; the game’s sprawling map has been revealed, Keanu Reeves’ voice role is in the bag, and we’re well acquainted by now with the three paths you can choose as protagonist V. Well, there is one new thing: Cyberpunk 2077's pretty insane-looking photo mode.
Snapping in-game art shots has almost become a side pastime for players who've delved into the insanely robust photo mode features that've rolled out for titles like The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima (which can safely lay claim to one of the best photo modes we've ever seen). 2077 is set to get in on the action with its just-announced photo mode features (highligted in the above clip), which promise to lend the single-player RPG a socially buzz-able flavor as players scour Night City's many tiny nooks and sweeping vistas for just the perfect take.
Fortunately, CD Projekt RED knows how to pull a dystopian hype train around that final corner and into the station. The studio announced this week it’ll be hosting a digital launch party via the game’s official Twitter feed, going live on Dec. 9 on the eve of the game’s release for a Q&A with developers Miles Tost and Patrick Mills. There’ll also be a special launch-window #CyberNight hashmoji to spice up the game’s social buzz, as well as some unannounced goodies and info drops that CD Projekt RED says fans will just have to tune in to discover.
Hosting by Gamertag Radio’s Parris Lilly, the Cyberpunk cyber-party gets started at 6 p.m. ET on Dec. 9, with the game itself — after two excruciating delays — set to launch at last on Dec. 10.
Immortals Fenyx Rising takes flight
We’re not sure if you can casually play all the way through Immortals Fenyx Rising in its short week of availability before Cyberpunk 2077 comes out, but we’re determined to crash-course Ubisoft’s mythic adventure while we can. The stylized action-adventure tour of the ancient-world pantheon originally sprang from an Assassin's Creed idea and began life with a different title (Gods and Monsters), but the game’s strong early reviews reveal that its early, Greek mythology-based DNA is still intact.
Playing as Fenyx, Immortals turns you loose in an open world (collectively called the Golden Isle) that summons you to no fewer than seven different areas themed around one of the ancient gods. With a bird sidekick, third-person combat that lets you switch between bow-and-arrow and melee; and deep inventory of traversal abilities and useful items, Immortals is drawing tons of comparisons — the good kind — with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for both its gameplay and its sense of sprawling open-world adventure.
One thing’s for sure: Ubisoft has made it easy for the Fenyx to take to the skies. Still brand new from its Dec. 3 release, Immortals Fenyx Rising is available for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and PC.
- Wherever Fallout goes, the Brotherhood of Steel eventually follows. Now the Wasteland’s well-organized tech-hoarding military machine has arrived in Appalachia with Fallout 76's new (and free) Steel Dawn update. Check out the trailer for the slickest Power Armor bottlecaps can buy, and get ready for a questline featuring new locations, new NPCs, and “new weapons and armor from the Brotherhood of Steel armory,” according to Bethesda.
- Dauntless, the monster-slaying free RPG from developer Phoenix Labs and Epic Games, has just gotten a December refresh (called Dauntless Reforged) that opens up the game world with 18 new islands where fresh behemoth challenges — and fresh new loot — await. It’s an open-world shift away from the mission-based structure of the past, and it all looks as brutally beautiful as the game first did when it launched back in May. The free update is ready to roll now for Dauntless on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- It’s finally happened: Kratos has made the jump from PlayStation to Xbox…well, at least sort of. Fortnite has just unleashed a new God of War-themed skin for its universe-mashing Zero Point storyline that puts players in the livery of ancient Greece’s finest shamed warrior. The new “Oathbreaker” set outfits your character in both the new-to-Fortnite Kratos outfit, as well as the Leviathan Pickaxe (a version of Kratos’ main weapon from 2018’s God of War). That means you now have the wacky choice of suiting up as the Mandalorian, Kratos, a hero made entirely of flapjacks, or a whole host of other left-field loadouts when it’s time to get your new hunting assignment from Jonesy. Fortnite's Season 5 may have just started, but already we can tell it's gonna be lit.
Here’s a cool way to sign off for the week: diving back into the multiplayer mode for The Last of Us to spy a cool Uncharted Easter egg that’s been hiding in plain sight this whole time. Former Naughty Dog developer Rodney Reece took to Twitter this week to finally let players in on a secret he helped hide away long ago in the Beach area of The Last of Us’ multiplayer “Factions” battle zones. See that abandoned seaplane stranded at the edge of the beach? That’s Sully’s “Hog Wild” plane from Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune — which really did crash (and ended up in a tree) after being shot down, in the original game, behind enemy lines. Now we're just waiting for that first report from the player who comes across Sully himself — perhaps stumbling dazed and confused out of the wreckage.