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Credit: Bethesda Softworks

The Week in Gaming: Gauging the Fallout from Microsoft’s megaton Bethesda buy

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Sep 25, 2020, 9:51 PM EDT (Updated)

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!

Games developed by Bethesda Game Studios have a habit of helping to define their console generations. From The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2006 to Fallout 4 in 2015 and all the franchise titles in between, the studio, under the publishing umbrella of Bethesda Softworks and its parent company Zenimax Media, has had a major hand in making western RPGs a console gaming staple over the past 15 years.

Game of the Year accolades for landmark Bethesda titles like Fallout 3 and Skyrim — a game that’s closing in on 10 years of unflagging support from fans — have rewarded Bethesda’s vast open worlds, which take years to create and enlist the efforts of thousands of employees and contractors. Like Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto games, introducing a new playground in the Fallout or The Elder Scrolls universe hasn’t historically meant just creating a momentary gaming ripple that trails off after a few weeks of buzz — it’s meant launching a meticulously curated ecosystem where players on platforms of every type will be living and iterating (thanks to Bethesda’s robust support for fan mods) for a long, long time.

That doesn’t even factor in the other major AAA titles that Bethesda Softworks publishes from in-house Zenimax developers like Arkane Studios, id Software, and MachineGames. Franchises like DOOM, Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Prey, and the upcoming Deathloop (interestingly, a PlayStation 5 console exclusive) all fall under the Zenimax umbrella, and together with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, they’ve made for some of the most compelling reasons to own a Sony or Microsoft console for fans who want to start playing the moment a game’s released. 

Nearly a decade on, Skyrim fans are still scrounging gold for a house in Whiterun. Credit: Bethesda Softworks

No one outside Microsoft’s seismic purchase of Zenimax Media this week for $7.5 billion — a sum that dwarfs Disney’s $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm — knows whether the future of Bethesda’s biggest gaming franchises will include the PlayStation 5 and Sony consoles yet to come. But the timing of the deal, as well as the prospect of snagging major upcoming Bethesda games like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI with nothing more than a monthly Xbox Game Pass subscription, instantly boosted interest in the Xbox Series X and Series S, just at the moment that the new consoles went up for pre-order on Sept. 22.

Despite announcing the new Xbox’s pre-order date ahead of time, early fallout (ahem) from Series X/S pre-orders suggests that Microsoft felt a similarly chaotic rush to the one Sony experienced with the PS5 last week. And while there’s no firm way to connect the Zenimax sale (announced just a day earlier, on Sept. 21) with Microsoft’s sales surge, it’s a safe bet that having both the Lone Wanderer and the Dragonborn in Microsoft’s in-house studio stable has already planted the seed of thought in the heads of at least some PlayStation 5 devotees that, at some point, they may end up setting a new Xbox right beside their PS5s.

That decision could hinge on what Microsoft does with exclusivity, and as the proud new owner of Vault-Tec and Tamriel, Microsoft certainly owns the prerogative to make Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, and any other Bethesda-published franchise exclusive to Xbox. But whether that will happen is still an open question — at least to those outside the company. Longtime Xbox chief and current Microsoft gaming EVP Phil Spencer reportedly said this week that the decision to debut new Bethesda games as Xbox exclusives will be made on a case-by-case basis, and that some future games could be cross-platform releases. But as Sony shores up PS5 console exclusives for major upcoming blockbusters like Final Fantasy XVI — the first mainline FF game to go exclusive since Final Fantasy XII in 2006 — there’s always the competitive possibility that AAA Fallout and The Elder Scrolls titles could land on Xbox first, even if they do eventually end up on other consoles. 

Bethesda’s Todd Howard, hanging out with Elon Musk at last year’s E3. Credit: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for E3/Entertainment Software Association

In a lengthy blog post this week, Bethesda creative sensei Todd Howard touched on the game studio’s development synergy with the Xbox Series X/S, writing that the “new systems are optimized for the vast worlds we love to create, with generational leaps not just in graphics, but CPU and data streaming as well.” In the same paragraph, he also revealed that the game engine that powers Fallout and The Elder Scrolls is receiving a huge upgrade — “our largest engine overhaul since Oblivion, with all new technologies powering our first new IP in 25 years, Starfield, as well as The Elder Scrolls VI.” While that sounds like good news for Xbox owners, it might not completely leave everyone else out in the cold. “Like our original partnership, this one is about more than one system or one screen,” Howard also added. “We share a deep belief in the fundamental power of games, in their ability to connect, empower, and bring joy.”

Over the years, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls have captivated the imaginations (and console buying strategies) of countless players in a way that only a very few other franchises can boast. Like Zelda and Mario for Nintendo, they help persuade fans on the fence to buy a new game system, and have even influenced their decisions on which one to pick. Fortunately for players, there’s still a long window of opportunity before they need to make that kind of choice again.

Bethesda hasn’t revealed a release date for The Elder Scrolls VI, which isn’t expected to arrive anytime soon, and a new post-76 Fallout title hasn’t been announced — though fans are going wild with speculative enthusiasm at the prospect of Bethesda and Fallout New Vegas developer Obsidian (also owned by Microsoft) once again joining forces. So if you’re picking up a PlayStation 5 and suddenly find yourself wondering whether your days roaming Fallout’s wasteland or The Elder Scrolls’ Cyrodiil are numbered, stash away that make-or-break anxiety. It’ll likely be a year or more before we see either franchise debut a new game on any console.

The best of the rest

Sony de-tangles Spidey's sales web

When Insomniac Games revealed Spider-Man: Miles Morales as a PlayStation 5 launch title, players addicted to soaring over the New York streets in 2018’s Spider-Man knew there was plenty to be excited about. But after last week’s news that the game would also be heading to PlayStation 4, and that a remastered version of its 2018 PS4 predecessor would also be available digitally as part of an “Ultimate” PS5 bundle for Miles Morales, fans on social media started asking so many questions about which console will be getting which version that — at least for a day or two — sorting through the answers felt a lot like squirming helplessly in a sticky web of jargon.

Thankfully, Sony heard the fans, and issued a statement this week to Kotaku to help un-stick anyone hung up on which version to buy. But even with Sony’s careful explanation, it’s still easy to lose track of all the options (as well as a couple of key limitations) — so here’s the deal: PS5 players can buy the base version of Spider-Man: Miles Morales for $49.99 and go their merry way with just that one game. Or they can pay $20 more for the Ultimate Edition ($69.99), which includes download access for the remastered version of 2018’s Spider-Man (and there won’t be a physical disc of the remaster; it’s strictly download only).

PlayStation on YouTube

Pretty simple so far. But what if you’re a PS4 player? How much of all this new Spidey goodness will be available on Sony’s current-gen console? Well, a PS4-tweaked version of Spider-Man: Miles Morales is also making its way to the PS4, though PS4 players will miss out on all the ray tracing, fast loading speeds, and extra graphical oomph of its PS5 big brother. Insomniac and Sony will be offering the PS5 version as a free upgrade for anyone who buys a PS4 copy and decides later to graduate to the new console. And if you take that route, you’ll even be able to download the PS5-remastered version of Spider-Man, when the time comes, by paying the same additional $20 price bump (via Kotaku) that also upgrades the standard PS5 version of Miles Morales to the two-game Ultimate Edition.

But there won’t be a standalone version of the remastered version of the 2018 Spider-Man for either console, so the only way to get it will be to buy the Ultimate Edition of Spider-Man: Miles Morales for the PS5, or to buy it for $20 when you upgrade your PS4 version of Miles Morales to the PS5 version. But the one constant that both PS4 and PS5 owners will share in common is backward compatibility: If you just want to pop in the original 2018 Spider-Man game disc you bought long ago and play the game the way you remember it, you’ll be able to do that (for free, of course, since you already own the game) just as easily on the PlayStation 5 as on the PlayStation 4.

Last but not least for some fans, the PS5 remaster of 2018’s Spider-Man is a true standalone game made solely for the new console, which means it won’t recognize your save files or other game data from the older PS4 version. No matter how far you’ve progressed in the original Spider-Man or its postgame DLC, and no matter how many cool Spidey suits you unlocked along the way, starting a new PlayStation 5 save file for the remastered version of Spider-Man essentially amounts to starting a completely different game. With only a very few exceptions, that’s pretty standard practice for game remasters in general — PS4 owners who played The Last of Us Remastered, for example, started their new experience completely from scratch, with no access to the save files from the older PS3 game.

Just think of it as having a wealth of options. Whether you’re a lucky early PS5 owner or a PS4 holdout, there’s a version of Spider-Man: Miles Morales for you. And one way or another, when you do get your hands on a PS5, the remastered version of the original Spider-Man will be ready and waiting for you to swing back into action.

NieR steps up its game

Welp, Square Enix and quirky NieR RPG mastermind Yoko Taro lived up to their promise at the “We Have a Decent Amount of New Info” game showcase at this week’s Tokyo Game Show. Taro unveiled a new trailer for the completely overhauled version of 2010’s NieR — the sleeper PlayStation 3 RPG that quietly launched the synth-y sci-fi franchise before NieR: Automata exploded its popularity on the PS4 (and later on the Xbox One).

Announcing that NieR Replicant will reach players’ hands next spring, Taro (wearing his signature, grinning-moon Emil mask from the series) showed off a slice of Replicant that massively enhances the game beyond its last-gen predecessor, so much so that it’s pretty much all new. Add in the fact that the version of Replicant we’ll be getting never was released in the U.S. (North America got a version of NieR that featured a differently styled, older and rougher protagonist), and it’s safe to look at the upcoming remaster as a modern reintroduction to a franchise whose Automata-fueled popularity has propelled it into a surprise new RPG mainstay for Square Enix. 

Credit: Square Enix

As you can see from the spread above, Replicant is also getting the deluxe treatment for die-hard fans, with the White Snow edition featuring a lush “Lunar Tear” collector box; a SteelBook game case; a giant 7-volume illustrated copy of the game’s complete dialogue; three collector pins; and a two-disc soundtrack featuring new arrangements of the score — which, like the Automata soundtrack, is an experience in itself. The NieR news didn’t end with Replicant, either: A mobile title called NieR Re[in]carnation is also heading to the U.S., merging 2D scrolling and 3D rendering to put players in the middle of a mystery as Mama, your floaty character, tracks down pieces of a weapon’s “memories.” There’s no release date set for Re[in]carnation, but the game will arrive for both Apple and Android mobile devices.

In a validation of just how big Nier: Automata has been for Square Enix, developer Platinum Games also showed up to announce that the 2017 game has now sold 4.85 million copies across PS4, Xbox One, and PC. It’ll be interesting to see whether that momentum brings players to a fresh acquaintance with the game that started it all when Nier Replicant (officially titled NieR Replicant Ver.1.22474487139…) comes spinning onto PS4, Xbox One, and PC on April 23 of next year.

No Man's Sky expands with Origins

In a universe that never ends, how can there be more? Developer Hello Games set out to answer that question this week with the release of a massive new update to No Man’s Sky, the procedurally generated space survival game that first debuted in 2016. No Man’s Sky: Origins brings new planets, new creatures (watch out for sandworms!), and a new weather system to the game in what studio founder Sean Murray says at the PlayStation Blog is a return to the game’s “core principle” of discovery and exploration.

HelloGamesTube on YouTube

 

Credit: Hello Games

If Origins brings a slightly different look to No Man’s Sky than what you’re used to, that’s probably another of the update’s new features: a newly introduced scaling system that Hello Games says is expressly meant to impress. “These new worlds have vast, sweeping terrain. Their mountains and vistas are on a colossal new scale, giving shape to more dramatic, awe-inspiring scenery than ever before,” the studio teases, while pledging that the update won’t affect any of the bases on existing worlds where players have already put down roots.

With a new menu system and graphical interface tweaks that make No Man’s Sky feel a little like a reboot at first blush, the ambitious dream of making a game with infinite worlds has come a long way from its shaky 2016 beginnings. Origins is available now as a free update for No Man’s Sky for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Spare parts

- Amazon has unveiled its upcoming entry in the cloud gaming space already occupied by Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud. This week the retail giant announced Luna, a cloud-based games streaming service with full Twitch integration that’s set to debut next month. We've covered the Luna reveal in depth here, but the basics are simple: Luna comes with a completely optional dedicated controller that Amazon says will smooth out latency issues, there's a launch library of more than 100 game titles, and you'll be able to play via FireTV, PC, MacOS, and Apple mobile devices with a monthly subscription. Luna debuts via invite-only early access beginning in October.

- The underground is emerging from the shadows for a date with the big screen. Following on the crossover success of Sonic the Hedgehog, SEGA is making a live-action movie based on its Yakuza franchise, which dives deep into the world of its namesake organized crime outfit in Japan. According to Variety, which first reported the news, 1212 Entertainment (a veteran of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) and Wild Sheep Content (whose Erik Barmack has EP credits on TV productions like The Rain and Sacred Games) will produce the movie, which is in the early days of looking for script writers. There’s no release date set, so freshen up on your Yakuza lore when the next main game installment, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, hits U.S. shores on Nov. 10 for Xbox Series X/S, followed soon after by releases for PS4, PC, and (eventually) PS5.

 

Bethesda Softworks on YouTube

- Bethesda has revealed the next phase of the endgame for The Elder Scrolls Online’s Dark Heart of Skyrim storyline, which will take players to the stonewalled Dwarven mountain fortress of Markarth. The 22-minute trailer takes a deep look into all the content that comes bundled with the Markarth DLC Game Pack, which is set to arrive on Nov. 2 for PC and MacOS, followed on Nov. 10 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

 

- Longtime fans of The Last of Us may be gearing up for the Sept. 26 return of Outbreak Day, Naughty Dog’s annual celebration of all things Joel and Ellie. But starting this year, they’ll be celebrating under a new name. Citing the new sensitivities to the concept of “outbreak” that the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on the real world, the studio is rebranding the event with an easy-to-remember new title: The Last of Us Day. Don’t expect landmark announcements through Saturday’s day-long event, but if tradition holds, there’ll probably be some neat game-related goodies like console themes and tie-in merchandise.

- Cyberpunk 2077 will be getting a next-gen version (which we already assumed was coming), though CD Projekt says it’ll likely be next year before it’s ready for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. When the upgrade does arrive, it’ll be a free upgrade for anyone who already bought the game for PS4 or Xbox One — and in the meantime, players can get into the debut version of the game on both current and next-gen consoles. The gates to Night City swing open when Cyberpunk 2077 releases on Nov. 19.

- Another sign that video games are creeping into the higher echelons of mainstream entertainment: For the first time ever, the Tribeca Film Festival is opening submissions for its new Tribeca Games Award Category, via The Verge. The new focus on games is meant to recognize games and creators who “demonstrate artistic excellence in storytelling,” and with 2020 serving up one epic experience after another, they definitely picked the right year to start.

 

- The date for this year’s Game Awards has been announced, and like other big events in the age of COVID-19, it’s an online-only affair. Watch from more than 40 different live streaming sources when the show goes live as a three-city simulcast from Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo on Dec. 10.

- Just a little next-gen tidbit to tide you over: Via Polygon, the Xbox Series X (and the entire Xbox ecosystem, for that matter) has a cool new operating system feature for impatient players. If you’re planning to take the digital download route, Xbox consoles will soon let you pre-install downloadable titles even before you buy them — even if you haven’t pre-ordered the game. In practical terms, that means that launch-day game you had your eye on will be ready to play the moment it goes live ... even if you remember it at the last second.

Credit: Hasbro

- If you can’t wait out the delay until next year for Halo Infinite, at least you can channel your inner Master Chief IRL with Hasbro’s new Halo-inspired Nerf blasters. Via C|Net, two new foam dart shooters will hit the streets on Jan. 1 that not only look like they belong in a Nerfed-out version of the Halo-verse; they’ll also come with codes that you can redeem for exclusive in-game goodies.

The Bulldog SG blaster packs flip-up sights and tactical rails, and sports a 10-capacity rotating drum that lets you fire Nerf Elite darts at your frenemies. The smaller Mangler blaster (pictured above, and styled to resemble the Halo Covenant weapon it’s based on) has a 6-dart drum and doesn’t do auto-fire like its bigger Bulldog brother — you’ll have to prime each shot before it’s ready.

The Bulldog reportedly will go for $35, while the Mangler is priced at $25. As for the game itself, we don’t have a specific release date other than 343 Industries’ pledge that the recently delayed Halo Infinite will arrive sometime in 2021. At least you can already reserve your copy for Xbox Series X/S and PC; pre-orders went live at multiple retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, and GameStop this week.

 

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