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 stage is finally set. Last week, Microsoft gave us the skinny on when to expect the Xbox Series X and its scaled-down Series S sibling, and this week Sony completed the next-gen picture by revealing a release date and pricing for its upcoming pair of PlayStation 5 consoles.
Paired with some mega-announcements for new games, Sony’s huge information dump about the PS5 this week just made a year’s worth of next-gen gaming buzz feel a lot more imminent and real. More than 4.5 million people reportedly tuned in live for Sony’s Sept. 16 PS5 event, leading to a frenzied rush to online storefronts that quickly exhausted U.S. retailers’ early supply of pre-order placeholders for both the $499 Standard PS5 and the $399 disc-free Digital Edition. Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, GameStop and more — all the usual big-box and online retailers theoretically will still take your money in exchange for an assurance that a day-one PS5 can be yours…if, that is, you can refresh their websites just at the right moment when new supply becomes available.
Leaving aside early availability (Sony says it’s supplying more PS5s for the system’s Nov. 12 launch than it did when the PS4 debuted back in 2013), how does Sony’s approach to the next generation compare with what Microsoft unveiled last week? We’re not talking about hardware. On both sides, the flagship versions of the machines themselves appear more than capable of seamlessly running the games that’ve been announced. Instead, we’re talking about the increasing shift toward on-demand gaming, whether it’s via a subscription that’ll let you play brand-new titles (Microsoft’s approach with Xbox Game Pass) or a curated selection of favorites from an earlier era (the strategy Sony’s using with its PS Plus and PS Now subscription models).
It all comes down to streaming priorities, as well as which platform exclusives compel you toward one system or the other. If you’d rather sample new AAA releases without committing to a next-gen asking price approaching $70 per game, any flavor of the tiered Xbox Game Pass subscription will have you covered on the Xbox Series X/S. Game Pass also comes with a back catalog of previously-released games, and overall appears to represent a fully fleshed-out subscription platform for people who may shy away from shelling out for individual titles — even if they’re the latest and greatest. But it does have a drawback in the form of exclusivity: No matter how much time passes, you’ll probably never be able to play God of War, Spider-Man, or Horizon Zero Dawn on an Xbox, which is a testament to Sony’s dedication in laying a solid ground game of console exclusives during the PS4’s hugely successful run.
Both Sony’s PS Plus and PS Now services should work just fine for players who want to scratch a general nostalgic itch for yesterday’s biggest third-party titles and PlayStation classics, especially in the wake of the company’s reveal this week that a mighty selection of big-name PS4 games like The Last of Us Remastered and Bloodborne will be folded in, via the new PlayStation Plus Collection, at no additional monthly charge for PS Plus members. But Sony has been unequivocal about where it wants players to play the PS5’s new releases — and it isn’t via a gaming subscription. “We are not going to go down the road of putting new release titles into a subscription model,” PlayStation chief Jim Ryan told Gamesindustry this week. “These games cost many millions of dollars, well over $100 million, to develop. We just don't see that as sustainable.”
That means you’ll need to pay the full $49.99 asking price for the standard version of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, regardless of whether you grab the digital download or the Blu-ray disc (an Ultimate Edition that packs in 2018’s Spider-Man for PS4 will also sell for $69.99.) No Sony subscription will get you into Miles’ Spidey-suit anywhere near the game’s launch window, even as Xbox Game Pass subscribers sit back and dial up Halo Infinite the same day it’s released next year…without ever committing to an actual game purchase.
Most players likely know which direction they’re headed, and it’s safe to assume that — at least over time — many will end up owning some version of both consoles, and perhaps even ponying up for both a Sony and Microsoft game subscription. In other words, the significance of all this talk of gaming subscriptions may matter more, in the end, to the companies that’re taking your money than they do to players, and especially to Microsoft. Set up with nothing more than an Xbox Game Pass membership, an Xbox owner could go an entire console cycle without ever needing to spend an additional dime in order to play a new Xbox game — and that’s something that definitely won’t be happening on the PlayStation 5. But PS5 owners will be playing a whole lot of AAA games that, at least while they’re new, can only be found on PlayStation. To us, it looks like a wealth of options: No matter which you choose, new consoles and new games are only a couple of months away — and the next-gen glass isn't just half-full; it's nearly overflowing.
The best of the rest
Final Fantasy & God of War — the PS5 waiting game begins
Much of the oomph from Sony’s presentation this week came from the two big teases bookending the showcase; announcements for games that are truly new — as in, no one had any confirmation that they were in development until Sony revealed them on Sept. 16. Adding to the wow factor, it just so happens that the pair of reveals hailed from two of the biggest names in all of gaming — Final Fantasy and God of War — with news that both next-gen titles will be exclusives to the PlayStation 5.
There’s sure to be tons of news about both games in the months to come, but of the two, it’s Final Fantasy XVI that had the most to reveal, introducing itself to the world with an action-filled 4-minute trailer. What can we tell from day one about Final Fantasy XVI? Most of it’s speculative, since what we haven't seen could upend everything we think the clip’s trying to tell us. Still, breathless speculation is the name of the game, right? Here’s a conservative take on what we learned — we think — from the FF XVI reveal.
The Final Fantasy XVI announcement trailer contains some interesting teases about what the new, medieval-looking setting will bring to the storied JRPG series. The setting itself is a change from recent single-player Final Fantasy games, which have ventured into stylized versions of present-day sci-fi (as with FF XV), or out-and-out otherworldy sci-fi (in the case of FF XIII, with its Dyson sphere-type engineered world and futuristic trappings). From what we’ve seen so far, magic is the only bridge between old-world primitivism and modern power-wielding in FF XVI, with swords, shields, and spears providing the close-quarters complement to your arsenal of powerful magic and gigantic monster summons (called Eikons in the trailer, similar to the summons in the Final Fantasy XIV online MMORPG).
The story appears to center on a boy named Joshua, the keeper of what the trailer hints may be the power of the Phoenix Eikon — perhaps in long-standing opposition to the other Eikons shown throughout the clip. “I am Joshua’s shield,” says the unnamed narrator, the dark-haired warrior (shown in the image that tops this article) who takes the field against the mountainous Titan Eikon in the trailer’s opening moments. Judging by the time lapse that flashes between both characters as children, and later as young men, Square Enix’s first look may be teasing a story-changing shift in their relationship as time passes — but we’ll have to wait and see.
While Square Enix has a gift for reserving some content surprises right up until a game’s release day, the first thematic beats for FF XVI bear at least a passing resemblance to the high politics of Final Fantasy XII. That 2006 masterpiece for the PlayStation 2 framed its individual characters’ growth against the larger world-shaping conflict unfolding in the land of Ivalice — a subtle change from the more personal, character-driven stories of earlier FF titles. There’s an evil empire of some kind in the new game; a “blight” that’s oppressing Joshua’s half of the story-verse, and a “Mother Crystal” that occupies a sanctioning role in allowing the good guys (we assume they're the good guys) to fight with legitimacy and honor. Like Final Fantasy XII before it, XVI's power balance, favoring an abundance of resources and might, all seems to lean heavily in the empire's direction.
Naoki Yoshida, the producer widely credited with elevating Final Fantasy XIV from a disastrous early launch to one of the best FF story arcs in years, is producing FF XVI, with The Last Remnant director Hiroshi Takai directing. Takai wrote this week at the PlayStation Blog that Square Enix’s Creative Business Unit III (a completely separate team from the ones handling both FFXIV and the Final Fantasy VII Remake games) is “pouring our hearts and souls into this project each and every day,” pledging that the final product “will be worth the wait.” With his recent Final Fantasy résumé, we’ll take that to heart.
In terms of gameplay, it’s hard to predict where FF XVI will take us based on what the trailer showed. All the combat shown so far pits a single player — not a party — against classic FF enemies like giant Malboros and imperial dragoons, with all the on-screen mayhem looking a whole lot like a Devil May Cry-style action game. That may not be a coincidence: Earlier this year, Square Enix reportedly hired Capcom's former Devil May Cry and Dragon’s Dogma designer Ryota Suzuki, though his direct involvement in FFXVI hasn’t been officially confirmed. At any rate, we didn’t see any health bars or hit points during the trailer’s combat sequences and we did see plenty of one-on-one fighting — though it’s still early days when it comes to trying to read too much into how the game will balance action-based combat with more conventional turn-based battles.
There’s no release date for Final Fantasy XVI, but Yoshida teased this week that the “next big information reveal” is coming sometime in 2021. ’Til then, we’ll keep watching and re-watching the trailer for more clues…while waiting for our turn to team up with a fire-breathing chocobo when the game releases as a PlayStation 5 exclusive.
Ragnarök comes to God of War
Strangely, we know both way more and way less about the upcoming sequel to Santa Monica Studios’ incredible 2018 reboot of God of War than we really know about FF XVI. Sony had no gameplay or cinematic footage to show — only a gravelly Kratos voiceover — but the brief tease seems to confirm the universal fan hunch that the new PS5 game will focus on the logical Norse-tinged story evolution that the previous game all but set up with its surprising ending. We won’t spoil that here, but it involves Kratos’ young son Atreus being much more than he appears, as well as the likelihood that Thor is suddenly super-interested in Atreus and Kratos after the way things ended in the 2018 game.
Sony hasn’t officially confirmed the new game’s title as God of War: Ragnarök, teasing only that “Ragnarök is coming” — but for convenience's sake, we'll probably be using it a lot as a placeholder. Since Ragnarök’s pretty much the Nordic version of the apocalypse, the concept could set up a conflict between Kratos and Thor — which the first game’s Easter egg coda strongly hinted — or, it could even mean that the warring gods might have to team up to keep the world from ending. Either scenario carries plenty of intrigue, especially for those who already know what role Atreus (and his hidden divine identity) might play.
Unlike Final Fantasy, God of War doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel as game director Cory Barlog leads Santa Monica Studio toward the next game’s release date. While we can’t wait to get our first glimpses of Kratos and the rest of the pantheon in all their PS5-rendered glory, we’re pretty much expecting Ragnarök to iterate on the art style and characterizations that its dazzling predecessor firmly established. Better still, Sony’s already teased a release window for the sequel. God of War: Ragnarök (or whatever we’ll end up calling it) is set to come early in the new console’s life cycle with a launch target set for sometime in 2021.
Oculus streamlines the ‘Quest’ for seamless VR
A new Oculus headset is on the way; one that’ll eventually replace both its namesake predecessor and the Oculus Rift 2 — and in the process streamline the virtual reality experience for anyone who wants to tap the power of VR on both consoles and PC.
The new Quest 2 rings in at $299 for the base model and $399 for an upgraded version that’ll expand the storage space from the base 64GB to 256GB. Both versions come with boosted processing power over the original Quest they’re replacing, as well as higher visual resolution, more memory, and a new white form factor that significantly slims down the headgear’s overall heft — previously an across-the-board gripe among would-be VR adopters that’s never been unique to Oculus.
There’s a potential caveat that comes with snagging a Quest 2 — you’ll have to have a Facebook account to access its features — but it’s a tradeoff that early reviewers impressed by the new device’s higher horsepower and user-friendly comfort for long gameplay sessions seem more than happy to make. The library of VR titles has grown a lot just in the past year or so, breaking into the mainstream with glossy titles like Vader Immortal and especially this year’s Half-Life: Alyx, so as more new game announcements continue to expand the VR-only space, a Facebook sign-in and a $299 entry point may be just the incentive to give tentative players the needed push to get into the world of virtual reality. Pre-orders are already live, with the next generation of Oculus VR set to arrive when the Quest 2 launches on Oct. 13.
- Among the games Nintendo showed off this week at its Direct Mini event were a pair of completely new entries in the Monster Hunter franchise: Capcom announced Monster Hunter Rise, an all-new game heading to the Switch that features an open world, a new canine companion called a Palamute, and some new platforming abilities we’ve not seen in a Monster Hunter game before. Following close behind was Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, the second installment in Monster Hunter’s JRPG-based spinoff series. Look for Rise to hit the Switch on March 16 of next year, with Wings of Ruin coming sometime in the summer of 2021. Also new to the Switch (and playable now) is Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which first debuted on the Xbox One and PC earlier this year.
- In addition to its big new game reveals this week, Sony also shared tons of updates for games we already knew about. Publisher Bethesda and developer Arkane were among them with a new Deathloop trailer that pits protagonist Colt against Aleksis and Egor, a pair of “Visionaries” who appear on his assassin’s list of targets. Every time we get a new Deathloop trailer, the mystery behind the game’s Groundhog Day-style time trick unfurls a little more, but there’s still plenty we don’t know. An epiphany is likely on the way, though, since more news is sure to drop before the game’s release sometime in 2021.
- In a series known for some of the coolest, zaniest DLC there is, one of the most inspired add-ons for Borderlands 2 is set to get the full Dungeons & Dragons-style board game treatment. Tiny Tina’s Bunkers & Badasses, a sweet tabletop homage to developer Gearbox’s Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep DLC for the 2012 game, is heading our way as an officially-licensed board spinoff from Nerdvana Games. Anyone who’s played the DLC knows Tiny Tina actually has an untapped career just waiting in the wings as a super-creative (if kinda sadistic) dungeon master, so head to Nerdvana’s website for more details, including how to pre-order the version of your choice.
- While we’re still stalking around on Pandora, Borderlands 3 is the latest in a growing list of current-gen games to announce a free upgrade for players who made the move to a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S. Gearbox revealed this week that there’ll be no cost for existing B3 owners to get their hands on the enhanced version of the game, which will arrive with 4K TV-friendly upscaling a new vertical split-screen feature that allows two players to see the action side-by-side — in addition to the current-gen version’s horizontal-split setup.
- NieR fans, take note: Wacky masked game creator Yoko Taro is prepping a pair of NieR-themed info drops for next week that’ll unveil updates on Square Enix’s coming remake of the original NieR, as well as the new mobile game Nier: Reincarnation. The names for these events are right out of Taro’s playbook, and likely suggest the opposite of what to expect: The "We Have a Decent Amount of New Info" special hits Twitch and YouTube at 9 a.m. ET on Sept. 24, followed on Sept. 26 at 9 a.m. ET by the “Mostly No New Info” special. With names like that, we’d have to be crazier than Yoko himself to miss out.
- The third Night City Wire webcast for Cyberpunk 2077 is set to go off later today, with CD Projekt RED teasing “a tour around Night City,” as well as a closer look at the game’s gang factions and “a sneak peek into the creation of [the] #Cyberpunk2077 original score.” Tune in starting at 12 p.m. ET today, ahead of the long-awaited RPG’s Nov. 19 release.
- If you’re not tapped out of funds after nabbing a new console (or two), a handful of games, and perhaps even an upgraded TV to play it all on (you can tell all this new-console talk has got us daydreaming), $900 won’t feel like much of a setback for a 1/4-scale statue that’ll put Keanu Reeve’s Cyberpunk 2077 character right in your living room…perhaps somewhere within blasting distance of your Marshall amp stack.
Reeves’ rockin’ likeness as 2077’s Johnny Silverhand takes the stage from PureArts Studio as a tricked-out figure that does more than passively look cool. The statue comes with what PureArts describes as “a complete media experience” that includes a 13.3-inch hi-def LCD screen in the base, as well as a “dual speaker sound system” already pre-loaded with the game’s official soundtrack — as well as “additional media and screensavers.” Reeves’ character just so happens to be the frontman for a band called Samurai in the game (think Monster Magnet and you’re somewhere in the ballpark), so if paying musical tribute to a breathtaking Cyberpunk 2077 hero is your jam, smash the piggybank and head to PureArts’ website to snag your new toy. Appropriately enough, you’ll be the proud owner of one of only 2,077 units that are going up for grabs.