THE LAST SHOT OF THE DECADE

Somehow, the stars have aligned to make this December more interesting than usual. As the next year, next decade, and next console cycle all loom in the near distance, developers seem to be finishing up their work on several multi-year projects now to clear the way for changes this fresh start will bring. While there are some brand new games to look forward to, the story this month is about all the expansions and finales we’re about to see.

First, Square Enix and Dontnod will release the final episode of Life is Strange 2 on December 3, capping off a year and a half release schedule that began with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Three days later, TopWare Interactive and Reality Pump plan on putting out the last expansion for Two Worlds II – a sentence I did not expect to write before research for this list began. After that, on December 10, Yacht Club Games will drop the final pieces of content for Shovel Knight, as well as a retail version for select consoles. Lastly, on December 17, Electronic Arts is set to release the latest Sims 4 expansion, Discover University, on consoles. While there’s no word on a potential Sims 5, the lifespans of its predecessors makes a sequel seem more and more likely.

Though all of these games are different in origin, they all point to different trends that have popped up in the 2010’s. Life is Strange 2 represents of the rebirth of adventure games, and the kind of story-based experiences that have popped up since Telltale released The Walking Dead: Season One in 2012. Shovel Knight was an early Kickstarter success story, and has stuck by its fans for the past six years, delivering content even on now-dormant consoles. Two Worlds II getting an expansion goes to show that niche audiences are liable to attach themselves to games most people would have forgotten years ago, and the latest Sims 4 expansion, while business as usual for the franchise, feels at home in the trend of live service games that big companies like Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard chase after.

If there’s ever a wake up call that the current generation of consoles is truly ending, this is it. I can’t blame developers, since the current generation has dragged on for the majority of this decade, and the ability to upgrade to more powerful hardware brings with it a suite of things that couldn’t be done before. However, there’s also a sense of validation that I get seeing Shovel Knight expansions coming to the Wii U and PS3. It’s a reminder that, in some respect, these consoles still matter and no amount of technical evolution will change that.

Anyway, let’s look forward to next month, as we begin our look at what 2020 has in store. It’s exciting (and scary) times!

The Chrono Cross sequel that should’ve been?

Arise: A Simple Story
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Techland Publishing | Developer: Piccolo Studio | Release Date: 12/3/19


What is it?
Arise is the debut from Barcelona-based Piccolo Studio and puts players in the shoes of a dead warrior reliving the highs and lows of his life. As the trailer shows, this is a game focused on the beauty and emotions that get associated with those moments, showing a mix of adventuring and platforming that’s reminiscent of last year’s Gris.

Why is it important?
Going by the post Piccolo’s General Manager Alexis Corominas wrote for the Playstation Blog, Arise is a deeply personal work that, in part, reflects the team’s decision to open the new studio. What makes it interesting to me is the scope that’s suggested by the trailer. The stereotype for indie games is that they’re 2D side-scrollers, but Arise bucks those trends with a 3D environment that places the camera at different select angles. Whether that matters in the end depends on the quality of the game, but with so few new titles out this month, there’s a decent shot it’ll more attention than normal.

One last shout into the void.

Life is Strange 2 Episode 5
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: Dontnod Entertainment | Release Date: 12/3/19


What is it?
I’ve been writing about Life is Strange 2 for a while, and I’m glad to see it through to the end. Sean and Daniel’s trek across modern Americana takes them to the Mexican border, where everything rides on their ability to get across. Will they earn their happy ending? It’s hard to say. They’ve been through so much, it’d be unrealistic to say yes and hope for the best, but as long as Dontnod can write a compelling conclusion, I’m certain the story will remain interesting, no matter what direction it goes in.

Why is it important?
If Dontnod nails this ending, Life is Strange 2 will become one of my favorite games of all time. Yet, I’m worried that, even after every episode is out, no one will remember to pick it up. To see everyone who told me they were waiting to play this sit down with the game and fall in love would be very vindicating, but in lieu of that, I’ll keep pushing this game as one of the most underrated titles of the generation. (In before this game becomes a PS5/Xbox Scarlett launch title.)

Backed by necessity.

SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions
(Android/iOS/PC/PS4/Switch)

Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: Square Enix/Studio Reel | Release Date: 12/3/19


What is it?
Ambitions is an expanded version of SaGa: Scarlet Grace on the Vita – the most recent game in the series and the first major entry since Unlimited Saga on the PS2. Following four characters with unique storylines, this game retains the series’ reputation for non-linear gameplay, but with a more modern twist that’ll invite comparisons to Octopath Traveler. I’m also betting there will be comparisons between this game and last month’s release of Romancing SaGa 3, since Square decided to release them so close together, but keep in mind there’s about twenty years worth of development time between the two. 

Why is it important?
There’s an abundance of untranslated RPGs in Square Enix’s catalogue. Ambitions may be a relatively recent addition, but it’s with good company. I’ve mentioned my desire to see Radical Dreamers come Stateside, but it’s far from the only title I’d love to see localized. From Terranigma to Sigma Harmonics, there’s a ton of games that haven’t gotten their due yet. When I see two SaGa games come out a month apart like this, it makes me hopeful that Square Enix is moving down the line as best they can.

It’s not Zelda, it’s Diablo.

Darksiders Genesis
(PC/Stadia)

Publisher: THQ Nordic | Developer: Airship Syndicate | Release Date: 12/5/19

What is it?
When Vigil Games, developers of the first two Darksiders, closed in 2013, the members of its staff spread across the industry. Several of them went to Gunfire Games, which eventually went on to develop last year’s Darksiders III. Other members ended up at Airship Syndicate, which developed Battle Chasers: Nightwar with THQ Nordic in 2017, before making Darksiders Genesis. Genesis is not a proper sequel, but a spin-off that’s smaller in scope. It’s loot-based. It’s got an isometric camera. It’s Something Else in the world of Darksiders that some fans will enjoy, while others might be confused why it exists at all.

Why is it important?
I’m back to covering THQ Nordic after they held a disastrous AMA on an imageboard known for posting vile and despicable things earlier this year. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and realized that if I wasn’t covering this now, I’d likely be covering it in February, when Genesis‘ console versions will launch. This game is too high profile to ignore, both as a Darksiders game and an early Stadia title, but don’t think for a second that the actions of the company don’t bother me. I almost replaced this with Umaiki Games’ Switch game, Skellboy, but it’s worth reminding people that Stadia exists. Already, it’s worth reminding people that Google Stadia exists.


I’d like a second take on that.

Star Ocean: First Departure R
(PS4/Switch)

Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: tri-Ace/TOSE/Square Enix | Release Date: 12/5/19


What is it?
First Departure R is an HD remaster of Star Ocean: First Departure on PSP, which is itself a remake of the first Star Ocean on SNES. Made by some of the team that worked on Tales of PhantasiaStar Ocean is known for its hard sci-fi setting, where an intergalactic war between the Terran Alliance and the Lezonians have left civilians on the planet Roak to suffer the side-effects. Star Ocean stood out in the day compared to traditional fantasy titles like Final Fantasy, but overtime its reputation eroded with mediocre responses to recent entries like The Last Hope and Integrity and Faithlessness. First Departure should be a good jumping on point for the series, but good luck if you want to go any further.

Why is it important?
Star Ocean is an interesting series in Square Enix’s history, and one that could thrive today if its name underwent rehabilitation. Following this HD re-release, Square Enix faces an important decsion: do they try to make another new entry, after The Last Hope (with its protagonist, Edge Maverick) became a joke and Integrity and Faithlessness failed to move the needle? Or do they stick with the route that’s more likely to please fans and re-release more entries? They could always re-release Second Evolution, the PSP remake of the second Star Ocean to buy some time, but if I could make the decision for them, I’d go for a full-scale remake of the Game Boy Color spinoff, Star Ocean: Blue Sphere. It never released overseas, so it’s an opportunity for fans of the series to experience a chapter they likely never played, and it was also made in between the second and third game, Till the End of Time, when this series’ reputation was at its highest. That’s not a guarantee it’ll be good, but it’s a way to make fans happy before trying again with a brand new entry.

Outliving them all.

Two Worlds II – Shattered Embrace
(PC)

Publisher: TopWare Interactive | Developer: Reality Pump | Release Date: 12/6/19


What is it?
Once upon a time, Two Worlds was an RPG that launched a year after The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Though it gained some negative reception due to a number of bugs, muddy graphics, and bad voice acting, it gained enough of a fanbase in Europe (where Reality Pump is from) to get a sequel. Two Worlds II launched in 2010, and went quiet for years after an expansion, Pirates of the Flying Fortress, released in 2011. In 2016, Reality Pump came back with the news that not only would a Two Worlds III be happening, but Two Worlds II would receive a massive upgrade followed by two more expansions. The first expansion, Call of Tenebrae launched in 2017, and here we have the other, Shattered Embrace, squeaking in right before the decade ends.

Why is it important?
When I first read about this expansion, I sent an email to TopWare asking if it applied to all versions of the game, or only the PC one. Unfortunately, it’s not coming to the Xbox 360 or the PS3, but I still admire that this series has enough of a following to get an expansion like this at all. Considering the long-term support the game has received, it’s a little surprising that there’s never been a PS4/Xbox One re-release, but if most of the audience plays on PC these days, I can see why it didn’t happen.

Doing Chicago proud.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries
(PC)

Publisher: Piranha Games | Developer: Piranha Games | Release Date: 12/10/19


What is it?
MechWarrior 5 is the first major MechWarrior game in seventeen years. Based on FASA Corporation’s BattleTech Universe, the early entries were known for pioneering mech combat games in the 90’s, and were part of FASA’s overall transition into the video game market. Despite their success, their properties constantly changed hands, with MechWarrior itself going from Activision, to Hasbro, to Microsoft in less than ten years. In 1999, Microsoft bought FASA’s properties, as well as their game division, which created classics for the original Xbox like Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge and MechAssault before closing in 2007. Compared to titles like ShadowrunMechWarrior remained relegated to online and mobile games for years before MechWarrior heralded the franchise’s grand return.

Why is it important?
Old FASA properties have been on the rise again these last few years, starting with two successful Kickstarter campaigns for Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Hong Kong. The positive response to these two games later pushed the developer, Hairbrained Schemes, to launch another Kickstarter to complete the release of a new BattleTech title as well. MechWarrior 5, being developed by Piranha Games, (makers of the free-to-play MechWarrior Online) has no official relation to these other titles, but with three Kickstarters to show that interest in these properties is still there, I imagine they made the prospect of developing a resource-intensive mech game in 2019 that much more feasible.

It’s the end, my liege.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards
(3DS/Fire TV/Linux/Mac/PC/PS3/PS4/Switch/Vita/Wii U/XB1)

Shovel Knight Showdown
(Fire TV/Linux/Mac/PC/PS3/PS4/Switch/Wii U/XB1)

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove Edition
(Switch/XB1)

Publisher: Yacht Club Games | Developer: Yacht Club Games | Release Date:  12/10/19


What is it?
Three titles at once seems like a lot, but they all represent the same thing: the end of Shovel Knight. Granted, the PS4 retail release of Treasure Trove Edition got delayed to 2020, and a new project, Shovel Knight Dig, has already been announced, but for fans who stuck with this game since its release in 2014, this is it. The final single player campaign, King of Cards, will launch on every system that’s supported the game, while Showdown will appear on everything but the 3DS and Vita. On the same day, the Switch and Xbox One will get their retail versions of the complete game, leaving Yacht Club Games to finally focus on what life looks like after Shovel Knight.

Why is it important?
When I checked if the latest Two Worlds II expansion was coming to PS3, this is why. Seeing these expansions come to the PS3 and Wii U is so satisfying to see. I’m not sure who they’re for, but I respect Yacht Club Games for not forgetting about those fans and making sure everyone can have a similar experience. Writing that feels a little hollow since Showdown isn’t coming to the handhelds, but it’s not the worst thing. If they really think those systems can’t replicate the kind of multiplayer experience that playing on a TV brings, I can see why that decision was made.

It’s 2017 all over again.

The Sims 4: Discover University
(PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Electronic Arts | Developer: Maxis | Release Date: 12/17/19


What is it?
Coming a month after the PC release, The Sims 4: Discover University has similarities to University-themed expansions offered with The Sims 2 and The Sims 3, but this one lets your Sims ride a bike. I’ve been hesitant to cover Sims expansions before because there’s not really much to say other than it’s The Sims with this stage of life and that new feature. It makes me wonder if longtime Sims fans are tired of buying the same expansions game after game. If The Sims 5 added in all of the usual expansions at launch and spent the next five years building out completely new jobs and features, would that do a lot to shake up the usual formula? Or would it be essentially the same content, but with new names and aesthetics?

Why is it important?
The Sims lasted from 2000 until The Sims 2 took over in 2004. The Sims 2 had expansions coming until The Sims 3 came in 2009. After five years of The Sims 3The Sims 4 came in 2014. Based on these previous patterns, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Sims 5 in 2020. However, it’s hard to imagine that it’d look the same as The Sims 4. Releasing expansions and themed packs has worked well for the series year in and year out, but this is the era of live service games. I can see EA turning The Sims 5 into a constantly updated, always online experience. They wouldn’t call it The Sims Online, since that name’s already been used, but I can see them giving it another name evocative of that kind of experience – maybe The Sims Live.

The Death Stranding sequel you’ve been waiting for.

Wattam
(PC/PS4)

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive | Developer: Funomena | Release Date: 12/17/19


What is it?
Originally announced by Sony in 2014, Wattam has floated in the vaporware ether for about five years. There were small updates along the way, like Annapurna Interactive taking over publishing duties from Sony, but it wasn’t until the last few months that more concrete details started to emerge. This is the latest project from Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy, and, looking at the trailer, seems to be about making friends with anthropomorphic objects like pieces of poop and noses. How this translates into game progression is still unclear to me, but I’m weirdly reminded of Death Stranding, and thus interested to learn more.

Why is it important?
The release of Wattam gives off the vibe that Funomena tried hard to get this game out in 2019, and just barely accomplished their goal at the eleventh hour. Whether Wattam is coincidentally coming out in late December after five years of waiting, or there’s a kernel of truth there, having it on this list feels right. I’ve focused a lot this month on the number of projects that developers appear to be wrapping up before a new decade begins and this game fits in with that theme. I look forward to seeing how people respond to a new Keita Takahashi game (as his titles are more focused on fun than serious video game business), but I’m nervous that it won’t truly be ready for prime time until a few late patches fix it down the line.


Ten Games to Look For is a series that rounds up some of the most exciting releases of the coming month and tells you why they’re worth your time. It will continue in 2020! If you’d like to leave a comment, the comments section below is always a good option. You can also get in touch with me on Twitter, and by email too: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com.