A NEW ERA ON OLD TERMS

In just a matter of days, the next generation of Playstation and Xbox consoles will be here. If you look back at 2013, when the Playstation 4 and Xbox One launched, it’s amazing to see how much has changed. Not only are digital sales up – game streaming is a major part of the industry. Game ownership has changed, live-service games are in vogue, and the thought that buying physical would help preserve the history of modern games is a notion that gets challenged more and more every day. Of course, these changes were hard to see in their totality because seven years is a long time – things happen gradually. And maybe you’ll notice it next time, maybe you won’t, but it’s about to happen again. No generation has relied on stasis for very long, especially with technology evolving as rapidly as it has.

The strange thing is that, despite all of the new, exciting experiences a new console generation can bring – better graphics, more advanced AI, and especially new IP – a lot of the initial wave of games launching this month are just a continuation of what’s come before. Granted, between the prevalence of cross-generational titles and the pandemic, this is to be expected – what may once have been eventual next-gen software ports/upgrades are now launching day and date with the current generation version. However, there’s still a noticeable lack of new IP, of brand new experiences to help mark the generational shift. They’re there, but limited; I think this list reflects that.

What this means is that this month’s list reads like a who’s who of the games and franchises that have changed gaming culture over the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. I always try my best to mix the AAA with the niche side of things – but even I can’t stray from the obvious story here. As it is, the recent delay of Cyberpunk 2077 to December just opened the door for me to include the latest Call of Duty on this list. A similar thing happened recently when World of Warcraft: Shadowlands got delayed before I could publish October’s list – the irony being that Shadowlands is now dated for November, and I don’t have room to talk about it anymore.

Anyway, once November’s done and dusted, things will be different. A new console generation will be upon us. December is normally a dry month, but this year it exists mostly to host the second wave of games making up this new frontier, as well as the games that absolutely have to come out this year but need all the time they can get, like Cyberpunk. We’ll see if it does, in fact, come out in December. See you then!

Sheath of the Wild?

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
(PC/PS4/PS5/Stadia/XB1/XBS)

Publisher: Ubisoft | Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 11/10/2020 (PC/PS4/Stadia/XB1/XBS) 11/12/2020 (PS5)


What is it?
Valhalla takes the story of the Assassin’s all the way to Norway, as the Vikings begin their expansion into the many kingdoms of England during the 9th century AD. Bringing the series forward once again from its recent excursions into Ancient Egypt and Greece, but not quite far enough to line up with the Crusades in the first Assassin’s Creed, Valhalla seeks to tie the major entries of the franchise together to both recap what’s happened so far and, one would guess, look forward to what’s next.

Why is it important?
For the second generation in a row, Assassin’s Creed is right there at launch day, in usual Ubisoft fashion. It’s amazing to think about how, back when the PS4 and XB1 launched, we were only on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. One good thing I guess you could say is that Ubisoft never loses sight that this is, in fact, a very big and complicated saga that needs time, attention, money, and a staggering number of entries to tell. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few good things you can say about Ubisoft right now.

Mad Tax?

Watch Dogs: Legion
(XBS/PS5)

Publisher: Ubisoft | Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Release Date: 11/10/2020 (XBS) 11/12/2020 (PS5 digital) 11/24/2020 (PS5 physical)


What is it?
Legion launched on current generation systems on October 30, but I though it’d be more interesting to mention it here with Valhalla (along with the release of Immortals: Fenix Rising next month). While I’ve never been much of a Watch_Dogs fan (outside of buying the Wii U version out of solidarity), I am excited to see the next game directed by Clint Hocking, who previously directed Splinter Cell and Far Cry 2. Hocking’s standing in the industry is such that writer Tom Bissell dedicated a whole chapter to the way he approached making Far Cry 2 in the book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. Hocking’s also the man who coined the term “ludonarrative dissonance.” His unique voice in an industry so focused on mass market appeal is worth celebrating – I just hope at some point, he’ll move away from Ubisoft (for good this time) to express that voice.

Why is it important?
Between the sexual assault allegations, discussions of workplace abuse, unprofessional behavior, and much more within Ubisoft, not to mention the controversies Watch Dogs: Legion has already generated, it’s hard to feel comfortable as an Ubisoft fan. That this is still the same Ubisoft that claims its games aren’t political, yet makes some of the most political games on the planet is an irony that’s not lost on me, either. So why is it so important to put Watch Dogs: Legion on this list? Aside from my excitement about Hocking’s return to game direction, I include this game because I want Ubisoft to do better. They need to clean house, be honest about their games, and make sure all of their employees are properly compensated and unionized. I don’t like having to hold my nose and say “yuck” just because I enjoy some of Ubisoft’s games and want to talk about them – but that is the appropriate response to their actions. Ubisoft can not only do better, they should.

Yakuza the LAD?

Yakuza: Like a Dragon
(PC/PS4/XB1/XBS)

Publisher: Sega | Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio | Release Date: 11/10/2020


What is it?
Just five years ago, the Yakuza franchise was considered such a niche series, that Yakuza 5 received only a digital release in the West on PS3. In the time since, audiences have fallen in love with Yakuza 0Yakuza 6, the Yakuza Kiwami remakes, and gone through the rest of the series and spinoffs in their own way. The Yakuza franchise is suddenly so big, it’s launching on the Xbox Series consoles day and date (the PS5 version is due in March) with the current gen versions. It’s an amazing thing to witness, especially when Like a Dragon, despite accidentally being the culmination of the series’ rise in popularity in the West, is different than previous Yakuza games. It ditches the straight-action open world combat to embrace honest-to-god turn-based RPG systems. The game takes this so seriously, that protagonist Ichiban Kasuga’s story is his quest to be a hero just like the Dragon Quest-esque RPGs he grew up with. A rare genre shift for a franchise in its eighth major entry.

Why is it important?
In a time when people still see Final Fantasy moving beyond turn-based combat as a positive evolution of the series, choosing to do the opposite makes me respect Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio a lot. It’s the punkest, wildest thing to do, and I am entirely here for it. The RPG combat won’t please everyone, but for those who like it, or may love Yakuza regardless, or watch the series with marked interest on the outside – it’s one of the funnier twists of 2020 so far.

Crash Astrocute?

Astro’s Playroom
(PS5)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: ASOBI Team | Release Date: 11/12/2020


What is it?
In a first for this list, Astro’s Playroom is the preloaded pack-in game coming with every purchased PS5. A sequel to 2018’s Astro Bot Rescue Mission, itself a game based on characters found in the PS4’s built-in AR minigame collection The Playroom, Astro’s Playroom is a full 3D platformer without the need for VR. Developed by Japan Studio’s ASOBI Team, this is about as marquee as it gets. Sony’s Mario stand-in to kickoff the generation.

Why is it important?
The importance of adding a free game to the $500 box Sony is trying to sell during a pandemic is symbolic more than anything right now. Platformers normally have a low barrier for entry, Astro Bot Rescue Mission was a surprise success, and there’s pretty much no strings attached when it comes to owning the game. Yes, there is more value in families buying an Xbox and getting GamePass, but you can’t beat seeing the words “free game” slapped right on a box for the latest game console. In capturing the hearts and minds of gamers, Sony’s made an excellent move to start off the next marketing cycle.

Pokémon Snack?

Bugsnax
(Mac/PC/PS4/PS5)

Publisher: Young Horses | Developer: Young Horses | Release Date: 11/12/2020


What is it?
Made by the team behind Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Bugsnax is a high profile new IP launching with the Playstation 5. Players take on the role of a reporter arriving on Snaktooth Island to document the various species of half-snack, half-bug Bugsnax roaming the island. Part adventure game, part Pokémon Snap-for-2020 experience, Bugsnax looks bright, colorful, and new. It is also, for the moment, a Playstation and PC exclusive.

Why is it important?
The game’s theme song by Kero Kero Bonito has already become popular, but aside from that a game this weird deserves to have front and center attention. Not that the new console generation necessarily provides something that makes Bugsnax a unique next gen experience (it’s also coming to PS4), but it’s such a refreshing game to see right now, I can’t help but imagine people will fall in love with it. The Bugsnax themselves are cute, and seeing the local Grumpuses eat the Bugsnax and transform into what they eat is delightful and more importantly, kid-friendly. Add the Australian-themed safari motif the trailers have, and Young Horses has something unique here. You go, Bugsnax.

Alternate Jake Hunter? Again?

Death Come True
(PS4)

Publisher: IzanagiGames | Developer: Too Kyo Games / Esquadra | Release Date: 11/12/2020


What is it?
Created by Kazutaka Kodaka, the creator of Danganronpa, Death Come True is the first project to be released by his new development studio, Too Kyo Games. The game is an interactive movie/FMV adventure about a man (played by actor Kanata Hongō) who must uncover why he’s being labeled a serial killer – while also getting his memories back. The description on Nintendo’s site is interestingly one of the best places to learn more about the game and notes that players get Death Medals for seeing all the various ways the main character dies. What a weird thing for Nintendo to point out, of all companies.

Why is it important?
The interesting things about Death Come True, for me, have partially to do with its history. Kodaka created Danganronpa when he worked at Spike Chunsoft, a company who also made the acclaimed FMV game 428: Shibuya Scramble. I thought Death Come True would be like 428, in that it would take several years to make it to the West, but I was wrong. The game got a worldwide release on phones and Switch in June, and on PC in July, and I was unaware of that until this PS4 release popped up. The other reason Death Come True interests me so much is that early in his career, Kodaka was responsible for writing some of the mobile Jake Hunter/Jingūji Saburō games that came out on phones in Japan in the mid- to late-00’s. None of those cases made it to the West, but if they’re by the guy who created Danganronpa, they’re bound to be interesting. I’m hoping the same is true for Death Come True.

Dark Souls Gaiden?

Demon’s Souls
(PS5)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: SIE Japan Studio / Bluepoint Games
Release Date: 11/12/2020


What is it?
Many people credit Dark Souls as the point when the Soulsbourne style of RPG took off, but there is no Dark Souls without Demon’s Souls. Originally developed by FromSoftware as a PS3 exclusive, SCEA (Sony’s American branch at the time) passed on publishing it in the States, leaving niche publisher Atlus to pick up the slack. The game became such a cult hit that Bandai Namco eventually gave From the opportunity to explore the concept further and, thus, Dark Souls. I never got into the subsequent games like I did Demon’s Souls, so you can bet I’m excited to play it again on PS5 – with the World Tendency back online again, too.

Why is it important?
Demon’s Souls is one of the games that changed my perception of the medium. I fell in love with it like I do very few games, taking the time to learn all of the nuances of combat, and sticking with its difficulty to the end. I’m amazed at how far the series has come, from Sony’s unwillingness to publish it abroad, to its remake being one of the few PS5 first-party exclusives meant to convince consumers this is why they should upgrade. It’s Demon’s Souls and Astro’s Playroom. And like YazukaDemon’s Souls had quite the glow up.

Stand By Me?

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
(PC/PS4/PS5/XB1/XBS)

Publisher: Activision | Developer: Treyarch / Raven Software | Release Date: 11/13/2020


What is it?
In May of 2019, about six months after Treyarch launched Call of Duty: Black Ops IV, Jason Schreier, then of Kotaku, published a story detailing a sudden upending of future Call of Duty plans. The three-year cycle publisher Activision cultivated starting in 2012 where Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, and Treyarch would take turns developing new Call of Duty games was over. Treyarch was to take over the Call of Duty project meant for 2020 and turn it into another Black Ops, with development team Raven Software incorporating their already in-progress work as co-developer into the project. Everything Schreier said came true. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is hereSledgehammer, who was supposed to take their turn this year, still helped develop the game, but after losing a major part of their creative team in 2018, less than a year after the release of Call of Duty: WWII, it’s hard to say what’s next for them.

Why is it important?
It’s a bit difficult to see Call of Duty as anything other than its major two brands right now: Modern Warfare and Black Ops. The series is still incredibly popular – Modern Warfare 2019 was the top selling game of last year according to the NPD – but over the years, after appearing at the start of the last three console generations, the series seems to be whittled down to a fraction of what it was. Compare CoD‘s history to Assassin’s Creed, which also accompanied the start of last generation and will be there at the start of this one, and you’ll see that AC continued branching out: chasing new locales (detailed in the entry above on Valhalla) and getting progressively bigger and bigger, while Call of Duty became, quite literally, more of the same. It seems paradoxical to suggest, given the series’ continued success, but maybe Activision need to give Call of Duty a break. For a while.

O, KH MOM?

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
(PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: Square Enix Creative Business Unit I / indieszero
Release Date: 11/13/2020


What is it?
Despite the release of both Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and its sequel Curtain Call, I always found it strange that the third game, Theatrhythm Dragon Quest, never got a Western release. Maybe Dragon Quest never had the draw of Final Fantasy in the West, but it’s a rhythm game! Made by indieszero! They made the great Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido! This new Kingdom Hearts rhythm game is their follow up to both Sushi Striker and Theatrhythm Dragon Quest, and it’s purported to have story that continues the franchise – following the Re Mind DLC from Kingdom Hearts III.

Why is it important?
This November we have a new Call of Duty, a new Assassin’s Creed, a new Watch Dogs, a new Yakuza, a new Astro Bot game, a new Souls game, and even a new Hyrule Warriors/Zelda game. Yes, I’m making a couple of slight generalizations to make the list seem more impressive than it actually is, but adding a new Kingdom Hearts into the mix, even if it is a rhythm game, takes this list even higher. MoM is also the first Kingdom Hearts game to appear on a Nintendo system since Dream Drop Distance on 3DS, making Square Enix’s stance on the series clear: if you like playing primarily on Nintendo hardware, you’re still going to need to buy a Playstation or Xbox to fully experience what Kingdom Hearts has to offer.

HyW, AOC!

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: OmegaForce | Release Date: 11/20/2020


What is it?
Last but not least on this list is Nintendo’s big exclusive of the month: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. The original Hyrule Warriors was a hack-‘n’-slash game in the vein of Dynasty Warriors that sold well on Wii U, and especially well when it was ported to Switch. Here, then, is a follow up: a prequel to Breath of  the Wild that will also probably sell very well, as it’s Nintendo’s primary release during this holiday season. I don’t view that as an odd thing, but it feels strange that, in the middle of the Switch’s lifespan, there isn’t something larger or more eye-catching to get people to shell out the cash. This feels par for the course in 2020, though: in spite of everything that’s happened, it finds new ways to keep you surprised. I’m surprised Nintendo isn’t just saying “sike, this is Breath of the Wild 2!

Why is it important?
This game is plot important in that it details the Great Calamity mentioned in Breath of the Wild. It’s also a continuation of the partnership between Nintendo and Koei Tecmo that has produced a variety of games from Metroid: Other M, to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, and Fire Emblem Warriors. I suppose it makes sense at this point that Nintendo’s letting KT tackle something this story-specific, especially in light of the fact that Atlus let them do the same thing with Persona 5 Scramble, another hack-‘n’-slash game that acts as a pseudo-sequel to Persona 5

Bugsnacks!

Ten Games to Look For is a monthly series that analyzes video game releases month by month to better help readers understand what these games are and why they’re important. For more articles from A Gaming Life Pt. 2, you can head here. If you’d like to respond to this list, please leave a comment below, or: get in touch with me on Twitter, or by email: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com. Thanks for reading!