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Gaming Roundup – Xbox Series Speakers

Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!

This week, the console stalemate ends, plus other stories and the latest releases!

Microsoft Finally Stops Playing Chicken

Finally someone has blinked in the console stand-off. This week Microsoft revealed not only the price and release date for the Xbox Series X, but they also revealed its baby sibling, the Series S. Presumably the S stands for “Speaker” because that’s exactly what it looks like. But, you know, a stylish modern one.

Jokes aside, Microsoft have fired quite the shot with the Series S. Spec-wise, it’s not much better than the Xbox One X and it doesn’t have a disk drive, but it is the cheap and cheerful option. And cheap it is, coming in at £249 in the UK, which is cheaper than a Switch in some places. The Series X is £449, which is still a good price for a system with its specs. It’s clear that the Xbox strategy of Live and Game Pass subscriptions on top of the console itself is what they’re hedging on to make up the costs.

There’s also a new subscription model for the console, where you pay for the system across two years in monthly instalments, for those who can’t afford the up-front cost. It includes a Game Pass subscription too, which will now include EA Play access. As far as console costs go, this is a great deal, and it’s difficult to see how Sony can possibly follow this with the PS5. After all, game library and prices are the two most important factors in a console’s success, and Xbox have come out of the gate nailing one of them.

Of course, they’re still lacking a solid library. Aside from every game coming out simultaneously on Xbox One and PC, raising questions of why you need to even buy a new system in the first place, there also aren’t any major releases from Xbox Games Studios around the launch of the console. They had Halo, but the key word there is “had” as that’s been delayed. And when Sony are likely to launch with two Insomniac titles – Spider-Miles is a fairly quick game to put together as it’s a pseudo-expansion, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is screaming “PS5 tech demo” in every presentation – it’s clear they’re set to do better on that front. Which is interesting, as I can’t think of any other generation where game library and price were so split between systems.

It’ll be interesting to see how Xbox’s strategy works. As someone who recently signed up for Game Pass after upgrading my PC, it’s clear it’s gaining them new customers all over the place to some degree. Success will be much harder to gauge in the coming years, I reckon.

Ubisoft Try to Distract from What They Did

Ubisoft held another one of their presentations this week, preceded hours before by a separate apology for their protection of sexual predators. It wasn’t included in the presentation due to “time constraints” despite this being a story that’s gone on for months. But they needed four minutes of “epic gamer moments” so there’s no room for a four-minute apology about protecting sexual predators (who still own shares in the company).

Gods and Monsters is now Immortals: Fenyx Rising, presented with a trailer of funky music exactly like you wouldn’t associate with an ancient Greek adventure. It appears to feature a female playable character, but it actually doesn’t, it’s a character creator because Ubisoft can’t just have a female protagonist. That would require them not having issues with women. To be fair, it looks decent, like a cross between Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Breath of the Wild. It’s out on 3rd December.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is getting a remake, because Ubisoft are incapable of doing anything with Prince of Persia that isn’t just re-hashing The Sands of Time over and over (remember Forgotten Sands? It was also a pseudo Sands of Time remake, but unbearably dull). Visually the remake doesn’t look much of a step up from the original PS2 game (and arguably the original looks better in places), making me wonder how much of a rush job this was. It can be hard to get games out when you’re busy protecting sexual predators for years, I guess. If you somehow think this remake looks worth it, it’s out in January.

There was some Rainbow Six esports stuff which used a ton of imagery from physical sports instead of, you know, actual Rainbow Six esports, which was confusing. It’s not quite clear what the purpose of this section was other than confirming that Rainbow Six Siege exists as an esport, but clearly this was much more important to include in the presentation than a four-minute apology about protecting sexual predators for years.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is returning after years of absence, which is good news because the Scott Pilgrim game is excellent. If you’re unaware, Scott Pilgrim was originally a comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley (and also a brilliant film from Edgar Wright) about a guy who treats women like dirt but through battling his latest girlfriend’s league of evil exes, he learns how to become a better person. It’s a good lesson that many could learn from. Finally I can now tell people about this game without adding the words “shame it’s not on sale anymore” although I do have to replace them with “shame it’s published by a company that protected sexual predators for years”.

Watch Dogs Legion still exists, and Stormzy is in it, apparently. It’s that game set in a post-Brexit Britain where Londoners fight back against a totalitarian state. It’s not a political game though, because Ubisoft don’t make those kinds of games. So far, no sign of any crackpot far-right conspiracies sneaking into the story, so it seems Ubisoft are content to only do that once with their political thrillers that aren’t political.

Finally they announced Riders Republic, which is basically the BMX version of their previous title, Steep. It’s fine, I guess.

There. I covered the sexual abusers’ big show. Mainly so I can remind everyone that Ubisoft protected sexual predators for years, and allowed them to step down quietly while retaining their shares in the company. Buying Ubisoft games still gives money to sexual predators. Something worth bearing in mind if you’re going along with the hype. Anyway.

Breath of the Wild Prequel Revealed

In a surprise announcement, Nintendo have confirmed a Breath of the Wild prequel. But.

Remember Hyrule Warriors? Nintendo and Koei Tecmo’s collaboration bringing together the world of The Legend of Zelda and the chaotic huge battles of the Dynasty Warriors series. This new game? It’s the second one of those.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is set a hundred year before the events of Breath of the Wild, set in the same world. It was a request from series director Eiji Aonuma himself, who wanted to explore the Calamity mentioned in BotW’s lore, but felt it would only work if there were huge battles rather than a lone boy bashing some Moblins around. And so, he chatted with Koei Tecmo and asked if they wanted to explore it in a Hyrule Warriors sequel, and clearly the answer was yes.

It’s out pretty soon too, launching on 20th November. Should also be noted that this has no bearing on the release of Breath of the Wild 2, which is being developed separately by internal Nintendo studios and (it seems) Xenoblade developers Monolithsoft, although no news about this has emerged yet.

And now, over to Mat Lovell for some esports!

Valve Breaks Silence About Competitive Dota 2

Thanks Leigh and hello everyone!

To bring you up to speed, Valve has been the subjective of serious backlash from the Dota 2 community for their management of the esports ecosystem around their popular MOBA and resident cashcow, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; primarily their indefinite postponement of the Dota Pro Circuit, and perceived lack of support for tournaments and teams. The DPC refers to the Dota 2 competitions that reward teams with points for placement in the Valve-sponsored tournaments, culminating annually in The International, which this year already has a prize pool of $36m and counting.

Last week, Valve took to twitter to release a statement addressing the recent criticism and discussing their current efforts and plans for the game and competitive scene moving forward. I’ll summarise as best as I can but for the full update from Valve please visit their blog post here.

The post shares insights into the publishers thought process and how it’s changed as the pandemic has progressed leading to their decision to postpone The International and its corresponding pro circuit. The publisher explains that while neither the cross-region competition nor the relative distance to The International were “absolute requirements” they felt the DPC as both a function of The International and also as a coherent product for fans would be better served by holding off on them for now. They referenced other competitions where teams from certain countries had to be excluded after qualifying due to abrupt travel restrictions and complications; and also, that they toyed with a DPC point decay system but given the timing it would cause more complications.

Valve goes on to say it reached out to third party leagues and events where they hoped to “have an impact” in the absence of the game’s official circuit and its annual $30M+ USD championship.

However, the company has received significant criticism recently due to a lack of communication on its official esports roadmap and the lack of support provided to third party events filling the void of Valve’s own multi-million-dollar events. Which is where tournaments such as OMEGA league have stepped in.

They conclude by saying that moving forward they are offering more financial support for tournament organisers and stipulating they hope to resume the DPC and The International in 2021. Lastly, they discuss changing their policy on DotaTV and Streaming to make it easier for tournament organisers to earn more commercial profits from streaming, making it more sustainable and viable for them.

Overall, the post does show that Valve is listening, however this is largely too little and too late, with their relative silence around the DPC compared to the record-breaking amounts of commercial profit they are getting from it not sitting well with the community.

More than any other game, Dota 2 and its teams and pros rely on these large prize money payouts, and their absence has placed a significant strain on the ecosystem, particularly for teams outside of the most elite and popular. Previously, I have reported on how other publishers like Valve’s main rival Riot are doing more to support their games competitive ecosystem. Personally, I think Valve do know what they’re doing but they need to communicate more or else they risk losing the community and DPC which has become so integral to the industry.

New Releases

We kick of new releases this week with Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, a remaster of an underappreciated RPG from the Xbox 360, launching this week on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. All my knowledge of this game comes from Ellen Rose of Outside Xtra, so allow me to refer you to her more authoritative review here.

In smaller releases, we have Star Renegades, a roguelite strategy RPG about sci-fi battles across dimensions. Deleveled is a physics-based puzzle game about using the momentum of two blocks against each other to solve platforming challenges. And Tin & Kuna is a big, bold 3D platformer starring a cute…armadillo…I think? All of these games are available on all major systems.

Ultrakill released in Early Access this week. It’s a flashy, stylish FPS in the style of Doom and Quake, centred around big bloody gunfights and a combo system that rewards you for style and speed.

Bounty Battle is the indie world’s answer to Super Smash Bros. It’s a flashy arcade fighter starring characters from indie hits including Guacamelee and Axiom Verge, and some additions from unreleased games, such as Eitr. Will admit I don’t find the roster as instantly recognisable as most of the Smash roster, but it’s still a cool idea.

Games of the Week

This week, two Games of the Week! You see, we’re at the start of an avalanche of retro-themed arcade racers this month, so it feels right to highlight the two releasing this week – Hotshot Racing and Inertial Drift.

Hotshot Racing is from Sumo Digital, who have experience producing the Sega All-Stars Racing games, and Sega is a good place to start with this one. It’s essentially the spiritual successor to games like Sega Rally and Daytona USA. Fast-paced, drift-heavy racing with bold colours and timed checkpoints. I’ve played a little bit of this and it’s a lot of fun.

Inertial Drift is much the same – a neon-lit racing game all about drifting, so much so that drifting has been given a specific mechanic. While the left stick steers, the right stick drifts, giving you greater control over drifting and allowing you to pretend you’re in Initial D or something.

It seems wrong to pick one and not the other, so if you’re into some fast-paced arcade racing, it may be worth giving both of these a look sometime.

And that’s it for this week! See you again soon for more gaming news and releases!