Spring 2017 Preview

 

Ah January, a time of the year so bleak and miserable that even our entertainment options become depressing and terrible. But while this month drags on, it is the perfect time to look forward at the ever growing, and ever more important spring season for our hobby. I use these preview sections to give a little of my own take on the upcoming games as I see them.

This spring has a number of major releases, include the ever rare new hardware release, but it is a little lacking in sheer numbers. Nevertheless, this season features a new Resident Evil, a new console focused Zelda game, a massive new IP from Playstation, the triumphant return of Persona, and a little ditty called Mass Effect: Andromeda. Let’s get started shall we?

January

January is always a slow month in the gaming industry, and 2017 is no exception. However, there is usually at least one major release during the month. This year has a big one.

January 24th:

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard- PS4, Xbox One, PC

Resident Evil is a massive franchise. Nobody disagrees with that. However, recent entries into this storied series have left fans a little bewildered and disappointed. The last major numbered entry into the series, Resident Evil 6 was not a horror game. It was an action game that featured horror elements. Since that release Capcom, Resident Evil‘s publisher, has rarely strayed from the action/horror pathway. Action heavy games like 2012’s Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and the more recent Umbrella Corps have been seen as strange artistic choices, poorly made games, and failures of the series. Bad choices for the brand have been buoyed by the well received Resident Evil: Revelations games in recent years but Resident Evil is on the downswing. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard looks to change all of that by going back to what made Resident Evil one of the biggest video game brands of all time.

This time around it is a focus on horror, and horror only for RE 7. It has been a cry from the fans for years, and Capcom has apparently heard them loud and clear. This new game has been tooled for first person play inside a large and infected plantation manor. The player will be given a variety of weapons to choose from, but as the publisher and people behind the game have stated over and over again, this is not a gun focused game. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard might be the first major AAA release of a game in the style of the wonderful Amnesia, or Outlast games; terrifying first person horror experiences where you are extremely limited in your ability to defend yourself, and where hiding is always the preferred option. Oh, and did I mention that the PS4 version of the game will be entirely playable, end-to-end, with the Playstation VR headset?  It will be the first major, and most important, test of the viability of the system to deliver great games. Just as Resident Evil helped to birth the 3rd person shooter, can it help launch the world into acceptance of VR?

February

In 2017 February is the month the year really kicks off. Just like in past years, the second month features a whole host of major games, from huge publishers looking to start the year off the right way; flush with cash. February 2017 will seemingly be the first party month as it features major releases for both Microsoft, and Sony.

February 14th:

For Honor- PS4, Xbox One, PC

Ubisoft is an interesting company. I enjoy their games because they take risks in a way that few others really do (Assassin’s Creed notwithstanding). For Honor is a risk, a huge one in fact. It is a melee based multiplayer focused game in world obsessed, and over-filled by multiplayer shooters. On top of that it is a new IP, untested, and untried. I am excited to see how For Honor does, and I hope it does well. Successful risks in the industry benefit everyone, and can quell the fears some other publishers may have about putting out a risky game.

For Honor takes place in a fictional world and features three different factions to fight as; the Vikings, the Samurai, and the Knights. The single player story of For Honor takes you through the eyes of all three as they wage a war against each other. The game’s story and multiplayer features large scale battles between the factions utilizing both AI and human combatants as well as more familiar team deathmatch- like game modes. For Honor is still a fairly unknown variable, but easily one of the more interesting games of the spring.

February 21st:

Halo Wars 2- Xbox One, PC

The Halo Wars series is a big deal, or at least it was when the first came out a whole eight years ago. The original Halo Wars, made by the now defunct Ensemble Studious (RIP) of Age of Empires fame, has been called, by many the first (and only) great console Real Time Strategy game. Microsoft has finally heard the call of its fans to bring this unique, and interesting game series back into the limelight. I will say however that is difficult for me to predict how big of a game this will be. The original was a big game, no doubt, that turned into a bit of a cult classic, but 2017’s iteration in the series seems to be flying under the radar. There has been seemingly little marketing set aside for the game (that I have seen), and little fanfare. Regardless, as a Microsoft first party exclusive that as a positive track record, and bears the ‘Halo’ name, it should do just fine.

For me personally Halo Wars 2 sits at an interesting crossroads. If this game had released five years ago I would have been grinding my teeth in anticipation. I spent a ton of time with the first, and I would have loved to see what was next. Now though, eight years later I don’t care as much as I once did. Perhaps this comes from my declining interest in the Halo series in general, or the ever present backlog of games that never seems to slow down. Whatever the reason I know that barring a major catastrophe, Halo Wars 2 will be a  great game I may not touch for months, or years.

February 28th:

Horizon: Zero Dawn- PS4

February’s biggest game is undoubtedly Sony’s biggest as well. Horizon: Zero Dawn looks to do many things when it launches this February, chief among them is righting a wrong not yet forgiven by many Playstation fans around the world. Horizon is the most important first party Playstation game of the year. Not just because it has a huge marketing budget, or that its been hyped for years, but because it is the first major new IP Playstation exclusive since 2015’s The Order 1886. Anybody can be successful making sequels to established franchises, but anybody who does is destined for eventual failure. That is of course unless you can innovate. In the video game industry established franchises eventually give way to the next generation, and then those new games, in time, become established. The cycle continues, and the cycle prints money. That’s all great, but even making new IP isn’t enough. It has to be good. It has to suck in an audience, and make them never want to leave the world it has created. For all its hype, promotion, and fanfare, the six hours for $60 of The Order 1886 were never destined to truly suck anyone in regardless of how pretty it was. The Order was a pie to the face of Sony in the midst of a Playstation brand running wild, setting records, and burying its competition. If the Playstation brand is to continue cruising well into the future it must find new fuel. The Order was whale oil, Sony hopes Horizon is rocket fuel.

Understanding the need to innovate Sony has allowed one of their top teams, Guerrilla, to do something new and risky. Long the torch bearers for the successful, but not earth shaking Killzone series, Guerrilla has now changed focus from Space Nazi metaphors to the post-post apocalypse. Horizon has a setting like none I’ve seen in a video game. Set at an undetermined point in the future thousands of years after modern human civilization was wiped out in a unknown event. Tribes of humans now try to make their way in a world populated by animal robots, or perhaps it is more accurate to say robot dinosaurs. I have no idea what to expect from this game, all I know is that Sony believes it is something special.

March

March is the king of spring. For many major companies involved in the games industry is their last hoorah for the fiscal year ending March 31st. One last chance to pad the books a bit, and impress shareholders, or potential investors. It also sits a nice distance from the chaos of the Christmas season. People have had three months to chew through some purchases, and are now eager for something new. This March however its not just a number of new games we’ll be getting, but a brand new console as well. I’ll write more on the Nintendo Switch as we get closer to its release date, but for right now it looks to open up in a big way. The end of March however holds something that just may define video games for me in 2017.

March 3rd:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild-  Switch, Wii U

I’ll preface this section by saying I’ve never completed a single game from one of the business’s most storied, acclaimed, profitable, and beloved series, not even Ocarina of Time on the N64 (*gasp*). The Legend of Zelda is known by almost everyone, all over the world, regardless of your knowledge of video games in general. 2016 marked the 30th anniversary of this premiere franchise from Nintendo. So what better way to birth a new home(/portable) console than by launching it with the biggest Zelda game ever made?

Breath of the Wild looks to be a massive game, and in a turn for the series, truly open world. Of course, whether or not a bigger and more expansive Zelda game leads to better one is still to be determined. I do have have a feeling the game’s apparent length, and number of things to do (900 Korok seed puzzles? I don’t even know what those are and that number is making me anxious) may have been realized in part because of the lackluster launch lineup of the Nintendo Switch. If the game takes six months to beat maybe the system’s apparent summer drought before the fall’s Super Mario Odyssey won’t be such a big deal…  Yeah probably not. But regardless of whether or not people will be getting their money’s worth come August, Switch owners in March will most likely be quite satisfied.

March 7th:

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands- PS4, Xbox One, PC

Who is collecting all the paychecks now that the man himself has sadly passed away? I would assume its his family but you never know. The only reason I ask is because they must be quite substantial. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands will be the 44th(!!!!) video game to bear the famous writer’s name, and specifically the 14th Ghost Recon game.  Just like other games in this list, it is looking to take the storied GR series in a new direction; open world. The crux of this new edition of covert operations on behalf of the American government is freedom of choice. How you take on missions, assassinate people, and generally cause mayhem is up to you now. It is an interesting selling point, and a great way to breathe new life into a fairly stale franchise.

I generally enjoy games like these. And I am sure I would enjoy this new edition. However I have a bad feeling that for me personally, it is coming out at the wrong time. A week removed from a massive game like Horizon, and only a few days after a major console launch has a tendency to strip some eyeballs away from your creation, regardless of how good it is. However, if GR Wildlands is great, and everyone who has experienced it so far has thought so, it will carve a place for itself. Great games, from big publishers have that ability, usually regardless of competition (Titanfall 2 notwithstanding, RIP).

March 21st:

Mass Effect: Andromeda- PS4, Xbox One, PC

Has it seemed like I’ve been building up to something this whole way so far? If it has, it is because I have been. 2017 is one of those truly rare years, like 2007, 2010, and 2012 before it, that we are graced with a new Mass Effect game. When I say Mass Effect is greatest science-fiction video game series of all time, I do not say it lightly. But I do say it because I believe it wholeheartedly. The Xbox 360, PS3 generation had more amazing experiences than any other I had the luck to be a part of, but nothing was quite such an amazing overall package as Mass Effect. Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 all have the distinction of being games that I couldn’t get enough of, and ones I restarted the second the credits rolled. While some may call them RPG-lite’s, these games have defined how player’s make decisions in games, they have created some of the most incredible characters in gaming history, and built a universe so flamboyantly beloved that when the ending of Mass Effect 3 was a bit of a let down, it was the biggest story in video gaming for the entirety of 2012. To this day people do not shut up about the ending of ME3. A franchise does not get to that level of public consciousness without doing something special. For me, Mass Effect is the most special game series of all time.

When you’ve created an ending to a series as beloved as Mass Effect that has such finality and corridor of choice, a sequel will be a near impossible task. In Mass Effect: Andromeda gone is your avatar, the venerable Commander Shepard, gone are all the characters you’ve met across three 40+ hour games, and gone is the Milky Way galaxy. It is a fresh start for the series, and hopefully a less controversial one for BioWare, Mass Effect’s storied creators. You are now the Pathfinder, leading humanity, and all the other species of your home galaxy to find a new place to live, in a part of the universe untouched by the Reapers; the uncaring, unyielding, invincible machine gods built to harvest organic life.  While for some the fact that Andromeda has nothing to do with any of the other games may seem like a cop out, personally I don’t know how they could have done anything different. The franchise moves on into uncharted waters, and while it may never reach the pinnacle it did five years ago, even if Andromeda is only just as good as any of its forbears it will be the best game released in 2017. Potentially janky facial animations notwithstanding.

 

April

April is an interesting time of the spring, sometimes it holds a number of big games, and sometimes its a little barren. 2017 is closer to the latter, but does hold at least one major game I thought I’d never care about.

April 4th:

Persona 5- PS4, PS3

People do things on a whim all the time. In summer 2014 I bought a game for my Playstation Vita called Persona 4 Golden. I did it because I heard it was great from some people I trust, even if was not traditionally the type of game I was eager to play. Fast forward to the end of the fall semester 2016. I have yet to play Persona 4 Golden. For more than two years the game sat in its box patiently waiting for me to discover it. And discover it I did. I have played a number of games in the past month, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Arma 3, Battlefield 1, Hearts of Iron IV etc. etc. but only one has been on my mind the whole time, Persona 4. On a four day family vacation over New Year’s I couldn’t put the game down, and I haven’t since. Now dozens of hours later, I totally understand why the Persona series is a perfect example of “yeah, but have you tried it?”.

Who knew a role playing game about being a highschooler in a small Japanese town building relationships, attending classes, and hunting for a serial killer throwing people into an alternate universe to die, while collecting what are essentially Pokemon could be so engrossing? Because I didn’t. Now I am a believer. A fantastic story, and amazing characters can make even the most strange setting a pleasure to be a part of. I don’t know much about the new game, Persona 5, only that the characters and setting is all new, but I truly can’t wait. Even if my foray back into that world is delayed by a month or so do to Mass Effect, I can promise you it won’t be two years before I jump back into the world of the TV.

 

May

Injustice 2 CR: NetherRealm

May 19th:

Injustice 2- PS4, Xbox One, PC

Fighting games have had a bit of resurgence in the past few years. Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros., Marvel vs. Capcom, and Injustice have all carved out large bits of the industry’s consciousness, and have been rewarded with millions of sales. 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us was the first time we had been given a full DC Comics fighting game, and a great one at that. While superheros dominate the worldwide movie market right now, they do not feature much in games. So, of course, you can infer why a well received, high selling superhero game may have a large group of rabid fans desperate for a sequel.

I’ve never been very good at fighting games (Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, the lone exception) so I never really know what to think about major game releases in that category. I want to play them, they always seem to be fun, but I am constantly worried about getting my money’s worth out of the game. The silver lining is of course that Injustice 2, like the first before it, and every other game like it, is a fantastic party game. The immediate test of skill and competition gets people involved. There are few things to better pass time with while waiting to go out to a bar, or waiting for people to show than pass around the controllers for a game like Injustice 2. I have no doubt the game will sell at least a few million copies. However, whether or not it will be the best fighting game of the year is a little less clear with Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite releasing sometime in the next 11 months.

Thank you for checking out this new edition of my previews. It has unfortunately been quite some time since I posted one of these. I hope that will not continue to be the status quo. I will be updating the site more regularly now that I have some ideas for what I’d like to write about in the coming months so check back when you can!