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With the unveiling of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 demo on Wednesday, it finally feels like the next generation of games is getting palpable. It’s close. The graphics that Epic showed off in The Valley of the Ancient demo were quite spectacular, and they’re a reminder of what Epic does for the industry besides suing Apple for antitrust concerns.
Epic will make the demo and its assets — which includes captured data of the fine details of the red rock formations near Moab, Utah — available to all Unreal Engine 5 users. Graphics that look that good are going to be the baseline for creating a next-generation game, and a number of companies (like Frost Giant Studios, a real-time strategy game dev house that ex-Blizzard devs started) have stepped up to say they’re using the engine for their upcoming games. This isn’t going to be technology that we’ll see used in a handful of titles. This engine should inspire a whole generation of games that we’ve never seen before.
Those titles aren’t likely to ship until 2022, when the engine officially ships, but with the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) coming up in two weeks, you can bet we’ll be seeing some sexy previews that push next-generation imagery to the edge. Indeed, we had so many reveals in the past week, like a fresh load of Dragon Quest and Sonic games, that it feels like E3 has already started. It was also good to hear that Probably Monsters’ Firewalk Studios is working on an original multiplayer game for Sony.
Of course, you could say this is all vaporware. There are some big games that I’m not expecting to see, like Ubisoft’s Skull & Bones and who knows when God of War: Ragnarok is really going to arrive. But we’ve been waiting a long time since Cyberpunk 2077 dashed our hopes of having an incredible next-generation experience. It has been great to see smaller games fill the void like Valheim, Returnal, Hitman 3, Monster Hunter Rise, and Resident Evil Village. But I am just as anxious as anyone else to see the real tentpole games that we can all get excited about.
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Also this week, we also got a 14-minute demo of the gameplay for Sony’s upcoming Horizon: Forbidden West. The original Horizon: Zero Dawn came out for the PlayStation 4 in 2017. It is a postapocalyptic open-world game set in a world repopulated with giant, dinosaur-like robots. The game was a big hit, selling over 10 million copies, and I played it through all the way to its shocker of an ending in the credits. Horizon: Forbidden West still doesn’t have a release date, but now we know that Guerrilla Games has been using its time well in creating the new adventures of Aloy. It will feature some cool underwater swimming effects in addition to its beautiful world set in the ruins of San Francisco. It was good to see Sony show off a really ambitious game.
I was also impressed that Techland put a flag in the ground and said its Dying Light 2: Stay Alive survival horror game, which has a map four times as big as the 2015 original, will debut on December 7. So many other big games have slipped more than once during the pandemic and I am pleasantly surprised that this game is actually coming out this year. It’s early in the year to declare the game is coming out, but let’s hope the date finally sticks.
We also got a glimpse this week at Supermassive Games‘ latest horror game, The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes. This third in the series of “butterfly effect” choice-driven games. It’s set in the deserts of Iraq in 2003, just after the end of the initial hostilities of the Iraq War. A military mission goes sideways and horror from an ancient world is what results. While the second game in the series, Little Hope, didn’t get much love last fall, this one is going to beef up the player control and the character graphics for next-gen consoles. It’s coming out sometime this year.
I haven’t had much time to play games that are already out, like Electronic Arts’ pair of original titles, It Takes Two and Knockout City. These games have a lot of charm, but they weren’t necessarily pushing the edge of graphics technology or insane action. There are titles in early access like Midwinter Entertainment’s Scavengers, which on Saturday will feature a 5,000 person virtual party inside the battle royale variant. Now I’m getting some genuine fear of missing out (FOMO), as I’m still playing catchup with titles like Total War: Rome Remastered and Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. Indeed, while I keep playing Call of Duty: Warzone, I’m going to start to feel bad about my pile of shame soon. So far this year, there hasn’t been a lot that has pulled me away from Warzone in the limited time that I have to play games.
And there’s more on the way. Ratchet & Clank launches exclusively for PlayStation 5 on June 11. Past demos have shown that Insomniac Games is making outstanding use of the new PS5 hardware. It’s one of those games that will throw a wild amount of stuff at the player, creating so much motion on the screen at a given time that your head will spin. That’s how you can distinguish action on the PS5 versus prior generations, and that’s the way it should be. It’s probably one of the first games that will convince gamers that $70 for a next-generation game is worth it.
We learned this week that there won’t be another BlizzCon later this year, so we don’t have to think about Overwatch 2 until 2022 for sure. But we also had confirmation from Microsoft that it will combine its press event with Bethesda’s for June 13 during the online-only E3. It’s going to be fun to keep a scorecard on which of the big companies is scoring the most points with gamers as they all try to convince us that their worlds and their platforms are the ones we want to inhabit.
The rumors are also starting to drive everyone crazy. Some delectable screenshots have leaked from Electronic Arts’ rumored Battlefield VI, which is expected to debut this year with wild levels of destructible environments. Bloomberg reported that Nintendo plans to announce an upgraded Switch hybrid game console and launch it as early as September. Once again, the rumors are coming in so hot and so detailed that it’s starting to feel palpable. A new Switch would certainly put a wrench in the plans of Sony and Microsoft to dominate the next generation. EA could show us some Battlefield glimpses soon, but it is going to hold its EA Play event on July 22.
I don’t even know what companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, Ubisoft, and Activision Blizzard have in mind for E3 or Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest. But I’m already pretty happy with our schedule for triple-A games coming soon. Lastly, we shouldn’t forget that Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is coming on June 7, and one of these days that company is going to show of technology for the next-generation of mobile games.
We’ve been warned that the pandemic has slowed development. But if all of the best rumors pan out, I wouldn’t be surprised if the game industry actually grows this year, in contrast to the estimate from Newzoo that the industry will shrink by 1%.
All of these dates are coming up so fast that I’m feeling a little ashamed. Just a few weeks ago, I was worried like it was going to be a really slow year, with the pandemic pushing so many games into longer production cycles that we might have a lot of gaps. I hope these games don’t all come at once, but we’ll get our hands on titles like Ratchet & Clank soon. But I fully admit I should have had more faith in game developers.
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