Chest Pumps and Heartbreaks Mark This April in Fantasy
We’re back with another fantasy update, and this one’s a doozy. As opposed to March, which brought us a quantity of releases at the cost of quality, April has all but cast quantity aside in order to bring us a long awaited gem. And oh, what a gem it was.
God of War took over April, shattering expectations for what had already been an expectations-shattering franchise. As showers of accolades accrued for Kratos’ latest, one fantasy team reaped the benefits, propelling itself to the top of the leaderboard. It may be a single title, but its impact will have reverberations in fantasy land for months to come.
Of course, we’ve also dipped into the first half of May with this month’s update, and with it comes both joy and sadness for our fantasy competitors. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire launched to an extremely warm reception, while State of Decay 2 came out to… well, not so warm of a welcome. Meanwhile, delays of Shenmue III and Metro Exodus are leaving teams scrambling to recover during the E3 2018 draft (and its subsequent waiver wire pickup).
Buckle up, because we’re full steaming ahead on this month’s fantasy train.
God of War Triumphs, Catapulting Team David to First Place
God of War’s success should have felt like a sure thing. When the game was bombastically revealed at E3 2016, complete with a full orchestra, people’s socks were metaphorically blown off, put on, and blown off again for good measure. Kratos’ reboot looked like nothing we’d ever seen before from Sony’s flagship franchise, incorporating everything from a new behind-the-back camera angle to a Last of Us-inspired father-son scenario focusing on Kratos’ relationship with his son, Atreus. And while Sony Santa Monica is a talented studio… I don’t think anyone quite imagined the next God of War to look this good.
Still, there were seeds of doubt. Despite Santa Monica Studio’s proven track record, having worked on God of War for over fifteen years, there are nonetheless some blemishes. God of War: Ascension had left many people feeling tired of the same old hack-and-slash formula; even multiplayer wasn’t enough to get people excited about Kratos’ 2013 adventure. To come back, three years later, with a complete reboot of the series—this new God of War seemed almost too good to be true.
As we went through 2016 and 2017, we saw God of War show up here, there, and even during an NBA game, but never in a hands-on capacity. Journalists never demoed the game at press conferences, nor did Sony provide preview events for press to get their hands on the game (well, except the lucky few over at GameInformer). The months rolled on, and as we entered January 2018 and God of War finally received its April 20 release date, it seemed as if everyone would be going in blind for Kratos’ latest. Perhaps Santa Monica wanted everyone to experience the story at the same time? Perhaps the game wasn’t ready? It wasn’t clear at the time.
Then, suddenly, in March, a preview embargo lifted and impressions started flooding in. Geoff Keighley was “blown away.” Andrew Goldfarb was “in love.” Greg Miller claimed it had the “best superhero fight” in any game he’d ever played. Review copies were sent out a few weeks later, and journalists could barely contain their enthusiasm for the game’s launch.
God of War released to universal acclaim, washing away any and all worries. It currently sits at 94 on Metacritic for PS4 with 114 critics, making it the highest reviewed game of 2018 to date and an early frontrunner for game of the year. Fair enough to say, Kratos and Atreus’ journey has been a massive hit for Sony, and there are sure to be arguments as to whether or not Santa Monica has surpassed Naughty Dog and Guerilla Games as the publisher’s number one option.
With this release, Team David has shot up to the very top of the leaderboard, leading Team Geron’s average by a mere half a point. While this may not be indicative of future success for Team David, it certainly is a promising development for David moving forward.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Delivers as Team Kei Holds Steady
While God of War was the biggest release of this fantasy update, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire wasn’t far behind. Releasing on May 8 exclusively on PC (PS4, Xbox One, and Switch releases to follow), Deadfire received glowing praise from reviewers. It currently has an 89 on Metacritic with 47 critics, putting it on the same level as the original Pillars of Eternity.
Going into this April update, Team Kei had a score of 87 thanks to the strong success of Dragon Ball FighterZ. With the inclusion of Pillars of Eternity II, Team Kei’s average has risen a point to tie Team Geron at 88 and, like Team Geron, trail Team David by just half a point. While Kei’s initial performance had been strong, Deadfire proves that his team and its picks can be consistent. Like Team Geron, Team Kei is here to stay.
Still, there’s some uncertainty brewing in Kei’s camp. His remaining picks consist of Darksiders III, Code Vein, and Valkyria Chronicles 4, none of which are inspiring much confidence in their quality at the moment. While this could very well change, league sources tell me that Team Kei is already looking towards exchanging some (or all) of these picks in the upcoming E3 draft. Is a total gutting on the horizon? It’s possible.
One big tool in Kei’s arsenal? He gets to pick first during the E3 draft. Will he be picking up Super Smash Bros. for Switch to kick things off (a move that would certainly improve his odds of continuing to rise in the leaderboards)? Only Kei knows for sure, but one thing’s certain: E3 2018 cannot come soon enough for him and many others.
State of Decay 2 Disappoints, Putting Team Sam in Dire Straits
Another team that, in all likelihood, is counting down the days to E3? Team Sam.
While making an initial splash with the release of Monster Hunter: World (90 Metascore on PS4, 92 critics), Team Sam has since seen better days. Sea of Thieves was met with divisive reviews; while Sam himself enjoyed the game, other critics did not. It currently sits with a 69 Metascore on Xbox One with 70 critics—a disappointing start to Microsoft’s 2018 lineup of first-party titles. And though Sam had a solid third entry in the form of MLB The Show 18 (82 Metascore on PS4, 35 critics), it wasn’t quite enough to bring him back to the front of the race.
Recently, Team Sam had the opportunity to rebound with Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2. The original State of Decay had been a unique, if flawed, take on zombie survival games. With Microsoft doubling down on the sequel, there was confidence that State of Decay 2 would deliver where Sea of Thieves had failed.
On May 18, State of Decay 2 released to mixed reviews; it’s currently hovering around a 68 Metascore on Xbox One with 52 critics recorded. For Team Sam, this is a disappointing development that’s making it harder and harder to trust Microsoft’s internal studios. Making matters worse, Sam’s fifth and final pick is the troubled Crackdown 3.
While it’s possible that Crackdown 3 bucks the trend of subpar Microsoft exclusives, Team Sam fortunately has more than mere speculation at its disposal. Microsoft’s E3 will likely heavily feature the game in its on-stage presentation, allowing for an updated look at its development progress. Furthermore, the E3 draft gives Sam the leniency to swap picks if things look dire and, of course, pick up an additional 6th pick for his arsenal. In all likelihood, E3 will be the make-or-break point for Team Sam’s fantasy success.
Shenmue III and Metro Exodus Delayed Among Other Victims
Unfortunately, Team Sam was hardly the only casualty of a merciless first half of May. On May 16, publisher Deep Silver announced that Shenmue III would be missing its December 2018 target window so its developers can “polish the quality of the game even further, to the high standards it deserves.” As a result, the game will release in 2019. While likely a disappointing piece of news for many, it’s good to hear that Yu Suzuki and his team aren’t being forced to rush the game out by the end of the year. Plus, it gives players more of an opportunity to catch up on the story with the recently revealed Shenmue I & II HD collection.
Of course, this is a blow to Team Geron, which had been performing adamantly up until now. While in nowhere near as deep of a hole as other teams, Team Geron will need to start thinking of a replacement pick in time for E3.
The next delay, on the other hand, is far more worrisome. Metro Exodus has been pushed from its Q4 2018 window to Q1 2019, proving that Team PJ absolutely cannot catch a break in this competition. For those in need of a refresher, this makes the third game for which PJ has been hit with a delay, the first and second being Red Dead Redemption 2 and Days Gone, respectively.
While Red Dead 2 will, in all likelihood, meet its new October 2018 date, the loss of Days Gone and now Metro Exodus leaves Team PJ in desperate need of a rebuild. Even if Persona 5: Dancing Star Night releases this year in North America (and assuming Spider-Man sticks to its September 7 date), that still leaves PJ with two empty slots he’ll need to fill in during the E3 waiver wire pick-up. Still, two free slots is hardly a death sentence, and it’s looking like E3 will provide a wealth of new picks to choose from when the dust has settled.
Shenmue III and Metro Exodus might have been the biggest delays of this update, but there is a whole list of other delays of note:
- Indivisible, pushed to 2019
- Skull & Bones, pushed to Ubisoft’s 2019-2020 fiscal year
- TBA 2K game (Borderlands 3?), pushed to Take-Two’s 2019-2020 fiscal year
- NBA Playgrounds 2, pushed from May 22 to TBA
While none of the competing teams own any of the above games, their new-found absence from the E3 draft is sure to have ramifications as teams prepare to head into the 2nd half of the year.
Frostpunk Headlines Lengthy List of Fantasy Sleepers
As teams deal with terrible luck and crippling delays, let’s look back on what could have been, shall we?
April/May saw a long list of interesting games that, in addition to being fun to play, were also fantasy studs, plain and simple. Leading the pack, with an 85 Metascore on PC with 58 critics, is the city-builder/survival mashup game Frostpunk. While I’ve yet to play it, reviews are glowing; between Frostpunk and February’s Into the Breach, the strategy genre seems to be going strong in 2018.
Next up is The Forest, a survival horror game that has critics raving about its fantastic story and intuitive gameplay. The game released on April 30, after four years of early access (can you believe that?), and it looks like the extra time in the cooker paid off. The game has an 83 Metascore on PC with 12 critics, with a PS4 port currently in the works.
Three additional games round off the list. The flashy and competitive Laser League, which released for PC, XB1, and PS4, has an 82 Metascore on PS4 with 17 critics. Super Mega Baseball 2, a surprisingly deep arcade baseball experience, released for PC, XB1, and PS4 and has an 82 Metascore on XB1 with 16 critics. Rounding out the pack is the emotionally moving adventure game Forgotten Anne, which released on PC, XB1, and PS4 as well and has an 80 Metascore on PS4 with 13 critics.
These gems passed us by. Don’t let them pass by you.
Upcoming Fantasy Releases
Things are pretty hush-hush as we move through the end of May and into June. E3 is nearly upon us, and that means our fantasy calendar is about to get shaken up from head to toe. Expect new games and new release dates soon, but for now, there’s still business to attend to before we celebrate Christmas in Los Angeles.
First up, we have the long-anticipated Detroit: Become Human (Team Augustine) launching on May 25, a short few days from now. Despite the troubling allegations levied towards studio Quantic Dream’s senior leadership regarding inappropriate workplace culture, I still like to think that Detroit is an important game for the industry, especially when it comes to narrative-driven experiences. I loved what I played of Detroit back at Paris Games Week 2017, and I hope it succeeds in telling a captivating and highly personalized story. It has big shoes to fill, especially after God of War, but Detroit: Become Human could be the shot in the arm Team Augustine needs at this point in fantasy. We’ll see soon enough.
Also up for Team Augustine, we have Focus Home Interactive and Dontnod Entertainment’s action-RPG Vampyr, releasing June 5. For Dontnod, who previously worked on the linear and episodic Life is Strange, Vampyr seems like a complete change of pace. With Batman: Arkham-esque combat, RPG skill trees, and open-ended environments to explore, Vampyr could be a breakout game for the French publisher-developer duo. Definitely a crucial few weeks for Team Augustine.
Here’s the rest of the schedule—unchanged from last month’s update—as we move into the second half of 2018:
- Octopath Traveler – July 13 (Team Augustine)
- World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth – August 14 (Team Augustine)
- Dragon Quest XI – September 4 (Team David)
- Spider-Man – September 7 (Team PJ)
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider – September 14 (Team David)
- Red Dead Redemption 2 – October 26 (Team PJ)
- Valkyria Chronicles 4 – Fall 2018 (Team Kei)
These games notwithstanding, it’s anyone’s guess as to what else we can expect from the rest of 2018. Hopefully E3 will bring the answers in numbers.
The Current Standings
It’s a tight race at the top of the latest fantasy standings. Take a look:
- 1st) Team David: 88.5 avg, 177 total
- 2nd) Team Geron: 88.0 avg, 176 total
- 2nd) Team Kei: 88.0 avg, 176 total
- 4th) Team Sam: 77.25 avg, 309 total
- 5th) Team Genesis: 75.33 avg, 226 total
- 6th) Team Jack: 70.5 avg, 141 total
- 7th) Team Augustine: 65.0 avg, 65 total
- Dynasty Warriors 9 – 65 Metacritic (PS4, 49 critics)
- 8th) Team PJ: 0.0 avg, 0 total
Thanks for reading, and check back in June for our next fantasy update!