When the Dust Settles, There Can Only Be One
We’re hurtling towards the finish line, folks. After the July update foreshadowed bigger things to come, August’s fantasy update has brought the fire. Fall 2018 is here, and it’s already living up to expectations.
As of this update, the vast majority of fantasy entries have been recorded, and it’s looking like the recipient of the first ever Punished Backlog Fantasy Gaming crown is coming down to one of two teams. However, a recent shakeup in the lead-up to this month’s update may have just clinched the victory for one in particular.
Even still, the fall has just begun. Plenty of time for a surprise upset!
Without further ado, let’s catch up on the past month of fantasy.
Dragon Quest XI and Forza Horizon 4 Keep Team David Riding High…
After waiting patiently through the summer, Team David has picked up speed as its fall heavy hitters have begun to drop. Dragon Quest XI released on September 4, gathering solid scores from RPG-loving and RPG-casual critics alike thanks to its enticing world and strong characters, even if many felt the game could have taken a few more risks. The game currently has an 86 on Metacritic for PS4 with 80 critics recorded.
Meanwhile, the review embargo for Forza Horizon 4—which releases October 2—just lifted, and the scores are even better than most could have imagined. The game is sporting a hearty 92 on Metacritic for Xbox One with 59 critics chiming in. With the game’s current 92, the series continues its tradition of trending up with each new entry—from 85 with the original Forza Horizon, to 86 with FH2, to 91 with FH3, and now to 92 with FH4.
As satisfying as Forza Horizon 4’s success is from a fantasy standpoint, it’s also heartwarming to see as a long-time Xbox supporter. It also only further supports my belief that Playground Games is Microsoft’s most talented team this generation, and the company’s most important resource heading into the next generation of hardware.
For fantasy, Dragon Quest XI and Forza Horizon 4 have kept Team David’s dream alive of taking home this year’s fantasy title. However, as you might have guessed from the ellipsis of the headline, all is not exactly well in paradise.
…While Shadow of the Tomb Raider Sends Team David Flying Back Down to Earth
I was big on Shadow of the Tomb Raider when I selected it during the January draft, and I still am now. A huge fan of the rebooted Tomb Raider series, I’ve been as excited as anyone to see Lara Croft’s journey come to a close (even if I’ve yet to complete Rise of the Tomb Raider).
When Shadow of the Tomb Raider released a few weeks back, reviews weren’t as high as I’d initially expected. Franchise fatigue had begun to sink in, and more critics than ever were spotting holes in the series’ storytelling. Even still, the 83 the game had garnered on Metacritic for Xbox One based on 54 critics was a respectable, if slightly unexpected, score.
Unfortunately, there seems to have been some inconsistency with reporting on Metacritic for the game. Call it a case of a AAA multiplatform having scores split across platforms, call it the lingering aftereffects of Microsoft’s timed exclusivity of the prior game (and the consumer backlash that followed), or just chalk it up to the nature of Metacritic and our obsession with arbitrary numbers and categories. The fact remains that Shadow of the Tomb Raider sits at a 78 on Metacritic for PS4 with 56 critics… in other words, with just two more critics than those contributing to the more favorable Xbox One score.
That difference of five points might quite literally mean the difference between victory and defeat for Team David. The team’s average score of 86.6 is still the strongest among the competing teams… but not by much. Expect us to monitor that Shadow of the Tomb Raider score closely in the following weeks.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 Delivers as Team Kei Makes its Steady Ascent to the Top
I already laid out why Kei has played this fantasy league like a game of chess in the prior update. Now, with the release of Valkyria Chronicles 4 in the West, any lingering doubts about the strength of Kei’s team should be put to rest right now.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 was never a given success. While Valkyria Chronicles was a surprise hit among SRPG fans back in 2008… well, it was also a surprise hit back in 2008. There was no guarantee that future games would recreate the magic of the original, and after a sequel on PSP, a third game that never came West, and the dreadful spin-off Valkyria Revolution, it had been a while since we’d seen a proper console entry in the series.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 released on September 25 to some great reviews. Critics praised the new additions to the series’ tried-and-true battle system, while others found the story to be strong, even if not the most original ever. The game is sitting pretty with an 85 Metascore on PS4 with 34 critics reporting in.
Taken at face value, this 85 might not have seemed super impressive in the realm of fantasy. However, with this score, Team Kei managed to overcome what could have been the weakest fantasy contribution to the team. Now, with Battlefield V and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate drawing near, Team Kei looks to run away with things.
Barring poor reception for Battlefield (unlikely) or a last-minute delay to 2019 for Super Smash Bros. (even less likely), chances are pretty good that we’ll see Team Kei at the very top of the leaderboard by December 2018.
You never know, though.
Marvel’s Spider-Man Puts Team PJ in a Solid Position to Gain Ground in October
Marvel’s Spider-Man is pretty damn close to everything you could ask for from a Sony exclusive. It’s a sprawling open world with hours of gameplay. It’s got a fantastic story, and beautifully realized characters. It was made by one of Sony’s most illustrious second-party developers… You could go on.
It’s not without its faults, based on what I’ve played (I’m very, very close to getting that platinum). Crime side quests are repetitive and overstay their welcome early on, the stealth is undercooked, and the boss fights pale in comparison to those found in a certain caped crusader’s series of games. Still, Spider-Man is a grand old time, and easily one of the finest PS4 titles to date.
Critics agree. As of the time of writing, the game has an 87 Metascore on PS4 with 106 critics. Now that’s a lot of critics.
While it’s not going to right the ship for Team PJ overnight, Spider-Man has already improved the team’s position on the ladder; PJ has risen to sixth place in the rankings, kicking Team Augustine down to seventh. And with the near-guaranteed 95+ that Red Dead Redemption 2 will give Team PJ when the game launches in October, PJ will be in an even better position to scratch and claw his way up to the top. Move out of the way, people: there’ll be a new sheriff in town soon enough.
NBA 2K19 Gives Free Haircuts (is Still Hated by Fans), and… Oh, Where’s Ooblets?
NBA 2K19 released earlier in September, and to no one’s surprise, it still blatantly abuses micro-transactions. While the game lifted its knee off of gamers’ collective chests (Hey! Free haircuts!), it’s still got its hands wrapped around their throats (Hey! Pay $100 for the 20th Anniversary Edition, or your character’ll suck).
2K is one of maybe three games my brother plays all year (Madden and MLB The Show being the two others), so he didn’t mind shelling out for the fancy box and poster of LeBron James. However, fans online are absolutely pissed: as of the time of writing, 2K19 has a warm 2.3 user score based on 246 consumer ratings. And that’s actually an improvement over 2K18, which had a paltry 1.6 based on 657 scores. Guess the free haircuts didn’t quite cut it, huh?
Thankfully, critics liked 2K19 a whole lot more. The game, which released on September 7, sits with an 82 Metascore on PS4 based on 39 critics. With this, Team Genesis gets an ever-so-slight boost in average score, from 77.50 to 78.20, bringing the team up to fourth place and kicking Team Sam down to fifth. Even if it’s not the giant jump up the ladder she might have hoped for, Genesis is putting up a valiant effort as we near the final months of the year.
Unfortunately, Genesis’ final game, Ooblets, has been sort of M.I.A. since its showing at E3 2018. The game, which is in development by Glumberland and being published by Double Fine Presents, looks absolutely bonkers in the best possible way. A mix of Pokémon, Stardew Valley, and Hearthstone, Ooblets is shaping up to be an extremely imaginative and feel-good indie title.
As with most indies, though, crafting the perfect game takes time. While Ooblets was originally slated to release in 2018, it seems as if that will likely not be the case, if the “About” page of the game’s website is to be taken at face value.
Assuming Ooblets gets pushed to 2019, Team Genesis’ score would drop all the way down from 78.20 to 65.17. Until we get 100% official confirmation, though, we’ll keep the faith that Ooblets comes out sooner, rather than later. Keep the faith!
FIFA is as Fun as it’s Always Been….. and the Sad News on Everyone’s Minds
Let’s start with the good news, shall we?
Team Genesis might have had 2K19 in its corner to put up some impressive numbers this month, but Team Jack managed to one-up the competition ever so slightly with the release of FIFA 19. Always a staple in the pantheon of sports games series, FIFA is the comfort food that gamers can always come back to, time and time again, to enjoy on a couch with some buddies.
The game released on September 25, earning a rock-solid 83 Metascore on PS4 with 40 critics. That’s your best-performing game to date, Jack!
…Okay. So we got the fun out of the way.
Some Brief Thoughts on Telltale Games
It’s been a tough two weeks for those in the games industry. By now, you’ve already heard or read the shocking news that Telltale Games has let go at least 225 of its employees as part of a “majority studio closure.” Workers were let go without prior notice, without severance pay, and with health insurance that only lasted until the end of that week.
It’s difficult to put this closure into words. Aside from the wonderful games that Telltale made since it was founded in 2004, aside from the point-and-click genre it helped rejuvenate and ultimately define… Telltale was a group of hard-working developers who loved telling interesting stories. As a writer myself, even if I can’t understand the feelings of frustration and helplessness that losing a job in the industry must bring, I find myself admiring the former staff of Telltale even more now that ever.
To echo the words of countless developers, PR reps, journalists, and consumers around the industry: these men and women will bounce back, without a doubt. This is unfortunate moment in the history of games, but one that I hope will ultimately help to call attention to the poor conditions of workers in the industry and need for unionization within development teams of all sizes. Things can only go up from here.
Team Jack and the Future of The Walking Dead: The Final Season
Briefly touching upon fantasy, Team Jack had The Walking Dead: The Final Season. While episode two, “Suffer the Children,” released on September 25 as planned, receiving a 68 Metascore on PC from 10 critics, the future of episodes three and four, “Broken Toys” and “Take Us Back” are still up in the air. Initially, we believed they’d been cancelled along with the rest of Telltale’s non-Netflix projects. Then, Telltale tweeted that there was a possibility of The Final Season being picked up by one of “multiple potential partners” and completed.
While people are already up in arms about this (pay your ex-employees their severance pay first, Telltale), I’d like to believe that nearly everyone would want to see The Walking Dead receive the closure it and the tireless developers who worked on it deserve. However, even if an appropriate publisher comes forth, it’s highly unlikely that the final two episodes would stick to its current 2018 schedule.
As a result, Team Jack likely will not see the fruits of a completed episode three and episode four, making Jack’s predicament similar to Genesis. While the additions of FIFA 19 and “Suffer the Children” have brought Jack’s tally up to 74.29 from the prior update’s 71.11, the loss of The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s final two episodes would send Jack down to 65.00. Again, as with Genesis, we’ll stay positive about the outlook of Clementine’s story being resolved by the end of 2018; I just wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
Let’s Hear it For This Month’s Fantasy Sleepers!
As with every month, it’s time to give respect to the games that, for one reason or another, went overlooked by our competitors. This update, there were plenty of great games to spread the good gospel about.
First up is Two Point Hospital, which released on August 29. The spiritual successor to 1997’s Theme Hospital, which itself was a thematic spin-off of the 1995 game Theme Park, Two Point Hospital wowed critics with its refreshing simulation/strategy gameplay and strong production values. The game has a favorable 84 on Metacritic for PC with 47 critics.
Next, we have the excellent new PC/Switch title, The Messenger. Initially highlighted as a part of Nintendo’s Spring 2018 Nindies Showcase, The Messenger mashes up gameplay from action games like Ninja Gaiden and exploration from series like Metroid and layers on a neat story mechanic that has the player hopping between 8-bit and 16-bit worlds. It also has a hilarious shopkeeper that would have made the cut of our list of favorite merchants in gaming had the game released just a week or so sooner. The Messenger has an 87 Metascore on Switch based on 36 critics… and seriously, go play it just for the shopkeeper’s witty banter—his name is literally “The Shopkeeper.”
NHL 19 gets a nod on this list because it’s the only major sport game not to get representation this year. We’ve had MLB The Show 18 (Team Sam), Madden 19 (Team Anna), 2K19 (Team Genesis), FIFA 19 (Team Jack)… hell, even F1 2018 (Team Kei). But hockey—and poor old P.K. Subban—was left in the dust. Well guess what, people? NHL ended up being pretty good this year! It released on September 14, earning an 81 Metascore on PS4 with 24 critics. Which means it outscored Madden by a point, came a point short behind MLB The Show and 2K, trailed FIFA by two, and… Wait a second. 80, 81, 82, 82, 83……. Every sports game is exactly the same.
Finally, we have Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country. Weird tilde aside, Torna seems to have trimmed the fat from much of the core Xenoblade Chronicle 2 experience, streamlining combat and providing a smaller-sized story focusing on characters both old and new. It isn’t without its own fair share of shortcomings, based on reviews, but by and large, Torna is looking like a beefy expansion to an already mammoth-sized game. The expansion released on September 14, garnering an 81 Metascore on Switch with 27 critics.
Buy these games, play them, soak them in. They’re worth your time, and we’re lame for having missed them.
Upcoming Fantasy Releases
Mark your calendars. Schedule your vacation time in advance. Fall has come. Winter is coming.
Here’s what’s on the docket for the rest of the year in fantasy:
- Mega Man 11 – October 2 (Team David)
- Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – October 5 (Team Jack)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – October 12 (Team Jack)
- Starlink: Battle for Atlas – October 16 (Team PJ)
- Soulcalibur VI – October 19 (Team Anna)
- Red Dead Redemption 2 – October 26 (Team PJ)
- Hitman 2 – November 13 (Team Anna)
- Spyro Reignited Trilogy – November 13 (Team Sam)
- Fallout 76 – November 14 (Team Augustine)
- Battlefield V – November 20 (Team Kei)
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – December 7 (Team Kei)
- Ooblets – Likely 2019 (Team Genesis)
- The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 3: Broken Toys – TBA (Team Jack)
- The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 4: Take Us Back – TBA (Team Jack)
The Current Standings
As always, the leaderboard has been updated quite a bit. See the changes below.
- 1st) Team David: 86.60 avg, 433 total, -1.90 avg change, 0 rank change
- 2nd) Team Kei: 86.00 avg, 344 total, -0.33 avg change, 0 rank change
- 3rd) Team Anna: 81.75 avg, 327 total, 0 avg change, 0 rank change
- 4th) Team Genesis: 78.20 avg, 391 total, +0.70 avg change, +1 rank change
- 5th) Team Sam: 78.00 avg, 390 total, -0.20 avg change, -1 rank change
- 6th) Team PJ: 77.75 avg, 311 total, 2.75 avg change, +1 rank change
- 7th) Team Augustine: 75.20 avg, 376 total, -1.20 avg change, -1 rank change
- 8th) Team Jack: 74.29 avg, 160 total, +3.17 avg change, 0 rank change
- Metal Gear Survive – 60 Metascore (PS4, 69 critics)
- Far Cry 5 – 81 Metascore (PS4, 83 critics)
- The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 1: Done Running – 76 Metascore (PC, 21 critics)
- The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 2: Suffer the Children – 68 Metascore (PC, 10 critics)
- FIFA 19 – 83 Metascore (PS4, 40 critics)
Thanks for reading, and check back in October for the next fantasy update!