Get Those Wallets Ready for September
Another month, another fantasy update. If January saw some massive releases and February some unfortunate delays, then March made up for its lack of quality games with sheer numbers. Six important fantasy picks have come out in March since the last update, and while their receptions have varied greatly, there’s little refuting that Metascores are falling back to the mean after an insanely fruitful start to the year.
Still, there’s reason to be excited for the rest of 2018. While most of Q3/Q4 had been a mystery going into the month of March, much has been elucidated thanks to a barrage of critical release announcements this month. And while Q1/Q2 seems to be mostly set in stone, there are still a couple of goliaths that are sure to send some quakes before we move into the post-E3 fantasy push.
Middling March Releases Shake Up the Fantasy Ladder
If there’s something that’s sad about game releases, it’s seeing an anticipated title fail to meet expectations. Games underperform for a variety of reasons, from rushed production schedules and a lack of funding to unwieldy engines and unforeseeable technical issues. Other times, they just don’t deliver on the promises initially communicated by their development teams. Regardless of the final product’s quality, though, it’s hard to deny the blood, sweat, and passion that creators put into these games.
March saw a huge array of titles release over the course of the month. Some were well received, others were critically panned, but each showed unique promise at one point in time (otherwise our writers wouldn’t have drafted them). While reviews and reviews scores are ultimately subjective, and almost always debated, we at The Punished Backlog thrive on them for fantasy gaming. It’s harsh, it’s sometimes ugly, but it’s necessary to determine a winner by the end of 2018.
On March 16, Kirby Star Allies, drafted by Team Genesis, released to mixed reviews. While there had been some optimism that Kirby would be a safe, albeit conventional, bet, Star Allies’ wonky controls and pushover difficulty quickly quelled those hopes. The game currently sits with a 73 Metacritic on Switch with 74 critics.
Thankfully, Team Genesis “fared” better when it came to Josef Fares’ co-op prison-break adventure, A Way Out. (See what I did there?) The game released on March 23 and has maintained a “generally favorable” Metascore of 79 on PS4 with 57 critics reporting in. And while the game’s release has been a far cry from the potential GOTY candidate gamers (myself included) had painted it to be, outlets are praising A Way Out for its unique narrative design. Plus, Josef “Fuck the Oscars” Fares’ unique PR approach seems to have paid off; the game sold 1 million copies within its first two weeks.
Speaking of far cries in gaming (I hear you groaning already), Far Cry 5 released on March 27. While franchise fatigue seems to sunk its teeth into Ubisoft’s flagship franchise, Far Cry 5 was a solid performer for Team Jack with an 81 Metascore on PS4 based on 75 critics. Jack needed a big rebound after his Metal Gear Survive debacle from February, and although an 81 isn’t quite enough to offset a 60 (60!) Metascore, it’s a step in the right direction. Still, he better start praying that The Last of Us Part II releases this year…
Sea of Thieves Gets Pummeled by Critics… But Were They Too Harsh?
Despite Team Jack’s improvement, the biggest shakeup this month by far comes from Team Sam. Starting off the year strong with Monster Hunter: World, Sam has stood toe-to-toe with Team Geron and Team Kei for first place in the fantasy standings. However, that will undoubtedly change with the release of the extremely divisive Sea of Thieves. Considered my many to be the No Man’s Sky of the Xbox platform (lots of places to go, very little to see), Sea of Thieves got critically slammed, just as Sean Murray’s space sim had back in 2016. The game, released March 20, has a 68 Metascore on Xbox One with 67 critics, essentially kicking Team Sam down several rungs on the fantasy ladder.
Sea of Thieves’ performance is unexpectedly disappointing. I had loved what I’d played of the game back at Paris Games Week 2017, and our own Sam Martinelli sounded off on why Sea of Thieves is getting unfairly lambasted by critics with his own 8.3 review. As he writes in his critique:
If anything, much of the disappointment with Sea of Thieves’ content (or alleged lack thereof) stems more from our own manufactured expectations for a title we never actually played ourselves. … If we see a kraken destroying a pirate ship in the beta, we assume something like that happens a lot or that the kraken (or another large enemy) only gets bigger and stronger as the game goes along. We expect that developers don’t want to spoil any part of the story at E3, so any lack of a coherent storyline prior to release must mean a more detailed plot (or series of plots) will be present at launch. … It’s important to recognize that Sea of Thieves never claims (or claimed) to be anything more than what it is: a cartoon pirate simulator. It’s not exactly No Man’s Sky.
Sam brings up an important point here. Even if Sea of Thieves shares some similarities on paper with No Man’s Sky (they’re both exploration-focused, player-driven experiences) there’s a huge difference between No Man’s Sky deceptive marketing and Sea of Thieves’ simplistic world. Unfortunately, the reviews don’t seem to reflect that fact. (Really, if you haven’t yet read Sam’s review, I highly recommend you do so here.)
Like with Team Genesis, thankfully, Team Sam saw some redemption with its second pick, MLB The Show 18. Released on March 27, The Show 18 brought the same classic gameplay and modes that have made it such a classic among baseball fans (it helps that Sony has, for years now, monopolized the rights to MLB video games; gamers don’t exactly have a choice here). The game has an 82 on Metacritic on PS4 with 32 critics.
Still, the ladder is forever altered coming out of March. Sam has fallen, Jack is climbing, and Genesis is still looking for a big 90+ hitter to catapult her to the top of the standings. Plenty of time left on the clock, folks.
Ni no Kuni II Solidifies Team Geron as the Team to Beat
Of all the fantasy games that released in March, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is the only one that can claim to be “great.” With its 85 Metacritic score on PS4 with 76 critics recorded, Ni no Kuni II released to “generally favorable” reviews and managed to tie the Metascore of its well-regarded predecessor, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that Team Geron has made a great stake as the “team to beat” in fantasy. Not only is it off to a strong start with great performers like Shadow of the Colossus and Ni no Kuni II, but Team Geron looks prepared for the long haul with its future picks. News of a Shenmue I & II HD collection for PC, PS4, and Xbox One is an encouraging sign that Shenmue III is on track to hit its December 2018 release window. Soulcalibur VI is one of the most anticipated fighting games in recent memory, and while Dreams might not seem like a groundbreaking release on the surface, it would be dangerous to write off developer Media Molecule with their proven track record.
Make no mistake: Team Geron is the real deal.
September is Stacked and Coming for Your Wallet
Alongside the bevy of March releases, we also received a heap of news regarding games coming later this year. More specifically? September.
Seemingly to avoid butting heads with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 in October, numerous big-budget titles are releasing at the beginning of the fall rush rather than in the thick of it.
First, Square Enix officially announced the all-but-confirmed Shadow of the Tomb Raider for September 14 alongside a brief teaser trailer. Two weeks later, Square Enix doubled down on its September gambit with the announcement that Dragon Quest XI would finally release on PC and PS4 on September 4 (the 3DS version canned for the West and the Switch version to unfortunately come much later). To complete the holy trinity, Game Informer broke the news via a cover story that Insomniac and PlayStation’s Spider-Man would release on September 7.
Taking a step back to breathe all the news, this means that we’re getting a 1-2-3 jab-cross-hook of Dragon Quest XI, Spider-Man, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider all within a ten-day span. And while the three games don’t exactly overlap in terms of audience (the Dragon Quest fanbase is particularly niche in the West, Spider-Man will sell like gangbusters based on the license alone, and Tomb Raider’s linear, Uncharted-esque nature distinguishes itself from the other two’s open worlds), for hardcore gamers with eyes on all three, your wallet is in for a beating.
In terms of fantasy, these release dates are excellent news for two teams—Team David and Team PJ—and not-so-good news for one team—Team Jack.
For Team David, confirmation that Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Dragon Quest XI will release in 2018 provides some much needed comfort heading into E3. Of its picks, only Ori and the Will of the Wisps remains without a clear release date. So long as SotTR and DQXI deliver, Team David has a definite shot at hitting the top of the leaderboard before the year is done.
As for Team PJ, Spider-Man’s date helps solidify what is bound to be a productive fall for the fantasy team. Between Red Dead Redemption 2 and Insomniac’s superhero epic, which looks fantastic, it’s gonna be difficult to outpace Team PJ in terms of pure quality of its picks. Certainly a team to watch.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man’s placement puts Team Jack in a bit of an odd spot. Remember when I said earlier that Jack better be praying that The Last of Us Part II ships this year? Well, while that already seemed unlikely, the fact that Spider-Man is set to be Sony’s major fall release indicates that TLOU2 is likely releasing no earlier than Q1/Q2 2019. Is there a chance that the game stealth launches in Summer 2018 after a Fallout 4-like showing at E3? Never say never, baby. Is it likely? Hell no.
Might wanna start perusing that E3 waiver wire, Jack.
Yakuza and Minit Make List of Sleeper Fantasy Studs
With this recurring segment, we like to look at fantasy performers from the past month that were tragically overlooked by our writers. While this month’s fantasy sleeper list was a bit muted compared to previous months, it just goes to show us how spoiled we’ve been as gamers thus far in 2018. Celeste, Moss, Into the Breach… there are many games that continue to surprise us in-between the year’s bigger AAA releases.
This month, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life takes the top honors. Releasing today, April 17, Yakuza 6 has an 83 Metascore on PS4 with 80 critics. While the game isn’t quite the gameplay revolution that Yakuza 0 was in 2017, that hasn’t stopped reviewers from praising Yakuza 6 for providing a fitting final chapter for series’ protagonist Kiryu Kazuma.
Joining Yakuza 6 this month is the far smaller-scale title Minit. Boiling down the essentials of a Legend of Zelda game and tying it to a 60-second timer, Minit has been popular among critics. It currently has an 81 Metascore on PS4 based on 18 reviewers.
While these games might have been our losses, don’t let them be yours.
Upcoming Fantasy Releases
Things are officially slowing down in the world of fantasy in the months leading up to E3. While the Los Angeles expo will certainly shake this list up in due time, we still have some big players left to look forward to. Here’s what we have on the schedule:
- God of War – April 20 (Team David)
- Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – May 8 (Team Kei)
- State of Decay 2 – May 22 (Team Sam)
- Detroit: Become Human – May 25 (Team Augustine)
- Vampyr – June 5 (Team Augustine)
Looking past E3, things begin to pick up again as we hurtle towards an increasingly packed Q3/Q4. In addition to the crazy September we have in store, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth has been dated for August 14, while Valkyria Chronicles 4 has been confirmed to launch in the West within a slightly vager Fall 2018 window.
- 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)
Oh, and to the astute readers wondering why God of War wasn’t covered in this update despite its review embargo having lifted by the time of this posting… sorry, I’m only human. It’ll be covered in full in next month’s April recap.
The Current Standings
As the dust settles, here’s how the fantasy boards look going forward:
- 1st) Team Geron: 88.0 avg, 176 total
- 2nd) Team Kei: 87.0 avg, 87 total
- Dragon Ball FighterZ – 87 Metacritic (PS4, 74 critics)
- 3rd) Team David: 83.0 avg, 83 total
- Iconoclasts – 83 Metacritic (PS4, 23 critics)
- 4th) Team Sam: 80.0 avg, 240 total
- 5th) Team Genesis: 75.7 avg, 227 total
- 6th) Team Jack: 70.5 avg, 141 total
- 7th) Team Augustine: 65.0 avg, 65 total
- Dynasty Warriors 9 – 65 Metacritic (PS4, 48 critics)
- 8th) Team PJ: 0.0 avg, 0 total
Thanks for reading, and check back in May for our next fantasy update!