2019 was – and we can all agree on this in the editorial office – a rather mixed game year. No wonder, because the current console generation will be replaced in 2020. The really big firecrackers are traditionally few and far between. Nevertheless, a lot has happened in 2019. We look back at the highlights, disappointments, excitement and surprises of the gaming year.
By: Matthias Dammes, Johannes Gehrling, Sascha Lohmüller, Marcel Naeem-Cheema, Katharina Pache, Matti Sandqvist and Lukas Schmid
What's wrong with organic goods?
Bioware: Once a name that was synonymous with high-quality role-playing food, dozens to hundreds of hours of fun and generally simple experiences that had a lasting impact on the game world. Just think of Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or the first Dragon Age. The star of the studio is due to shifts, changes of ownership (Bioware now belongs to Electronic Arts) and the fact that the team today is completely different from what it used to be, but has been sinking for several years. The deeply mediocre Mass Effect: Andromeda of 2017 and its manageable success were obviously not enough wake-up calls. In 2019, the studio reached its qualitative low point with Anthem, which was also, but not only, due to the fact that one moved away from an RPG towards a cooperative lootshooter. Insignificant gameplay, technical shortcomings and more made it almost impossible to enjoy this and these flaws were also reflected in the sales figures, which fell short of the expectations of publishers and developers.
In the meantime, Anthem is more or less a software corpse, so Bioware may still insist so intensely that the game has not yet been abandoned. Escaping chief developers, a canceled roadmap and other uncertainties speak for themselves. And in the background, Bioware made reports of pronounced crunch periods, in which developers were sometimes twice as long as allowed in the office, and the complete lack of planning, including the disclosure of the fact that one did not even know when Anthem was originally announced, what game it was going to be talking about. Fears are now growing that bioware may be the next victim to a number of EA studio closings in the past few years. The success or failure of the previously announced Dragon Age 4 will probably decide this fact.
Games full: Xbox Game Pass for PC
Microsoft seems to have hit the bull's eye with the Xbox Game Pass. The "Netflix-for-video-games" service launched in 2017 is extremely popular and can score with a selection of games in which you cannot help but wiggle your ears euphorically. In addition to a large number of indie titles and third-party games, all Xbox exclusive titles can also be found on the subscription platform – immediately from the launch day! According to Phil Spencer (Head of Xbox), the Game Pass's intent is "to be present on all platforms that people play on." Spencer particularly praised the strength of bringing players closer to titles that might otherwise have been ignored. In May 2019, Microsoft finally announced the Game Pass for the Windows PC. The beta service, which encompasses over 100 games, shines with a selection of titles from titles such as Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition to Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which recently also includes the popular prequel part Halo: Reach. As usual with the console version of the service, the portfolio is constantly being expanded with new games. Microsoft also offers lucrative offers for all-round gamers with various subscription combinations. The Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, for example, offers the service for consoles and PC for a total of 12.99 euros per month. That is impressive! We will find out how important the Game Pass will be for Microsoft's future and the Xbox Scarlett by E3 2020 at the latest.
Not only can there always be winners – this also happened last year. The studio behind PC hits like the action-adventure rune (2000) and first-person shooter Prey (2006) has closed its doors. This was due to the long-announced and in the end probably too expensive sequel to Rune. It is a little strange, however, that the employees reformed themselves immediately after the closure under the name Roundhouse Studios and are now developing games for Bethesda. How the support for the Rune 2, which was released on November 12, ends up, is still uncertain. Responsible publisher Ragnarok wants to take care of important updates, but since the company has no access to the source code of the game due to the closure of Human Head Studios, we are asking ourselves a bit how this should work. So in the end it can be said that the buyers of Rune 2 are among the losers of 2019 – and that's really sad.
Apex Legends: from nothing back to nothing?
Sometimes publishers manage to surprise even experienced editors. For example, EA at the beginning of February 2019, when we were invited to L.A. to present us an as yet unannounced shooter. After we sent Lukas by airmail, the speculation started. A new Star Wars: Battlefront? No, too early. A new battlefield? Much earlier … maybe a new titanium case? Oh, that could be. In the end, however, we were shown Apex Legends for the first time, and Lukas let a few matches "battleroyalen". And in the end it was said: Oh yes, the game will be released on Monday. It was a Friday. The rest of the story is known: Apex Legends hit like a bomb, there was talk of a threat to Fortnite. Rightly so, as it showed at the beginning, because after a good month you had reached 50 million players. At Twitch, the shooter was one of the absolute highlights for several weeks. Apex was also a hot topic for us in the editorial office for a while, some editors spent every free minute on the battlefield, especially video boss Dominik and print uncle Sascha, with the latter the time counter stands at 113 hours – until July. Since then, however, interest has waned somewhat, not least due to the disappointing Season 1 content or the rightly criticized Iron Crown loot boxes in early August. Nevertheless, the developers regularly provide the game with new content and a large fan base remains loyal to it. You can look forward to the future.
Source: Respawn Entertainment
Although Quantic Dream never belonged to Sony and has always been an independent developer technically, the relationship between the French studio and the Japanese console manufacturer has been so close for a decade that they have almost been considered first-party developers. After all, with Heavy Rain (2010), Beyond: Two Souls (2013) and most recently Detroit: Become Human (2018) all the works of David Cage's studio were always published with great enthusiasm as exclusive figureheads of the Playstation platform. This year, the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Sony and Quantic Dream have changed a lot. It all started when it became known in January that the Chinese company Netease had acquired a small stake in the French studio. Even then, developments on several platforms were discussed. At the Games Developer Conference in March, the developers finally announced in collaboration with Epic Games that they would also release their previously exclusive Playstation titles for the PC during the course of the year. In an interview in the summer, studio boss David Cage confirmed that Quantic Dream "no longer develops exclusively for any platform".
This meant that future projects could appear on several platforms as soon as they were released. This change of direction of the studio should primarily serve to reach more players. Because, despite the high quality of the titles, the games have so far addressed a niche audience. Detroit: Become Human sold around two million copies on the PS4 in the first year, which is a record for the studio, but is manageable compared to other PS4-exclusive blockbusters. Quantic Dreams hits of the last few years are now all available for PC via the Epic Games Store. Story experiences that PC gamers with a penchant for good stories and characters should not miss. We can be curious what the boys and girls around David Cage will present next and whether PC players will be able to be there from the start.
Retro shooter is back in fashion
Everything used to be better. Back then, a rock concert was still loud, a paper book and of course there were more tinsel. Likewise, some older semesters swear by the level design and gameplay of classic first-person shooters from the 1990s – for example in the case of Duke Nukem 3D and Doom. It is therefore not surprising that this year, for example, John Romero brought a new episode with a total of nine levels with his free Sigil Mod id software shooter veteran. The so-called Megawad is even available for hardcore fans in a collector's edition, which not only contains an incredibly chic PC big box, but is also personally signed by John Romero.
The California developer studio Voidpoint, on the other hand, released its long-awaited Ion Fury on Steam on August 15, 2019. The first-person shooter was actually called Ion Maiden in the early access phase, but there were legal disputes with the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. Despite the new name, Ion Fury was very well received by the players and currently has 98 percent positive reviews on Steam. One reason for this may be the successful level design, but also the fact that the developers made the game completely with the build engine, which was already used in various classics like Duke Nukem 3D. From the same publisher, i.e. 3D Realms, the early access version of Wrath: Aeon of Ruin was released this year. The game relies on the quake engine, which also made it possible to create several first-person shooters – in a modified form, the graphics engine was used, for example, in Valves Half-Life. Wrath is playfully reminiscent of Quake 1. We slay through burial chambers, spoiled temples and spooky forests with the task of chasing the Old World guards. So far, the stalking has left us with a very good impression, the final version should then appear in summer 2020.