2019 Year-in-Review: Dom’s Top 10 Games of the Year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Forget the holidays. It’s Game of the Year season!

In what’s become an annual tradition here, the very last post of my year-in-review is a prestigious list of the best games I played in 2019. These defined the year for me, which truly was an especially important one personally and for the site as I started writing more in the way of official reviews and impressions.

No need for too much of an introduction. These excellent games speak for themselves, so let’s get into the festivities!

Dom’s Top 10 Games of the Year

#10: Remnant: From the Ashes (Gunfire Games, Perfect World Entertainment)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: Just recently passed one million copies, according to the studio.

Starting my Top 10 is Remnant: From the Ashes, one of the most surprising games of the entire year after seeing it in passing around E3 live-streams. Gunfire Games’ latest project is a blend of over-the-shoulder combat mechanics with Dark Souls-inspired areas and difficult boss fights. The shooting and melee both pack a serious punch, as one’s created character move through environments like forests and deserts that are curated yet also can be “generated” when starting a new game which adds replay potential. What really sets it apart is its enemy design and loot systems, where figuring out patterns is as enjoyable as building a character and finding cool new gear with which to overcome them.

#9: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward, Activision Blizzard)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: As usual, Call of Duty was one of the year’s best-selling premium titles. $600 million in three days. To date has $1 billion in global sell-through, which implies ~ 16.5 million copies.

In terms of annual, triple-A releases, I believe there’s none more consistent than the military action game Call of Duty. And Infinity Ward’s latest, a re-imagining of its 2007 classic Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, is the best it’s been this generation. Built on a revamped engine, the result is a gritty campaign as memorable for blockbuster moments as its more claustrophobic, personal missions. The competitive multiplayer is grounded, smooth and addictive. The only thing really holding it back from a higher spot is its middling co-op mode.

#8: Control (Remedy Entertainment, 505 Games)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: Remedy Entertainment CEO Tero Virtala stated the three year development budget was under €30 million ($34 million) and that the title is “in a good position with steady sales.”

When I reviewed Control in August, I explained what’s so glowing about Remedy’s creepy, third-person action-adventure. Its seemingly everyday corporate setting is elevated by gorgeous art and best-in-class sound design that sets the uneasy mood as a backdrop for its weird albeit occasionally nonsensical narrative. Its attention to detail in world-building, which I argue is just as important as the story progression and fluid combat mechanics, sets it apart compared to most games in its genre. Protagonist Jesse Faden’s journey ends up being overshadowed by the broader scope of what’s happening with the enigmatic government agency around her, and discovering that is the game’s true joy. It also contains one of my favorite sequences in a game this generation in its “Ashtray Maze.” You have to play it to understand.

#7: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (Respawn Entertainment, Electronic Arts)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: EA was selective in its stats. Fastest digital launch and best PC launch for the series. In the U.S., NPD Group reported it was the 2nd best seller of November and immediately #9 on the 2019 list to date.

This generation finally has a.. hm, stellar Star Wars game! Respawn Entertainment’s first foray into third-person action games is a damn good one as Jedi: Fallen Order captures what being a skilled, Force-wielding Jedi must feel like. Main character Cal Kestis and his ragtag crew move through stunning environments mimicking those from the films, including the iconic Wookie planet Kashyyyk which is stunningly represented by Respawn’s art team. Inconsistent performance is the main reason why it’s not ranked higher, because its engaging story and satisfying combat elements result in the most memorable experience in a Star Wars game since probably the original Battlefront II way back in ’05.

#6: Outer Wilds (Mobius Digital Games, Annapurna Interactive)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: Not disclosed.

Outer Wilds is the type of game where its best features and phenomenal finale stuck with me long after forgetting how tricky it was to actually play. I described what’s so mesmerizing about Mobius Digital’s space exploration experience when I reviewed it. That sense of wonder when first peering out at an unexplored solar system. Acquiring knowledge on an alien civilization to figure out why everything is stuck in a time loop. And I actually like it more now than before after reflecting on why it’s so special. Each 22-minute interval offers something new: a tidbit of information, an excerpt of text, a curious location. All of these provide a sense of progression via information rather than tangible upgrades like a conventional video game. This makes the player feel as if they are the first and only to figure out its secrets, right up until its exceptional ending.

#5: Resident Evil 2 (Capcom R&D Division 1, Capcom)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: Currently over 5 million units shipped, slightly outpacing the original release.

As far as remakes go, Capcom absolutely slayed Resident Evil 2. The same way that dual playable characters Leon and Claire do zombies in this modernized version of the 1998 original. It’s set in an eerily beautiful, updated Raccoon City with an over-the-shoulder perspective, revamped puzzles and refined enemy placements. Resident Evil 2 nails the atmosphere and terror of the original yet feels new enough to be suspenseful and unpredictable. Sound work is especially riveting when popping off shots at zombies or evading the constant threat of main villain Mr. X, as Capcom proves that older games in the franchise are far from dead.

#4: The Outer Worlds (Obsidian Entertainment, Take-Two Interactive/Private Division)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. (Nintendo Switch in 2020).

Sales: Nothing specific other than Private Division executives saying on a recent call it is “outperforming expectations handily.”

The other sci-fi game on my list is Obsidian Entertainment’s latest entry in its storied role-playing lineage. Published by Take Two’s Private Division, the first-person game is set in a universe where corporations are in charge. The Outer Worlds boasts an amalgamation of elements such as dialogue options, skill tree upgrades and combat variations that offer multiple ways to play. And not just in the marketing sense, decisions will impact how stories play out. There’s also companion quests a la Mass Effect, offering intimate moments with crew-members. Obsidian’s newest is truly witty and nails its comedic moments, which successfully balances out the darker underpinnings of its universe. Towards its last act, the player learns what’s really going on with its corporate overlords and luckily can amass the power and influence to alter the future of humanity. Depending on their decisions, of course.

#3: Judgment (Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Sega)

Platforms: PlayStation 4.

Sales: Held the record for biggest new IP launch in Japan before Death Stranding per Game Data Library. Producer Daisuke Sato noted that its performance is above expectations in the West.

There’s so much to do in Judgment, and I honestly did not expect to love the PlayStation exclusive as much as I did. My review was outright glowing for the Yakuza spin-off from Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku team. It’s so many things, yet feels so cohesive. It’s a story about a disgraced detective named Yagami trying to reclaim his honor amidst a backdrop of the fictional Kamurocho district, which offers an open world playground, plenty of characters to meet and secret quests to uncover.

Its main campaign never suffers the myriad of side stories and mini-games; in fact, it’s actually a gripping tale of relationships between government agencies, law enforcement and street gangs that all operate under the bright lights of a vibrant Japanese city. Combat is near flawless, even if far from the only option. Investigations are intriguing and tailing missions aren’t even that bad. It has serious Sleeping Dogs vibes mixed with Yakuza and crime noirs, though somehow maintains its humor with especially wacky character moments. The only crime of which Judgment is guilty is that it’s not on more platforms for a broader audience to enjoy.

#2: A Plague Tale: Innocence (Asobo Studio, Focus Home Interactive)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

You know it’s a great year when the most memorable of experiences arise from the most unexpected of places. A Plague Tale: Innocence is the definition of such a game, as I described in my favorite review of 2019. Made by French development team Asobo Studio and set in a 14th century version of the country that’s plagued by diseased rats and power-hungry leaders, it’s truly exquisite interactive storytelling. The most emotional time I had with a game all year. It’s a story about a pair of siblings, Amicia and Hugo, confronting loss, fighting challenges, retaining innocence and regaining hopefulness.

It’s more beautiful than it has any right to be based on the studio’s size, and its predominant feature from a tech standpoint is how many plague-ridden rats it can fit on screen. These rodents act as barriers to progressing within each area, along with soldiers from both armies and even the church. As older sister Amicia, the player must solve environmental puzzles and stealth past enemies to avoid detection while keeping track of sickly younger brother Hugo. There’s a crafting system that allows the player to be sneaky or even powerful in late game. Still, the main pull is the narrative. It’s like a medieval novel come to life, one that I can safely recommend to anyone that’s open to trying it. I guarantee its characters and conclusion will leave a lasting impression.

#1: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (FromSoftware, Activision Blizzard)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: 2 million copies shipped within ten days according to Activision, lifetime total stands at 3.8 million according to FromSoftware’s parent company Kadokawa via friend of the site Daniel Ahmad.

FromSoftware is in the upper echelon of Japanese game developers in that when they make a game, the industry pays attention. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest from famed director Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team, and it’s undoubtedly my favorite game of 2019.

I’m a relative late bloomer when it comes to “Souls-like” games as they are now known, a sub-section of games defined by challenging mechanics, lethal enemies, ominous locales and intricate boss battles. FromSoftware is the preeminent developer in this space ever since creating the Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls series, and Bloodborne in 2015 was its first such game that hooked me. I revere that as my favorite PlayStation 4 exclusive. Ever. And I firmly believe Sekiro is just as good.

At its core, Sekiro is third-person action adventure set around 17th century Japan. The player controls Wolf, a one-armed master shinobi, in his effort to rescue his child lord from the same clan of samurai that dismembered him. In typical FromSoftware fashion, it’s so much more than this basic summary. Wolf is the most capable of protagonists in any game within the sub-genre, leveraging stealth tactics and his prosthetic arm for a variety of traversal and combat uses. There’s a “posture” system akin to a stamina bar, where blocking and countering are essential (not to mention feel great!), plus various weapons and skills to customize that provide advantages depending on the situation or enemy type. The heavy axe, firecrackers, an umbrella that blocks certain attacks are all examples of the flexibility the prosthetic arm enables.

Because of this, I believe it’s the best combat in a FromSoftware game ever and the best action of any game of 2019. The fluidity with which the player can move through areas, sneaking in for a kill or grappling to a perch when enemies swarm, sets it apart from more methodical, grounded systems. When an enemy is vulnerable, Wolf can end its misery with a visceral finishing move. Sure, the game is super difficult. And most people playing it will die more than twice. Yet the feeling of mastering enemy movements, being able to counter them the more you learn, that’s the magic. Few feelings are as good as being able to outmaneuver an enemy you once thought was impossible to beat.

Locations in Sekiro range from somewhat traditional, like the outskirts of a Japanese castle, to the surreal when diving into flashbacks or entering more.. otherworldly realms. The one critique I’ve heard is that enemies are more “pedestrian” than other Souls-likes (i.e. they aren’t all humongous beasts or deformed oddities). I’d say: Keep going. The design is anything but normal the further the player progresses, and there’s plenty of weird to see in the game’s later acts.

I’ll admit, its narrative is much more lucid than other FromSoft entries. Wolf’s motivation is clear: It’s a story of revenge and an attempt at retribution. He wants to track down his lord and eradicate those responsible for his kidnapping. Yet the world-building and lore is what sets it apart from other action-adventures, with mysterious characters residing and random notes with item descriptions strewn about the play space. It’s worthwhile to explore, because not everything is obvious. While I was certainly enraptured by its main narrative, it’s the secrets that I adore. Devouring each morsel I could find to learn about the world and its mysteries.

Then there’s the best part. The boss fights. It’s not risky to say it: This is really my favorite aspect of the genre, and Sekiro’s design team is best in class. Especially because of how it keeps the player off balance. There are now mini-bosses to fight in addition to the more epic battles. Wolf faces against foes of all sizes, from swift fellow shinobi, armored solders, angry beasts, ghostly beings and plenty more. There’s even an encounter that’s more puzzle mechanics than combat, which shows that FromSoftware is evolving to transcend genre conventions.

To illustrate my adoration for Sekiro, I’d like to shout out a particular sequence: The “Guardian Ape.” It starts normal as ever, in a valley where the player faces a massive, aggravated simian. As a colossal beast enemy, it has devastating attacks and even dung flinging abilities. Once its posture is hurt or health is depleted, Wolf uses his sword to decapitate the beast. Victory! Or so the player thinks. While waiting for the usual cues that the boss is gone, the ape resurrects as an immortal being. Holding its severed head in its arms and attacking with a totally different element type, this time more specter than animal. It’s demoralizing, having to fight the same enemy with new tactics especially when one’s health items are now likely depleted.

And this is just one of many times that Sekiro surprised the heck out of me, and most importantly led to the most satisfying of triumphs when I finally master the fight to overcome its most difficult foes. The great part is, there’s always another challenge after that, beckoning me to come forward and test my willpower. Combine this with environments, narrative, world-building, lore, secrets and character encounters, FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is my Game of the Year and I’m jealous of those that still get to play it for the first time.

Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical)

Ape Out (Gabe Cuzzillo)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC.

Sales: Unknown.

Apex Legends (Respawn Entertainment, Electronic Arts)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: Now over 70 million registered players according to EA.

Creature in the Well (Flight School Studio)

Platforms: Xbox One (Xbox Game Pass), Nintendo Switch, PC.

Sales: Unknown.

Death Stranding (Kojima Productions, Sony Interactive Entertainment/505 Games)

Platforms: PlayStation 4. (PC in 2020).

Sales: Top selling new IP launch in Japan this generation according to Game Data Library. 7th best-selling game of its launch month in the U.S. per NPD Group. Unclear on global sales so far.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep (Bungie)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia.

Sales: 15 million registered players at last count.

Gears 5 (The Coalition, Xbox Game Studios)

Platforms: Xbox One, PC.

Sales: Over 3 million players at launch as shared by Xbox.

Life is Strange 2 (Dontnod Entertainment, Square Enix)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC.

Sales: Hard to know just yet, its final episode released in December.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Next Level Games, Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch.

Sales: It’s setting launch month records for its franchise domestically, plus doing very well in Japan. We’ll hear formal unit sales during Nintendo’s next quarterly update.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (Massive Entertainment, Ubisoft)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia.

Sales: While Ubisoft said the game hasn’t met expectations, it’s still the 7th best seller of 2019 in the States as reported by NPD Group plus the same rank in terms of global digital revenue for 2019 according to SuperData estimates. We might never know unit sales.

Untitled Goose Game (House House, Panic Inc)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC.

Sales: As of writing, it just surpassed 1 million copies sold.

What a year. It feels like the most competitive of the decade, with so many great games that there couldn’t possibly be a consensus pick for the top spots. It’s also the last year of awards that won’t include the new generation of consoles.

I’m so grateful for all the amazing experiences in gaming during 2019, especially those listed above.

Thanks for reading through my Year-in-Review, remember the round-up post is here to see them all in one place. Here’s to 2020. All the best to you and yours!

Sources: Company media sites, Game Data Library, GamesIndustry.Biz, MeriStation, NPD Group.

-Dom

2019 Year-in-Review: Independent Studios of the Year

It’s the last day of the year! Though no slowing down just yet. My year-end posts roll on with an extremely special one to me. During 2019, I’ve branched out more into critical reviews. With that I’ve written more about independent games, which are seriously the lifeblood of creativity in the games industry. As the barriers to entry of publishing on major platforms is more a reality than ever, these types of teams can earn the type of exposure they deserve.

I admit that “indie” is such a nebulous term, so let’s not get caught up in nailing down a definition. Rather, I plan to highlight those studios that either are smaller in scope, aren’t owned by major publishers and/or produce games on a lighter budget. These certainly vary in size, though each of them operates on their own and that’s what counts.

Here’s my list of seven awesome indie teams of 2019.

Asobo Studio (France)

I wrote about it in my review, A Plague Tale: Innocence is one of the most powerful games I played this year. And I was admittedly skeptical of it when I saw streams during E3. It’s the breakout game by French team Asobo Studio, previously known for working on adaptations of Pixar games and supporting the likes of ReCore and The Crew 2, it’s a masterpiece of storytelling. Plus, its enemy design and artificial intelligence technology is extra impressive as the player navigates a pair of siblings through middle century, plague-ridden France. A likely candidate to occupy a very high spot on my Game of the Year list, and I’m not the only one.

Bungie (United States)

You know I couldn’t finish these annual awards without mentioning the Destiny franchise. Maker of my favorite online looter shooter Bungie is now technically independent after its split from Activision Blizzard in January. Since then, the team released the Shadowkeep expansion for Destiny 2, offered a free version of the game, moved to a more seasonal event-driven model, instituted cross-save functionality for players to take characters anywhere plus became the flagship launch title on Google Stadia. Granted, the Washington-based studio is larger than most indie teams. Yet as a self-publisher it now faces many of the same challenges. And has succeeded in facing them thus far, to the point where I’m as excited as ever for its future.

Gabe Cuzzillo (United States)

A one-man team is still a team. Gabe Cuzzillo created one of the most unique, striking games of 2019 in the frenetic, stylistic Ape Out. Cuzzillo is a graduate of NYU Game Center and made his second game here in conjunction with fellow student Bennett Foddy and associate professor Matt Boch. Ape Out is top-down beat-em-up where the minimalist jazz soundtrack reacts to the player controlling an ape trying to, well, get the heck out of places. It was a finalist for the Independent Games Festival back in 2016 then published by Devolver Digital in February, one of those unforgettable indie games defined by its brash style and killer soundtrack.

House House (Australia)

Speaking of memorable indie gaming experiences, 2019 might as well be the Year of the Goose. Back in 2017 when House House announced that we’d play as a goose on the loose in its second game, I was captivated immediately. Right after the Australian team released on Switch and PC in September, Untitled Goose Game and its antagonizing protagonist became an instant meme. The game itself is really a puzzle game where the player, as the annoying goose, moves along by playing tricks on residents of the English countryside. One million copies, award nominations galore and plenty of funny GIFs later, House House is undoubtedly one of the year’s finest honking studios.

Kojima Productions (Japan)

Celebrity game designer Hideo Kojima split from Konami in 2015 to found his own studio, and 2019 showcased the fruits of this labor with the release of Death Stranding. Last month I wrote extensively on my thoughts on Kojima Productions’ debut game, featuring a star-studded cast with incredible tech and cutscenes despite wavering in its gameplay elements and cumbersome systems. However, there’s no denying its importance. It’s Sony’s biggest PlayStation 4 exclusive in 2019, receiving numerous industry awards. As divisive as Death Stranding turned out, Kojima’s team of around 80 fits a unique space within the industry in that it’s aligned with a platform holder yet operates autonomously. Creating whatever it wants to make. I respect that, regardless of my personal opinion on the final product.

Mobius Digital Games (United States)

The more I reflect on Outer Wilds, and distance myself from it, the greater I appreciate its significance despite frustrations I describe in my review. The first-person exploration game is truly a special indie title, with its own solar system and stories to discover. It’s open-ended, allowing the player to figure out what’s going on rather than presenting it explicitly. It sparks wonder by suggesting questions on intelligent life, the universe and mortality. Considering how much I like it the more I think about it over time, the tight-knit, California-based team created one of the most remarkable titles of the console generation, let alone the year. They are an absolute lock for this list.

ZA/UM Studio (Estonia/London)

It’s the last entry on my list of the top indie studios of 2019, and honestly a late addition. ZA/UM are the creators behind Disco Elysium, a bold detective RPG with political themes and internal monologues that cleaned house across multiple categories at The Game Awards this month. The studio’s story is incredible, a team of around 30 people that moved from war-torn Estonia to London during development. These efforts paid off. This traditional role-playing game featuring an alcoholic cop trying to solve a murder within a city of varying political ideologies is one of the most prominent examples of what an indie project should be. And sits among the most memorable of 2019. Compelling. Weird. Unafraid. The type of game that not only occupies a genre, but transcends it.

There we have it. Shout out to all the amazing developers that made the list! Your hard work and dedication to your craft is greatly appreciated.

One more post to go for 2019 year-end accolades: My Top 10 Games of the Year. Stay tuned. It should be a fun one!

Sources: Studio websites and press photos, GamesIndustry.Biz, New York University, The Game Awards.

-Dom

2019 Year-in-Review: Top 5 Most Impressive Gaming Companies

Every year, companies across the games industry compete for audience’s time and hard-earned dollars. Within this piece, I’ll highlight those bigger publishers and developers that I believe consistently provided the best value for gamers.

2019 marked a number of international successes in particular. Major Japanese companies featured prominently in mind-share, from hardware manufacturing to software hits, while the world’s largest gaming company broke through a difficult regulatory environment. At the same time, publishers of varying sizes from other regions produced impressive titles (some of which I’ll cover in my next post on the Independent Studios of the Year.)

Here are my picks for the five most impressive gaming companies throughout the year, in alphabetical order.

Annapurna Interactive (United States)

Annapurna Interactive has become a premier publisher for independent video games, and I’ll play almost anything it puts out these days. This subsidiary of film producer Annapurna Pictures backs a number of exceptional, unique projects. And more importantly, has enough funding behind it to smartly market its games through a combination of grassroots campaigns and word-of-mouth.

After an amazing 2018 with the likes of Florence and Donut County, Annapurna’s output this year solidified its standing as the type of deft publisher that knows how to pick ’em.

Its standout 2019 title is Outer Wilds from Mobius Digital, a new kind of space exploration game that’s one of the highest rated and widely praised projects of the entire year. Within my review, I praised the sense of wonder I felt navigating the cosmos and discovering the story of its alien solar system and the intelligent life that inhabits it. Even if I had a tough time with its controls, reflecting back I absolutely believe it deserves its recognition.

Other Annapurna joints this year include Telling Lies from Sam Barlow, a drama presented via full-motion video, then “interactive album” Sayonara Wild Hearts by Simigo. The latter of which is a one-of-a-kind production, blending pop music with traditional endless runner mechanics for a tight, memorable experience. Most recently, Annapurna published the wacky Wattam from Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) and Funomena. I haven’t played it, though critics note its creativity; how it piques imagination through its visuals and interactions.

Finally, it also brought a classic to PC for the first time: thatgamecompany’s Journey, originally out in 2012 for PlayStation 3. Annapurna shared arguably the best independent game ever made to a wider audience. It’s a must-play. For everyone.

This line-up is representative of the types of projects Annapurna hand selects. Those that are sometimes experimental, often unique, frequently emotional and always worth a look.

Capcom (Japan)

The resurgence of one of Japan’s most storied gaming companies accelerated in 2019, due to both the quality of its output and sheer quantity of support especially for the Nintendo Switch.

Capcom produced two of the year’s most well-regarded new third person games in Resident Evil 2 Remake and Devil May Cry 5 then produced an expansion to its best-selling game of all time in Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.

Starting strong of the gate in January, its re-imagining of 1998 survival horror game Resident Evil 2 is a Game of the Year contender with its enhanced visuals and modernized mechanics. I posed a question in the beginning of 2019, wondering if this version could outsell its predecessors in the long-running series. Within a week on market, Capcom shipped 3 million units. A month later, over four million. Then earlier this month, it passed the original’s lifetime total by eclipsing the 5 million unit mark.

Essentially, it took under a year for the remake to outsell the original. Between its critical and commercial success, Resident Evil 2 illustrates Capcom’s renewed focus on incubating legacy IP.

Both Devil May Cry 5 in March and September’s Monster Hunter World: Iceborne continued this streak of critical and financial accomplishment. The former hit 2 million copies sold within a couple weeks, already two thirds of what Devil May Cry 4 sold lifetime and “reinvigorating” the franchise according to Capcom execs, while the latter vaulted to 2.5 million in sales within a week.

Separate of these new projects, Capcom pumped out a number of legacy games on a variety of platforms. Onimusha: Warlords, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy plus a set of Resident Evil and Devil May Cry ports for Nintendo Switch.

Between creating successful newer releases and rounding out 2019’s portfolio with catalog titles, Capcom is back in the good graces of fans while also appealing to a broader audience especially with its Monster Hunter series. All it needs now is a great new fighting game! Perhaps in 2020.

Nintendo (Japan)

It should come as no surprise that Nintendo is here. In fact, if I was ranking the list, it would likely capture the top spot.

Even if it wasn’t Nintendo’s strongest first party software year in the Switch generation, which I’d argue was its first year in 2017, its consistency of output is best in business right now. Not only that, Nintendo Switch is the place for third parties to release both new projects and older ports, and especially fruitful for independent teams.

The Kyoto-based company also released a new more compact, handheld-only version of its hybrid console in September. Dubbed the Nintendo Switch Lite, its release contributed to Switch hardware sales jumping to 41.67 million consoles this year plus the company experiencing its best week of Switch sales ever during the Thanksgiving holiday.

It’s impossible to comment on all of its 2019 output, so let’s list them to prove the point.

There’s the internal or “second party” partnership stuff. Tetris 99. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. Yoshi’s Crafted World. Super Mario Maker 2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Luigi’s Mansion 3. And its most significant 2019 release, Pokémon Sword and Shield.

Then the third party exclusives. Cadence of Hyrule. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Astral Chain. Daemon X Machina. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Plus the multi-platforms or ports of older games. There are a ton of these. I promise. Titles like Dragon Quest Builders 2, Mortal Kombat 11, Cuphead, Ori and the Blind Forest and even The Witcher 3 are all now playable on Switch.

Not to mention mobile. Mario Kart Tour. Dr. Mario World. And the experimental. Labo Toy-Con VR Kit. Ring Fit Adventure.

Even a, gasp, pretty good video game movie in Detective Pikachu!

It’s cliche to say that Nintendo literally makes something for everyone. Shoot, in many cases there’s a LOT for everyone. But it’s true. And it’s playable at home or on the go, sometimes even on a phone. We expect Nintendo’s internal teams and close partnerships to produce amazing content. It’s the third parties and indies that are really starting to bolster the Switch experience.

Sure, there’s room for improvement. Its online service is nowhere near its competitors. It should offer individual legacy titles rather than only as a library. Its mobile app is laughable. Its operating system lacks basic functionality. We still have to use friend codes.

These aside, Nintendo’s at its best when it both offers great exclusive titles from its talented studios that appeal to all kinds of gamers plus experiments with use cases for its technology. Its leadership like President Shuntaro Furukawa, Director and legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto and more locally Nintendo of America lead Doug Bowser (since the retirement of Reggie Fils-Ame) aren’t afraid to get weird and have fun. This and its sheer consistency on the software development side are the defining characteristics of 2019’s most impressive gaming company.

Respawn Entertainment [Electronic Arts] (United States)

I’m going to cheat a bit here because I want to shout out a particular team within a broader parent firm for its excellent work. Respawn Entertainment, which was purchased by Electronic Arts a couple years back, is responsible for two of the year’s blockbuster titles. One of which came out of nowhere, the other a foray into a new genre for the studio.

First, there was Apex Legends. Most industry commenters claimed that the battle royale fad had passed. That there was no room for real competition to the likes of Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), both of which still have large, dedicated audiences. Then Respawn stealthily released Apex Legends as a free digital download on a random Monday in early February and proved everyone wrong.

A first-person game set in the Titanfall universe where teams fight for dominance, Apex Legends player counts skyrocketed within days as it enraptured gamers with smart accessibility options, a balanced hero system and top-notch mechanics. One million within 8 hours. 2.5 million in a day. 10 million in 72 hours! It made $92 million in sales within its first month. And it’s free! That means players weren’t merely downloading it, they liked it so much that they wanted to spend money on its cosmetics.

Since then, it’s boasted over 50 million players. A success story for the industry in showing that new concepts can be rewarded even in a market flooded with participants.

Respawn’s second massive project this year was Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. To say Electronic Arts has been inconsistent in publishing Star Wars games is an understatement. That is, until now.

Fallen Order released in mid-November to widespread critical acclaim. It’s a third person action game with satisfying lightsaber combat, an intriguing story and diverse environments seemingly pulled right from the movies. Directed by God of War veteran Stig Asmussen, it’s undoubtedly one of the best Star Wars games to date plus a candidate for year-end accolades despite some unfortunate technical problems. It’s also a surprising move for Respawn to shift to third-person action when it’s solely made first-person shooters in the past.

While we don’t have broad sales numbers for Fallen Order, I wrote recently about how it was the second best-selling title domestically in its release month and nearly achieved the best launch ever for a Star Wars game, trailing only 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront. It’s already entered the Top 10 sellers of the year, and I anticipate that rank to improve when we hear December’s data.

By developing a surprise hit in a competitive genre alongside a critical darling in one of the world’s most beloved franchises, Respawn clearly earned its spot as one of the most compelling and accomplished studios of 2019.

Tencent (China)

It’s ironic how quietly Chinese media conglomerate Tencent dominates the global games industry. Because its operations are mostly in the mobile and PC market, especially popular titles within the Asia Pacific region, Tencent is the biggest gaming company in the world by revenue (near a whopping $20 billion during 2018) with less mind-share than most of its competitors.

Think of a big game or publisher, it’s likely that Tencent is involved with it. League of Legends? It owns Riot Games. Clash of Clans? Holds 84% of Supercell. Fortnite? A 40% stake in Epic Games. PUBG? Nearly 12% of Bluehole at last count. Activision? Ubisoft? Small holdings in both.

Even stakes in smaller teams like Path of Exile creator Grinding Gear Games and Frontier Developments, maker of Jurassic World: Evolution and Elite Dangerous, round out Tencent’s plethora of investments.

This isn’t even to mention its own games like mobile racing game QQ Speed or crazy popular multiplayer game on phones Honor of Kings, released in the West as Arena of Valor. If we’re talking the smartphone market, there’s none more impressive than Tencent.

Beyond that, I’m placing it on my 2019 list is for multiple reasons other than its significant holdings: More because of its navigation of China’s difficult regulatory environment, the smash release of Call of Duty: Mobile and its recent partnership with Nintendo.

It’s always a tricky regulatory situation in China, so a quick recap of the most recent events. Back in April 2018, the country instituted a freeze on new releases in the world’s largest gaming market due to addiction concerns,. This obviously impacted Tencent’s performance and market capitalization, losing a unfathomable $250 billion in valuation at one point. After ten long months, the government began approving new titles.

While Tencent earned approvals for smaller new titles, it didn’t for one of its biggest money-makers in PUBG Mobile which has been downloaded over 600 million times. The company shut down the game in May, though simultaneously released a new one in the same genre called Game for Peace (or Peacekeeper Elite in English).

During its first month, Game for Peace generated $70 million in sales. When combined with the $76 million from its PUBG Mobile counterpart, these quickly became the world’s top smartphone games by revenue. Since then, total global sales have passed $1.5 billion from these games, according to Sensor Tower. This is fully representative of Tencent’s savvy in bouncing back from the government freeze.

Similarly, Tencent’s global expansion is underway now with the release of Call of Duty: Mobile back in October. Based on the uber popular first-person military franchise owned by Activision Blizzard, this version was actually developed by Tencent’s internal team Timi Studio. It achieved a record during its first week on market with 100 million downloads and has since passed 170 million while raking in $87 million in sales. Aligning with a Western publisher is the type of decision that allows Tencent to benefit from an audience it otherwise couldn’t reach.

The final move is its recent partnership with Nintendo to sell the Switch in China, a market that’s notoriously difficult for console gaming. Just a few weeks ago, the Switch launched there albeit without much of a library. Only New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is available, with titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Odyssey in the more immediate pipeline and others slated for next year. Niko Partners estimates 100,000 in Switch console sales during this month alone, then a growing install base to where Switch could be the local market leader by 2022.

After a tumultuous 2018 under local regulations putting a halt to new titles, Tencent emerged in 2019 to continue its dominance in the smartphone game space especially in the East. Combine this with its global expansion alongside a smart alliance with Nintendo, and it’s the last on this prestigious list of gaming companies.

Working Casual’s Year-in-Review is far from over! Next up will be Independent Studios of the Year. Until then, thanks for reading.

Sources: Business Insider, Business Wire, Company investor and media sites, Newzoo, Niko Partners, PC Gamer, Sensor Tower, The Verge.

-Dom

2019 Year-in-Review: Three Biggest Trends in Gaming

The games industry is changing, perhaps more rapidly now that ever before. With the appetites of consumers evolving, new major players emerging plus existing companies adapting to where and how people want to play, 2019 will go down as a significant time when looking back at the direction of gaming and its technology overall.

Because of this, I’ve identified three major trends in gaming that dominated headlines and mind-share during 2019. Each of these is significant on their own of course, though taken together provide a broader illustration of the industry’s future.

This year is the last one before a new traditional console generation, as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 entered their sixth year on market. Both companies have announced new consoles for this time next year. Yet 2019 marks a more transitory period for these platform holders in terms of services and ecosystem, plus similar efforts from competitors like Nintendo and now Google to appeal to shifting audience dynamics.

Similarly, digital ownership is on the rise. Which means more varied ways to access a gaming library, plus newcomers in the space of virtual storefronts. In terms of actually playing games and their increasing popularity, video creators and streamers are more important than ever.

So. What’s driving the direction of gaming? Scroll it out to see.

Subscription Services & Cloud Streaming

2019 served up many trends. None more important than this.

The growing movement toward subscriptions, services and streaming is the first on my list because it’s the most impactful of all. Namely due to its potential for major long term ramifications on how people collect and access their library of games.

Pushing beyond the traditional model of buying a game at retail or even digitally then owning it in perpetuity, companies are ramping up the subscription side of the business model to enhance offerings as part of a broader ecosystem. One in which gamers stick around to try a variety of experiences, and pay for that privilege. Picture it like Netflix or Disney+ as opposed to buying individual films or TV seasons.

All of the “big three” now sell subscription services in which players pay a monthly fee to access a catalog of curated games, some of which are exclusive to the respective platform. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass with its broad selection of hundreds of games, Sony’s PlayStation Now boasting downloads as part of its service plus Nintendo’s Switch Online housing a catalog of retro games for its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super NES legacy systems.

Beyond the major platform holders, individual publishers are even trying to slice a piece of the pie. This includes Ubisoft’s Uplay+, Electronic Arts’ EA Access plus a variation of Microsoft”s Xbox Game Pass strictly for PC all with their own list of titles.

These represent the effort by each company to not just attract but also keep people active within an ecosystem while simultaneously benefiting from an ongoing revenue stream rather than the usual one-time purchase. I ultimately believe it’s a win-win for individuals and console makers. There’s really no better way to access that many games at once for the price. The tricky part is determining which is most appealing to one’s taste, because the cost starts to add up quickly.

Then there’s cloud streaming, technology by which players can stream games by leveraging a company’s remote servers instead of playing titles locally on a console or PC. Compared to the aforementioned subscription services, which offer digital downloads and feel more like “ownership,” streaming is an even more exotic way to interact with games.

There are older cloud services like PlayStation Now and NVIDIA’s GeForce Now that launched in some form prior to 2019, albeit with limited buzz and varying degrees of quality. The two major streaming platforms from this year are Microsoft’s Project xCloud, beginning as a beta in October, then Google Stadia stumbling its way to market in November.

Much has been made of the differing approaches, where Microsoft clearly labelled xCloud as pre-launch tech while Google rushed to formally release Stadia lacking a number of promised features and, frankly, enticing games. Still, the fact that streaming is becoming a more viable option as a counterpart proves it will remain part of the conversation. Especially as the technology improves, developers spend more time with it and more games are present.

The services trend will influence the future of gaming, even if the streaming option is unproven, which makes it the most important topic of 2019.

Digital Transition & Storefront Competition

It’s no secret that players are moving towards digital ownership. According to SuperData, worldwide sales from digital PC games totaled $35.7 billion in 2018 as compared to $33 billion in 2017, while the console segment hit nearly $13 billion versus $8 billion the prior year.

Earlier this year, Sony reported digital full game software ratio on PlayStation 4 hit 53%, meaning this was the first quarter ever where digital sales outpaced physical. It’s an even more significant milestone because it’s full game software as opposed to digital goods or in-game items boosting the metric.

Broader digital figures skyrocket when including mobile of course. The point above is that even segmented into console and PC, the share is growing. Intriguingly, this doesn’t mean physical is diminishing. NPD Group noted that digital sales should not cannibalize retail sales in the domestic market in its predictions for 2019, since it’s more the overall amount is growing while diversifying across segments.

Alongside this digital transformation is a trend that intensified specifically in 2019, and that’s competition among virtual storefronts. Just like brick-and-mortar stores compete with one another, virtual marketplaces battle for consumer dollars.

For years, the main player in digital PC games has been Valve Corporation’s Steam platform with 90 million active users and one billion accounts in 2018. Smaller challengers like CD Projekt’s GOG.com and others offer an alternative, especially for indie publishing, though only recently has a new storefront generated buzz and disdain quite like when Fortnite creator Epic Games launched the Epic Games Store in late 2018.

What started then carried over to this year, as more and more games announced partnerships with Epic Games Store in order to capitalize on its more favorable revenue sharing rates. Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, Metro: Exodus from Deep Silver and Take-Two’s Borderlands 3 are prime examples of those with some sort of deal with Epic Games.

The latest true challenger to Steam’s dominance reveals a parallel to console competition in that major companies and smaller self-publishers alike see upside in moving away from the platform with an effective monopoly. 2019 will be remembered as the year of the continued rise of digital distribution, even for console gaming, plus the rise of Epic Games Store and the consumer sentiment surrounding its ascension.

Content Creation & Community Support

The third biggest gaming trend of 2019 is video content creation and the fostering of communities that support the creators, plus those companies that pay in hopes to boost popularity of games through this more modern avenue for advertising. Content is key for streamers and video creators trying to make a living off playing games, and it’s certainly working.

Amazon’s Twitch is the main platform for gamers to stream directly to an audience, while Google’s YouTube remains the place for video uploading. Earlier this year, Twitch reported 15 million daily active users. YouTube is ubiquitous when it comes to online video, Google said in May that more than 200 million people watch gaming content on the platform every day.

Talk about major opportunities for building and supporting a community. The biggest Twitch streamers not only have staggering following numbers, like Tfue (7.3 million) and Myth (5.6 million), they earn hundreds of thousands of dollars via a combination of subscriptions and advertising deals. Like the model for professional athletes.

Recently, Microsoft has made serious moves in this space by doling out cash to some of the most popular video creators to move to its Mixer streaming platform. The most noteworthy is of course Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who racked up a million followers within days of moving to Mixer in August. Ninja used to make $500K per month playing mainly Fortnite, and was paid by Microsoft for the move though the amount was not disclosed. Another marquee example is Shroud, real name Michael Grzesiek and a former Counter-Strike pro, shifting to Mixer in October after a long run on Twitch.

It’s not just about the individual streamers now. It’s also how their massive audiences can benefit the likes of platform holders like Microsoft and Sony plus publishing firms. I hate using the word, but can’t deny it’s a reality: “Influencers” are super important these days trying to boost the popularity of a new release. Pay-for-play is a term used for when a popular streamer is paid to promote a game near launch, a tactic used more now than ever by businesses to establish mind-share off the bat.

When Electronic Arts stealth launched Apex Legends in February, big streamers were there day one. The aforementioned Blevins was reportedly paid $1 million to do so. This reveals the position that major content creators have in the industry. It’s big business, whether more casual names or eSports pros, for both the gamers themselves and the companies that benefit from their gigantic audience reach.

And there we have it. While these most certainly aren’t the only trends, my three biggest trends in 2019 revolve around services and streaming, the movement towards digital ownership and the storefronts that offer virtual games then content creation, the audiences that follow and the companies that pay in hopes of benefiting from them.

Honorable mentions include virtual reality, live multiplayer games, cross-play popularity, China’s regulations, Japan’s consistency, mobile explosion, developer labor conditions and the further legitimizing of eSports. All of which are worthy of discussion.

What do you think of the final list? What about the honorable mentions? Are there other trends that stand out to you? Comments here or on Twitter are more than welcome!

Next up in the Working Casual 2019 Year-in-Review will be the Top 5 Most Impressive Gaming Companies. Catch you then.

Sources: Epic Games, Google, Influencer Markekting Hub, Microsoft, NPD Group, Sony, SuperData, Tubefilter, TwitchMetrics.

-Dom

Working Casual’s 2019 Year-in-Review Round-Up

A celebration is in order.

Yes, another year is coming to a close. Though not just any year. The absolute *best* year ever for the site!

Strictly because of you taking time to swing by, 2019 was Working Casual’s best of all time in terms of visitor numbers and impressions. I’ve added reviews to the mix in addition to the usual sales round-ups and thought pieces on gaming, tech and media, so I’m forever grateful for your generous support during this expansion. I’m having a blast.

While the year is nearly done, I’m most certainly not. We’ll talk the future a bit later. For now, it’s time to revisit the past.

And what a time it’s been to follow gaming. It’s a transitory period for the industry, as current generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles near the end of their lifespans which stands in stark contrast to Nintendo’s steadfastness in its software support and model updates for its Switch hybrid hardware. All major platform holders dropped notable games in 2019, with Nintendo as the most prolific of the three with titles in the Fire Emblem, Yoshi, Zelda, Mario Maker and Pokémon series among others. Microsoft and Sony boasted major titles of their own in Gears 5 and Death Stranding, respectively. I’d argue it’s even more significant that these companies pushed to strengthen their service offerings in an increasingly digital world, with varying degrees of success.

Microsoft emerged as the ecosystem front-runner on the service side, with its ever-expanding Xbox Game Pass subscription system. Loop in Tencent, which remains a bellwether on the mobile and online PC side, marked 2019 with global expansion into new markets and overcoming challenges locally after Chinese regulators backed off of a hold on new releases. Then Google entered the market with Stadia in November, albeit with a stumble. Epic Games, maker of Fortnite, launched its own digital store to compete primarily with Valve Corporation’s Steam, beginning a sort of storefront fight akin to earlier days of console wars.

On the software side, the general “more variety than ever” trend remained in full effect. For better or worse, I might add. Japanese development teams in particular settled nicely into the late generation cycle, the likes of Capcom and Square Enix responsible for some of the year’s most impactful titles. Ongoing, live service games continued to thrive as newer competitors like Apex Legends from Respawn Entertainment proved there’s still room for competition in the space. As long as it’s of a certain quality.

Mobile games grew market share by attracting the casual audience, partly due to spin-offs from traditional franchise like Call of Duty: Mobile and Mario Kart Tour. Independent development remains a realistic avenue for some creators, with publishers like Annapurna Interactive and Devolver Digital carving out a niche within the broader space. 2019 also had examples of consolidation within the independent segment, with Sony acquiring Insomniac Games and Embracer Group (formerly THQ Nordic) scooping up a myriad of smaller studios.

Then there’s the transition to digital ownership, China’s relaxing regulatory environment, a movement towards cross-play, the Oculus Quest making wireless VR a.. reality, the growing role of content creators, lousy labor conditions unearthed by dedicated journalists and eSports pushing towards broader legitimacy which all made 2019 a memorable end to the decade.

All three major platform holders released cool projects in 2019, with Nintendo as the most prolific then Microsoft and Sony each boasting a major title of their own. More notably these companies pushed to strengthen their service offerings in an increasingly digital world, with varying degrees of success.

Since I can’t cover all of these important topics in a single piece, that means multiple posts! The more the better, I say. Here’s the plan to recap the year over the next few days.

Three Biggest Trends in Gaming: Documenting and critiquing the major trends across the industry.

Top 5 Most Impressive Gaming Companies: Which teams rose above the rest in delivering great experiences for gamers throughout the year?

Independent Studios of the Year: Smaller teams with major dreams, and accomplishments to back them up.

Dom’s Top 10 Games of the Year: One of the most prestigious of top game lists. Naturally.

After each post, I’ll update this round-up with links to keep everything in order. Only then can we move onto 2020!

It’s a quickie for now. We’ll certainly chat again soon.

-Dom

Call of Duty Leads October U.S. Video Game Sales Chart to a Near Record Month

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the latest commercial juggernaut in the long-gunning franchise, as it fought to the top of the domestic software chart last month in what was the second best October this decade on overall consumer spending across the U.S. games industry.

This year’s installment in Activision Blizzard’s first-person shooter series became the 12th consecutive title in the series to achieve top-seller status during its launch month, according to a recent report from industry tracking firm The NPD Group. The last time a Call of Duty game didn’t lead at launch was October 2007, when another Activision property rocked the industry to the top of the chart: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

As a result of its domination in October, Modern Warfare is immediately the best-selling game of the entire year. Even with only a single month of tracking. This feat displays how truly massive it is, especially this year after generally positive critical reception plus the always present casual audience it attracts.

Activision’s internal development team Infinity Ward returned to its Modern Warfare sub-series for the first time since last generation’s Modern Warfare 3 back in 2011. This year’s title is essentially a re-imagining of its classic formula, this time on a rebuilt game engine with a more gritty campaign alongside its traditional multi-player offerings.

It’s paid off. Quite literally. Call of Duty retained its distinction as the highest selling series of all time across the history of tracking, which dates back to 1995.

The success of Modern Warfare, among other strong software debuts I’ll mention in a bit, drove overall games industry spending to $1.034 billion in October. This the second best October month this decade, trailing only last year when both Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2 released. Which means the 34% decline since last year is up against a most impossible comparable.

When looking at 2019 to date, total consumer spending on all segments is at $9.3 billion. 10% lower than the same time frame in 2018.

I’ll point this out right away. This October’s growth figures appear to be much worse than they are. In fact, they are really freaking good for where we are in the console cycle. Namely considering this time last year we saw the best October of the entire decade, when total spending reached upwards of a whopping $1.57 billion. That was a monumental month, and an outlier.

On the software spend side, this figure dipped 37% in October to $620 million as displayed in the earlier chart. “Despite this decline, October 2019 tracked software sales represent the third highest total ever achieved for an October month, trailing only October 2008 and October 2018,” said NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella on Twitter, proving additional historical context on why last month is still a standout.

Year-to-date software sales hit $4.5 billion, a decline of 7% since prior year. Nintendo Switch game sales are in fact growing, though competitors are not. Hence the notable dip on the aggregate.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the latest commercial juggernaut in the long-gunning franchise, as it fought to the top of the domestic software chart last month in what was the second best October this decade..”

Let’s now drill down into individual title performance, starting with the full rankings for both October 2019 and the year through last month.

Top-Selling Games of October 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. The Outer Worlds
  3. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  4. Madden NFL 20
  5. NBA 2K20
  6. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint
  7. WWE 2K20
  8. FIFA 20
  9. Borderlands 3
  10. Ring Fit Adventure
  11. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening*
  12. Mario Kart 8*
  13. Minecraft#
  14. Grand Theft Auto V
  15. Mortal Kombat 11
  16. Overwatch
  17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  18. Code Vein
  19. Red Dead Redemption 2
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. NBA 2K20
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Borderlands 3
  5. Mortal Kombat 11
  6. Kingdom Hearts 3
  7. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  8. Anthem
  9. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  10. Grand Theft Auto V

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

In the most surprising result of the month, Take-Two’s Private Division label and Obsidian Entertainment’s space role-playing game The Outer Worlds lands at the second spot on the overall software chart. It starts at number two on PlayStation 4, and number five on Xbox One. Keep in mind that this is even more impressive considering the game is also available as part of Microsoft’s monthly subscription service Xbox Game Pass, which isn’t factored into these metrics.

This is one of the best five launch month debuts for a game made by Obsidian Entertainment, a studio now owned by Microsoft which has titles under its belt such as Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Fallout: New Vegas. As a comparison, Fallout: New Vegas also hit number two during its launch in October 2010. One caveat being that back then, the ranks were based on copies as opposed to dollar sales.

It’s a.. stellar commercial result for a game that’s also receiving widespread critical praise.

Rounding out the Top 3 in a busy month is, ironically, Luigi’s Mansion 3 from Nintendo. The company’s latest major Switch exclusive is the third installment in the spooky, 2D ghost-catching saga featuring Mario’s taller and more timid brother. The month’s best-selling Switch title also sets a new series record for the series, previously held by 2001’s original Luigi’s Mansion on GameCube.

It was finally time for Luigi to get some shine. Good for him!

A couple chart regulars in Madden NFL 20 and NBA 2K20 secured spots in the Top 5, as they often do. Ubisoft’s under-performing Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint retains the sixth spot in October, the same as the prior month during which it launched. While not an overall poor performance, it’s certainly not living up to its potential within the Tom Clancy brand.

Quick notable move is NBA 2K20 charting below Madden NFL 20 last month, while still occupying a higher position on the year-to-date list. Which implies that NBA 2K’s launch month was better, and is carrying it to more success when taken as a whole. I’d imagine the gap in dollar sales during October between the two sports games was small, even if we won’t ever know for sure publicly.

I must say that Nintendo’s experimental Ring Fit Adventure squeezing into the Top 10 is an impressive feat for the exercise game, and reveals a couple things. First, Nintendo Switch software is doing well by virtue of its hardware popularity. Then, the casual market often responds positively to its innovative projects (see: Wii Sports, Pokémon Go). While not every single experimental Nintendo product does well in the market, I always love and appreciate when its teams get creative like they did with Ring Fit Adventure. Especially a health-conscious product.

Final observation on software, when looking at a longer time frame for 2019 overall, the only Switch title on the best-sellers list is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate which released nearly a year ago. It’s natural for multi-platform games to outsell exclusives. However given Switch’s hardware success this year, it really doesn’t have that blockbuster software seller. Yet. I’d wager a major sum that this will change in November after today’s release of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, which appeal to a massive audience of children leading into the holidays.

While not every single experimental Nintendo product does well in the market, I always love and appreciate when its teams get creative like they did with Ring Fit Adventure.

Hm, Switching to the hardware side, unfortunately it’s not nearly as interesting as software. Spending on consoles in the U.S. was down 41% compared to last year, to only $182 million. This contributes to the current year-to-date figure of $2.1 billion on hardware, which is off 23% compared to the months leading up to October 2018.

Unsurprisingly, Nintendo Switch was top-selling for the month, it’s the top-selling for the year and the only platform showing growth at this stage due to its competitors treading water ahead of next year’s announcements. A similar theme as I’ve discussed in the recent past, not much to see here.

To talk about a positive for something other than Nintendo, I’ll point out a great observation from NPD Group in the following quote from Piscatella: “With six years in the market, the PlayStation 4 ranks as the third fastest unit-selling home console in history, trailing only the six-year sales totals of the Wii and the PlayStation 2.” Just last month, I wrote about how Sony’s PlayStation 4 became the second best-selling console of all time as measured by global units shipped.

Final set of data is on accessories and game pads. This segment totaled $231 million last month, which is down 16% compared to October 2018. For the year as a whole through last month, accessories and game pad spending is $2.7 billion. 3% lower than this same time last year.

That (finally) wraps up an eventful month on the software side, given that the year’s biggest launch hit plus we saw a handful of noteworthy surprises. November will be a good one too, with the release of two major brands with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and the aforementioned Pokémon games, all of which are out today.

Note that The NPD Group ranks software based on dollar sales. For an even more complete data rundown, including individual platform charts and commentary on the fighting game genre in particular, go check out Piscatella’s informative thread.

It’s been real fun. Thanks for stopping by. November will also be a spicy one. Until then!

Sources: The NPD Group, Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, Take-Two Interactive, Venture Beat.

-Dom

Sony’s PlayStation 4 Becomes Second Best-Selling Home Console of All Time

Passionate PlayStation fans have driven Sony Corp to yet another impressive, hm.. milestone in its storied history as a game console manufacturer.

Announced in a supplemental sheet as part of its quarterly earnings report today, the Japanese technology conglomerate shared that it shipped 2.8 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the three months ending September 2019. Which means that to date, the PlayStation 4 has now passed 102.8 million consoles sold.

While at first it doesn’t sound as noteworthy as the PS4 surpassing the 100 million threshold last quarter, it’s super impressive in the context of all-time sellers in the home market. That’s because PS4 formally passed both Nintendo’s 2006 system Wii (101.63 million) and Sony’s own original PlayStation from 1994 (102.49 million) to land as the second best-selling console ever.

Only Sony’s PlayStation 2 system has shipped more units, at a whopping 155 million at last count.

Sensing a theme?

This marks yet another major accomplishment for the team. Led by Sony’s focus on appealing to core gamers with both its marketing and software lineup plus launching at a lower initial price than its main competitor in Microsoft’s Xbox One, the PlayStation 4 has cemented itself as a legendary couch gaming experience with exceptional commercial success.

Obviously question is: Can it pass its most accomplished ancestor, the PlayStation 2?

My simple answer is: Unlikely. Sony has already announced the PlayStation 5 is due out in late 2020. The company has consistently reduced its forecast of PS4 shipments for its full 2019 fiscal year from 16 million back in April to 15 million in July, then 13.5 million in this latest report. Assuming it does hit 13.5 million, that equates to roughly 110 million in the wild overall by March 2020.

Even taking into account another fiscal year during the transition to a new generation, I can see under 125 million before PS5 appeals to a broader audience than just early adopters. Depends of course on how later generation software exclusives fare plus discount trend over time.

Well. It will have to settle for second place at the moment.

Beyond the eye-catching headline, Sony’s latest financial quarter was mixed at best especially within its gaming division. Check below for highlights and, might I say, lively commentary. The company’s presentation is here. Note that dollar amounts used are estimates, converted from local currency.

As displayed above for the company’s overall second quarter, sales and operating revenue dipped 3% since last year to around $19.5 billion while operating income surpassed $2.57 billion, an increase of 16%. Both revenue and earnings-per-share results actually beat analyst consensus, though Sony lowered its forecast for both metrics when considering the full fiscal year ending in March 2020.

Within its Game & Network Services (G&NS) unit, which includes PlayStation hardware, software and related services, quarterly sales slipped 17% to $4.5 billion while operating profit dropped 28% to just under $600 million. Sony pointed out that an increase in PlayStation Plus subscription revenue was not enough to offset a dip in both hardware and software dollar sales, thus the lowered performance.

Now, it’s always worth considering these reports in a broader context. Comparing quarters is only part of the equation. When pushing the dollar sales trend out to a trailing 12-month period then mapping over time, we certainly see a recent decline. Thing is, it’s above this time last year. Which means that even as it approaches the reveal and launch of the PlayStation 5, gaming is maintaining decent momentum. Profit is down slightly when looking at a similar trailing time frame, though well above where it’s been in prior years.

Note that similar to the company’s overall forecast, Sony also lowered its G&NS division forecast for both sales and profit for the full year, plus the PlayStation 4 hardware target as I noted previously.

Let’s chat a few specifics within its gaming business, then wrap with a couple observations and future thoughts.

While PlayStation 4 eclipsed sales of most of its historical competitors this quarter, it’s obvious that hardware and software are both slowing ahead of a new console cycle. The full game software sales total of 61.3 million copies is down from last year’s 75.1 million, likely due to the massively popular Marvel’s Spider-Man releasing in the corresponding quarter of 2018.

In terms of physical and digital split, 37% of software sales in Q2 were downloads. Compare this to around 28% this time last year, and it’s clear the trend is inching towards digital even for a traditional platform holder. Combine this with the popularity of PlayStation Plus, which rose to 36.9 million subscribers compared to last year’s 34.3 million, and we see how much digital and services matter when hardware sales are tapering off due to the natural cycle. It’s especially true this generation, as prior generations skewed much more towards retail consumption.

Speaking of business split, above charts out individual product categories within the gaming division over recent quarters. Which shows a handful of notable trends.

First, hardware sales are among the lowest this generation. Expected now that PS5 is official. Software remains the most prominent part of the PlayStation business other than occasionally during the holiday quarter, so it’s natural that growth ebbs and flows with it. Take a look at the green Network Services bar. This burgeoning segment has shown double-digit year-on-year growth every single quarter. Services are the talk of the industry lately, and for good reason. Sony is seeing tangible contribution from providing customers with things like PlayStation Plus, PlayStation Now and others to where I anticipate this to continue smoothly in both the near and long term.

So. What does this all mean and where’s Sony going in the future within its most important business segment?

It’s obviously a mixed quarter both overall and within G&NS, most notably because of its lowered guidance for annual revenue, profit and PlayStation 4 hardware sales. Though when smoothing this quarter’s performance over time, the PlayStation business is showing legs before entering into a new chapter. Most noteworthy being the digital and services slices.

Still, software is key and that will dictate the remainder of this year. What I anticipated to be the year’s top console seller, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, achieved a $600 million opening weekend according to an Activision Blizzard press release today. It has an exclusive marketing deal with Sony plus PlayStation exclusive content, which means the console will benefit greatly from this rejuvenation of Call of Duty annual sales.

Death Stranding is the major console exclusive during this holiday quarter, releasing on November 8th. It’s produced by Kojima Productions, led by all-time-great director Hideo Kojima, and I’m upbeat on its sales potential despite being a new intellectual property.

The downside is that 2018 saw major releases in the God of War reboot and the aforementioned Marvel’s Spider-Man, which makes for a difficult comparison. Combine that with the delay of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II into the first quarter of 2020 fiscal and we can understand why Sony adjusted its estimates downward.

Based on the above, I’m intrigued to see how software sales compare during the back half of the year, since I already anticipate lower dollar sales from PlayStation 4 hardware due to market saturation and discounted pricing.

Sony boasts one of the most impressive achievements in its company history with PlayStation 4 joining its PlayStation 2 brethren as one of the best-selling pieces of hardware ever, though the company will face short-term pressure as it gears up production and marketing for PlayStation 5 its corresponding software lineup.

Hope you all have a good one!

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Kojima Productions, Nintendo, Sony Corp., Wired.

-Dom

Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2019: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Back again. Earlier in the week it was sales, now it’s all about earnings.

‘Tis the season. For company reporting and executive conference calls, of course. Lots of numbers and some jargon on top. Plus, reactions from yours truly as I plan to write in depth about select events.

To help us navigate this latest quarterly earnings season, I’ve gathered up notable reporting dates for companies across the gaming, technology and media sectors.

Above in the image, below in Google Docs. Then some quick hitters on three notable names I’m watching in the next few weeks. Let’s a go.

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2019: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Microsoft (MSFT): Wednesday, October 23rd

Last month, Microsoft announced a handful of updates to its investor reporting standards. The most noteworthy of these is the introduction of “year-over year percentage revenue growth for Xbox content and services” as opposed to the inclusion of dollar sales from its gaming segment within its earnings press release and presentation slides. As noted in the excerpt above, content and services includes Xbox Live, software sales and third-party game royalties.

The unfortunate part is the new metric is merely growth as opposed to a raw amount, the latter of which is always preferable. Upside is that Microsoft will still report overall gaming revenue, it’s just that it will only be included in its quarterly or annual filings with U.S. regulators. Which are usually published a day or so after its earnings press release. So we won’t know the dollar amount from content and services, though we’ll still see the revenue figure. After a bit of patience.

Capcom (9697): Tuesday, October 29th

Capcom’s rejuvenation continues with its recent announcement that Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, the latest expansion for its best-selling game ever, moved an impressive 2.5 million copies within a week of its release back in September. In its integrated report for 2019, the Japanese developer and publisher also expressed an intent to utilize dormant IP and remakes after successful launches of titles in the Resident Evil and Devil May Cry franchises.

While the company has been.. hm, beasting over the past couple years, the main notable game in its upcoming slate is the spin-off multiplayer title within the Resident Evil universe dubbed Project Resistance. How will its forecasting look this quarter? Does it indicate a new mainline entry in one of its properties, maybe at the launch of next generation? My guess is Capcom will look towards the fighting game genre next, a segment in which it used to excel, since both Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite were underwhelming at best.

Activision Blizzard (ATVI): Thursday, November 7th

Blizzard, one half of major domestic publisher Activision Blizzard, has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons after suspending a professional Hearthstone player for speaking out in support of Hong Kong protesters then fumbling through the aftermath. It’s been a public relations nightmare for the developer of Warcraft, Diablo and Overwatch.

Its annual Blizzcon event will be over by the time the earnings call happens, though I’ve got a feeling it won’t be the last of this latest news cycle and I expect at least a couple analysts to ask executives to address this situation. Especially with rumors swirling that Diablo 4 and a sequel to 2016’s hero shooter Overwatch could be revealed at the event.

On the Activision side, the obvious subject of interest will be any indication of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare forecasting with its release happening later this week. I anticipate the game will be the best-selling console title of 2019, plus has a chance to set a record for launch dollar sales in the franchise (which would be anything above a $550 million opening weekend). Expect management to be extremely bullish on its prospects, because anything else would be newsworthy on its own.

Thanks friends for stopping by, though check back often in the coming weeks. I look forward to writing more about individual companies during this season plus chatting about it on Twitter like usual!

Sources: Company Investor Websites, Kotaku, GameSpot.

-Dom

NBA 2K20 & Borderlands 3 Heat Up the U.S. Video Game Charts in September

Shoot. It’s October already!

Which can mean only one thing. Obviously.

No, not that Halloween is around the corner. It’s that sports and shooters once again score big in the commercial video game landscape here in the States, as proven by the stellar sales performance of new titles in the NBA 2K and Borderlands franchises last month!

This is all according to a recent report from The NPD Group, the main tracking firm for U.S. game market sales. (September’s tracking period ran from September 1st to October 5th, which means it included five weeks.)

NBA 2K20 released back on September 6th, and since then it’s been an unprecedented success. Similar to recent entries in the long-running franchise, which is on a real hot streak. This time though it’s at its most impressive.

2K Games’ latest basketball entry scored the number one spot during September’s monthly tracking period. Not only that, it’s instantly the top-selling game of the entire year so far, already outpacing the prior leader Mortal Kombat 11 which held the spot since back in May.

Going further, NBA 2K20 achieved the highest launch month dollar sales of any sports game. Ever. Like, as in the history of NPD tracking the U.S. market. The series overall, published by Take-Two Interactive, moves past RedOctane & Activision’s Guitar Hero to become the 6th best-selling franchise of all time domestically as measured by dollar sales.

Essentially, it’s another a slam dunk for Take-Two.

Speaking of Take-Two, not only did the company have the top seller of September, it also produced the 2nd best-selling title in Borderlands 3.

Gearbox Software’s first-person shlooter (yes that’s a shooter and a looter combined into one word because it’s easier to write, however now that I’ve explained it, I’ve taken up way more of your time than writing it out) shot up the chart to land in the same #2 spot as its predecessor did back in September 2012.

This time, Borderlands 3 set a launch month record for its series. Plus it’s already the 3rd best-seller of the full year, which means it’s collected more dollar sales than any 2019 release except for the aforementioned NBA 2K20 and Mortal Kombat 11.

Congratulations to the studio, though I admittedly say this with one slight caveat. Borderlands 2 had less time in its respective September month than did this year’s installment, so it’s natural Borderlands 3 should overtake it. It doesn’t diminish the accomplishment at all. The game sold 5 million units in less than a week’s time. It’s just the type of thing we have to acknowledge when talking records and the like.

NBA 2K20 achieved the highest launch month dollar sales of any sports game. Ever. Like, as in the history of NPD tracking the U.S. market.

Rounding out the Top 5 best sellers last month are two new releases then one August title: The September releases being Electronic Arts’ FIFA 20 at #3 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening from Nintendo at #4. Then Madden NFL 20 at the #5 spot, another Electronic Arts joint that was August’s leading game.

I’d argue the remainder of the Top 10 is just as intriguing as everything prior, even with all the record-setting happening. As you’ll see above, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint quietly achieved the sixth spot with only two days of tracking. I remain bullish on Ubisoft’s latest Tom Clancy project even if on brand alone, and can see it becoming a mainstay of the chart for the next couple months despite major competition. These games have a knack for being persistent, especially as Ubisoft’s focus on ongoing support.

Then there’s Gears 5 from Xbox Game Studios. The only flagship Xbox One console exclusive of 2019, and the first truly major game that hit both traditional retail and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service simultaneously (I know Forza Horizon 4 was similar, though it’s part of the more niche racing genre).

It’s difficult to make a true comparison without underlying sales vs subscription figures, though Gears 5 debuts a few spots lower than the 3rd place launch of Gears of War 4 back in October 2016. However when talking overall engagement, Microsoft said Gears 5 was the biggest launch this generation for Xbox Game Studios attracting 3 million players during its opening weekend. Which is twice the amount of the prior installment.

To me, this indicates that players are getting into Gears 5 using Xbox Game Pass just as much as they are purchasing at stores or digitally, plus competition this September was more challenging than the same month in 2016. Which means that the 7th spot isn’t a poor result for Gears. It’s more indicative that Microsoft is enticing consumers with a subscription rather than relying on traditional sales avenues.

Now that we’ve talked on a select group of individual titles, here’s the full list of September sellers and 2019 year-to-date rankings.

Top-Selling Games of September 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. NBA 2K20
  2. Borderlands 3
  3. FIFA 20
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening*
  5. Madden NFL 20
  6. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint
  7. Gears 5^
  8. Code Vein
  9. NHL 20
  10. Mario Kart 8*
  11. Minecraft#
  12. Grand Theft Auto V
  13. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  14. Spyro Reignited Trilogy
  15. Red Dead Redemption 2
  16. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege
  17. Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville
  18. Marvel’s Spider-Man
  19. Catherine
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. NBA 2K20
  2. Mortal Kombat 11
  3. Borderlands 3
  4. Madden NFL 20
  5. Kingdom Hearts 3
  6. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  7. Anthem
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
  9. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  10. Grand Theft Auto V

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

I remain bullish on Ubisoft’s latest Tom Clancy project even if on brand alone, and can see it becoming a mainstay of the chart for the next couple months despite major competition. These games have a knack for being persistent, especially as Ubisoft’s focus on ongoing support.

Bouncing over to the industry at large, overall consumer spending hit $1.278 billion in September. Off 8% compared to the same month in 2018. All three major categories saw year-over-year dips, with hardware experiencing the most precipitous decline (22%) as the console cycle matures.

When taking the year as a whole, total spending is down 6% to $8.3 billion on lower console sales.

Nintendo Switch was again the best-selling piece of gaming hardware in the States, which it’s been each of the past 10 months, plus it’s still the top dog for 2019 as a whole. Which makes sense. It’s the only hardware showing momentum when it comes to the domestic market, as Nintendo of America revealed it’s sold 15 million Switch units in North America alone since launch in March 2017. Not only that, Switch sales year-to-date are up an impressive 20% compared to the same time frame last year.

Though even the launch of Switch Lite couldn’t offset declines in competitor consoles, as September hardware spend in the U.S. totaled $306 million compared to last year’s $328 million. This is more of a decline than I anticipated, with Lite providing less of a boost. Or perhaps its counterparts dipped more than I thought. Either way, these things combined to show that hardware needs more than a dedicated handheld Switch iteration to grow again.

For 2019 to date, hardware is off 21% to $1.9 billion. Expect this trend to continue and even worsen with next generation slated for holiday 2020.

On the software side, domestic spend was down 4% in September to $732 million. Driven by the launches of Gears 5 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening respectively, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch software sales actually rose during September. Though not enough to counteract weakness in PlayStation 4 game purchasing.

A bit of a bright spot is that for the year so far, dollar spending on software is actually flat at $3.9 billion. Nintendo Switch is showing enough strength to completely offset declines elsewhere.

Finally, accessories and game pad dollar spend dipped 7% compared to this time in 2018, to $306 million. Spending in this last category for 2018 through September is $2.6 billion, which is down a slight 2%.

That said, it’s time for the buzzer. All the super intriguing monthly stats are courtesy of The NPD Group, namely friend of the site Mat Piscatella. Check out his detailed post on Twitter or EEDAR and be sure to give a like on his YouTube video, which has even more information.

Tomorrow we’ll be getting back into earnings season with my latest calendar post, so the fun never stops! Talk again then.

Sources: The NPD Group, Take-Two Interactive, Electronic Arts, Nintendo.

-Dom

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep: Day 2 & 3 Recap: Power to the Players

In my initial piece after Destiny 2: Shadowkeep launched on Tuesday, I spoke generally about my impressions of Bungie’s latest update plus the studio’s general direction shift for the franchise going into the third year of this sequel. Today, I’ll provide an update of where I’m at as a player gearing up for today’s Garden of Salvation raid and Vex Offensive mode as part of the Season of the Undying, plus praise new quality of life initiatives while also critiquing the new armor and modification system.

It’s a little later than usual, since I’ve been on the grind.

For those that have played since the original in 2014, the general cadence of a Destiny expansion for those looking to gear up quickly for endgame activities is to blast through early story content and quests until hitting what’s called the “soft cap,” a point at which the player needs more powerful sources to drive one’s Light/Power level towards the maximum. In this case, all players begin at 750 Power then naturally work upwards to the soft cap of 900. Powerful sources are then required to climb towards 950, at which time Bungie has now introduced “pinnacle” sources that go up to 960. The development team describes this trajectory in more detail in a recent weekly post.

This means powering up takes some strategy. Plus, having two or three characters doesn’t hurt as gear can be transferred between them. I’ve been in the middle of this power trip, and loving it, while at the same time admitting that it’s certainly not for everyone. At least not on a shortened timeline.

Thing is, I firmly believe that even the most casual of player can have a great time with Shadowkeep as long as they are able to tolerate some familiar enemy designs. Its base story of the mysterious pyramid on the Moon and Eris morn’s guidance through a treacherous set of nightmare enemy encounters culminates in what I think is a really cool finale, and if one stops there then it can certainly be a satisfying conclusion. Especially if this happens over days or weeks rather than hours.

One item I’d like to clarify is that while Shadowkeep certainly has a “campaign,” this is far from the end of its story. With Bungie’s new ongoing approach, activities will now start up across the entirety of the Season of the Undying, beginning with today’s raid and event. While in the past the narrative was more contained in the initial expansion, now it unfolds over time. Which is awesome for those of us that want more, though it’s difficult to do a formal review and many players won’t stick around for the best of its content.

Back to where I’m at, then let’s chat on where we’re going.

Once the base campaign ends, the Moon opens up to a plethora of activities that reward powerful and even exotic gear. This includes a replay of the introduction Shadowkeep mission, going on more “Nightmare Hunts,” the three-player mini-strikes against spooky versions of familiar bosses like the knight Crota and wizare Omnigul.

Eris also asks you to help track down the Memory of Sai Mota, one of her deceased fireteam members. This particular quest has players engaging in quick forays into Lost Sectors strewn about the moon, crafted areas in unique sub-locations with a boss encounter. There’s also a curious exotic quest that has players tracking down a very unique and expertly-designed rocket launcher.

Spending more time on the Moon reveals hidden lore and random enemy encounters that help build out the game’s environment storytelling is welcome after the main missions conclude. Plus, I’ll take any chance I can to enjoy the nostalgia.

Across the solar system, there are now plenty of powerful loot opportunities. Many vendors at the Tower social space now offer weekly bounties, plus one of the game’s most amazing quality of life updates in the ability to generate daily bounties that can help level up both the seasonal pass and work towards achieving these weekly powerful drops. It’s legitimately one of the biggest game changers in the Destiny grind, in that rather than having to wait for the game to reset bounties daily like it’s done in the past, players can ask a vendor to create a bounty for 3,000 glimmer. I can’t oversell how important this is.

Another quality of life feature that changes the game is the new quest and bounty tracking screen. Even if I wish we had more slots to hold quests and bounties with an ability to filter them, splitting them into their own categories on the menu screen makes for much easier tracking. It feels like this system, one that’s so integral to the endgame progression, is close to being absolutely stellar.

One area fans have been vocal about in the past is wanting to pick which kinds of gear to chase rather than relying on random drops, which can result in a situation where you have one piece under-powered compared to everything else. Bungie briefly offered this in the original game, then more recently within the Season of Opulence with the Menagerie activity. This continues on the Moon, with an artifact called the Lectern of Enchantment. Players can purchase bounties specific to an exact piece of gear, then set out to earn it knowing full well how to accomplish it. A very helpful tool, especially since the weapon design here is top-notch.

While Shadowkeep certainly has a “campaign,” this is far from the end of its story. With Bungie’s new ongoing approach, activities will now start up across the entirety of the Season of the Undying, beginning with today’s raid and event. While in the past the narrative was more contained in the initial expansion, now it unfolds over time.

While many powerful sources are tied to activities that have been in Destiny 2 for a while now, namely the Crucible PvP mode plus strike playlist that rotates bespoke missions, I intriguingly found it refreshing to complete these with friends because I hadn’t played much of the game in a couple months. And now that the game’s main Director page clearly shows the rewards from every activity type, this time is much more streamlined.

Once I was done with everything, I had achieved 935 Power level and am geared up for today’s endeavors. I strongly urge any lapsed or new players to at least give this powerful chase a try after hitting 900 Power, since it gives a great taste of everything Destiny 2 has to offer. This game is nowhere near what it was back in 2017, with the introduction of things like raid lairs, Gambit and new competitive modes, that there’s plenty fun to have even after the initial ramp ends.

So, what to do now?

I know the above might sound overwhelming, though Destiny 2 is slowly turning into an action multiplayer online game with more role playing elements than ever before. This is clearly shown by the new armor system, one that I now have more experience with though won’t fully appreciate its depths until the meta-game is established.

“Armor 2.0” is a major move, so I’ll try to recap as best I can. First, it brings statistics related to melee, grenade and super ability cool downs in the form of Strength, Discipline and Intellect respectively much more the the forefront. A throwback to the original game. Players see exactly how long each cool down lasts, and every piece of gear comes with its own levels that can be adjusted through modifications.

Speaking of modifications, Armor 2.0 scraps the fixed attributes of earlier gear and introduces a system of modifiers whereby players can pick where to focus based on how much “Energy” they apply to that piece. Want more ammunition for a certain weapon class? Slap that modifier on your armor. Play more of a long game with snipers and need better target acquisition? There’s a mod for that. Do you have the desire for every finisher to regenerate your health? You get the idea.

The difficulty here is that it’s obvious this system is in its infancy, because the implementation is off in multiple ways. Put plainly: It’s unclear how to earn mods and the interface is messy. Instead of revealing each modification type, what it does and how to earn it, Bungie only shows players the ones we’ve earned so far. It then limits the modification types that can be applied to armor, yet doesn’t communicate that explicitly.

I’d prefer the menu show all mods available, then list out where we can find the ones we’re missing rather than being vague about it. I know it takes away from the mystery, but it’s so much better from a usability standpoint and that’s what’s key for an intricate new system. I appreciate the flexibility offered by this updated setup. It’s still got a long way to go before I can call it user-friendly. We’ll need to check back in there down the line, as I’d wager the team will take feedback and work towards cleaning this up.

This game is nowhere near what it was back in 2017, with the introduction of things like raid lairs, Gambit and new competitive modes, that there’s plenty fun to have even after the initial ramp ends.

This brings us to today. It’s one of the most exciting days in the history of Destiny, with the launch of two major activities within the broader Season of the Undying: the Garden of Salvation raid and the mysterious Vex Offensive activity. Both of which sound like they expand on Shadowkeep and its narrative, hopefully in meaningful ways.

Garden of Salvation is the latest six-person raid. Guardians will traverse to what’s called the Black Garden, a place out of time that is actually where the first game’s base campaign ends. It kicks off this afternoon in a World First race that pros and streamers alike compete to decipher its puzzles and beat down its bosses.

Raids are my favorite part of Destiny by a wide margin. Each is set in a distinctly crafted, unique and beautiful setting with individual lore elements that tie back to the main universe. They take coordination, teamwork and skill due to the complexity of puzzles and combat encounters. These epic missions also offer some of the highest level and coolest looking gear possible, which is crucial in a loot game. Our team will be there at the start, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experience here and on Twitter after we get a lot of time there this weekend.

The second event is a newer style one for Season Pass owners, dubbed Vex Offensive. Apparently the time-manipulating robot race of the Vex are amassing on the Moon (in addition to the other aliens, as it seems a popular destination for invasion these days) and Warlock Vanguard leader Ikora Ray has tasked Guardians with pushing them back. It’s a six-member, match-made activity that sounds a lot like last season’s Menagerie. There are currently nodes on the Moon’s map that allude to this activity, though beyond this we don’t know too much more just yet.

It’s currently a bit.. Vexing!

Before concluding, I wanted to give a shout out to the entire team at Bungie for hitting a player count milestone this week. According to Destiny Tracker, the game boasts more than 15 million registered players. While less than the 30 million of the original game, which was notably available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in addition to current generation consoles, this is still a feat that we should celebrate as a fan base. The more Guardians, the better!

Alas, I could write for hours about the world of Destiny, its evolving mechanics and its bright future. I’d say I’m somewhere between an enthusiast and hardcore fan, since there’s still plenty for me to do and learn within this evolving title even if I’ve sunk many hours into playing.

Today is historic for the franchise and Bungie’s independence, and I’m mostly upbeat with where Shadowkeep is going despite the handful of noted hesitations above. I’m excited at the prospects for folks that stick around, it sounds like we’ll even be a part of the story that shapes this game going forward.

Good luck, and eyes up!

Sources: Bungie, Destiny Fandom, Destiny Tracker, Screenshots on Xbox One X.

-Dom