The Ryse and (God)fall of next-gen launch titles

But does that day-one line-up even matter any more?

As sunlight pierces the treeline, breaking through the tightly sewn canopy of crimson leaves, I fall a little in love with this place.

It’s at once both alien but a tad familiar, like the corridors of a school you attended long ago, and as I gallop through this world – collecting spoils with delightfully evocative names like ‘Infused Jasper’ and ‘Sunsteel’ as I go – my eyes are drawn ever upwards to take in the full majesty of what remains of huge, hulking structures, their cracked stone pillars lilting lazily to one side. There are highly ornate markings on the wall, and sometimes golden statues set into stone, so you know that someone – once upon a time, at least – used to care about this place. Someone really cared about it.

Other areas offer slick, highly-polished halls of burnished metal, gold and brass. Others yet, take me beneath the ocean and into an aquamarine-tinged world. It’s a seascape filled with colour and light and texture and devilish little bastards hellbent on killing you.

Godfall
Godfall. Credit: Counterplay Games

I spent a lot of time running around Godfall, mesmerised by its vaulted ceilings and crumbling ruins. It’s to the game’s credit that there’s enough time in between stabbing sequences to absorb some of its glorious worlds, but by the time you work your way through the first Realm, there’s a nagging sense that as beautiful as it is, there’s simply not enough to do here. By the time you exit the second Realm, you know it for sure: Godfall might be gorgeous, but it’s a snore-fest to play.

It likely comes as no surprise, then, that Godfall’s all style and little substance has failed to excite players and critics alike. Lorded by some as nowt more than a tech demo that showcases what the PS5 is capable of visually rather than mechanically, it’s faintly reminiscent of Ryse: Son Of Rome, a launch title that garnered the same kind of lukewarm reception when it was one of the Xbox One’s launch games seven years ago.

It’s a shame, really, because beyond a couple of cute platformers, Astro’s Playroom and Sackboy: A Big Adventure – both of which are ace, by the way, and utterly deserving of your time – and the superb Demon’s Souls remaster on PS5, there are not many console-exclusives out there for those of us lucky enough to have secured either next-gen console on launch day. But given it doesn’t seem to have dampened demand for the new systems (don’t get me started on the bloody scalpers), is it possible the fortune and failures of new systems are no longer dictated by the power of its day-one – or even year one – line-up?

Sackboy: A Big Adventure
Sackboy: A Big Adventure. Credit Sumo Digital

I’ve ruminated before about how different the next-gen jump feels this time around. While there’s been a sizeable shift toward remastering iconic games – I still can’t quite believe one of my first loves, Medievil, got the remaster treatment only last year – for those of us who’ve transitioned from one generation to the next before, we’ve learned the hard way that the switch often means leaving our favourite games behind. When I packed up my Xbox 360 to make room for my shiny new Xbox One, I knew I wouldn’t be able to play Halo 4 again, but that was okay, because Halo 5: Guardians was on the way. The loss was always mitigated by the excitement of something new – something better.

It all feels a bit different this time around though, doesn’t it? And I don’t just mean the delay of Halo Infinite which, like many other games expected to launch this year, had its schedule impacted by COVID-19. Even without the delays, there seem to be fewer next-gen exclusives this time around, but perhaps even more surprisingly, I’m starting to think it doesn’t matter much anymore.

Thanks to Sony and Microsoft both doubling-down on efforts to make next-gen truly backwards-compatible, it’s possible to unlock many of its features such as boosted graphics and faster loading speeds for the games already in your collection. Devs and publishers are working to ensure most games span both last- and next-gen, and those that start off playing, say, a sprawling open-world RPG on Xbox One or PS4 will probably be able to upgrade to the next-gen version for free as and when they update their hardware.

Add in Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – a premium subscription service that offers hundreds of games, new and old, all of which are all playable on your new Xbox Series S/X – and you might start to understand why a strong day-one line-up is no longer as necessary as perhaps it once was. So while it’s admittedly painful, waiting for the games that will truly showcase the power of next-gen in terms of style and substance… well, at least we’ve plenty to be playing in the meantime, eh?

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