Bonus Round: Feel the embrace

Hi everyone! Welcome back to Bonus Round. I took a break from this column for a few weeks while I was off getting married, but I’m back in the saddle now. Let’s get into the week’s biggest gaming news stories.

By the way, Gamescom is next week and we’re going to cover all the announcements as best we can. Currently the plan is for me to liveblog the Opening Night Live show on Tuesday 23 August, and Joe will cover the Future Games show on Wednesday 24. Watch this space for more!

Lord of the Rings gets Embraced

The ominously-named Embracer Group has been buying up game studios left and right, and it doesn’t look like the shopping spree is ending any time soon. The Swedish company announced this week that it’s acquiring Tuxedo Labs, Limited Run Games, Singtrix, Tripwire Interactive, and Middle-earth Enterprises.

Many of these companies develop or publish popular games but the big get here is Middle-earth Enterprises. This acquisition gives Embracer Group IP rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchise, encompassing not only video games but movies, merchandise, theme parks and stage productions.

Embracer CEO Lars Wingefors noted the deal’s potential for ‘more transmedia opportunities including synergies across our global group,’ a very normal sentence. I don’t know which I’m more excited for – the transmedia opportunities or the synergies across global groups – but we can probably expect a glut of new LOTR entertainment products in the coming years, starting in September when new TV show The Rings of Power hits Amazon Prime Video.

Consolidation has become a hot topic in the gaming world this year, ever since January’s bombshell news that Microsoft would acquire Activision Blizzard. Hell, Embracer Group itself already bought Crystal Dynamics and Eidos-Montréal in May. Fewer and fewer companies are becoming responsible for the entertainment we enjoy, and I definitely see that as something to be concerned about.

Disney + Marvel Games Showcase announced

Disney’s D23 Expo is a sort of Mecca for geeks and Disney adults, a biennial showcase of the latest movies and shows involving Marvel, Star Wars, and more. This year’s Expo is going to cater heavily to the gaming crowd, with the announcement of the first Disney + Marvel Games Showcase.

Taking place on 9 September, Disney promises to show off ‘incredible new content’ from Disney & Pixar Games, Marvel Games, Lucasfilm Games, and 20th Century Games. There’ll be a mixture of brand new announcements – such as the reveal of Skydance New Media’s Marvel game – and fresh looks at games like Marvel’s Midnight Suns and Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga already came out months ago (I loved it), so it’s likely that new DLC will be announced. If I had to guess, I’d expect new levels based on Rogue One, Solo, and The Mandalorian. As for other games, I’d be the most excited for a gameplay reveal of Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man 2. That game is supposedly releasing in 2023, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it appearing; Sony may well want to unveil the PlayStation exclusive themselves during a State of Play event.

One game that probably won’t be showing up? The PS5 remake of beloved Star Wars RPG Knights of the Old Republic, which we learned recently is on hold indefinitely. Could we get a look at Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, the follow-up to Fallen Order, though? That’s a rhetorical question. I don’t know. But we’ll find out in September.

Death Stranding coming to PC Game Pass

Here’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser: Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding is coming to PC Game Pass on 23 August. Normally a years-old game being added to Game Pass wouldn’t be too noteworthy but this is an interesting case. Death Stranding started life as a PS4 exclusive, and while a PC port followed about six months later, its identity is still very much that of a PlayStation game. The game now appearing on an Xbox service is something I certainly didn’t expect, and makes me wonder about the politics of the situation.

Despite Sony funding the game’s development, the PC release of Death Stranding was published by 505 Games. This likely means that Sony has no control over the PC version of the game and as such, Kojima Productions probably didn’t have to seek permission for the game to be added to PC Game Pass. This isn’t as big a deal as it would be if Death Stranding came to Xbox consoles, but PC Game Pass is an Xbox platform nonetheless. One has to wonder what Kojima’s relationship with PlayStation is like these days.

This news comes as Kojima seems to be strengthening his ties with Xbox. Earlier this summer, Kojima announced that he was partnering with Xbox Game Studios to develop a new cloud-enabled project, which he referred to as ‘a game [he has] always wanted to make.’ Microsoft’s efforts in funding riskier, more esoteric games for its Xbox Game Pass service probably seem quite attractive to a creator as eccentric as Hideo Kojima. After decades as a PlayStation-focused developer, could he be about to make Xbox his new home?