So this week in gaming news, which I say with heavy emphasis on the "a," there were a couple big developments. First, the announcement that Microsoft had made a $7.5 billion purchase of Zenimax Media, which includes the very popular Bethesda games studios and its subsidiaries. Second, Nintendo and Sora Ltd. announced that “Super Smash Bros Ultimate” would be introducing Steve, principal character of “Minecraft” to its roster as part of downloadable content (DLC) character pack 2. Both of these seemingly came out of nowhere, and needless to say both made for big news in their respective spheres of the gaming industry.
Let's start with the one that surprised me, and likely most other people, more. Zenimax and Bethesda being bought by Microsoft. This is big news to anyone who is a fan of the “Elder Scrolls,” “Fallout,” “DOOM,” “Wolfenstein,” “Dishonored,” and the other less important series the companies own. That’s a lot, especially with “The Elder Scrolls 6” and the new “Starfield” IP on the horizon. There has been a lot of speculation as to what this could mean for the various series Microsoft has now acquired. Although to clarify, the deal is still being negotiated and likely won't be finalized for another couple years. With that being said, this gives us a perfect window of release for the next games the studio is likely to put out to be affected by this deal.
Most of the speculation has revolved around exclusivity. There is a real possibility that Microsoft will make Bethesda IP’s Xbox Series X exclusives. Although given that “Gears 5” and the upcoming “Halo Infinite” have come to Steam, it is likely PC players will still have access to the games. Playstation owners on the other hand may not be so lucky. I have little doubt that part of the motivation for Microsoft making this decision is to use Bethesda games to make the Xbox more appealing to consumers still deliberating their side in the console wars.
Another bit of speculation that people have been throwing around is that Microsoft will “reign in” some of Bethesda’s more egregious practices as of late. Wild theories and assumptions have been raised suggesting that they will scold the company like a naughty dog (not Naughty Dog) for the disaster that was “Fallout 76,” the Creation Club, and the aggressive monetization of the two. That Microsoft will come down on Bethesda for their notoriously buggy, broken games on release, and force them to produce more polished final products. I think that's giving Microsoft way too much credit. People forget just how many unsavory practices Microsoft is happy to get up to in the games industry. “Gears 5” was a microtransaction laden, hyper-monetized mess. There is no reason to believe Microsoft will berate Bethesda for doing the same. Microsoft only cares that Bethesda games get good reception and sell well. They don’t need to be higher quality, they just need to keep doing what they already have. They want Bethesda exclusives to be powerful motivators to buying an Xbox instead of a Playstation.
On the other end of the spectrum, Nintendo announced on Thursday, October 1 the latest fighter to be released for “Super Smash Bros Ultimate,” and coincidentally it was a Microsoft representative. The world was shocked to learn that Steve, default skin character of “Minecraft” would be joining the “Smash” roster. Steve, for many fans, had been something of a joke character for a long time. He clearly represents one of the most popular, best selling games of all time. He is internationally recognizable, featured in a family friendly game that gave him real potential to be added. Yet for the longest time “Smash” was notorious for excluding western representatives. That was until the mold was broken, and Banjo & Kazooie from the game of the same name were introduced in the first fighters pass. Not only was it the first western rep, but Banjo & Kazooie are owned by Microsoft. This gave Steve a great deal more legitimacy in being selected. Yet he remained something of a meme pick, being so popular a game that it just kind of became funny to imagine him in, kind of like if “Fall Guys” or even “Fortnite” got a representative.
And yet, Sakurai surprised us. Although he basically admitted that Nintendo forced him too. Regardless, most of the world rejoiced, while a sour few pouted. Steve is an excellent pick for “Smash,” representing an enormous community and legacy. I’ve loved “Minecraft” since beta, and can’t wait to see that piece of my childhood represented in another series from that era.
Although people all over the internet have been sounding the alarm that Steve is going to be busted, based on the moveset showcase Sakurai released October 3. This tends to be the case whenever a new character is released for “Ultimate,” as indeed was the case with most of the DLC characters that have been released so far. And while Steve does feature unique mechanics that could shift matchups drastically, it seems unlikely that he will be any more "busted" than any other DLC characters released. Funnily enough the only one people were kind of lukewarm about was Joker, who is one of the best characters in the game. That being said, people do have slightly more legitimacy in their cries this time, it certainly seems like Steve has the potential to do very well in the right hands, though the amount of resource management involved in his kit will likely slow him down considerably.
Things began a bit shakily, but certainly ended on a high note this week, and I look forward to more news on the acquisition of Bethesda and the release of Steve on 10/13!