Four games enter, how many leave?
November is always a packed month as far as major game releases go, and this year is no different on that front. Even though Activision and Ubisoft have both got their annual game launches for that slot out of the way already, with Ghost Recon: Breakpoint and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare now already out, November still sees the launch of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Shenmue 3, Death Stranding, and Pokemon Sword/Shield. Those are big games, representing what may end up being the highest selling titles of the year.
But which game will end up doing the best of them all? Obviously, all of them will do well (well, except maybe Shenmue 3, but we’ll get to that in a moment). It’s great that these games, all of which look fantastic, will all do well. But if you are interested in knowing which one will stand out over all others… well, which one will it be?
The previous paragraph already gave this away, but it won’t be Shenmue 3. Look, I get that Shenmue has this cult fan following, but the original games were famously under performers (contributing in very large part to Sega’s mounting losses that forced them out of the console business for good), and it’s hugely unlikely that their more measured pace will find Shenmue 3 more takers than for the original two games by any appreciable amount. The original games also weren’t huge critical successes – they did well enough, but they barely cracked 80 on Metacritic. Shenmue 3 will probably land in that range – but even if it ends up being the highest scoring game in the series, I do doubt it will outperform the other three releases on this front.
So let’s get to those three releases. First up, we have Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. This game a) looks really exciting, thanks to a spate of good previews and showings recently, and b) is by Respawn, the same folks who brought us one of the best single player shooter campaigns of the generation in Titanfall 2. There is reason to suspect that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will be the game which finally breaks the EA Star Wars game curse, and delivers a game from them in the franchise that is widely beloved.
Regardless of the game’s quality or critical reception, we can expect it to do really well – even Star Wars Battlefront II sold 7 million copies in six weeks, and it’s likely that Fallen Order will have better reception and word of mouth than that game which kicked off the whole loot boxes controversy. It’s Star Wars, and it’s launching alongside the movie that concludes the whole damn saga. We can almost certainly expect Fallen Order to sell 7-10 million copies at a minimum. In terms of sales potential, Fallen Order is on the upper end of this group – even if players are right to be sceptical about its larger quality and merits for now.
Death Stranding is the wild card here, in that we actually have very little to compare it to to try and understand how it might do. In terms of critical reception, it could well be the highest scoring game of the bunch – even a game as divisive among players as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a 90+ Metascore game, after all. So even if Death Stranding has eccentric design choices, it’s possible that Kojima’s craftsmanship shines through and appeals to critics. It’s not a given, of course, but Death Stranding is the easiest bet for the mantle of “highest scoring November release” of the four games we are looking at.
In terms of sales, however, I think things will be a little different. Death Stranding does have the backing of Sony’s first party in terms of marketing and messaging, and there has yet to be an underperforming flagship Sony first party game this generation. Death Stranding also benefits from a ridiculous amount of star power, in terms of both, the celebrities starring in it, and it being the brain child of Hideo Kojima, who’s one of the few game developers who can lay a claim to being a household name.
However, conversely, Death Stranding looks weird. Its premise is cerebral and esoteric, and not something that’s easily digestible by a larger mass market. November is the time when a lot of more casual players and families buy games. Star Wars, for example, is an easy sell in this period. But for the average holiday season shopper, what appeal does Death Stranding have? What would they even make of it? Even the marketing for the game has played up the weirdness, rather than presenting something more palatable by the mass market.
It’s also worth noting that Kojima games, while selling well, aren’t necessarily top of the pack. His highest reported sales figures for a game are for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, which sold over 7 million units worldwide—which is the minimum figure we can expect from Star Wars (and yes, I’m deliberately not even getting into Pokemon yet). While I expect Death Stranding to get a lift due to its star power and Sony’s backing, I also simultaneously expect the fact that it is a new IP, and not a fervently awaited sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time, and that it looks so weird, to counteract that lift. I would be surprised, honestly, if Death Stranding outsold either Pokemon or Star Wars. I could be wrong about this, of course—but there is enough reason to believe I am not in the here and now.
Which brings us to Pokemon. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, it will be the highest selling game of the bunch, probably the year. A new Pokemon generation easily sells 15-16 million units at a minimum, and Sword/Shield has the added advantage of getting the “Switch Lift”, which has mostly seen all titles overperform. Of course, there is controversy surrounding the game’s decision to axe the National Dex (meaning only a part of the full 1,000+ Pokemon roster is going to be in this game), but that’s unlikely to have much of a tangible impact on sales (look at how much controversy surrounded Let’s Go last year, which… then proceeded to sell 10 million units in six weeks).
What actually does interest me is the critical reception these games will get. Pokemon is a really safe bet – it always ends up getting 85-89 aggregate. But Pokemon Sword/Shield have made a lot of bold choices, going for an open world style progression, removing random encounters, going for a very sophisticated online multiplayer suite of options and modes, and more. And critical previews of the game so far have been glowing. Even as some fans continue to express their anger at the game, critics seem to be won over. There is a possibility that Sword/Shield may actually end up being the highest scoring Pokemon games yet – which would put them at a Metascore of 90, at a minimum.
I do think this actually would still keep them lower than Death Stranding at the very least, but I think critically, Pokemon will be an overperformer compared to the usual.
So, that’s my prognosis—Death Stranding takes the cake in terms of critical reception, Pokemon in terms of sales. And maybe I am wrong in terms of everything I wrote. Maybe Death Stranding sharply divides critics, and Pokemon sees the National Dex controversy come back to bite it in the ass. Maybe Shenmue 3 ends up being the top seller of the year. Who knows?
All four games will do well, in the end, of course. More than anything else, that’s all that should matter.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.