If a major big budget corporate videogame comes out in February, you know that it’s because it’s been delayed at least once. That is true of both of February’s biggest games, Sony’s Horizon Forbidden West and Bandai Namco’s Elden Ring, the latter of which has captured the imagination of videogame fans at an elite level. The newest game from the Dark Souls creators at From Software might be even bigger than that formidable series, which was so popular and influential that it’s leant its name not just to a genre but to basic mechanics and structure that have popped up in many other games over the last decade. You actually almost have to feel bad about Horizon Forbidden West; it’s a well-made game that proves there’s still life left in the open world genre, but despite good reviews it was quickly subsumed by the tsunami of hype for Elden Ring.
Both games also should dispel the idea that a delay is a sign of a game in trouble. Pushing back a release date lets developers smooth out whatever issues might persist in a game, giving them the opportunity to make a game as great as it can be before shipping it out the door. The games industry would be better off with more delays, not less.
Those weren’t the only two games released in February, of course. Here are Paste’s picks for the five best new games of the month, touching on genres as disparate as fighting games, shoot ‘em ups, and skating.
5. King of Fighters XV
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PC
The King of Fighters XV lives up to the series’ standard by delivering blazing-fast fights, vibrant character designs and an electrifying soundtrack. In fact, its biggest battle is against the past. Its barebones tutorial and missions do little to welcome new players, making it unlikely to attract anybody who isn’t already familiar with the series. Despite King of Fighters XV’s quality-of-life shortcomings, there’s no arguing that it’s still a good fighting game. It’s just as fast and entertaining as previous entries in the franchise and brings the series into a new era with vastly improved netcode, but it puts up so many barriers of entry that it’s hard to recommend to newcomers to the genre or franchise.—Charlie Wacholz
4. Sol Cresta
Platforms: Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
I need to remind y’all that I write an irregular column about shoot ‘em ups, aka shmups—those old-fashioned games where players pilot some sort of craft or creature or vaguely Barbarella-inspired angel across the screen while shooting as many enemies as they possibly can. A core staple of any gaming diet in the ‘80s, the genre gradually fell out of favor with the masses, and exists today primarily as a cult curiosity or nostalgic throwback. Sol Cresta, the latest heir to the inexplicably difficult 1985 shooter Terra Cresta, probably won’t restore the shmup to the top of the gaming pyramid, but it’s not like it’s trying to. It’s a shoot ‘em up solidly for shoot ‘em up fans, and the latest high-energy action game from Platinum, the studio behind Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Nier: Automata. Terra Cresta’s defining feature is the ability to expand and contract the power-ups collected throughout the game; instead of just beefing up the ship’s weapons, they can be used as pods that orbit the ship and provide a wider range of fire. Sol Cresta pays tribute to that concept by letting players dock multiple ships together. It’s an exciting new entry in a largely overlooked genre, and while everybody else is venturing forth into Elden Ring for the first time, I’m shooting up space again like I’ve done a million times before.—Garrett Martin
3. OlliOlli World
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Switch, PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developed by London-based studio Roll7, OlliOlli World pushes well past its predecessors into the gnarly ranks of skate heaven. The game is a visual treat; vibrant colors pop out against variously themed foregrounds no matter if you’re stringing together a combo or just cruising along. The simplistic character designs are chock full of charm, effortlessly combining humans, talking lizards, and ridiculously goofy skate godz into the cohesive collage of happiness that is Radlandia. It plays as good as it looks, maybe even better. Success felt amazing and my combo addiction hit me hard; whenever I wasn’t playing OlliOlli World, my thumbs were itching to get back to the controller.—Mik Deitz
2. Horizon Forbidden West
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4
The best thing that can be said about Horizon Forbidden West is that it proves the open world genre doesn’t have to be as creatively bankrupt as it currently is, even while sticking close to the genre’s conventions. With the right focus, the right setting, and the right storytelling, a game can remain in thrall to a familiar format and still feel inspired. If anything, Forbidden West’s creative success is less a testament to how great or ingenious it is, and more an indictment of how uninspired and flavorless most videogames are. It’s like a meal from a good fast food restaurant in that regard: yeah, it’s still overly processed and right off an assembly line, but with better ingredients and more care than what you’ll find at the other drive-throughs. (And ultimately isn’t that the true tragedy of Horizon Forbidden West, not just that humanity destroyed itself once and might be destroyed again by the ravages of technology, but that Aloy never even got to enjoy a Popeye’s chicken sandwich the whole time?) Forbidden West isn’t a game that will surprise you or make you rethink the possibilities of what games can do, but it’s proof that games can still be really fun even if they don’t try anything new, and that’s something we don’t often see from big budget corporate games like this one.—Garrett Martin
1. Elden Ring
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Elden Ring borrows—grafts, really—elements from all of of From’s Souls games together. But it’s Bloodborne that’s really the reason for this game being the open world that it is. In Chalice Dungeons we saw a purity of form that the Soulsborne micro genre was poised to capitalize on, but couldn’t quite deliver. Procedural dungeons accessed from a menu. A place where minibosses and remixes of bosses would flourish, where the skill of dungeon-delving players could be tested and rewarded repeatedly. Not necessarily a haven for more lore, but for the most stalwart of players there would be deep thematic resonance at the end. But really, sick dungeons for the sake of sick dungeons.
Elden Ring says “what if we took the lessons we learned from Chalice Dungeons…and that was the game.” An open world, after all, is only as good as the dark holes that perforate its beautiful surface, the land is only as interesting as its scars.
And these dungeons, especially the big ones, are compelling like no other. This is the apotheosis in this work—the exaltation of the dungeon designer.—Dia Lacina