Video game headlines: 'Kingdom Hearts,' Activision Blizzard, 'Lego Star Wars'

‘Kingdom Hearts IV,’ ‘Missing-Link’ announced

The “Kingdom Hearts” franchise will make its return later this year following announcements during the series' 20th Anniversary Event on April 10. During the event, three main updates were shared, the first of which will be released later this year.

“Kingdom Hearts Dark Road” is a mobile game that is centered around the backstory of Xehanort, the main antagonist of the previous entries of Kingdom Hearts. The game was originally supposed to receive its final update at the end of September 2021 but was delayed and was supposed to be available in the following winter. It was delayed once again “due to a major scenario addition.” During the 20th Anniversary Event, developers announced that the final update of the game will launch in August 2022.

Kingdom Hearts will also receive another mobile game entry, “Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link,” starting later this year. The game appears to take place following the events of the franchise’s previous mobile game, “Kingdom Hearts Union χ," which closed last year. Unlike the old game, though, the new one seems to feature more of an open world and 3D graphics.

The final announcement was the development of “Kingdom Hearts IV.” No release date has been announced yet, and the trailer ended with “Magic in the Making.” Something to note, however, is the several differences present in the trailer. The Kingdom Hearts logo has taken on a different appearance than it has in past entries. Additionally, the graphics of the game (at least with the main character, Sora) seem to resemble Final Fantasy games more so than previous Kingdom Hearts entries, which may be a hint of what is to come.

Unreal Engine 5.0 becomes available to all developers

In an announcement during the “State of Unreal 2022” presentation on April 5, Unreal Engine 5.0 (UE5) is now publicly available for game developers. The game engine, which is developed by Epic Games, was previously only available in Early Access and Preview releases.

UE5 now has some updated features that weren’t included in previous versions of the game engine. This includes Nanite and Lumen, features that aim to bring an “incredibly realistic interactive experience to life.” Additionally, there will be tools for developers to create massive open worlds and also introduced new ways for creators to speed up the creative process.

Alongside the public release of the game engine, Epic Games also released two sample projects for developers to look at: the Lyra Start Game and a City Sample from a project being developed using UE5, “The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience.” Over 85 studios have confirmed the development of projects using Unreal Engine, according to a blog post from the company.

‘Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga’ releases

Releasing on April 5 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC, “Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga” is the sixth “Lego Star Wars” game developed by Traveller’s Tales; it was also published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The game covers story from all nine “Star Wars” films, and will additionally feature characters from other “Star Wars” properties later on as downloadable content.

Upon release, the game received generally favorable reviews from critics — review aggregator has the PlayStation 5 version scoring 83 from 51 critic reviews and averaging a score of 8.8 from user reviews. Many reviews highlight that it takes what has worked in previous Lego games and adds its own flavor, including a more open-world experience than other entries and stunning graphics.

The game was met with much success compared to previous Lego games, at least on Steam. Following its launch, “Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga” broke the previous concurrent user record for a Lego game on Steam by more than 1,200%, getting just over 80,000 users at once. The previous record-holder was “Lego Marvel Super Heroes,” which hit close to 6,000 concurrent users eight years ago.

Activision Blizzard announces QA testers will be full-time

Activision Blizzard made an announcement this past week that all those working as temporary or contract quality assurance (QA) workers for the company in the United States will become full-time employees starting July 1. This also includes a wage boost for most of these workers when the minimum hourly rate for the position goes up to $20 per hour starting April 17. Currently, Activision Blizzard has around 1,100 and converting them to full time employees will raise its total number of full-time employees by nearly 25 percent.

This announcement has come after an attempt at unionization from QA workers at Raven Software, which is owned by Activision Blizzard. If the workers at Raven Software do succeed, they would be the first union at a AAA gaming company in North America. They have filed for a union election through the National Labor Relations Board; Activision Blizzard has stated that the decision to hire all its QA workers full-time has nothing to do with unionization attempts by its employees.

Separately, Microsoft is currently in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard in a historic $68.7 billion deal. If the union from Raven Software QA workers does succeed, Microsoft has stated they will honor their choice to be represented by a labor organization. Activision Blizzard was sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing last year following accusations of discrimination and “frat-boy culture” in its offices. Most recently, the company was ordered to pay a settlement of $18 million in response to its federal sexual harassment case.

‘Fortnite’ raises $144 million for humanitarian relief

In late March, Epic Games announced that they were committing all its “Fortnite” proceeds between March 20 and April 3 to humanitarian relief for those affected by war in Ukraine. Xbox also joined in on Epic Games’ efforts. The main charities funds were going to include Direct Relief, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations World Food Programme, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and World Central Kitchen. This past week, the company announced that a total of $144 million was raised and thanked everyone who contributed.