As a leak from earlier this week suggested, Microsoft announced Ninja Theory’s newest game. That project is Bleeding Edge, and it could hardly be further from what the team’s die-hard fans are hoping to see.
Before excoriating the decision based on personal feeling, let one thing be clear: Ninja Theory, like any other creative team or individual, is free to produce whatever it desires. Fans may not appreciate that the studio is exploring the multiplayer realm with this 4-vs-4 brawler, but they need also to know that Bleeding Edge is not some quick cash grab mandated by Microsoft to attempt to turn an immediate profit.
The reports associated with the leak indicate that the game has been in production since 2014 as a passion project for a team within Ninja Theory headed by DmC: Devil may Cry’s senior designer Rahni Tucker. That suggestion is supported by a 2014 post from the studio discussing Razer, a long-cancelled Destiny-like. That post indicated that the team even before then was exploring “an online multiplayer melee game,” which certainly fits the model that Bleeding Edge is following:
The game probably deserves to exist, given that passion alone has kept it alive for more than five years. However, Ninja Theory’s fans may struggle to back the project.
Until now, all the studio’s flagship games have been single-player affairs with intriguing, complex narratives. That style came to a head with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, an intense experience focused on a Norse warrior’s psychosis. Across more than 15 years, the studio has gotten better at creating this kind of game, making a name for itself as one of the bastions of mature storytelling in the industry.
Despite knowing that Bleeding Edge is not the result of the full company’s resources being brought to bear on a project, it still feels like capitulation.
When Microsoft announced its acquisition of Ninja Theory at E3 last year (and Obsidian Entertainment a few months later), single players hoped a change was on the horizon. Playground Games, Compulsion Games, The Initiative, and InXile Entertainment could all make fantastic new narrative-focused IPs, but our eyes were firmly on the studio that built Heavenly Sword and Enslaved. The highest likelihood is that Bleeding Edge just happened to be the fastest project to bring to completion and Tameem Antoniades is working on something else special to arrive in the next few years.
Nevertheless, for such a studio’s first post-acquisition announcement to be a multiplayer project is disappointing. Even more disappointing is the precedent it implies for Microsoft’s other studios. After last year’s spending spree, single players hoped that the platform holder was about to enter a new phase where its strong multiplayer stable would be complemented by a diverse array of single-player-first IPs. Bleeding Edge suggests otherwise.
Many of the remainder of Microsoft’s reveals only reinforced that impression. The new State of Decay 2 DLC ‘Heartland’ does focus on narrative, but the Gears 5 showing focused on a new co-operative mode, and Halo Infinite, while eye-catching, offered little of any real substance. However, the company unveiled a Holiday 2020 launch window for the next Xbox console, which means that it may be holding off new IPs and story-focused games until next year to better relaunch the Xbox brand with the new hardware.