So video games or more accurately video game news is a passion of mine. As a follow of news and trends in the industry for almost all of my life the Entertainment Software Association’s big trade show is a fulcrum of my year. The electronic entertainment expo, E3 is the biggest video game show in the US and for many publishers and develpera it is the most important show of the year.
Once again gaming news Christmas comes to a close. While events like GamesCom has more people and the motherboard news cycle allows announcements to happen, E3 still hold a very special place in the gaming year. Built out of the ashes of the old days of video games at the Consumer Electronics Show, E3 has always been a showcase of the biggest news out of the big players. This year has the three big press pitches from the console makers; Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. In addition publisher showings from; Electronic Arts, Bethesda, Square-Enix, Ubisoft, Devolver Digital, and a PC games event. In this update, I’m going to give my impressions from each announcement in the order they happened.
Electronic Arts (EA)
For a few years now EA has been hosting its event outside the LA convention hall, EA Play. While more public facing it ends up feeling like it is somewhat an island outside of E3 proper. No more acutely is that felt then in the seemingly tone deaf press event. The focus on already announced items and/or minor upgrades to franchises was profound. Excitement around Battlefield V felt tamped down by a lack of a gameplay deep dive. FIFA, NBA, and Madden series care felt perfunctory, showing just how mature and complete those packages are. Perhaps the highlight was the spotlight on indie devs. The first indie was the surprise announcement and release of Unraveled 2 should have been a joyous moment but it left me feeling it being kicked out the door. This is mostly due to the notion of its marketing cycle being revealed, launched, and done with marketing in the space of a few minutes. Sea of Solitude was the second game shown with a refreshingly earnest pitch from one of the German developers. While impressive and pretty it reminded me too much of games like Gravity Rush that resulted in to much style and not enough substance. Star Wars brand care felt like an attempt to salvage the grease fire view of the games monetization strategy. It opened the door to one of the loudest themes of the whole show, a battlecry against loot boxes and other perceived unfair cash grabs. And the tiniest announcement of the new Star Wars game Jedi: Fallen Order was lacking any substance and felt almost genuinely off the cuff and unplanned. Those who loved the Command and Conquer series felt heartbroken as that franchise’s cache is sacrificed to create buzz for a mobile game. That news and reaction just goes to illustrate the gulf between the enthusiast video game crowd and far larger and more lucrative mobile games market. Sadly there seems little evidence that the mobile game market will be using the power of new smart phones to get closer to their condole and PC breathes. Instead the trend seems less video game and more gaming in the casino sense. Lastly EA spent a long time talking about Anthem the latest from the remaining staff at Bioware. The following gameplay demo was exciting and beautiful. Although I feel that they are try to play off to fans of pervious Bioware game that it is a narrative driven game when in the news surrounding it seems to be a narrative light online game in the vein of Destiny or The Divison. While Bioware made an honest effort with Star Wars the Old Republic, my thoughts are gameplay heavy online games are just incompatible with good story. When some jerk can comeuppance and emote dance in the middle of a dramatic moment or your friends talk of your headset while dialogue is going on it kills any sense of immersion. And on one last note the lack of demonstration of the story for a game that releases in February tracks with the rumor the game was heavily monetized like Battlefront and is in a full course correction. And the easiest way to deal with the shortfall of profit expected from a game that cannot make money from loot box and gameplay enhancement is to cut costs. Easiest way to accomplish that is to cut the development time and release soon to start making money from sales. It just seems unlikely February 2019 was the original reals date of this game and that it will be coming in very, very hot.
Say what you will about the squarely second place Xbox One but the story has been going on a better direction for a long time. This show was similar to the last one in that it was wall to wall games. I don’t have the wherewithal to go through all of the fifty game announcements but to put it simply Microsoft had the most content rich presentation of the whole show. While their little chance of the Xbox One from catching up to the PS4, little by little the brand was knocked the rust off of its botched E3 debut. No longer is it spoken about in the tones of a multimedia all in one entertainment hub. This presentation was all about the game console. Some highlights included the charming demonstration of Ori and the Will of the Wisps. We saw the intriguing weather dynamics of Forza Horizon 4’s English setting. The wrapping cane off Ubisoft’s the Division 2. Devil May Cry 5 was a surprising and confusing reveal. The tiny tease of a future Battletoads reveal was neat but not much more then a logo trailer. But the biggest news was the world’s first look at Cyberpunk 2077. It has a gorgeous look and one with a sun soaked unique twist of the dark monotones of most cyberpunk fiction. While i care nothing for the gameplay nor story of Gears of War it seems fans are getting treated to three new games. The bizarre Funco tie-in mobile game Gears of War POP! The x-com like Gears of Wars tactics. And the next main line game Gears of Wars 5.
After the rockiness of last year’s YouTube video in a theater presentation, most were hoping for something big and special to this year. And for the most part they delivered. Odd crowd reactions to an Andrew W.K. performance aside, Bethesda showed off a game presentation devoid of the gamesmanship of the larger publishers. They showed what they want in the way they wanted. Exciting looks at Rage 2 were welcome as that game shapes up to be a fun open world romp with tight gunplay. Nods to game support for Wolfenstein, PREY, and ESO were welcome. In the end the biggest portion was about the new Bethesda Game Studios project Fallout 76. Now I wish I could be more positive on it but the vaccum of detail around core gameplay ideas for a game coming in November would make any observer a little cynical. It will be an online shared Fallout game in the mold they have created with Fallout’s 3 and 4. But while explaining that all humans in the game are people playing the game with you they did almost nothing to explain or show that off. In the subsequent days more info came to light about the nature of a solo game (aka like Anthem it’s lip service and not really designed around supporting solo play.) But it was found that Fallout 76 was not at the show despite the marketing emphasis on it. So in the next few months to its release it has a lot of explaining to do about even the most basic elements of gameplay. Also like Anthem it claims story and the ability to play by yourself but likely that only true in the broadest sense due to the nature of these games. Time will tell. And to cap the show they let us know Starfield the next single player game from the studio and the follow up to Skyrim are both in the works.
Seemingly using the playbook from the Bethesda 2017 press “event,” Square-Enix presented a video of mostly know items. A deep dive into the latest Tomb Raider game was the most gameplay we would get to see. Everything else was video trailers or rehashed information. The package was tight and concise but ultimately dull. The Quiet Man being the only surprise with any intrigue around it.
Few companies deliver a air of authenticity the way the French based Ubisoft does. Everything they do has a vibe of honest intent. Even re-minting the annual release of the Assassin’s Creed franchise comes off as a genuine attempt to improve the series. The delightful presentations of Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Beyond Good & Evil show just how much joy this company has in its soul. They truly have a culture of making fun things that is lost in most publishers. Lastly the reveal of Star Link was a wondrous thing especially with the weaving of Star Fox into it’s DNA.
I found the whole thing a beautiful presentation of ugly things. While it sounds like the on the floor view of the press conference was a miserable slog, to the home viewer the elaborate sets gave a sense of awe to what amounted to a handful of videos. The Last of Us II demonstration left with me the same emptiness as the first game. The grimness of that world is so oppressive as to leave rooting for death to take this poor soul from their wretched lives. This was maybe doubled down on with the happy, colorful, and bright story scene juxtaposed by the dark blue-gray snuff film vibe of the gameplay. Ghosts of Tsushima was a more harmonious vision of beautiful graphics and white knuckle violence. It’s a gorgeous game but with no UI items on the screen it seemed very difficult to understand the gameplay. I want the stressful bliss of Bushido Blade from this but not sure that is what they are selling. Next they ran through some highlights of other games. With the Resident Evil 2 remake being my standout. It looks fresh and amazing but I’m a little bummed out it’s over the shoulder rather then tank controls. I’m sure I’m very alone in that but still. Kingdom Hearts 3 is still pretending it is a playable, releasable game with cohesive story. Then the grand experiment that is Death Stranding came up. I love Kohima, whether it’s Metal Gear, Zone of the Enders, Solar Boy Dajango, or Snatchers; I like his work. But even I stop and ask myself is this just a fine arts peice with no substance. Since this game is likely a lifetime away from release I’ll play the wait and see game but I don’t know, it looks to out there for even me. Also the toenail scene was the most violent and gory thing in the whole show. And lastly Spider-Man. It’s likely the only first party Sony game that has ever wanted to me to get a PlayStation. Ok other then Metal Gear 4. But I adore and still every once and awhile play Spider-Man 2, because of its goal of making an open world Spider-Man simulation rather then a linear game. And this seems to have the same goals in mind. It looks terrific and I dread finding a way to play it that doesn’t cost me a few hundred dollars.
And we wrap things up with my favorite company in the biz, the Big N. Things kicked off with the highly stylized Deamon X Mechina. Coming for legends in the genre this was a great sign of the interest the Nintendo Switch is getting for development. We had the new announcements of Super Mario Party and Warioware Gold. Both are exciting there own way. Super Mario Party shows some neat tricks between multiple switch consoles. And I adore having more Warioware. Now the lion’s share of the time was spent fleshing out Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. Lots of little details and deep dives. But on the whole a great version of a known quality. Also kudos to Nintendo and Epic Games for the “available now” moment of the show, with the release of Fortnite for the Switch.
It’s been a wild show. Lots of ups and downs. But on the whole, it’s a good time to be a gamer.