We put on our historian caps (historians wear hats, right?) to fulfill our promise about doing a segment on the starter Pokemon of various famous people. Then, witness the hardest pivot into lengthy, serious topics concerning theology, ecumenism, and working for social change. Yes, it’s The Workshop where you never know what you’re going to get and we don’t really either.
Well E3 is now officially over. Let’s run down the remaining three press conferences and the games shown off in them!
Ubisoft had a surprisingly strong show, but I’m interested in only a small subset of the games. I was glad to see that they didn’t linger too long on known quantities like Assassin’s Creed Origins… Assassin’s Creed Snoreigins, more like! I hate this franchise. I’ve never had any fun with it except for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – y’know, the pirate one. The premise is really cool and I like the historical settings in theory, but the characters all suck, the controls suck, the mission design sucks, the open worlds suck, and the self-serious tone sucks.
The show began and ended with big stuff – that’s how you do it, Bethesda. Even though I don’t really know what Beyond Good and Evil is, I know there’s a excited fanbase out there for the game who were very psyched to get news about the sequel. So well done in that regard, Ubisoft.
Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Initially I was repulsed by the idea of putting Mario & Rabbids together. The Rabbids are something I have no prior experience with, but I look at the characters and all I think of is Minions from Despicable Me.
But you know what? This presentation won me over. It’s a great looking art style. The clash of goofy Rabbid characters with Mario playing the straight man seems ripe for physical comedy. The gameplay is tactical turn-based strategy that reminds me of XCOM. And they brought Shigeru Miyamoto on stage which is more than we’ll see of him in Nintendo’s presentation ironically.
Yeah, I might actually get this game. This looks weird and goofy and cool. I hope the gameplay is as solid as it looked from the short demo.
I also love this interview with the XCOM creative director regarding the similarities between the two games.
The Crew 2
Wisely this presentation focused on gameplay. The story of The Crew is not only completely forgettable, it’s annoying. It gets in between the player and what they actually came to do which is drive around the smooshed up little United States open world. I thought the sequel might go someplace else. Europe, England, Japan, Australia (except Forza Horizon 3 just did that…). Nope back to America again. That’s fine by me, actually. I’d like to see a take two.
The Crew 2 adds boats, planes, motorcycles, and other vehicles to the mix. It’s kind of like what Steep did with winter sports. If they can manage to make a better game around that core, I might be interested.
Skull & Bones
The pirate video game market is apparently more crowded than I thought. Skull & Bones looks like a sequel to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (a.k.a. the only good one) with the on-foot stuff stripped out and a renewed focus on the ship-to-ship combat. In Skull & Bones, teams of players will square off using different classes of ships to fulfill various tactical roles in their fleets. Players can also turn on each other to get bigger payouts. After all, what’s piracy without the ability to turn on each other?
I am skeptical that team-based ship combat can sustain an entire game, but maybe there’s more to it than was shown or maybe this won’t be a full-priced release.
Far Cry 5
Much like Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ubisoft showed shockingly little of this game. That’s probably because we already know what it is – mostly. It’s another open world sandbox of mayhem where your mission is to shoot all the crazy people who have taken the land from the non-crazy people.
Like I said in my pre-E3 post, I don’t appreciate the overtly Christian imagery mixed with the white supremacist stuff. This brief trailer added a bad guy singing “Amazing Grace” to the mix. Ugh.
The game looks gorgeous and fun otherwise though.
Sony’s conference was a bit of a sleeper this year, honestly. It was a strange show. Only one person walked out on stage for two brief speeches; the rest was trailers accompanied occasionally by actual live things happening the theater like live music or performers dangling from the ceiling.
The games on display were mostly underserved by the presentation’s lack of context. Only two games that I recall got extended gameplay demos that gave us some semblance of an idea how they might actually play.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wastes
I like Horizon a lot. I’ll play more of it! It’s coming this year too. I wonder if this will continue the story and follow up on the sequel bait at the end of the main game or if it will be a new side story. As much as I hate it when games “finish” their stories in DLC, I would kind of like to have the dangling story thread resolved.
Days Gone and all zombies games must overcome the question “do we really need another zombie game?” Days Gone looks very okay. At least the extended demo gave us an idea how the game plays. Will this be heavy on story like The Last of Us? It’s hard to imagine the narrative being anywhere close to that good. So what’s the hook of this game? I’m still not seeing it. It looks very well made though.
God of War
I never played any of the previous God of War games. Character action games aren’t my thing and I never owned a Playstation 2 or 3 anyhow. The new God of War (irritatingly and confusingly just called God of War even though it isn’t a reboot) looks to be changing the style of gameplay to something I could maybe get behind. It also seems to be putting the emphasis on a family story of Kratos and his son.
AND THERE’S FRIENDLY (maybe) SEA SERPENT! THAT THING IS COOL.
Destiny is a really, really mechanically solid shooter that released without enough content and way too much grinding. The shooting felt great, but the game built around it was questionable. That’s far from an original opinion. I happen to agree with the masses on this one.
Destiny 2 is a chance for a fresh start that I’m excited to see. I like PvE shooters and since there’s no Borderlands 3 yet, I’ll likely give Destiny 2 a shot as a filthy casual player.
I say all of this based on my personal experience with the first game. Zero of my desire to play the sequel comes from its marketing which is a bunch of stupid nonsense. The trailer shown at Sony’s show was stupid, overwrought, and totally forgettable. I don’t want to play Destiny 2 so I can be a hero and save earth or take back the Last City or whatever. I want to play it because it has great mechanics. I will never care about the story in Destiny. Please stop acting like anyone does.
Spider-man really stole the show. For some reason I wasn’t expecting much out of this game. Superhero games aside from the Batman Arkham series have been pretty lame for the most part. Apparently the Spider-man developers thought so to because they’ve take a lot from Arkham. I’m fine with that. Those are great games and some of the mechanics fit Spidey decently well too.
What Spider-man offers that Batman doesn’t is, of course, web-slinging. Spider-man will reportedly feature an open-world which you traverse by physics-based webshooting and wallrunning. That sounds great!
What’s worrying is the abundance of quick-time events in the demo. What happens if you miss the arbitrary button presses? Do you have to restart the sequence? Hopefully this kind of gameplay is sparse and forgiving. Aside from those bits, Spider-man was one of the best games at the show.
I expected an underwhelming show from Nintendo. The rumor of a short 20 to 30 minute presentation was right on the mark. But Nintendo managed to pack more into 25 minutes than everybody else did in an hour or more. Nintendo blew away the low expectations announcing new major games – some distant and some coming a lot sooner than expected.
I did not expect a Kirby game this early in the Switch’s life. Usually Kirby games come at the tail end of a system’s life, but this is slated to be out in 2018. I’m not for certain sold. Kirby games are fun, but light on challenge and kind of samey. But this looked delightful nevertheless. It’s the first HD Kirby and that alone might make it worthwhile. 4 player co-op is more at home with Kirby than Mario games.
Pokemon RPG for Switch
This was the block of the show about vague promises. Yes, we’re going to make that thing you want, the Pokemon Company assures fans… eventually. We kind of figured that would be the case, but it’s nice to have confirmation especially after the recent Pokemon Direct left fans wondering if mainline Pokemon would ever come to Switch.
METROID PRIME 4
YOU SEE HOW I CAPITALIZED THE TITLE OF THIS ONE? YEAH, I’M PSYCHED!
I thought a Metroid announcement was too good to be true, but here it is. Metroid Prime 4 is happening. Again, it’s a vague promise. No footage, no concepts, no release date or year. But it’s being made and that’s awesome.
Unexpectedly, Prime 4 isn’t being made by Retro Studios, but a new team. I think that’s great. The passion for a new Metroid might not have existed at Retro. They should make something else if they don’t want to make Prime 4. That means Retro’s new game is something else and we have a cool surprise from them still in store.
I hope the Prime 4 team isn’t afraid to break convention and make big changes. I am very much looking forward to seeing a modern (probably still first person) Metroid game. But it will probably be a while.
Yoshi’s Wooly World was a delightful platformer for Wii U. This is a similar-looking follow-up. Instead of yarn, the world is paper and cardboard. Like Kirby, I’m not sold on this one, but I’m glad to see it.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild DLC
I wasn’t expecting any info about the second DLC pack from E3 and I was basically right. We got some info: a name and vague concept, but that’s it. “The Champion’s Ballad” appears to be a prequel given the characters it features. That’s a neat idea, but we’ll have to wait for more info to get an idea of the expansion’s scope. Expansion 1 is out at the end of the month, but we already knew the features it would bring.
Exploration and puzzles were the strongest parts of Breath of the Wild. Expansion 1 doesn’t seem to building much on those aspects. Hopefully The Champion’s Ballad will find a way to recapture some of that magic.
Rocket League is an excellent game that I never play anymore, but the idea of having it on a portable system… yeah, that’s great. Plus it will be playable with players on the Xbox and PC versions of the game. Sony is the lone hold out there, but that’s their fault. Of course, like most third party games coming to Switch so far, the game will get the requisite Nintendo cosmetic items – Mario hats and such for your cars. The Switch version is targeting a smooth 60 fps at the cost of resolution. That’s the right decision for this sort of game.
Super Mario Odyssey
I was already sold on Mario Odyssey. The game looked incredibly creative and charming in its initial reveal and what was shown at E3 only increased my desire to see and play this game for myself. We’re getting it about a month before I expected – at the end of October rather than November.
Metroid: Samus Returns
I would never have guessed that Nintendo would drop not one, but two Metroid games at E3. While Prime 4 is probably years down the line, Metroid: Samus Returns for 3DS is coming out at the end of the summer.
I’ve wanted a new 2D Metroid game for ages. It’s been 13 years since the last one: Metroid: Zero Mission on the Gameboy Advance. While I would much prefer this just coming to the Switch, a new Metroid game is one of the few things that could get me to bring my 3DS out of retirement.
Samus Returns looks strikingly fluid. I’m used to the spite-based animation of the older games which had few frames of animation. This is quite a leap from that. Gameplay is also updated with the ability to freely aim, perform melee counters to enemies and stylish finishing moves just to name a few additions.
There were a couple things outside the big press conferences I wanted to highlight as well.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
XCOM 2 was my 4th favorite game of 2016. War of the Chosen is a hefty expansion to that game. I’ll definitely be curious when it comes out, but the latter half of 2017 is starting to look packed with turn-based tactical games like Mario & Rabbids and the next game…
Wargroove is another indie title that picks up the slack of a big company who’s no longer making a beloved series. The company? Nintendo. The series? Advance Wars.
Wargroove is the spitting image of Advance Wars but with a medieval/fantasy theme rather than modern/near-future military. I am so up for that especially since it’s coming to the Switch in addition to PC. It’s also shipping with a full map and campaign editor allowing users to create lots of new content. If Wargroove can live up to the legacy of Advance Wars, this might be one of the surprise best games of the year.
Well, that’s it. Another E3 in the books. I’m glad I watched. There weren’t too many really exciting moments, but a lot of what I saw looked very solid and many of the most exciting games are coming this year. I thought 2016 was one of the best years for video games in my lifetime, but 2017 is shaping up to be nearly as good. Who knows, maybe it’ll be better?
Sure, getting excited about all this stuff plays right into the hype that the marketing departments at these companies want. On the flip side, most games are made by passionate and creative people who desire to make great and stimulating experiences. We saw that passion and emotion clearly at times through the developers themselves.
So E3 isn’t just about advertising products. It’s about the collective wonder and excitement shared by people who love games. That’s why we pay attention to it.
E3 is still going on through this afternoon, but the press conferences are over and most – if not all – announcements have been made. My E3 thoughts got long and I want to include a bunch of trailers and photos so I’m splitting this into two (maybe even three) parts.
I’m only going to be talking about what I find personally interesting or worth commenting on. Video games are broad and there are whole genres and styles I’m not down with so this won’t be a comprehensive recap. That would be crazy.
Let’s run through the first three of the six major press conferences.
As predicted, EA’s show leaned heavily into sports and celebrity. There were lots of camera shots of people playing games which is annoying when I’m tuning in to see the games themselves – not the people. Still, it was overall a better presentation that I expected from EA.
Battlefield 1 DLC
I like this game. I wish the DLC wasn’t so expensive. I would enjoy new maps, but I don’t play it enough to justify buying them. New single player stuff would have been neat, but you don’t generally get single player DLC in online-focused FPS games.
Need for Speed Payback
I haven’t cared about this series in a long time, but the gameplay demo for this looked really sharp and fun. There was a definite Burnout vibe to it which is nice because EA killed the Burnout series almost 10 years ago. I suppose they’re also aping the Fast & Furious movies. Wouldn’t exactly know since I’ve never seen one.
I doubt I’ll play this, but I’ll be curious about the reaction when it comes out. It’s on my radar now and it wasn’t before. I could see myself picking it up when it gets cheap if the car takedown stuff is really fun.
A Way Out
This is a co-op prison break game from the creators of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons which I’ve never played but heard great things about. It’s restricted to splitscreen co-op only.
Co-op is awesome in theory, but can often be frustrating in execution. I can’t tell how much A Way Out will let players off the leash to make and execute their own plans. It looks fairly scripted and linear to me. They talk about “scenes” and different ways to progress through scenes. Does the way you play affect the story or just allow you to accomplish the same goals in different ways? Donno. The concept is really cool though. I’ll be watching this one.
Star Wars Battlefront II
Right up front in the presentation, EA’s CEO acknowledged there was a fair amount of negative feedback for the first game which is a good sign. EA does indeed realize that Battlefront was thin on content and that fans (including John Boyega) want a single player story mode as well. We’re getting that, but none of it was shown. The demo focused on multiplayer – a map set on Naboo from Star Wars: Episode 1.
It looks as sharp as the first game. They’ve made a bunch more really nice looking Star Wars assets. The gameplay shown didn’t excite me all that much. There are different classes now which is a welcome change, but it looks largely the same.
What did entice me was the announcement that Battlefront II will be supported post-launch with 3 free seasons of DLC. It’ll likely just be maps, weapon, and class updates – not single player stuff, but that’s a pretty good way to win back fans who thought the first game lacked content. I’m looking forward to this one.
Microsoft needed to bring on the games at this year’s show and they delivered at least in terms of number of games. Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer declared early in the show that 42 games would be shown off and 22 of them were Xbox console exclusives.
Scorpio got an official name and price. It’s the Xbox One X which is a stupid and terrible name that’s easy to confuse with their other product, the Xbox One S. Oh well. It’s definitely not the worst name for a video game console ever. The One X is going for $499 which is $100 more than the PS4 Pro, but the One X has significantly more power and the capability to run games at 4K natively whereas the Pro uses an upscaling method.
I have a pretty nice gaming PC already so the One X does nothing to entice me, but the visuals shown off were very nice. The “exclusive” games are also coming to Windows 10 so that makes Xbox hardware completely irrelevant to me (except, maybe, as a UHD Blu-ray player).
It will be interesting to see how the market reacts to the One X. 4K TVs are still fairly rare from what I understand (I don’t have one yet either) and Microsoft went hard on 4K as a selling point.
I like the Metro series, but had kind of forgotten that the developer might be working on another. I’m up for it! Game looks really, really nice.
The portion shown was mostly above ground rather than in the titular Moscow metro system where much of the previous games have largely taken place. Metro has always had a distinct feel and ambition and I’m curious what will be emphasized in the game and what makes it different from the last two games.
State of Decay 2
We already knew this game was coming and the demo here didn’t really provide any new earth-shattering information. Still, I’ve got my eye on this one. State of Decay is a cool idea: a zombie survival game where you build up your base over time, recruit survivors, and push into new territory as you build up resources. The first game was neat, but a little unpolished. This looks better realized in every way.
They’re unifying Minecraft across consoles (sans PS4), mobile, and Windows 10. Players on different platforms will be able to play with each other. That’s neat. I have the game on Nintendo Switch, but I mainly play the “real” Minecraft – the original Java PC version that is built on a different framework. Probably none of these touted updates will reach that version so I don’t care for the most part, but it’s a neat update. Microsoft seems to mostly be doing right by Minecraft and its fanbase.
The Last Night
The trailer for this was an intriguing mixture of pixel art and modern graphics/lighting set in a Blade-Runner-but-more-colorful sort of world. Neat. Hard to tell what the actual gameplay will be, but it seemed like there will be a heavy emphasis on story. This is one of the most visually striking games announced at this year’s show.
Sea of Thieves
Rare’s much talked about new pirate co-op game was shown in an extensive demo. The demo was engaging while it lasted, but I have to say the game looks kind of boring to me. Fighting skeletons with a blunderbuss and carrying treasure chests back to your ship seems like it would get old quickly. In the words of an immortal pirate, I have to ask: to what point and purpose, young missy?
There are still a lot of unanswered questions. What do you do with the loot you bring back? Will you run into other players? Are there story missions and questlines? Probably this info is out there, but I don’t care enough to look it up right now. Since it seems to rely on you playing with several friends, Sea of Thieves probably won’t be for me anyhow.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a complete butchery of Tolkien lore, tone, and moral conviction, but it was a pretty well-made game. I lost interest after one too many super orc captains was immune to a particular type of attack for no good reason other than it was a video game. Still, I’m kind of interested in the sequel because the systems at play seem really cool.
Shadow of War allows you to fight orc chiefs and subjugate them as part of your army rather than kill them. You can then take that army and use it to assault enemy strongholds. There will also be counterattacks to contend with. It sounds like there will be some big strategy elements in what is otherwise an action game like the first.
Original Xbox backwards compatibility
Microsoft shocked everyone when they announced backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games was coming to Xbox One. Now they’re bring original Xbox games. That’s a cool, consumer friendly move and that makes Microsoft the biggest champions of backwards compatibility at the moment. Weird. Good for them.
The new IP from storied developer BioWare was Anthem, a co-op 3rd person shooter that reminded me a lot of Destiny. I’m extremely skeptical of BioWare in recent years. They’re traditionally an RPG developer. Action games, like this appears to be, are not their forte. And even BioWare’s RPGs have been of poorer quality lately. It’s way to early to tell what in the world Anthem is except a pretty gameplay trailer.
Bethesda’s show was brief yet padded with a bunch of minor announcements and self-adulation. They really didn’t need to have a conference this year. The few major announcements (there were only two big games announced) could have slotted into Microsoft or Sony’s conferences and made just as much of a splash there.
I think Bethesda annoyed fans with this presentation as much as anything. They brought back paid mods – sort of – in a program they’re calling Creation Club. They talked VR, card games, their Elder Scrolls MMO, and Skyrim on Switch. There’s also a sequel to The Evil Within which is confusing because I didn’t think anybody liked or bought that game. Ultimately I was interested in only two items.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
Confusingly this seems to be a standalone expansion of Dishonored 2. That’s probably smart. I don’t know that Dishonored 2 sold all that well which is a shame. It was very good despite some technical problems at launch.
“Death of the Outsider” is a very provocative title for those familiar with Dishonored’s lore. I’m intrigued. This will retail for $30 which is typical for standalone expansions. That suggests there will be about half the content of a full Dishonored game which is surprising if true given how quickly after the last game this is coming out.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
This might be the craziest trailer of the entire show. Wolfenstein: The New Order and its standalone expansion The Old Blood were both crazy games. Tonally they oscillated between over-the-top action and very sincere, off-beat character moments and somehow it all kind of worked.
The New Order took place in an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II with crazy sci-fi weaponry. It took place mostly in Europe, but The New Colossus moves the action to Nazi-occupied America making this the best Man in the High Castle video game we’re likely to get.
Warning: the trailer is a little more crude and violent than some of the others. And weird. It’s extremely weird.
Back tomorrow with impressions from the rest of the press conferences.
E3 is still probably the biggest annual event in video games despite a lot of developments that have made it far less important than it used to be. Those in the games industry and commentators adjacent to it have been asking “is E3 still relevant?” for years now, but the conference persists and I’m certainly still interested.
Getting excited about things is fun. Watching big new announcements and seeing how the big companies in the industry react to one another is fascinating and E3 is a concentrated dose of both. I would lament the loss of it.
While I’ve never been to an E3 and likely will never go, watching the press conferences (sometimes with commentary, sometimes not) has become an annual ritual. I guess it’s sort of the same as people who watch the NFL draft or the Grammys. I donno.
On this episode of The Workshop, we talk mostly summer movies – what we’re excited to see or maybe not. This was recorded a few weeks ago. Most of the movies we talk about are still in the future, but Wonder Woman came out last week and is pretty good for what it’s worth.
Also stick around for enthralling discussions about the highest tech of topics like virtual reality… and paper.
Kids these days probably don’t know about Homestar Runner and that’s a shame. Here is a Homestar Runner cartoon that probably has little appeal to anyone outside of the Homestar cult, but – hey – it’s the one I referenced during the episode, so it’s the one I’m posting. WATCH IT, KIDS.
While it’s not quite as genre-transcendent as The Dark Knight and not quite so emotionally resonant as Spider-man 2, Wonder Woman‘s a well above average superhero movie. The film manages to be thematically satisfying while also ticking all the usual superhero movie boxes. There’s a finely-tuned balance between humor and sobriety; action and character development. Oh, and there’s villain that actually works.
Wonder Woman is the DC Extended Universe’s first good movie. We’ve previously experienced the disappointing, sometimes laughable, sometimes lamentable Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad. I guess fourth time’s the charm?
On the other side, we’ve got the Marvel Cinematic Universe sitting at 15 films (it’ll be 16 in July with the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming and 17 with Thor: Ragnarok in November). I like the Marvel movies less than your average person, but I’d say about 5 of them are pretty good. The rest are mostly competent if uninteresting to me personally.
What’s interesting is the different ways these studios (and I supposed comic book publishing houses before that) have approached their craft.
The Marvel film empire has found success from entirely competent films, but rarely good films. There’s not a lot of depth in your average Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Lots of times they function more as extended trailers for the next film in the franchise. But they get away with it over and over and over.
Marvel’s secret is likable characters. Not necessarily deep characters. Not challenging, complex characters, but really likable ones. I didn’t even realize how much I liked these characters at first, but they kept me coming back despite often being disappointed by the movies built around them.
DC, conversely, has done a notoriously bad job with its characters beginning with the absolute butchery of Superman in Man of Steel. And I think that’s the main and perhaps only real problem of DC’s films before Wonder Woman. Audiences forgive all kinds of ills if they are presented with likable characters to follow.
DC has been criticized widely for being dark, brooding, and generally lacking in fun. I would say last year’s Batman v. Superman was the height (or the low point) of this. It left me impressed by the visuals, but utterly cold otherwise. It presented a world not worth saving and superheroes who didn’t seem to believe in much of anything. None of them were likable (with the exception of Wonder Woman’s cameo – but she was hardly a developed character in that movie.)
While DC lacks in characters, there is a certain ambition on display in these films – a visionary flair. There’s a grandiose air about them. They skew closer to myth than Marvel’s utilitarian filmmaking.
DC movies desperately want to be About Something. This has lead to grander and more spectacular failure, of course, but you can’t deny the effort. There’s real vision and passion behind the messy final products.
Marvel’s lack of ideas and themes really bores me. Those movies don’t say much of anything about the world, human nature, history, politics, science, spirituality, or even about the heroes themselves. And on rare occasion that a Marvel movie does contain thematic elements (like the surveillance state in Captain America: The Winter Soldier or artificial intelligence in Avengers: Age of Ultron), they’re never developed, never fully formed thoughts.
Sure, sometimes it’s nice see a piece of escapist fiction that doesn’t remind you of real life. But I think it’s cowardly and disingenuous to keep making movies ostensibly about heroes doing good in the world if you’re never saying anything about the world.
Wonder Woman is comparatively a poignant statement about human nature while also being entertaining mythmaking. This film shows that likable characters and interwoven thematic content in a superhero movie works extremely well. I hope we see more like this.