E3 2019

Here we are again. It’s my annual review of E3 the biggest week of video game news each year. The event ain’t what it used to be. This year EA opted out of doing a conference and Sony was entirely absent but everybody else still kept things alive and kicking. As we come to the end of one console generation the industry is shifting its attention to the future of games whether that’s streaming or yet more powerful boxes.

Microsoft Holds Its Xbox Event At E3 Show In Los Angeles
Keanu Reeves is a great hype man

Here’s my annual rundown of the things that most interested me.

Google Stadia presentation thing

The future is uncertain

While this wasn’t officially part of E3 (neither is EA Play but it gets lumped in by proximity) it certainly kicked off a week of big games industry news. Google announced their streaming platform a couple months back at the Game Developers Conference. It’s an ambitious idea – essentially bringing the convenience of streaming to video games. No need for a console or gaming PC – just a device that runs the Chrome browser or a Chromecast Ultra going directly to a TV.

Will actually work? I have no doubt it does under the right circumstances. Will it work in real world conditions with games that demand quick reflexes? Ehhh. There’s where my skepticism really sets in. My home internet, while fast, can be inconsistent. Sometimes speed or latency takes a nosedive and that would ruin the Stadia experience no matter how good the tech is on Google’s end of things.

Their GDC announcement was a lot more exciting than this one. They explored the possibilities of what their platform could offer like games running on incredibly powerful hardware at Google’s server farms, easy game recording, and the ability to instantly look up hints for the precise part of the game you might be stuck on. This presentation detailed what Stadia will actually offer at launch which is significantly less impressive.

It’s $9.99 a month for the “pro” version of the service launching in the fall. It’ll offer streams at up to 4k HDR 60 frames per second in 5.1 surround sound. A base version will work for free and be available sometime in 2020. For both versions you’ll have to buy games you want to access. That’s makes Stadia a lot less attractive that I initially though.

stadia-founders
To play at launch you’ll need to purchase this founders edition package

The great thing about streaming is that it makes a bunch of content available to you instantly. Imagine if Netflix charged you per show or movie, but you still had to pay your Netflix subscription for the mere privilege of streaming. It would never have caught on in the mass numbers it has.

For now we’re still waiting on that “Netflix for games” service. It looks like Google won’t be the one to do it first, but there might be another company who will get there very soon (more on that later).

EA Play

Basically just Jedi: Fallen Order

Bad old Electronic Arts decided to forgo a traditional press conference this year which was probably a good move since the last several have been snoozefests. They still held their EA Play event prior to E3 and showcased a handful of their games.

The only notable thing to come out of this was a 15 minute gameplay demo of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order an honest-to-goodness single player story-based game (from the publisher who said they were dead!). After a lackluster Battlefront reboot, a controversial loot-box ridden sequel, and several cancelled projects, EA’s Star Wars licensing deal really needs to produce a crowd-pleasing game.

I sure hope this is a winner but I’m very skeptical. The demo looked like the least inspired Star Wars game I’ve seen in ages. At least the Battlefront games demoed well. This just looks dull.

The gameplay appears to be a mix of Uncharted’s linear level design complete with climbing and swinging and a generic hack ‘n slash action game. What’s the hook? Just that it’s Star Wars? That’s not enough – especially right now.

Set after Episode III’s Jedi purge, you play as a Jedi on the run from the newly-created Galactic Empire. That sounds like a cool setting for a Knights of the Old Republic-style RPG that’s heavy on the dialog and player choice. But a linear action game? I don’t see it.

The period between Episodes III and IV is the least-explored in the Star Wars canon (before the great Disney Expanded Universe purge – I don’t know what’s going on with Star Wars beyond the movies any more) so I can understand the attraction to this setting. But a Jedi action game seems like it would be better set during the Jedi-Sith conflict or the Clone Wars or maybe between Episodes VI and VII so we can finally get more explanation about how Luke’s Jedi school fell apart. They could call it Jedi: Falling Order!

Maybe this game will be great, but if it is, they picked a terrible part to showcase. At the Microsoft conference we saw a more traditional trailer and even though I dislike cinematic trailers for video games, I have to admit it looked a lot more exciting here.

I am still baffled why the gameplay segment they chose to show was so dull because it looks like there will be much more entertaining moments. I’m still highly skeptical but that’s how it is with all Star Wars these days.

Now here’s the twist! Apparently this is not quite the linear action game it was presented as. According to press who spoke to developers and went hands on with the game, it actually has more Dark Souls and Metroid DNA than the gameplay demo and trailers let on. You will be able to fly to different planets in the order you choose and return to them after acquiring upgrades that will allow you to open new areas. Now that sounds much more appealing if that’s truly how the game is structured. Why in the world did they present the game in such a dull way? Somebody in marketing screwed up big time.

Microsoft

Wide as the ocean, deep as a puddle

Microsoft has been in a weird position during this console generation. We all know they stumbled out of the gate and have been trying to recover ever since. It seems like Phil Spencer and his team have been making smart and even consumer-friendly moves in the past few years to try and shore up the Xbox brand on console and PC. With Sony skipping this year’s E3, Microsoft doubled down on their showcase bringing something like 60 games from heavy hitters to niche indies.

There was so much good stuff at this show. It was diverse and well-paced. It didn’t lean too heavily on particular franchises (like Ubisoft does) or genres (Square Enix) or aesthetics (Devolver Digital). It would have been the best show of E3 if not for one fatal flaw: very little of what was shown was actual gameplay. This is not merely a Microsoft problem. This was a problem all throughout E3 2019.

The biggest surprise at Microsoft was Keanu Reeves’ appearance in Cyberpunk 2077 followed by the man himself coming out on stage to reveal a 2020 release date. People had been thinking this game was much further off so that was a moment of genuine surprise on a couple levels. It looks like an amazing game, but one that’s probably too seedy for my taste.

Last year Microsoft announced the acquisition of Obsidian Entertainment among other studios. Obsidian will release The Outer Worlds on October 25th. People are saying it’s Fallout: New Vegas in space. If that’s true, it just might be my game of the year. The thing that concerns me is the writing. The trailer shown here leans heavily on this anti-corporation vibe. Look, I get it. Corporations are scary and often bad, but I’m kind of tired of this topic particularly in sci-fi. Hopefully the actual game has as many interesting ideas as New Vegas or KOTOR 2.

The studio acquisitions continued this year with Double Fine joining the Xbox family. Their next game, Psychonauts 2, finally got a gameplay reveal (some of the little gameplay at the show), but not a specific release date – just 2019.

Both these developers tend to make “cult” games. They’re well liked and well regarded studios with unique visions but they’ve never quite managed to produce a major commercial hit. They’re exactly the sort of studios that could easily be shuttered after a string of bad luck and they would be sorely missed creative voices. So while it’s a little sad to see them lose their independence, I think this could be a long term win-win for everybody. Microsoft can put more marketing muscle behind those games and will hopefully continue to let these proven developers do their thing.

I was personally very excited that they’re bringing back Microsoft Flight Simulator because I am a nerd among nerds. I grew up playing flight sims and Microsoft made some of the best. I have a flight stick waiting to be dusted off!

In some ways, flight sims were the original “open world” games. The Microsoft series has traditionally allowed you to fly anywhere on Earth. Obviously with so much ground to cover, it can’t all be highly detailed and consequently only major cities and areas of interest have been rendered with more fidelity. In this new iteration of Flight Simulator, they’re leveraging real world imaging data in clever new ways could allow for a much higher level of detail in more places than ever before. It certainly looks mighty impressive in the trailer.

Gears and Halo are Microsoft’s most recognizable franchises so naturally their respective sequels both got some love. Gears 5 is out in just a couple months. Halo Infinite is seemingly a lot farther off. The new trailer was rather vague. I am still wondering how (or if) this will be different from past Halo games.

Elden Ring is a new From Software game created with some level of input by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. That sounds really awesome for a certain type of person at I am most certainly not. I would love to see From make a game that broke the Souls mold, but this was yet another cinematic trailer that told us nothing concrete about the actual game.

Microsoft teased their next gen Xbox console codenamed Scarlett without talking too many details. A bunch of talking heads threw out buzzwords and vague stats. 4 times more powerful than Xbox One X. 120 frames per second rendering. Solid state drives that eliminate loading time. 8K resolution.

I’ll believe it when I see it. It might be capable of all those things but whether it’ll actually be practical is a wholly different matter.

Even more vague was their talk about streaming technology known as Project xCloud. I was surprised they weren’t more aggressive about this with Google bringing Stadia to market in November, but perhaps xCloud just isn’t ready? Stadia certainly seems like less of a threat than when it was initially announced.

Back in the present day, Microsoft bolstered their game services. Remember I mentioned the Netflix of games? Xbox Game Pass has kind of been building toward that direction for a few years. Granted, it isn’t game streaming at this point, but it does make a library of content readily available to subscribers. Now there’s an expanded Game Pass option for PC and you can subscribe to both PC and Xbox for a lower combined price.

Microsoft’s first party titles come to Game Pass day-and-date with release. That’s pretty exciting since there are now quite a few Microsoft-published games I’m interested in playing. In the interest of fairness, EA also has a similar service (and Ubisoft later announced one at their show), but their lineup is nowhere near as attractive to me.

Bethesda

The best is yet to come?

Why does Bethesda even have an E3 show? It’s not that they didn’t have content (although half of it was phone games and updates for existing products). But they’ve also got QuakeCon later in the summer and it seems like they could just transform that into their big annual announcement show if they wanted to.

Bethesda kind of blew it all out last year. Bethesda Game Studios (the Elder Scrolls and Fallout guys) not only revealed Fallout 76 – a big deal despite how it turned out – it also teased its next two projects: Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI. The nature of these teases suggested that Starfield was still years away and the highly-anticipated Skyrim follow-up even farther than that.

Nevertheless, BGS head Todd Howard was wheeled out to make a few minor announcements. Admirably they are sticking with Fallout 76 – continuing to issue updates and new content for free. It’s what they need to do for goodwill if nothing else.

Ghostwire Tokyo is the next game from the Evil Within devs Tango Gameworks. There was basically no concrete info here and I don’t care to speculate about how this might shape up. Reportedly it’s not a survival horror game but it’s “spoooky!”

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is out very soon: July 26th. I like the Machine Games’ Wolf series, but I’m not sure I care for the direction they’re taking things lately. Youngblood is a co-op game starring the daughters of BJ, the usual series protagonist. Tonally it looks quite jokey and I’m not sure I like that. The last game veered into a sort of grindhouse direction that made me less invested in the series. If they’re going even harder in that direction I might be getting off this train before the third proper installment. We’ll see.

I was surprised by an announcement from Arkane Studios. I love Arkane’s work both the Lyon studio that made Dishonored and the Austin team that made Prey. Unfortunately I keep hearing that their games haven’t sold well. I hope they aren’t pushed to make something more “commercial” because of this.

Arkane Lyon’s new game is called Deathloop. It’s centered on two assassins locked in a time loop killing each other over and over again. Again, this was a cinematic presentation so concrete details were lacking. Will it be multiplayer or a single player game where you can choose either assassin like Dishonored 2? How action heavy will it be? I am intrigued based on Arkane’s past work.

Finally, Bethesda ended the show with Doom Eternal. This game looks amazing and I want it right now. The 2016 reboot was my game of the year and this is a seriously great looking sequel. I expected more enemies, weapons, new levels, new boss fights, but what I didn’t expect was the expanded traversal options, a new innovative multiplayer mode, and just how crazy they’re getting with the lore. This appears to be everything I wanted out of a sequel and a lot more.

Ubisoft

It all runs together

Oh Ubisoft…

This is a conference that I may skip in the future. Usually there are a couple surprises or oddities to make it slightly worth watching for me like the time Shigeru Miyamoto came out on stage holding a plastic gun to help announce the surprisingly excellent Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Not this year.

Ubisoft’s bread and butter are franchises that I just don’t care about. Just Dance isn’t my thing. I actively dislike Assassin’s Creed. Most of the various flavors of Tom Clancy games bore me.

The one Ubisoft franchise I kind of like is Watch Dogs, but only barely. Those first two games had potential – potential they never quite lived up to.

The upcoming third game, Watch Dogs Legion, takes place in a dystopian London. Its marquee feature is the ability to play as anyone off the street. Each individual has different abilities and stats, but you know there can’t be *that* much diversity. It would be a logistical nightmare on the dev team. I’m sure it already was. I expect there are a large number of “archetypes” instead of truly unique characters.

watchdogs-legion-2-902x507

I’m really skeptical that this feature will result in a more fun game instead of just a more bland and generic one and Ubisoft games already struggle with being too bland and generic. This decision no doubt tied the writers’ hands in coming up with a story, but since the writing almost always sucks in Ubisoft games this isn’t that much of a loss.

I didn’t like the tone either. It’s much, much bleaker than Watch Dogs 2 which turned out be kind of refreshingly endearing. This looks much more similar to the grimness of the first game that took itself far too seriously. Despite my misgivings, it’s definitely the most interesting upcoming Ubisoft game to me.

With Assassin’s Creed taking a year off, there sure was a lot of Tom Clancy to fill the schedule. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Quarantine. Updates for Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege and Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. And also a Division movie with Netflix. Like every third announcement was a Tom Clancy thing and my head was spinning by the end.

The only title that stood out of the Tom Clancy pile-up was Quarantine. It’s an off-shoot of Siege. This time it’s 3-player tactical co-op instead of versus which is much more appealing to me.

Gods & Monsters – some kind of Greek mythology action game – ended the show. It’s the increasingly rare original IP with a unique art style. Naturally, the trailer revealed very little. Whatever it is, it‘s out next February.

As I said before, cinematic trailers were a plague on E3 2019. Ubisoft might have been the worst offender. Their games could be really cool, but they way they showed them annoyed me more than anything. I don’t care how fancy your cinematic trailer is. It doesn’t represent the actual experience of playing the game. It doesn’t sell me on it. Stop it. Overall, Ubisoft’s show was long, dull, and overindulgent. I don’t think I’ll be watching it next year.

Square Enix

Japan’s gonna Japan

Square Enix is the house that Final Fantasy built. There was no way you could possibly forget that watching their presentation. Final Fantasy was to Square’s show as Tom Clancy was to Ubi’s.

Look, I’m not into anime. I’m not into JRPGs. And that’s almost entirely what this presentation was. So why did I watch?

I honestly thought Square Enix owned more non-RPG developers. I thought there would be something more to see. But not really. The only big non-RPG game was the one I knew they would show: The Avengers.

It’s shocking that throughout the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe there hasn’t been a big Marvel video game until last year’s PS4 Spider-man. An Avengers game seems like a slam dunk in terms of marketability, right?

You know what’s even more shocking? Just how bad the big reveal of this game was. It was awkward, disjointed, and very, very light on details. After 10 or 15 minutes of trailers, empty marketing speak, and interviews with the voice cast, we learned that the Avengers game will be about the Avengers. Have you heard of them?

avengers

What a colossal waste of everyone’s time. What a poorly conceived announcement. What a vote of no-confidence in the product being pitched.

This game comes out next March but we saw no gameplay and no real description of the game’s structure, systems, or scope. So get hype, I guess?

Nintendo

Good at games, bad at the internet

Did Nintendo “win” E3? That seems to be the prevailing view. While the rest of the press conferences relied heavily on pre-rendered cinematics, Nintendo found a happy medium between hype-generating trailers and actual explanations of gameplay.

It’s entertaining watching the hype for new Smash fighters. I already got my fill of the game and probably won’t be buying any of the DLC no matter who they put in the game. Still, it was neat to see Banjo-Kazooie finally get added to the roster. By my reckoning, that’s the first character in Smash to come from a non-Japanese developed game. It’s pretty wild that’s taken so long.

banjo-kazooie.original
Daemon X Machina, Astral Chain, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses don’t interest me, but they’re all coming out relatively soon and speak to an overall healthy lineup for the Switch. I’m happy for people who will enjoy them. They look like quality games.

When they announced Luigi’s Mansion 3 I wasn’t sold. After a deeper look at the game, I’ve changed my tune. It looks like a ton of fun with a heaping helping of Nintendo charm and polish. Also Gooigi is a thing now. So that’s great and terrible.

The long-anticipated Animal Crossing: New Horizons has my interest which is something I can’t say about any game in that series since the first one. New Horizons will have local co-op which is a great feature. I could see playing that with my wife although it looked like you had to stay on the same screen and that restriction might kill it for me. But that’s Nintendo sometimes. Great ideas done not quite the way you want.

Empire of Sin from Romero Games is a gangster-themed strategy and management sim. It’s apparently the brainchild of Brenda Romero. Her husband John of original Doom fame is there to make sure the shooting looks good, I guess. Color me interested. There aren’t too many games covering this subject matter and I love a good XCOM-like.

There was a similar-looking strategy game using the Dark Crystal IP but I’m too young to remember Jim Henson movies that aren’t Muppet related. All I know is this isn’t the one with David Bowie.

The Link’s Awakening remake still looks great. I heard some impression from the show floor that it has performance issues. I hope those get ironed out before its September 20th release. A smooth 60fps would be great.

I’ve heard the game is extremely faithful to the original, but one new addition is a sort of dungeon-maker. It’s not as granular as Mario Maker or anything. You basically just snap rooms together to form a custom dungeon and then you can run it as fast as possible for rewards.

The very last announcement of E3 was the official unveiling of a sequel to Breath of the Wild. We’d been told the next game was in development, but it was a nice surprise to see actual proof and confirmation that it is indeed a direct sequel. The teaser has a really creepy, dark vibe that I’m liking a lot.

Breath of the Wild was my 2017 game of the year and my favorite Zelda game so I’m obviously pretty excited by the prospect of another game in that mold. On the other hand, Breath of the Wild was so special because of how surprising it was. That surprise is inherently gone in a direct sequel unless they really go crazy with it.

From interviews with the developers, it sounds like the sequel may use the same map. I really hope that’s not the case, but if it is hopefully they’ll find a really interesting new direction for things or maybe even focus on telling an actually compelling story.


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