News From E3

[originally posted on June 21, 2015]

By Michael Mendis

E3 2015 Conference Wrap-Up

This week, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3) has been taking place in Los Angeles, and many of the biggest publishers and developers in the video game industry have been showing off their new titles coming out over the next couple years.  Here are some of my impressions of the games we got to see at the big conferences out in LA (except for the conference dedicated to PC gaming, as I haven't had a chance to see it yet).

Bethesda

Starting things off on Sunday night was publisher Bethesda Softworks, holding their first-ever E3 press conference.  They opened with some footage of their new reboot of the classic first-person shooter franchise Doom.  It was every bit as bloody, gory, and bombastic as you would expect of a game in which you fight demons with shotguns and rocket launchers.  There isn’t much in the way of story to draw you in, but if developer id Software can keep the gameplay engaging, I don’t think anyone will miss having a grand narrative.  PARENTAL WARNING FOR THIS VIDEO, there's a lot of blood and gore here.

Another big reveal was Dishonored 2, a sequel to the first-person stealth game set in a steampunk world.  In this new entry you can play not only as Corvo, the protagonist from the first game, but also as Emily, the young girl Corvo saved and who has now grown up into a young woman with her own supernatural powers at her disposal.

But certainly the biggest segment of the conference was left to for Fallout 4.  Ever since the critically acclaimed Fallout 3 was released in 2008, fans have been clamoring for a new installment in the franchise, and Bethesda is finally ready to deliver.  While the game had been announced a week or so earlier, this was the first time we got to see it in action; they showed off the combat, deep crafting and customization systems for weapons and armor, and the ability to create and defend your own buildings and shops.  It was an impressive demo, one that left me (as someone who actually hadn’t played a Fallout game before) very interested in what this game has to offer.

Overall I thought Bethesda got the party started strong with a couple good gameplay reveals and announcements.  The biggest thing they had to do was show how great Fallout 4 could be, and they nailed it.

 

Microsoft

Monday morning began with Microsoft’s press conference, and they had plenty of things to show.  They opened their conference with a couple new trailers for Halo 5: Guardians, their biggest first-party title coming out this holiday.  The campaign trailer gave us our first look at the new playable character Spartan Locke leading Fireteam Osiris, and how the game’s new squad-based mechanics will work.  The second trailer introduced us to an intriguing new multiplayer mode called Warzone, which blends large team-based competitive multiplayer with AI-controlled enemy bosses.

Another big announcement was Recore, a new Xbox One exclusive made by Megaman creator Keiji Inafune.  We only got a CG trailer, but what it showed was interesting: a cartoony post-apocalyptic world in which a young girl scavenges the wilderness with her AI companion, a glowing blue energy core which can be used to animate a variety of different robots.

Developer Rare announced a new title for Xbox One called Sea of Thieves, in which you and your friends can sail a pirate ship to seek out treasure and attack other player-controlled pirates.  There’s clearly a lot that they weren’t ready to show in this brief trailer, but what we did see (namely the ship-to-ship combat) looked like fun, and the colorful, cell-shaded environment was enticing.

Microsoft prepared a demo of their upcoming augmented reality headset Hololens, showing how Minecraft could be viewed and manipulated using holograms.  It was frankly quite amazing to see a world in Minecraft appear before your eyes on a table, watch other players roam around in this world, and interact with it yourself just with a few hand motions.  Hopefully Microsoft will be able to get some demo stations available to the public soon, because after that demo I can’t wait for a chance to try Hololens for myself.

Another big announcement during the conference was that the Xbox One is now backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games, both digitally and on disc.  Only about 20 games are available right now (Microsoft needs legal permission for games they don’t own themselves) and the service is currently only for Preview members, but by the end of the year it will be available to every Xbox One owner for free, and Microsoft promises to have around 100 games available then, with more to be added in the future.

Microsoft’s final big reveal was Gears of War 4, coming out holiday 2016.  While we saw gameplay, it was really little more than a teaser trailer; we got to see two new protagonists (a blond-haired guy named JD being our new main character) navigating an abandoned city, taking shelter from a dangerous storm, and taking on what appears to be a new, dog-like monster.  It wasn’t much to go on, but it did leave me interested to see more.

All things considered I thought Microsoft had a solid conference.  They’ve got a strong lineup this holiday with games like Halo, Forza 6, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and a promising slate of games for 2016 as well (especially considering some of the other previously announced games they are holding back for Gamescom in August).

 

Electronic Arts

Next up was publisher Electronic Arts (EA).  The reboot of Need for Speed was one of their first demos of the conference, showing off some detailed car customization and an exciting street race, dodging cops as you race through city at night.  They also talked some about Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 (first announced at the Microsoft conference earlier that day), introducing a few new character classes as well as new solo and coop modes.

We also got to see a bit more of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the origins story of the series protagonist, Faith.  Unfortunately EA didn’t have a demo prepared, just a story trailer, and while I liked what I saw, I definitely was left wanting a deeper dive into the gameplay than just the snippets we got during the trailer.

The biggest showcase of the conference was reserved for Star Wars: Battlefront, where we got to see gameplay footage for the first time.  I came away fairly impressed; combat on the ground (as a foot soldier or in an Imperial walker) and combat in the air (piloting a TIE-Fighter or an X-Wing) both looked exciting, and the ability to play as a powerful iconic hero like Luke or Vader looked to shake things up and keep the battle interesting.

 

Ubisoft

Ubisoft’s conference was next, and early on they introduced a new IP called For Honor, a team-based competitive multiplayer game pitting Vikings against Knights against Samurai.  Player-controlled warriors from each team duel it out with swords while AI-controlled minions from each team swarm the battlefield and engage with one another (and with the players).

Another key part of the presentation was a new gameplay demo of The Division, coming out early next year.  This time we got to see the Dark Zone, in which groups of players can choose to work together to fight tough AI enemies, or take each other down in order to take the other group’s loot for themselves.  The demo ended with a twist, when it was revealed that you can leave your own team on a whim and kill your former teammates to take their gear.  I anticipate a lot of strained friendships once this game comes out.

The conference ended with the announcement of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, an open-world entry in Ubisoft’s long-running franchise.  Now, maybe it’s just my lack of experience playing past Ghost Recon titles (read: I’ve never played a Ghost Recon game before), but this reveal fell flat to me.  It was interesting to see one mission being completed in multiple ways, but that’s not an entirely new concept, and it wasn’t enough to sell me on Wildlands.  It certainly didn’t have the “wow” factor that other big Ubisoft reveals have had in recent years, like Watch_Dogs or The Division.

 

Sony

The final conference on Monday was Sony, and boy, did they have some surprises.  They started off the show with none other than The Last Guardian, a highly anticipated adventure game that had been in development for so long that many people believed it was no longer in production.  Then later in the conference Square Enix announced that a remake of Final Fantasy VII, considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time, would be a timed exclusive for PS4.  And then legendary game designer Yu Suzuki got on stage and launched a Kickstarter campaignfor Shenmue III, the third installment in the classic open-world action-adventure saga that most gamers thought would never see the light of day again (the Kickstarter goal of $2 million was funded within a day and is now hitting stretch goals as the money continues to stream in).  Together these three announcements made a biggest impression of the entire day.

Sony also had a couple of other stand-out games at their press conference.  One was Horizon: Zero Dawn, a new title from Guerilla Games, the makers of the Killzone franchise.  In Horizon’s post-apocalyptic world, humans have gone back to living in tribes, and you play as a young red-haired woman who hunts robotic dinosaurs with a bow and arrows.  It’s an outlandish concept that looks just plain fun.

The other memorable game was No Man’s Sky.  This space exploration game was first announced in December 2013, but this is the first time we have been able to see live gameplay, and I came away impressed.  The transition between flying your spaceship and exploring a planet surface was seamless, and the sheer scale of the game’s universe left me in awe.

On the whole Sony had an excellent conference, the best out of all of them.  It was hard not to feel excited about the future of the platform after all of those games they showed.  If there was one area in which they fell short, it was that there really aren't many major PS4 exclusives being released for the rest of 2015.  No Man’s Sky is still scheduled for release this year, but just about everything else (Uncharted 4, Horizon, The Last Guardian, etc.) are all due out in 2016 or later.

 

Nintendo

Tuesday morning started off with Nintendo’s pre-recorded E3 Digital Event.  They started off with the latest project from famed developer Shigeru Miyamoto, a new Star Fox game titled Star Fox Zero.  This new game for Wii U takes the series back to its roots as you fly through alien planets in your R-Wing spaceship with you squadron.  Cockpit view can now be seen on the Wii U Gamepad, while a third-person view of the R-Wing is reserved for the TV screen.

While fans wait for the new Zelda game on Wii U (now pushed back to 2016 and not shown during E3 2015), Nintendo is releasing a new Zelda title for 3DS, The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes.  The game features 3-player online coop play, and emphasizes cooperative puzzle solving (though the game can still be played solo).

2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the original Super Mario Bros on the NES, and while Nintendo doesn’t have a brand new Mario game ready this year, they are releasing Super Mario Maker for Wii U, a game that lets players create their own Mario levels.  Making these stages appeared to be quick and easy, and the player is given an incredible amount of freedom to create whatever kind of stage you like, even going so far as to put items and enemies in places they normally wouldn’t be found (such as sticking goombas underwater).

In the end, though, the entire Digital Event felt a bit underwhelming.  While the new Star Fox looks like fun, it’s not the heavy hitter that Nintendo needs to really leave an impression, especially since we’re still waiting to hear more about Zelda Wii U.  The 3DS fared a bit better, with announcements not only for its own Zelda title but also for about six other games as well, including a new Animal Crossing game and a Metroid spinoff.  But with Nintendo’s next console, codenamed the NX, set to be formally introduced next year, I can’t help but feel that Nintendo is holding off on most of its bigger announcements until 2016.
 

Square Enix

Shortly after Nintendo wrapped up their Digital Event, Square Enix started its own conference.  The first game they showed off was Just Cause 3, the latest game in their explosive open-world franchise.  Everything looked crazy in the best possible way: skydiving in a wingsuit, hopping on top of moving cars, and blowing up bridges, buildings, oil rigs, and who knows what else as you seek to topple a ruthless dictator.

A new Hitman game was announced during the conference, actually just named Hitman (which makes me wonder if it is a narrative reboot, not that it makes any difference to me since I’m largely unfamiliar with Hitman lore).  They emphasized the flexibility of how to take on each mission, and told us that some contracts will only be available for a limited time, as well as other contracts that can only be attempted once; if you fail to take out your target, he disappears forever.  It’s an intriguing concept that might turn off new players but will probably be a treat for long-time fans of the series (and stealth game fans in general).

A new trailer for Kingdom Hearts III was also released, giving us our first good look at the gameplay.  As someone who hasn’t played a Kingdom Hearts game before, I thought the combat looked fun, but I’ve heard the series has a rather complicated plotline, which makes me a bit wary of diving into the series late.

 

So there you have it; these are some of my thoughts on just some of the big games shown at E3 this year.  But what do you think?  Do any of these games interest you, or any of the other games announced during E3 this year?  Let us know in the comments!