Is it just me or did this year’s E3 seem more understated than usual? Granted I’m one of those ubiquitous killjoys who prefers to snark on Twitter at the whole gaudy spectacle and I missed many of the conferences and had to watch them later due to pressing real-world matters (pubs need patronage after all) but this didn’t exactly give me much to work with, being much more subdued than normal. However, there’s no ignoring the biggest event in the gaming calendar so with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows of E3 2017.
Let’s start things off with the biggest surprise of the night. Despite dropping a few hints that something was in the works, I don’t think anybody expected to see a new trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2 but there it was in all its foul-mouthed glory. I do have my reservations. As good as it looked, let’s not forget that what Ubisoft showed us was a pre-rendered trailer with no date attached and given how long the game’s been stuck in development hell, I certainly won’t be getting my hopes up until I see a release date and some solid gameplay. I’m also concerned by some of the language Yves Guillemot and Michel Ancel used, particularly the emphasis on exploration. One of the better features of the original Beyond Good and Evil was its hub-based design and I really don’t want its successor to be given Ubisoft’s trademark open-world makeover. I could also envisage the main characters getting very annoying very quickly if they’re not handled correctly. Still, it’s reassuring to know that Beyond Good and Evil 2 is (conceptually at least) still a “thing”, and that Ubisoft seems intent on finishing it.
I also found myself rather impressed by Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, despite not being a huge fan of either franchise. Even more surprising than my being interested was the direction Ubisoft and Nintendo decided to take, drawing inspiration from XCOM of all things. Yes, this particular marriage revolves around turn-based strategy and cover based shooting, though unfortunately, you won’t be seeing the unfortunate denizens of the Mushroom kingdom being ripped apart by Chrysalids, more’s the pity. What I found particularly interesting was the way characters interacted with one another in combat, particularly by using one another as springboards to outflank enemies and move around the battlefield. It was a really interesting take on an already tried, tested and compelling formula that fits the game conceptually as well.
But nothing could compare to Devolver Digital’s press conference. The tone was set straight away when Nina Struthers walked onto the stage, berating the audience and demanding their hard-earned cash in no uncertain terms. From there a man proceeded to have his arm ripped off by a computer monitor before the show ended in a blood-soaked nightmare sequence. I didn’t even laugh. I just sat there bemused and transfixed. They only showed two games as well. One was Ruiner, an isometric cyberpunk shooter (which looks great) and a Serious Sam shoot ‘em up called Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour. But despite the lack of actual games to showcase, Devolver Digital’s show was a masterclass of oddity that stood out amidst the other presentations.
On the other end of the scale was Bethesda’s press conference. With the exception of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and The Evil Within 2 they didn’t really have anything to show, with much of their presentation consisting of expansions for pre-existing games, none of which could really be described as showstoppers. To that end, it didn’t help that they saw fit to announce a new iteration of Skyrim for seemingly every system under the sun. Still, Bethesda did have one ace up their sleeve in the form of their aforementioned Wolfenstein sequel, which like its predecessor combines bombastic spectacle and political commentary in a more Americanised setting (and prompting some riveting online discourse in the process).
More disconcerting was Bethesda’s announcement of the Creation Club. I’ve seen a number of arguments as to whether this new system constitutes paid mods or not but I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to conclude that Bethesda’s system was borne from its failed attempt to monetize mods on Steam in 2015. Under this new system, players will be offered content from vetted creators (who are paid by Bethesda) for purchase with credits. Naturally, the comparison to paid mods has already sparked controversy though Bethesda have defended themselves by arguing the system is more akin to “mini DLCs”. Naturally, we have yet to see how the Creation Club bears out in practice but I’m still uncomfortable about Bethesda shoehorning what effectively amounts to third party horse armour into pre-existing games.
Despite having a generally decent conference overall with a number of interesting games, Microsoft’s presentation also contained some questionable decisions. First of all, the launch of the Xbox One X. Rolls right off the tongue doesn’t it? The perplexing name choice wasn’t exactly helped by the overemphasis on playing games at a 4k resolution which was repeated ad nauseam throughout the evening, reaching a bizarre zenith when it was announced that Minecraft, a game typified by its blocky, minimalistic art style would also be playable in 4k. Who are Microsoft trying to appeal to here? Perhaps the same people who would also be interested in the new Porsche they revealed towards the start of their show (oh yeah, they revealed a real life car at a gaming expo). Nonetheless, the conference as a whole was pretty good, at least until the reveal of BioWare’s new IP Anthem which was marred by cringe-inducing fake mic chatter which I initially mistook for poorly written in-game dialogue. Also, there was that esports “announcer” during the trailer for The Darwin Project whose delivery was…well, let’s just say he won’t be hosting the Grand National any time soon.
Generally speaking, this year’s E3 was pretty good if one goes by the games showcased. In addition to those already mentioned, titles such as Days Gone, Metro Exodus, The Last Day and (probably against my better judgement) Detroit: Become Human all piquing my curiosity to name a few. But like I said at the start, I could not help but feel that as a whole this year’s E3 was a fairly understated affair.
Perhaps that was the intention. This year was driven much more by the games themselves and thus felt more tempered compared to the typical hype fuelled festival of corporate excess. This is not to say the hype was absent but I’d be more than happy for this focus on the actual games themselves to become the new normal.
So who won E3 2017? Well if we’re going to play that particular game I’d have to say Devolver Digital, hands down. Their conference wasn’t a press conference so much as it was a piece of anti-E3 theatre. I’ve no doubt part of their intention to promote the company but was still a refreshing piss-take of the whole affair. That said, here’s hoping Ubisoft or EA refrain from emulating it at E3 2018.