My Thoughts on E3 2018 – It Was Kind of Average

First, I just noticed that none of my four yearly E3 report articles are in the Table of Contents page!  Sorry about that, this oversight has finally been corrected.  Anyway, on to the article.

The last few years, I’ve written up long summaries of my thoughts on each years’ E3 show, focusing on the press conferences and Nintendo’s show, along with some other topics.  There was a lot to say!  For this post on the 2018 E3 show held earlier this month, however, I haven’t written as much, though I do have some things to say as usual.  This E3 wasn’t as interesting as the last few, unfortunately, but some things worth mentioning did happen and I did watch quite a few hours of E3 coverage despite the overall mediocrity of the event.  So, here’s something anyway. It’s just a lot less of something than I had to say last year.

All in all, E3 2018 was a good show for seeing more gameplay details of games releasing in the next nine months or so.  From many conferences and booths on the show floor, publishers showed off lots of games releasing in the near term and those of us at home watching got a lot of information and hours of footage out of it.  That is an important thing, and E3 served its purpose in this respect.  Apparently the addition of paying non-industry visitors was significant on the show floor, but watching at home that alone didn’t seem to change much.  E3 was still E3, and it was fun to watch.

However, E3 2018 was not a good show at all for what is usually the most fun thing about E3, new game announcements of titles you had never heard of.  Indeed, this was the worst year in recent memory for this!  As a Nintendo fan, that their big surprise announcement was a Mario Party game was not thrilling; sure, it’s something, but I’ve never been much of a Mario Party fan so it does not get me excited for the second half’s Switch lineup.  But more on that later.  I will start with the beginning

Day One, Saturday: Electronic Arts

 Day one was earlier than ever, as EA had their conference midday Saturday, pushing forward from last years’ Sunday start to the show.  EA’s show this year was an okay but unexciting presentation with no major new announcements, unless you think things like a Command & Conquer mobile game and that Madden will be on PC again significant. I don’t, at all.  They spent way more time showing the mobile game than they should have; it does not look great, and surely will be ruined by microtransactions and pay-to-win anyway even if it is any good for a cellphone game.  I’m no cellphone fan to say the least though, so I won’t be playing either way.  As for EA Sports, the sports segment of this show was as short as it’s ever been, which was nice.  Yearly sports sequels don’t change too much, usually, so they probably don’t need lots of time in an E3 presentation, though they should be mentioned.

More interestingly, Unravel Two was announced, which is kind of surprising given the mediocre response the first one got, but it must have sold alright. That’s nice, I hope that the game is good.  It was released at the show and seems to be fun going by what I’ve heard, though it has some of the same drawbacks as the original.   The other EA Originals title after that, a lonely post-apocalyptic adventure game starring a semi-human female character, might be interesting, but I’m not sure.  I will definitely want to see more on that one.  The main focus of this show, however, was on Bioware’s Anthem, a big third-person sci-fi shooter multiplayer action/adventure game.  It looks like it could be pretty good and definitely has great graphics, but we’ll really need to see more of the actual game to know; it was not shown off well at all in the conference, as they started with a far too long interview segment before showing not much gameplay, but apparently people who did play it at the show say that it it does actually play well. The game is definitely going for gameplay with a Destiny or The Division style, but with jetpacks and some classic Bioware elements, and I hope it works out. Still, overall EA’s conference was not great. I usually find EA’s the least interesting conferences, though, so that’s no surprise really.

Day Two: Microsoft and Bethesda

On the second day, Sunday, there were two conferences, Microsoft and Bethesda. Microsoft had a good show, and showed a lot of games.  There are two problems with that, though.  First, none of the games showed are are exclusive to the Xbox One, though I am fine with that, as I really like their enhanced PC support.  Worse, though, excepting the handful of first-party titles, almost everything else shown is also going to be released on the PlayStation 4.  This was a good conference, but how many of the MS-exclusive titles are actually really interesting?  Microsoft also showed a LOT of games with 2019 release dates.  Seriously,  most of the MS show felt like it ended with a message saying “coming 2019 or later”, which is not great when their game lineup for the rest of this year seems to be very thin.  Nintendo may have only a few games due in the second half of this year, but Microsoft has even less.

And for one more criticism, the exclusives MS does have are mostly long-running franchise titles, including new Halo, Gears, and Forza games, and another trailer for the upcoming Crackdown title as well. They had a few second-tier new projects, but from an IP standpoint this was a pretty safe lineup. From Halo, Halo Infinite was announced but with no gameplay details.  Despite the title it’s apparently a sequel to Halo 5, though I’ve never found the series very interesting so I’m not too excited.  Gears 5 was also announced, and looks similar to the past games but with a female protagonist this time.  I doubt that that will be enough to get me to care about the ur-cover-based-shooter, another series I have never cared for.  They also announced a Gears strategy game for PC and a Gears Pop mobile game as well.  Yes, it’s a Gears x Funco Pop crossover… just what everybody wanted?  I don’t get the Funco Pop appeal really myself, but I’m sure some will find it amusing, if it isn’t horribly exploitative that is.  The PC strategy game could be good though, we’ll see.  Forza this year is Forza Horizon 4, which looks similar to the past games except it is set in the UK this time.  The Horizon series is fun, but too simmish for my tastes; I like the themes and idea of the series quite a bit, but wish the driving was less frustrating and more fun.  Ah well.  As for Crackdown 2, you seem to be playing as a character voiced by the celebrity Terry Crews, who I’ve never seen in anything other than some ads but sure, that’s amusing.  The game was delayed again, into next year, but hopefully when it finally releases it’ll be worth the wait and not the troubled and not hyped game it has been for a long time now.   Oh, and last but not least, Microsoft announced that they have a team working on a new Battletoads game.  They only showed a logo and no gameplay, and I’m expecting a smaller downloadable title and not a big-budget thing, but still that’s really cool and I definitely want to play the game.  Battletoads is a great NES game and it’d be kind of awesome to finally ee them return.

Microsoft also announced that they bought four new studios and started up one new one on top of that. They bought Ninja Theory (Hellblade, etc.) and Playground Games (Forza), along with two others, and are starting a new team in Santa Monica, California. MS needs more game studios, given how many they’ve shut down over the last few years such as Lionhead and Ensemble to name a few, but any new and exclusive game projects from these teams will surely be quite a ways off so this isn’t helpful for MS’s seriously thin exclusive game library anytime soon. They’d better hope that Sea of Thieves holds player attention long term I guess, because again Crackdown is a 2019 game now, along with most of the rest of the games Microsoft showed.

Microsoft also showed a whole lot of third-party games, but I won’t try to list all of them here.  Trailers for a lot of the major third-party titles from the next few years ran, as MS promised to show 50 games on screen in their presentation and delivered on that.  They had a nice indie reel, which is always great to see in the major conferences.  Sony used to care about indies but doesn’t anymore, so it’s important that somebody does.  Overall MS had a solid but predictable conference.  I do want to play a bunch of the games shown, but it’s not an amazingly inspiring lineup for me.  It was a good confernece though, sure.

As for Bethesda, I’m often a critic of theirs but despite my dislike for their business practices and many of their games, they have done some solid press conferences. Bethesda’s conference was a little different from the other 2018 briefings, however.  This year Bethesda spent some time on games that are going to release this year, most notably Fallout 76, which now has a 2018 release date, but unlike most of the other conferences, put a lot of focus on games which are still well away from release.  They showed what seems like everything they have!

My favorite part of the Bethesda game library are the games and IPs of id’s, and id’s shooter ip catalog made a strong showing at this E3.  They showed something from all four once-id shooter franchises!  New Doom (a sequel to Doom 2016 was just announced here), Wolfenstein (Young Blood, a game where you play as BJ Blazkowitz’s twin daughters in a Nazi-run 1980s Paris, apparently), Quake (Champions, an online arena shooter that has been shown previously but isn’t formally released yet), and Rage (2, a very cool looking open-world shooter with driving) all showed up in the conference. I’m not a fan of the rest of Bethesda’s lineup, but they showed a lot of games.  The Elder Scrolls had several projects announced, including more about TES Online (the Argonian swamps will be the next expansion), the announcement of a new TES mobile game, and a far-off announcement of TES VI; Fallout (76, an online-focused Fallout game releasing this year); Prey (DLC for the last one); and an announcement of the rumored, but still far-off, space-based Bethesda game Starbound all also made appearances.  They had a segment on some upcoming VR games as well.  It was a good conference but it kind of felt like Bethesda decided to toss almost all of their major IPs into this conference, regardless of how far along the projects actually are. It made for a packed show, but I wonder how many of these games we’ll see at the next E3 or two.  Also, to return to the subject from the top of this paragraph, do all four of id’s shooter franchises need projects in development at the same time? I know each is different — modern Wolf is much more story-focused; Rage is open-world and has driving; Doom presumably will be single player smaller-level focused; and Quake is a multiplayer arena shooter — but still… huh.  Showing all four of those at once kind of felt like overload.  If they release over a period of years it could be fine, though.  Overall the Bethesda conference was solid, and was one of the better ones this year.

Day Three: Sony, Ubisoft, and Square-Enix

Sony decided to try something different this year, but their weird conference style did not work out well for watchers, and it sounds like it was even worse for people in the audience.  For anyone who hasn’t watched it, Sony started start out with a segment focusing on The Last of Us 2, and held this part of the conference in a room that looks like a church from the game that appears in the gameplay clip shown at the event. Then after showing that game — it looks quite brutal and unpleasant, like the first game — they … spent 20 minutes moving the whole audience from that room into a normal theater for the rest of the presentation. During this time you had to watch a panel of talking heads talk, like a post-show show that I don’t want to watch, but have to because it’s in the middle of the show.  This is really annoying stuff and totally ruined the flow of the event and any excitement for the rest of the show, unfortunately.  Sony did show a few short trailers during this in-between segment, but for the most part this split-conference idea was really annoying to watch.

Oh, and Sony had several far-too-long musical numbers during their conference, too. And even including the twenty minute break, it was only an hour and ten minutes long. So yeah, Sony didn’t have much to show. They said going in that they were going to focus on four games, and that’s what they did: they focused on four games, all third-person action-adventure games that are probably single-player focused. Specifically, the four games are the aforementioned The Last of Us 2, Spiderman, Death Stranding, and Ghosts of Tsushima. Of the four, TLOU 2 looks like a good game but, just like the first one, is not one I probably ever would want to play due to its story, content, and gameplay.  Death Stranding’s appearance was weird and unexplained yet again.  Some scraps of what might be gameplay were shown, but what the game actually is is still very unclear.  I’ve never been a Kojima fan so I don’t care all that much, but as a fan of gaming in general I do wonder what this famous creator’s next title actually is. What they did show here of the actual gameplay, and not story, didn’t seem all that thrilling though; there are invisible monsters to avoid and you spent a lot of time walking around carrying things, or something. Spiderman looked, well, the same as every other Spiderman game made in the past fifteen years or so. I haven’t played any Spiderman games made after the ’90s, and never cared much about the character anyway, so this isn’t a draw for me at all. The game looks like a boring beat ’em up with probably a lot of QTEs and nothing of any particular interest. I have no idea why some people keep praising it so much, it did not look good.  I was actually disappointed, as Sony’s hype has been about how different this game is, but no, it looks about the same as ever for the franchise.  However, the last of the four major focal titles was by far the most interesting, for me at least.  Ghosts of Tsushima does look pretty cool, and is the game Sony showed I had the most interest in playing, unless Dreams actually ends up being good; we’ll have to see on that one.  Tsushima looks like a good action game set in medieval Japan,and has fantastic graphics that evoke its setting very well.  The sword-based combat also looks like it could be pretty good if it has some depth. I hope the gameplay lives up to the visuals.

Overall Sony’s show was disappointing for several reasons.  Some interestin games were shown, but Sony didn’t really announce anything new, apart from a few short teasers of games that may or may not release in years and may or may not amount to anything.  They focused on titles releasing soon this time.  That might be better than the shows Sony has had in the past where they focus too much on games that are years away, but it lessens the excitement; a balance is good.

Ubisoft’s conference was thankfully a lot better. I’ve thought for several years now that Ubi has the one of the best conferences every year, and that was again true. Ubisoft puts on a good show, with musical numbers that are actually entertaining, unlike Sony; good developer segments on the stage, unlike EA; and a nice variety of games and genres, again unlike Sony or very Smash-focused Nintendo. Ubisoft didn’t make any new announcements at the show other than a new Trials game, which is kind of too bad, but what they showed of their previously-known games were good.  They started by showing a new trailer for Beyond Good & Evil 2. It’s a great trailer and I highly recommend watching it, but there was zero gameplay here, and barely even a hint of what the gameplay even might be, so the game looks like it’s still a long way off. Even though I was definitely not one of the first games’ biggest fans — I was pretty critical of a lot of things about that game, though it is good — anything designer Michel Ancel makes is worth following.  BG&E2 interests me a lot and I hope it’s great. I definitely want to play it, whenever it is that the game actually releases.

As for the rest of Ubisoft’s stuff, some of their major highlights were The Division 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle Donkey Kong DLC — complete with a stage show musical number conducted by Grant Kirkhope! –, the new Trials game, a fourth faction which is being added to For Honor, and more. It was a solid showing in every way other than surprise announcements.  I definitely want to play the Donkey Kong DLC addon for Mario & Rabbids, it’s just about to release and sounds like it’s great.  Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks pretty good too, as I love the ancient Greek setting and think that it’s fantastic that they finally included a full female player option, for the first time in a major Assassin’s Creed game.  As usual with the series I kind of expect that my interest in the gameplay will lag far behind my interest in the setting and world, but we’ll see; I have not played Origins yet and know it mixed up the formula.  As for The Division 2, I only played a little of the first one but it seems good, though not as much for a mostly solo player like me as it would be in a group.  Still, it could be interesting.  The Trials game looks like a lot of fun too.  I’ve never gotten into the Trials games like people might think I would, but I’ll definitely play this one sometime.

Last and unfortunately least, the first conference of last Monday was a prerecorded half hour video from Square-Enix, who announced almost nothing and mostly just showed games which also appeared in other conferences, including the next Tomb Raider game, the next Just Cause game, and Kingdom Hearts 3, a game which appeared in a full three different conference videos, this one, Sony’s, and Microsoft’s.  The short length and lacking content of this video made it feel kind of irrelevant, unfortunately.  It’s not a bad little video, but what here was actually interesting and only shown here? They did announce a new game called Babylon’s Fall, but the trailer was only CG and had no gameplay details, so that’s not saying much yet. Square’s conference was pretty insubstantial.

Day Four: Nintendo

Normally I have the most to say by far about Nintendo, which makes sense because I am a Nintendo fan and play their games a lot.  This year, however, Nintendo had very little to show apart from one game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Switch.  Yes, Nintendo decided to focus on a single game for the third year in a row. In 2016 it was Zelda, last year Mario, and this year it’s Smash… but people seem to be a lot more upset at that focus than they were the last two years, as this time there was a lot of criticism of Nintendo’s lack of games this E3. That criticism is accurate, as they had very little to show other than Smash, and there may be even fewer games shown than there were the last couple of years — they aren’t mentioning the 3DS at all for example, sadly, unlike 2017.  And yes, this is really unfortunate! The 3DS is a great system I’m still playing a lot of and needs more games.  Still, though, the single-game focus returns, so I didn’t think it felt THAT different from the last few years.  It might just be the nature of the game which is the issue, more so than the focus on a single title?  Smash is a great and very popular series, but probably doesn’t have quite the same level of universal appeal as Mario and Zelda, particularly at the detail level of Nintendo’s half-hour presentation.  I thought it was interesting, but I can see how many people were bored by the long part detailing the sometimes-minor changes made to every single character in the roster.

That said though, I’ve never loved this focus-all-on-one-game thing, so yes, once again I wish that they were showing more. In particular, what’s going on with Retro? It now has been five years since they last released a game, and still we heard nothing about whatever it is they’re making. They must be having development problems, five years of nothing is not normal. And not hearing anything about Metroid Prime 4 is also a disappointment, they should have had something to show of that here.  Yoshi also was a no-show, and Pikmin 4 as well if that is even still really in active development.  There weren’t even any new Wii U ports announced to fill in the roster!  Nintendo’s second half of 2018 Switch game release library is, so far, incredibly thin, with only Smash Ultimate, Pokemon Let’s Go, and Super Mario Party as major tentpole releases.  I’m sure all three of those games will sell very, very well, Pokemon and Smash especially, but for me this isn’t anywhere near as exciting a lineup as 2017’s was; I am not a Pokemon or Mario Party fan, and while I like Smash I don’t unreservedly love it.

Nintendo did have a few non-Smash games to show, including a DLC addon for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, that new Mario Party game that was announced during their E3 Direct and showed some gameplay of during the show, a mech combat game called Daemon x Machina that looks pretty interesting and will release in 2019, and details on the upcoming Switch Fire Emblem game, which looks like a Fire Emblem game and has been delayed to 2019, but there wasn’t a lot. And there wasn’t even been any 3DS on their E3 gameplay stream from the show floor that they call the Treehouse stream, which, again, I do think is a mistake. Oh well.  I have a Switch now, but with this library being all that’s releasing for the next six months… well, I’m kind of glad I only got the system recently, because I will have plenty of games to play as I catch up on last years’ releases and play the new DLC addons some of those games are getting this year.  People who got Switches last year will have less to do with the system.

As for Smash though, it looks pretty good. It was Nintendo’s main focus on the show floor and on the Treehouse stream, as well as in the conference, so they showed a lot of the multiplayer at the show and it’s looking great.  It seems that they’re building it on the core gameplay of the last one, Smash 4 (Wii U / 3DS), but with a lot of changes. The last game’s good, if not quite on par with Melee, so that’s fine. It’ll have every single character from all past Smash games, plus a few more, and every character has had some changes to their looks, moves, and such. The E3 Direct mentions some of the major changes for just about every character, and some sound good. Link now is the Breath of the Wild Link, for example, and bombs can be remotely detonated. I don’t like the new design for Zelda’s character model, however; they went with the Link to the Past / A Link Between Worlds Zelda this time, and I think it’s the least good Zelda design yet in a Smash game.  She’s just so bland looking compared to the great Twilight Princess design, and going from the fantastic TP Zelda design from Smash 4 to this is a huge downgrade!  I like playing as Zelda, but with this change… I don’t know, maybe I’ll play more Palutena or something, along with Sheik and Kirby.

Visually, Smash Ultimate has a very cartoony style, more than I remember past Smash games looking. It looks nice, but a little different from how it looked before. The gameplay is mostly the same however, though just like with the changes to the characters there are some balance changes, such as to dashing.  I have one major question about this game, though: they showed nothing of the single player side to the game, and as a result I wonder about what content the game will have outside of local or online multiplayer.  Will there be a substantial single player mode, or not?  The series has gone back and forth on this, and it is always nice when they have one.  I hope there is something.  Regardless, I am, of course, not the biggest Smash fan — they’re good games, but I’ve never loved them enough to play huge amounts of the games, Melee sort of excepted — but the game does look good and I’m sure I’ll get it eventually. Smash is very popular and should be enough for a good holiday season this year, but it’d have been better to have a bit more than they seem to have… though Microsoft doesn’t seem to have much either, almost everything major they showed was for next year. It’s kind of a weird year, it seems.

Conclusion

In the end, the gaming press, and most gamers, decided that Microsoft won this E3 because Sony kind of disappointed, particularly in their presentation, and Nintendo didn’t show enough games for core audiences who don’t care about Smash. That consensus makes sense, though MS’s very Gears/Forza/Halo-focused show didn’t exactly hugely excite me, for sure. I’m not sure who was best, really.  My default answer is usually Nintendo, as I did like some things about their show such as potentially Daemon x Machina and I’m sure Smash Ultimate will be great, but while good it was one of the weaker Nintendo shows in some time.  Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Bethesda’s were also good, while Sony, Electronic Arts, and Square-Enix brought up the rear.  Ubisoft’s was probably the best show, so maybe they were best?

But really, the story of this E3 was that it was not great.  I know I have almost entirely focused on the pre-show media briefings, aka “press conferences”, in this article, but it sounds like it was little different on the show floor, as everyone focused on games they’re releasing this year or early next year.  E3 2018 was one of the worst I can remember for surprise new game announcements, which has always been one of my favorite things about  the event.  It was a fine show for seeing more gameplay details about previously known titles, though. And that’s okay, it’s always great to see more about upcoming games.

On a more positive front, one thing that came out of this E3 was press about how representation of female characters in the games shown was probably better than ever. Though the vast majority of games shown still had male-only protagonists, some major titles like The Last of Us 2 and of course Tomb Raider have female protagonists, and lots of games have gender choice as well, such as the new Battlefield game.  That’s great!  Even Nintendo’s show was less sexist than usual, since Smash does not have the built-in sexism of the Mario and Zelda franchises, you aren’t rescuing a girl every time, or ever.  By this point I have sadly very low expectations from Nintendo on this issue, but maybe someday they will get with the picture.

For me though, overall this was an underwhelming E3.  As an overall event, while I did once again watch a lot of hours of E3 stuff this year and had plenty of fun doing so, mostly from the press conferences, Nintendo’s Treehouse stream, and Giant Bomb’s late-night shows, I didn’t come out of the show having any one game I saw and feel like I absolutely must get.  There were good-looking games that I’m sure will be fun, but there wasn’t a show-stoppingly-awesome announcement or game shown.  Ah well.  You can’t always have that, but we will surely be playing a lot of good games over the next year.  Gaming is in pretty good shape these days, if the industry doesn’t collapse because of financial concerns or such.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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