Thoughts: E3 2013

After the last couple years of E3 have been kind of…well, boring, this year has been a great reminder as to why everyone is always so excited for E3. Years marking the announcement of a new console generation are always certain to wow you in some way or another, and E3 2013 has been no exception. In fact, this year has been a downright bloodbath. But more on that later. For today, I’m just going to share my thoughts on the major announcements of each of the biggest companies in gaming.

Microsoft

Xbox OneYou know, Microsoft said E3 would be nothing but games for them and they actually weren’t lying. They dove in headfirst and made, at the very least, a strong case for the Xbox One as a gaming console. Metal Gear Solid V looks great and I can imagine that series being very successful in the open world format. Not only that, but I’m excited to see if this game really is a prequel that leads directly into the beginning of the original NES Metal Gear. I don’t even know why everyone is so bummed that David Hayter is gone; after MGS1 his voice for Snake got dumber and dumber. Judging by the trailer, Kiefer Sutherland will do just fine.

I came out of the MGS5 trailer optimistic, but Ryse quickly brought me back down to reality. For those who don’t know, the game was originally going to be a Kinect game but it never really surfaced for whatever reason. At first, the trailer had me interested. I love games with a historical setting and I’d be hard pressed to think of one that lets you play as a Roman centurion. Even the concept of moving in formation and raising your shields to block arrows is cool. But then I saw the combat. Even as a lover of shield bashing in games, it just looked simplistic. Granted we don’t know everything about it yet, but the fact that every single enemy was finished off with horrible hovering-prompt quick-time events soured me on the whole thing entirely.

Let’s move things along. Sunset Overdrive looks interesting (and has a great name), and looks like it could be a serious return to form for Insomniac after the struggling Resistance series. The Witcher 3 is something I’m very interested in, as like MGS, it’s likely to perform well in the open-world setting. Plus, after The Witcher 2 I’d be crazy to not want to see more of Geralt’s dark fantasy universe. Forza 5 looks like more Forza, but it’s probably the best racing sim series out there so I wouldn’t ever ask more of it.

So yeah, through the first half or so of Microsoft’s presentation things were looking alright. Hell, they even announced that Microsoft Points will be going away in favor of real currency prices. It’s about time. Does Nintendo do this yet on the WiiU eShop? I certainly hope so since Microsoft has started to and Sony has from the beginning. The other Xbox Live announcement was kind of…odd. Two free games here and that is great and all, but it’s almost certainly a response to PS+. And the two games, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3, are super-old. PS+ doesn’t give away brand new games for free, but they’re much newer than those two. Also, there was no announcement that services like Netflix will no longer be hidden behind the Live paywall, which is downright depressing.

I was actually really excited about the Halo trailer until the character was revealed to be Master Chief and I realized that it was a Halo trailer. For a moment there, I (understandably) thought it was a showing of Destiny. But really, that trailer gave no info on the next Halo game, so it’s hard to even be excited about that as a fan of the Halo universe. On the other hand, Titanfall seems to the game most worthy of praise at the conference. As someone who much prefers sci-fi shooters over modern military ones, the balance between on-foot and mech play in multiplayer matches is something that could be very exciting. One thing of note: if you’re opposed to the Xbox One and think Titanfall looks cool: the game will be coming out on PC and as it’s built with Source. I doubt the system requirements will be too bad.

So yeah, Microsoft certainly showed some games (I didn’t even mention all of them). Then they decided to come out and announce that the Xbox One will be released in November (good!) and priced at $499 (bad bad bad bad). This single moment really set the stage for the rest of E3 and Microsoft has put itself in a super-difficult position. Here we have a console that won’t function without a motion-gaming peripheral hooked up, requires $60/year for online multiplayer, hides other paid services like Netflix and Amazon Instant behind that $60/year, and costs 500 bucks. Even with the refreshing number of games announced, I came out of the whole thing still just feeling entirely soured on the deal. Microsoft’s recent backpedaling on their hated DRM policies worries me more than it reassures me as well. What’s to stop them from reinstating those policies with yet another patch in five years, once they’ve sold the requisite consoles?

Electronic Arts

Electronic ArtsEA played it pretty safe this year, compared to the other major companies present at E3. Most of the things they talked about were expected, but still looked pretty solid in quality. Regardless, here are my thoughts on a few of the more noteworthy attractions that EA showed.

From what I gather, a lot of people were excited by the trailer for the new Dragon Age (I hesitate to call it DA3 seeing as it didn’t actually have a “3” in the title). I personally wasn’t too fond of Dragon Age: Origins. It was a fine game, just not really my style of RPG. Sadly, this new trailer did nothing for me to make me want to jump into the series again. The entire thing was CGI so there’s no telling how that game will actually play. Regardless, for the sake of Dragon Age fans everywhere, I hope that the new game has more in common with Origins than DA2.

Battlefield 4 looks like Battlefield 3. It’s really cool that they got so many people on stage to play a multiplayer match, and the Frostbite engine is still as pretty as ever, but it’s still just more Battlefield. Battlefield is certainly the most fun of the modern military shooters, and it looks like BF4 will continue that trend–I’ll give it that. But as someone who’s been completely done with that subgenre for a while now, I’ve got no intention of jumping back in this generation.

Need for Speed: Rivals actually looks really cool. Once again, thanks to the Frostbite engine, it looks fantastic. What’s more interesting is the multiplayer system. Hot Pursuit started a great system of multiplayer that ended being used over several other games (including my beloved SSX) and I can imagine rivals may accomplish this influence again. The idea that you and a friend can be working on single player progress in the same game and suddenly finding yourselves facing off if goals intersect is pretty novel and feels like the natural evolution of the systems from Hot Pursuit.

Probably one of the most surprising, yet logical, announcements EA made was that Dice will be working on a new Star Wars: Battlefront game. I’ve never played the old ones but I do understand they have a pretty serious following. The idea of a Battlefield-style game in the Star Wars universe with the Frostbite engine behind it intrigues me, and I’m certainly interested in seeing more as it comes.

Contrary to Battlefront, Mirror’s Edge 2 was probably the most expected announcement (though the rumor was that it would be at Microsoft’s conference, not EA’s). No matter when it showed up, Mirror’s Edge 2 certainly has potential to liven up the market a bit. We’ve since learned that it will be open world and some sort of reboot rather than proper sequel, and both of these changes should improve the substantial problems that the first game had. Making it open world will do wonders for the original’s linearity. Something about moving along a pre-defined path ruined the concept of “freerunning” and having an open world to explore should alleviate that. Being a reboot, maybe the game’s writers can actually take the time to make us care about the world, unlike in the first Mirror’s Edge. It was a game that suffered heavily from telling you something and expecting you to experience drama and stakes from it, without ever actually showing you anything. You know the old screenwriting rule: show, don’t tell.” The first Mirror’s Edge loved to tell you that the citizens were oppressed by curfews and an information-controlling government, but it never actually showed you the effect of these restrictions on citizens (nor did it ever show you any normal citizens at all). I have a hard time caring about characters or a world when there are no stakes established or no threat. It’s why Thor was boring– two immortals in a fistfight is pointless. I’m getting off-topic; yes, Mirror’s Edge 2 looks interesting.

Ubisoft

UbisoftEven though pretty much every game at Ubisoft followed the whole “it’s multiplayer combined with single player!” theme, they had arguably the most impressive showing at E3. I was glad they pushed gameplay videos of things like Assassin’s Creed IV and Watch Dogs to the Sony conference so that they could show gameplay of the new, more novel things (not that Watch Dogs isn’t novel; it looks great).

The first of two games that really impressed me at Ubisoft was The Crew. It looks like some kind of crazy hybrid of Burnout Paradise and Fast & Furious. At first I thought that the open world being the entire USA was probably exaggeration and that the countryside between major cities would be pretty small. However, in later interviews during the show, it sounds like the open world will actually be quite large. The example commonly mentioned was that if you are driving a Lamborghini and sticking to highways, a drive from New York to L.A. in the game would take about an hour and a half. Nice! I definitely look forward to some cross-country races.

The other cool thing about The Crew that caught my eye is the customization system. The idea that you can break a car down to just the engine and base frame and customize various parts for the type of driving you’ll be doing sounds like a lot of fun. Turning sports cars into off-road beasts should be crazy. It actually gives me vibes of the gunsmith system from Ghost Recon Future Soldier (another Ubisoft game, hrmm), in which you could break a gun down to its baser parts to construct it for a more focused goal.

While they didn’t go into as much depth regarding the mechanics, The Division also looks very promising. Other than Killzone: Shadow Fall, it was the only game at the show that really wowed me from a graphical perspective. I’m curious how much of an online experience it really is, though. In interviews about The Crew, they mentioned that your open world is always populated by lots of other online drivers, so I’m assuming The Division will function in a similar fashion. Scouring the ruins of New York City for water and bullets while facing off against other players is an interesting idea. With the inclusion of skill trees and the like, I got a very Mass Effect 3 multiplayer vibe from it. Between The Division and Destiny, I’m wondering if RPG shooter loot-games will be the big thing this generation.

Sony

Playstation 4And so we come to the seemingly craziest conference in many years. Sony blew it out of the park, and they didn’t even show off very many first-party titles. In fact, Sony’s actual game showing was slightly weak (though, to be fair, they showed four or five exclusives in February). But even so, they simply came off as both more developer-friendly and consumer-friendly than the competition, and that’s really why their console was so impactful. But let’s look at what they actually did show.

The Order seems to be an interesting concept, but it’s difficult to say much about it from just a cutscene trailer. Later interviews revealed that the trailer was in-engine, so I don’t think there’s any doubt that the game will look outstanding. I also got a kind of steampunk vibe from it, which is always a welcome setting. I’m hesitant to call it a system-seller so early, but I am definitely interested to see the actual game. The announcement that Final Fantasy Versus XIII is simply being renamed Final Fantasy XV is something that I’ve kind of been secretly expecting, so that wasn’t a big surprise. After nearly hating FFXIII though, I’m skeptical of the series and will need to see more of it before I can get excited.

Watch Dogs certainly proved that it’s still worth being excited about. I really liked the idea that NPCs in the world will recognize your character if he’s on the news and may run to call the police if they feel so inclined. It also looked like he could have hacked the TV that was showing the news before the guy saw it and recognized him, which is cool. Additionally, I was very impressed by the quiet, on-again off-again car chase at the very beginning. It was like some sort of a driving stealth sequence. In fact, it reminded me of the opening getaway from the movie Drive, and that’s definitely a good thing.

Really, the most interesting thing (game-wise) to come from the Sony conference was their amazing indie support. I certainly never expected to see people like Lorne Lanning (of Oddworld fame) or games like Octodad on stage, so that was really cool. As someone who never really paid indie games much heed, I’m surprised at how excited I am for The Witness and Transistor. I liked the gameplay of Bastion, but I didn’t really like the art to be honest, but Transistor seems very stylish and pretty.

Other than indie games, Sony easily devoted the most screen time to Destiny (and this was the first time we’ve seen actual gameplay of it, ever). Like I mentioned earlier about The Division, RPG shooter loot-games seem to be a big thing for this next generation. I feel like Destiny showed very well, giving us glimpses at concepts like loot drops, mounts, public events, private instances, a robot voiced by Peter Dinklage, and probably the best lighting engine I’ve seen in a long time. Bungie is a company that obviously knows how to make a shooter feel good on a controller, and it seems to have a real love of the sci-fi genre, so my hopes for Destiny (and its continuous support over the years of the generation) are high.

Obviously, the most impactful things announced at the Sony conference were their media policies and the actual price of the console. While the policy announcement was been somewhat softened by Microsoft’s straight-hilarious backpedalling, the $399 price tag still rings true as a sweet spot for a next-generation console. Coupled with the very pro-developer position Sony has adopted, it’s hard to beat. Sure, they snuck the announcement of the PS+ requirement for online multiplayer into the middle of the good news, but honestly PS+ is already one of the best deals in gaming. Ten bucks cheaper per year than Live Gold, it’s provided me with literally dozens of near-new games over the past year. While I wish some more new titles had been announced (maybe we’ll see something at TGS), Sony definitely had a great showing this year.

Nintendo

Wii UAnd finally, there was Nintendo. For not holding a press conference, they actually did show off a lot of new games. Or rather, they showed off a lot of new…old…games. I can’t hold too much against Nintendo, though. Previously, the only game I was even remotely interested in on the Wii U was New Super Mario Bros. U. One game of interest in the first (almost) full year of existence isn’t very good. So I appreciate the announcement of some new high-quality first-party stuff.

Mario Kart 8 was probably the standout. It looks great in HD and I’m sure it’ll be tons of fun to play. But why is the gamepad screen only used for a giant horn button? That’s seriously all they can think of? At least do the expected thing and throw a map of the track down there. The new 3d Mario game didn’t really strike me as “3d” in the sense that I wanted. It really just looks like another 2d game where you sometimes move within a three-dimensional space. If they’re going to make a new 3d Mario game, they should really take advantage of it and build big open 3d levels rather than sticking to the linearity of the 2d games.

I honestly don’t really know what Nintendo would need to do to fully sell me on a Wii U. I’ve been buying up and replacing batteries in old SNES cartridges lately, and I would rather play these old Nintendo games over something new on Wii U any day. Perhaps that console just isn’t for me (or maybe some really amazing game will come around in the next few years to change my view).

So yes, this year’s E3 and the week after have been pretty crazy. These transitions between console generations are the most exciting times to be following the industry, I think we can all agree. They provide us with crazy new gameplay concepts, developers taking risks on new IPs, new hardware and controllers to play around with, amusing awkward moments from the shows, and tons of other reasons to remind us why we invest as much in video games as we do. This fall and the entirety of 2014 are definitely going to be exciting.

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About heyitsthatdog

I love video games, even when they don't love me back.
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