This past week Los Angeles saw E3 2016 come and go in its usual flamboyant fashion - if a little less spectacularly than other years. Indeed, many worry about the future of E3. EA, Activision Blizzard, Disney and Wargaming all declined to exhibit on the show floor, though EA did retain their own press conference.
It seems that the rise of streaming events and online coverage is making the (sometimes) million dollar spots on the show floor less and less attractive to the big companies. Foot traffic was down to 50,300 from 52,200 last year, yet online streaming platform Twitch (alone) set a new record of 12 million unique views.
You know what they say; the one constant is change. Whatever the future holds for the expo, E3 2016 did happen, and here's my overview.
Disclaimer: I couldn't possibly mention everything, but I'll give some of the bigger news first, then some items of interest to me, then wrap up with a quickfire section of headlines for you to follow up on if you like.
More of the same
I mean this insofar as a lot of the games we were shown were first announced last year, and the show certainly felt less spectacular that 2015's when it came to new reveals. You can read my last year's coverage here... you know, if you really wanted to.. can't see why you would now, to be honest.
You may recall that in 2015 we were given a plethora of new reveals including Doom, Fallout 4, Shenmue 3, Scalebound, Sea of Thieves, The Last Guardian, Gears of War 4, Recore, Horizon: Zero Dawn, For Honor, Final Fantasy VII, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Dishonoured 2, and many more. All of those were brand new (or at least very recent) reveals for E3 2015 and from that list, this year (apart from Doom and Fallout 4) we were just seeing more of those games. And even one of Bethesda's big announcements was that Doom and Fallout 4 will be coming to VR.
So it felt like we'd less new announcements and largely just updates on what we knew about. C'est sera, sera.
Top New Announcements & Gameplay
These are just a few of my pics of the brand new announcements or gameplay that aren't VR related (VR follows).
Battlefield 1 (Gameplay)
I still hate the name for like the 19th Battlefield game just because it's set in World War 1. It's dumb as all hell! Moving on..
We already had the reveal trailer a few weeks ago but E3 was the first time we saw gameplay. You can find a star-studded gameplay event on YouTube where celebrities play a map from the new game. Plenty of streamers and YouTubers have gotten their hands on the demo by now as well so there's a lot to check out if you desire.
The game and the destruction are looking beautiful visually and the zeppelin crashing down on the map (its fall location is based on where it is when destroyed, not preset) and crushing buildings is spectacular. The zeppelin also seems to spawn in for the losing team to try to help them claw back, which should help to combat the horrifically one-sided battles that can sometimes occur.
I loved Battlefield 1942, mostly because of the combined arms. The planes were slow so they actually were interacting with soldiers instead of being jets that scream past the entire map in two seconds. This is the first Battlefield game since the original where we have slow-moving planes again and that excites me, greatly!
There also seems to be a 'driver' and 'pilot' class to the game. Could Dice finally be focusing on lending some importance to the vehicles apart from having them just be expensive taxis to the front lines for Assault players who then just abandon them? Here's hoping.
I gave up on Battlefield after 3 (played 4 a little though). This could be the one to bring me back in. Let's hope the single-player story is nowhere near as f***ing stupid as Battlefield 3 and 4's. That stuff was hard to take..
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Again, we knew about this, but knew virtually nothing about it. Now we have a sweet-looking gameplay trailer, a glimpse of the female playable character and some Krogan, Asari and Salarian NPCs, and the Mako (the only directly pilotable vehicle) in action.
I don't like how Mass Effect 3 left off, or how subsequent DLC was sold with the hint of clarifying it when it didn't (see the Indoctrination Theory), but I loved the first two and a half Mass Effect games. The endings of 3 also don't come into play in Andromeda, so I'm actually excited for this.
Bethesda opened their press conference with this video teasing Quake Champions. What do you do after a remake of Doom? Why, a remake of Quake, of course!! It's set to be an arena shooter with eyes on the eSports market (and it's not a MOBA. Apparently people somehow thought that. Don't ask me why). We didn't see any gameplay but the new Doom really delivered this year! This should have Quake fans excited.
New Elder Scrolls?
It wasn't part of Bethesda's conference, but in subsequent interviews we've learned that they're working on a new Elder Scrolls game (a new Skyrim, for those who forgot that Skyrim was actually called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).
They're also working on two other unannounced big titles. I might hazard a guess that one is Fallout 5, and one could be a brand new IP? I'd be surprised if we hear anything about them before E3 next year though.
The Last Guardian Release Date
It's coming October 25th, 2016. Playstation 4 only.
Hideo Kojima's New Game: Death Stranding
Hideo Kojima made his first on-stage appearance since leaving Konami (which was nice to see. Almost like a prisoner of war returning home) and announced the new game he's working on with this trailer.
Look, get as hyped as you want, but we know nothing about this game. We already knew he was working on something with Sony and that Norman Reedus was probably involved. Now we've just confirmed that it promises to make at least as little sense as his Metal Gear games, if not less. Nice to see a trailer, though. Definitely one to watch.
Halo Wars 2
The first Halo Wars I actually really enjoyed, and it remains the top selling console RTS of all time (though that's not saying an awful lot). I've really gone off Halo since 343 Industries took over but if this is dealing with a different story line to that of Halo 4 and 5 then I could get on board.
The big bit of news about it is that it will be playable on Windows 10 (though not simultaneously with Xbox users, so no cross-platform multiplayer) with full mouse and keyboard controls.
I never thought I'd write news on a sports game, let alone the annual love-child of the most corrupt sports organisation in the world and EA (who we all love to give stick to but who are actually angels by comparison) but something actually happened in the franchise. Yes, I know they added female teams last year, but it was still the same game and gameplay.
Now the game has a story mode! 'The Journey'. It's optional, and it's separate from the traditional modes of play, but finally - some innovation!
Apparently you can only play forward and mid-field roles because the story and dialogue require it. It's not clear whether you control just the one character for the whole game (I somehow doubt it) or whether if you score too many goals you could fail the story objective (of losing, let's say) and have to restart the match (I also somehow doubt that) but I'm very interested to learn what they did. How interesting would it be if Rocket League had actually convinced them to focus on single-player controls? I've always thought a sports game would be interesting done from the point of view of a single player.
It's also shifted to using the Frostbite engine? Yes, the same engine as Battlefield and Battlefront.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo finally showed us some more of the new Zelda game and it's been charming the pants off of people! Earlier this year it was announced that it's been delayed until 2017. It was rumoured to feature a male or female Link but it's now confirmed that you can only play as a male Link. I thought the gender was always unspecified before, no? People just assumed it was a guy? Made it more interesting I thought.. ah well.
It will be out on the Wii U and the new console, NX. There is also Amiibo functionality.
It focuses on open-world gameplay and exploration, survival, cooking, physics-based puzzles, and, of course, combat and boss battles.
Sword Fighting Games
If you read my sword fighting in games article, you may forgive my giving these games their own section.
For Honor showed off some story in a new trailer and announced a release date of February 14th, 2017. Valentine's Day. You'll play through the campaign and switch factions as you do so, starting with Knights, then Vikings, and finally, Samurai. It still has the multiplayer mode, of course.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
I loved Mount & Blade: Warband for its melee combat, first and foremost, but beyond that it was an incredible RPG, open-world, trading, political, war simulator. Most simply described as a feudal-simulator where you could do just about everything.
Bannerlord seeks to take this further and their E3 trailer showed off a 500-person siege battle complete with murder-holes, siege towers, catapults, and crumbling castle walls. Siege battles were one of the weaker aspects of the original and they seem to be turning that weakness into a strength. I'm super excited for this next year!
Mirage: Arcane Warfare
It wasn't a new announcement, but the PC Gaming Show at E3 was the first I'd heard of the new game from Torn Banner Studios, the team who made Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, an imperfect sword combat game, but still one of the best ones out there.
The new game adds magic and spells to the melee combat of Chivalry to bring a bit more movement and range to combat. Swords and close-combat are still a part of it, but this move seems to have spread the fighting out a bit. The big weakness of Chivalry was that sword fights in multiplayer became about just swarming a player and moving on. 1 vs 1 was always interesting but any other number ruined what the game was about, in practice. If you're charging a powerful attack, getting hit with a quick, light one will cancel the attack, which should make the fighting more deliberate and considered.
I've heard this be compared to the combat of the Jedi Knight games, but it looks far more refined than that. It's a third person open-world melee combat game with elements of Journey, CCGs, RPGS, and fighting games all rolled into one.
You choose a combat stance and build a deck of moves within that when fighting AI or other players. You can also team up with up to two other players with a gesture system, which leads to actual chat if you're online with friends.
This IGN interview shows the trailer but also goes into some depth on the combat and the game in general. If you've any interest in melee combat, check it out!
Age of VR?
Everyone heavily invested in the VR space will tell you that 2016 is the year of VR. They would. The need it to be so. They might say that next year too, or VR might prove to be a very shot-lived thing in the games industry, as Oculus and Valve split the already tiny market either with exclusive titles or by virtue of the fact that games taking full use of the Vive's movement controls may not work well on Oculus Rift. That remains to be seen. However, if you're one of the few who have invested in a VR headset, there's some nifty looking titles coming your way at least. First person games, especially.
Serious Sam VR, Killing Floor: Incursion VR, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Star Wars: Battlefront (X-wing VR mission), Final Fantasy XV VR Experience, Batman: Arkham VR, Farpoint, Doom, Fallout 4, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, and more. The problem I see is that VR still largely doesn't know what it's doing in gaming. Most of those games mentioned (especially if you recognise the brand or see VR in the title) are just short modes of larger games, of branches of larger games that they decided would make a nice VR spin-off.
I'm not trying to throw a wet blanket on VR, but I'm just saying that I remain sceptical because very few of these games look like they prove VR's worth. Most of the shooters have you standing still (Serious Sam was about fast movement and lots of shooting. Now it's just about shooting) or using a teleport to get around. They clearly haven't figured out how to get first person shooters into the VR world yet (perhaps they don't belong there, but time will tell).
VR works better where you're sitting driving a car or a plane. So the Battlefront X-Wing mission looks exciting, but it's not a full game, either.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew looks fun, but doesn't necessarily prove VR. Games like Pulsar and Artemis are already doing the same thing without VR or the flashy brand name, and have proven to be a lot of fun.
If Batman: Arkham VR is in third person view like the other Arkham games then it could work. The public haven't seen it but a few reports say that it's good. I say this because third person VR games like Lucky's Tale have been proving quite popular. Again, though, VR isn't a key component in something like Lucky's Tale, it just happens to be a worthwhile way of experiencing the game.
Giant Cop is one of the most "right" VR games out there I think.
PC Gamer have a good summary of some of the interesting VR seen at the IndieCade booth, too. Check it out for more.
My Favourite? Eagle Flight!
In my March article on VR I mentioned Ubisoft's Eagle Flight. We saw a little more of this at E3 (it was the same demo I'd played at GDC). For me, this is the only game I've seen that convinces me of VR. The movement feels correct. You don't trip on the wires because you don't have to walk around. You don't need to clear out a whole room to play. The steering controls (tilt your head to turn and look at where you want to go) feel precise and are the only way you could reliably pull off some of the precise manoeuvres seen in the video.
Other New Announcements
In the interest of speeding things along, here's where I switch to bullet points. All entries are still newsworthy but these aren't getting the full treatment either because we lack information, because we already had enough information, or because they're fairly pedestrian announcements.
- Referencing the tradition of shareware that made the first Doom (and other games of the era, where you'd get about 1/3 of the game totally free forever and developers hoped you'd pay for the rest) so popular, Bethesda launched a 1-week free demo of just the first level of the new Doom..... cough. Shareware and even the idea of demos are very dead, then. The week's almost up as I write, too. I can tell you this, though: Just buy the game. You won't regret it.
Update: A few days after writing, Bethesda announced that they would leave the demo available for the time-being. Presumably in response to feedback like this. Good job, team. ;)
- There will be a HD version of Skyrim.
- Fallout 4 will be fully playable in VR.
- Microsoft announces the 40% smaller (physically) 2TB XBox One S console, for release in August.
- To soon make the S irrelevant, they also announced an Xbox One Scorpio which will be (to paraphrase) really really really really really good. It's their VR-ready console but it's a long way off and we don't have specific specs. Just a video of developers saying that it's great.
- By contrast, Playstation announced before E3 that they wouldn't be showing their advanced console (Neo) because they basically had no games to make it worth showing yet. Both companies' approaches are valid I guess. Predictable, also, so neither announcement is particularly exciting.
- Xbox Play Anywhere means you can buy a game once on either Windows 10 or on Xbox and play it on either. It follows Microsoft's policy of bringing the two platforms closer together, but 99% of gamers don't care, I wager. They'll play on their platform of choice and see no need to use the other, a lot of the time.
- EA showed a video announcing a lot of new Star Wars games, but not what any of them actually are. So this isn't news. We all knew that there will be many Star Wars games coming down the pipe. We also knew that Jade Raymond and Amy Hennig were involved. Now we just... know it more?...
- Watchdogs 2 was announced. It's set in San Francisco, features a black protagonist, and lots of drone use. The first game was a total mess when it came to gameplay fitting with story though. It felt all wrong (pretty solid gameplay, but too GTA if you ask me). If you liked Watchdogs 1, get excited, but forgive me if I don't just yet.
- A new Spiderman game from Insomniac Games was announced for PS4. Not sure if we're getting a PC version. The trailer looks great but there's virtually no gameplay to be seen. Superhero games can be hit and miss but this looks good so far.
- Gwent, the card game seen in The Witcher 3, is becoming a new game in its own right.
- State of Decay 2 is happening. Hopefully it will be a bit less glitchy and come together better than the first one, but that's good news for anyone not sick of zombie games yet.
- Dead Rising 4, also, for Windows and Xbox.
- Sea of Thieves was announced last year but little was shown. It's starting to look like a lot of fun, though. Multiplayer pirate crew-based sandbox game for PC & Xbox.
- Titanfall 2 will have a story mode and release on October 28th, 2016.
- Oxygen Not Included was announced from the makers of Don't Starve.
- Day of Infamy, a World War 2 mod for Insurgency, is becoming its own game, but the trailer actually looked pretty poor with bad voice acting and graphics that looked about 10 years old. Still, gameplay is king.
- Ark: Survival Evolved gets a new (gigantic) dinosaur and a mode where you can play as every creature in the game, from a T-Rex to an ant. There's also a new 'mate' button to go with the 'poop' button.
- Trials of the Blood Dragon is a new title from Ubisoft out now. It seems to be in the same faux-retro OTT testosterone-infused action vein as Far Cry Blood Dragon but based on the Trials Fusion bike platforming game.
- Steep is Ubisoft's big new sports title and is a socially-oriented snow sports game based in an open-world (ish) Alps area where you can ski, snowboard, hang-glide and even wingsuit race down custom race tracks crafted by players on the open mountain.
- The Surge is a sci-fi action game inspired by Dark Souls. It should be interesting for those who have heard great things about the Souls games but for whom fantasy just isn't their thing.
- Sony announced God of War (4! It's the 4th one! Put 4 in the bleedin' name!!) at their press conference with a ten minute gameplay walkthrough.
- Dual Universe is an emergent sci-fi MMO that looks like it sits somewhere between Space Engineers, Star Citizen, No Man's Sky, and Minecraft. Is there room for another game in there? Sure! Particularly if Star Citizen never comes out or if No Man's Sky can't live up to the ridiculous levels of hype surrounding it. (I'm not saying that either of those things are likely, just possible).
- Tekken 7 was announced, and actually is coming to PC and consoles.
- Forza Horizon 3 is set in beautiful Australia, looking fantastic, and is coming to PC and consoles.
- Fallout Shelter will have a PC edition, if you haven't played it on mobile yet (it's free but a tiny phone screen can be a bit awkward).
- Dropzone is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) based on 15-minute rounds.
- Warhammer's Dawn of War 3 RTS was announced a couple of weeks earlier, but showed its first gameplay at E3.
- There's a new ArmA 3 expansion called Apex.
- Alienware showed off a portable PC for VR. It's nice that they're trying to solve the cabling problem, but I really think that this is not the way. The weight of the laptop on your back for extended sessions as well as the heat an Alienware laptop generates running high-end graphics would make this horrible to use. No thanks, guys.
There are so many more games that I didn't mention. I didn't go particularly deep on Nintendo, Playstation or Xbox exclusives or on smaller games that were announced before this E3. It may not have felt as impressive as last year overall, but there are some great games coming out soon, and you should be particularly excited if you're a VR evangelist.
Thanks for reading. I hope my E3 summary gave you something to get excited about and look into. I'll be back to more opinionated blogging next month.
Until next time..