Hey there folks! Mike here with your review of the big 2018 E3 conferences that have dropped over these previous few days. Last year, I believe I separated each of the conferences into their own little article, but in the interest of keeping things cleaner on the front page this year, we’re going to have all the items in this article. We’ll start with the big guys, and then talk about the individual developer conferences toward the end.
The Big Guns
Off to a tough start against Sony‘s console for the past 4-5 years, Microsoft went into this year’s expo knowing their tactics. Their play was to inundate their audience with quantity first and foremost. With 50 games on display in this conference, Microsoft showed off more games than either of their competitors (or the individual developers with large conferences for that matter). It’s worthy of note that Microsoft had a number of games that were multi-platform. What they did have that was very telling, was their mission statement that they’re all about the games.
They proved this by announcing the acquisition of several other studios who they’ve worked with, thereby bringing them alongside other studios like Rare and 343 Studios. These companies are pretty big gets, including Undead Labs, who recently delivered the new State of Decay; Playground Games, developing the Forza franchise; Compulsion Games who are working on the stellar-looking We Happy Few; and also Ninja Theory the developers of games like Hellblade and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. These studio acquisitions are very important to Microsoft, whose first-party games have been flagging of late. They’ve widely been seen as only have a handful of dependable franchises (Halo, Gears, Fable being the big three, perhaps), but now these new studios can help them flesh out their calendar.
Now, all that said, Microsoft has a pretty busy year ahead of them thanks to the plentiful amount of games that were shown during the conference. Highlights include two of those aforementioned big three franchises, with Halo 6 being teased at the forefront of the conference, and another three Gears games coming as well. Fable skipped this conference—no big surprise since the last game was shelved, with the franchise likely being shuffled around a bit before it has a chance to shine again.
Other big reveals included Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Just Cause 4, Devil May Cry 5 and Cyberpunk 2077, which are all multi-platform games, but ones that Microsoft had the opportunity to show off. They also have a slew of exclusives coming, including a new Forza, Crackdown 3 and even a new Battletoads. Microsoft highlighted a few updates to current software, with DLC coming to Cuphead and Sea of Thieves. I’m psyched for the new Ori game next year, and they showed off the new Shadow of the Tomb Raider trailer which looks great as well.
Last but not least, Microsoft embraced the independent developers that they work with. They showed off some goodies, including Outerwilds, Afterparty, Below, Conqueror’s Blade, Waking, Children of Morta, Tunic, Session, Generation Zero and Raji.
One final takeaway: Microsoft let gamers know that this generation is perhaps winding down. It’s now a certainty that they’re working on new hardware that will inevitably begin the next generation of consoles. This mindset was echoed later among the conferences when Bethesda‘s Todd Howard indicated that both Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI would be next-gen games (more on those later).
One day later, Sony took journalists and attendees on a strange journey that was atypical of the Japanese giant. Things started off with a quiet banjo solo in a tent fashioned to look almost like a church. After this music sesh, footage from their first game was unveiled. The hall that the attendees were in was matched perfectly for The Last of Us 2, which revealed that Ellie was a playable protagonist who is much older after the events of the first game. She’s her own woman now, with her own desires, who, as the game-play trailer showed us, should terrify those around them.
Sony’s conference was nearly the polar opposite as Microsoft‘s. They almost treated their audience to a magical theme park experience where they were shuffled from one place to the next that fed into the experience of the games that tied everything together. Only… it was never really fully realized. It’s tough to do that over and over again, especially with a live audience, so kudos to them for trying something new.
But also, Sony‘s focus was on a few games with deeper looks at them. Following The Last of Us, Sony spent considerable time showing off a couple of other big tent-pole releases, which included Sucker Punch‘s new title, Ghost of Tsushima, Hideo Kojima‘s endlessly weird Death Stranding, and Insomniac‘s Spider-Man, which is looking better every time we see it.
They also showed off some new games that took me by surprise, like Control and the new Resident Evil 2.
Each of Sony‘s games seemed very polished, but they also felt pretty scripted. There wasn’t anything too spectacular here, but they have a tried-and-true catalog that shows they know what they’re doing.
Of the big three, Nintendo went last, showing a Nintendo Direct on Tuesday that went big on Smash Bros. Ultimate, which bundles all the characters who have ever been in the series, along with some new faces like Ridley, the Inklings, and Daisy, who has been described as an Echo fighter (essentially a clone fighter with the move-set of another character).
Nintendo‘s decision to focus so much of their efforts on Smash, which doesn’t change too much from release to release, felt like a bit of a misstep. Nintendo has a huge catalog of intellectual properties that they can lean on, and fans have been clamoring for information regarding some of them for quite a while now. Coupled with various teases that we’ve had in the past, this Direct was a bit perplexing. Where were games like Pikmin and Yoshi? Why not show us a little bit of what Retro has been working on? How about the new Metroid game? And fans of the series are still yearning for a new Animal Crossing game.
That isn’t to say that Nintendo left their audience empty-handed. Fire Emblem: Three Houses was teased, and they spent time showing off the recently announced Pokemon Let’s Go games, along with the Pokeball controller. They also went official with their Fortnite announcement, showed off a new Mario Party which looks like it’s taking steps away from the chided format they’ve been following for the past few iterations, and also showed off a surprising new title called Daemon X Machina. I’m also really excited to boot up Hollow Knight later this evening, and I’m eagerly awaiting another go at the Overcooked series with the upcoming sequel.
It was a bit lackluster, as Smash Bros. felt like something that could have enjoyed it’s own Direct later down the line. Compared to last year’s brief but explosive video presentation, this one almost felt cobbled together.
Final Thought Regarding the Big Three: Microsoft walked away the winner. They’ve got a long way to go to catch up with Sony, and Nintendo has been selling Switches like hotcakes, but Microsoft seemed to embody what E3 feels like it should be all about: the games and the gamers.
The Smaller Developers
It feels like EA has learned tremendously from the mistakes of 2017 and early 2018. They made it a point to talk about a step away from things like lootboxes, while leaving themselves open for other for-pay items that were cosmetic only. That said, outside of Anthem, EA‘s conference felt a little dry.
Anthem is shaping up to be a great new franchise from Bioware, and it looks like it may be different enough from Destiny to be worthy of our attention. It’s easy to note the similarities, but it seems to have that Bioware touch that people are going to really enjoy.
Battlefield V feels familiar, but it also looks like they’re going to take a “bold” new step and jump on the bandwagon with the Battle Royale structure that we’re seeing pop up everywhere lately. The destructive content of the game looks even more explosive, so if Battlefield is your kind of series, V is sure to be your kind of game.
One nice little surprise was the reveal of Unravel 2, which looks like it’ll be a lot of fun with a friend, and is full of character. We were also shown touches of a new title called Sea of Solitude that looked artistic and interesting, and gave me subtle vibes of Mirror’s Edge. One other big bit of news was regarding their new Star Wars game that’s on the horizon, Fallen Order, though that’s pretty much all we learned about it beyond the knowledge that we’ll get to play as a Jedi.
It was a pretty dry, safe show, but they’re at least making moves in the right direction—a huge deal for a group that’s often described as one of the worst video game companies out there.
On Sunday evening, after Microsoft had already played its part (and showed off a little more of Fallout 76), Bethesda had its own stage show that was pretty competent. This studio has a handful of development partners that they work with to enrich their properties, and they spare very little expense to make sure that each of their franchises has good presence, at least every other year. This year really was no different, though it was perhaps a little slower with more muted surprises.
New DLC coming out for Prey and new games in the Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein franchises look interesting to say the least. Fallout Shelter is pretty much everywhere now, and even Skyrim got another version—it’s legit, you guys. You can play Skyrim through Alexa (but not your fridge or your etch-a-sketch…yet).
Rage 2 was the show opener, and it looks like it’s been given a fresh coat of paint. It feels more vibrant and open than the first game, and I have to admit, I’m excited to give it a try.
The big two were given a lot of the spotlight (soon to be the big three, I’d wager). Elder Scrolls has a new mobile game called Blades that’s coming out, and will eventually be on all platforms. Bethesda also announced two games on the horizon with Starfield, their new third pillar that’s probably going to be a lot like Fallout and Elder Scrolls but in space, as well as announcing Elder Scrolls VI. Both of these games are being touted as next-gen games, and if Microsoft’s earlier comments are given merit, these comments by Todd Howard (who is an incredible pitchman, by the way) indicate that “next-gen” indicates new consoles, not just new engines for these games.
The highlight of the event, of course, was Fallout 76. An interesting experiment in the Fallout franchise, it’s caught somewhere between a single-player and multiplayer experience. It’s an always-online experience, but with a world that’s four times as big as Fallout 4, there’s a good chance that you’ll go a long time between seeing other players. They made note that since you’re the first folks outside of the vaults, you’re only going to run into dozens, not hundreds of other players. Another cool concept is that there won’t be any NPCs (not in a biological sense anyway… we saw a Mr. Handy in the trailer, so it’s possible that there are other robots or questgivers or things of that nature) in this version of the wasteland. They also made sure to let folks know that you can build anywhere in this new world, which makes sense since that’s pretty much your mission. With the game launching later this year, I’m actually a lot more excited to get into it than I was when I first heard there were going to be multiplayer features.
All in all, Bethesda did a pretty good job of bringing their content to the table. It wasn’t as busy as last year, but you’re simply not going to have that at every event. Each of their announcements was fun and interesting, and they were among the best prepared of the expo.
This was an odd one. Square Enix has the games. It really does. So why they didn’t show them at their conference left a lot of people scratching their heads. Part of this is no doubt because they spent a lot of floor time at other people’s stage shows showing off their games. Shadow of the Tomb Raider had a big presence at Microsoft, along with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, Kingdom Hearts 3 and Just Cause 4, and Sony showed a different trailer for Kingdom Hearts 3, while Octopath Traveler was discussed briefly (very briefly) at Nintendo’s direct.
So with that in mind, there wasn’t a lot of shocking things Square was left to show off. They felt like they were stretched way too thin by showing things off at other conferences.
That said, we did get more looks at the things we had already seen. Tomb Raider, Captain Spirit, Octopath, and Just Cause had newer looks, but shockingly, we didn’t see anything regarding Kingdom Hearts from their conference, and I’m willing to say at this point that Kingdom Hearts is their flagship title going forward.
They did show off two new games that are a little different. Babylon’s Fall is a game developed in partnership with Platinum, so odds are it’s going to be a pretty, fluid action game. They also showed off The Quiet Man, which looks to be a brawler with a cool hook, where it appears that your character is deaf. I’m actually pretty excited for this, because I still have fond memories of another brawler that Square did back in the day that felt a little experimental—Bouncer.
There were a few other little things like DLC announcements and small trailers, but that was it.
So where were the big Square Enix guns? Where was Final Fantasy 7 Remake? What about the Avengers game they’ve been working on? All in all, Square Enix was probably the most disappointing show of the conference, considering what they could have brought to the table.
Last but not least, we had Ubisoft up to bat. They’re another big studio that has a lot of smaller development teams that work across many titles, so it’s always a pretty packed card. We’ve got new iterations of Just Dance and Trials on the horizon, DLC for Mario + Rabbids featuring Donkey Kong, and a new mode in For Honor along with a new faction.
Ubisoft also had some notable star power, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in attendance to talk about HitRECord, which allows folks around the world to contribute media for games. This tied in directly with Beyond Good and Evil 2, which we also received an awesome new cinematic trailer for.
Elijah Wood also made an appearance to talk up his project (with an adorable little verbal hiccup), Transference. It’s being developed for VR, but it’ll work on a traditional screen as well. It’s a narrative, psychological game, so if that’s your shtick, keep an eye open for it.
Beyond that, Ubi really brought the games. Division 2 looks slick and robust, with free episodic DLC on the way that will introduce interesting new content. They’ve definitely grown up a lot from the first game, and I’m pretty sure you’ll see me in DC when the game launches. Skull & Bones is looking a bit more fleshed out, but I still want to see a little bit more before I commit to it. For some reason, to me it feels like a piece of Assassin’s Creed, and I feel like there might be more to it than that, but they’re keeping their cards close to their chest. Starlink had a bit more to show off, including a new collaboration with Nintendo—Fox McCloud from Starfox will turn up, as will the Arwings. Shigeru Miyamoto was another big ticket attendee who was worth showing off (two years running, guys), and he was presented a Star Fox and Arwing set of figures. As far as toys to life games go, Starlink is as close as I get to dipping my toes back in (although there were new Amiibos shown off at Nintendo’s conference that I’m going to try and get my hands on).
The biggest piece of their show was surely Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Believe it or not, it’s a predecessor to Origins, and it steps even further away from the familiar Assassin’s Creed format we grew so accustomed to. In fact, it’s kind of strange to see Assassin’s Creed moving into Bioware territory so much, considering Bioware’s Anthem is a step away from how they usually do things. Seriously, this Assassin’s Creed title includes branching dialogue paths, romantic options and more customization than ever. I cannot wait for it, either. It looks like it’ll be a lot of fun, and just like always, I’m sure to be completely strapped for cash this holiday season!
All in all, Ubisoft had a pretty solid showing. Nothing too explosive, but a very respectable catalog of games.
So that about wraps up the big presentations for E3 this year. I feel like the notion of this year was being “safe.” Nobody tried to steal the show with any big reveals. There weren’t any mic drop moments. Basically, what I’m saying is, there was a lot of steak but no sizzle. Not that it’s a bad thing. As we heard earlier, we know that the next generation of consoles is likely right around the corner. In the meantime, we have plenty of games coming up this year that are sure to keep your attention for some time!
Mike is the GM and host of podcast, Looking for RPG: Tellest and former co-host of the podcasts That's Entertainment and OuaT: The Unofficial Once Upon a Time Podcast
Mike also is the creator of Tellest, a world full of fantasy and super heroes!