Here we are at the M. Night Shyamalan style twist ending where I profess admiration for a game I’ve always hated. Except, it’s not really a twist. Lots of people have guessed this choice in the comments so I don’t think it’ll be that surprising. But I’m going to pretend it’s still a mystery because that makes me feel smug and cleverThats what makes this an M. Night Shyamalan twist..
The one thing I noticed about the show this year is that it felt very light on gameplay. I didn’t do a minute-by-minute comparison to E3 2018 or anything, but I felt like I spent a lot of time waiting for gameplay demos that never materialized. Right at the point where I expected the presenter to show us some gameplay, they moved on to the next title.
I don’t know what brought about this sudden focus on cinematic trailers. Maybe publishers feel like the gameplay is familiar enough that we don’t need to see it every year. Maybe they think they get more bang for their buck by showing us cinematics rather than gameplay. I give a pass to CD Projekt Red for Cyberpunk 2077 because last year they showed off a full 48 minutes of gameplay and we have a very good idea about what it will be like to play that game. But we’re seeing a lot of these other titles for the first time and I’d like a way to judge if the gameplay looks fun and fluid or stiff and repetitive. This is literally the most important thing about a game, so leaving it out is really frustrating for me as both a consumer and a critic.
- Ideal: The game is played live on stage and a presenter narrates things to help us understand what things are the result of player action and what things are scriptedDid the player choose that finishing move, or does the game just randomly do that sometimes?. They can explain how this will vary from the final productNormally you won’t have access to all these weapons at once, but for this demo we want you to see what your options will be. and what the intended experience isPlayers of any class can revive and heal, because we want to encourage players to work together even when they’re not part of a team..
- Still Good: The game is played live, but without a guide to help us understand what we’re seeing.
- Acceptable: We’re shown a recording of the game being played.
- Acceptable but cringe-y: We’re shown a recording of the game being played, plus some voice actors pretending to be players while reading from a very stilted script. (The Division and Anthem both did this in the past and it drove me crazy.)
- Bad: We’re told what genre the game occupies but don’t get to see gameplay directly.
- Pointless waste of the audience’s time: We get a flashy cinematic and nothing else.
A lot of games went for the “pointless” option this year. I really wanted to see gameplay for Marvel’s Avengers, Ghostwire Tokyo, Wolfenstein YoungbloodThey did show a tiny bit of gameplay in the style of a fast-cut sizzle reel, but you can make ANY game look fun with that sort of editing., Deathloop, Crossfire X, Elden Ring, Project Z, and Outriders. I’m probably forgetting a bunch more.
These games told us nothing about the gameplay. In same cases you don’t even know the genre of the game or if it will be single or multi player. There’s no information for the consumer other than “A game with this title might eventually exist some day.” I guess I’ll sort of give a pass to Halo: Infinite. Microsoft gave us a 5-minute cinematic and no gameplay. It was a good cinematic and I guess everyone knows what Halo gameplay looks like. Still, I would have liked to see someone play it anyway.
But my favorite game of the show that isn’t Cyberpunk 2077 was one where they did show us a good chunk of gameplay, and that gameplay is exactly why I’m interested in…
Ubisoft – Watch Dogs: Legion
I should point out that I hated the original Watch_Dogs. I thought Aiden Pierce was the most extreme version of the flavorless generic brotagonist: a dull thug with pretensions of heroism who is too awesome for icky things like emotions and personal weakness. The story presented him as a cool aloof badass, and apparently the writer never even realized they’d accidentally created a dimwitted narcissistic asshole thug. I abandoned the game after a few hours, which is probably for the best. As the final narration makes clear, the writer thought they were making some sort of Batman-style protector. Seriously, screw Aiden and his lame-ass “iconic” baseball cap. Screw his family of damsels and victims. Screw his massively hypocritical crusade for fucked-up adolescent justice. Screw the flat graphics, the fake-ass bullshot previews, the boring non-cyberpunk city, the tepid gameplay, and the stupid underscore in the game title. Delete this waste of digital storage and format the hard drives of the machines used to make it.
I wasn’t a fan, is what I’m getting at.
Watch_Dogs 2 was reportedly a lot better. I was put off by its “memes as interpreted by baby boomers” attitude and its constant mugging for laughs. I gave it a miss, but I hear the gameplay was better and the characters were more interesting.
I hated the first game and I was annoyed by the second, so it’s really strange that I’m so excited for Watch Dogs: Legion. In fact, if Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t exist, then Watch Dogs: Legion would be my favorite game of the show. They even got rid of the silly underscore!
The premise is that London has turned into a dystopian hellhole. I’m sure you’re familiar with the tropes in play here: Martial law, checkpoints, cruelty, etc. It’s an open-world game with driving, combat, and hacking, as you do in Ubi-ish games.
The hook is that every single civilian NPC in the game has a unique model and vocal performance. They all have their own backstory and abilities. You can recruit any of them to join the resistance. It looks like you can switch between resistance members as easily as changing cars in Grand Theft Auto. I don’t know how many there are in the game, but the demo showed dozens.
Obviously “dozens” is a little low for the population of London. I’m not sure how they’ll sort that out. Will I see Bob on the street corner, then drive six blocks and see him driving a car, then go around the corner and see him on the front steps of his flatBully handled students this way to make the world seem more populated using a roster of fixed students. I think it worked really well.? I don’t know.
Because the roster is so large, the game can feature permadeath. Going by the gameplay demo: If you get taken down, you get one chance to get back up and escape your situation. If you go down a second time, then that character is dead forever, and the game continues with your remaining crew.
You decide who joins, who takes on each mission, and who they recruit. You don’t seem to have a player-created character, and instead you’re playing as the entire resistance. This means you can decide the makeup of your team, which opens the possibility for novelty teams. Recruit only old people! Or only the brawling characters! Only hackers! Only bald guys! I don’t know what’s possible or what the options are, but it looks like the system was designed to be as open as possible. I’ve heard it compared it to Dwarf Fortress for the way it creates emergent stories.
I expect the WD:L message on Brexit will be just as insightful and nuanced as Deus Ex’s message about racism. I’m not really informed enough to understand all the implications of BrexitIt’s not that I don’t care about you lovely people in the UK. It’s just that we’re having a bit of a tiff ourselves on this side of the pond and my anxiety only has so much bandwidth., so if the game is uninformed or heavy-handed about the topic, I probably won’t notice or care. For me, the WD:L Brexit will probably be some abstract cartoon thing, like the Sokovia Accords. (And no, I’m not asking you to explain Brexit to me, thanks.)
Disclosure: You might remember last year I covered E3 with co-host Ross Zevenhuizen. He works at Ubisoft. As it turns out, he worked on this specific game, and even contributed to the scenario depicted in the E3 demo. I’m worried people will look at my sudden heel / face turn in light of this relationship and wonder if I was blinded by bias. Just to be clear: I went nuts for the game while watching the show, and I had no idea Ross was working on it until days later.
So there you have it. One of my most hated games has turned into a hotly anticipated title. I suppose this means I’ll have to allow stupid Uplay on my machine. Or maybe I’ll get the PS4 version. Whatever. I’ve got 9 months to make that decision.
Ubisoft – Beyond Good and Evil 2
This was one of the darlings of the show back in 2017. Last I heard, it was supposed to come out this year. But here we are in 2019 with no preview, no show presence, and no release date. The game is still being worked on, so I can’t imagine why it didn’t get a few seconds at the show. Even if it was just a few renders and a general announcement of “We’re shooting for a Q2 release in 20XD”, it would at least be something to keep the game in the public’s mind.
I’m not mad that they left it out, I just think it was a strange choice.
EA did something a little different this year. Instead of holding the standard press event where the executives get up and draw a smiley face on the horrifying corporate meatgrinder they’ve been building, the executives decided to stay home. The company said, “We’re skipping the press conference this year and are replacing it with multiple live streams that will air during the first two days of the event, bringing you more of what you’ve told us you want – more gameplay and insights from the teams making the games.”
I love how good they are at putting a nice spin on things. They could be shoving you into a woodchipper legs-first, and the whole time Andrew Wilson would be talking enthusiastically about how much weight you’re about to lose without the need for dieting or exercise.
What I imagine is really going on is that the executives didn’t want to face the crowd this year. Anthem was a disaster and an embarrassment. EA repeatedly said they were proud of the game and stood by the developers, then cut the team down to a skeleton crew. The shareholders are probably worried about this whole lootbox controversy and the fans are pissed off about canceled games, studio closures, and Anthem.
I’m surprised that CEO Andrew Wilson still has a job, but I’m not surprised he’d rather spend this week at home instead of trying to draw another smiley face on the noxious trash fire he’s supposed to be managing.
So EA Play wasn’t so much a single event as a string of smaller events with a common parent company. Without the constraint of a fixed press conference, everyone was free to eat as much time as they wanted. The other publishers wanted to showcase a large number of diverse titles with a lot of mid-tier / indie stuff in the mix, but EA embraced their “Go big or go home” mentality with a grueling three hour event that covered just six games: STAER WAERZ, Apex Legends, Battlefield V, FIFA 20, Madden NFL 20, The Sims 4.
I don’t have anything to say about any of these games, so let’s wrap this up…
This is an interesting trend. EA decided to phone it in this year. Sony didn’t show up at all. I don’t know when Nintendo last showed up for real. For the last several years they’ve just released pre-recorded videos. Is E3 becoming irrelevant? Two years ago I asked if E3 was worth the time, expense, and risk on the part of the publishers. I wonder if the publishers started asking themselves the same question, and this falling participation is the answer.
Keep in mind that there’s a critical mass / tipping point effect going on here. The more companies show up, the more valuable the event is to the press. That feedback loop works both ways, so if enough of the giants skip the event then press coverage might fall, which would make the event less valuable to the remaining companies, and so on.
E3 began back in 1995, and was originally supposed to be an event for industry professionals and the press. It was a trade show first and foremost.
But the world needed a way for fans to congregate and celebrate the hobby, so the general public began attending the show. This made the show marginally more useful to the publishers but much less beneficial to the press. When a journalist covered E3, they were no longer giving exclusive access to privileged information, they were just YouTubers with good production values instead of intense personalities. Sure, they had press passes and access to some areas not open to the general public, but the gap between personality-driven YouTube channels and the more professional angle of journalists was closing, and lots of people were discovering they liked the intense personalities better.
The Tokyo Game Show, and Germany’s Gamescom are both bigger shows in terms of attendance. Attendance varies from year to year, but the numbers seem to hover around 250,000 for both events. PAX doesn’t always share attendance numbersOr at least, I can’t find an organized source for them. but the last numbers given were in 2011, when attendance was 70,000 for PAX PrimePAX has multiple events a year, including PAX Prime, PAX East, PAX SOuth, and PAX Australia.. For contrast, the average E3 attendance over the last 10 years has been ~52,000. I want to stress that attendance numbers are spotty and it’s hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison because some “shows” are held multiple times a year in different locations, but this should give us a basic ballpark figure for how these shows are doing. According to these rough estimates, E3 is the smallest of the bunch yet it gets a majority of the press coverage here the Anglosphere.
Which makes me wonder: Why don’t we get better coverage of Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show here in the west? Do those shows not do a lot of newsworthy announcements, or is the language barrier keeping us from hearing about them?
So that’s E3 for the year.
 Thats what makes this an M. Night Shyamalan twist.
 Did the player choose that finishing move, or does the game just randomly do that sometimes?
 Normally you won’t have access to all these weapons at once, but for this demo we want you to see what your options will be.
 Players of any class can revive and heal, because we want to encourage players to work together even when they’re not part of a team.
 They did show a tiny bit of gameplay in the style of a fast-cut sizzle reel, but you can make ANY game look fun with that sort of editing.
 Bully handled students this way to make the world seem more populated using a roster of fixed students. I think it worked really well.
 It’s not that I don’t care about you lovely people in the UK. It’s just that we’re having a bit of a tiff ourselves on this side of the pond and my anxiety only has so much bandwidth.
 Or at least, I can’t find an organized source for them.
 PAX has multiple events a year, including PAX Prime, PAX East, PAX SOuth, and PAX Australia.
A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.
The Best of 2012
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2012.
A look back at Star Trek, from the Original Series to the Abrams Reboot.
Trusting the System
How do you know the rules of the game are what the game claims? More importantly, how do the DEVELOPERS know?
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.