All the E3 2018 conferences reviewed

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The games industry’s annual celebration of itself was pretty low key this year. A lot of games were announced, but few things that unexpected. Nobody even bothered massively embarrassing themselves on stage. Trailers were the focus, making it essentially the world’s longest and most elaborate sizzle reel. But who won? Because someone has to win E3. That’s how it works. Let’s find out. Note that I've left out Sony and Nintendo, since their games were the least relevant to PC players. I'll also leave the PC Gaming Show, since reviewing ourselves would be a bit weird.

Electronic Arts

The EA show, where one host said the words ‘you guys’ so often it was like punctuation, kicked things off with Battlefield V. Two well-dressed Scandinavian gentlemen from DICE announced that the game would have no loot boxes or premium passes and were showered with wild applause, like they’d just solved global warming or nailed cold fusion.

EA pushed its luck with loot boxes in Battlefront 2 and now they’re heroes for getting rid of them, apparently. I know the people in the audience are probably encouraged to whoop and holler, but come on. It’s like when Ryanair plays that obnoxious little fanfare in the cabin when one of their flights lands on time, patting themselves on the back for something they should have been doing anyway. Tone it down.

They announced a battle royale mode too, of course. But like the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal, they had nothing to show, making it feel like a last minute addition designed to cynically surf the battle royale wave. I can’t wait for that wave to crash, hard, against the rocks.

EA bossman Andrew Wilson then showed up. He talked about EA’s new cloud-based streaming thing, which will let you “play games anywhere, anytime.” Providing ‘anywhere’ has a reliable broadband connection, as everywhere obviously does.

Respawn’s Vince Zampella popped up to tease a new Star Wars game called Jedi: Fallen Order, but used the plural ‘Jedis’, making me wonder if he’s the right man for the job. Then again, George Lucas has been known to call lightsabers—the thing he invented—’laser swords’, so maybe it doesn’t matter too much. No footage or screenshots of Fallen Order, of course, but it’s a Respawn thing, so I’m sure it’ll be good.

The conference ended with Anthem, BioWare’s new thing, in which all the playable characters look like low-level enemies from a 7/10 first-person shooter released circa 2008. They also got a cheer for a promised absence of loot boxes, but it was weirdly half-hearted and slightly delayed, like even the whoopers had mentally checked out by that point.

Microsoft

Microsoft took the inspirational angle for their conference opener, talking about how amazing gaming is, how it “reaches across age, race, gender, and geography.” Which is true, but I had to laugh when this was followed by a camera sweep across an audience of mostly white, bearded men.

Incidentally, the audience at this show was extraordinary noisy, like they'd been intravenously fed Red Bull and liquidised E-numbers all day. In the brief silences between trailers, one lad kept shouting “Xbox!” at the top of his lungs.

Todd “Todd” Howard from Bethesda strolled out to talk about the multiplayer-focused Fallout 76, describing the map as being “four times larger” than that of Fallout 4. This was met with great roaring waves of applause, despite the fact that scale is a meaningless metric when it comes to the quality of an open world game.

There then followed a huge number of trailers, and of some really great looking games. There was Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware’s new thing. A bit of Metro Exodus. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, a new story in the Life is Strange universe. But there was something a bit soulless about the endless parade of games. Where was the awkward banter? The malfunctioning stage demos? It’s the jank that gives E3 its heart, and Microsoft’s show was just too slick. Too streamlined.

Forza Horizon 4 looks great, but I was disturbed to see some American tweeters claiming the UK was a bad setting because it was “all flat.” Mate, have you been to the Highlands? Obviously not, but just look at a picture of them. And there’s a region literally called the Peak District. I’m hoping my hometown of Glasgow appears too, with racers running a gauntlet of drunk guys in Rangers football tops hurling glass Irn Bru bottles full of pish as they screech through Finnieston in a Nissan GT-R.

Microsoft announced a bunch of studios it was buying, including Forza Horizon developer Playground Games, which was met with yet more rapturous applause. BUSINESS ACQUISITIONS! WOO! Then there was some Gears of War, some Tomb Raider, some Division 2, and finally that amazing Cyberpunk 2077 trailer that sent my Twitter feed into meltdown. A good show overall, but a bit too safe.

Bethesda

As far as conference introductions go, getting one-man party Andrew W.K. to belt out Ready to Die is pretty strong. Although I was cracking up at the cuts from him and his band going absolutely wild on stage to the audience, who looked like they were passively observing a dull political debate on an episode of Question Time. It’s probably tricky getting a circle pit going in a cramped auditorium full of chairs, but at least give it a shot!

WK was there promo-partying for Rage 2, whose trailer claims that “if you can see it, you can drive it”—a new take on Todd “Todd” Howard’s famous “See that mountain? You can climb it.” Then we got a bit of Doom Eternal, which promises “twice as many demons” as New Doom, some Quake Champions, and a new co-op Wolfenstein with an ‘80s vibe starring Blazkowicz’s twin daughters. All solid-looking games, sure, but nothing that really stopped me in my tracks.

Then we got a bit more Todd “Todd’ Howard, who talked up Fallout 76 and how it’ll have dynamic weather systems that can be viewed from across the map. “See that weather system? You can get wet in it.” he didn’t say, sadly. He also used the term “softcore survival”, which I never want to hear again, and then dropped the bombshell everyone was waiting for.

Yes, The Elder Scrolls VI is in pre-production. I mean, obviously they were going to make one at some point, but it’s nice to have it confirmed. It speaks to the power of that theme music that a shot of some nondescript mountains and a logo can whip people up into such a lather.

This was probably one of Bethesda’s best E3 conferences. Not in terms of the games they revealed, but in how it was all presented. Nicely paced, some actually quite funny banter from host Pete Hines, and it was finished before my mind started drifting elsewhere. I also liked how the speakers came out onto the stage like Attitude-era WWE wrestlers.

Square Enix

I won’t spend much time on this one, because it was basically just a series of trailers. Square Enix didn’t hire a theatre or anything, which is fair enough. It probably costs loads and is a lot of work to set up, only for someone like me to write a sneering article about it on the internet.

Here’s what they did have, though: Keith David. One of Hollywood’s finest actors, with a voice gilded in gold, forever remembered by me as Childs from The Thing, was on narration duty and he did a predictably great job. I mean, David could narrate footage of a bored office worker listlessly taking a mid-afternoon dump and it would sound amazing.

Tomb Raider was at the forefront, but the footage they chose to show was deeply uninspiring. It showed Lara sneaking around a rainy jungle, creeping up on people, and violently stabbing them in the neck. I’m so bored of stabbing people, man. Remember when Tomb Raider had a sense of wonder and mystery about it? Delving into ancient tombs, solving arcane puzzles. Let’s have a bit of that back instead of all this tepid murder-stealth.

Again, this ‘conference’ was just a load of trailers strung together, and actually suffered from having no one there to explain what was going on. What the hell is The Quiet Man? Octopath looks lovely, but what the heck even is it? I know I can just Google this stuff, but why have a showcase and not explain what you’re showcasing?

There was a new PlatinumGames thing, Babylon’s Fall, and some Dragon’s Quest XI, which I’m pretty excited is coming to PC, but that was about it. The thing ended after half an hour, and I was left bewildered by a lot of what I saw. It’s probably unfair sizing this show up against the other, bigger conferences at E3 2018, but life ain’t fair, buddy.

Ubisoft

And just when I was losing faith, thinking this year’s E3 was too bland and safe, Ubisoft whips out a dancing panda. At first I was unsure, but then I realised: the dancing panda is actually good. It’s stupid and a bit embarrassing, but that’s what E3 should be. Then one of the guys who makes Trials came out on a motorbike, wearing an Evel Knievel suit, and I was like: yes, yes, yes. This is E3. This is the mad bullshit I want.

It wasn’t all exciting. There was a demo of a ship battle in pirate game Skull & Bones that seemed to go on forever. The Division 2, although I am actually excited for more of that, doesn’t really make for a great stage demo. And For Honor, well, it’s just fine, isn’t it? Like the Bethesda show, there were a lot of games here that are almost certainly going to be good, none of them were really that surprising. I want my jaw to drop, man.

Elijah Wood popped out of his Hobbit hole to talk about Transference, an FMV horror game that actually looks pretty cool. Although when he said
“Have you ever dreamed of entering into someone else's consciousness? Exploring their darkest thoughts and most intimate secrets?” I was like: no, mate? Because I’m not a weirdo? But whatever floats yer boat.

We got a big, fat slice of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which I am very excited about, especially now that’s morphing slowly into Mass Effect with romances and dialogue choices. Although I’m a bit concerned by how quickly it’s come out. Origins was great because of that year the series took off, and I don’t want Ubi to start rapidly farming out sequels again.

Then at the end of the show all the developers rushed out onto the stage and surrounded a clapping Yves Guillemot, and I found it all quite lovely and positive, really. Ubisoft’s E3 shows always have a great sense of fun and personality about them, and this was no different. Can we get Aisha Tyler back next year, though? I was thoroughly disappointed when the dancing panda didn’t turn out to be her in disguise. Cheers.