The highs and lows of E3 2018


James Davenport: Anthem anemia

Anthem is going to be a good videogame. I’ve read our team’s impressions of it, I’ve seen the trailers and demos, and I’ve read executive producer Mike Darrah’s endless stream of tweets. But I can nearly predict my entire relationship with it, and that’s a little defeating. I’ve already spent far too much time chasing gear in the endgame of Destiny, Destiny 2, The Division, Diablo, and Nioh, so I’m having a hard time mustering enthusiasm for what appears to be a similar trajectory, from where we’re standing at least. 

Part of the issue might be what EA’s presentation focused on, which was such a tiny vertical slice of play that I don’t feel like I actually know much more than I did a year ago. This is BioWare. We’ve been reassured that the same dedication to storytelling and world-building is there, but I wish someone would show us. Right now, all we have is a short story synopsis that mentions tech left behind by an ancient race of god-like beings. It hews too close to Reapers and Promethean tech from Mass Effect, and the look of Anthem’s world—it’s gorgeous, don’t get me wrong—won’t get by on big blocky robots alone. I need formidable narrative hooks to justify spending so much time in that world. Something’s missing for me. I hope to find it. 

Andy Kelly: I don’t want to be a robot

Oh, BioWare. After being thoroughly disappointed by Mass Effect Andromeda, this is not the make-up game I was looking forward to. From what I hear Anthem actually feels great to play, but on an artistic and thematic level I couldn't be less interested. It's those main characters, man. They look like generic enemies from a 7/10 FPS released in 2008. The humans beneath the suits might be interesting, but I have no desire to play as a robot Power Ranger. The designs of the robo-suits are oddly uninspiring, especially coming from the people who created Mass Effect 2, which features one of gaming’s greatest ensemble casts.

Mainly I think I'm just sad BioWare isn't making a proper RPG, 'cause that's why I play its games. From Baldur's Gate through to Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, I've loved its knack for rich characterisation and compelling stories. I don't want to write Anthem off completely yet, because there's every chance it'll surprise me, but right now I don't really want to play it. Andromeda was a misstep, sure, but I hope BioWare gets back to what it does best post-Anthem. I'm still holding out for a new Knights of the Old Republic.

Jody Macgregor: Master Chief, where are you?

I'm glad Halo Infinite is coming to PC, but I was hoping Microsoft would pair that news with an announcement of the Master Chief Collection finally getting a Windows release as well. I only ever played the first two Halo games back in the day, and never finished Halo 2, so I've been wanting an excuse to go back and dome a bunch of Covenant again. Ah well, I've got enough games anyway.

Samuel Roberts: EA Nay

EA's conferences are always a mixed affair for me, because they feel like the most corporate and 'fellow kids' of each E3, even if the games in question are mostly great. This year was slightly better than last year and 2016: I felt like I wasn't being shouted at about 'content creators', nor were we subjected to awkward streamer hosts who didn't seem to know there was a script. The hosts this time were perfectly fine. The problem is, a couple of its key games weren't presented that well.

Battlefield 5 and Anthem didn't make much of an impact at the show for me. I felt like I didn't understand what Battlefield 5's USP is this time except customisation—I had a very clear idea of what Battlefield 1 was going for in its choice of setting and the Behemoths. This just sounds like another sequel to me, and the word 'royale' only made me roll my eyes. Anthem, meanwhile, was very shooty, and didn't do much to dispel skeptics who worry BioWare is moving away from the type of games that we love them for. I don't feel that way, especially after hearing how much fun it is from my colleagues on the E3 show floor and reading further details about the game later, but damn, that was a muted showing at EA Play itself. 

Tim Clark: Faltering return

Whisper it, but I didn't really like the Resi 2 remake, and I say that as someone who loved the original. Maybe I just caught the demo in the wrong mood. I've seen colleagues I trust say how excited they are for the new ultra-granular gore system, which enables you to break specific bones with bullets—but to me the whole thing felt like a retreat into familiarity. The southern gothic setting of Resi 7, coupled with the deranged Baker family as its antagonists, gave the previous reboot a freshness that left me wondering where Capcom would take us next. That the answer is back to the already well-trodden past feels disappointing, even with the promised switch up of level design and the fact that Leon says "Jesus Christ!" and "fuck!" occasionally. 

I also don't think having to pace your shots incredibly slowly if you hope to land them is necessarily a good thing in 2018. My gut feeling is that 6 didn't sell as well as Capcom hoped, so this safety-first retrenchment was ordered as a result. We'll see if there are any real surprises in Raccoon City when it lands late January.

Samuel Roberts: Xbox off

Xbox's conference was perhaps the most impressive of the big publishers and console manufacturers, trotting out reveal-after-reveal from some of the most exciting developers around (that are all coming to PC, too, of course). I thought Phil Spencer came across as pretty genuine in the company's commitment to investing in new games, and acquiring four studios while founding a fifth definitely tells that story. The far future looks promising.

The problem is, it doesn't solve the company's short-term lack of exciting exclusives. We've got the reliably awesome Forza Horizon this year, then Crackdown early next year, but that's kind of it for the medium term. Halo Infinite seems far off. I'm kind of relieved I own a PC and never put down cash on an Xbox One. 

James Davenport: Can’t switch

This isn’t a 100-percent PC related low, but it matters, OK? Epic Games and Nintendo announced and released Fortnite for the Switch over E3, and like most versions of the game, it supports cross progression and crossplay with Xbox, PC, and mobile platforms. The Switch is an excellent PC companion, the best place to play all the indie games I wouldn’t have time for otherwise. (Hollow Knight was made for that thing, by the way.) I figured I’d give the Switch version of Fortnite a try, maybe knock out a few challenges and prey on all the new players to boost my ego. 

But because I signed in with my Epic ID on the PlayStation version of Fortnite once, I can never connect my account to the Switch version, or Xbox version for that matter. I know it’s a free-to-play game, and that all the rewards and accolades I’ve earned are purely cosmetic, but I love that about Fortnite. To return to no-skin status on a brand new account is preposterous. Unthinkable. Neither Sony nor Epic warned players about the issue, either, and Sony’s response to the issue read like it was written by an algorithm on its day off. The problem isn’t that I want to play with PSN users. I just want my progression carried over, but that somehow still violates whatever close-platform values Sony is so ardently protecting. It’s dumb. Let me dress up as a rabbit in a ski mask. I paid good money for it. 

Tyler Wilde: My Sony vacation sucked

The E3 press conferences are exhausting news pipes, so every year, come Sony, I pop open a beer and microwave some frozen garbage and sink into my chair for the one big conference aside from Nintendo that I don't have to worry about, give or take a CoD trailer. Sony is my vacation: a light show followed by a bunch of games I'll never play. But it was no fun at all this year. First we got the banjo tent. I hope never to be in such a tent myself. Then a SportsCenter-style intermission that bored my eyelashes off. After that, we saw everyone's least favorite college professor playing a shakuhachi and a game that is not Bushido Blade, and so doesn't matter.

OK, Remedy's Control and the Resident Evil 2 remake were good. Death Stranding looks like a Netflix original film that I'd watch but just because it's there. Not a good vacation overall. Sony please do a better job entertaining me with trailers for games I'll never play.

Wes Fenlon: What the hell is The Quiet Man

I'm gonna keep this short: when James wrote that The Quiet Man had the worst trailer of E3, he wasn't kidding. It mixes painfully acted FMV with a few seconds of dreary brawler combat, and acts as though the graphical transition from one to the other should be impressive. But it's not, and the short teaser does nothing to make its character interesting or its combat look fun. Also, it's kinda racist? What the hell were you thinking, Square Enix.

Austin Wood: That's not what comms sound like 

Ubisoft is notorious for showing multiplayer footage so carefully choreographed it may as well be a stage production, but surely somebody at BioWare has played a multiplayer game at least once in their life? Apparently not, because both The Division 2 and Anthem brought insufferably orderly multiplayer demos to E3 this year, complete with dialogue that would feel stiff even in a David Cage game. Cover me! Take point! We need to get you leveled up, friend, so let us play this excellent videogame together. I may be remembering that wrong, but you get the point. Nobody talks like this. Just once I want to see a multiplayer demo played by actual people who sound like they're having fun. Crack some jokes, shoot the shit, swear at each other for fuck's sake. Anything to get away from this robotic drivel. 

Tom Senior: Tactical withdrawal

There were plenty of great games at E3 this year, but one genre was conspicuously absent. Bar EA’s Command & Conquer mobile game there was very little in the way of big strategy games this year. We got a little bit of Total War: Three Kingdoms before the show kicked off, but Relic and Firaxis have nothing to show right now.

Hopefully we’ll see more at Gamescom where publishers like Paradox tend to be more active. Strategy games can be pretty niche, but it’s still a shame not to see any at gaming’s biggest event of the year. Hopefully we’ll get a glimpse (maybe more) of Age of Empires 4 next year.

But hey, at least we got to see Anno 1800 at the PC Gaming Show

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