E3 2016 – The Games I’m Most Excited About

E3 LogoEvery one always likes to pick out one or two games from E3 that they call the “game of the show.” If you’re lucky enough to be at the show in person, that involves actually playing the games. For those of us watching from afar, it’s more about the feelings the games give us. Last year it was an easy pick for me – it was always going to be Fallout 4. This year didn’t have that singular game that immediately got me ready to play that minute. Instead, there were a handful that got me very much interested. Today, I’ll talk about them quickly.

 

Dishonored 2

First up, Dishonored 2 – I was super happy to see it announced last year, and now that we’ve seen even more of the game, I’m absolutely on board. The first game was my favorite game in 2012, so I’ve been waiting for the sequel for a while. Everything that we’ve seen is exactly what I’ve been hoping for – it’s the best example of what a sequel is supposed to do. It’s taking all of the best from the original, and making it better, while still adding in new content to round it all out. Playing as Emily, with her whole set of new and different powers opens up the possibilities even more. The first game did stealth in such a great way that it really helped revive that style of stealth game – you can see the influence in the Thief reboot. It’s got wonderful ambient storytelling that evolves as you go along, depending on how you complete the missions. All of which I expect to show up in the sequel again.

On a similar level to me is Titanfall 2. Totally different tone and goal from Dishonored obviously. But I see some definite similarities – it’s doing exactly what sequels are supposed to do, learn from the mistakes of the first game, and refine what worked. Adding in an actual story campaign is a big first step, and from what we saw at E3, it looks pretty damn fun. And being perfectly honest, they could put the exact same multiplayer back in, just with some new maps and I would be happy. It was such a fun, unique FPS multiplayer – especially factoring the Titans – that just playing that again would be fine. But Respawn isn’t resting on their laurels and they’ve updated the whole thing. New weapons, new Pilot abilities, new Titan models and gear – all exactly what you want from a sequel. Knowing that there are plenty of modes to play – including at least one without A.I. gets me thinking that Respawn may be starting to think about competitive play. Of the FPS games coming this fall, I think this one may end up being my favorite.

We Happy Few Logo

The last two games that really jumped out to me both were shown at the Microsoft event. So far, the two games I mentioned are sequels – established IPs getting a true next evolution. Microsoft had two brand new IPs that really pulled me in though – We Happy Few and Sea of ThievesWe Happy Few, which looks like it’s taking a lot from BioShock in terms of mechanics, looks like it might be that story based FPS style game for this year. The setting and premise is pretty unique within games – there really isn’t anything quite like it, at least that I’m aware of. The potential for some disturbing and dark story content is wide open – I’m really interested in seeing where this game goes. I also love that it uses color in such a smart way – lots and lots of games these days have such a washed out palette that it’s always refreshing to see bright colors; and since it looks like this is going to be a pretty dark game, that kind of juxtaposition is smart. That use of color is another reason why I’m looking forward to Sea of Thieves – it looks so bright and different from most multiplayer games out there. The setting, again much like We Happy Few, is one that we don’t see in modern games. We used to have a good handful of pirate games, but aside from Assassin’s Creed IV, I can’t think of a recent, high profile pirate game. What I think really makes this one special is that it looks like it’s got a huge focus on group play – making a full pirate crew of your friends and sailing the seas sounds like so much fun. Of all the games I think I saw this year, this is, aside from perhaps Call of Duty/Battlefield 1, the one that I am the least interested in a single player/story mode. I just want a free open world to run around in with my friends – give me that, and I’ll be happy.

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E3 2016 – My Biggest Takeaways

E3 LogoE3 is always my favorite week in gaming – at least that doesn’t have a slew of new releases. It’s a full week where the industry can come together and show off just how big our industry has become. Excitement runs high, hyperbolic words flow freely, and trailers show us games in all different states of development. It’s not all sunshine and roses – I saw a couple really disturbing reports about sketchy and dangerous behavior at private events, which just highlights that even in an industry built around games, we have some darkness still to overcome. But overall, I think E3 is all about setting the tone for the coming year. A couple years back, it was a running joke that every game had a bow and arrow, but that’s not entirely off the mark – E3 is where we see the industry as a whole in one spot. It’s easier to spot trends that reach across platform and genre there.

Dishonored 2

If I had to pick one trend this year, I think it’s probably going to be beards. There were easily eight or so games that prominently featured a main character (player or not) sporting some notable facial hair. That might seem like a silly thing to point to, but I think it speaks to a deeper underlying theme. Traditionally in entertainment, we use facial hair (especially full beards) to denote wisdom, grit, determination, toughness and resolution. In gaming that can be seen translating to darker, more nuanced stories – even in games we might not expect it in. We saw the surprise return of Marcus Fenix with his gray bear in the Gears of War 4 footage – a wizened, older veteran imparting his knowledge to his son’s team. Kratos has a big beard in God of War 4 – notably bigger than any beard he had before – again, a father figure teaching his son; both games are set in dark, almost hopeless worlds. If all of this beard talk does end up pointing to darker stories, we’re going to need games like Trials of the Blood Dragon and even Mass Effect to balance it out. Gaming needs wackiness, it needs humor and love and actual human emotions to balance all of the typical conflict and angst we see. That’s what’s always drawn me to the BioWare games – yes, the worlds are embroiled in conflict – usually cataclysmic  – but the characters that live in those worlds have real emotions – there’s humor, there’s joy, there’s love. The same works for Bethesda’s RPGs – sure there are dragons all over Skyrim, but you can balance that out by getting married, hunting game or forging arms and armor.

The other big takeaway I had was that this fall all of a sudden got really crowded, but in a different way than usual. Generally speaking, the busiest release window is late October, early November. We’ll often see multiple games coming out on the same day. I’ve noticed more and more over the last couple years that developers have been spreading out the releases. This year, that’s absolutely the case – Rise of Iron for Destiny launches on September 20, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 are all in October, Call of Duty, and Dishonored 2 are still set for November – and that’s just off the top of my head/games that I am already planning on playing. I know there are more in there, across all three months. It’s happening more and more – every year I think, “Boy, this fall only has a couple heavy hitters, I can branch out a bit,” then E3 hits and it’s suddenly full of AAA titles. That’s not even talking at all about the new trend of a swath of games in the Spring either. Gaming has definitely evolved to a year-round, massive entertainment medium. It’s here to stay, and if it keeps evolving as it has technology-wise, there’s really no ceiling. It’s a lovely time to play.

E3 2016: EA and Bethesda Press Events

E3 LogoIt’s that time of the year again, E3 is upon us. Yesterday things got underway with two press events, one from EA in the afternoon and the other from Bethesda. This is always my favorite week of the year, there’s so much excitement and positive energy in gaming to talk about. And today, we’ll look at yesterday’s two pressers.

EA kicked the week off yesterday afternoon, and it was certainly an EA conference. The event itself was very stiff and felt really corporate, although I think the second site in London had a little better energy thanks to Peter Moore being on stage there. But I don’t really watch these events for the stage banter and presence – it’s always more about the games to me. EA was in a weird position to me this year – we already knew their big hitters going in, so it was more about if they had any surprises up their sleeves. Turns out, no not really. But they started with Titanfall 2, which looks to be a major step forward from the original. A true single player campaign that looks like it’s putting a lot of emphasis on the relationship between your character and your Titan. Some of the set pieces that they showed got me really excited to play – in particular the one where your Titan flings you across a massive gap into a wallrun. The multiplayer as well got its own trailer, showing off a bunch of new abilities for both pilots and Titans and it really made me want to get back into form. The original three Titans are being replaced with six new models, combining new and old abilities. It still looks like the scale the first game had is there, and the speed is still faster than most other shooters today. Really, really excited to play Titanfall 2 when it launches October 28, on XBox One, PS4 and PC.

As always, EA likes to show off their sports titles, especially FIFA. Last year’s show had Pele on stage, this year, they went a little quicker with the presentation. Madden NFL 17 was talked about briefly, with the bigger focus on the competitive scene. This year’s Madden NFL 16 finals will be shown on ESPN 2 of all places. They also showed plans to have multiple levels of competitive play online with Challenges, Premier matches and EA Majors. It’s a way for anyone to start getting into competitive gaming. Sticking with the EA Sports titles, they of course talked about FIFA 17. Along with a number of other EA titles, FIFA 17 is moving to the Frostbite engine, meaning it’s going to look better than ever. They’ve also put a new focus on telling a story with “The Journey” mode, telling your tale as you progress in the Premiere League. The other big focus – and part where they brought out the guest this year – was the addition of managers on the sidelines of the pitch.  In terms of actual gameplay changes though, expect better set pieces, better physical play, better off-ball AI and more ways to finish your shots on goal. It’s the usual EA Sports motto – keep refining the mechanics to make it the truest soccer game out there.

Stepping back in the show flow, one of the biggest games I was hoping to see more of was Mass Effect: Andromeda. So when the mentioned BioWare, I got excited. We still didn’t really see any gameplay, although we did learn a few new things. It’s going to be set outside of the Milky Way galaxy – that means totally new planets, species, technology, and perhaps most importantly, we are going to be the outsiders in the Andromeda galaxy. It’s going to use the Frostbite engine – no surprise there, it’s a massive upgrade in visuals from Mass Effect 3. Beyond that, we didn’t learn a ton – the footage showed an Alliance ship called the Tempest, which I think will end up being the new Normandy; and we know that the MAKO vehicle is returning, with the driving being worked on by Need for Speed developers. The new facial models look awesome, with a definite focus on emotion; I definitely want to see more, and we apparently will learn more this fall.

EA also showed their new EA Originals brand – it’s their take on indie development. Last year they showed off Unraveled. This year, it’s Fe. A game from a small team in Sweden, focused around exploring a young cub’s relationship with the forest it lives in. It has a real cool visual flair, using sounds and song to communicate with the other animals, and certainly seems to have a bit of an environmental message behind it. EA isn’t usually a publisher that I associate with strong indie development, but I was pretty happy with what I saw with Fe.

Battlefield 1

Of course, as soon as the mood was quieter, EA went loud, closing the show with Star Wars and Battlefield 1. Let’s start with Star Wars. EA said that there are seven developers working on different Star Wars games. We know that next year we’ll get a new Battlefront game, and from the video package, it looks like we might get some VR elements.The next year, Visceral will put out an action/adventure game. Beyond that, there’s a Respawn developed, 3rd person action game. The highlight here was a video package showing all of the work off, that really was a cool package. Of course, EA was always going to focus a lot on Battlefield 1. We got a new trailer, showing gameplay(?) that I still don’t quite believe is actual gameplay. II buy that it’s in-engine, but until I see clearly gameplay, I’m still a little skeptical it looks that good.That said, what they showed looked incredible – I couldn’t help but get lots of flashbacks to playing Battlefield 1942. I’ve thought that over the last few Battlefield games, the real visceral feel of the combat has been lost – that definitely looks like it’s back in this new game. I also really like the idea of the behemoths – huge vehicles that drive the combat. There are three that EA mentioned yesterday – the zeppelin, an armored train and a battleship, covering each of the areas of combat in a Battlefield game. With an open beta coming this summer, hopefully I’ll be able to get some hands on time in.

Quake Champions

A few hours later, Bethesda had their own show starting up. Last year, Bethesda kicked off the week, with a killer show – bit of a lofty expectation to set. I think though that they managed to nail it this year. From the opening game, I was hooked. That’s because the opening game was the return of Quake – and it’s exactly how Quake should be, a competitive arena FPS. Quake Champions looks like it could be the logical step from what DOOM was last month – taking the foundation of the old-school and finding ways to take modern aspects and put them in. In this case, it’s the idea of individual characters with abilities. I’m a little cautious about it, because Quake is such a near and dear to my heart kind of game, but I’m really happy to see it back.

Next up was another look at Elder Scrolls: Legends, the mobile game coming soon. I can’t help but describe it as Hearthstone, Elder Scrolls Edition. It’s the same basic idea – strategy and deck building, with a variety of modes to play through. That wasn’t the only Elder Scrolls news though – we got the confirmation of a Skyrim remaster coming this October which looks gorgeous and brings mods to console, and a couple new bits of info for Elder Scrolls Online, the big one being that they are going to put globalized level scaling in place soon. Essentially that means that as soon as you’ve finished the tutorial, you can go anywhere in the world and do anything – the game will scale and level based around you and your group.

The other big Bethesda RPG series – Fallout also got some attention. Fallout 4 had its next three DLC packs outlined – one next week based around contraptions for shelters, one in July that lets you build your own Vault and the final in August set in a theme park called Nuka World. It’s just more of the Commonwealth, which is never a bad thing. Fallout Shelter is also seeing a new update, as well as a PC launch.

Dishonored 2

Bethesda also has a couple other IPs to be excited about. They finally announced the return of Prey, a game that has been a bit of an open secret over the last few years. I played the first game way back in the day, and really just thought it was a run of the mill FPS – what I saw last night was totally different and looked incredible. It’s got a much darker tone, more grounded in realism and perhaps showing some of the dangers of scientific experimentation. I thought it was curious that, although it’s the second Prey game, it didn’t have any branding as a sequel. It’s from Arkane studios, and I am very much intrigued by what I saw. The other IP is one that I’ve been a fan of since day one – Dishonored. Much like Adam Sessler said last night, it was my favorite game of 2012, and ever since the sequel was announced last year, I have been waiting for more. Boy did we get it last night – a new trailer along with two samples of gameplay. The new setting Karnaka looks gorgeous and does have a different feel from Dunwall. The new visuals look incredible, and the new engine they built for lighting and particles make the world feel a lot more alive. The gameplay immediately made me think of the original, just with even more options – especially when you take into account the two different characters have different powers. I am very much excited for November 11 when it launches.

One last thing from the Bethesda show that I was super impressed with – Bethesda announced that they are working on VR games. In fact, they have two games set for the HTC Vive platform to come out next year – the new DOOM that came out last month, and the big one – Fallout 4. As VR becomes more and more a reality, and the platform gets better at not only accessibility but the visuals as well, games like Fallout are the kind that were built for VR. I might not have a Vive, or even next year when it comes out for the platform, but the potential moving forward is incredibly exciting. Imagine the next Elder Scrolls game, combined with VR and the newer, more powerful consoles that we’re seeing this week. It’s these kind of announcements that really get me pumped to play games.

Yesterday really set the tone – new games, returning favorites and those lovely surprises that we all talk about for weeks to come. E3 is always fun to watch, and even more fun to think about where we’re going.

E3 2015 – Bethesda Press Event Wrap Up

Bethesda Softworks Logo

Well here we go folks, E3 2015 kicked off last night with Bethesda’s first ever press event. Going in, there was plenty of talk around whether Bethesda would be able to set the tone for the week. After watching the whole show last night, I think it is very safe to say that they were more than up to the task. Let’s hit the highlights, and wrap up their first ever E3 press conference.

Doom 2016

DOOM – RETURN TO FORM
Kicking off their show, Bethesda decided to bring us back in time a bit. The franchise has been around for well over 20 years at this point, but hasn’t seen a new game in around 12. Going in, I was most curious about the feel of DOOM – would Bethesda let id keep the classic DOOM spirit, or would it be forced to play like a modern shooter. After seeing the first of three(!) trailers last night, I felt immediately that it was safe. It certainly looks like it plays super fast – circle strafing is going to be relevant again, and has that classic DOOM level of brutality. That said, they aren’t just taking the gameplay from a two decade old game and plopping it into a current-gen game. There have definitely been updates – we saw a double jump and mantle feature that adds in extra verticality to the game. We also got a look at the new melee finishers – get an enemy low on health and staggered, and you can push up and deliver unbelievably brutal finishes. We saw a glimpse of classic DOOM puzzle solving, along with a weapon lineup that look straight out of DOOM II. I was really impressed with the single player reveal – and then we got to hear a little about multiplayer.

Multiplayer has always been super important to id games – whether we’re talking DOOM or Quake, they’re kind of responsible for bringing deathmatch to the world. Based around the very short tease we got last night, it definitely looks like multiplayer is in good hands. It definitely got my mind running right back to the old days of playing Quake II and III online – the first FPS games I ever played, period. It looks fast – twitch shooting and strafing are probably going to be more important than they have been in years. Add in a couple wrinkles like the new Demon power up – a modern take on the Quad-Damage – and it should be a blast to play. But of course, id has always been really good at supporting the community too. That tradition will continue with DOOM SnapMap – a new editor that will come with all versions of the game. When they started showing off SnapMap, I couldn’t help but think that it looked a hell of a lot like the map maker in TimeSplitters. That editor did a lot of the same features – you could make custom maps for multiplayer, or co-op/solo maps using some basic scripting tools. Assuming that id is taking that idea, and bringing it up to modern standards, there are going to be a ton of possibilities for all sorts of crazy games going forward. We do have a bit of a wait ahead of us though – DOOM won’t be coming our way until spring of 2016.

BATTLECRY – MELEE MOBA GOODNESS
Bethesda then had a quick section to talk about two things – the new Bethesda.net, and also to show off Battlecry. Bethesda.net looks like it will function as a centralized hub on the web for all Bethesda games moving forward. I think really that it helps with the increased emphasis on player created content – with DOOM and a new Fallout feature we’ll talk about in a bit especially.

Battlecry was shown off briefly, talking about a new playable faction, as well as opening up global beta signups this week. I’m not super familiar with the game, to me it looked an awful lot like a melee focused MOBA style game. They call it an action arena game, which to me just is a different way of saying battle arena game. It looked cool – I dug the art style for sure. Assuming it’s on consoles, I’ll probably give the beta a try.

DISHONORED SURPRISES – SORT OF
The next section of the show should have been a major surprise – but live mics on a test kind of killed that. We found out Saturday night that the boys from Arkane would be there to talk Dishonored. Had it stayed a surprise, it probably would have been one of, if not the, biggest of the show. That said, Dishonored 2, which was properly announced, looks incredible. I have long said that a sequel was not a matter of if, but when, just because that first game was so amazing. It flew in under the radar and just was so much better than anything I expected. The sequel picks up from the first game, and adds in much more. The big reveal is that there is now a second playable character – Emily Kaldwin. If you played the first game, you are more than familiar with her – she’s a key figure in the game. Corvo will return as well, and will have a totally different set of powers. The story still is a bit of a mystery, but based around how good the first game was, I think we have nothing to worry about. It is still a ways off though, not coming out till next spring – but we are getting Dishonored this year. They did manage one surprise announcement – the Dishonored: Definitive Edition coming to Xbox One and PS4 this fall, containing the first game and all DLC. These sort of up-rezed and updated packages are great ways for players to refresh themselves with classic games from the last generation, and also help welcome new players in as well.

ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE AND LEGENDS
We got a quick look at whats going on with the Elder Scrolls franchise, at least that they’re willing to talk about. Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited just launched on the consoles last week, so instead of an in-person update, we got a video package. That makes total sense – they’re still dealing with keeping the launch stable. We did see that two new modules are being prepped for the game – the Imperial City and Orsinium.

That wasn’t the end of Elder Scrolls talk though. We then were treated to the news that Bethesda is stepping into the mobile market. This year they’ll be launching Elder Scrolls Legends, a strategy card game for iOS and Android. The best part – it’ll be free to play, just like all the other card games out there. The big question will be if it can really compete with Hearthstone.

Fallout 4 Box Art

FALLOUT 4, FALLOUT SHELTER AND JUST SO MUCH FALLOUT
We then got to the big name for this year – Fallout. The game was already announced, so we knew that we were looking at more concrete details. And boy did we get some. Let’s start with the fact that development started, in some way or form, all the way back in 2009, after Fallout 3. They took lessons from the success of Skyrim after that game launched as well to bring Fallout 4 to where it is today. Then we were treated to a wall of concept art – a TON of concept art, which I know fans are still pouring over for details that we might see in-game.

That’s all great, but we were definitely ready to talk actual game details. So we did – we started with a huge bit of news for the game. The game will actually start before the bombs fell – that house you see in the announcement trailer is your own house. That’s where the game will begin, where you make your character – using the new creator, that looks unbelievably easy to use – and where the story starts. This was the first glimpse we got of the new game engine – an updated version of Bethesda’s Creation engine, and man does it look good. Todd Howard talked about the new power of the current-gen consoles, and pointed out the memory increase. That tells me that one of my wishlist points is probably checked off – less loading with buildings.

In these first few minutes of the trailer we got a good look at the new dialogue system. Perhaps the biggest little detail in the dialogue we got was that there’s a really good chance your player name will actually be voiced. They’ve recorded about 1,000 names for players. That’s pretty damn cool.

Now, they didn’t talk too much about story. They did say that it starts pre-war, and that you emerge from the vault as the sole-survivor of Vault 111, 200 years later. That might not seem like a huge deal, but it really does answer a big question. 200 years after the bombs fell puts this game in the same time frame as Fallout 3. That’s pretty cool, since that puts this game in the same world as Fallout 3 and New Vegas, which helps players that have been around for a while find more little things to make the world even better.

The next big chunk of the video showed off the Dog from the trailer. The new companion mechanics look very similar to followers in Skyrim – contextual commands issued via the HUD/crosshairs. This section is also our first look at some combat – including the new take on V.A.T.S. Instead of freezing time like it used to, it just slows it down, and looks a little more fluid than before. The V.A.T.S. also ties in with the new PIP Boy – it’s gotten a lot of love since the last set of games. The menus are all animated now – from the Vault Boy icons, to the weapons themselves. We also learned that the armor is all layered now, adding in even more customization options for armor, as well as just adding in tons more options. We also learned that there are new meta-games that can be played in the PIP Boy. They look like they’re Fallout takes on classic games like Donkey Kong or Missile Command. It also ties in with the special edition – the PIP boy edition will come with an actual PIP boy to wear.

We then got a little break from Fallout 4 to announce the second screen app that will be coming out with the game for smart phones; as well as announcing Fallout Shelter, a free game for iOS. I grabbed it last night, since it launched after the show, but haven’t had a ton of time to really dig into it. It does look really cool – it’s basically a free game, with no micro transactions really necessary.

Back to the main game after that little break, this is when we got some huge details. Crafting has always been a part of Bethesda games – but usually consists of taking the materials, and just selecting a recipe on a menu. Not anymore. Just about every piece of junk in the game can be broken down into materials – much more in depth than before. You still will select from a menu, but it looks way, way deeper than it was; especially because the options are way wider. Armor, weapons, mods all are craftable, along with new things tied into the new settlements feature. It all looks really cool – and looks like players will be able to get out of it what they put in; since it’s all totally up to the player if they take part in it. I think depending on how much the settlements feature – where you create and build safe settlements, across the Boston wastes – is actually used in the game will determine just how much I dig into the crafting.

We ended the show with a pretty long trailer that was solely focused around combat. It’s kinda hard to really say for sure without playing, but it does look like it’s much more fluid than it ever was. And definitely looks faster paced, but still very much Fallout. After a good taste of the combat, the biggest detail of the night was given to us – the release date. Fallout 4 will be in our hands on Novemeber 10, 2015. These next few months are going to be long.