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.

Advertisements

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.

Destiny Rise of Iron – The Hype is Rising Too

Bungie wrapped up their reveal stream for the upcoming expansion for Destiny titled Rise of Iron, and holy crap am I hyped for this expansion. We got a date: September 20, 2016. We learned a the price point: $30, which is awesome since it’s $10 cheaper than Taken King. I think overall I’m more excited for Rise of Iron than I was for Taken King, but that’s because Taken King was so solid. I now expect Bungie to keep up doing what they started in TTK.  There’s a lot to unpack, and there’s still a lot of specific details that Bungie is keeping under wrapped still – which is totally understandable with a full summer to get through.

What we did see today is awesome though. It’s a lot of what we were expecting – my post yesterday could not have been timed worse, since it went live literally right before I saw the Xbox leak. So we knew going in to today that we were getting a new enemy type to fight against – it turned out to be the Plague Siva returning and the Fallen embracing it. I think it’s more along the lines of how the Taken were new back in September – it’s a new kind of enemy, but it’s built on an existing enemy faction. Regardless if you think that’s a good move, the  new Fallen Splicers look damn menacing. I’m really glad that the entire expansion, at least for now, seems to be focused solely on Earth. It’s the same idea that Taken King had – tell the story on one location, and use the other locations to help flesh out the post-story content. In Taken King it was the Taken War after stopping Oryx on the Dreadnaught. Do I think that something like that will be in Rise of Iron? I actually do – and I think they laid the foundation for it in today’s stream. We know that we’re taking back the new social space – Felwinter Peak – and then using that social space to honor and remember the fallen Iron Lords. We saw the mausoleum briefly in the stream today, and I immediately got thinking – what happens if each statue to an Iron Lord has a quest associated with it, with a weapon or piece of gear at the end of it? How cool would that be? Go up to Jolder’s statue, pick up a quest honoring her legacy and end up with an Exotic/Legendary machine gun. Now, ultimately what I think will happen is those Iron Lord quests might exist, but they’re probably how we’ll get access to the returning Gjallarhorn, which is a whole other thing to talk about.

The new content looks incredible from a tone/visual standpoint. I love that we’re staying in our backyard, and finding a new enemy that was so dangerous that the strongest guardians in our history had to sacrifice themselves to seal it away. The new gear looks incredible – using the Iron Banner, Warmind and Trials as their themes, at least that’s what we saw on stream. I’m really excited to see the inevitable full stream based around the new gear and weapons – especially new exotics. Which brings us to the one thing that I’ve seen some negativity about – the return of Gjallarhorn. Mainly because going in to the stream, we only knew that it was coming – as the Iron Gjallarhorn – with a pre-order. Immediately the “pay-to-win” comments started to pop up. That’s not quite the case – everyone who plays Rise of Iron can get a Gjallarhorn through a quest. Pre-orders net you the special black and silver one that’s the only difference. Which, if you’re a day-one player like me, is a really, really cool thing to see Bungie do. Gjallarhorn is easily the closest thing that Destiny has to a “mascot” weapon. Halo has Master Chief’s assault rifle, Zelda has the Master Sword – Destiny has the G-Horn. It’s the one weapon that every guardian chased through the entire first year of the game’s life. It ruined the balance of every activity because of how damn powerful it was. And I can’t wait to see how it’s going to play into the game moving forward.

There is still a lot to talk about with Rise of Iron – the Crucible in particular is going to get a hell of a lot of attention over the summer. Bungie did say that they’re going to be at E3 next week. I doubt we’ll see anything super crazy there, but they’ll have something on hand for sure. We’ve got a release date, a price point, and a hell of a lot of positive content to look forward to. Destiny is a game that seriously love, and and I’m super excited for what Bungie is bringing to the game moving forward.

E3 Guesses and Leak Thoughts

It’s my favorite time of the year, E3 season, and that means that there are all kinds of news and rumors floating around out there. We’ve already seen a couple pretty big leaks sneak out – Destiny’s Rise of Iron, Injustice 2, and a Final Fantasy XII Remake all were leaked in the last couple weeks. There are still a couple rumors flying around now as well – a Skyrim Remake? Wolfenstein 2? EA’s new Star Wars game? Each announcement could very well pop up next week at the show. On one hand I’m always a fan of finding out the newest games and DLC announcements as soon as possible, even more so for games that I really love; but I think overall I would rather the announcements be made on the developers own terms. I think leaks can be good in some cases, but these leaks happening literally the week before E3 bum me out a little. A huge part of what makes E3 so awesome is the initial announcements of these surprise games. This year’s show could have had the big moments – showing Destiny‘s next phase, the reveal of a super hero fighting game sequel done right both now have no impact behind them.

Now, that having been said, there are still a couple potential surprises that could pop up next week at the show. One thing that I think everyone does leading up to E3 is to try and figure out what those surprises could be. I’m no different, so I have a couple things in mind that could be sneaking into the show this year. First – my long shot predictions are the announcement of Borderlands 3 and Elder Scrolls VI. The timing works for each – both series are due for the next main series entry in their catalogs, but there are a couple factors that make it still seem like an unlikely move this year. Gearbox and 2K just put out Battleborn and are focused on that game – in truth, I think what we may actually get is some kind of DLC for that game that is Borderlands themed. Bethesda still has Fallout 4 to support, along with DOOM and the Skyrim remaster coming – that’s a lot on their plate without adding a full new Elder Scrolls game to the mix. I think that both games are coming, but probably are a few months away from announcement. I do have a couple more likely predictions though – I think we get actual release dates for Mass Effect: Andromeda and possibly Kingdom Hearts III or Final Fantasy VII Remake. I think we see the next Black Ops III DLC as well, along with the full Titanfall 2 announcement. There’s been a lot of leaks and announcements already this year, but I still think that this year’s E3 has a lot of good games to show us. Next week is going to be quite fun.