by Joshua Russo
E3’s top 5 highlights, according to me
It’s always bittersweet every year when an E3 comes to a close. The Electronic Entertainment Expo has always been the biggest gaming spectacle of the year. As someone who’s been going to E3 since 2010 I can tell you there is nothing quite like it. There is far too much to cover in one post so here are our five biggest takeaways from E3 2017.
It was only a matter of time until PlayStation fell a little flat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to look at the line up of games they showed and come away thinking they had a poor performance. They did not. But PlayStation has been hitting it out of the park year after year for quite some time now. That stellar track record had me ready to be blown away yet again, but unfortunately Sony can only continue to raise the bar for so long until they ultimately fall short of reaching it themselves.
There were certainly some great surprises in the line up to get excited about, such as the remake (not remaster) of Shadow of the Colossus. Monster Hunter: Freedom was a great way to bring the franchise back to the console. Each and every demo they showed, from Days Gone to Detroit: Become Human to God of War to Spider-Man looked absolutely fantastic. The only thing missing was that big “holy shit, is this real life?” moment that so many of Sony’s previous showcases have graced us with.
In short, Sony’s showcase was fantastic, but they have an embarrassment of riches when you compare all of their recent E3 briefings and this year just didn’t stack up with the rest.
Ubisoft Reboots Itself
While we were missing the always lovely E3 stage presence of Aisha Tyler this year, Ubisoft had a surprisingly refreshing showcase. Not only did they redesign their logo after nearly two decades, but it seems to be the beginning of a whole new direction for the publisher. Ubisoft has always been goofy and carefree with what they’ve done at previous conferences, so it may have benefitted them that gamers like myself weren’t expecting too much. They kicked things off with the official reveal of the incredibly bizarre strategy RPG, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. This is a game that nobody asked for but Ubisoft did an excellent job selling it. Sure, they had a little assistance when Shigeru Miyamoto came onstage, but Mario + Rabbids actually looks like a fun time worth checking out.
There were a couple of familiar staples in the Ubisoft line up. Just Dance made its annual appearance and as someone who has never played a single one, I couldn’t tell you what’s different about this year’s edition. Far Cry 5, on the other hand, I can tell you about. Far Cry 5 is still very much a Far Cry game in every sense and that is fine by me. I’m a huge fan of the series so I made sure this game was the first one I checked out when the showfloor opened. The demo was the same as the gameplay shown during the conference. It felt just as smooth and solid as the last few entries in the series. If you love the Far Cry series like I do, that’s great. But if you’re hoping for something different, this isn’t a far cry from the formula (I’m sorry).
Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft’s other blockbuster franchise, finally received a much needed tune-up. The previous few installments suffered from slow sales and poor reviews. Assassin’s Creed: Origins appears to have benefitted substantially from an extra year of development. I was able to get hands on with the game and immediately noticed how beautiful and polished it looked. It certainly helped that I was playing it on the new Xbox One X. Assassin’s Creed: Origins feels almost like a reboot of the franchise. Defeating enemies and completing missions grants experience that allows your character to level up. As you level up you’ll unlock skills and abilities to play around with in Ancient Egypt. Enemies will have their own levels as well, which you can scout with your eagle ally. Having an eagle scout isn’t the only mechanic Assassin’s Creed: Origins borrowed from Far Cry. You will encounter plenty of hostile wildlife during your adventure. During my demo I was ambushed by an angry, angry hippo, but it looked as if I was done for. Luckily I was saved by a passing crocodile that decided to come to my defense. Random moments like that are what make open world RPGs so memorable.
Lastly, while many were stoked to see Beyond Good & Evil 2 finally get the official reveal with an excellent CGI trailer, it’s very hard for me to get hyped about anything that seems to be so far from release. What they showed looked great, but to follow it up with concept art tells me that we won’t see the game for at least a couple of years.
Xbox One X’s Premium Price Tag
No one had more to prove this year than Microsoft. They’re way behind PlayStation in both console sales and game exclusives. So after teasing their next Xbox for an entire year, was Microsoft finally able to level the playing field?
No. No they weren’t. And I’ll tell you why.
First, let me just say that while the internet certainly had some fun ribbing Microsoft for the name of the new Xbox One X, I actually like it. Bragging about the specs of the system onstage is a waste of time in my opinion, because most consumers (including myself) have no clue what any of that stuff means. Luckily, I was able to see with my own eyes what they were talking about when I got hands on the Xbox One X. As someone who did purchase a PlayStation 4 Pro along with a 4KTV, I can certainly appreciate the idea of a premium console. At a price of $499, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Assassin’s Creed: Origins demo really looked $100 better on Xbox One X. When a price of half a grand was announced out of the gate, I assumed Microsoft had some bangin’ exclusives to justify the purchase.
But the games never came. THE GAMES NEVER CAME.
Of course I’m not saying that the games Microsoft showed weren’t good. They were. I’m simply talking about exclusives. Microsoft played a fairly obvious linguistic game by playing around with the term exclusive. Many of the games they taunted as exclusive were launch exclusives. Meaning they will come to the PlayStation 4, PC or Nintendo Switch at some point. They had the same launch exclusive type of deal with Rise of the Tomb Raider and Inside. The Xbox One exclusives they did show just didn’t interest me personally. I can see how Forza 7, State of Decay 2 or Ori and the Will of the Wisps can excite someone. Similarly to Sony’s showcase, Microsoft never had that moment where they sealed the deal and established that the Xbox brand was back on track to being the console king.
Cross-play Is The Future, Whether Sony Likes It Or Not
Something we saw at both Nintendo and Microsoft’s presentations was the cross-play feature on two gigantic franchises: Rocket League and Minecraft. The odd man out in both cases was Sony, who tried to hide behind the weak excuse that cross-play would put their younger players in a vulnerable position. The likely reason Sony is holding back is because they’re the king of the console hill right now and they don’t want to share that hill with anyone. If your friends are playing Minecraft on one of the 60 million PlayStation 4s shipped, they don’t want you to be able to join that party without paying the price of admission. I understand Sony’s motivations for holding out, but ultimately they’re just delaying the inevitable.
Nintendo Maintains Their Momentum
I’ve been a Nintendo skeptic ever since they burned me when I bought a Wii U at launch. For five years I stared at that thing collecting dust while a cloud of regret hovered above my head the entire time. I didn’t learn my lesson and still purchased a Nintendo Switch on launch day, telling myself that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a new Pokémon game would be more than enough to justify the purchase. Three months later, Zelda is still the only game in my Switch library, but it’s hard for me to argue that Nintendo didn’t leave E3 with at least the same momentum they had going in, if not more.
Super Mario Odyssey, while not nearly as gushed over as Breath of the Wild was last year, was still on almost everyone’s list of favorite games of the show. It looks just as crisp, polished and dialed in as you’d come to expect from a mainline 3D Mario game. I am also a giant Pokémon fan, but again, I cannot get excited about a game announcement so far off. Simply saying a Pokémon game is in development for Switch is pointless. If there is nothing to show then there should be nothing to say. The same thing goes for Metroid Prime 4. I know fans have waited forever for another entry into the series, but put together a CGI trailer at a minimum if you’re going to make an announcement like that. Simply showing a title screen logo does absolutely nothing for me and I can’t understand how it does anything for anyone else.
Nintendo’s E3 presentation was a comforting sign that support for the system is strong. I would have liked to see the rumored Smash Bros. game for Switch, but with Zelda‘s DLC, Super Mario Odyssey, a new Kirby game, a new Yoshi game and Rocket League all on the way, there’s more than enough to keep Nintendo’s ball rolling.