It’s that time of year again! Nothing says “summer” like the entire games industry crowding around darkened stages and into sweltering halls to watch the biggest developers and publishers hawk their latest wares. I mean, who even cares about sun anyway, especially with global warming and all that. Better off without it, is what I say. Bring on the frozen dark.
Sorry, I went a bit nihilist there. Been happening a lot lately. Not sure why. Anyway, this year’s E3 was a slightly unusual affair. Sony, arguably the most dominant presence at the show over the last couple of years, didn’t turn up at all, while both EA and Microsoft only sort-of made an appearance. With Nintendo having eschewed attending the show in favour of producing Nintendo Direct over the last few years, there are more than a few rumblings about the nature of E3’s future.
For now though, it’s not going anyway, and there were still plenty of weird and wonderful highlights in this year’s conferences. So let’s break it down. Who revealed what? Which company had the biggest surprises? And most importantly; how many times will this article include the phrase “After that”
This year’s E3 kicked off with EA, erm, not putting on a stage show. Instead, the company went halfway toward the Nintendo approach through “EA Play” - a livestream with a more intimate format.
Nonetheless, EA started out with one of the most-anticipated reveals of the show, a full gameplay demonstration of Jedi: Fallen Order, the new Star Wars action game developed by Respawn Entertainment, the creators of Apex Legends and Titanfall.
Taking place between episodes 3 and 4 of the films (like nearly every Star Wars game) Fallen Order sees you play as ginger Jedi Cal Kestis. The demo saw Kestis infiltrate an Imperial outpost, chat to Forest Whitaker, slice-up a whole bunch of Stormtroopers, and have a big scrap with a giant spider or two.
Personally, I think Fallen Order looks great. The light-saber combat appears very much in the vein of the Jedi Knight games, with perhaps a smidge of Sekiro thrown in. It also seems you can combine your Force powers in some interesting ways, such as slowing down time and then force-pulling a stormtrooper into their own blaster shot. A lot of people were surprisingly down on the demo, however, with complaints that the game looked “generic” and that the visuals look dated.
Aside from Fallen Order, EA had little else to show that was entirely new. Almost every other reveal was an expansion for an existing game, such as a new character for Apex Legends, more content for Battlefield, an expansion for the Sims, the usual FIFA and Madden stuff.
Given how heavily gaming is leaning on the service-model at the moment, this isn’t massively surprising, but it doesn’t exactly make for fireworks unless you’re heavily invested in those games. Perhaps this is why EA opted not to do a proper show this year. Nonetheless, I am still very excited for Fallen Order, which will launch in November this year.
While EA was the first to show off games, it was Microsoft who took to the stage for the first time. With Sony declining to appear at the conference, Microsoft had a big opportunity to bask in the limelight after years of being overshadowed by the Japanese company.
And you know what? Microsoft made a pretty good show of it. The show began in style with another look at The Outer Worlds, Obsidian’s Fallout-ish Sci-Fi RPG. Although I like the concept of The Outer Worlds. I’m concerned that the game looks a little rough-edged, and it wouldn’t be the first time Obsidian has struggled to execute big ideas. That said, it does have a shrink-ray you can use on enemies before stepping on them, so there’s hope yet.
After that, Microsoft showed off a couple of brand-new games. The first was Ninja Theory’s Bleeding Edge, a team-based multiplayer game that’s a surprising departure from their previous, narrative-driven projects like Hellblade. Ninja Theory was followed by Mojang, who demo’d a new game Minecraft: Dungeons, basically Minecraft meets Diablo. It looks…alright? Frankly, I struggled to muster much enthusiasm. But then again, it’s probably not aimed at me, so it’s hard to judge.
After that we got a glimpse of The Blair Witch Project, the new game from Bloober Team, creators of Layers of Fear. Then came the big one, Cyberpunk 2077. After CD Projekt unveiled the full -gameplay demo on Twitch last year, I was keen to get a deeper understanding of how Cyberpunk will play. Turned out CDP had other plans, showing an in-game (but not gameplay) trailer that provided greater insight into the story. Particularly the small matter that Keanu Reeves is in it.
Reeves will play Johnny Silverhand, a sort-of computer ghost who exists in the player character’s mind, manifesting in front of you as a wisecracking sidekick. The idea is reminiscent of the Dixie Flatline from William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer. Ol’ John Wick himself even came out on stage to give Cyberpunk a very enjoyable bit of plugging. CD Projekt also announced a release date of April 2020. Told you it wouldn’t come out this year.
Cyberpunk was followed by a slew of shorter presentations, including BattleToads, and a cute 3D storybook RPG called the Legends of Wright. We then got a glimpse of the new, astonishingly pretty Microsoft Flight Simulator, which features the bluest virtual water you’ll ever see. We saw a little bit of Age of Empires II HD, a little bit of Wasteland 3. A little bit of…actually, I'll stop before this turns into Mambo Number 5.
Gears of War 5 was next to light up the screen. Once again there was no gameplay, but judging from the video it’s going to be…wait for it…a Gears of War game. Then Tim Schaefer took to the stage to announce Double Fine is joining Microsoft Studios, before showing off the sufficiently kooky-looking Psychonauts 2. It also looks exactly like the original Psychonauts, which is a pretty impressive bit of aesthetic archaeology.
Microsoft’s final four reveals were all big-ish. We got a proper look at Borderlands 3 in action, which looks to continue Borderlands 2’s works of being a decent shooter with a really irritating sense of humour. After that Microsoft outlined a new Xbox that will be released around Christmas 2020. The team didn’t show anything of it, and didn’t talk much about features, but they did say it’ll be capable of 8K resolutions and 120FPS refresh rates. Oh, and then we saw Elden Ring, the new game from FromSoftware that’s co-written by George R.R. Martin. The trailer told us basically nothing about the project, but it’s a collaboration worth paying attention to regardless.
Microsoft closed the conference with another look at Halo Infinite, which was another non-game trailer that showed Master Chief rescuing a trapped space pilot, before approaching a hologram of what appears to be the Halo ring, shattered into pieces.
It’s a shame that Microsoft declined to show arguably its three biggest games in action, although it was hardly the only company that skimped on the gameplay. Regardless, it was easily Microsoft’s strongest E3 conference for years, a comprehensive and promising demonstration of what’s coming from the company in the next 18 months or so.
Everyone wanted to see just four words from Bethesda this year - The Elder Scrolls VI. We didn’t get them. In fact, there was a sense that Bethesda was holding back throughout their demonstration, showing very little of the games that were announced.
Nonetheless, several things grabbed our attention during Bethesda’s conference. Bethesda began with a spot of housekeeping and what basically amounted to a tacit apology, announcing that the infamously tedious Fallout 76 would be getting NPCs. Frankly I wasn’t interested in 76 to begin with, and this addition has done little change that. But I guess it’ll be nice for the people still playing it. All three of them.
After that the granddaddy of videogame horror Shinji Mikami rocked up to announce Ghostwire Tokyo, before handing over to the game’s creative director Ikumi Nakamura, who explained more about it. Nakamura stated Ghostwire would be a “New kind of action-adventure game”, and not the familiar survival horror Tango Gameworks and particularly Mikami is known for. Gleaning what we can, it sounds like it’s going to be an open-city game, with as much emphasis on puzzling as encountering spooky stuff.
After that came a bunch of smaller announcements, the new Elder Scrolls Online expansion, some mobile game, a VR Wolfenstein shooter which looks kinda neat. Bethesda followed this with a longer look at Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the increasingly standalone expansion to Wolfenstein II that sees you play as BJ’s two daughters. We didn’t see any gameplay (again!) but Dishonored creators Arkane is helping out with Youngblood’s level design, which immediately perked my attention. Youngblood is out in July, so expect a see a review of it on bit-tech soon.
On the subject of Arkane, the developer’s Lyon studio announced a whole new title called DeathLoop, a hybrid single and multiplayer game that involves two assassins trying to kill each other while caught in a mysterious time-warp. Again there’s very little to go on, but we imagine DeathLoop will resemble a Dishonored-style action-adventure with an added invasion mechanic similar to Dark Souls.
Bethesda closed the conference with a lengthy demo of Doom Eternal, in which you’ll seemingly be taking on the forces of Heaven as well as Hell, sort of like Good Omens, only with blood instead of jokes. There’s not much to say here apart from that it’s out in November, looks brilliant and I can’t wait to play it.
The PC Gaming show
The PC gaming show has become an increasingly significant presence at E3 in recent years, and this year was undoubtedly the most significant yet. The show featured some genuinely big surprises, more in-depth looks at known entities, and lots of actual bloody gameplay.
The show commenced with a fairly big surprise, the announcement of Evil Genius 2 sequel to the 2003 management sim in which you play a criminal mastermind who must build a secret base in which to concoct diabolical plans and defend yourself against sneaky spies who might try to infiltrate your lair.
After that we got a full gameplay trailer for what is perhaps my most anticipated game of next year (well, that and Cyberpunk) , Bloodlines 2, the sequel to Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines. Taking place in modern-day Seattle, Bloodlines 2 is a full-fledged 3D RPG with first-person combat, elaborate quests and dialogue trees, and a whole lotta bloodsuckin’.
Speaking of blood, the next big announcement was Chivalry 2, which plans to be bigger, badder, and, well, bloodier than the first one. Built on Unreal 4, the game looks great, although many of its touted features, like 64-player battles and horses you can ride, have had their thunder stolen by the recently-released Mordhau. That said, the hand-to-hand combat looks a whole lot slicker than either Chivalry or Mordhau, so perhaps that will give Chivalry II the edge.
Stabby Horse-riding Simulator was swiftly followed by neat-looking adventure game called Mosaic, and Midnight Ghost Hunt, a sort-of multiplayer Ghostbusters simulator in which the ghosts can disguise themselves as in-game objects. After that, we saw footage of Age of Wonders: Planetfall, and third-person shooter Remnant: From the Ashes, developed by the former Darksiders devs Gunfire Games. Remnant will be bringing giant, horrific bosses to a PC near you soon.
Frontier Developers also revealed a new trailer for Planet Zoo, its upcoming management sim built off the back of Planet Coaster. It looks absolutely incredible, particularly the attention-to-detail on the animals. The trailer also features a virtual hippo doing a massive virtual poo, so you know, don’t miss that.
Toward the end of the show, we saw new gameplay footage of Shenmue III, which is coming to PC in the autumn, and Killing Floor devs Tripwire rocked up to unveil their new game Maneater, a game in which you play as a man-eating shark, and not a Nelly Furtado simulator. In short, things are looking pretty good for the next 12 months of PC gaming.
Ubisoft consistently puts on a good show at E3, although this year was weaker than usual. Ubisoft started out with a wonderful little orchestral medley from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, intended to accompany the surprise announcement of a story-creator for its massive Ancient Greek RPG.
The story creator lets players get hands on with the game’s questing system to design adventures of their own. Frankly, Odyssey needs more content in the same way that Simon Cowell needs whiter teeth, but if nothing else it’s a good way to get people into narrative-design in games.
Then came what was probably the best demonstration in the whole of E3, that of Watch Dogs: Legion. I’m not entirely sold on the setting, which takes place in a dystopian post-Brexit Britain. But the central idea is really intriguing. Watch Dogs Legion is designed to let you take control of any NPC in the game. You recruit NPCs with specific skills to your hacker group DedSec, then switch between them as they’re required for different missions. You can recruit anyone wandering around London, from gangsters to grannies, and they’ll appear fully voiced with lines both in cutscenes and in the game. If they die, then they’re gone forever, and you’ll need to find someone else with a similar skillset to replace them.
It’s a fascinating approach to player-driven storytelling in an open-world game. How much smoke and mirrors was in the presentation is hard to define, but the game is being overseen by Clint Hocking, who spearheaded the design of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Far Cry 2. Reports from the show also suggest that the game is as impressive as it appears. So keep an eye on this when it launches in March next year.
After a couple of smaller announcements, everyone’s favourite pretend marine Jon Bernthal turned up to talk about Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, the new and hopefully better sequel to the painfully mediocre Ghost Recon: Wildlands. This was followed by the announcement of Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, an isometric tactical shooter that mashes up all the Tom Clancy franchises and, frankly, looks a bit poo.
Beyond that, there was the obligatory Just Dance section, an announcement of a For Honor expansion, and the latest update to the Division 2. It was all getting a bit dull, frankly. But right at the end the conference suddenly perked up with the announcement of Gods and Monsters a new action-adventure game that sees you explore a world of myth and legend. It’s clearly channelling Breath of the Wild, but that’s no bad thing.
Square Enix’s conference was dominated by one game – the much-anticipated remake of Final Fantasy VII. We saw bits of it earlier this year, but this was the first time the remake has been given a proper showing.
I’m not much of a Final Fantasy fan, but the remake looks pretty darned impressive. Far from a straightforward makeover, the developers have reworked everything with an eye to modernising the classic RPG. Cutscenes are fully voiced and acted, combat is real-time with an emphasis on action as well as teamwork, and the whole things looks absolutely gorgeous. There was one big caveat, however. The remake won’t come packaged as a single game. The first instalment only takes the story as far as the end of Midgar, and the developers don’t even know how many instalments there will be before the game is finished.
After the big opener came the usual slew of smaller announcements, including Octopath Traveller on PC, the Last Remnant Remastered on Switch, and a sequel to Dragon Quest Builders. Following that was a whole bunch of Final Fantasy-related announcements, most notably a new expansion for the MMO Final Fantasy XIV.
Then, finally, a bigger surprise. People Can Fly, the developers of excellent shooters Painkiller and Bulletstrom, stepped out to announce a new game, Outriders, a co-op FPS that also includes magical powers and bosses the size of houses. As seems to be a theme at this year’s E3, there was no gameplay, and the video trailer was a bit, well, brown, but I’m intrigued to find out more regardless.
Square Enix wrapped things up with another heavy-hitter, quite literally in this case. It’s an official Avengers video-game developed by Crystal Dynamics! You’d think that would be a sure-fire winner, but unfortunately the reveal was overshadowed by the fact that Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers have the same uniforms as the characters in the films, but not the same actors. Particularly weirdly, Hulk looks like CG Mark Ruffalo when he’s Hulk, but not like regular Mark Ruffalo when he’s Bruce Banner. Also, reports from the show state the actual game is pretty underwhelming, which is a shame.
All told, Square Enix’s show was a big of a one-hit wonder. But when you’re hit is Final Fantasy VII, I guess it doesn't matter all that much.
Nintendo doesn't really “do” E3 anymore. At least not in the conventional sense. But its Nintendo Direct live-stream is still a hotly anticipated part of the whole shebang. This year’s Direct proved exactly why.
Nintendo began proceedings with a look at Dragon Quest 11. As something of a Dragon Quest expert, I can confidently tell you this is the ninth entry in the long-running Dragon Quest series of video-games. Yes.
Nintendo’s attention then turned to Luigi's Mansion 3, offering an extensive look at how the game will play. It looks excellent, to be honest, almost like a hybrid of a 3D Mario game and a LucasArts adventure. I’m particularly fond of “Gooigi”, Luigi’s new, gelatinous companion who can walk over spike traps unharmed and assist Luigi in various puzzles. He can also be controlled by another player for cooperative play. It looks like great fun.
After that we got a brief glimpse of a tie-in game for the upcoming Dark Crystal sequel, before a longer look at the gorgeous remake of Link's Awakening. This was followed by a whole bunch of time spent revealing classic games coming to Switch. Resident Evil, No More Heroes, Contra. Oh, and a tiny little game called The Witcher 3.
Nintendo naturally saved its heavy hitters for last. A New Animal Crossing is in the works. Subtitled New Horizons, it features crafting, snowman-building, and some genuinely impressive animation work. This was followed by the announcement that Banjo Kazooie is joining Super Smash Brothers ultimate, just in case you didn’t think there were enough characters in Smash.
Nintendo ended the direct with the tiny news that they’re making a sequel to Breath of the Wild. No gameplay was revealed, but we did see the reveal of a genuinely scary new baddie, along with hints that Majora’s Mask might be a significant influence on the as-yet-untitled follow-up.
The E3 Verdict:
Best Game: Doom Eternal
Best game demonstration: Watch Dogs: Legion
Best show: Microsoft
Best trailer: Luigi's Mansion 3
Best Keanu Reeves: Keanu Reeves
Best Moment: Planet Zoo’s defecating hippo.
February 26 2021 | 22:15