I know, I know, technically Nintendo still has their big showcase later today at 5pm GMT.
But going on what we’ve seen the past couple days, E3 2017 has so far been somewhat underwhelming. Not exactly terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but lacking in… well… imagination if you’ll pardon the repetition. A mid-gen slump right at the point of a mid-gen refresh – the irony of which is not lost on most people. You know there’s a problem when the hottest show of the year so far has been from UbiSoft – a company in the midst of a hostile takeover bid!
Two terms sum up this years E3 – VR and 4K.
Neither of which are getting much love from consumers or even critics, it turns out. The XBox One X (or XBOX, and yes, I’m sure Microsoft paid someone handsomely for that!) looked like a beast of a machine – slick, sleek and high end. But there was no killer hook, no big exclusive from which to hang a $500 mid-gen refresh machine on, just Forza for the most part. It looked great, of course, but it lacked momentum and I mean that in the literal sense of the term. It looked oddly slow for a game running at sixty frames a second, but perhaps that is because Mario Kart 8 has spoiled us in regards to speed, particularly with the new 200cc mode. Other than that Microsoft had Crackdown 3, which surprisingly came with a distinct lack of destruction and explosions – we’re assured this stuff remains in multiplayer mode, but their acute silence on single player told us everything that we didn’t want to know. They’re gone, and that takes away for many one of the fun aspects of Crackdown and particularly one of the key features they had been promising.
Sony’s showcase was better by far with a selection of solid-looking games. Yes, the VR focus was a bit off-putting and no, I don’t understand why they’re pushing two-dimensional platformers via VR. Seems like a completely pointless thing for a device sold on ‘immersion’, really. God of War was there, a remake of Shadow of the Colossus – for some reason, but I won’t complain – and a new Spiderman game that seems riddled with Quick Time Events, and speaks to a slight desperation of Sony clinging for dear life to the license in the face of rumours Disney is prepared to aggressively pursue Sony Pictures to get that particular license back, as it seems it was missing when they bought Marvel. There was no big gut-punch to be found here though – The Last of Us 2 was missing, replaced with Days Gone, which looks more generic with each showing, and absolutely nothing from FROM Software – a surprise, since there was supposed to be something from them this year and we’d all pretty much resigned ourselves that it would be Bloodborne 2. Which would have been huge, despite being predictable.
EA’s showcase was… well… EA. The usual – FIFA, Madden and A Way Out, which looked like their most interesting new IP. We also saw BioWare’s new IP, Anthem, which looks like it wants to out-Destiny Destiny. It may well do, since it looks great, but all people could do was scratch their heads and ask themselves why, when BioWare was sitting on something that looked this good and looked this interesting, did they ever consider Mass Effect: Andromeda worth releasing? I mean, the facial animations alone are light-years ahead of ME:A! It just doesn’t make sense, but that’s EA for you. Never knowingly logical.
Bethesda – or Bethesdaland – didn’t exactly tell us anything we hadn’t anticipated. Doom VR, Skyrim VR, Fallout 4 VR and The Evil Within 2. Skyrim Switch gets some Zelda-themed content – because of course it does – and a new Wolfenstein 2 instalment which people seemed to like. Me? I just want a plush of that adorable cacodemon from the pictures. Also the bear. The bear is going to be a surprise fan favourite for a while. Apparently we now like bears.
UbiSoft had the strongest conference – launching right out of the gates with Mario x Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and even if Nintendo does nothing later on the strength of this alone Nintendo has effectively won E3. It’s Mario, and the Rabbids, in an XCOM-slash-Tactics style tactical RPG. It shouldn’t work. It really, really shouldn’t. But it looks absolutely freaking amazing! It’s been a while since the Mario RPG side of things really dared to push the envelope, and here is UbiSoft doing it for Nintendo! I mean, after how they treated Nintendo during the Wii U era sure there’s a ton of ass-kissing to be had here but what ass-kissing this is! I mean, it’s almost R-Rated in its gratuity.
But there was more. Skull and Bones blasted Rare’s Sea of Thieves clean out of the water (pirate puns!), Beyond Good and Evil 2 is a prequel – disappointed, but it looks great actually so I can’t say that’s a bad thing plus a little backstory really could have been used in the original. Just a shame we’ve waited fifteen years for it. Even Just Dance 2018 was weird but mercifully brief. The downside was Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which looks… well… like Assassin’s Creed. There’s no way to get beyond that I’m afraid. It doesn’t excite the way it used to. The origins of the Brotherhood of Assassin’s is a great concept in theory, but what we saw just looked like any other Assassin’s Creed, just in an Egyptian setting.
Weirdly, it’s still ten hours or so until Nintendo’s time to shine and thanks to UbiSoft it’s already looking solid, but the buzz is getting pretty heavy now. Plenty of indie support and reveals are being teased – presumably most for the Treehouse Live – and a few big name third-parties seem to be on board too like UbiSoft and Bethesda and even EA. How strange this Switch thing is, and what a difference a console makes. Unless Nintendo doesn’t showcase Super Mario Odyssey, this year seems like a free and open goal for them. Perhaps it is simply that the momentum is behind them after a successful console launch – yeah, laugh at that all you want – but it bodes well for Nintendo that there seems to be genuine interest there this time. Hell, even EA looks to have made a serious effort on their Switch FIFA 18. That I said that makes me feel dirty and unclean.
Hey, Nintendo could still cock it up… somehow… maybe, but they’d have to really be trying to lose this years crown from the big three. I mean, like Miyamoto coming on screen and announcing his retirement kind of thing. (Please don’t!)
Here’s the thing though; I think this disparate conference thing is the problem.
Some of EA and UbiSoft’s stuff could and should have been part of Microsoft or Sony’s showcase. But they want their own show. I don’t think they should have them. I’m just saying it out loud because someone should – why is this stuff not selling the consoles? Sure, they may not be huge, but they add to your relationship with users and when Sony and Microsoft are coming after your show, you’ve just kinda robbed them of some hype. It seems… I don’t know… counter-productive? Too many conferences with not quite enough to say.
But on the whole, it’s just… a thing. Mid-gen refresh and slump all in one lovely tasty package. The only thing that seems to have buzz behind it is the Switch, and The Titan’s know that Nintendo has a bad habit of dropping the ball despite there being a free, open goal because the competition is frothing at the mouth and convulsing on the floor. Hopefully Nintendo can hold it together.
Even if they do… it’s just not been a banner year for E3. And I think it’ll further put pressure on the show in future to modernise, streamline or simply fade into obscurity.
I hope it doesn’t die off completely. But maybe, just maybe, Sony and Microsoft could remember that not all the world runs on LA time?