It would be really easy to proclaim EA Play a pretty awful opening for E3 2018.
It’s not that we expected much from EA; yes, I’ve joked for months that the industrial-strength level of cringe would be enjoyable to some degree but within a few minutes of their new presenter kicking off, I think most of us had overdosed on the almost toxic amounts of cringe. It set the stage, however, for what surely had to be EA’s worst performance at a conference to date – perhaps not the worst E3 has ever offered (Nintendo’s 2008 show is still head and shoulders above the rest!) but certainly the worst we’ve seen for many, many years.
EA Play was a stripped down, laid-back affair. This kind of approach tends to be utilised somewhat when a company wants to shed most of the pomp and ceremony, destroying the barrier between the stage and the audience to find some kind of soul and passion within the experience. The problem – this was EA, an embattled publisher who has had the kind of year that could permanently cripple lesser companies. It was stripped down, but there was little heart and spontaneity within the show. Everything sort of plodded along at a strange pace, and it wasn’t that they had nothing to show – it’s that what they decided to show looked decidedly average.
There wasn’t much to show on its sports games. Battlefield V got all but the briefest of teaser trailers (and – surprise! – a Battle Royale mode!). Star Wars: Battlefront II is getting a Clone Wars expansion, but again, there wasn’t exactly any gameplay in there. It wasn’t until Unravel 2 came out that we got a committed amount of gameplay shown off – unsurprising then that Andrew Wilson, trying to casual it up in a Steve Jobs-style sweater, announced after it that the game would immediately be on sale after the show. And their next “Original” game was Sea of Solitude, which again looked extremely high concept but didn’t show off anything that would indicate what sort of game it was.
Then there was Command & Conquer: Rivals, a game which got the most gameplay footage of the whole show. You’d think that would be a good thing, until we all realised this was a mobile game through and through, and EA tried really hard to make it more exciting by wheeling in some sportscasters to do an eSports-style running commentary on the thing, despite the fact that generally the camera angles and action was so small and tinny that it was hard to really follow – which might have been the point of having said commentary. Most people have already argued that a proper, full-fat PC Command & Conquer would be an amazing addition to the eSports scene, but EA didn’t seem to realise that. Or perhaps it doesn’t want to realise that. What we’re all left with is a game in alpha that looked a bit condensed down with no indication of how the additional monetisation would be implemented. Most have terrible memories of Dungeon Keeper Mobile, and whilst I don’t believe EA would be silly enough to go for a repeat performance… they said nothing about this, so people automatically went to the last known example. Which was terrible.
On the upside; EA seems to have been quite burned by the loot crate thing because they went out of their way to make very clear that none of the games on show would have them. That was certainly nice to hear.
The show closed with Anthem. There have been concerns with this game for a while and what we saw gameplay-wise, I don’t think those concerns have been alleviated at all. Anthem is interesting, with a sort-of Monster Hunter angle behind it (multiplayer co-op but still predominantly in the story a single-player experience), but I also thought it reminded me of Xenoblade Chronicles X and Tabula Rasa. Good to great games that I think I’d much rather be playing – hell, this isn’t even that original in terms of the single/multiplayer crossover, with Hellgate: London having happened a decade ago.
Anthem is pretty; of course it is, money is likely no object in this attempt to usurp Destiny (though it’s fair to argue that isn’t much of a fight anymore). But it doesn’t look inspired or interesting; it’s just… there. A pretty BioWare game but without any real killer left-hook. It doesn’t look awful by any stretch, but after all the fuss and after all the pain EA has had to endure the last eight months or so, this was hardly the show of strength the company needed to allay fears.
I mean, expectations were low for EA Play and they were met in spades. It was just a below-average performance; lots of words, some well-meaning ones (though EA trying to play the victim at being “bullied” over Loot Crates did make me want to shake Andrew Wilson and scream “This is the dumbest thing you could do right now!”), but nothing that stood out as exciting or thrilling, even though EA was trying. Well, sort of trying, at any rate.
Worst E3 Show ever? No. That denotes something to get mad about; and perhaps that’s the worst thing you can say about EA Play 2018. There was nothing to really get passionate about on either extreme of the emotional spectrum. There was nothing to get hyped about and nothing to get genuinely angry over. This was just, straight up, a fairly bland showcase that didn’t really show anything off to the best of their abilities. It was tepid tap water; it won’t kill you or make you ill, but it’s not exactly refreshing either. EA needed to show that it was unfazed by everything that has happened lately, but it was so dazed and bewildered you do wonder if the backlash on Loot Crates smacked the drive out of the company somewhat.
So not the worst… but as an opener to E3 2018, it was well short of satisfactory.