The EA Play 2018 conference just happened, and boy do I have feelings. Most of those feelings are total apathy, mind, but they’re feelings none-the-less.
First off, EA has never convinced me to be interested in sports games. Every year they try a different tack, even inviting football legend Pele on-stage to talk at-length about football, and every year it turns into a quiet hum of white noise with how little I care. EA is a trade show, shareholders are there, sports are EA’s moneymaker… but sweet baby Jesus I do not care about FIFA 19, Madden NFL 19, NBA Live 19, or any other 19 they care to throw at us.
The highlight of the show was easily the EA Originals section, where we saw the surprise announcement and launch of Unravel Two – and it looks just as heartfelt and adorable as the first one – and the announcement of many peoples’ game of the conference, Sea of Solitude.
Sea of Solitude looks set to be an exploration of mental health, abstracted into a fantasy environment where the lead character has been transformed into a monster due to her loneliness. It looks gorgeous, giving me very strong vibes of both Submerged and Papo & Yo. I’m very cautious about how the game appears to use monstrosity in discussing mental health – turning the character into a monster might not be the best pro-mental health visual possible – but it’s still early days for the game, and it’s definitely something I’ll be thinking a lot about when it launches.
The real appeal of Sea of Solitude came in the change of pace its presentation gave to the conference for the few minutes it was on-stage. At a show as scripted and marketing-oriented as E3 (sorry, “EA Play”), it was a rare moment of honesty and genuine feeling as the developer walked on-stage and couldn’t quite catch her breath, before talking about the impact the game has had on her. It was then followed up by teenage esports professionals reading scripted bullshit about how good they are at Madden in a case of tonal whiplash.
EA’s headliner was, of course, Bioware’s Anthem, and I must admit it’s doing absolutely nothing for me so far. It’s so obviously riding on Destiny’s coattails in its visual style, setting and story, and the jetpacks don’t seem to make a big enough difference for it to stand apart from Bungie’s offering.
I was also annoyed at how much EA and Bioware attempted to convince us it had invented the MMO in its pre-gameplay panel. So much banging on about “constantly changing worlds” and “player-choice” and “’javelins’ [also known to everyone else as character classes] that change how you play”, most of Anthem’s time on-stage lacked any of the substance we need to convince anybody that it is going to be more than a late-to-the-party reaction to the MMO-shooter genre that’s already been around for the best part of a console generation.
The other low-point, in a conference of many low-points, was the unveiling of Command and Conquer Rivals, a mobile RTS that was announced by a lengthy, boring-to-watch competitive match, complete with a professional “shoutcaster” – because “commentator” isn’t disruptive enough for gaming?
I think mobile games are worthy of attention and criticism, even if that space is rife with manipulative business models and low-effort clones of the new hotness. I even think Rivals could be quite decent as a multiplayer title, assuming EA doesn’t fall into the trap most other mobile games do and cater purely to the big spenders. But good bloody lord, giving us a lengthy, dull match to watch before even telling us what the game was called was not the right way to go about announcing it. A post-conference stream with multiple players and more in-depth look at the competitive aspects would’ve worked much better than… that. The CG trailer was pretty dope, at least.
Finally, EA also spent a lot of time trying to get praise for things it should’ve done years ago. Its Anthem and Battlefield V (which I think looks quite cool, actually) presentations talking about how there won’t be any lootboxes, as if we’re supposed to be thanking them and celebrating something that they shouldn’t be doing in the first place. “We’re not fucking you over!” is not a marketable point, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be something we see more of as E3 2018 continues.
EA’s conference wasn’t amazing, and it certainly set the bar low for the conferences to come. Unravel Two and Sea of Solitude stole the show for me, and even then, they’re not things I’m chomping at the bit to play. It was EA’s usual mishmash of tones, sports, gaming personalities nobody’s heard of, and a few nuggets of goodness hidden in the middle of it all.
Yarny’s still cute as hell though.