The second conference of E3 2018 just came to a close, and with it Microsoft gave us one of its strongest showings ever. For the platform that’s allegedly ‘losing’ this generation, the Xbox is looking like a hugely compelling console for the next year or so!
With over 50 games and 18 Xbox exclusives, Microsoft knew exactly what it was people wanted from it: no more hardware, “entertainment experiences”, social tools, dashboard updates or anything like that. We wanted games, games and more games, and there have been so many that it’s difficult to talk about all of them.
The standout title, to me, was of course Ubisoft’s The Division 2. However, we’re expecting to see a lot more of that at Ubisoft’s conference tomorrow, and so I’m holding off giving my opinions on it until then. Suffice it to say, I am very excited, as it looks like Massive are keeping what’s made the first game so compelling in its second and third years instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
From Software announced Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a Japanese-based Soulsbourne-style game that appears to finally give the formula a bit of a nudge on from Bloodborne by introducing great traversal techniques, grappling and speedier combat. Bloodborne was faster than Dark Souls, but they were still both trudges through miserable landscapes, so seeing how From speeds things up even more for Sekiro is going to be very interesting indeed.
We also saw the announcement of Forza Horizon 4. I’ve never been big on racing games, and the actual racing elements in this don’t appeal to me all that much. But the setting, a gorgeous recreation of Britain that can be explored and destroyed in a persistent online environment, immediately grabbed my attention. Whether it’s to-scale, or even a faithful reproduction of the UK, is yet to be seen, but the idea of a sportscar crashing through a tranquil Herefordshire village sounds absolutely sublime.
Capcom unveiled Devil May Cry 5! While the implications on the overall timeline are a bit of a headache, I’m loving the reimagining of 4’s Nero and Kyrie in a style very reminiscent of Ninja Theory’s (who was also bought by Microsoft, by the way) DMC. Replacing the Christian-ish chic of 4’s setting and giving the whole thing the gritty urban flair of DMC is an excellent move, and one I really, really can’t wait to see at work in the final game. If this is Ninja Theory’s lasting impact on the series, I’m absolutely okay with it.
Gears of War had a big outing too, with the XCOM-y Gears Tactics and Gears 5 being the main events. But the one that genuinely caught my eye more was the mobile game Gears Pop. It marks figure giant Funko’s first foray into gaming, and I can’t believe it didn’t happen sooner.
Sure, people hate Funko (sometimes for good reasons like them taking up obscene amounts of space in comic shop), but using them to take darker series like Gears into light-hearted directions seems like a brilliant use of the figures’ designs to me. Plus Funko has already licensed more IPs than probably actually exist, so this branching out into other popular franchises like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead could be neat.
Oh, and the audience’s cheers at the Gears logo, and then their absolute confusion when a Funko Pop burst through it, is the highlight of all E3s forevermore.
Square Enix had a lot of cool announcements, despite also having their own conference later on during E3. Just Cause 4 looks as Just Cause-y as ever, with the added twist of weather (which seems to be a running theme this year at E3, as Forza Horizon 4 also had seasons), Nier Automata is coming to Xbox One, and Kingdom Hearts 3 is getting a Frozen world that looks fantastic and eerily close to the film itself. The best bit to me, though, was the announcement of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.
The game is going to be an entirely free adventure title set in the universe of Life is Strange. It sidesteps all of the events of Chloe and Max, though, and instead tells what looks like a simpler story of a younger boy using his imagination to get him away from a shitty upbringing of bullying and alcoholic parents. I am down for Square Enix using Life is Strange as an umbrella title to explore the myriad experiences of children and young people in genuine, emotive and creative ways, and the added bonus of this being a totally free game is awesome.
Techland finally got around to announcing Dying Light 2, after teasing us with small content updates for the first game for literal years. With Fallout creator Chris Avellone onboard, I’m super eager to see how he adds to the sequel to a game notorious for its piss-poor story, but excellent everything else. The parkour looks fascinating, and the neo-medieval “Modern Dark Ages” take on the apocalypse looks slightly more interesting than the Last of Us, nature-takes-its-world-back-style clones we’ve been seeing more and more of recently. Although I am dubious of Avellone’s claims of having any real impact on the game’s world, he is one of the few people I am willing to give a chance to surprise me.
The final, and biggest, reveal (or re-reveal) of the night was CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, and honestly… I don’t have much to say about it. It looked pretty, but we’ve yet to see any gameplay of Cyberpunk 2077. More importantly, I hope the game keeps true to the original philosophical underpinnings of cyberpunk as a genre and doesn’t get lost in a sea of chrome and slums without putting in the critical discussions of capitalism and consumerism.
It might do, CDPR are known for their decent writing, after all, but I do have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that the combination of cyberpunk becoming so widespread since the actual Cyberpunk IP was last prominent, and this being CDPR’s first major game since its popularity skyrocketed thanks to The Witcher 3, might end up in the final title losing its way slightly.
The big problem with all these announcements, and the dozens I haven’t written about, is that very few of them are due out in 2018. Microsoft has this terrible habit of announcing games that wind up cancelled or delayed time and time again – Scalebound, Crackdown 3 etc. – and so I think it could’ve served them better to have concrete, 2018 release dates for every first-party title it showed. Still, most of them were at the very least dated before next year’s E3, I suppose.
I also think another misstep was in announcing that the next generation of Xbox consoles (I don’t like that plural, Microsoft) are already in development. Last year was dominated by the Xbox One X, which was framed as being the mid-generation upgrade. To then follow that up this year with “yeah the next one is totally coming” before the new-console smell has even fully gone from the X kills any interest I ever had in buying one. I’m much more likely to stick with my PC and the Xbox Play Anywhere titles, because I now know there’s already an expiration date on the fancy new X console you spent so long blabbering on about last year.
Despite a few problems here and there, Microsoft’s conference is the model of what E3 conferences should be. There were a few slow moments, like the repeated mentions of Xbox Game Pass (by the least enthusiastic presenter ever), but it was almost entirely back-to-back announcements and trailers. It was a fantastic show, and one everyone following it will have to work very hard to beat.