E3 is a week-long videogame binge that is kind of like that scene from Scarface where Tony Montana sits in front of a mountain of cocaine, but the drugs are announcements, trailers, and a healthy dose of cringe. The 2019 edition took place last week, and as usual, there were glee-inducing highlights and facepalm-worthy lowlights. So here’s my totally subjective, completely biased, personal top and bottom five of E3 2019.
#1. Bloodsucking, politics, and nightclubs
The PC gaming show featured a short gameplay trailer and interview with Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 creative leads Brian Mitsoda and Cara Ellison, and man does it look good. Paradox Interactive also uploaded an extended cut of the trailer to their YouTube channel, and even allowed people who got to try the hands-on demo at E3 to upload their footage. Everything that I loved about the original is back. The dark atmosphere. The compelling characters. The variety of ways to approach every situation. The choice-and-consequence style of storytelling. The combat does look pretty janky, but Hardsuit Labs have said that they are working hard on improving it, as that was one of the major criticisms leveled at Bloodlines. Either way, it’s just so exciting to have a sequel to such an underrated cult classic, developed by its original team and some top notch new talent no less.
#2. Keanu Reeves Simulator 2077
Apart from revealing the “breathtaking” Keanue Reeves will be playing legendary Cyberpunk character Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red also finally gave us a firm release date for their long-awaited, dystopian sci-fi opus at the Microsoft press conference. Unfortunately, new gameplay was only shown behind closed doors to a select group of industry professionals, while the rest of us plebs got a short trailer. However, those lucky enough to see a full hour long demo of a new mission have gone on record to say that the game is shaping up to be something truly special. From in-depth character customisation to a dense, lived-in world, tight combat, and a complex, branching dialogue system that takes into account the player’s backstory, it really feels like this is going to be the next evolution of everyone’s favourite Polish developer’s winning formula.
#3. It’s not The Evil Within 3, but it’s still “spooky”
Tango Gameworks creative director Ikumi Nakamura stole the show at Bethesda’s press conference with her infectious enthusiasm and the Japanese studio’s newest title, Ghostwire: Tokyo. Although many fans were expecting The Evil Within 3 to be announced, what we got instead still looks really, really cool. The reveal trailer and Nakamura’s description of the game indicate we can expect a dark, supernatural take on the classic action-adventure formula. Importantly, it’s going to be more accessible than their usual survival horror fare, meaning it will hopefully be less niche than The Evil Within. However, fans of Tango Gameworks’ previous titles need not fret, as it will still maintain the tense, creepy atmosphere and twisted character designs that they’re known for.
#4. Shoot & Loot
Say what you want about Randy Pitchford (no really, he’s terrible), but don’t you dare say a bad word about the team at Gearbox. They’ve been hard at work on Borderlands 3 for several years now, and since the official announcement of the game, everything we’ve seen indicates that work is going to pay off big time. Aside from a free DLC for Borderlands 2 dropping, the information drip feed for the sequel continued at E3, and all I can really say is “OH MY GOD JUST HURRY UP AND RELEASE IT I NEED THIS GAME.” Numerous bits of exciting information dropped during interviews, panels, and press conferences, including further details on The Calypso Twins (the game’s main villains), the planets we’ll be travelling to, the NPCs we’ll be meeting, the weapons we’ll be using, and Siren lore. There was also a sizeable chunk of gameplay showcasing Moze, the third Vault Hunter, who uses a giant mech called Iron Bear to absolutely shred enemies. Borderlands fans have been waiting a long time for Borderlands 3, and it really does look like it’s shaping up to be the best one yet.
#5. Devolver Digital being Devolver Digital
Those magnificent lunatics did it again. Not only did they somehow create a narrative thread that tied their last three E3 conferences together (which included revealing a major antagonist), but they also released bootleg versions of their own games. Their utterly chaotic, bitingly satirical conference poked fun at the anti-consumer practices the AAA industry regularly engage in, making it clear that not all publishers are filled with greedy corporate types.
#1. People applauding for the bare minimum
You know the videogame industry is fucked when Crystal Dynamics announcing that “we won’t be including loot boxes in The Avengers” is enough to get a roar of approval from an audience. This should be the norm, not a reason to celebrate. Alas, aggressive monetisation has infected AAA gaming so much that it’s actually possible for a company to use the fact they aren’t trying to nickel-and-dime us as a positive marketing spin, and look like a hero in the process.
Even worse were the huge cheers every time Todd Howard opened his mouth at the Bethesda press conference to make jokes about how Fallout 76 sucks and spruke their microtransaction-filled Elder Scrolls mobile spinoff. Oh but huge news! The next Fallout 76 update includes human NPCs, dialogue trees, and branching storylines...you know, the things that are so fundamental to a Fallout game that it was utterly ridiculous they weren’t there to begin with. At launch, Fallout 76 was a boring, broken mess that tried to capitalise on the live service trend and completely stripped away anything that made it resemble the franchise (except for its name and outdated engine). That Howard had the audacity to say almost nothing about Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI during his studio’s slot at the E3 conference, and instead use it to announce that they’re incorporating fundamental features into a disaster of a game one year after its release is just laughable. Oh yeah, they’re also including a Battle Royale mode. Groundbreaking. Stop cheering for this shit. Please. It just makes them think they can get away with it.
#2. So many trailers, so little gameplay
Upwards of 50 games were shown at E3. Not even half of those showed a sizeable amount of gameplay. Some were given short “gameplay trailers” which mashed quick cuts of in-game footage with generic trailer music (if I have to watch three things get shot in the head in time to three big snare drums one more time I’m going to snap). The few titles that showed extensive, uninterrupted gameplay mostly did so behind closed doors to industry insiders. It’s virtually impossible to say much more than “oh, that’s an interesting concept” when you have no idea what a game is about or how it plays.
#3. Star Bores
One of the few titles that actually showed a decent chunk of gameplay to the public was Respawn’s single player Star Wars adventure, Jedi Fallen Order. It’s a shame then that it looked so...bland. I know, I know, it was pre-alpha footage. But it just felt like a really odd slice of the game to show off if the idea was to get people excited about the franchise again after the last two Star Wars games that EA gave us were Battlefront and its sequel. Feeling like a weird hybrid of Uncharted and The Force Unleashed, there was a lot of platforming and environmental puzzle solving, which just felt like it interrupted the pace and distracted from the admittedly smooth looking combat. The Lightsabre-based melee combat seems intuitive and the Force powers allow for some creative manoeuvres, but overall it just doesn’t feel exciting, and frequently combat was over just as soon as it started. This is Star Wars for crying out loud. It should be making me squeal like a little kid. Instead the most I could muster was “oh yeah, that’s looks alright I guess.”
One of EA’s major studios, Bioware, were noticeably quiet this year. I can’t say I blame them though. Anthem had a pretty terrible start, and it hasn’t really gotten any better if you ask the few people left still playing it. Still, some held out hope that it would make a showing at EA’s press conference and announce how it was turning things around. It didn’t. Relegated to a short two minute interview and a small booth at EA Play, Anthem gave us one of E3’s cringier moments when Gregg Miller of Kinda Funny, speaking with the game’s lead producer Ben Irving, looked him dead in the eye and asked “Is there a future for Anthem?” Ouch.
There wasn’t even a peep about the next Dragon Age, a game many are saying is Bioware’s last chance at redemption. Given the cold critical and commercial reception for Anthem, E3 2019 felt like the perfect opportunity to come out and really show people they’re still capable of high quality, narrative-driven RPGs with some new information about Dragon Age: Rise Of The Dread Wolf.
#5. Mobile games
E3 is the biggest gaming convention of the year. People engage in wild speculation weeks (sometimes even months) before the event about what might get revealed. And then major publishers use it to announce mobile spin-offs of their popular franchises. The rumours surrounding a new adventure starring Sam Fisher were especially exciting for fans of the Splinter Cell series, which is regularly touted as one of the best stealth/action franchises of all time. And what did they get? Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad. Eugh. Oh and let’s not forget Bethesda’s utter butchering of Commander Keen, and that weird Gears POP! thing...whatever it’s meant to be. This sort of stuff is just cynical cash-grab nonsense of the highest order.
Jon Bernthal’s dog
What a good boy.