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E3 Impressions 2015

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By Nelson Schneider - 06/21/15 at 02:57 AM CT

After several years in a row of bland, unexciting, disappointing E3s, I was expecting this year to be more of the same: Bag on Microsoft because Xbox is a waste of space. Bag on Sony for leaning too hard on third-party games. Bag on Nintendo for leaning solely on first-party games. Bag on the developer conferences because EA, Ubisoft, and Activision are the spawn of Satan and Square Enix is wearing whiteface and blue contact lenses, pretending to be a Westerner. It’s getting to be old hat and feels very redundant.

This year’s E3 promised to be different from the start, however, both by including a few more publisher conferences than usual and by including a PC gaming conference for the first time ever. Color me surprised, as well, that my chosen victor in the Battle of E3 2015 did NOT turn out to be PC, but Microsoft… with Windows 10, not XBONE, so I guess PC still won, in a way. Likewise, I was completely shocked and amazed by a large number of the game reveals (both ‘happy’ shocked and ‘WHY U DO’ shocked).

Microsoft:
Want: Xbox/Windows Crossplay and Compatibility, Valve VR partnership, HoloLens, Xbox 360 Backward Compatibility
Not Sure if Want: XBONE Elite Controller (for Windows 10!), “Gigantic,” “Sea of Thieves,” “Cuphead,” “Fable Legends”
Do Not Want: ‘Halo,’ ‘Gears of War,’ “Rare Replay,” pretty much every other XBONE exclusive, EA Access, the current Xbox 360 Backward Compatibility list

Microsoft defied all expectations by actually having a good show this year. No… Microsoft had a GREAT show this year. Starting with the revelation that the XBONE will gradually gain backward compatibility with its precursor, the Xbox 360, Microsoft directly targeted a deathblow at Sony’s PlayStation 4 and its library consisting overwhelmingly of full-priced ports and/or ‘remasters’ of PlayStation 3 games. Xbox 360 compatibility with the XBONE will provide free, offline, native versions of ‘select’ Xbox 360 games – NO streaming, NO rebuying, NO additional work from devs to update their games, and NO consumer-unfriendly BS. This is the type of announcement the XBONE needed two years ago instead of the abortion casserole MS served up. Of course, the XBONE’s backward compatibility isn’t quite perfect, as it will be a slow roll-out starting with an extremely unimpressive collection of titles. Baby steps, MS. Baby steps.

In addition to their amazing BC reveal, Microsoft also announced a new ‘elite’ version of the incredible XBONE controller. The XBONE Elite controller will feature swappable sticks, pads, and some weird paddles on the back. I’m a bit dubious about the paddles, so there’s no guarantee I’ll get one of these when they’re available (the price is a bit steep too, at $150). But at least these controllers will be compatible with Windows 10, so I will have the option to buy one for my MS platform of choice.

Speaking of my MS platform of choice, Microsoft seems to be taking great pains to associate Windows 10 and Xbox as though the two things are one and the same. Almost every interesting-looking XBONE game shown at MS’ E3 press conference is available on both Windows 10 and XBONE proper. Some of these titles are even going to be crossplay/crossbuy, putting yet another pro-consumer feather in MS’ cap.

Furthering the idea that MS wants to make Windows 10 just as important to gamers as their miserable line of consoles, the company also announced a partnership with Valve VR, perhaps indicating a smoothing over of the rift that formed between the two companies, causing Gabe Newell to decry Windows 8 as a ‘catastrophe.’ Both Valve VR and MS’ own HoloLens look quite spectacular as new ways to interact with games or other virtual objects, and both are exclusively (for now) available to the PC platform.

In games, unfortunately, Microsoft was predictable in its pandering to the Xbox brand’s audience of hypermasculine Dudebros, with sequels in both the ‘Halo’ and ‘Gears of War’ franchises. MS is also trotting out a compilation disc containing every Rare game ever made, as tends to happen when an old, washed-up company needs to make a good impression before releasing a new product. I don’t give two farts about any of the software contained in the “Rare Replay,” but I am moderately interested in the game that Rare is coming out of retirement to produce: a pirate themed MMO called “Sea of Thieves.” MS Game Studio proper is also producing a more on-the-nose ‘Fable’ sequel to make up for last year’s debacle, and MS platforms are also getting a handful of spiffy-looking Indie titles like MOBA, “Gigantic” and 2D Bullet Hell Platformer, “Cuphead.” The great thing about these interesting looking MS exclusives is that they are Microsoft exclusives, not XBONE exclusives, as they will all be playable on Windows 10. I’m a bit dubious about all of them, however, as MMOs, MOBAs, Bullet Hells, and whatever the hell ‘Fable’ is supposed to be can turn out to be quite awful in spite of good first impressions.

Honestly, the only way Microsoft’s press conference could have been any better would have been if Phil Spencer had come on stage and said, “Guess what, everyone? The XBONE is now a Steam Machine! It will run full-blown Windows 10 with a custom interface that we have created to replace Windows Media Center!” That didn’t happen, sadly, but at the rate things are changing for the better in Redmond, it’s still possible before the 8th Gen ends.

Sony:
Want: Project Morpheus – Now with Local Co-op, PlayStation Vue TV service
Not Sure if Want: “Horizon: Zero Dawn,” “Dreams,” “World of Final Fantasy,” Morpheus launch titles
Do Not Want: “The Last Guardian,” “Firewatch,” “Final Fantasy 7 Remake,” “Shenmue 3,” “Uncharted 4”

Sony is riding high as the current leader in the console wars, but they still don’t know why… well, maybe they do: Nostalgia. The PlayStation brand was built up years ago and is still hanging on due to the fond memories provided to today’s gaming journalists by the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2. Unsurprisingly, Sony’s current nostalgia kick has the PS4 leaning almost entirely on its library of ports and remasters, with nary a sequel in sight. That will be changing come 2016, however, as the PS4 has nailed down quite a few sequels.

“The Last Guardian,” “World of Final Fantasy,” “Shenmue 3,” and “Uncharted 4” will provide a huge boost to the PS4’s library of exclusive titles. In my case, however, I thought “Shadow of the Colossus” was overrated and boring, never understood why anyone thought the ‘Grand Theft Auto: Hong Kong’ that is the ‘Shenmue’ series was interesting, or drank the ‘Dude Raider’ kool-aid required to think of ‘Uncharted’ as anything but a cinematic ‘Tomb Raider’ knock-off. “World of Final Fantasy” is the only one of these sequels I could ever care about based solely on the franchise name, but the overly-cute chibi weirdness angle Square Enix is taking with this entry is kind of stomach-turning.

Of course, the main source of nostalgia fuel at Sony’s E3 presentation wasn’t a sequel, but yet another of the PS4’s accursed remasters. Except in this case it’s a remake of a game that is far too old to receive the typical remaster treatment: “Final Fantasy 7.” Yes, it’s the game that made PlayStation. It’s the game that caused SNES aficionados to desert the N64 in droves and embrace a completely unknown brand and platform at the dawn of the 5th Generation. It’s also the game that broke my heart and led Squaresoft (now Square Enix) down the path of ruin as they lost track of what made their 16-bit ‘Final Fantasy’ titles great. As if getting another dose of “Final Fantasy 7” dominating the charts for decades isn’t going to be bad enough, there is rampant speculation across the Internet that Square Enix will be replacing the game’s turn-based RPG mechanics with 100% action mechanics in order to pander to the ADHD generation and their love of twitchy arcade-style gameplay. If this happens, I will be able to sleep at night knowing that Square Enix has managed to take a lame, overrated game and make it even worse.

With all that unpleasantness aside, there are still a few new IP exclusives that looked marginally interesting to completely uninspired. “Dreams” is a ‘LittleBigPlanet’ successor that looks more like animation software than a game, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” looks to be a novel approach to the rut-worn post-apocalyptic sandbox genre, and “FireWatch” just looks meh.

While Sony did focus a lot more on games than Microsoft at their press conference, they did show off a couple of non-game things. And these non-game things managed to be the most interesting things shown! Project Morpheus, the PS4 VR headset, looks to be coming along nicely, with a handful of okay-looking proof-of-concept games on display. The new killer feature of the Morpheus that Oculus, Steam VR, and the HoloLens will need to co-opt as quickly as possible is local co-op. In the final product, multiple people in the same room will be able to enter the same virtual world on the same PS4 using their own individual Morpheus headsets! It’s a stroke of brilliance and finally a solution to the rampant screen-looking that plagued split-screen FPS deathmatches in the 5th and 6th Generations.

The other non-game thing Sony touted is PlayStation Vue, a streaming-based TV service that aims to finally unbundle premium cable channels. My Internet situation prohibits streaming due to low bandwidth, but if I am ever able to beat Windstream ( delenda est) into submission and get the service I deserve, I would love to be able to subscribe to individual cable stations online instead of paying a huge up-front fee every month for thousands of channels I would never watch. Cable unbundling has long been a consumer rights fiasco, and it is great to see Sony working to make things better instead of worse. Now all they need to do is make PSN free again…

One final thing I noticed about the footage of PS4 exclusives shown at E3 is that the graphics and animations in the exclusives look far, far worse (less photorealistic and more last-gen-videogamey) than the various multi-platform games shown. I don’t know what to make of it, but it seems like something the graphics whores who argue about XBONE vs. PS4 resolutions should be going nuts over.

Nintendo:
Want: “Super Mario Maker” (still!), “Yoshi’s Wooly World” (still!)
Not Sure if Want: “Zelda: Triforce Heroes,” “Xenoblade Chronicles X” (still!), “Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam”
Do Not Want: “Star Fox Zero,” “Metroid Prime: Federation Force,” ‘Animal Crossing,’ ‘Fire Emblem,’ more Amiibo, the 3DS getting more unique titles than the WiiU

Last year at E3, Nintendo’s digital presentation won me over with its bizarre sense of humor. That same sense of humor is back in 2015, with Muppet versions of Reggie, Iwata, and Miyamoto behaving strangely. It’s good that Nintendo’s big wigs can laugh at themselves, because otherwise it would look like people were laughing at the company instead of with the company. Personally, I’m weeping for them.

The WiiU hasn’t been doing so hot lately ever, and with Nintendo having already blown their load of ‘system sellers,’ like “Super Smash Bros. for WiiU” and “Mario Kart 8,” it doesn’t look like there should be much on the horizon as the ill-fated console enters what is likely to be its penultimate year of life. With “The Legend of Zelda U” delayed until the final year of the WiiU’s life, what could Nintendo possibly pull out of their hats to placate an audience starved of both first- and third-party releases?

Surprisingly, Nintendo showed footage of a lot of titles. Unsurprisingly, about half of them are already-known titles that have been lingering at the edges of our awareness for a year or more. Of course, two of these known titles, “Super Mario Maker” and “Yoshi’s Wooly World,” are the only Nintendo titles I’m confident in, and of those, “Super Mario Maker” is the only one I’m excited about. The new footage shown of “Super Mario Maker” looks absolutely insane, and will finally provide ROM-hack fans the same experience legitimately and on a console instead of a PC.

Distressingly, after focusing a lot on the WiiU last year, Nintendo backslid this year and showed both more and better titles for the 3DS. Both “Zelda: Triforce Heroes” (the “Four Swords” sequel I’ve been dying for) and “Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam” look entertaining, but with their handheld natures (and no crossplay or WiiU ports announced), I can’t get excited about them (even worse, “Triforce Heroes” is focused around online co-op instead of single-player). Out of the remaining titles shown, be they WiiU or 3DS, nothing looked good. The new ‘Star Fox’ rendition looks to be using an obnoxiously gimmicky control scheme with the GamePad, while the new 3DS ‘Metroid Prime’ will be focusing on the Federation (e.g., the worst aspect of the ‘Metroid’ universe’s story canon) and multi-player matches.

Amiibos are, unfortunately, not going away. Nintendo is even partnering with Activision (a company otherwise uninterested in porting any of their multi-platform games to Nintendo platforms) to create a line of hybrid Skylanders/Amiibos that are compatible with both companies’ software.

PC:
Want: Virtual Reality, “Pillars of Eternity: The White March” expansion
Not Sure if Want: DirectX 12
Do Not Want: Almost every game shown (‘Killing Floor,’ ‘Rising Storm,’ ‘Star Citizen,’ “American Truck Simulator,” “Strafe,” “Dirty Bomb,” “Enter the Dungeon,” “Heroes of the Storm”), AMD hardware

For the first time in the history of E3, the PC platform received its own press conference. While at first I thought the sudden inclusion of PC in a console-centric environment meant that someone who matters agrees with my assessment of the current state of PC/console gaming as practically identical, that did not turn out to be the case. Instead of harping on multi-platform titles or interesting control/viewing options, the PC show pandered largely to the “Glorious” PC Gaming Master Race audience by showing a bunch of PC games in traditionally PC genres that are played with a keyboard. It was a really disappointing showing because the one thing that still remains true about the PC platform after its recent metamorphosis is that the PC Master Race has horrible taste.

Out of the numerous games that were shown and talked about, only ONE captured my interest. Of course, it was the only RPG, and it just so happened to be an expansion pack (err… the first half of an expansion pack) for “Pillars of Eternity,” which I have not yet played but am super excited about. The guys from Obsidian who talked up “The White March” expansion at least shared my view that PC has been devoid of honest-to-god RPGs for too long and the recent influx of new titles (“Pillars,” the new “Torment,” “Wasteland 2,” “Divinity: Original Sin”) in that genre is a very good thing.

All of the other PC games discussed were some form of generic shooter, sim, roguelike, or MOBA (or, even worse, a combination of more than one of those genres). It was absolutely awful, and goes to show that no matter how much I am enjoying the PC platform in the 8th Generation, I am not (and never will be) a member of the Master Race. (And I’m perfectly okay with that!)

Of course, since AMD sponsored the PC press conference, they had to come on stage and shill their latest GPUs. I zoned out during this part of the presentation because everyone knows AMD = Finished and buying an AMD GPU is pointless unless you can’t afford a competing Nvidia model.

Microsoft also had a presence at the PC gaming conference, which is good, since without their OSes, PC gaming would still be stuck on awful boxes made by Commodore or Amiga. Apparently DirectX 12 is going to do amazing things for game development on Windows 10, but as a non-graphics whore, I don’t really care about the added features of DX12 as long as everything runs properly.

The biggest absence at the PC conference was Oculus, who not only have a VR headset to talk about, but a new pair of really amazing-looking Touch Controllers to pair with said headset. Someone either dropped the ball or AMD was afraid the PC Master Racists in the audience would be upset by something other than a keyboard being shown on-stage (hopefully they didn’t notice the Xbox controllers that popped up a couple times).

Everyone Else:
Want: “Fallout 4,” “Project Setsuna”
Not Sure if Want: “No Man’s Sky” (still!), “Unravel,” “Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness,” “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided”
Do Not Want: “Doom,” almost everything from EA, “For Honor,” “Kingdom Hearts 3”

A great many individual publishers had their own shows this year. Bethesda pre-empted everyone with an inaugural show where they touted a new ‘Doom’ game just titled “Doom,” alongside “Fallout 4” and some other, less noteworthy titles, like an ‘Elder Scrolls’ F2P card game. Having not yet gotten around to “Fallout 3” or “New Vegas,” I’m still interested in “Fallout 4” due to the IP’s RPG roots (despite being a shooter now). “Doom,” on the other hand, is something I would need to be paid a not-insignificant amount of money to play.

EA showed off “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” apparently reviving the concluded TPS trilogy for another go around (maybe they can get the ending right this time), along with sequels to “Mirror’s Edge,” and “Need4Speed.” EA is also heavily courting ‘Star Wars’ fanboys with a number of licensed games based on George Lucas’ movies. “Unravel” is a new IP, at least, that looks slightly like “LittleBigPlanet” on the surface, but is actually entirely different and unique (which is not what I have come to expect from EA!). Of course, being EA, they are also producing a cesspoolful of annual sports titles.

Ubisoft, those French villains, revealed a new ‘South Park’ RPG subtitled, “The Fractured, But Whole” (say it fast, and out loud), as a follow-up to the actually-not-terrible-if-you-can-tolerate-SouthPark-humor, “Stick of Truth.” They are also producing a new ‘Tom Clancy’ game that they claim is an RPG, but is clearly an FPS (plus another TWO ‘Tom Clancy’ games that apparently aren’t RPGs, so I have no idea what Ubi’s parameters for the genre are). “For Honor,” a new IP in a supposedly-new genre, looks a hell of a lot like a ‘Musou’ game with the awful combat of “Bushido Blade” and the team vs. team focus of a MOBA. So, I guess it’s ‘new’ because it combines a lot of bad old mechanics together. Other than that, everything from Ubisoft is a predictable sequel in one of their well-milked franchises.

Square Enix was back at E3 after a hiatus, despite the fact that Sony already stole a lot of the once-great RPG company’s thunder with its own conference. Unfortunately, instead of talking about RPGs the entire time, Square Enix’s people began the conference by spending a large amount of stage time talking about Eidos games like “Just Cause 3,” “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” “Hitman,” and “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.” Starting the presentation with Eidos instead of ‘Final Fantasy’ was a really poorly thought out move.

Getting back into actual Square Enix territory, the company announced “Nier 2,” a sequel to a 7th Gen game nobody really cared for. They also teased few more new non-Eidos games, including “Heavensward,” “Life is Strange,” and the already-known “Dragon Quest Heroes” ‘Musou’/‘Dragon Quest’ mashup a la “Hyrule Warriors.” “Kingdom Hearts 3” received a full reveal (alongside a ‘Kingdom Hearts’ smartphone game that nearly killed the audience), as did “Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness.” Square Enix’s parting shot, however, might have saved their entire presentation, as the company announced the creation of a new studio dubbed ‘Tokyo RPG Factory’ and renewed their dedication to the genre that built both halves of the merged company with a new IP codenamed “Project Setsuna.” While it might all be lip service and hot air, just hearing Square Enix acknowledge their bread and butter is more than we’ve gotten out of them in years.

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Jonzor

Wrote on07/13/15 at 03:48 PM CT

The difference is that Square does other stuff. Nintendo really doesn't. Every single Nintendo game strikes the same chords as all the others. Always a bright, colorful art style. Always stylized characters. Always simplified game mechanics, because God forbid someone make a Nintendo game your non-gaming aunt or 6 year-old sister can't pick up and enjoy. Always cheery, goofy stories and characters. Always family-friendly.

None of these are bad on their own, but when Nintendo is supporting a console all by themselves, the identical tone and atmosphere and approach and appeal of every single game starts to become a problem. I LOVE Pixar movies, but sometimes, I don't want to watch a Pixar movie.

Nintendo's consoles are turning into TVs that only play Pixar movies, and then people wonder why they don't sell well. Pixar movies are for EVERYONE! Kids! Parents! Adults! If we made someone ANYONE can like, that's the same as something EVERYONE likes, right?

There's a difference between having 5 games "for everyone" on your console and "anyone being able to find 5 games they'd like".

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Nelson Schneider

Wrote on07/13/15 at 02:54 PM CT

Jonzor, I'd say that the things you aren't loving about Nintendo currently aren't actually "kiddie" but just the direction Japanese pop-culture has been going for... far too long now. World of Final Fantasy looks just as grotesque, and it has nothing to do with Nintendo.

It always strikes me less as "kiddie" and more as "effeminate."

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Chris

Wrote on06/28/15 at 08:36 PM CT

Fractured, But Whole - best. title. ever. Kudos South Park. Also, if PS4 isn't scrambling right now to figure out a way to get some kind of backwards compatibility on par with Microsoft - they are idiots. It's not a system killer, but it's a feature that should be included at this stage in the game. Fallout 4 blew me away (and it's coming out this year!) and I am intrigued by some of the other Sony exclusives (even your hated FFVII remake - though I'll wait and see on most of them). That being said - Sony's Project Morpheus is shaping up to be the most interesting of the VR platforms - we'll see how they integrate it as it gets polished.

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Jonzor

Wrote on06/22/15 at 02:19 PM CT

So, I'm sitting there watching Nintendo's E3 Direct, and I see Metroid get a chibi makeover, and I see Animal Crossing get turned into a board game (because Nintendo needs three separate first-party franchises on the Wii U of board games) when Mario Party 10 came out in March, and I guess unsatisfied board-slash-party game enthusiasts are a target demographic for Nintendo...

... but anyway, I'm sitting there watching this video and I'm like, "Man... I just don't understand why Nintendo has a rep for being 'kiddie'."

I have to laugh out loud when Reggie Fils-Aime says the VR headsets are just "tech" and "not fun" and "not social" I'm like:

1. Your Star Fox game coming out is practically using the tablet as a VR screen with some shoehorned-in motion controls. Talk about tech just for tech's sake. I'd rather do Star Fox with a VR helmet instead of the gamepad, honestly. Some people would say a handheld console with glasses-free 3D is "just tech".

2. "Not fun" is relative. Some people would say stylus-only controls in Zelda games "aren't fun". Like me.

3. A company with 2002-level online functionality - except with NO voice chat - in their games doesn't get to talk trash about something not being "social". Your incoming Star Fox game isn't "social" either. Games don't always need to be social, so slinging that as an insult means nothing to me.

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