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E3 Impressions 2019

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By Nelson Schneider - 06/16/19 at 05:21 PM CT

Going into E3 this year, my hopes were higher than at any point in recent memory, thanks in large part to the pre-E3 reveals of a number of exciting titles that I actually care about. These games, which I wanted to see more of at E3, include, but are not limited to, “Baldur’s Gate 3” and “Borderlands 3,” as well as a number of older announcements like “The Outer Worlds” and “Cyberpunk 2077.” It’s a good thing those games made appearances at the show, as, without them, the amount of intriguing content was dismally low, with only a handful of pleasant surprises.

Microsoft:
Want: “The Outer Worlds,” “Wasteland 3,” “Psychonauts 2,” Xbox Elite Controller Series 2
Not Sure if Want: “Ori and the Will of the Wisps” (still!), “Minecraft Dungeons,” “Spiritfarer,” “Battletoads” (still!), “Rightime!,” Gamepass Ultimate, Project Xcloud
Do Not Want: “Bleeding Edge,” “Phantasy Star Online 2,” “Elden Ring,” PvP, Zombies, ‘Star Wars,’ Tons of Indie Crap

Microsoft managed to get quite a bit of mileage out of their recent studio purchases, while also announcing another new acquisition: Double Fine – Tim Schafer’s quirky development studio. As a result of owning Obsidian, inXile, and Double Fine, MS managed to show off one game from each studio that made me sit up and say, “Hello!” We’ve got Obsidian bringing a ‘Borderlands’/‘Fallout’-inspired FPS, “The Outer Worlds,” which was revealed before E3 and looks fantastic. We’ve got inXile bringing another TRUE sequel to ‘Fallout’ in the form of “Wasteland 3,” another actual post-apocalyptic RPG instead of a Shooter with a few stats tacked-on. And we’ve got Double Fine bringing the long-overdue sequel to ‘Psychonauts.’

MS showed off a handful of potentially-okay games that I’ll reserve judging until later. “Ori 2” is still in the works, and looks to have plenty of that annoying ‘chase’ gameplay that made me dislike the first one. “Minecraft” is getting a spinoff called “Minecraft Dungeons,” which apes ‘Diablo,’ only without even the lip service to the RPG genre that the Hack ‘n Slash subgenre retains, making it more like “Minecraft” meets “Gauntlet.” Unfortunately, “Minecraft Dungeons” has 4-player local coop, so that means the MJ Crew will end up playing it for lack of anything better. We’ll also probably end up playing the new ‘Battletoads’ game, even though the art style looks like a horrific mashup between the modern “My Little Pony” and “Spongebob” cartoon shows. MS promoted a couple of interesting-looking Indie titles as well: “Spiritfarer” and “Righttime!,” both of which were represented vaguely enough in their trailers that I can’t really describe what I saw, but I wasn’t disgusted.

I WAS disgusted, though, by the vast majority of other stuff MS showed off. So much PvP idiocy. So much zombie schlock. So much licensed ‘Star Wars.’ Ech. If I had to call out my top 3 biggest offenders, I’d say the team PvP abomination, “Bleeding Edge;” the microtransaction-riddled and decade-late announcement of “Phantasy Star Online 2” for the West; and the destined-to-ruin-everyone’s-life ‘Souls of Thrones’ mashup, “Elden Ring” are the most offensive. The rest of the crap – even MS’s typical drumbeat cadence of “Halo”/“Gears”/“Forza,” while present, seemed undersold compared to the other atrocities.

MS didn’t just show off games, though. They also talked about their games-as-a-subscription service Gamepass – though much less aggressively than last year – as well as their new Xcloud streaming service, a Rev.2 release of the Xbox Elite controller (allegedly with a better build quality this time), and they even talked a bit about their next Xbox hardware release. Gamepass got a big boost this year, as MS revealed that for $15/month, you get Gamepass on Xbox and Windows AND your Xbox Live Gold sub is included in that fee, making the whole thing significantly cheaper. It seems that MS wants to become the Netflix of videogames, and, as someone who doesn’t buy movies but does subscribe to Netflix, the concept is growing on me enough that I can at least respect it, even though I’ll never subscribe to it. But for the typical Doritos-and-Mountain-Dew Dudebro gamer, Gamepass definitely fits like Cinderella’s glass slipper. Xcloud, on the other hand, is a subscription streaming service that’s trying to get in on the same turf as PlayStation Now, Google Stadia, and Onlive (remember Onlive?). Of course, MS has been bending over backwards to be consumer friendly lately, so they have built a choice into Xcloud: Either pay a subscription to use their servers to stream Xbox games anywhere with Internet, OR use your own Xbox to stream your games to anywhere with Internet for free. Xcloud is, essentially, the next step in in-home streaming pioneered by Valve with the Steamlink, only Xcloud might actually be useful, as having access to your game library while you’re not at home is a much more compelling feature than having access to your game library in a different room in your house.

Sony:
Want: Sony’s complete lack of presence and hubris
Not Sure if Want: Nothing!
Do Not Want: Nothing!

Sony decided to bow-out of E3 completely this year, not even posting a Nintendo Direct-style pre-recorded bit of propaganda… and I’m completely okay with that! After two years of god-awful E3 appearances, combined with the fact that the company has been drifting completely out of alignment with me as a gamer for over a decade already, I’m personally relieved that I don’t have to sit through another embarrassing display by Sony, and then pretend I was excited about some part of it.

Nintendo:
Want: “Daemon X Machina” (still!), “Luigi’s Mansion 3,” “Pokemon Sword/Shield”
Not Sure if Want: “The Dark Crystal Tactics,” “Panzer Dragoon,” “Cadence of Hyrule”
Do Not Want: Tons of crossover DLC for an allegedly ‘Ultimate’ version of a game, Remakes, Ports, Sequels to Crap

Nintendo’s E3 Direct was a lot less of a one-trick pony than last year’s excessive “Smash Bros. Ultimate” show. In fact, the company managed to squeeze in a large number of games, a whopping three of which I actually want to play at some point: “Luigi’s Mansion 3,” “Daemon X Machina,” and “Pokemon Sword/Shield Version.” And out of those three, only one is a rehash of something shown last year! “Daemon X Machina” still looks like the type of revitalization the Mech Driving subgenre desperately needs, while the new ‘Pokemon’ will finally bring the classic monster-catching RPG in line with modern RPG production standards. “Luigi’s Mansion 3” doesn’t look all that different from the first game… but considering the last ‘Luigi’s Mansion’ game I played was on the Gamecube (I passed on “Dark Moon” due to disliking handhelds and gimmicky touchscreen controls), I’m okay with a faithful follow-up.

Nintendo also showed off a couple of things I’m a bit leery of: A licensed TRPG based on Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” movie universe; a rhythm-based spin-off of ‘Zelda’ called “Cadence of Hyrule,” which could be fun in the same way as the musical levels in Ubisoft’s modern ‘Rayman’ games… or could be horrible; and some sort of ‘Panzer Dragoon’ game from Sega. The last one is really up in the air, as the gameplay looked much slower-paced than a traditional ‘Panzer Dragoon’ Rail Shooter, but was absent the menu interface from “Panzer Dragoon Saga.” We have no idea if this is a new ‘Panzer Dragoon’ game, a remake/reboot, or a damned port (since the Switch loves those).

And speaking of ports and remakes: There were plenty of those in the Direct, along with an absolute butt-load of DLC for “Smash Bros. Allegedly-Ultimate” – after all, how can a game be ‘Ultimate’ if it has gobs of for-pay add-ons? Game Boy ‘Zelda’ title, “Link’s Awakening” is getting a remaster, as is “Seiken Densetsu 3” (and the entire ‘Mana’ series, for that matter), along with ‘Contra.’ For ports, the big names are “The Witcher 3” and ‘Resident Evil.’ Other than that, Nintendo also showed off some of the same crap from last year, plus a handful of sequels to things I don’t care about.

PC Gaming Show:
Want: “Baldur’s Gate 3,” “CrisTales,” “Borderlands 3”
Not Sure if Want: “Remnant: From the Ashes,” “Songs of Conquest,” “Ancestors,” “Valfaris”
Do Not Want: “Shenmue 3,” “Telling Lies,” Roguelikes, Mobile Ports, PvP, Tons of Indie Crap

Like last year, the PC Gaming Show was a long slog through knee-deep poop. While last year the god-awful Battle Royale subgenre dominated, this year, we were ‘treated’ to an infestation of one of PC gaming’s problem genres, which has been around for decades: The Roguelike. Scribbly ‘Conan the Barbarian’ Roguelike? Yup! “Dwarf Fortress” in space? Yup! Generic sequel Roguelike? Yup! Hell, even “Griftlands,” which I thought looked interesting at past E3s, was revealed to have gone through the crucible of Development Hell, and emerged on the other side as a deck-building Roguelike!

Besides Roguelikes, there were other potentially interesting games that were ruined once their core mechanics were revealed: “Midnight Ghost Hunt” looks, at first, like ‘Luigi’s Mansion’ for the post-puberty crowd… but is actually a 4v4 team PvP disaster. Likewise, “Last Oasis” looks like a unique Steampunk pirate game… but it’s an MMO.

But not all was doom and gloom in the PC gaming show. Four titles could be interesting once we learn more: “Remnant: From the Ashes” seems like an interesting shooter with coop… only it’s limited to 3 players for some damned reason! It was also, unfortunately, compared favorably to ‘Souls,’ which, to me, is like a bright orange caterpillar with furry tufts and horns: Any animal with a sense of self-preservation should avoid eating that thing! Then there’s an old-school Strategy/RPG mashup, “Songs of Conquest;” evolution-themed “Ancestors;” and a very Metal Metroidvania, “Valfaris.” I’m not sold on any of these titles, by any means, but I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

The three games I AM sold on are “Baldur’s Gate 3,” which didn’t get any new footage outside of the pre-E3 cinematic trailer; “CrisTales,” a classic-style RPG with the unique gimmick of letting the player look at everything through three different temporal perspectives at once; and “Borderlands 3,” which promises to provide more of the great ‘Borderlands’ memetic humor and crazy weaponry we know and love, only with the crazy weaponry dial turned-up to 11.

Google:
Want: “Destiny 2: Shadowkeep”
Not Sure if Want: Nothing!
Do Not Want: Stadia, Stadia Pro, Stadia Base

With Sony’s absence, I was looking forward to only watching two console shows and the PC Gaming Show. Unfortunately, Google, the company who changed their motto from “Don’t Be Evil” to “Always Be Evil,” decided to throw their hat into the gaming platform ring, with a Nintendo Direct-inspired “Stadia Connect” propaganda video.

Google Stadia is a new streaming platform that Google thinks it is uniquely situated to maintain due to the company’s gigantic and pervasive network infrastructure. I hate to break it to Google, but just because they have fast, reliable, affordable Internet with no caps or metering at their campuses, that doesn’t mean the rest of America does, let alone the rest of the world.

Stadia will take two forms:

Stadia Pro is a $10/month subscription that provides a Gamepass-inspired assortment of “free” games (“free” as in, they go *poof* when you stop subbing). It also includes a couple of perks, like higher-resolution.

Stadia Base is a free service that just provides the platform without any games. In order to play any games on Stadia Base, you have to BUY them on Stadia.

The major disconnect I see here, and the thing that Microsoft seems to be tackling better with Xcloud and Gamepass, is that Stadia wants to be another double-dipping discrete platform, despite the fact that it is literally just PC gaming without a PC. If I could link my Steam, GOG, Origin, Uplay, Epic, and Battle.net accounts to Stadia and play my games that I already own on Stadia Base, I’d be mildly compelled by the concept of playing my games anywhere there’s god-tier Internet and no computer. As it is, though, this is just as bad as any other monopolistic platform holder making you buy on THEIR platform, even if you already own the game in question elsewhere.

The only silver lining of Google’s lame Stadia propaganda fest was the fact that they talked about the new “Destiny 2” expansion, which I want to play… after “Destiny 2” migrates from Battle.net to Steam in September 2019.

The Rest:
Want: “Cyberpunk 2077,” “RAGE 2” Expansion, “Dragon Quest Builders 2”
Not Sure if Want: “Gods & Monsters,” “Wolfenstein: Youngblood,” “Deathloop,” “Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles” remake, “Outriders,” “Avengers”
Do Not Want: Looooong-winded conferences, Tom Clancy overload, game developers wasting money on non-game media like TV and movies, “Ghostwire Tokyo,” ‘Elder Scrolls’ IP butchery, “Fallout 76” on life support, “Commander Keen” on mobile, Orion Engine for Streaming, “DOOM Eternal,” “Final Fantasy 7 Remake”

Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Bethesda Softworks and Square-Enix all showed off their wares in dedicated shows this year, but the results are a far cry (no pun intended) from the overwhelming and diverse amount of stuff shown last year. Each of these conferences was excessively long, each clocking in at over an hour, but managed to show off very little.

EA took the cake this year… and pooped all over it before handing it back to us, thanks to a nearly 3-hour long slog of a conference in which they talked about 6 games. Yes, you read that right. THREE HOURS to talk about SIX GAMES. Even worse, the only new game on the docket was their licensed ‘Star Wars’ title, “Jedi: Fallen Order,” which I don’t care about because it’s ‘Star Wars,’ and ‘Star Wars’ is stupid. Other than their ONE new game, EA talked about Season 2 of their Battle Royale disaster, “Apex Legends;” Chapter 4 of their generic war FPS, “Battlefield 5;” a tropical-themed DLC for “The Sims 4;” and annual roster updates for their Football and Futbol franchises. Thankfully, I didn’t watch this dog and pony show live, and was able to condense the entire sordid affair into 6 minutes via liberal use of the Skip Forward button. Otherwise I’d be even more resentful toward EA than I already am.

Ubisoft was only slightly less egregious than EA, with nothing that I definitely want to play coming up. The closest thing to ‘interesting’ that was shown was “Gods & Monsters,” but the details are so sketchy, it could really be anything… but it looked nice. Ubisoft really doubled-down on the Tom Clancy license this year, pushing “Rainbow Six,” “Ghost Recon,” and “The Division” expansions like they were going out of style (which they probably are). To top off the turd sundae they were serving, Ubisoft also announced their own $15/month subscription service, Uplay Plus. Don’t forget what I said last year about EVERYONE having these things. The concept only works if there’s ONE monolithic sub that gives you everything you want, otherwise they all add together to be more expensive than just buying the few games you actually care about each year. The lack of interesting games at Ubisoft’s conference was only exacerbated by the fact that the company is actually dumping money into making non-game media now, with an alleged comedy TV series, “Mythic Quest,” which looks to me like “Silicon Valley” and/or “The Office” meets the sad life of videogame developers. They’ve also convinced Netflix to make a movie based on Tom Clancy’s “The Division.” Movies based on Live Services are a new low… does no one remember the “Warcraft” movie?!

Bethesda spent their hour mostly on sequels. The only new IPs they introduced were some Japanese game they’re publishing called “Ghostwire Tokyo,” which looked like a dumb Horror game; and some sort of bizarre-looking Shooter with a time loop mechanic called “Deathloop.” Neither of them particularly inspires confidence. No, Bethesda is really putting all their money on their old IPs, with rehashed sequels for ‘Wolfenstein’ (which actually looks okay), ‘DOOM,’ and the better-off-forgotten ‘Commander Keen.’ They’re also busy destroying the credibility of the ‘Elder Scrolls’ IP with their terrible “Blades” and “Legends” spinoffs for mobile and the single-player MMO, “Elder Scrolls Online.” The company even took a faux-self-deprecating demeanor when discussing the fate of “Fallout 76,” which was skewered by pretty much everyone who played it in 2018 as a complete disaster. Unfortunately, they aren’t putting it out to pasture, but are trying to patch up the holes by adding basic features and a Battle Royale mode a year after that fad pretty much ended. Finally, Bethesda introduced their Orion game engine, which they allege will make games stream from remote servers more efficiently. Great. Just what we needed. Not an update to the decrepit Gamebryo Engine that is holding back ‘Elder Scrolls’ and ‘Fallout’ development, but a half-baked plug-in that makes streaming easier for those who live in a magical land of amazing Internet (read: not America). The only thing Bethesda announced that I actually care about is the “RAGE 2” expansion… but we all knew an expansion was coming, so it’s not like it was really an amazing surprise.

Square-Enix, unsurprisingly, spent a good 20 minutes of their conference on the atrocious abomination known as “Final Fantasy 7 Remake” (yes, that is the title). That’s all I have to say about that. Fortunately, they also spent plenty of time on other… remakes… and ports… and remasters: “Octopath Traveler” for PC, “The Last Remnant Remastered,” “Dragon Quest 11 Definitive Edition” for Switch, “Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles,” something in the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ IP (the titles make no sense to the unindoctrinated), ‘SaGa,’ and “Final Fantasy 8.” Out of all those, I really only care about “Crystal Chronicles,” as I never got to play the original back in the day due to its ridiculous hardware requirements (multiple Game Boy Advances, link cables, and a Gamecube). The company is also insistent on keeping its Live Services alive, with new content for both “Final Fantasy 14” (a subscription MMO) and “Final Fantasy Brave Exvius” (a mobile macrotransaction engine). Out of the handful of actual sequels and new IPs shown off, most of them were unappealing, with only “Dragon Quest Builders 2” solidly on my must-play list. However, “Outriders,” a new Shooter IP (with only 3-player coop, for reasons that are beyond comprehension), could be promising if we actually got to see some gameplay or… anything besides cinematics. And there’s a new “Avengers” game coming that ISN’T tied to the Marvel movie franchise of the same name (so no Scarlett Johansson, Chris), but IS a new adventure in the Marvel universe, a Live Service, and offers 4-player online coop… so the MJ Crew will probably end up playing it at some point.

Lastly, for some reason, CD Projekt tied their new cinematic trailer for “Cyberpunk 2077” to the Xbox bandwagon. Still, after playing a bunch of ‘Shadowrun’ this year, this game has moved from my ‘Not Sure if Want’ list to a definite ‘Do Want.’ Hopefully getting cybered-up is easier in “Cyberpunk 2077” than in ‘Shadowrun’ due to the lack of magic in the former mitigating the need to limit the number of body mods one gets.

Conclusion
For E3 2019, I’m surprised to be handing to trophy to Microsoft, once again, for showing that their recent actions and decisions aren’t completely disastrous. Garnering a number of interesting games from their new developer acquisitions will definitely help them in the long term, while they seem to be the least egregious gold-diggers in the realm of gamestreaming and subscriptions. Fifteen years ago, if you’d have told me I’d be praising Microsoft and Xbox for anything and breathing a sigh of relief at Sony’s E3 absence, I’d have called you a filthy liar. My, how times change!

My Game of the Show award goes, unsurprisingly, to “Baldur’s Gate 3,” which is a game I never thought would happen, but the very fact that Wizards of the Coast gave the D&D license to a developer as proven as Larian should make every RPG fan jump for joy. Too bad all we got to see was a trailer introducing the fact that Illithids are going to be the primary antagonists. But if the gameplay is anything like the ‘Divinity: Original Sin’ games mixed with D&D 5th Edition, it’ll be orgasmic.

The Booby Prize goes to EA and Ubisoft, for somehow managing to show of NOTHING of significant interest this year. When you hop into bed with Live Services and try to keep people addicted to ONE game forever, you’re not going to have much of anything to try and tempt new victims customers. Man that EA conference… wow… just… WOW! I have never seen anything that bad at E3 before. Ever.

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