The second set of conferences only added to the grandeur of the first. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get right to it.
I was admittedly a little disappointed with the lack of content during Square Enix’s presentation this year. While the recent Tomb Raider games have been great, the new installment doesn’t appear to be exceptionally unique posed against the series’ other recent releases. I’m also personally not a fan of Dragon Quest, so what does that leave me with? Kingdom Hearts III.
I’m really excited for Kingdom Hearts, don’t get me wrong, but since the third game in the series got a pretty significant plug during Microsoft’s conference the day before (as well as the official release date the night before that), it was nothing new. Had it been entirely new footage or some additional revelation about the game that we hadn’t yet known, maybe there would have been more of a nuance. But, unfortunately, that’s not quite how it went down.
I’m primarily saddened that we’re going another year with almost no information on the Final Fantasy VII remake (and that’s coming from a totally selfish place, take your time my darlings). I also would have been curious to get some more info on the upcoming Final Fantasy XV DLC, since it focuses on my favorite boss babes Aranea and Luna—but not even a hint. I’m not shocked by the lack of news, but it was a bit disappointing for them to bring so little to their own presentation. Especially since they participated in other conferences, such as the aforementioned Microsoft presentation as well as Sony’s hours later, it didn’t feel necessary for them to have their own.
I don’t usually go into Ubisoft’s presentations expecting to walk away with much, but this year proved to be pretty interesting.
I’m familiar with the original Beyond Good and Evil, but it’s definitely out of my expertise. Back when it launched in 2003 I was still very much in the middle of my “go Zelda or go home” phase, so beyond watching friends play it in the past, my familiarity is surface-level. That being said, I was quite enamored with the new footage from Beyond Good and Evil 2. The cast of characters is diverse, it’s visually complex, and it truly feels unique juxtaposed against the average “space game” that we were shown this year. But, there’s more.
During the presentation, they announced that Ubisoft was partnering with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRecord to bring real, community-created content into the dreamscape of the game. You can expect to see and hear art and music around the world of the game, creating a living, breathing, vibrant environment—all created by fans and members of the community. Better yet, all of these creators will get paid for their work.
As an artist, this gesture is amazing. If your work is selected and used, they’re going to pay you for it. They’ve set aside an initial pool of $50,000 to pay artists and musicians whose work is used and shipped to Ubisoft to be incorporated into the game.
For me, Ubisoft’s true breadwinner was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Let’s go back a couple years. In 2014 they faced a lot of criticism when their lack of female protagonists was blamed on women basically being “too difficult to animate”. The excuse was appalling, and I actually wrote off the series for a while afterward (and not because of the lack of female protagonists, but because I, as a female gamer, felt so ill prioritized by the developer).
This year, they presented the latest game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Ubisoft took that controversy to heart, and even though it’s been a solid four years since, they’ve earnestly worked to fix their past mistakes. Not only can you play as a woman in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but everything about Kassandra embodies what I’ve been yearning for in a female protagonist. There’s nothing sexualized about her design (though she is pretty damn sexy to me). They even earned some bonus points by giving us LGBT-friendly romance options. Ubisoft listened to the community and delivered a character that embodied what we had been asking for all along. It doesn’t feel like something they forced but truly feels like the product of reflection.
Leave it to Sony to do something a little…different. I’m a pretty theatrical person, but if you have to pause your entire presentation for a brief intermission barely a few minutes in, make sure it’s necessary. While I’m here to talk about the games since they took the time to set such a grand stage, let’s talk about what they did and how I would have done it differently.
I mean, they could have shown me The Last of Us Part II on an iPhone in a gritty midwest diner and I would have been happy. Their church setup could have worked more, for both the live and digital audiences, had they had omitted any sort talking beforehand (and no musical guests, please). Just get to the footage, spare us the juxtapositions between Sony and being some ambient, all-knowing apparition. We’re here for the games, so do what’s best to highlight them.
Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I actually really liked the concept of starting the presentation in a room that was a direct mirror into the game. Gaming is interactive media, after all, so taking advantage of the opportunity to make the experience that much more interactive is pretty ingenious. It raises tension, especially for those in the room. Imagine standing there, watching the footage. You’re hot and sweaty from waiting in the sun for hours. Suddenly, the room goes dark and you’re in Ellie’s shoes. Just like you, she’s in a hot, cramped crowd. You already feel some sort of empathy, because you’re right there with her. Imagine then, if the trailer didn’t cut from a sweet kiss to our protagonist digging her knife into the neck of an unsuspecting victim as she raids the camp of our new unknown enemy. Instead, imagine what it would have felt like if there was some sort of outbreak during the dance. Imagine standing in that replica of that church, watching the brutality of The Last of Us Part II, nervous that you’re next.
That’s how you make the setup work. But once the footage got rolling, after a prolonged speech and unnecessary musical performance, you forgot all about it.
The Last of Us Part II is in my top three most anticipated games from the conferences this year. Naughty Dog’s storytelling is unparalleled.
Beyond my admittedly bias obsession with The Last of Us, the only other game (that was exclusive to the Sony presentation) that I was excited to see was the Resident Evil 2 remake. It was a pleasant bout of nostalgia that I wasn’t expecting. Otherwise, I’m treading lightly with Death Stranding until I understand it a little bit more—that is, if we’re meant to understand it. Ghosts of Tsushima was visually stunning, and while I’ll dig into its use of color as symbolism another day, I’d like to know a bit more about the story.
All professionalism goes right out the window for me with Nintendo. There was one thing I wanted to see during their annual E3 Direct, and I was actually pretty nervous that I might not get it with all of the attention being directed towards Super Smash Bros. this year. But Nintendo delivered, and the final conference of E3 2018 gave me just what I wanted.
Similarly to Zelda, Fire Emblem has been one of my favorite game franchises for a very long time. I’ve had to actively stop myself from just writing a series of inaudible noises as my assessment because I’m pretty sure I just shrieked for a solid 10 minutes while watching the trailer. Heck, while the Direct was still going I pulled up a second YouTube tab and watch it again…and again, while they cheerfully presented Smash in the background.
I’ve been waiting as patiently as I possibly could for more information on the Switch title since it was previously announced during a Nintendo Direct early last year. It was initially slated to launch in 2018, but I’m not heartbroken over the delayed release. While I’ve enjoyed the prior two original DS titles (Awakening and Fates), I’m really intrigued by the atmosphere that we got a taste of in the new trailer. It reminds me a little of the Gaiden remake that we got last spring, and I’m all for it. On top of that, it appears to be a little more engaging with open exploration outside of the tactical combat that we all know and love. I’m a big fan of the darker side of Fire Emblem, dating back to Genealogy of the Holy War, and I’m hoping we see more of that in the new installment.
I have high hopes for Three Houses, but then again, there’s very little they could do the disappoint me with this one.
I’m genuinely excited about a lot of the content that we’ve been shown over the last few days. I know it was a less fruitful E3 for some, but at this point, we’re probably on the edge of another console overhaul. I expect the next couple of years to be fairly chaotic as we phase from the current generation and see what’s to come in the next.
As an industry, we’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of representation both in the games and in studio. A colleague of mine did a breakdown of not only the gaming content that was shown as E3, but also a brief breakdown on the demographics of the presenters. While we’re making positive strides in seeing better representation on screen, the stage was still dominated by a single demographic. In the years to come, I’d love to see more representation on and off stage, in studio and in our games. We are a massive, diverse community, and we need to embrace and support it.
That being said, I’m walking away from E3 this year inspired and excited to get gaming (and writing!) I’m personally most excited for Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us Part II, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Cheers, and happy gaming!