Rundown (6/09) E3 2019: Get Your News While It’s Hot!

I am very well aware of the fact that it is beyond pointless for me to try and cover an event like E3 or offer my hot takes on any given press conference due to the simple fact that everybody and their baby cousin is doing the same darn thing, and that my posts do not technically go up until hours later, where they offer a text-based summary of a video broadcast.  It is all kind of pointless in a sense, but I have fun making this elongated opinionated summaries, and that’s the important part. …I think.

Microsoft has more or less conceited that this generation will be a loss for them at this point, and is instead looking to the future, trying to develop the infrastructure, goodwill, hardware, and software needed to succeed in the next generation.  While there are a number of quibbles I can levy towards the company, their showings the past few years have generally been pleasant, offering a deluge of appealing looking games, and focusing on things that the core gaming audience actually cares about.  Which is a far cry from the days of elongated Kinect showcases and the Xbox One reveal. Also, I will not be covering everything they showed, doing so would be absurd, and instead will focus on the reveals and such.

Before delving into the briefing proper, Microsoft began the day by revealing more details about the previously announced and reannounced Xbox Game Pass for PC, and then dropped a significant bomba to rock the socks off of the PC gaming community by announcing that the service, which offers players access to dozens of games in addition to all upcoming first party Microsoft titles will be available for the low price of $5 a month.  The library itself is no slouch either, boasting a wide array of titles that was only made more impressive with the announcements made during the briefing itself.  I am not big into subscription services, but would I pay $5 when it suits me to access a library with titles such as SteamWorld Dig 2, ReCore, Sunset Overdrive, Wargroove, and The Messenger?  You bet your fat fanny I would!  But then it came out that this was simply an introductory price, and it would be $10 later on… which still isn’t a bad price.  Now if only I could actually download these games without getting an error code… 

Starting with the first party offerings, Bleeding Edge is the latest title from the recently acquired Ninja Theory, and is poised as a 4 versus 4 online melee combat affair with a series of eccentric characters boasting unique designs and silhouettes.  Or in other words, it is another team based shooter, but with melee weapons instead of guns. It honestly makes me think of Anarchy Reigns except with an art style that reminds me of Gotham City Imposters of all things, and, well, I cannot say that this snippet-filled trailer showed much to inspire intrigue in this title.  At least, beyond the fact that it will be free for Game Pass subscribers, and has an alpha starting on June 27th.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps was given another showing, this time depicting real time gameplay, something that was scarce amongst this showing, and mostly took the form of elaborate set pieces where the protagonist is feeling from an assortment of giant imposing 3D bosses amidst a gorgeously crafted 2D world.  I am naturally interested in giving this lavish looking metroidvania a spin when it comes out, yet I must mention my mixed feelings about the first game, many of which stemmed from my fixation on numbers.  But autism-based grievances aside, the game looks more than promising, and will debut on February 11, 2020.

Considering the immense popularity, the idea of branching the brand out into a myriad of other genres seems like an obvious decision, and that’s precisely what Microsoft is doing with Minecraft Dungeons.  A four player co-op isometric action RPG, also known as a Diablo-like, albeit with a more friendly user interface, a clean blocky aesthetic, and obviously crafting elements.  The oddest part about this announcement is how Mojang is the apparent developer, when I would have assumed that spin-offs of this nature would be better handled by an additional party, but that’s just me.  Because this is Minecraft, the title will launch on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC in spring 2020.

Following last year’s tease, the new Battletoads game, simply entitled Battletoads, was revealed as about what everybody expected.  A 3 player beat ‘em up with a number of more elaborate set piece levels, featuring more modernized character designs with an emphasis on expressiveness, as that’s kind of the key artistic component of the series.  As a whole, I think the game looks quite good, yet the visual bombast of the affair seems to imply that the focus of this game may be less on providing brutal difficulty, and more on creating a fun, visually stimulating, arcade-style brawler for people to play with their friends.  Oh, and no release window was given.

Wasteland 3 was shown off with a tone trailer of sorts that established the snow drenched post-apocalyptic Colorado setting of the game with a degree of dark humor made as seen in a narrator who openly makes light of the situation, all while some in-engine footage is provided, but nothing that can be dubbed gameplay on its own, presumably because most PC-centric RPGs make for fairly boring trailer material.  They also are not really my thing despite primarily playing on PC. Hopefully those who do enjoy it find it to be a rousing and methodical affair when the title releases sometime this fourth quarter.

As one of the more surprising announcements of this show, a game based on the Blair Witch film series, creatively entitled Blair Witch, was recently announced as an Xbox and PC exclusive developed by Bloober Team, the developers behind Observer and Layers of Fear, two well received horror games, and this sure as heck is a horror game.  A first person affair with a pacific northwest setting, 90s video camera gimmick, and a dog companion. Overall it looks like a quality affair, and I’m sure it will give a bunch of people the spookies something fierce when it launches on August 30th.  

Following the studio acquisition bombardment of the prior year, this time Microsoft elected to announce the purchase of DoubleFine, a developer with a history of financial troubles and cult classic releases, making them a fairly good fit for Microsoft’s line-up.  But rather than announce a new thing, they instead showed off more of Psychonauts 2, which very much looks like an evolution of the 2005 original, basking in the technological advancements afforded to the developers, and looking considerably less rough around the edges, while still boasting the same personality that has allowed this title to remain in the greater gaming mindshare for so many years.

Oh, and for some reason they are doing a LEGO crossover with Forza Horizon 4, dubbed LEGO Speed Champions.  It sounds like a load of gimmicky nonsense, yet the idea of taking an innocuous plaything and basing an entire expansion around it in a visually stunning open world driving game that is not littered with destructible bricks is just kind of precious, and the kind of thing that would get individuals, namely children and child-like adults, to delve into a game they otherwise might have ignored.  The game will be available on June 13th, narrowly avoiding the instantaneous drop schtick, though I guess that was State of Decay 2’s role.  

Shifting gears to third party offerings, let’s begin with Elden Ring, the very anticipated From Software X George R.R. Martin crossover that has been rumored for over a month at this point, was given a CG trailer that featured vague imagery of characters, a narrator talking about how a ring was broken and is bringing forth the end, with no meaningful details beyond that.   But as I gathered from the unconfirmed leaks, the game will supposedly be an open world action RPG where the player may freely pursue one of 8 paths, while also gaining new powers.

Tales of Arise was revealed as the latest entry in the long-running action oriented JRPG series, and while what they had to show mostly consisted of in-game cutscene footage and decontextualized gameplay snippets, it still illustrates a dramatic boost in production value quality and budget compared to the more modest presentation seen in the two prior entries, which honestly look like a generation behind what they showed here.  It’s all very flashy, vibrant, has a female lead character pull a sword from her cleavage, because that’s cool, and will be available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2020.

The previously announced Dragon Ball Z game from CyberConnect2 was given its final name as Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot.  Now, the initial trailer for the project seemed to imply a more grounded and long form exploration of the Dragon Ball Z saga, rather than following the path laid out by most other games by focusing on the major highlights that I have honestly seen so many times before that I have honestly become more than a little tired of them, so I have to say that I am a bit upset that this new trailer did focus on Goku’s battle against Nappa, Vegeta, and Frieza throughout the first third of the series.  While the game did shimmer with a degree of spectacle despite these familiar scenarios, I’m probably not going to be keeping much of an eye on it until after it comes out on early 2020 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, when other people assess whether or not it is worth delving into.

But that downer was soon followed-up with what I found to be the biggest announcement of this entire media briefing.  None other than the announcement that the game that Sega had abused time and time again is finally coming to North America.  I’m talking about Phantasy Star Online 2!  For so many years this game has been a running joke, a title that was consistently updated, enhanced, and ported, yet always was locked into Asian releases, all while Sega of America hemmed and hawed about how they were looking into it for years.  And now, it is finally coming out in 2020 for PC and Xbox One! I don’t even have a good reason to be excited about this since I do not play MMOs, but just knowing that it is finally coming still fills me with a form of pure and palpable joy.

As for the unsurprising independent games assortment, there were four titles in particular that stood out to me.  From Thunder Lotus games, developers of Jotun and Sundered comes Spiritfarer, a quaint little game about an adorable little child who serves as a ferrymaster to the souls of the departed, taking them on journeys using their elaborate city-boat, forging bonds with them, harvesting and collecting goodies to trade, and experience somber tales of loss as those friends you make along the way are eventually sent off to another realm.  All of this combined with an art direction rife with animal persons and lovely 2D animation result in a game that will certainly be a darling amongst some critics, and manages to hit a number of sweet spots for me personally. You can hug your doe-lady friend, bake her a cake and go on adventures with your pet kitty cat! Spiritfarer is due out in 2020 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC

On the subject of adorable deers, Way of the Woods is an adorable adventure game about a deer and his fawn travelling through an abandoned Japanese town with a subtle surreal bent to it.  The flat colors, subdued lighting effects, and general look of the game are all striking in their own way, and result in something that I find myself drawn to immensely.  I personally have a soft spot for games about playing as an animal in an urban environment, I just do okay, and this game manages to fill that niche and then some. Way of the Woods is due out in 2020 for PC, Xbox One, and possibly other unspecified consoles.  

Yes, I have a fondness for games about animals and animal people, but I am also quite keen on art styles that are basically just digitized arts and crafts, hence why I was so excited for Yoshi’s Crafted World.  Yet that game, and those of a similar ilk, seem to have nothing on RPG Time: The Legend of Wright, which just looks positively bonkers in how much it emulates the look of a cluttered yet immensely detailed arts and crafts project, shifting between genres, mediums, and overall styles while representing all HUD elements as physical objects on a table.  I’m eager to see how this all comes together, and I should have a good idea as to how when the game comes out in 2020 for Xbox One, PC, iOS, and Android.

Oh, but I am not just fond of games that also would appeal to 8 year olds, and can appreciate something more mature, such as 12 Minutes.  It’s an overhead thriller about a man trapped in a time loop where the player, presumably, must make the right decisions in order to break away from this never ending series of unfavorable outcomes and pursue a future where the protagonist and his wife aren’t brutally murdered by mysterious thugs, all while being contained in a one bedroom apartment.  I have a soft spot for temporal snafus in media, and while the overhead presentation does strike me as a bit strange, as it obscures the faces of these characters and makes it a bit hard to make out small details, it is still a very interesting concept that could blossom into something special. No release date was given, but the game should be out “soon” for PC, Xbox One, and possibly other unspecified consoles.

As for the rest of the games, well, they had very underwhelming showings that often relied heavily on pre-rendered cutscenes over anything representative of gameplay.  Yes, I know that gameplay demos can be rife with lies unless it is right around the corner, and that creating a vertical slice for trailers is a very arduous process. However, CG trailers do immensely little to spark my interest in the game, or inform people as to what it will be like when they are playing the actual game.  But I will mention them for the sake of doing so.

There was Cyberpunk 2077’s story trailer that followed up an hour of (debately legitimate) gameplay before an actor was told to prance about on stage and reveal that this game is, somehow, going to come out on April 16, 2020.  Gears 5 had a vague character trailer for the single player campaign, instead of actual gameplay like last time, before a pre-rendered trailer with a baffling tone was shown to hype up the multiplayer, all despite the fact that the game is due out September 10th, so they should have presentable section.  Gears Pop! is just a generic looking mobile game, despite what the cute pre-rendered trailers imply.  There was also Crossfire, a military shooter from Korean developer Smilegate that is seemingly one of the biggest games in the world, yet lacks much of a western presence, was sold with a CG trailer that did not clarify anything about the game, like, at all.  

As for how Microsoft chose to end things, they capped the shebang off by dropping information on the upcoming Xbox Scarlett and xCloud platforms.  The gist is that those who own and Xbox One will be able to freely stream their games for free directly from their system when the xCloud service launches this October.  While the Xbox Scarlett will be a super special awesome box that will make things more immersive, engaging, and gooder all around by being four times more powerful than an Xbox One X, with its 120 fps, 8K resolutions, super fast SSD, and also backwards compatibility.  It honestly reads to me like fluff, not helped by the awkward reveal trailer itself, but the entire system will be available to scrutinize when it comes out in winter 2020, where it will (likely) feature Halo Infinite as a cross-generational launch game.   

Speaking of which, they showed a trailer that I think is supposed to be an opening cinematic of sorts for the game, one wherein Master Chief is found by some body and is reawakened from something, only to learn that a space ring colony was destroyed by.. Something.  I do not follow this series, and I was honestly more than a bit miffed at how they were showing a CG cinematic to show off the supposed power of their new hardware. I mean, that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

As a whole… I didn’t really care for this showing.  The trailers were pretty underwhelming as a whole, and the only major standouts were the independent games selection, PSO2’s localization, and the Xbox Game Pass for PC news.  Sure, new From Software stuff was announced but… we got more information from leaks than the trailer.  It honestly is a remarkable decline in content quality compared to the prior year, which was among my favorite E3 showcases of this generation.  There were a lot of games, yet very few were particularly new, exciting, or unexpected. Overall, nothing particularly bad, just very blase without much of note.  Which is why leaks and rumors should not be used to get yourself hyped. Because when they fail to come to fruition, you’re just going to get all out of sorts.

Aside from releasing Rage 2 to a tepid reception, the main subject on people’s minds when they hear Bethesda is the disaster that was Fallout 76.  Just about everything that could go wrong with this game, did go wrong, and it has been relegated to a pitiful joke that serves as a glorious waste of time, resources, and intellectual property that has likely irrevocably damaged both the name of Bethesda in addition to the Fallout IP.  Oh, and they also put out The Elder Scrolls: Blades, a heinously cynical piece of software that utilizes cheap psychological tricks to illicit money from people in exchange for progression in a poor imitation of a popular game from 2011.  So what I’m saying is that if there was ever a year to skip out on E3, this would be the one because of how terribly they’ve been handling themselves this past year.

They began things by seemingly airing out their dirty laundry by acknowledging how they screwed up with Fallout 76 while promising that the game would get better and announcing that they are bringing back human NPCs, dialog choices, and more elaborate questlines via free DLC.  Also a 52-player battle royale mode with a fire gimmick, which they seem to believe will tempt players into picking the game up when it is available for a free week-long trial.  However… when you mess up a launch this badly, I do not think it is possible to do a rebound without some sort of relaunch or rebranding. Either that or years of careful development before initiating another big advertising push, which is really the same thing when you stop and think about it.  Oh, and The Elder Scrolls: Blades is out now, and will be out on Switch this fall, because that system doesn’t have enough western lootbox games on it, I guess.  

With that dirty laundry out of the way, the big takeaway announcement from this entire show was the latest title from Tango Gameworks and famed auteur Shinji Mikami, who announced Ghostwire Tokyo.  A contemporary action adventure game set in the heartland of Japan that centers around a mysterious force that is disappearing people, turning the bustling metropolis into a ghost town occupied by various folklore monsters that the player character presumably fights using conventional Japanese weapons (not guns) and also magic.  The trailer was ultimately very sour and stylish, and based on the pedigree of the developer, I am more than a modicum interested in seeing what this game has to offer, but no platforms or release windows were provided.

Next on the docket is Commander Keen.  Yes, a reboot of the beloved classic id Software title made for mobile devices, styled like a modern western children’s cartoon and staring the twin children of the original Commander Keen, creatively named Billy and Billie, as they travel from the backyard to the stars in… hold on, what even is this gameplay?  …Okay, so it is a vertical platformer where the player uses gadgets to help them slowly jump their way to the top of a tower… needless to say, it does not look particularly good, and is a genuinely perplexing concept. I mean, Commander Keen is an obscure IP these days, the mobile market is flooded, and I doubt that this would attract the people who played these games almost 30 years ago.  Not that it stopped them from making this game, and it will still be soft launched sometime this summer.

The exact opposite of this would be Deathloop, a new IP from Arkane that takes the form of a first person shooter, set in an enigmatic cityscape wherein two assassins are locked in a time loop trying desperately to kill one another in hopes of being free from this eternity of gunplay, death, and destruction.   It was only revealed with a CG trailer, as is the style of this year’s presentations I suppose, though what was shown does have a bit of a stylistic flair that reminds me of an aesthetic popularized in 70s blaxploitation films, which I suppose is at least somewhat appropriate given how the two assassins are a black man and woman.  Aside from that, I cannot draw too many details from what was shown. That being said, Arkane is a talented studio, it’s always nice to see a new IP, so if shooters are your jam, perhaps this is a title to keep an eye on. I say despite the fact that no release date or platforms have been given.

Then there was Bethesda’s big showcase game, Doom Eternal, which continues the trends established by its predecessor in that it looks like a fast, frantic, and honestly overwhelming first person shooter.  One where each combat section is an elegant dance across the battlefield, rotating between an armory of guns, controlling the crowd, and trying to survive in as stylishly as a way as possible for the sake of being stylish and having more than a pip of health.  Basically a first person character action game but with guns, and a lot more needless yet enticing viscera. It very much looks like Doom (2016), as to be expected, with the main differences being some revised abilities, new enemies, and a spectrum of new environments that are the result of the Doom Slayer hopping between Earth, Mars, Heaven, Hell, and a gothic Quake-like environment.  It all looks like a people pleaser, and pleased they likely will be come November 22, when hell breaks loose on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Beyond all of this?  They showed off another trailer for Wolfenstein: Youngblood, which still looks like a cathartic and enjoyable 80s infused Nazi kill ‘em up.  Then some tech savvy chaps began talking about Orion, a piece of middleware that allows games to be streamed more efficiently, which really does not fit the context of an E3 media briefing.  In the end, there was only one thing I particularly cared for here, and it was more of a middling showcase in all honesty.  A few cool things were shown, and Bethesda continues to be a bit too small of a publisher to have enough meaningful announcements to make their conferences seem worthwhile.

That would about cover it, but Devolver Digital, one of the most beloved publishers in the industry, also hosted their own breed of insanity in form of a trippy media conference forged through a delicate mix of insanity and brilliance.  What they came up with this time is an elaborate and psychotic parody that was all well and good in and of itself, yet also came with 4 new game announcements that nicely encompass the Devolver brand.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a game I would describe as a battle royale X Takeshi’s Castle X the most sickeningly sweet color scheme imaginable.  It is a 100 player mad dash through a wide array of environmental obstacles where every player’s colorful little must make their way through challenges as quickly as chaos booms and players begin searching for ways to screw each other over, for only one guy can be victory guy!  It is a relentlessly silly game that will hopefully be a resoundingly fun experience for those who check it out after it falls to Earth from cutie space on February 25, 2020 for PS4 and PC.

Devolver Bootleg is, as the name implies, a collection of 8-bit styled bootleg versions of some of their most popular games, likely offering a wide assortment of guffaws and goofs, and while I doubt any of the 8 games in this $5 PC exclusive collection will be particularly developed, it is nevertheless a cute little way to pay tribute to their expansive library, and seems like it would be a genuinely good time for fans of their backlog.  

Carrion is a reverse horror game where the player takes control of an amorphous flesh abomination that desires only to consume and destroy, and does so as they wreck the everloving hell out of a lightly detailed research base.  This is the type of game I have wanted ever since I played [Prototype] a decade or so ago, yet never realized just how much I did until it was presented before me.  A game where the player is in control of an all powerful flesh monster that fills individuals with immense fear, but can still be defeated with the right weaponry… like liquid nitrogen!  Anyways, the flesh monster shall be unleashed on the world and enact relenetless genocide upon all humans in 2020 when it comes out for PC and unspecified consoles.

As for the final title, Devolver went full bonkers and announced an arcade light gun game by the name of  Enter the Gungeon: House of the Gundead.  A title that sounds so absurd that I would have assumed it to just be a joke, but as the host emphasized, this is 100% real.  It is a crazy and wild idea that I look forward to hearing people reference this arcade cabinet whenever they go to random gaming cons, as this seems like it could be something of a staple going forward.

That’s all for today.  Tomorrow is probably going to be a real rush job from yours truly on account of work and school.  Though, it’s not like I’ve handled worse.  Believe me, I’ve handled much much worse!

Header Image comes from Silicon Magic ~Umareru Mae Kara Anata Sen’you?!~

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