By Patrick Taylor
Once again, E3 was open to the public and, like last year, I spent my hard-earned money to attend it. While I was expecting this year to be as crazy as last year, I had high hopes in the improvements of the organization of the industry show. I am happy to report that they learned their lesson from last year, but it could still do with more improvement (I’ll get to that in my closing remarks).
The biggest lesson they learned is how to organize the entry of those with the Gamer Pass (members of the general public and not Press or Industry). The two entrances they marked for us were on opposite sides of the Los Angeles Convention Center. Near the West Hall, they had us line up under a strip of event tents until the doors opened to the public. For the South Hall, they had us line up in a series of cordoned off rows spanning the length of this underground event area. Neither were very comfortable, but at least food and drink were readily available for those willing to shell out the dough. (South Hall area has a little cafeteria and West Hall area had two food trucks, one being the Grilled Cheese food truck, which is quite well-known in the greater LA area.)
The West Hall, where I spent the least amount of time, had several booths of note. Sony had a strong presence, showing off Spiderman, Destiny 2’s new Gambit mode, and new VR titles. In the Sony booth, I got a chance to try the new Gambit mode. The next booth of note was Nintendo. Last year, they had a massive booth for Super Mario Odyssey; but this year it was a bit toned down. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate had its own section raised above the rest of the floor, and several glass cases showed off physical recreations of different items from the Super Smash Bros games, including Shulk’s sword. Nintendo was also showing off the new Pokemon: Let’s Go! Eevee and Pikachu editions. Another big display in the West Hall was Overkill’s The Walking Dead game. Several zombies wandered the show floor (contending with Dying Light 2’s Infected) and one even resided behind a cage made of chain-link fence, rattling at those waiting in line to play the demo.
The South Hall, the other show floor, had the other big name developers and publishers. Activision showed off the new Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and had another booth for Destiny 2’s new Gambit mode, but there was no big prop or decoration of note in their booth. Epic Games had a large portion of the floor dedicated to Fortnite, decked out with a dance floor, a replica of the bus, a mechanical bull in the shape of a llama pinata, and a set of green screen rooms where you take a picture of yourself umbrella-ing in after jumping from the bus in Battle Royale mode.
You could also play a bit of Fortnite if you really felt like it but, as I already play the game a lot, I did not it was really necessary to try it. Bethesda showed off Rage 2 (with a highly stylized High Striker carnival game and an Ice Cream truck), ‘Reclamation Day’ for Fallout 76 (more on that below), the new Prey DLC called Mooncrash, a host of Elder Scrolls games (Online, Blades, and Legends), and Quake Champions. Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts 3 was also on display, but the likelihood of playing it was low due to eight hour wait times, and one more zombie game appeared in this hall as well, the remake of Capcom’s Resident Evil 2.
Between these two halls, I got the opportunity to play a handful of games: Destiny 2’s Gambit mode, a series of Bethesda games, and three of the newest announced games from Ubisoft.
Destiny 2’s new mode, Gambit, was on display at E3. Now, I know Destiny 2 has been kind of a let down so far, but this new PvEvP game type is killer. The basis of the game is super simple: collect 75 motes to unlock the “Primeval”, a powerful Taken enemy that needs to be killed to win the round. But what makes this game type truly special is the mechanics. Every time you collect a certain amount of motes, you can bank your collection to send a ‘blocker’, an enemy (either an AI or a player from the other team) that the other team has to contend with before being able to continue banking motes to meet the 75 motes threshold.
These ‘Blockers’ are: a small Taken Ultra at 5 motes, a more powerful Taken Ultra at 10 motes, and a player opponent at 15 motes (lasting roughly 45 seconds or so, long enough to stall the other team). However, if you die while carrying motes, they are gone for good. Now, when a team reaches 75 motes and begins their fight with their Primeval, the team not fighting their Primeval yet can start sending over a player to disrupt the other team’s fight. Destiny 2’s new Gambit mode is a best of three match.
On day one of E3, this was my first stop as I was dying to try it. After a short wait, my group and I jumped into a game (as there was five of us, one person had to go play on the opposing team). Immediately, I switched over to the new Exotic Bow as my Secondary and chose a Auto-Rifle as my Primary and a Rocket Launcher as my Power Weapon. Fallen enemies spawned in waves, who we slew and took their motes. PvE is my preferred style of playing Destiny 2 (though I find joy in PvP every so often) so I had no problem gathering motes and taking down the blockers sent by the other team.
The same could not be said of my other teammates. In both rounds, two of us, myself and another person from my group, consistently banked 20-30 motes per round while the other two dropped the ball with less than ten over the two rounds. Needless to say, we lost badly but I enjoyed every moment. There was nothing so satisfying as invading the other team during their fight with their Primeval and taking three of them out with rockets.
For fans of Destiny and those looking to find hope of redemption in the new expansion, Forsaken, Gambit seems to be a harbinger of that redemption. I guess we will find out when the Expansion lands September 4th.
Ubisoft Brings its (AAA) Game
Ubisoft showed off several big name games this year and brought back one that has been out for awhile now, Rainbow Six: Siege (I dare say it is one of the most well-supported games in Ubisoft history). The new games were Trials Rising, Skull & Bones, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and The Division 2; of which I got to play three of the four new ones (I skipped Rainbow Six: Siege as I own the game).
Trials Rising is the newest entry in the over-the-top and silly “racing”/platform series. While none of the maps I played in the demo really showed off the absurdity we have come to love from the series, it was absolutely there in other ways. In the rider customization, you can add helmet ornaments and choose your pose for loading screens. Some of the options I really enjoyed seeing were the dab pose (a classic), a little sword embedded in the helmet, and a tiny Shiba Inu riding on top of your head (I really hope that it barks in the final version of the game, but would that be too much? No, no it would not.).
There was also a tandem bike that was shown off but it was not enabled in the demo unfortunately and, yes, both players control the bike (for silly team races). Trials Rising felt great to play and was an excellent challenge to a casual player like myself. The controls felt smoother and more responsive than the last iteration and the graphics and character models are a vast improvement over the last iteration.
The Division 2 is the sequel to Ubisoft’s post-apocalypse third person shooter. While The Division was not a widely popular game, the fan base was large enough to warrant a sequel (and the line to play the demo showed it.) In the demo, three people choose between the three available class specializations, Sharpshooter, Demolitionist, and Survivalist, and are paired with one of the Ubisoft show team members (employees who are localized to areas where industry shows are, coming in ahead of the show to help set up and learn the demo in case anyone needs assistance or has questions). The demo takes the team of four players through one of the types of activities called a capture point.
The players fight their way to a downed cargo plane where we take out those currently holding the point and then defending against a wave of powerful enemies. Much to the surprise of the Ubisoft team member, we handily dealt with the enemies until the final wave. We were cheering about how good we are and then the last wave arrived, almost losing because we were not paying attention. After some really tense moments, we came back from the brink and finished the mission. I played the Sharpshooter specialization, which was thoroughly enjoyable. The signature weapon of the specialization was a heavy duty armor-piercing sniper rifle (the other two were a grenade launcher and a crossbow) that could tear off the armor of powerful enemies, making it easier for the team to take down.
I was a fan of the first Division game but lost interest during the Endgame as getting killed over and over by other players camping the entrance to the Endgame area, the Dark Zone. Playing the Division 2 demo rekindled my fire to return to the first game for a second try at it in preparation for the Division 2 release next Spring.
Skull & Bones is Ubisoft’s next big seafaring game, building off the success of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag’s sailing mechanic. During the timed 25-minute demo, eight players pirated their way around a Caribbean Island in one of three ships with a special power. I tried two of the three types of ships, which all felt uniquely different due to these powers as well as the silhouette of the sails (which dictated how fast you could go based on the wind direction). The first power I tried was a large vessel with a massive sail silhouette and bow chasers that can be overcharged (its special ability) to deal more damage at a faster rate.
This makes chasing down NPC or player-controlled ships and weakening them enough to be boarded or destroyed outright relatively easy. The other ship I tried was a smaller vessel with large broadsides riddled with cannons, which can be triggered to be a endless barrage at the cost of not being able to move. I used this ability to great effect to sink two players fighting each other without taking a point of damage myself. The third, the one I did not try, had the ability to ram other ships to deal massive damage while taking little themselves (ramming another ship otherwise dealt equal but lesser damage to both players).
While ship combat was exciting and high-tension, sailing about got tedious. Spawning in a bad location, such as having the wind blowing directly at you, can really hinder your to get back into the thick of it. The wide open sea was well rendered but looking at it for so long as you yearn to get back to the pirating drove me a tad mad. Despite all of that, there is still a good chance I will buy the game anyways.
Bethesda, by evidence of their press conference, nailed E3; They announced a ridiculous amount of games, showed off more gameplay of those already announced, learned their lesson from last year’s E3, and pulled off the biggest bait-and-switch I have ever had the privilege to fall for, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I will not recount every single announcement they made in the conference but I will go into some detail about what their show floor area was like.
On the floor in the Convention Center, there were booths for: Rage 2, Fallout 76, Bethesda VR, Elder Scrolls Online, Elder Scrolls: Legends, Elder Scrolls: Blades, Prey Moon Crash, and Quake Champions. Except for Prey’s new DLC and Quake Champions, all of the games Bethesda was showing had a reservation system that metered out how many people were in the line at any given time (though that did not stop anyone from crowding around the reservation entrance anyways).
Playing Rage 2 was an experience. On the third day of E3, I made my way to the booth for the game and hopped in the line to get a reservation. I ended up not needing one as I was one of the first fifteen in line. Immediately after entering the roped off area, I stopped off at the fake ice cream truck (which played a variation of the classic jingle) to grab a scoop of Pink Himalayan Salt Caramel ice cream (the other choices were vanilla and mint chip with a reassuring arrow labeled ‘chocolat’) with a bit of whipped cream (I almost got pop rocks but I decided against it as it was 9 in the morning). While enjoying my scoop of surprisingly good ice cream, the developers showed off a bit of extended gameplay before jumping into the demo.
In the fifteen to twenty minute demo, you start off in a warehouse-like room where they let you try out the new powers available, given to the player through the in-game lore of “nanotrites”. These powers were pretty standard fare as far as sci-fi powers go but they felt really satisfying when you blast an enemy’s character model halfway through a solid surface. The four powers that we got the chance to experience were a Dash, a jumping Slam, a conical Blast, and the powerful Overdrive. After the warehouse area, the demo switched to an in-game mission where you are tasked with dropping some sort of orbiting supply drop from before the apocalypse that led to the first game. After becoming “the President” (apparently the President has full authority to anything they want), the Player fights their way through the complex to the command center where the demo ends with the supply drop touching down and throwing a hunk of concrete through the glass window of the command center.
Based on the demo, Rage 2 plays similarly to DOOM (and that is not a bad thing). Aiming and firing have a pleasant weightiness to their controls without feeling as if you are swimming through molasses and kills with weapons in Overdrive send character models ragdolling. While they did not reinvent the wheel with their powers, they were all useful and satisfying to use.
Elder Scrolls Blades is the newest mobile game from Bethesda studios and the newest entry into the Elder Scrolls series. During the demo, I had the chance to play through a simple dungeon or a forest. I chose to explore the dungeon. The game can be played in landscape or portrait mode and the controls were very simple. Moving about the world is achieved by clicking on a visible point or highlighted object, which contain in-game resources (gold and gems) to rebuild your hometown. Fighting in the game is basically one-on-one combat that goes down in real time. Attacking with your weapon is as simple as pressing and holding down on the screen for a predetermined time (based on the weapon’s speed stat) and defending is a shield icon that can be held down (the Player can still attack with the defense icon held).
You can also cast spells though there was no choice of spells in the demo I played beyond a shock spell. All in all, it was a beautiful looking game (comparable to a console’s graphics) that was fun to play. The only real gripe I had about the game was, on a phone, it was a bit unwieldy. Portrait mode does not give you a lot of field of view but the icons are close enough in combat to feel fluid and enjoyable. Landscape mode traded in the fluidity of combat (at least for me) for an excellent field of view of the area being explored. Switching back and forth had a bit of system lag, which is not surprising, but noticeable enough to make me reconsider the idea of switching between modes for exploration and combat.
Elder Scrolls Legends is Bethesda’s answer to deck-building games (the king of which being Blizzard’s Hearthstone). While I did not get the chance to build my own deck, I played one of the pre-made character decks. How the game works is that the Player draws a hand of cards, each with a cost, attack, health, and possibly some sort of effect. The playing field is broken into two lanes where cards can be played, though card effect that buff your other cards (increasing health or attack) affect only the cards in that lane. Each turn, the power used to play cards grows by one point, allowing you to play more cards or more powerful cards. Combat in the game is pretty simple, you can attack the other player directly or you can attack the other player’s cards. Elder Scrolls Legend is a fun game and I enjoyed my time with it (I probably could have spent an hour there as there was no line, but I really wanted my Sweetroll). If you like deck-building games and like Elder Scrolls as a series, it would not be a bad idea to give this game a try.
Now the big bait-and-switch.
Fallout 76, one of the biggest reveals of E3 this year, had an interesting presence. E3 was ‘Reclamation Day’ and we got to experience the party first hand. Getting a reservation to go through the experience was not easy as it was one of the most packed lines (the others being Kingdom Hearts 3, Super Smash Brothers, and Pokemon Let’s Go). I got extremely lucky by meeting this very nice couple from Canada who stuck around when they tried to clear the lines just after floor opening on Day 2. I returned from lunch to see how long the line was and they graciously offered to let me join them when I stopped to say hello (Getting invited to join them was totally not my intention when I stopped by). We got signed up with Bethesda’s nifty system and returned a few hours later to go through the experience.
Now, the reason I call the experience a bait-and-switch was that there was a closed off back room that people going through the experience went through. The doorway and the different areas to go through the Vault-Tec testing were positioned so that the only way to see inside the back room was to go through the experience. This backroom did not have an area to play a demo; in fact, it seemed that only the press were able to play a demo.
But ‘Reclamation Day’ party was a blast to experience nevertheless. Bethesda seemingly hired actors to portray the ’50s inspired characters of the Vault, many of whom would get chose up to you and whisper vague warnings about Vault-tec. As soon as you enter the area of the party, they have you sit down and take a I.D. picture for your standard issue Vault-Tec ID (which they use to identify your body). After getting your picture taken, you head to a set of tables manned by a Greaser-type person (a Tunnel Snake if you will) helping his grandmother hand out party favors: A Pip-Boy Mask, a Vault-Tec party hat, A Vault-Tec cup, a noise maker, and one of the very rare Nuka-Cola Quantums (a Jones Berry Lemonade Soda).
With all of your party favors in hand, we were ushered through a series of test to see how S.P.E.C.I.A.L we were (all of which had quirky characters “guiding” us through it). At the very end, we entered this backroom and were greeted with what looked to be the inside of a shipping container (apparently how you enter the world of Fallout 76), where a video was taken and sent to us by email. Despite not being able to play Fallout 76, the experience was fun and memorable, but left me dying to play Fallout 76.
E3, between these two years, has improved significantly. Getting the general public onto the show floor was well-organized, booths were more spread out to accommodate all the exhibitions without being crammed like sardines, and the lines to enter the event were as contained as it could be; but convention goers and gamers will be who they are and E3 and the Industry is going to have to work around that. We, the public, need to be physically corralled into lines when we wait for the demos with a bit of enforcement from security to keep massive snake-like lines from forming in walkways meant to be clear for foot traffic.
More times than I can count did lines for games like Kingdom Hearts 3 or experiences like Fallout 76’s ‘Reclamation Day’ choke up walkways with long lines formed beyond the roped entry points for these demos. At one point, I was walking past the beginning of the queue from Resident Evil 2 when someone yelled out that the line opened back up and a stampede of people rushed across the already full walkway, nearly trampling people just trying to get past.
Now the question is, should you go next year?
Yes, if you want to. E3 is a blast if you go in with the expectation that you may not get to play every game you want to try; I had a list of games I wanted to try and a plan to try as many as I could (based on my experiences last year) and yet I still did not get a chance.to play them all. But even if you are not the most serious gamer out there, you can still enjoy it. Two people that I had the good fortune to meet marveled at how nice everyone was and told me that they were enjoying the event. On the last day, some people gave me and three others (who I had just met and was having a great time with while waiting for the Skull & Bones demo) one of those loot boxes filled with duplicates and other stuff. We had a laugh as we went through the box, making jokes about what we found in there and about the box itself (it looked strangely like a companion cube from Portal).
If E3 is something you want to experience, do it! But I recommend going in with an open mind, some water, snacks, a portable charger for your electronics, and maybe a friend or two (or make them in my case) to pass the time while you wait for a few hours to play a twenty minute demo.