E3 has came and went, and after 200+ stories on the TrueAchievements homepage and E3 Hub over the last week, by now most avid players have absorbed much of the news and seen many of the demos, interviews, and on-stage presentations. Looking further at these highlights from the week reveal multiple narrative threads, however, and those might be overlooked amid all the noise that the week brought with it. Let's reflect on what we saw and draw some conclusions, perhaps even requiring some between-the-lines reading too. Here are a few takeaways I derived from Los Angeles and E3 2017.
Microsoft does care about exclusives — sort of
When Phil Spencer announced on stage that the Xbox presser would highlight 42 games, people were excited. When he added to that fact that 22 of those games would be console exclusives people lost their minds. Did they finally have their answer to Sony's first- and second-party dominance? The answer, as it turns out, is a bit murky.
Many of the exclusives looked better than they ever have. Rare's Sea of Thieves finally detailed some actual progression the game offers rather than more aimless swashbuckling like that which was featured during its previous stints as an E3 focal point. Similarly, State of Decay 2 reminded veteran players what makes the series special while likely capturing some new attention too. The scavenging, base building, and group survival in a game featuring permadeath were all enticing in the original game and the co-op shown on stage should make it even better. The list doesn't stop there either. Long awaited titles like Crackdown 3 and Cuphead finally got due dates — and they're both coming this year too.
Beyond that, however, many of the alleged "exclusives" were simply console launch exclusives, more often referred to as timed exclusives like Rise of the Tomb Raider was back in 2015. It's obvious Team Xbox is hesitant to announce any major exclusives too early in their life cycle. They want to prevent another Scalebound — a game shown much too early and again and again before never coming to fruition. It's fair then to assume they have big plans in the works that would've simply been premature to reveal this past week. But their insistence on misleading viewers with "console launch exclusive" ultimately doesn't win them any points unless they think enough people fall for it or conjoin the game and console as one shared experience when they look to buy it later. Maybe that makes sense. After all, that's why Sony spends big to get marketing rights for so many major series like Call of Duty and Destiny. But the way Microsoft proudly wore the "launch exclusive" badge on stage didn't feel right.
There are surprisingly few games coming this fall
Don't get me wrong. The September-November window will surely be quite full from publishers, but the two major manufacturer-publishers, Microsoft and Sony, are both entering the holiday busy season with nearly no major titles ready to go. Xbox One players will again get a new Forza and the aforementioned Crackdown 3. Even Cuphead looks poised to be a major indie title for the brand, but after that it seems both the green and blue teams are content to leave the end of the year free of much influence of theirs.
I expected State of Decay 2 to arrive this fall for sure, but like so many other games from the two major players, it was given the vague window of 2018. The Sony side was particularly unexpected. They entered the show with no fewer than ten AAA exclusives from last year, not even counting whatever other reveals they would show us as the week unfolded. By the end of their conference, all of them, with the exception of the $40 Uncharted standalone (once envisioned as DLC before growing too ambitious) were slated for next year or beyond.
It wasn't that long ago that Microsoft touted their fall lineup as the "greatest in Xbox history" thanks to games like Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Rare Replay, and Halo 5: Guardians. There's room for debate regarding just how great that lineup actually was, but one thing you can not deny is the brand had volume. Even after Fable Legends was delayed (later cancelled) out of that lineup's promotional period, Xbox was boasting five games that collectively made up their "greatest" ever lineup. Maybe that's an outlier year but with two or arguably three games featured prominently this fall, it seems the team behind Xbox One could stand to have a few more major releases, especially to coincide with the launch of the Xbox One X. But of course, this isn't an industry where release dates are moved up, so at this point we know what to expect from them and there's no reason to think anything else huge is coming before the end of the year.
Assassin's Creed Origins is remarkably more of the same
After more leaks than the restrooms at a sporting event, Assassin's Creed Origins debuted properly on two stages and the Los Angeles showfloor. They took a year off to give the series some breathing room and let the team find a way to inject the storied franchise with a much needed shot of vitality. After all that extra time and brainstorming they hit the stage to finally unveil... more of the same.
Origins looks like a combination of the same cluttered HUD and against-all-odds clunky controls of the game's many predecessors mixed with some of the good parts of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Admittedly this is a copycat industry and when someone does something cool, you can expect to see it replicated elsewhere. Maybe I was just being naive but I thought Origins would stand on its own, introduce a new look and feel to the series. In retrospect that must be a terrifying proposition, to overhaul a series that exists as a commercial blockbuster. "If it ain't broke..." doesn't always apply when the fixes aren't needed on a financial level, plenty of other milked series show us that often.
I just expected Ubisoft to introduce a new take — not a drastically new take, mind you. I wanted the core of Assassin's Creed to be in tact, but at a minimum I expected the shoddy controls to be reworked. Why can freerunning and climbing feel so good in so many games inspired by Assassin's Creed but still, after a decade, not feel very fluid in Ubisoft's flagship franchise itself?
Let me clarify, I don't think this is them milking the series. I don't think the team behind the game is doing anything less than putting their hearts into it to ensure it delivers according to their vision. I only can't help but feel their vision is looking very similar to the rest of the games and maybe they didn't push the envelope as much as they could've — or should've. Maybe I misunderstood, but I thought the off-year was undergone to allow Creed to be reimagined.
Secrets are an endangered species
Few games that were "revealed" at E3 this year — or last for that matter — were truly revealed there. Leaks, traceable rumors, and the frequent premature store listings all contributed to spoiling most everything any presenter had to offer. Bethesda's double surprise of The Evil Within 2 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was undone by such early unveilings, as was the aforementioned Origins. The huge "reveal" that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is coming to consoles was itself discussed on the Game Informer Show podcast a week before E3 by PlayerUnknown himself, Brendan Greene.
It's a topic touched on in an excellent op-ed we featured on site recently by my colleague and friendAndrew Ogley. Surprises are pretty much dead. Maybe some people like it better that way. Maybe others do not. Those in the latter group, if they wants to retain the element of surprise for themselves, essentially must shut themselves off from the world in the weeks leading up to the expo, which is the opposite of what makes someone an enthusiast, so it becomes quite tricky. Games are bigger every year. With that perpetually growing emphasis in pop culture comes that much more attention, so it's no wonder the big expos and soon to be revealed projects are treated like spoilers for our favorite television series. Some people clamor for them. Others run in the opposite direction. Unfortunately for the latter group, they're often too hard to outrun.
Some surprises still managed to stay contained up until their true debuts, at least. The biggest of that small but still existent bunch is Beyond Good and Evil 2, a game that's been a decade and a half in the making, if you allow for wishing to be considered a part of the production process. With no store listing close to ready, no gameplay to share, and no advertising hitting banner ads a touch too soon, BG&E2 managed to stay undercover right up to the moment it arrived as the latest in a long line of Ubsioft closing surprises.
Press conferences are getting more tolerable
Until last year, it was an annual tradition to tune in to E3 pressers in part just to see the awkwardness unfold. Whether it was a game failing to play properly, a presenter that wasn't mentally prepared to speak in front of a global audience, or some other obstacle, every year — every press conference, even — brought with them distinctly memorable moments of discomfort. Last year, Sony tried something a bit new. Their company leader, Shawn Layden, spoke briefly at the onset of the show, but only very briefly, before giving way to an onslaught of trailers that mattered to diehard players. Debuts like Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Batman Arkham VR, and Spider-Man really stole the show for the "other guys". The format really sold anyone watching too. Reveal after huge reveal, the trailers just kept coming, usually with no words spoken in between.
Without the awkward demos or drawn out chatter from spokespeople, the Sony show came away as one of the all-time most revered last year. It seemed likely others would follow their lead in 2017, and largely that's what happened.
EA still sort of stuck to their own structure, though they definitely seemed less interested in lingering too long on anything besides that drawn out Battlefront II multiplayer match to close their show. The sports sections were much quicker this time around, which seemed like a smart play.
For Xbox, Phil Spencer hit on major points like the Xbox One X details and the original Xbox backwards compatibility, but from the moment he mentioned 42 games would be shown in their 90+ minute show, you had to have known that meant they'd borrowed a page from Sony's handbook.
If Microsoft's 2017 show was a reimagining of Sony's 2016 show, Bethesda's was a complete port. They spoke only at the introduction before giving way to everything they had to reveal, each trailer bookended by a transitional sequence that fit their amusement park theme this year. Ubisoft, like EA, strayed a bit from that Sony formula. They still had extended dev sequences for each game, but they did stick with just the devs this time, much to the chagrin of Aisha Tyler fans the world over. Sony revisited the format once again, and their only fault may have been in showing mostly the same stuff they showed last year with little important variation.
Is this format better for everyone? At first glance, it certainly seems that way. The nine-minute deep dives into FIFA or Madden or the cringe-inducing faux multiplayer dialogue will not be missed if we assume we've seen the last of them. Then again, occasional context without overstepping into boredom seems like a happy medium. That's why it felt as though Microsoft won this year's conference schedule, if we are to crown any winner at all; They showed great games on stage, didn't stick around too long, but found a way to talk when the trailer alone would not suffice without falling into the usual pitfalls of so many E3s from years passed. There's no doubt this is a trajectory that is still rising. Expect to see more min/maxing between speeches and actual games showcased for at least the next few years.
The fan portion of E3 needs fixing if it's going to remain
By all accounts I've heard this week, of which there have been many, the inclusion of fans at E3 this year was a success... mostly. I've yet to hear anyone say it was a total loss for the fans themselves. Developers and other pitch-people seem pleased to speak directly to the consumers too rather than industry types. It seems the loser in this compromise is the games media whose line queues grew even longer given the venue's unaccommodating setup for an additional 15,000 people.
Our own Marc Caccamise was at the event all week. After expressing skepticism when the endeavor was announced, I asked Marc how he felt about the fan inclusion this year, especially in comparison to his own experience he had last year.
An obvious benefit of E3 opening to the public this year was that thousands of people got to experience the convention for the first time. Attending E3 last year was a completely surreal moment for me, and knowing that many more could share those feelings, especially perhaps when originally thinking they’d never have a chance to attend, is an overall bright spot of this year’s show.It seems everyone is sympathetic to the view of the fans. They should be allowed to attend, and maybe the ESA even needs them to attend to keep E3 around. If fans will become an annual sect of the E3 infantry, it's best the ESA spends the next several months determining how to better accommodate such a massive influx of new bodies. Stuffing 15,000 more people into an area that was already at a loss for personal space won't work on its own. But creating a fan day or multiple days, or simply reorganizing the showfloor, might be the answer all involved parties are seeking. Some people not in the industry waited years to finally attend E3. Some others are still waiting. I hope future expos give more people a chance to go, but next time such a decision should come with the right steps taken in preparation. Otherwise you're just throwing thousands of crammed and sneezy video game enthusiasts into an arena that was already at its limit for such a demographic.
However, even with all of that being true, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the show floor of E3 2017 was an absolute mess. With the new influx of attendees, crowds were completely congested while moving through areas that were not planned to deal with a heavier flow of traffic. The lines for most games in general quickly grew out of control and many either stopped allowing more people to queue up, or capped off for the day with still hours left to go. Sony’s strategy was a particularly bad one, as to play some of the bigger games in their booth (Call of Duty: WWII, Detroit: Become Human), you had to download an app on your phone and be one of the lucky few who managed to RSVP a demo spot. At the two times during each day that RSVPs were opened, the app could not sustain the traffic of users, and it became like a lottery to reserve a spot. For media members who had appointments scattered throughout the day, it was a challenge finding a line that wouldn’t take longer than the free time available. I, myself, didn’t touch a single game on the show floor this year as opposed to something like 10-20 the year before.