Rating the E3 conferences seems like an easy thing to do. Surely you just need to weigh up who had the better games, or the games you’re most anticipating and judge it on that. Putting pen to paper though and trying to recall what made each conference stand out was difficult. The rankings therefore will focus more on the conference as a whole: the performances, the surprises, the exclusives, and the overall presentation. So without further ado:
Note: I didn’t watch Nintendo’s conference (is that -ist?)
Bethesda hosted it’s first ever press conference last year to announce an absolute gold mine of new titles including Fallout 4, Dishonoured 2 and DOOM. I had high expectations when I clicked upon the Bethesda E3 livestream and was immediately concerned. Quake Champions was the first new title announced, yet another frachise revival. After the success of Wolfenstein: The New Order and DOOM (two other dusted off franchises) it wasn’t completely unexpected, however although there is a huge risk involved in remaking a classic I consider the move to be too safe. Quake Champions isn’t the new IP I was yearning for from Bethesda!
Begrudgingly though I got super excited to hear about Prey, a reboot which was teased (as Prey 2) then cancelled back in 2014. The trailer shown was intriguing, dark and violent, with hints at a fantastic story. I wish the rest of the conference could have been like this brief announcement!
The large majority of the conference was spent showing gameplay of Dishonoured 2 (narrated) and announcing DLC for various games. To address the first point, I fully enjoyed finally getting to see some gameplay, but the commentary took away all the atmosphere which usually oozes from the game, making it feel like another Youtube ‘Let’s Play’. About the DLC, I don’t really think this should have been a part of the conference. Bethesda should have waited until next year, to announce their newest flagship projects (of which apparently there are 2 in the works) and they should have given Xbox or Sony their big 2016 releases to show off.
4th – Xbox
It is with regret that I had to put my sole console’s press conference 4th of 5, but I just thought it was a little hodge podge. Phil Spencer was a shining advocate for the console and pitched perfectly as always; however many of the other presenters lacked confidence and a certain passion. This comes I think from rigid scripting, and an example of this came from the Minecraft update announcement. I don’t want to say anything too harsh because I’m sure they are lovely people, but I felt awkward watching from my laptop thousands of miles away from L.A.
The games announced ranged from OMG YES to omg another fighting game? The announcement of Forza Horizon 3 was enough to make me jump off the beanbag I was sitting on; the gameplay looked incredible, but what really excited me was the setting. Australia is just so far from the UK but I’ve always wanted to go there, and now I can! Kinda… Since playing Forza Horizon 2 I have baptised myself as a Horizon fanboy (not ashamed).
The conference boasted games aplenty: Gears 4 opened the show, then we saw the Battlefield 1 trailer (again) after which more great looking games were shown like Recore and We Happy Few. We Happy Few was one that spiked my interest: Using an art style not unlike Dishonoured’s, the haunting mystery behind the drug addled eyes of the characters gave me shivers of unease. I couldn’t rank Xbox higher because the conference was broken up by so many awkward game directors. Just show us the Goddamn trailers!
3rd – EA
Now EA are renouned for being a massively rich and often faceless corporation, but this year their conference really put emphasis on people. Their conference (EA Play) was spread over 2 different venues with 2 different presenters. Each was likeable and interacted with the crowd lots. Skipping to the end (cos’ its relevant) EA announced EA Originals; a project where the company works with and funds smaller game developers to realise their potential and release their creativity on the gaming industry. Very unlike EA, they are not expecting to profit at all from EA Originals but they hope to improve their games roster with new and upcoming talent in this way.
Aside from this the games announced were my favourite of E3, hands down. I knew about pretty much every EA triple A title already but that didn’t stop me getting overexcited all over again about Battlefield 1. They got 64 youtubers and celebrities to clash in a 32 v 32 conquest and filmed the whole thing. I could have watched a whole conference of that quite honestly. The other games shown were Titanfall 2 and Mass Effect Andromeda (my God do EA make good games!!). Unfortunately EA are not ready to reveal a new Star Wars game quite yet though (bar Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens), which was a bit of a tease…
The big surprise of the conference was an unlikely one. Fifa 17 has a ‘campaign’ and has moved to the Frostbite engine! Finally we are to see some changes, lets just hope people like them because this is the kind of innovation the franchise desperately needs! For once I’m actually thinking of purchasing a Fifa game…
2nd – Ubisoft
I fully expected to hate Ubisoft’s conference, and from the opening act I was already cringing. But somehow, by some kind of witchcraft Aisha Tyler made the awkwardness of the conference work. Her use of sarcasm combined with her enthusiasm for the games really uplifted the conference, making light of absolutely everything and giving the audience a laugh.
That wasn’t the only surprise though. I wasn’t expecting to love Watch Dogs 2, but the footage shown and the way it was presented by the studio head really got me excited. Ubisoft struck a perfect balance between big blockbuster games, smaller indie titles and DLC for previous titles. Innovative games like Eagle Flight and Steep were announced alongside the big hitters: For Honor and Ghost Recon Wildlands, which both looked incredible.
The best part for me was the casual manner of the South Park producers who joked about without a script to trust. The use of interviews on stage throughout the conference made the whole thing more social, however they were most effective when Trey Parker and Matt Stone were invited to the sofa. The footage shown, along with their daft smiles made me want to instantly buy their game: South Park: The Fractured but Whole (what a name).
Overall Ubisoft had a fun conference, mixing the weird the wacky with awesome and interesting new projects, each of which demonstrated innovation in a mind blowing number of different genres. Ubisoft has you covered in 2016/17, trust me.
1st – Sony
If you’ve read my piece on video game soundtracks you’ll know I’m a sucker for a dramatic orchestral soundtrack. For Sony’s press conference they had a live orchestra which not only played a powerful introductory composition for the new God of War game, but continued to play throughout the conference, adding weight to each speech and a richness to the entire experience.
The layout of the conference was so simple, there was minimal talking as the centre stage was given to the trailers and gameplay footage. This could only work as perfectly as it did due to the incredible amount of fantastic looking games announced, the majority of which I’ll never get the opportunity to play (exclusives… the grass is always greener). Horizon Zero Dawn and the Last Guardian were joined by more big exclusives like God of War, Days Gone (a new post pandemic zombie open world RPG), and Detroit Becomes Human (the game to make detectives cool again).
Other big trailers just kept coming. Resident Evil‘s return to psychological horror made the crowd go wild, but what really got people shouting was Kojima’s mysterious announcement trailer from Kojima Studios: Death Stranding. Crash Bandicoot remaster was yet another nod to fan demands, and I personally think they absolutely nailed it with the Call of Duty gameplay. It took me a good minute to realise this was still CoD!
The best press conference is one which excites the fans. Xbox lingered too long on new features and hardware; things that could have been announced in a few seconds quite frankly. Sony learnt from Xbox’s example last year; they focused on the games, they brought a welcome twist using an orchestra, and they listened to what fans wanted. The simplicity and the perfectly presented gameplay trailers, for me, are far more effective than having cheesey scripts. Keep the nitty gritty details back, we’ll find them out through the journalists anyway!
My next E3 post will be more focused on the best games of E3, and you can bet I’ll be harping on about Forza Horizon 3 again. But until then, leave a comment if you agree or disagree!