Hello all! This year, VNs Now will be giving you our own analysis and grades on the press conferences at E3. If you want more instant reaction about the biggest gaming convention of the year, then follow me on Twitter as I’ll be making liberal use of the space for a few rants. With all of that said, let’s dissect a relatively calm opening day that featured announcements from Bethesda, EA, Telltale and, interestingly enough, Sekai Project.
Sekai Project (No Grade)
Considering this is a visual novel site, let’s start with Sekai Project. The group has been very busy over the past few months and the process of diversifying their company is nearly complete. What? You mean, you didn’t realize that is what they’ve been doing this year? I thought the manga announcements and de-emphasis on English (or Western) visual novels were a dead give-away. Regardless, during a live-stream Sekai Project’s head executive Raymond Qian announced that Sekai has formed a partnership with Mighty Rabbit Studios. From the announcement and subsequent press release, it seems the partnership will focus on creating physical editions of games in and coming to the Sekai catalog.
This is good news for anyone who has given money to a Sekai kickstarter over the past few years with tiers promising a physical release, as I’m guessing those will get the first crack. However, the full depth of this new partnership have yet to be revealed so we cannot gauge how either side plans to fully exploit it. Then there’s this issue of the business model they’ve chosen. Mighty Rabbit operates a distribution subsidiary called Limited Run that’ll handle most of the heavy lifting. The company takes the name ‘Limited Run’ very seriously, as noted in their company’s About statement:
At Limited Run Games our releases truly are limited. Once a game sells out, it will never be available from us again! We believe that as collectors and consumers you should be able to trust when we say our games are limited. They are!
At the end of the day, anything getting a limited physical release has to be guaranteed to sell out, and only a handful of titles in the Sekai catalog have the estimated financial performance to justify it. The side effect? Well, if Sekai wasn’t cherry picking what games would get their attention and which ones would just get lip service before, they will definitely be doing so now. Unfortunately, they don’t have much of a choice if they want to get the most out of any physical limited run of a particular title.
We may be seeing more information about this tomorrow, as well as some of the games that will be apart of this partnership highlighted during Sony’s press conference so expect a follow-up to this report. For now, on paper, it seems like a good business move. In practice? Only time will tell.
Telltale Games (No Grade)
After yet another year of making bank, Telltale Games gave us our first big surprise of E3: a trailer for The Walking Dead Season 3 feature Older Clementine! We don’t have many details about what’s happened to Clementine since we last saw her in Season 2, but clearly a good amount of time has passed (still wearing that hat though!) and she’s found a new group to either travel or live with. While they’ve had some hits (The Wolf Among Us) and misses (Minecraft Story Mode), Telltale has always brought its A game to the series that put it on the map, so I’m hoping that’ll equal some more coverage Monday during one of the big press conferences.
Also, Telltale has released the first screenshots and a plot synopsis for their Batman game and it looks damn good. The story will take place where most good Batman stories take place: the early years of his career as the Dark Knight. Two of my favorite characters, Harvey Dent (pre-Two Face) and Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone, will be involved in this tale that will not only look at the corruption of Gotham City (possibly opening up to being more of a detective game) and managing the dual lives Bruce Wayne lives. It promises to be a take on the character we haven’t seen done since, what? Batman Begins? Certain episodes of Batman: The Animated Series? Ever?
Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing much of Batman at E3. Telltale is hosting a private event specifically to show of the title. Considering the first episode launch date is right around the corner, this makes sense. I don’t have to be happy about it, but it makes sense. My hope is that Telltale actually delivers on its promise and makes a game that is just as much about Bruce Wayne as it is about Batman. Clearly Year One is going to be some influence, however I think most Batman fans are ready for a story that can honor the character’s history while creating a story unique to itself. For now, the teases we’ve gotten from Telltale are noteworthy. Moving on to the press conferences!
EA Games (Grade: C)
‘I hope that works out for you.’
That was pretty much my reaction to the majority of what EA talked about this year. Toe be fair, I don’t mean it as sarcastically as it probably sounded in everyone who’s reading this heads and I do anticipate one or two titles that I actually saw. But, outside of their sports lineup, the focus was more on the developmental process of what they were working on, rather than showing us what they were working on. Of course, I’m aware that this means that they have little to actually show yet and I’m fine with that. But seriously? How hard was it just to say, ‘Oh yeah, Knight of the Old Republic 3 bitches. Get hyped.’
A man can dream anyway.
Anyway, of everything shown the two titles I was most excited for were Battlefield 1 and Mass Effect Andromeda. Of the two, there’s really one one to talk about: Mass Effect. Even the hardest of the hardcore Mass Effect fan will grudgingly admit that the series ended on a low note. Most of the depth, both in gameplay and in plot, was ripped out in favor of a more accessible, but much less memorable experience. Continuing the series wasn’t just an idle thought or fanboy wish: it was an absolute necessity to repair the damage from ME 3. Whether or not Mass Effect: Andromeda is the repair the franchise needs remains to be seen, but the teaser trailer gives us some clues on what we can expect.
For starters, you’re exploring the Andromeda galaxy in ‘search of a new home for humanity’. This could mean while this isn’t directly after the events of ME3, it isn’t so far into the future that the galaxy still isn’t reeling from near annihilation. The Andromeda galaxy appears to be mostly uncharted and untouched by galactic expansion before the reapers. This is good because if my theory holds, humanity won’t be the only civilization looking for a new home world. And without an interstellar governing organization to administer the region, it’s the wild west all over again. It could lead to some very interesting moments, as well as for the player to build up a new Commander Shepard-esque figure. And while I’m sure it’ll be very pretty visually (because it currently looks like it bloody well will be), the possibility to take what happened before and use it to launch a far more dangerous, but more investing world is interesting. I want to believe that’s what Bioware is going to do, and until proven otherwise that’s what I choose to go on.
Meanwhile, on the Western front we have a deeper look at Battlefield 1. The game continues to look phenomenal and the press conference focused much more on the abilities of the Frostbite engine as well as multiplayer. The sheer scope of the game and its variety of combat clearly stays true to the spirit of the Battlefield franchise. Variety of combat is especially important because a lot of WW1 battles were not firefights. They were sea, air and hand-to-hand fights that titled the tide of war one way or another. They also included chemical weapons and the potential of seeing them in action as a common weapon has a great deal of strategic value on a multiplayer map: especially if they act true to life and the Frostbite engine’s weather effects allow for the chemical weapons to disperse like they normal would in real life.
For example, say you were in a multiplayer campaign and one side decided to deploy mustard gas. Mustard gas didn’t just pop out and disperse a few minutes later: it hung around for days and even weeks. Applying that realistically to the game, where a gas cloud wouldn’t automatically go away after a moment and shift across the battlefield with the weather, changes tactics and weaponry in the moment. It’ll be the difference between players who just want to run around and shoot without any forethought and those who specialize and become game savvy enough to adapt. In other words, it’ll make for a much more interesting multiplayer experience than us FPS fans have gotten over the past few years.
Can it still be bad? Yeah. Knowing DICE, I’m anticipating that the initial release will be the base they build on to refine the experience. By next December, if the first release goes well, you can expect for the game to be what they’re promising right now. That could be a deal breaker for those expecting a one-hit, COD killer right off the bat and give Activision the time they need to actually deliver a COD game fans want and not just grudgingly buy out of habit. For now, we have over an hour of people playing the multiplayer to get us ready for the campaign in the Fall. I’ll leave that with all of you so that you can create your own impressions. (Credit on video to: LevelCapGaming)
There are a few titles that look interesting, but don’t inspire much interests outside of ‘We’ll see’. Fe managed to keep its head above water with its unique style, but everything else was business as usual. Madden and FIFA look to offer the same romp as before, only with a story mode in FIFA only a handful of people will actually invest time into playing. And yeah, I’m including the Star Wars game announcements here as well. We’ll be very lucky to get them by the end of 2017, but realistically anything that isn’t Battlefront has a better chance of a release in 2018: especially the one by Visceral and Amy Hennig.
Even a slight hint on where exactly the plot would be going would’ve helped on this one. Maybe a revival of the 1313 concept or, as I subtly hinted, the long awaited KOTOR 3. From what both teasers showed though, both games will take place firmly in the original Galactic Empire timeline and it stokes my fears that they could be milking the original series a little too hard. Between it, Rebels and Rogue One, a Star Wars game that has its own unique universe outside of the original timeline would be very, VERY refreshing. But, at least for the moment, I’m going to have to hope for the best with what we have.
To be fair, a lot of EA time and investment will be tied up in Microsoft as well, so not having a lot to show outside of the regularly cash cows will be a boon for Xbox down the road. However, for what we got, it didn’t seem necessary to have a full, independent conference. It was mostly ‘Meh’, with a few moments of actual interest. Not the best way to start off an E3, but there certainly can be worse.
Bethesda Softworks (Grade: B)
On the other hand, Bethesda brought a lot of confidence and familiar IPs to their conference. The bulk of their time was spent expanding on what’s already available: specifically Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 4. Considering the financial success of Fallout, and the moderate success of ESO, that makes total sense. And the DLC and expansions they showed do what DLC should; make me want to play the original game so I can enjoy the DLC as well. Yeah, I’ve technically never played Fallout 4 or ESO. It’s on the shelf, it’s just at the foot of a very long waiting list!
I was very happy to see Bethesda’s respect for their current audience instead of just trying to hype for a new crowd. It really was about fan appreciation; especially when the Quake Champions announcements was made. While it isn’t continuing the series proper, the fact is it wouldn’t have been announced at all without the recent success of Doom and points to a more traditional update for Quake in the near future (insert caveats and corporate back-outs here). Same thing with Fallout Shelter, which became a runaway hit after E3 last year.Expanding the game and continuing add-ons to what a few considered a promotional tool for Fallout 4 shows just how much Bethesda’s faithful took the game and made it their own. Say what you will about the company, but they know how to build off fan loyalty, which is a perfect segue into the two heavy hitters they brought to the show.
Prey was a surprise for everyone: as it had not been discussed in proper company for nearly ten years now. However the fact that they’ve been working on it diligently in the background enough for the game to change completely from a sequel to a reboot shows the group’s dedication not only to the people, but also to innovation. What was once an alien abduction FPS has become a horror title in a sci-fi world. The atmosphere is reminiscent of System Shock, and fans of Bioshock will hopefully have a lot to enjoy with this one. The trailer itself provided an unsettling look into its world, but little else. More details are coming at ‘Quakecon’, but for all intents and purposes I am intrigued.
Finally, we have Dishonored 2. Bethesda not only showed off Karnaca, the new city you’ll be playing it, but also bits of the story and politics you’ll be in the middle of in the game. We also got a taste of the massive list of powers and tactics you’ll have at your disposal in game from the incredibly adaptive mirror system that let’s you switch between the past and present to the new shadow abilities; including one that lets you kill multiple enemies by psychically linking them to one person. This feels like an expanded version of Dishonored with an ever starker world and story and that’s exactly what I wanted from them. Everything we’ve seen so far says that the sequel is racing towards critical praise and I’m very excited for when I can get my hands on a copy.
So, ultimately Bethesda managed to keep their fans happy while hyping their next big titles and made it look so, so easy. We’ll see if the other companies can follow in their footsteps tomorrow!