EA @ E3 2016 Recap

E3 2016 for Electronic Arts has come and gone, and here are some impressions from my week of watching “Gaming’s Greatest Week” in sunny LA. What will you be playing this fall… and next spring… and TBA… I guess? Here are the games EA had to show off.


Battlefield 1

Ok, honesty time, I was all hyped up for this one already. I am a Battlefield veteran, with tours of duty going all the way back to BF1942 and Battlefield Vietnam.  Some of my formative years as an FPS gamer came on the sands of Wake Island, or the pock marked hills of Monte Cassino. I think the FPS community as a whole was waiting for a big franchise to change from the typical near-future “Modern Warfare” setting to something more unique.  Games like Verdun, or the excellent Red Orchestra series have kept the WWI&II shooter alive in the interim, but it is now time for a AAA developer like EA to take a crack at the historical shooter.

To show of their new direction for the Battlefield series, EA displayed the same trailer 3 times, and we watched a bunch of herbologically adjusted famous people play the game terribly. (THAT IS MEDICINE PEOPLE! SNOOP NEEDS IT TO LIVE!)   Battlefield’s last few installments have had the same style of weapons and game play.  The live influencer (uggh) and celebrity exhibition didn’t do much to show off how different this new game is going to play from the previous games.  You can bet there was someone flying a biplane terribly, resulting in a plummet to the ground right in front of someone else. I’ll bet players fought over the tanks at the spawn points too.  It is still a battlefield game after all.

Reports of how Battlefield 1 plays have shown, however, that the WWI is really only an aesthetics change.  Tanks, SMGs, sniper rifles and automatic weaponry make this new game play a lot like the previous iterations.  While it might look like you are tooling around in a WWI era tank, the controls will feel similar to driving the M1 Abrams in Battlefield 4.  Early reactions from the limited demos appear mixed. Gameplay impressions are rather limited at this point, as EA was only showing off 1 one of the maps at their event, and they assured us that there was a lot more content yet to reveal.

The idea of tanks vs horses, biplane dogfights and giant zeppelins crashing onto the battlefield sounds intriguing to me though.  If I can become “Jon of Arabia” or something similar to that, I’ll be sold.  I still have hopes for this one, as I really want to take part in some WWI style bombing runs! WWI was an interesting theater of war, I just hope that EA can make the game an interesting diversion from the norm.

Titanfall 2

I enjoyed Titanfall, I really did!  Despite the lack of any meaningful single player campaign, I enjoyed my time “jacking” bots and killing creeps in the first game.  Titanfall recieved critical praise when it came out, and despite the inability to purchase the game on the leading next gen console, PS4, it sold very well. Even with the overall positive reception of the game, the common refrain heard was, “I can’t wait to see what they do in a sequel”.  The foundation of shooting mechanics in Titanfall are solid.  The map-traversal options of jetpacks, wall running, and double jumping added a verticality and mobility that you don’t often see in many online shooters. In short, Titanfall felt good to play. It was the lack of meaningful character customization and gameplay progression that lead to a sharp drop off in player base after the first few months.

Don’t get me wrong, new doesn’t mean everything Respawn put in the game was great. Titanfall implemented a mechanic that I actively dislike, that I will call “action cards”.  “Action cards” are single use items that you earn through the standard multiplayer leveling progression.  Using the collection of cards you have earned you can pick a “hand” prior to the start of each match.  Players could use these cards throughout a match to gain boosts, such as an increase to damage output or an increase to how quickly your titan would respawn

Single use booster cards in an FPS sounds like an interesting innovation, but, to me, I didn’t like it at all. I ended up just hoarding cards, being afraid to use them lest I be immediately killed, wasting the card’s effect.  Maybe this is why I am a terrible poker player.  Respawn entertainment does deserve some praise in their restraint, however.  Titanfall didn’t commit the completely inexcusable sin of selling these “card packs” as microtransactions, but many other have.  This is some heinous shit.  Pay2Win indeed.

Titanfall 2 looks like a lot more of the same, which is a good thing!  I really enjoyed the first game! (Why am I getting so defensive?)  I think “The same, but more of it” would be a great way to make a sequel.  Titanfall 2 promises to include an offline single player campaign, an increase in the types of the titans, as well as further improvements to character mobility. (This is the year of the grappling hook after all)  Respawn is also promising plenty more unlockables to help players customize their loadouts through weapon and titan skins.

The single player campaign trailer leads you to believe that the story will be about the relationship of the player to an advanced Titan AI.  Bold prediction: your Titan AI sacrifices itself to save your life at the end.  A noble, yet familiar sacrifice.  This is the exact plot of the 2005 action film, Stealth. (I don’t know if this story is bad, or the plot of Stealth was better than its execution?)

I get the feeling that the developers took a lot of the criticisms of their first game to heart, and genuinely wanted to improve on the formula they established in the first game. The improvements to the game they have been showcasing are exactly the type of improvements we all were asking for. Additionally, Titanfall 2 will not be Xbox One exclusive, making the player-base substantially larger. A larger playerbase will  help in longevity of the multiplayer community.  Turns out, a lot of people own a PS4.  I am very excited to see how the full game and campaign work out on October 28th.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The new Mass Effect is probably my most anticipated game of the show. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see much of it at all.  The original Mass Effect trilogy are some of the greatest games of the previous generation, full stop.  At E3 2015, we got a sizzle reel of developer commentary and concept art.  At E3 2016 we got a sizzle reel of developer commentary and pre-alpha gameplay footage.  The Mako is back baybee!!  This game is set to release in Q1 2017. The details feel pretty sparse right now for a game coming out in less than 12 months.  I was expecting to see a lot more of the game.

What we do know about Andromeda, is that it takes place some time after the events of the original trilogy.  You are the captain of a Star Trek Voyager-esque expedition into uncharted space on a brand new ship called the “Tempest”.   Bioware is promising lots of brand new locales, alien species, and scanning options.  As tiresome as the planet scanning in Mass Effect 2 was, I think it was probably the best resource gathering mechanic the series came up with.  This all sounds very enticing, but there just isn’t much information out there about this game.

 

Star Wars: We don’t have a game just yet

I think we all expected more information about the rumored Star Wars: Battlefront sequel, but EA wasn’t talking about that game at the show.  Star Wars 1313, a promising game that was in development is indeed dead, which is fairly disappointing.  1313 Impressed Star Wars fans by the short gameplay videos and information that were present at E3 2012.  Few details had surfaced about that game since.  In the interim, Disney Interactive purchased Lucasfilm, and with that purchase there was some major restructuring.  It was clear that Disney wanted a clean slate, and canceled quite a few in development titles.  What do they have to replace games like 1313?

Have you heard about this Star Wars? It is pretty hot right now.  EA has got you covered.

Thanks to the successes of Star Wars: Battlefront and Episode 7 last fall, Disney and EA are set to hit the Star Wars market hard.  More than 6 game studios, including big names like Respawn and Visceral Games, are working on future Star Wars titles.  Visceral games is working on an action adventure title set to release in 2018, and have added some big names to their team. Key hires include former head writer and game director of the Uncharted series, Amy Henning, and Jade Raymond of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Watch Dogs fame.  Respawn, creators of the above mentioned Titanfall 2, are working on a 3rd person action game set in the Star Wars universe as well.  Plenty to look forward to.

The Star wars teams didn’t have much to show at E3 this year, but they promised us that there were many new Star Wars games in the works.  We are just going to have to take their word for it.  This year felt like a bit of a reboot year for the Star Wars license.  Likely there will be a bit of a lull in new Star Wars games, but the teams that they are putting together to work on the new games are stacked with talent.  Other than a few updates about their MMO “The Old Republic”, a new Lego Star Wars, and their mobile game, there were few details about future games.  Tune in next year, I guess?

FIFA 17

Some guy really wanted to have me join him on his soccer team.  I have never been a big fan of the beautiful game, but the big changes in this year’s FIFA franchise look to make the game a bit more interesting to outsiders. This installment’s newest addition is a new career mode, “The Journey”.  This heavily resembles what the NBA 2K franchise has been doing with its career modes.  The focus has been on allowing the player to be a part of the exciting rise to professional sports stardom.  By focusing on their athlete’s personal journey to stardom, players have a deeper connection to the game.  You want your create-a-character athlete to be successful, you celebrate their highlights, and struggle through the bad games.

I have always loved the career mode of the NBA 2K series. It is the sole reason that I buy that game every year.  So much of what draws the viewer to sports are the incredible human stories of triumph.  The real life rags-to-riches stories of so many of our favorite stars make for incredible stories.  Sports games have always felt very sparse and vacant of emotion, very much just simulations of a game.

The Tiger Woods series was one of the first game series I remember having a meaningful career mode. You created a golfer, gained XP, got sponsorships (and were paid for wearing clothing during matches) and worked your way to the top of the PGA tour. The NBA 2K series then elevated that concept by adding cutscenes, post game interviews with dialog options, and fake social media interactions for your player.  The dded character depth in the career modes have kept me interested in playing NBA 2K games.  I like that my basketball avatar goes fencing with Chris Paul, and I like that he will get pissed if I decide to go to a Nike event rather than going bowling with him.

While I am a fan of basketball, and not of “Footie”, I don’t see myself picking this one up.  I do like that EA isn’t resting on their FIFA fame-laurels, and they are trying something new.  And while I personally loved the much derided “Livin Da Dream” story line of NBA2k16, I do hope that FIFA’s “The Journey” aims a bit lower.  Maybe.. 50% less ghosts?  Man that “Spike Lee Joint” was something else…

 

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