OPINION: Nick Cowen argues that this year’s E3 was easily one of the strongest expos we’ve seen in ages, but it was far from perfect.
E3 is over for another year and as journalists and punters recover from jetlag it’s worth taking stock of what went on at this year’s expo. There were plenty of reveals, a couple of eyebrow-raising moments, a few surprises and – we hate to say it – the damp squib that was Nintendo’s Direct briefing.
It was also quite refreshing to be unable to call E3 in the favour of just one platform holder; while Sony did feed our retro crush by offering up games promised in the past – it was great to see that The Last Guardian isn’t vapourware – and old IPs we’ve wanted to see benefit from the new gen treatment – Shenmue 3 and Final Fantasy VIII. Microsoft’s announcement that the Xbox One would now be backwards compatible was worth the price of admission alone. There was also, of course, the opportunity to get our hands on myriad new games – some of which won’t see released until next year.
But now that the dust has settled, we do find ourselves checking our list of expectations and seeing that some of them weren’t met. As is the case every year at E3, it’s not just what the keynotes and publishers were prepared to reveal that was pertinent – it’s also what was left out. Here are a few concerns we couldn’t but help walk away with:
1. So has Nintendo abandoned the Wii U?
Oh Nintendo! What happened? A few years ago you had media and fans cramming themselves into the Nokia Theatre in downtown LA, eager for news on shiny baubles, awesome hardware and reams of news about upcoming games. Now, we all sit in our hotel rooms first thing in the morning and watch a Nintendo Direct briefing, which, if we’re being honest, has become less exciting by the year. One of the highlights of this year’s keynote was the fact that three of your head honchos were presented as Jim Henson puppets. That’s saying a lot.
What’s also rather telling is that the list of games that were announced for the Wii U didn’t exactly blow our collective socks off. Aside from Fire Emblem and Super Mario Maker, you gave us another look at Xenoblade Chronicles X, an amiibo themed Animal Crossing (we have enough toys, thank you), Star Fox Zero (which we knew about last year) and a Mario Tennis game. Woo. And indeed, hoo.
Look, it’s not like we aren’t looking forward to some of these titles – Xenoblade and Fire Emblem especially – but the absence of anything brand spanking new or innovative is rather disheartening. Considering the facts that Zelda’s been delayed and we know you’re working on a new console codenamed Nintendo NX, we have to ask: are you about to leave the Wii U in the dust?
See also: So long Wii U, we hardly knew you
2. And has Sony decided the PS Vita is pretty much dead?
And speaking of platform holders abandoning platforms, we have to wonder how much life is left in the PS Vita.
There are no huge first party titles in the pipeline for the handheld and Sony’s Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida says that this situation won’t be changing any time soon.
“To be honest, I wouldn’t say we will have big AAA Vita games from first party,” Yoshida told IGN.
“Instead of spending lots of money making big Killzone games on Vita, those large studios are focusing on PS4,” he said. “But we know that the smaller games work very well on PS Vita because it doesn’t require that PS4 tech to make the game fun.”
See also: Best PS Vita Games 2015
3. Has Microsoft decided to relegate Kinect?
Once upon a time back in 2013, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, which unlike its predecessor, came packaged with a new Kinect unit. The hands-free motion sensor, it said, was a vast improvement on the first Kinect and besides noting a player’s movements, it could monitor their heart-rate and even see when they were flexing their muscles. Microsoft also showed off a raft of games for the sensor, including Zoo Tycoon, Kinect Sports Rivals and Dance Central: Spotlight. By all accounts, it was clear the Xbox One platform holder saw Kinect 2 as an integral part of its console.
Fast-forward two years and Kinect 2’s fortunes have slid considerably. You don’t have to buy it bundled with an Xbox One anymore. There were no new first party games announced for it. It didn’t even merit a mention in Microsoft’s E3 keynote, which instead highlighted the forthcoming Oculus Rift VR gaming headset and the HoloLens as the Xbox One’s new cutting edge peripherals. You’ll still need it to use Cortana on your Xbox One, and we’ve never tired of barking commands at our consoles, but given the dearth of new IP for the sensor, it’s starting to look as though Microsoft is relegating Kinect to the status of a UI peripheral. Its days as a game control interface could be over…
4. Where the hell is Agent?
So The Last Guardian opened Sony’s keynote and every PlayStation fanboy (and girl) in existence breathed a massive, swooning sigh of relief. After six years of uncertainty, Team Ico’s third instalment in its Colossus trilogy is finally going to see the light of day – even if it isn’t going to land on the PS3 as originally promised. But, as hearts fluttered and brows were mopped in anticipation, very few players and pundits in attendance gave any thought to a game that was announced in the same year that The Last Guardian was revealed – and, if anything, has had an even more anorexic news cycle since.
Remember Agent? Remember back in 2009 when then-Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton announced that Rockstar Games was working on a PS3 exclusive title set during the Cold War? That the game would be set in the world of espionage and the gameplay would be a mix of stealth and action?
Yeah. What happened to that? All we know at this stage is that there has been some concept art leaked and that Rockstar renewed the Agent trademark two years ago. Aside from that, nada! So while we’re all having fits of jubilation over the fact that a boy and his gryphon will soon land on PS4, spare a thought for a promise Sony made in the same year as The Last Guardian that has yet to be fulfilled. Oh, and by the way, you know that either that boy or that gryphon will be dead by the time the credits roll, right?
See also: Xbox One vs PS4
5. Is Bethesda trying to turn into Blizzard?
Bethesda held its first ever E3 keynote this year and out of all the non-platform holder publishers, it probably had the strongest showing. The publisher showed off a brand new DOOM, revealed that a sequel to Dishonored was in the works and practically announced that it now owns November as that’s when Fallout 4 will be released (seriously, employers, if you suddenly see a lot of workers booking time off or calling in sick in the early winter months, blame Bethesda).
However, Bethesda also made a few other announcements that gave us all pause for thought. First up, BattleCry, the free-to-play hack ‘n slash that was greeted with a muted response at last year’s E3 is apparently still a going concern. While there’s been no official announcements about Bethesda’s long-term plans for it, its structure bears all the hallmarks of a MOBA – which is pretty much the entry level type of game any publisher needs to enter the eSports arena. (Although you could also argue, DOOM’s reboot would fit the bill too).
See also: PS4 backwards compatibility
Second, there was the revelation that The Elder Scrolls is now being turned into a virtual online card trading game – much in the same way Warcraft was with Hearthstone, another eSports game that reportedly has a user-base of around 30 million players.
Finally, Bethesda announced the launch of Bethesda.net, an online space that would act as framework for the publisher’s games and where fans could congregate to post in forums and share mods and creations in Bethesda games. So basically it sounds like the trappings of an online store and a community hub – a la Battle.net.
Hey, we’re not complaining – even if it does sound like we’re going to need a new client sitting on our desktop – and Bethesda is probably the only non-platform holding publisher that could produce a Battle.net rival and make it work. But there’s something vaguely weird about watching Bethesda morph into a new Blizzard. It has its MMO. It has its MOBA. It has its virtual card trading game. It has what promises to be a blinding shooter. It has Fallout 4, which will likely kick most dungeon crawlers out of the sixth story window. It even has a smartphone app. And now it also has the nexus of a community hub and games shop. All its missing, really, is an RTS and the insistence that you sign up to all of its games using your email address.
If that requirement comes with the ability to download vintage Bethesda titles and play them on current gen hardware, we might actually consider it…