Each summer, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known by its goofy Silicon Valley-style abbreviation, E3) arrives with all the grace of a tornado. It obliterates other video game discussion for roughly a week, sucking everything into its vortex. Headlines center on upcoming releases, changes to console hardware and services, surprise announcements, and quickly meme’d moments when CEOs in t-shirts and suit jackets, trying to appear both relatable enough to impress an audience of faceless, casual conference viewers and professional enough not to worry shareholders, inevitably embarrass themselves.
It doesn’t matter what players think of the show, whose highlight is unquestionably the series of publisher press conferences live-streamed across the world: E3 is the crystal ball of mainstream games to come. For better or worse, watching to see what is and isn’t featured during these presentations is the best way to know what to expect from the big budget, conversation-dominating “summer blockbuster” segment of the medium.
With that in mind, the following looks at each day of the conferences, running down what was shown in an attempt to see where mainstream games are heading in the near future.
Saturday, June 9th
The event got started with a conference by Electronic Arts (EA), the publisher behind massive series like multiplayer shooter Battlefield, racer Need for Speed, role-playing games Mass Effect and Dragon Age, sports games like FIFA, Madden NFL, and the current rights holder for Star Wars video games. In a harbinger of the trend that would continue to become clear over the rest of the weekend, EA wasn’t showing much of anything new.
Most of its presentation focused on two shooters. The first, Battlefield V, follows up on EA DICE’s 2016, World War I-set Battlefield 1 (don’t worry about the numbering; it’s very confusing) by bringing the series to World War II. Though it looks exciting in the way that all Battlefield games are exciting — large-scale destruction, gorgeously modeled battlefields, and audio so sharp that nearby gunshots are legitimately terrifying — it’s also the latest in a long-running series and hardly a very original concept. In a similar vein, time was given to Anthem, the latest from Mass Effect and Dragon Age creator BioWare.
Video of Anthem Gameplay Features – EA Play Press Conference 2018
The first proper trailer for Anthem came across like a mix of both of these series, showing a swirl of science fiction robotic suits, giant fantasy monsters, and hints of a strange, otherworldly theology. Though it features co-operative play, similar to the Destiny series of online shooters, Anthem looks to have retained little of Bioware’s usual focus on character relationships and dialogue-heavy storytelling.
Apart from these, EA spent time showing off updates to its sports games, following the iterative mold of both Battlefield V and Anthem. These games may all end up being very good, sure, but they also look like so much else we’ve seen before. The appearance of two twee releases from smaller studios —a sequel to the schmaltzy Unravel and Sea of Solitude, yet another fantasy world meant to wring heartstrings by abstracting and allegorizing personal trauma — did little to bring anything truly novel to the table.
Sunday, June 10th
Microsoft was next up, hosting a Sunday afternoon conference centering on games for its Xbox One console and Windows 10 computers. Despite its presenters’ constant references to games’ potential as an art form and the creativity on display in the work it publishes, Microsoft mostly showed off sequels to well-known series. Old favorites like Halo and Gears of War will receive new entries in the near future, we were told. There will also be a third Metro and fifth Devil May Cry game, a third Crackdown and umpteenth Forza racing game, a sequel to near-future political paranoia shooter The Division, a second Dying Light, the fourth Just Cause, and expansions to existing games like Cuphead and Sea of Thieves.
Amidst all of this, a few fresh ideas surfaced. CD Projekt RED, the studio behind the excellent The Witcher series of role-playing games, showed their Cyberpunk 2077, which trades sword-and-sorcery fantasy for grimy neon, dyed Mohawks, and retrofuturist DOS prompts. From Software, the team best known for the excellent Dark Souls series, debuted an action game called Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, its fantasy take on feudal Japan filled with the kind of imaginatively disgusting monsters expected from the studio.
Video of Cyberpunk 2077 – official E3 2018 trailer
Later in the evening, Bethesda, publisher of series like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Wolfenstein, and DOOM, continued in Microsoft and EA’s footsteps with a show devoted mainly to sequels. It had the post-apocalyptic Rage 2, which looks to have satisfyingly kinetic gunfights, but an otherwise generically over-the-top tone and bland, Mad Max-lite setting, a sequel to the wonderful 2016 DOOM called Doom Eternal, another Wolfenstein sequel, a new entry to Fallout called Fallout 76, which emphasizes recent design trends (an always-online world, reminiscent of Anthem, which is reminiscent of Destiny) — and nothing else really except for updates to existing games, an Elder Scrolls phone game, and a quick shot of a nebulously defined project called Starfield, which is, well, set in space. There was also a title card for Elder Scrolls VI … that doesn’t even have a subtitle yet.
While the first days of E3 have been too packed with sequels and thematically homogenous games to offer much to get excited about, Monday and Tuesday morning will bring a few more conferences — Square Enix, Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo — that could show something new. For now, the event is disappointedly centered on safe bets, showing a medium whose mainstream is dominated more by sequels and spin-offs than anything else.