E3 this year has been weird for me. At first I wasn’t even going to watch it, resolving to put modern games behind me (except Samurai Warriors) for the foreseeable future, but then the Nintendo Switch started selling like Nintendo stuff does on eBay. So then I was just going to watch Bethesda and Nintendo, and wound up watching Ubisoft and Sony too, the former of which actually did some pretty cool stuff. And yet even so, as I write this, I’m not sure I could point to anything I’ve seen at this year’s E3 that makes me terribly enthusiastic about upcoming releases for the next 18 moths or so, or makes me want to shell out the 300 big ones to get a Nintendo Switch just yet (and “XBOX One X”? Ha. Haha. Hahahahahahahahaha). We’re not getting much in the way of reveals and announcements, more “here’s a thing we announced last year. We’re still making it. Here’s what it looks like now and when it’ll be out”.
But none of that, weirdly, actually matters, because, in giving us a more understated and intimate show, E3 this year shows the industry in a healthier place creatively then I’ve seen it in I think *decades*.
Even though I watched more then two conferences, I’m still only going to write up Bethesda and Nintendo’s showings, if for no other reason then I didn’t take notes for the others. I’ll mention Microsoft, Sony and Ubisoft at points because they’re relevant to the story of these two houses, which brings me to my first point…
I’m titling this simply “Bethesda” instead of “Bethesda Press Conference” because Bethesda actually somehow managed to show up in just about every other show in addition to their own, and they somewhat annoyingly revealed stuff in places that were not their actual event (I would have been royally pissed at Bethesda had I not also watched the Sony show. I still kind of am a bit, but I’ll get to that). Actually, Nintendo did too: Apparently cameos and cross-promotions are the name of the game now, or maybe that says something about the position these two companies now have within the industry.
But they sure started strong. I really appreciated this candid showcase of interviews with developers and their children talking about why they love making video games and why they find it important, meaningful creative work that makes them feel proud to bring joy to people. Pete Hines spelled it out in his intro, saying that Bethesda makes games for everyone by delivering experiences unlike anything else, tying the whole presentation together with a fun mock-Disneyland theme. That Bethesda went with a Disneyland motif this of all years is just one of those fun little bits of synchronicity that tickles me whenever I notice it, and Pete Hines’ sentiments echo Nintendo’s classic manifesto (hi UESP *waves*), and set the tone for the best of E3 this year.
We first got another look at Bethesda’s virtual reality offerings, VR now being an established platform for many gamers who are not as poor as me. Namely, DOOM VFR (ha) and Fallout 4 VR, the latter of which we knew was coming, but it was still nice to see in action. From what I could tell, these look to be the same games as normal, just playable in VR, which is really nice as most other companies’ VR games seem to be largely afterthought spinoff experiments that only offer a very limited and specific experience; far more Link’s Crossbow Training than The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. These include the likes of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XV VR: Monster of the Deep, which was shown at Sony’s press conference and which my sister has fittingly taken to calling Final Fishing.
Bethesda, of course, has one other VR game coming. But they didn’t reveal it during their press conference. That would be The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR, which was announced during a sizzle reel of games coming to the PlayStation VR platform during Sony’s press conference almost a cool 24 hours after the fact. I am, perhaps understandably, annoyed. Mostly because holding this back for Sony’s show heavily implies this is going to be a PlayStation 4 exclusive, even as DOOM and Fallout 4‘s VR versions seem to be multiplatform. This was a reveal that seemed custom tailored to troll me, as I’ve been dreaming of a VR Skyrim for years, and now here it is on a platform I basically unofficially boycott. And furthermore, to paraphrase one Eurogamer commenter, Bethesda are out of their minds if they think Creation Kit users (a software suite which, of course, requires a PC) are going to make mods for a game they can’t play.
I at first thought surely Skyrim VR couldn’t possibly be a PlayStation exclusive, as every other big Bethesda VR game is multiplatform…But of course Nintendo has their own exclusive version of Skyrim coming too (and let me tell you, being forced to choose between motion control and VR is a choice that would kill me to make). But really, a TESV exclusive to Sony’s VR environment doesn’t even make sense, given Bethesda’s own pioneering work in developing VR technology and their close relationship with the HTC Vive platform. Unless, of course, Sony are looking to compete directly with Nintendo. Which doesn’t make sense from their perspective either, since they literally just had a PR guy come out last week and say he expects people to buy both a PS4 and a Switch, openly admitting the Switch is the PlayStation Vita’s true successor and conceding the whole portable market to Nintendo once and for all.
But of course, I never kid myself Sony Interactive Entertainment does things that make sense.
Back to Bethesda proper and other Elder Scrolls stuff. There was the requisite plug for The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind, which just came out last week (with a trailer comprised of clips from YouTube reaction videos, because this is the world we live in now). I haven’t played it yet because I have Northwoods Internet, which means actually updating that behemoth of a game is a prospect that legitimately terrifies me. But I’m anxious to give it a spin, and I’ll probably pick it up during the next Steam sale, if not install it right away (incidentally, if you play ESO, come and say hi sometime. Unless you’re an asshole). ESO’s next DLC expansion packs were announced too, namely Horns of the Reach and Clockwork City. So Morrowind fans should be very happy. Especially Trainwiz. He knows who he is.
Bethesda then went on to announce the Creation Club, which is a rebooted version of the wildly unpopular Steam Workshop Paid Mods partnership from a couple years back. The idea was a good one: Modders put as much work into their projects as some development houses do (even moreso in some cases), so it might be nice to have a system for modders who’d like to get compensated for their time and energy to get that. The author of Moonpath to Elsweyr, one of the best mods for TESV, said he considered making a bigger, better remake if he could be compensated for the insane amount of work he’d need to do. In practice, however, it led to things like modders charging to make the bear in Helgen cave slightly larger for $100 and a whole bunch of really angry people protesting the monetization of a community built around transformative works based on someone else’s intellectual property. Hopefully Bethesda can make it work better this time: They say they’re gonna work with modders one-on-one and have paid mods go through the same QA testing their own games do (…make your own levitating mammoth and backwards-flying dragon jokes, people), so good luck to ’em.
We then got an update on The Elder Scrolls Legends, that mobile card game simulator. There’s going to be a Dark Brotherhood expansion, because of course there is, as well as a Skyrim-themed one called, appropriately enough, Heroes of Skyrim. I’ll admit I found the references to Dawnguard and the College of Winterhold rather sweet and touching. My sister also thinks the silhouetted Dragonborn avatar in the release trailer *might* be female, which would be a godsend given the oppressively macho way the original TESV was marketed, but you decide. TES: Legends is also coming to more new platforms, with Android being the big announcement.
And THEN there was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch. First of all, that’s goddamn “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit, which is *hilarious* as that song was used on Travel Channel commercials for last year’s Mysteries at the Museum season so I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the whole trailer. But Boy Howdy is that quite a lot of Skyrim. Almost too much for even me, especially given the Skyrim VR thing and the fact Sony themselves seem bound and determined to ape Skyrim at every conceivable opportunity (in iconography if not tastefulness) with both their exceptionally offensive new Norse-themed God of War and the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn expansion pack The Frozen Wilds…WHICH IS ALSO FAR NORTH THEMED. There’s also of course The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which evokes more than a bit of Skyrim in gameplay if not tone and iconography (specifically, Skyrim with the Frostfall crafting/survival gameplay overhaul mod installed). Speaking of, Skyrim on the Switch supports at least the Breath of the Wild Link Amiibo, which grants the Dovhakiin a costume based on said mute Hylian swordsman. Of course, you could already role-play Link (or Zelda or Samus or whoever you wanted) on a PC copy of either TESV release with the proper mods, which reminds me-I meant to ask. Does this version support Bethesda.net mods in any capacity? And if it does, will I have to pay to access them? That was the one thing I wanted from this game at E3 as it will probably be the deciding factor as to whether or not I buy this damn game a sixth time, but neither Bethesda nor Nintendo uttered a peep. Which is deeply cornering to me.
Also deeply concerning is the fact this game is not being sold as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition. Which leads me to believe it’s not. Don’t tell me the Switch, which is on par with an original XBOX One (fuck if Microsoft doesn’t make it hard to talk about their consoles) tech-spec wise, couldn’t run the Special Edition? Although that said, that motion control looks lovely, and that might just be enough to get me to cave in a particularly weak moment. But as of right now? This is no system seller in my mind.
We also still don’t have a release date. So.
There’s going to be a Dishonored spinoff called Death of the Outsider, with a very cool looking leading lady protagonist. I still haven’t played Dishonored 2. My game time is drying up and there’s too much else out there I have my eye on, and Dishonored 2 has never really been at the top of my must-play list anyway. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a beautiful, clever, imaginative, tight game.
The biggest spotlight (or, one of two) was given to Quake Champions. Now here’s something that does genuinely interest me: I have very fond memories of this style of FPS, and I’m really happy id and Bethesda are committed to reviving it. This year’s spot had, rather predictably, a huge eSports focus. It’s really quite surreal for me to watch professional gamers being treated like Olympians, World Cup soccer stars and NFL quarterbacks (the Quake Champions trailer even looks like an NBC Olympics or Monday Night Football TV spot), but this is the reality of the video game industry as it exists in 2017 and I just need to get used to it. I have more thoughts on that, but I’ll save them for Nintendo’s showings. The game looks cool, satisfyingly fast and corny, and B.J. from Wolfenstein will be a playable character. Bigger news for Quake fans will probably be that QuakeCon is renewing its focus on the actual Quake championships, with Bethesda, politely, but firmly, reminding us that it was they who gave birth to what would become the modern eSports scene over 20 years ago.
Two new game reveals. First was The Evil Within 2. I never played the original, which is one of those things that I hear about and then kind of forget exists until the sequel comes out 2 or 3 years later. This one looks like yet another “wangsty white guy looking for his kid” Dad Game of the sort that was super in vogue at the turn of the generation and I’d hoped we’d left behind. So, pass. But then there was Wolfenstein II: The New Collossus. And…Wow.
How shall I describe this one…For those of you unfamiliar with the Wolfenstein series, it’s a series of first-person adventure games that started in the early 80s. 1992’s Wolfensetin 3D was made by id Software, one of their pre-DOOM projects, and is widely considered to be one of the first first person shooter games ever made, or at least to gain widespread critical acclaim. id, now owned by Bethesda (really Zenimax) rebooted the series a few years back with Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. The original games were largely silly B-movie fluff about making your way through a secret Nazi castle during World War II and generally shooting the shit out of everything you see in order to find out what secret occult thing the Nazis are working on this week, while the newer ones are still that but with more visceral intensity, as befits a modern game. id’s games star B.J. Blazkowicz, a Jewish soldier action hero, to give the Nazis that little extra bit of Fuck You.
Well…This new game will be set in an alternate universe to our own where Nazi Germany invaded and conquered the United States. And B.J. is part of a pissed off multiethnic resistance group fighting to take the US back from the Nazis as explosively and awesomely as possible, along with a badass black lady with an absolutely fabulous afro and his own wife, currently pregnant with twins. Which is, um, shall we say, a bit on the nose for a game released in 2017 (all of the games showed at Bethesda’s conference are coming out in 2017, by the way). But my is it ever glorious and cathartic to see, and gives an entirely new meaning to Pete Hines’ ever-sincere statements that Bethesda makes video games for everyone.
In a sure-to-be-iconic scene, the Wolfenstein II trailer ends on a shot of a heavily pregnant woman stabbing the ever-loving shitout of some Nazi scum. A criticism could conceivably be raised about capitalism selling us fantasies so we don’t get any ideas about making our dreams a reality outside of the virtual world. But that’s not really what I get from from this game, this show, or the video game industry in 2017. We may not have gotten a lot of new announcements, but the sentiment I’m seeing echoed from not just Bethesda’s developers, but those of Nintendo and Ubisoft too, is genuine, sincere, heartfelt and palpable. My industry came together on its biggest stage to say, once and for all time, video games can be a force for good for everyone and that they really, honestly, truly do believe in the work they do. I probably won’t buy Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (unless maybe I can actually play that pregnant lady) but that’s not important. What counts is the message behind it. I’m happier with that than any single game anyone could have shown off.
Pete Hines closed by saying Bethesda is “the place to go for the best in video games”. I’m not inclined to disagree.