I was away travelling during E3 week this year and thus was only able to follow it secondhand. I’m busy processing my trip (and frankly wishing I was still on it) and getting over yet another horrific summer cold, but here are a few thoughts on the stuff that jumped out at me from what I caught of this year’s expo. As usual, I’m focusing on Bethesda and Nintendo as I’m no longer passionate enough about the industry on the whole to expend the time, space and effort it would take to follow all the other companies.
It was a somewhat quiet year for Bethesda and Nintendo, with not a lot of new announcements and much spotlighting of games that had been announced prior to E3, *leaked* prior to E3 or that had been open secrets that were all but confirmed already. Which is fine by me frankly: After a massively successful launch and a year of doing nothing by skyrocketing in popularity, the Switch has made it a *very* expensive few months for me (at last count the system has *over 700 games* already! I don’t own all of them, but enough that I feel it) and I have other things I need to spend my time and money on other than video games. So, I actually really appreciate the breather. But even so, there was some exciting stuff.
I suppose I should lead with the big news right off the bat, even though none of this is really “news”. The talk of the show was *of course* Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Switch. Indeed, Nintendo were so confident in it being the showstopper they basically didn’t talk about anything else, and bloody Smash took up over a half an hour of Nintendo’s presentation. And, much to my chagrin, they were probably right. That the Switch is getting a Super Smash Bros. should be a surprise to absolutely no-one, especially as it was announced in a Direct back in April. Slightly more interestingly is the notion that Ultimate is going to live up to its name and include basically everyone and everything that has ever been in a Smash Bros. game before, and that this may well be the final game in the series. To this end, the developers have made a point to include fan “requested” (read “demanded”) characters like Daisy and Ridley. So, if you every wanted to play as a space dragon unimaginatively named after a film director who directed the film his series is openly ripping off and who is most famous for being a woman’s primary abuser in a story all about abusing her and triggering her post-traumatic stress disorder, now’s your chance!
If I sound cynical and negative about this game, well, it’s because I am. I’m sure Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be a great game and I do plan to get it at some point, but I am beyond sick of this series and its fandom. I have very fond and tender memories of the original Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64, a simple and nostalgic little crossover game I played casually with my cousins in 1999, and those have all been completely tainted and effaced by the obscene hardcore fanbase spawned by Super Smash Bros. Melee that goes beyond rabid to become actively toxic and reactionary. It seems like every other day the most vocal parts of gamer culture demand news and updates on Super Smash Bros., and that’s the only thing a hefty segment of players care about Nintendo for. What was once a fun party game has been turned into a hardcore and pornographically fanwanky technical fighting game in complete betrayal of the creators’ original wishes and intent. And when Ridley is the biggest news of the show that gets met with rapt, breathless praise and enthusiasm and I’m writing this on a day when the NYPD is investigating a bomb threat against the Nintendo World Store in New York from someone enraged that they dared to take down their temporary promotional Super Smash Bros. Ultimate kiosks, it’s really hard for me to get optimistic about anything here.
eSports games don’t always need to be constantly updated, as true skill comes from mastery of familiar mechanics. Just look at the continued popularity of Street Fighter II. If Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly is the final Super Smash Bros. game, frankly, good riddance.
(…OK, fine, Zelda looks really cool.)
You would probably think I would have more to say about The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield than I do. But, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, this is really a non-news story that’s been blown up to ridiculous proportions. That Bethesda Softworks is working on TESVI should be a surprise to nobody. They have stressed multiple times over the past few years that the game is coming, but that the technology is not where they want it to be yet as they’re aiming for it to be a genuine watershed. Likewise unsurprising is that they’re working on another new game, and that said game is Starfield, whose existence has been obvious thanks to publicly available legal documents and job postings and, oh yeah, basically confirmed in interviews. The idea that Bethsoft have been twiddling their thumbs since wrapping Fallout 4 is nonsense: Skyrim Special Edition, Skyrim for Nintendo Switch and Skyrim VR didn’t chew up that many resources and the idea my favourite game has come under scorn for being made better and more accessible honestly rankles me. As for the new “announcements”…These games could be about anything judging by those trailers, and it’s so early in development Bethsoft probably don’t know what they’re going to be about yet. These announcements, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (and, actually, Metroid Prime 4 last year), exist purely to get gamers off the developers’ backs, and that Bethesda and Nintendo have had to make a grandiose display of restating the obvious is pretty disappointing.
And in yet more “this is not actually news” news, Fortnite, the biggest game in existence, is now on the Switch. I know literally nothing about this game, which probably tells you how firmly I have my hand on the pulse of video games and pop culture. But if you were upset you couldn’t play Fortnite on absolutely everything everywhere at all times, despair no more!
Good. Now that I’ve covered the boring stuff, let’s move on to the fun parts.
I guess I was a bit confused about what Fallout 76 is. Judging by the reveal trailers I’d assumed it was a spinoff built using Fallout 4‘s engine and assets, much as Fallout: New Vegas was to Fallout 3. But it turns out it’s actually a kind of MMO set prior to the nuclear war and titular fallout that gives the series its name and setting. I never got into the Fallout series or its fandom but was hoping this game would make it to the Switch as a continued show of faith and support from Bethesda to Nintendo, but seeing as how it’s an MMO that’s unfortunately not very likely now. Perhaps there’s still hope for Fallout 4 though.
Ubisoft’s Starlink: Battle for Atlas was shown off in greater detail. While a multiplatform release, it’s the Nintendo Switch that almost seems to be the lead platform: Fox McCloud is an exclusive guest character in the Switch version, and it’s that version that Ubisoft seem keen to show off the most in their trailers. The game itself continues to look promising: An open world space exploration game with toys-to-life elements for starship customization sounds really cool, even if the story and character reveal video makes it all out to look kind of unmistakably Ubisoft, with all the odd awkwardness and forced corniness that seems to have become their house style. The mere fact it has a multitude of playable characters is enough to keep me interested, and in lieu of Metroid ever doing another Metroid Prime Hunters this seems like it could come close to filling the same niche for me.
Though Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has as of this writing still not come out on the Switch, Bethesda has been hard at work at not one but two follow-ups: Wolfenstein Youngblood and Wolfenstein Cyberpilot. The former is a co-op shooter set in Paris in 1980, in this universe still under Nazi control. The good news, however, is that players will step into the shoes of BJ Blazkowicz’s twin daughters, Jessica and Sophia. Now grown, it is they who lead the resistance movement to finally liberate France. The latter is a kind of companion game, a standalone VR title where you play the role of hackers commandeering Nazi war mechs to use the fascists’ own weapons against them. Like their predecessor, both new games are inspiring, timely affairs: I really like the shift to a 1980s setting as well as to that of a female perspective, and Wolfenstein Youngblood and Cyberpilot seem poised to do for the world of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and Ready Player One what The New Colossus did for the world of the 2016 elections and Charlottesville. Here’s hoping for a Switch version of at least Youngblood.
My sister and I have very fond memories of playing the Mario Party games on the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo GameCube, so we were both really happy to see Super Mario Party announced as an upcoming Switch release. I really like how Nintendo is seemingly going back to the basics with this one, retruning Mario Party to its roots as a board game played on a TV instead of the weird turn-based driving sim…thing it turned into on the Wii. The ability to link multiple Switch consoles together to create one big, multi-screened console is brilliantly daft, the sort of thing only Nintendo would think to do. Online play is available, but inconsequential, which is as it should be. Mario Party, like Nintendo itself, should be focused on local multiplayer first and foremost. My one complaint: I really wish Nintendo would change their marketing strategy for games like this. Nobody in that trailer looks, acts or behaves like a real human being and it’s *incredibly* embarrassing.
One thing I was really hoping to see revealed that we didn’t get was a Switch port of The Elder Scrolls Online. The popular MMO very much continues to exist, with its recently released Summerset Isles expansion and a robust showcase trailer at Bethesda’s E3 conference. My computer can run it but I haven’t played it in over a year because my Internet can’t. The launcher broke on me one day and all the troubleshooting information I found suggested a hard reinstall (…of an 80+ gigabyte game) and after over 24 hours of waiting on it I finally gave up. I’d love to play the recent Morrowind and Summerset expansions, but right now unless I get access to a stable, all-in-one console release that’s probably out of the question. The Switch would have been a nice fit for ESO, but maybe Nintendo’s admittedly broken online service is keeping it away.
Although it got its own special reveal event in the days prior to E3, we did learn some more about the next new Pokémon game: Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee. Switch-bound in November, Nintendo, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company seem to be essentially repeating their strategy from 2002-3: Jumping over to a new platform that would be incompatible on a hardware level with prior games, the developers remade the first game in the series to provide parity with the new console’s marquee Pokémon game. Back then, Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen was created to go with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire to make up for the fact Game Boy Advance users couldn’t play with Game Boy users, and this time Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee seem to have been created at least in part to go with a forthcoming Switch Pokémon game to be released next year.
And while Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee does indeed look a lot like a remake, or at least a reimagining, the climate is a bit different now than it was in 2003. For one thing the mainline series has become hopelessly convoluted and overcomplicated with arcane mechanics utterly baffling to novice players and stories so embarrassingly melodramatic they double-back into self-parody. Which only makes the massive worldwide phenomenon of Pokémon GO, which boils the series down to its purest essence on a platform statistically everyone on the planet has, all the more revealing. It was beyond time for the series to adopt a simplified back-to-basics approach, and the overt attempt to court Pokémon GO players with familiarly accessible mechanics and cross-play interaction is frankly about two years overdue.
And for me, I can’t help but be swayed by the game’s attempt to recapture a bit of the magic I felt when I first played Pokémon Blue twenty years ago, and the delightful motion control capture mechanics (complete with *Poké Ball JoyCons* that also work like the old Pokéwalker from HeartGold and SoulSilver!) just makes it all the more charming. As a lapsed player whose heart was broken by the last set of Pokémon games, I was secretly hoping something like this would be the series’ next move, so Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee might just be the game to make me fall in love with Pocket Monsters again.
In my personal opinion, RAGE 2 was Bethesda’s biggest announcement this year for how delightfully unexpected and left-field it was, and probably the highlight of the whole expo. That it was revealed almost a good month before E3 kind of sums up this year’s show in a nutshell, though this is not to diminish the scope or impact of this reveal in the slightest. An ambitious attempt at an open-world FPS in a post-apocalyptic setting with driving mechanics, the original RAGE was a game many felt had potential that it fell far short of realising, and was furthermore frustratingly lacking in an original aesthetic vision. It sequel, by contrast (coming a whopping nine years later, I might add) absolutely oozes personality, youthful energy and attitude from every pore: The announcement trailer is an elabourate attempt at capturing the game’s style and tone through live-action, and while it was immediately controversial and polarizing among gamers I predictably adored every moment of it. A colourful parade of camp video game excess drowning in neon and set to the wonderfully ludicrous and perfectly chosen “Ready to Die” by Andrew W.K., I literally laughed out loud and squealed with joy at an aesthetic I gleefully described to my friends as “Mad Max meets Splatoon”.
Ever since their popular 2016 reboot of DOOM (which is getting a sequel) and Quake Champions id Software have seemed genuinely creatively re-energized and revitalized, and that shows in the swagger, confidence and sense of fun they seem to be bringing to RAGE 2. This time they’re paired with Avalanche Studios of Just Cause and (natch) Mad Max fame, and the partnership is looking like a really fruitful one. While we’ve got a while to wait for this one (it won’t be out until Spring 2019) E3 did give us an early extended look at RAGE 2‘s gameplay. The sense I get is that the game is going to be as open and freeform as any Bethesda game, but with a mission-based FPS-style story at the centre. But as excited as I am for RAGE 2 and in spite of it being the easy choice for my pointless and meaningless “Best in Show” pick, I do still have a few questions I’d like to see addressed over the coming months.
Namely, is there going to be any kind of multiplayer mode? After all, what’s an FPS, even an open world one, without multiplayer? And more pertinently, what’s the deal with the main character? He, and yes, so far it’s only been a he, goes by “Walker”, which is about as generic and fluid a video game name as exists and we haven’t actually seen anything of him except a heavily armoured arm, but we *also* haven’t yet seen any kind of character creation feature (which an open world game, or indeed an FPS, kind of requires). My big concern is of course whether or not Walker can be a woman, as was the case with Morgan in Prey. It would be a real shame if that wasn’t possible, especially as the (kickass-looking) female Bandit has become RAGE 2‘s mascot.
Sneer at me all you want for getting excited for capitalist mass-market media products selling the idea of rebellion, but my defense is that at this point anything that makes living my life in this world easier, happier and safer is worth the price of entry. Sure, yes, capitalist art is compromised and art is inherently imperfect, but it’s the kind of art that the overwhelming majority of people are going to be exposed to and familiar with. Pop culture has an unparalleled platform to reach and inspire people, and the ideas we can read in it can and should be mobilized for good. If you care at all about this kind of media and the discussions that can be had about it, that’s something you just have to accept.