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E3 2016: Change is Good

It's time to shake things up a bit!

I enjoy watching E3 every year and trying to see the “theme” of each show. From second screen experiences to asynchronous multiplayer, there is always something that ties everything together. For E3 2016 that theme seemed to be that of change. While there may not have been a lot of surprises at this show thanks to a lot of companies pulling out and a record number of leaks, we did see a lot of high profile projects that looked, well, different. So let’s take a look at some of those well-worn properties looking to impress us by shaking things up.

God of War

There has been so much time since God of War: Ascension and the launch of the PlayStation 4 that people have become ever more curious about what Sony Santa Monica Studios would do next. Would it be an entirely new IP? Would they continue the God of War series? If so, how to proceed? Kratos finished off all of the Greek gods, so do you move to a new pantheon? Norse mythology seemed like the best bet, but even then the million-dollar question became if Kratos would survive for another adventure.

Enter the new game for PS4, simply titled “God of War”. While Kratos is once again the protagonist, a great deal of time has passed since he laid waste to Olympus. He has a son now, and a large part of the story revolves around Kratos trying to deal with his rage while trying to impart some wisdom to his boy. This is a huge departure from the older games, which seemed to downplay Kratos’ humanity over time. Director Corey Barlog (who some may remember as the head of God of War 2) promises a more introspective look into the game’s protagonist, and that should carry over to Kratos’ son, who is at the player’s side for the majority of the story.

The classic God of War combat is getting a major overhaul, as well. Kratos no longer has the Blades of Chaos chained to his wrists, opting for a more utilitarian weapon in the form of an axe. However, Kratos remains a demigod, and is still able to mete out wanton destruction and punishment in godly fashion. He is able to throw his axe as a ranged weapon, and can use it to pin enemies against walls while he uses his fists up close and personal. According to interviews from E3, it is possible for Kratos to drop his axe, continue on his adventure, and then summon it like the mighty Thor commands his hammer, Mjolnir. Kratos’ son plays into combat as well, and should grow more proficient as the story progresses. All in all, God of War was quite the surprise at the Sony press conference, and has a lot of players buzzing.

Resident Evil VII

Let’s face it: the Resident Evil franchise has been in a nearly perpetual state of identity crisis since Resident Evil 4 came around and took people by storm. While that game was a watershed moment for the series, it seems like Capcom has been trying to replicate its success, to varying degrees. I have been hoping for a total shake up to Resident Evil for years, but even I was shocked at just how much Capcom is playing with the formula.

Now, it should be made clear that the E3 demo (now available on PSN to download) is not a true indication of what Resident Evil VII actually is. It should be treated more like the infamous PT demo from a couple of years ago, which was a way of demonstrating the general vibe that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro were going for with their cancelled Silent Hills game. This Resident Evil demo is unlike anything we’ve seen from the series before, with a found footage movie aesthetic, and much more emphasis on atmosphere than action. In fact, there isn’t really combat in the demo to speak of. It’s hard to say if this means that the traditional arsenal of shotguns, pistols, and rocket launchers won’t make an appearance this time around, but it at least looks and feels very different. The game is supposedly completely playable in VR, so time will tell how that informs the game design of this very experimental take on a classic franchise.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

When it comes to change, the Zelda franchise has been in dire need of some. Sure, sure, each game brings new mechanics and ideas to the formula, but since the Nintendo 64 it has been largely that: a formula. At long last, Nintendo is shaking things up for Link in a big way, and when I say “big” what I really mean is “gargantuan”.

Simply put, Breath of the Wild features a massive amount of real estate that players are free to tackle pretty much as they see fit. Taking a page from the well-received Link Between Worlds on 3DS, the world is less gated by items and more by ability and exploration. This is easily going to be the biggest Zelda game to date, and even gives some of those Bethesda RPGs a run for their money in terms of sheer number of places to visit.

Beyond the scope of the game, Breath of the Wild feels like Nintendo really took a long, hard look at modern day open world games and borrowed liberally. This isn’t a slight on them by any means; there are many lessons that Nintendo could learn from their competition. This game feels like it’s being developed in the real world and not in a vacuum, the way many Japanese games tend to feel. From a cooking mechanic to the need to worry about hot and cold climates and an honest to goodness armor system, most of the traditional Zelda mechanics have been ripped out in favor of something new and fresh. At the same time, it has that undeniable Nintendo quality to it, which could make this a force to be reckoned with, and a real feather in the caps of both the Wii U and the upcoming NX platform. Considering that Nintendo streamed the game for hours and hours and reportedly only showed about 1% of the overall game, players may need to set aside some vacation time for this one.

Microsoft

To say that the announcement of the Xbox One was an unmitigated disaster would likely be selling it a bit short. Microsoft made a lot of gamers very angry that year, and has been doing damage control ever since. So how is it that the company was able to announce not one, but two upgrades to their existing hardware without bringing down a whirlwind of hatred? One word: choice.

The Xbox One S was the first thing that Microsoft announced at its E3 press conference. Sporting a much smaller form factor and the potential for a larger hard drive than the current console (up to 2 terabytes for the most expensive SKU), the company has been up front with who this console is designed for. While it’s true that the Xbox One S can play 4K blu ray discs and supports high dynamic range (HDR), these are more like side benefits. The S still plays all the normal Xbox One titles, and upcoming games will not be exclusive to the system, although some developers may be able to get some added oomph out of some of their games. No, the Xbox One S, much like similar console redesigns, is targeted at new adopters and players that may welcome the much slimmer design. With the S launching at $299 for the base model and $399 for the one with the largest hard drive, the price point is right in line with the current model on shelves now. However, Microsoft has been very clear that people who just bought the console aren’t going to be missing out on anything as far as software is concerned.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Project Scorpio, which concluded the press conference. This is a true upgrade to the Xbox One hardware, and marks a huge change to the way we understand the video game console business. Instead of waiting for the typical five or more year console cycle, Microsoft is creating a new console that is quite a bit more powerful than the current machine, yet will play all Xbox One games. Microsoft is adamant that any games released after the Scorpio launches next holiday season will be compatible across all Xbox One systems, but the Scorpio will show them off the best. Now, this would likely have caused a lot more ill will if it weren’t for the fact that both consoles were announced at the same time, giving players the choice on how they want to proceed. Happy with your Xbox One? All you have to do is sit tight. Happy to have a smaller box that plays 4K movies (like me)? The Xbox One S is for you. Do you need the bleeding edge? Then wait for the Scorpio. Either way, the console business is about to change forever, and I will be very interested to see how things play out, especially with the rumored PlayStation Neo on the horizon, and the push towards VR on most fronts.

I went in to E3 expecting a lot of surprises in terms of new game announcements, and while I ended up disappointed on that front, I can’t help but be excited to see some beloved series going in bold new directions. I’m looking forward to getting an Xbox One S since I value the slimmer form factor over waiting for a more powerful console, and I’m curious to see if the move to more of an iPhone business model helps or hinders the video game industry moving forward. Whatever may come, change is on the way, and I find myself mostly looking forward to it.   


 

Comments

Nick DiMola Director

06/27/2016 at 11:34 AM

I'm definitely on board with the franchise shake-ups, not sure I'm all that happy about the console generation shake-up that Microsoft demonstrated with Scorpio. It feels very much like the end of console gaming and likely a move that can easily start bifurcating the Xbox One ecosystem. I know MS paid some lip service to the fact that there'd be no Scorpio exclusives, but I expect that will eventually cease to be true and likely sooner rather than later.

I also expect that the PS4 will see a similar ecosystem when the Neo comes in. I understand that much of this is driven by a desire to compete in the VR market, but I think it's going to have some lasting impacts in the way business is done in the console gaming market and might actually be a signal of the end.

I think my biggest frustration is that they are releasing updated systems when I feel very much like the generation has still yet to take off. I kind of want to shake someone and tell them to get back to making damn games and stop worrying about the dick measuring contest with console horsepower. Argh.

I guess this makes me even more interested in seeing what Nintendo has cooking up with the NX. Hopefully they can manage to pull off an ecosystem that's dev friendly so it isn't just another Nintendo-only machine.

Machocruz

06/28/2016 at 04:05 PM

God of War

 Ok, that off center camera position is horrible for combat. I think it's a horrible, overused perspective in games today periods, but I've never seen it work well for melee. There is a reason the top melee combat games are still using a centered character position with the camera pulled back. And we also see the continuing and annoying trend of renaming new games with the title of the original game. Are developers trying to erase history so their new games don't have to compete with earlier and likely superior/more memorable (See Thief, Hitman, Syndicate, etc) predecessors?   Santa Monica are just following the herd it looks like, and not in an interesting way in my eyes.  There have always been a plethora of copy cat games, but I think modern design conventions are some of the least interesting there have been. That's a topic in and of itself though. Pass.

Resident Evil

 Like you say, this might not be indicative fo the final product.  From what the director has said, it will be in first person (inspired by games like Outlast, Amnesia), and there will be guns (he complained about lack of weapons in those games).  This one is up in the air, but I'm a sucker for RE...but not that Umbrella Corps garbage.

Zelda

I join the chorus: looks great. Nods back to the original game, which I've been wanting to see for years. Of course there are nods to western open world games, but it looks like Nintendo is putting them through their own filter instead of just copying and pasting (see every other new AAA game) features from other popular games. It still looks like a very Japanese product - they love their health via cooking mechanics, there is a geniune appreciation for the natural world, there is sunlight.  The boldest stroke is the physics system, imo. It's the kind of thing you want to do to move your franchise forward, not ropey camera perspectives or cinematic affectations.

I hope the dungeons are dangerous and not all based on puzzle gimmicks. I still think the first Zelda game is singular in the series. It was a game full of mystery and self discovery, with gloomy dungeons and twitchy combat. I'm not a fan of the emphasis on gimmick puzzles and silly NPCs that the games have had ever since OoT.  The original Zelda was the Japanese arcade game meets the American open world RPG (yes, they existed back then too), basically Combat + Exploration and figuring things out for yourself.

 

 My only real concern is the thing that seems to be getting the most attention: the supposedly massive open world. I hope they utilize the space in a creative and hollistic manner, something that is designed according to the values of the series, and not just copypasta of Ubisoft or Bethesda. In any field of art and design there is an adage that whatever doesn't add, takes away. Too many developers are just putting features in games because they think emulating other successful games is the way to success for their game. This is very superficial thinking, linking correlation with causation.  Does this series or the gameplay within justify a enourmous land mass? We will see.

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