In what was a relatively dull and disappointing conference, EA threw a few gems into a sack full of rocks. Of course, the main pull of their conference was the inevitable reveal of more Star Wars Battlefront—including gameplay and all the cool new features, but I’ll let Cody go into more detail later on. For me, the best thing about the EA conference was Unravel; it’s a brand new IP with a beautifully touching idea that pushes the boundaries of gaming and what gaming should be about. For now though, let’s start at the beginning. It is no secret that Bioware has been working on a fourth Mass Effect title and ever since its announcement, the project has been shrouded in secrecy. I don’t think it was asking too much to expect a trailer and a little demo of the gameplay; however, what we got was a little underwhelming to say the least. Straight from the bat, the EA conference opened up with the now officially titled Mass Effect: Andromeda. Yes, the visuals are stunning and the world in which the unnamed protagonist is traveling through looked magnificent—it was just too short and oddly set to Johnny Cash’s rendition of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky.’ Now, I’m a massive fan of Johnny Cash, and the Mass Effect games are possibly the greatest sci-fi games I’ve ever played, but the two together reminded me of Firefly. Ultimately lowering the overall impact of the reveal. It ruined the tone of the franchise and made it feel more like a Joss Whedon laughterfest than an engrossing, drama-filled Space Opera. We received no information on the game and only a spring 2016 release date to go on. I hoped for more as the conference went on and not for the first time watching EA’s lacklustre conference was I left feeling frustrated.
I don’t do racing games; this isn’t because I dislike the notion or the gameplay—I’m just really bad at them. However, whilst watching the reveal of Need for Speed, I was rather blown away by the look and the fluidity of the gameplay we were shown. We saw real life actors meshed with actual in-game footage and I struggled to tell the real from the created—it was ridiculously designed in all the right ways. The cars, the streets, the lights and the weather all made the overall impact hit me with its wonder. Marcus Nilsson, the executive producer of Need for Speed promised a rich customization with five overlapping and immersive stories and a unique dusk till dawn system that is twice the size of Need for Speed: Rivals. There is no doubt that Need for Speed (released November 3rd) will please the fans with its promise to collect the best of the series so far and throw in tons of new features, all the while bringing an incredible aesthetic to the future of the series.
It’s always cool to find out that there is free stuff coming to a pre-existing game that you have put countless hours into, and the next announcement promised to do just that. Star Wars: The Old Republic has been out for over four years and as a thank you to all the millions of players worldwide, EA are giving away brand new story content, called ‘Knights of the Fallen Empire.’ Although it featured no real gameplay, it did deliver a trailer that looked pretty good, albeit slightly obvious. The main characters reminded me a lot of Starkiller from The Force Unleashed. The story follows two very generic brothers that grow up to harbour the force from both sides, eventually coming to blows with each other. It was a typical story that seemed to offer very little in the way of originality, but it is free after all. It will be out on October 27th for all existing PC gamers.
Up next was my surprise favourite of E3 so far. Martin Sahlin, creative director of Coldwood Studios let us all know about a game that he has been working on for a couple of years. It was pretty evident that Martin was nervous and I’d be the same coming from a small indie development team of 14 to pitching his baby to thousands of consumers must have been terrifying and nerve-wracking. I have to applaud him though; I haven’t seen someone talk with such passion and emotion about a game before. It was evident that Martin adores Unravel and I want to tell you why I am 100% behind him and Coldwood Studios. Unravel is a game that is reminiscent of titles like Never Alone, Little Big Planet and Tearaway, all whilst feeling completely original and unique to anything else. Yarnie, the main character traverses through different environments, leaving threads of yarn in his wake. It is up to you to use the threads he has left behind to escape different hazards and solve various problems. Martin said that the game represents the different threads we leave behind in life and how we touch other people’s lives in the process. With his sentimental speech firmly implanted into my brain, I watched the trailer and started to feel rather emotional. It looks really good—I mean really good! Not only are the visuals stunning, the music brings a true sense of melancholy; a sad, surrealistic idea. Of course, I haven’t even played it yet. The game may not be that great when it is released, but after that presentation and trailer, I was really affected. Unravel could be super special and I’ll be first in line to play it on release date.
Once Unravel finished its gorgeous and atmospheric trailer, we were treated to the downturn of the EA conference that never got turned around until Star Wars hit the stage. You knew it wouldn’t be a good sign once a giant Zombie mascot was ushered off stage to the tune of Danger Zone. And then we were treated to pretty stable Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare Trailer and Demo, but then it started to drag on. Which became a trend in the second half of this conference. Having already seen PvZ:GW2 at Microsoft’s conference I’m not sure we needed that much more. But it’s certainly better than “Let’s talk about mobile” mobile games are a juggernaut in terms of “gaming” but E3 is not the time to spend a significant amount of time on it. Mass Effect should have more time on screen than The Minions.
And then came the thing EA does every year; Sports games. Which would be great if it weren’t so focused on the physics and minute details of this game that anyone who is buying it won’t care. John Q Gamer doesn’t go into Target to buy Madden because he likes the player physics. He’s buying it because he and his friends want to get drunk and run up the score on the Patriots. Regardless anything was better than the Pele interview on stage that seemed to go on forever. FIFA is a monster seller for EA but wow that was not the time or place to interview a man who has no interest or input into the game your making.
Luckily we weren’t left with that taste in our mouths. Ever since it’s been announced, I’ve been lukewarm on the Battlefront game, but wow was I won over by that game demo, It looks amazing. From the dogfights to the third person/first person shooting and of course Luke vs. Vader to close the demo was incredible. I didn’t think you would be able actually to use the light-saber and do melee combat, but I was wrong. I honestly can’t wait for that game.
All in all, a bumpy road that had some notable bright spots. Like Mass Effect, Mirror’s Edge and Battlefront. But was certainly weighed down by some games that felt unnecessary and dragged on a bit. Like PvZ:GW2 and anything involving mobile, along with the sports games talk. Unravel is the Gem in this pile though. It looks truly special and unique in terms of EA’s usual games. It reminds me of a Child of Light on the assumption that EA saw something special in this studio and wanted to do something different. And it gives me vibes of Little Big Planet and Yoshi’s Woolly World just from an aesthetic point of view. With everything, last year being a slog to get through you would think EA might have learned some things but it still hasn’t clicked yet that gamers just want game-play at the video game conference.