By Daniel Shaw:
It’s that time of year again! E3 2019 opened in Los Angeles on June 11th and ran for three days through the 13th. The mega gathering managed to pull in over 66,000 attendees, developers, and guests. As expected, the major giants in the gaming community showcased a number of their ongoing projects. It may not be Christmas by the calendar, but for many attendees it certainly felt like it. It’s that same bittersweet feeling when one realizes there are so many titles to choose from, yet so little cash. So for now, I’ll focus on three particular titles that rose above the rest.
Microsoft and Sony are certainly among the industry’s most recognizable names, to say nothing of being part of “the big three.” However no one has ever been able to even think about video games without also bringing Nintendo to mind. Nintendo has been a juggernaut of the gaming community for over thirty years, and this year they reminded us why. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 was announced amid thunderous applause and subsequent declarations that Nintendo “won E3.” While some of Nintendo’s detractors argued that the company was simply banking off their most profitable IP, there remains much credence behind fans’ enthusiasm. Legend of Zelda is as synonymous with Nintendo as Super Mario Brothers. While fans or nonfans can debate whether or not any one game is better or worse than another, it cannot be denied that each entry in the series has brought something new to the table.
In March of 2017, the first Breath of the Wild was released, and fans were treated to an ultra-immersive world that wildly expanded the universe and mythology of Hyrule. Breath of the Wild 2 (the first direct sequel since Majora’s Mask) promises this and more. The trailer that followed the announcement featured both Zelda and Link navigating a cave. What’s interesting about this sequence is not just the darker tone but also the possibility of the series’ eponymous characters embarking on the adventure together for the first time. There have been titles which feature Zelda as the playable main character, but never one that involved a partnership. Could this be the beginning of a new tag team mechanic for solving puzzles? The eerie music and faint whispering also hint at the return of the Twilight realm—first seen in 2006’s Twilight Princess. While this announcement is very exciting, details on this new entry are still scarce. The short trailer offered just enough familiar-yet-new imagery and closed on what has to be a purposefully vague card: “A Breath of the Wild Sequel is now in development.”
In recent years, Nintendo’s physical presence at E3 has been dwindling, leading to remote presentations. This hasn’t reflected very well on the company in the eyes of its critics. It has been speculated that this lack of presence could point to some sense of superiority on Nintendo’s part. However, as there is obviously no actual proof of this, this assumption is at best hyperbole. As stated before, some attendees were critical of the company’s presentations as merely riding the coattails of their major money makers. As with Hollywood, gaming is a business, so a more likely explanation for the greater amount of coverage for Zelda or Mario was to market to the company’s core fans. However, other titles such as Dragon Quest XI, Pokémon: Sword and Shield, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and My Friend Pedro are all in development or soon to be released for the Nintendo Switch.
Ongoing IP’s are all well and good, but that doesn’t mean gamers aren’t also keen to see new faces among the crowd; enter Cyberpunk 2077. The game is being developed by CD Projekt Studios, coming off the immense success of their previous outing, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Set in a near-future world, Cyberpunk 2077 is actually adapted from the tabletop role playing game Cyberpunk 2020. The dystopian version of California will present the player with a vast open world to explore from a first-person perspective. As is normal with this setting—such as other games like Deus Ex—much of the story’s aesthetic involves people using advanced technology to augment themselves with implants and mechanical limbs. This has always been a major draw for this genre, as the bio-mechanical augments open up a vast array of weapons, abilities, and exploration. The augments also easily lend themselves to a plethora of skill trees and ability upgrades. The question now is whether or not the industry’s recent habit of monetization will creep into this area. We’ve seen many games with progressive skill trees also succumb to in-game micro-transactions. Rather than playing the game and earning a new skill in the normal way, a player may bypass that effort altogether by spending real-world currency. Even though customers have heavily pushed back against this practice, it still lingers where others aren’t looking. That being said, Cyberpunk has yet to show signs of this with no current plans to allow it in.
Another enormous draw for many has been the reveal that none other than Keanu Reeves will feature in the game as a primary character. Tremendous though this reveal may be, it is still yet to be determined how much his presence will affect the overall story.
Apart from the game’s considerable hype, the new IP has also come under fire from members of the LGBTQ community. Some were taken aback by the manner in which some trans characters were portrayed in an objectified manner. While Cyberpunk’s reps have stated that was merely an aspect of the game’s dystopian setting, it hasn’t stopped some from lobbing these accusations. Regardless, Cyberpunk 2077 was met with overwhelming support and many can’t wait to explore the world it has teased.
The final headliner that I would like to draw attention to is something that I personally have been following since even before E3. EA, along with developer Respawn Entertainment, released a gameplay trailer for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Our final entry has garnered some much-deserved attention as it’s purported to have no multiplayer support and no micro transactions. This is truly an anomaly in the current state of gaming, however one that might set a better precedent. Fallen Order takes place a short time after the Jedi have suffered devastating casualties as result of Order 66.
Our primary protagonist, Cal Kestis, is a padawan who managed to escape the purge and is now in hiding. After a factory accident “forces” Cal to reveal himself as a Jedi, he finds himself on the run from the Empire as well as a ruthless inquisitor called “The Second Sister.” So far the cast list has remained understandably thin. Our main hero, Cal, will be portrayed by Gotham’s Cameron Monaghan.
Another noteworthy name was revealed with the appearance of Saw Gerrera, a character first introduced in the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Saw then made his first live-action appearance in Rogue One, this time portrayed by Forest Whittaker. Whittaker once again assumes the role in Fallen Order; however, it’s still too early to say how big of a role he will assume in the game’s overall story.
In any case, it’s always satisfying to see how well a writer can adhere to continuity by utilizing certain characters at the appropriate time. The gameplay trailer reveals a vibrant world for Cal to traverse and fight in. The air is thick with recognizable sounds and music. The transition between gameplay and cinematics is, for the most part, very seamless. For veterans of the beloved Jedi Knight series, combat will likely look very familiar. The third-person perspective means the combat system should translate to some very intuitive controls. Even though the trailer clocked in at just under thirteen minutes, it still presented a varied array of enemies. Cal will face legions of Stormtroopers, as expected, however the young Jedi will also square off against alien wildlife, the formidable Purge Troopers, and, of course, The Second Sister. A definite wow factor was the display of Cal’s various force abilities. They include legacy favorites such as force push, pull, saber throw, etc. But jaws began to drop when Cal forced pulled enemies into being impaled upon his lightsaber. Also striking was the use of Kylo Ren’s ability to stop a blaster bolt in mid-flight. One can already imagine the different combinations of force powers used in tandem. Moreover, this lends itself to the possibility of there being a deep level of strategy when facing different opponents; which force powers work well, which ones are less effective, or if force powers should be avoided altogether. We’ll simply have to play the game to find out.
For this author, Fallen Order could not have come at a better time. We’ve been starving for a well-made, enjoyable Star Wars game for some time now. Many would likely agree that the last truly great Jedi themed games was the Jedi Knight series. Kyle Katarn’s story and evolution felt right within the universe. We got to see a different angle on well-known lore, and the lightsaber combat which has yet to be surpassed even to this day. Acquiring different fighting stances, duels felt like challenging chess matches even against the game’s AI. In multiplayer arena matches, it’s a Star Wars lover’s dream come true. Today players are still gathering and playing Jedi Knight. There have even been recent mods that allow players to choose Kylo Ren as a playable avatar. Fallen Order hints that we could be returning to these glorious days in gameplay and storytelling. The lack of micro transactions is very encouraging, but time will ultimately tell if the force is indeed strong with this one.
With the ability of companies to easily communicate directly with their customers at any time, E3’s function, or even relevance, has begun to be called into question. After all, why spend millions of dollars on short-lived productions for mere announcements when a company could simply post it on their website? One need only look at the massive popularity of Comic Con for an explanation: Fans will always be drawn to opportunities to share in their passions, and there couldn’t be a better one than E3. Yes it’s a niche market, but one that has been exponentially growing for decades. Titles such as Zelda and Star Wars may have started small but are now household names because of the enormous possibilities they offer. Cyberpunk, while admittedly more obscure, still has a strong foundation in classic sci-fi. It uses familiar themes to tell a story that can speak to a variety of different people. Even in an age of increasing connectivity, mega gatherings like E3 still see attendance because fans want to be an active part of that evolution. The next groundbreaking game could be unfolding right before their eyes, and they love being able to say they were there when it happened. At their core, gaming and E3 may be big business, but for all us fans and gamers, it’s also big fun.