E3 2018 Recap: The Highs and Lows from a Week of Gaming
In our E3 2018 recap, we highlight the things we saw that impressed us, along with a few of the things we either didn’t see or wish we hadn’t.
After a week of gaming news, title reveals, and more trailers than you can easily watch in a single sitting without making some unfortunate life choices (we have 160 of them to start with), E3 2018 is complete. And we have feels – many feels.
It was an interesting show with plenty of highs and lows. Games led the way, as this year’s event falls at something of an unusual time. New consoles are definitely on the way, but they are still a few years out and some of the biggest titles being developed may be focusing on those unannounced systems.
E3 2018 was also a little more muted than past events. There are several reasons for this, but one of the big ones is that developers and publishers don’t need big events like E3 as much anymore, they can go directly to their fans online. Nintendo has gone that route for a few years now, and this year’s E3 showed that it has no intention of reversing that trend.
So with the show complete, we look back at some of the highs and some of the lows from E3 2018.
Lows: Lack of Surprise
This is something people have been saying all week, including us, but there weren’t many surprises at this year’s show. There were only a handful of games featured that weren’t previously announced, and some that were expected were notably absent.
Part of that may simply be a lack of showmanship from developers and manufacturers that no longer see E3 as the essential event that it used to be, while some of it might just be a matter of timing. Whatever the reason, huge developers and publishers like Ubisoft didn’t reveal anything we hadn’t previously heard about (although to be fair Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was meant to be a surprise until it was leaked), while others like Take-Two and WBIE barely had any presence at all.
It was also a little odd that titles that have either been confirmed or nearly confirmed weren’t on display – like a new Splinter Cell, Borderlands, and Metroid - while others most hoped to hear about – like Rocksteady’s latest – were nowhere to be found.
High: Games Dominated
Part of the reason for the lack of surprise may be down to the looming specter of new hardware, but thankfully manufacturers weren’t ready to discuss that yet – even if there were benefits to doing so.
Both Microsoft and Sony are working on new consoles – they have both confirmed it – and sooner or later both companies will begin to jockey for positioning. It wouldn’t have been all that surprising for one of them to have tried to control the narrative and announce their new system – Microsoft sort of did by confirming it is working on a new system, but it could have gone much further (as it once did when it teased Project Scorpio years ago). And if it had, the show would have been very different.
Without the shadow of new hardware, the show was very much focused on the games, which is a very good thing. No one is going to be buying a new system for years, and honestly, there probably aren’t many people that are excited by the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for a new system to replace hardware that is just hitting its stride. Instead, seeing the games take center stage helped remind us what we love about gaming.
Lows: The Never-ending Game of Playing Catch-up
This isn’t anything unique to this year’s show, but E3 2018 featured an awful lot of announcements that felt like developers trying to generate excitement by introducing games and modes that are copying previous games and modes. If you need an example, look no further than the “Battle Royale,” which seems to be a mandatory feature in all upcoming shooters.
To be fair, a good idea should never be limited to a single property, especially when it is something fans love. How it is presented though, is different. Just look at two titles that will offer similar things, but they presented them in different ways: Anthem and Fallout 76.
Both titles will feature four-player co-op set against a backdrop populated by other players. Both are also built around the idea of RPG-style progression, and both will have lengthy campaigns that will eventually give way to repeated playthroughs and grinding. But where Fallout 76 was hailed as impressive, Anthem came off looking like a Destiny clone.
Maybe that’s not fair, but fans have seen enough of the same thing rebundled with new bells and whistles that they at least appreciate the fiction that the game they are seeing is something new, even if it isn’t. And if those games actually did manage to sneak in something original, that wouldn’t go amiss either.
High: So, So Many Games
As we previously mentioned, this year’s E3 put the focus firmly on the games, and there were a lot of them. A whole lot. At last count, we collected trailers for around 150 titles, and that’s not counting the showcases that featured gameplay that wasn’t seen anywhere else.
Not all of the games shown at E3 are the major blockbusters that you’ll be seeing ads for repeatedly in the coming months, but there was something for everyone.
Low: The Future of Humanity
It’s not new, and it’s not surprising, but wow, there are a lot of games set in a future that is either dystopian or outright post-apocalyptic. Basically, judged from developers’ view of the future, things aren’t looking so hot for humanity.
Sure, you can make the argument that those types of future create a more natural setting for conflict, plus they allow gamers to see a familiar world in an unfamiliar way, but how about just one game where things work out? Maybe?
High and Low: February 22, 2019
Every year the holiday season is absolutely flooded with major releases, but this year may be a little different. There are still a lot of games coming out during the October to December period, but a few of the biggest games shown off at E3 are now set for February 22, 2019.
Blame Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2’s October 26 launch, or blame a lack of imagination. Either way, that single day in February will see the launch of Anthem, Crackdown 3, Days Gone, and Metro Exodus. That’s four massive releases all on the same day. Smart money says that a few of the publishers blink and move their releases, but which ones?
Lows: The Death of Sports Games
Although E3 has never really put much of an emphasis on sports games, and in general sports titles have been very much on the decline. If you don’t count the annual releases, there are hardly any games that even suggest a sports theme. No NFL Blitz-like games, no street soccer, not even games like Rocket League. There were a few sports-like titles, but they were all smaller games – there’s nothing wrong with that, but the industry’s attention is waning.
That isn’t a shocking revelation by any means, but it’s a melancholy prospect to see a genre wither under the weight of annual releases where the most innovative new addition is a mode that should have been included years earlier.
High: Less Emphasis on Microtransactions and Paid Content
This may be more down to presentation than reality, but there seemed to be a clear push to move away from paid content, including costly DLC. Several titles proudly touted free post-launch expansions, and there was nary a lootbox to be seen (thank legal ramifications for that).
There didn’t seem to be many games that included microtransactions either, at least not any titles that weren’t free-to-play. Developers may simply have gotten smart enough to hide those, but maybe it’s the start of a trend.
Low: Nintendo & Square Enix
As we mentioned above, this year lacked surprises. For some like Sony, that was just a bit disappointing. For others like Nintendo, it is downright puzzling.
Nintendo came into the show riding a high that the others couldn’t match. It would have made sense to have a big E3 that would have kept fans interested all the way through the holiday season, but instead, it had a mild show with no real shocks. Sure, Smash Bros. Ultimate will be a hit, but it didn’t draw attention like, say, a new Metroid game would have. It’s a little disappointing, but given Nintendo’s history, not surprising.
And then there was Square Enix, a company that has several major titles on the way, but still managed to put up one of the most uninspired showcases of E3. Why bother to have a standalone event if the plan is to let Sony and Microsoft debut all its trailers?
While Sony’s show was uninspired and Nintendo’s presence lacked anything mind-blowing, Microsoft managed to put together its best show in years.
Microsoft seemed to have fallen into a pattern where it would kick off E3 with a lot of news and a look at some games, proudly go on about how great a show it was, then proceed to get sand kicked in its face by Sony. This year, however, Microsoft managed to outdo its rival with a focus on games and a promise to invest heavily in the future of the Xbox.
To be fair, Microsoft was helped by an overall muted show, but it still had one of the best presences of E3 2018.