E3 2015 – The AAA’s

E3 2015 was one of the largest in recent history. Not only did the show eclipse its previous attendance and exhibiting records, the number of quality triple-A titles that were on display was enormous!

Below you’ll find a rundown on every title I was able to get hands on time and my thoughts in doing so.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Release Date: Unknown

This is first real new IP for developer Guerrilla Games in a long while. The Killzone aficionados are taking things in a completely new and welcome direction with Horizon Zero Dawn. Set thousands of years in the future you play a female protagonist who lives amongst the human race’s now tribe-like population.

The gameplay I was shown was nothing more than a bigger interaction with the field of robotic ostriches we saw at Sony’s press event earlier in the week. From there it went on to highlight the many ways you could take on the large T-Rex like enemy to bring it down beyond shooting at it like a giant bullet sponge. It’s clear that Guerrilla have taken some real care in the design of these creatures and how they’re made up in order to offer such an interesting multi-facted way of tackling an enemy.

The game certainly had a lot of people buzzing and the general consensus was that its setting and graphics were both of a high quality. Beyond the gameplay we saw though there wasn’t any substance or real story to be told and until we see more about it I’ll reserve my judgement beyond likening it to a Far Cry, Tomb Raider & Heavenly Sword mashup. It’s a long way away still, I’d expect to see it again next year with a release date as far off as 2017.

 


The Last Guardian

Release Date: TBA, 2016

The world collectively lost their shit when The Last Guardian was shown at the Sony presser. Everyone starred in wonderment as they watched new gameplay where a boy and his dog-bird traversed some rather unsavoury construction to safety.

Behind closed doors we were treated to an extra five minutes or so that happen before what was shown. It showed a smaller area where the boy is interacting with the condor (yes that’s what they told us it was), feeding him, and solving a room based puzzle before breaking out into the larger area already shown.

It looked dull. After the wonderment of the fact they’re still working on this I came out of the presentation feeling like it had be resurrected from development hell and still had no real focus to it. It would appear with what little we’ve been shown it will be a series of puzzle areas akin to the original Tomb Raider series, which on the surface sounds fine but I think it’s a long way off the promise we were given nearly five years ago.

The boy and his voice, mannerisms and Simlish vocabulary are just plain annoying too, 15 minutes of him jumping up and down and yelling at the Condor who seemed largely dis-interested most of the time became incredibly grating on the nerves.


Uncharted 4

Release Date: March 2016

We were all upset when the Naughty Dog told us that Uncharted 4 was going to be delayed until early 2016 and after what I saw at E3 I’m even more so! This game is freaking incredible. It never fails to amaze me how Naughty Dog continually evolve their game mechanics to further interweave story telling with gameplay and Uncharted 4 sets a new benchmark.

Beyond the already shown downhill vehicle chase Sony treated us to, the behind closed doors presentation continued on for another ten minutes. In it the chase continues involving Drake’s brother Sam, motorbikes, more driving, some vehicular based combat and the return of an old friend culminating in a truly immersive cinematic gaming experience that I’ve not seen before.

There wasn’t a single person who didn’t come out of the presentation jazzed for more Drake. If you’re a fan of the series you were already going to buy it but if you’ve never played an Uncharted game before go and buy the new Nathan Drake collection NOW and thank me later.


The Division

Release Date: March 8th, 2016

I was more than jazzed for the The Division at last year’s E3 and the E3 before that even so for a title now in its third showing at the event hands-on game time was a must. I played the game twice, both times were in the revealed “Dark Zone” an area of Manhattan that the government forces have withdrawn from leaving behind a tonne of high-level loot. The area is littered with NPC enemies patrolling the streets but also other players either in a team or running solo. Think of it as a Destiny patrol zone where you can attack other players or help them, PvPvE. It’s a fantastic hybrid that I’m eager to see how it plays out.

What I found most interesting about not only the Dark Zone but the entire game is that the world is a seamless experience. Unlike Destiny where you essentially travel to different levels and points you can wander around the entire map in The Division, should you walk into the Dark Zone that mechanic begins, there’s no menu to select your destination.

Social zones are camps, similar to Destiny’s Tower and now Reef areas but again to enter the “game” world you simply walk out into it rather than hitting up a map and selecting a destination. These mechanics weren’t shown off as such beyond jumping a gated wall to enter the Dark Zone but were spoken about.

Interestingly the whole iPad/tablet integration seen last year has been completely removed from what I can tell. The fad of 2nd screen experience quickly waining. When I asked a member of the dev team about it they just kinda shrugged their shoulders and wouldn’t comment on it. Perhaps we’d have the game by now if that element wasn’t ever worked on, regardless the beta is out in December for Xbox One owners and I for one will be jumping in.


Star Wars Battlefront

Release Date: November 17th, 2015

This was one of the my most anticipated games going into E3 to get hands on with. Star Wars Battlefront looked almost too good in the shown footage to this point and I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype in person. I can thankfully report that it does, for the most.

Visually the game is incredible. We played the Hoth based map running on PS4s and it is gorgeous. Snow is one of the hardest things to render right and when you add in 30 odd players and a bunch of NPCs running all over the place to have that consistently run at 60fps with the level of detail they’ve achieved is a hugely impressive effort. The audio work is also second to none and with each shot fired there’s no mistaking you’re in the Star Wars universe.

Where it won’t work for a lot of people is that it’s a game, or more to the point it’s ultimately a Battlefield game. Star Wars is such a difficult franchise to bring to life and make fun to interact with there’s never going to be a game that completely satisfies all of your Jedi desires. You’re playing a recursive role in a large scale battle that will favour players who have experience in these types of multiplayer games before. Don’t expect to jump into this and pull out a light sabre and cut everyone to shreds, you’re a grunt. You’ll get killed. Lots.

Another issue for me are the floating power-ups and vehicle links which is completely different to the Battlefield series before it. Instead of jumping into a vehicle and driving or flying into the battle you run to a glowing orb which switches your gameplay from the soldier on the ground to the pilot flying. For me, that disconnect further removes me as a player from the world they’re trying to immerse me in. Time will tell if people like it or not.


Heroes of the Storm

Release Date: June 30th, 2015

Already announced at the PC Gaming Show, Heroes of the Storm (HOTS) is to receive its first major expansion, Eternal Conflict, on June 30. HOTS has rapidly become the “MOBA du jour” with a focus on team play and drawing on a large pool of Blizzard content familiar to all gamers.

The presentation I was given was largely focused on the newly announced hero King Leoric. The most interesting of his abilities is to “never leave the battlefield, even in death”. For the duration of the heroes death you’re transformed into a wraith, free to roam the map as you please but unable to cause damage. You can however slow enemies down and use the state as a means for scouting enemy position. In addition to Leoric’s free movement whilst a wraith his respawn is at his wraith’s location and not at the starting gate.

Teased was the new Monk hero with more information to come shortly. Unlike other heroes the Monk will be able to choose their own trait at level 1 to play as a melee brawler or support. The Monk is the first Diablo offering to be of a support class and hotly anticipated.

In addition to the new heroes Blizzard also showed off the new Treasure Goblin daily quest. Before the gates open there is a change a Treasure Goblin may spawn. If you’re the player to kill it there are a number of rewards to receive such as gold or special portraits.


Destiny: The Taken King

Release Date: September 15th, 2015

I’m a huge Destiny fan, as are most of my gaming friends so it was a must to get some game time with the upcoming “expansion”, The Taken King. At US$40, almost the price of a full game in the States, you can hardly call it an expansion but with what was shown off in the reveal during the Sony presser it was hardly what you’d call a full game either.

Details on what’s to be included were kept relatively scarce at E3. The basic storyline of the expansion was detailed and some new areas shown but focus was primarily on the new subclasses. The Hunter, Warlock and Titan classes are all to receive a new subclass and with them new supers. For me the new subclasses appear to be further equalising the three main classes and essentially offering a super that imitates or at least closely represents that of an already existing. The Titan’s new Sunbreaker class with the Hammer of Sol super reminds me of the Hunter’s Bladedancer ability. If the lines were blurred between true class distinction in Destiny they’re rapidly approaching non-existent and that scares me.

My hands on was limited to a new Crucible match where I was able to play as a specced out Titan and Hunter with their new subclasses equipped. The Hunters new super, Shadowshot doesn’t seem suited for the Crucible at all, anchoring a player to the ground and doing void damage its seems aimed at dealing with large boss types. The Titan was just like being home and remains my class of choice. The new Hammer of Sol a powerful super that allows you to focus your attacks instead of it’s former offensive AoE super Fist of Havoc.

No mention or references were made to Destiny’s ailing economy struggles during E3 and without any interview time I was unable to ascertain any details on the etheric light issues and abandonment of former upgrade paths and the effective null value in ascendant materials.

Since the announcement at E3 Bungie have gotten themselves into some hot water with exclusive content within the collectors edition of The Taken King and a new Red Bull promotion that’s limited to North America. I’m a hardcore Destiny fan and there’s no doubt I’ll be taking part in the expansion when it’s released but there are some serious issues ahead of Bungie and Activision here that could put the franchise in jeopardy if they don’t take care.


Mad Max

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

I went into this demo not knowing anything at all about the game and to be perfectly honest, not having a lot of interest. In fact the way I approached Mad Max the game is very similar to how I approached the new film. Zero interest going in, nothing but praise coming out!

The game mimics the lore of the new film, you play Max and you drive your car across the wastelands of an open world destroying convoys and taking out small camps of enemies in order to upgrade your car’s engine and abilities and take on bigger and harder targets.

It’s an open world title and feels similar to Far Cry 4 without the mountains to traverse and a larger focus on driving, including vehicle combat, which of course plays a major role. When you drive you car you have a guy hanging off the back, like in the recent film, whom can attack others or more importantly fixes your car when it’s damaged. He can also drive (albeit quite badly) while you stand on the back dealing with enemies yourself.

There’s nothing particularly magic or new about the game in terms of tech or mechanics but it was super fun driving around the wasteland and taking out other cars and and convoys. The grappling hook mechanic for ripping off tyres on enemy vehicles was just plain cool. I’m jazzed for it’s released now and look forward to putting some hours into it.


Everything else

I managed to have a couple of quick matches of the new Street Fighter V, which looks amazing and if you’re a fan will jump right into and love. Yoshi’s Wooly World was literally the only thing worth playing at the Nintendo booth in my opinion but others report the new Zelda Triforce Heroes is a must for DS owners. Rainbow Six: Siege is good fun but I’m unsure of its longevity and it seems more like a US$30-40 title to me that might prove popular in the eSports world. Finally, there’s Forza 6 which looks to be a strong iteration on the series. There was no talk of the micro-transaction hell that was its predecessor but gameplay wise with its focus on water physics I enjoyed it.

Notable omissions from my playing card or demoes included Halo 5 Guardians, which I’ve heard non-FPS players were coming out of saying they enjoyed themselves which is a good sign, and anything Bethesda – Fallout 4 and Doom. Fallout 4 wasn’t playable, even behind closed doors and I’ve literally heard nothing about Doom since it’s announcement at Bethesda’s own conference, which is a little worrying but then again not crazy considering how large the showing was this year.

 

Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

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