EA may be the company gamers most love to hate, but they went into this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in the enviable position of having recently shored up the Star Wars license for the next decade. Frankly, if EA had done nothing more this year than send out an executive to say “We’re making Star Wars games and they won’t have Jar Jar Binks in them,” their E3 showing probably would have been considered a success.
As it turns out, EA didn’t do a whole lot more than that. Their press conference opened with what was essentially a documentary detailing the very early development of a new entry in the Star Wars Battlefront series, emphasizing the care the development team was taking to remain true to the films (the original films, that is—there was no mention of the prequel trilogy). There were a lot of shots of the team interacting with props from the films and shooting reference footage at locations used in the filming of Return Of the Jedi. However, very little actual game footage was shown, presumably because nothing more than some early conceptual renderings exists at this point. Of course that doesn’t matter; it’s hard to find gamers who don’t have fond memories of the Battlefront games, so just the assurance that a current gen franchise entry is on the way is good enough for now. The film ended with the tagline “See more in 2015,” which suggests that we won’t be playing Battlefront until 2016 at the earliest.
Actual game footage kicked off with a long trailer for Dragon Age Inquisition (which releases October 7, 2014), different from the one shown just an hour or so earlier at Microsoft’s press conference, and accompanied by a live cello performance of the Dragon Age theme music. That transitioned into a pre-recorded gameplay demo, focusing on the game’s team dynamics, and showing a heavily edited sample of the “action” style of play. Brief mention was also made of the tactical play style, accompanied only by still screenshots, so it looks like EA still wants to de-emphasize that play style and give the impression that their RPGs aren’t RPGs.
The Bioware train rolled on from there, with another documentary about a game in early development, this time the next entry in the Mass Effect franchise. The game is so early in development that they had little more than concept art to show, but they did have a message, specifically that they were listening to fan input as part of the creative process. Will that be enough to win over players alienated by Mass Effect 3? I suspect by the time this game actually releases, that bad blood will be so far in the past that it won’t matter.
The Sims 4 footage was up next, along with a presentation highlighting the new emotion and personality settings, and the role they’re supposed to play in generating narratives within the game. This actually drilled fairly deep into gameplay settings for an E3 demo, so kudos for that. Of course The Sims is one of those franchises that people are either deeply invested in or completely indifferent to, so this is another case of EA knowing the audience they want to reach. In a weird twist, the trailer ended with a Sim literally laughing himself to death.
UFC kicked off a block of sports game talk with some gameplay footage showing Bruce Lee, who is playable in this year’s game, taking on B.J. Penn. The UFC games are complicated enough that it’s hard to convey much about them in a press conference setting, but the demo gave a quick cross section, showing a little bit of the submission system, as well as the ability to pull off crazier moves like Lee using the cage to propel himself into a jump kick. The fantastic element of Bruce Lee as a UFC fighter continued in PGA Tour, which appears to have replaced Tiger Woods with the ability to create ridiculous, Mario Golf-esque experiences, like a battleship sailing onto the course via a water hazard. Presentations on NHL 15, Madden 15, and FIFA 15 were more down to earth, all focusing on the sorts of improvements touted by sports game developers every time a new release rolls around, better physics, more fine tuning in various aspects of the sport (defense in Madden 15, man-to-man play in FIFA 15). However, all three provided some unintentional laughs by treating their respective sports with the gravity of major political events.
Curiously, the sports blocked wrapped up with another in-development documentary, this one for the MOBA Dawngate. As with the Mass Effect film, this one emphasized the dev team’s desire to let input from gamers direct their creative process. This may be the first time eSports have been equated with traditional sports at a major E3 press conference, but it was definitely the first time at this year’s show that game footage was set to dubstep.
Two more conceptual trailers rounded out EA’s suite of very early development footage. An unnamed Mirror’s Edge sequel appeared to be farther along than most of EA’s non-sports offerings, and the developers were very concerned to let everyone know that this time they intend to get the game’s combat right. As someone who felt like the game would be better off without it, that’s not great news for me, but I’m still excited for any new Mirror’s Edge. Criterion, on the other hand, barely even had any footage to show, nor a title for their upcoming game which will apparently feature every kind of vehicle except cars. The former Burnout and Need For Speed developers appear to have plans for some sort of driving game in which players will be driving helicopters, planes, jet skis, ATVs, and pretty much anything else with wheels, wings or blades that isn’t a car. It’s an interesting idea, but even talking about it at this point highlight’s just how little EA had to show this year.
One thing they did have plenty of footage for was the final game of their briefing, Battlefield Hardline. The new cops and robbers take on Battlefield’s multiplayer shooter mechanics looks impressively crazy, and as divorced from reality as you want a Battlefield game to be. As the robber team’s heist started to go wrong in the (heavily scripted) demo, the cops’ pursuit steadily wracked up property damage that was probably several orders of magnitude more costly than the take from the heist. The wild chase culminated, in Battlefield style, with a tower crane being knocked into an office building, finally allowing the cops to subdue the last crook. The trailer made a good case for the game, but EA ended on the bigger news that they were immediately opening a first come, first served limited access beta for the game. While there were immediately reports of servers crashing under the weight, it was the right way to end a press conference that consisted mostly of games that haven’t even begun development and minor iterations on sports titles.
And that’s all for EA at E3. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, and keep checking back for more E3 news!