It’d be an overstatement to say that any of EA’s past E3 press conferences have been anything better than average. They’ve undoubtedly had the most consistently disappointing show of the bunch, more often than not because of a lack of actual gameplay footage – most of which typically comes from the inevitable slew of sports games that will be pumped out later that same year. While most of that was again true of this year’s presentation, EA did manage to implement some overall improvements, which made for a more enjoyable showing than any conference they’ve had in the past few years, but it’ll probably still be the most lacklustre of the big six.
This year’s conference kicked off with an NFL drumline (which was kind of weird) and EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson coming on stage to ramble about gaming and what the company seeks to achieve with its new titles. It wasn’t long before we got a look at the new Madden NFL 18 story called Long Shot. It’s good to know they’re adopting a story mode similar to FIFA 17’s The Journey, following a small player trying to make it big, but ultimately, Madden didn’t hold my interest for long, and I doubt it will hold anyone else’s unless you care about the franchise. After some more talk of how this is going to be the most innovative Madden yet, we started to get into some of the good stuff.
After a highlight reel showcasing the community of Battlefield 1, its next expansion pack was unveiled, In the Name of the Tsar. Producer of Battlefield 1, Andrew Gulotta, detailed that the DLC pack will include six new maps set on the Eastern Front, the Russian Army, new vehicles, new weapons, and the Women’s Battalion of Death. Gulotta also mentioned that player progression will be further deepened and that two new night maps are to be released in the future. It certainly sounds like there’s a wealth of new content to be added to the already meaty Battlefield 1, and if you can’t wait to get your hands on it, In the Name of the Tsar releases in September. While I don’t play it myself, the new content does look fairly impressive, and it definitely seems as if the game’s player base has a lot to look forward to. Although, in saying that, the presentation of the expansion itself did feel very scripted, and the tone of Gulotta was very robotic, which I personally found to be jarring.
The stage was then handed off to Patrick Söderlund, who talked about how the conference was all about competition, only to be followed by an eSports highlight reel, setting up the inevitable FIFA 18 in all of its self-proclaimed motion capture greatness. After a trailer showcased Ronaldo in spandex, Ronaldo shooting goals, Ronaldo dribbling a ball, and Ronaldo staring intensely at the camera, this is where things started to get bogged down. The Men in Blazers took the stage, which is a podcast you’ve probably never heard about, and while they did make the odd funny joke here and there, it really dragged on for those who don’t care about FIFA and football (AKA soccer). It didn’t take them long to announce that FIFA 18 will continue the story of Alex Hunter, acting as a sequel called The Journey: Hunter Returns, followed by a trailer that somewhat outlines what the story is about. Much like Madden, FIFA failed to engage me personally, and I found sitting through it was frustrating more than anything else.
If The Men in Blazers weren’t enough of a drag, what came next was something else. The audience were greeted by Jesse Wellens, a YouTuber who was supposed to introduce Need for Speed Payback but simply couldn’t get the words out of his mouth. It didn’t take long for nerves to get the better of him and his speech to turn into an awkward and incoherent ramble. Luckily, he was saved by the game’s executive producer, Marcus Nilsson, who stepped in to explain that Payback is a story about revenge, as a group of three playable protagonists attempt to take down “The House” and its corrupt members. It’s a brand new, innovative take on Need for Speed, full of action, stunts, and adrenaline filled sequences akin to that of The Fast and Furious movies. After some back and forth between Jesse and Marcus elaborating on car customisation and the features of the game, we got to see a demo which looked very promising. The visuals on this thing are absolutely gorgeous, and the notion of multiple playable characters seems to be handled very well. What we did get to see was relatively brief, but it got the job done.
Moving forward, Patrick Söderlund once again took the stage to talk about EA Originals, which I thought was one of the three highlights of the conference. This is where A Way Out was revealed, which is being developed by Hazelight – the guys who made the stellar Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Director and writer of the game, Josef Fares explained that the game, much like Brothers, focuses on telling a compelling story without dramatically affecting gameplay. Going more in-depth, he also explained that the game is designed to be played exclusively as a two-player, split-screen experience, although there is online functionality for those who don’t have access to a couch co-op partner. Based off of the trailer and gameplay reveal, A Way Out looks excellent, and I’m really interested to see more of the narrative and how Hazelight plans to balance the gameplay.
SEED, one of EA’s new divisions, was the next talking point for Söderlund, which was described as a small team that does research which attempts to blur reality and the digital world. I honestly got lost in all of the things he was saying up until he started talking about Project Scorpio. It was here we were treated to some beautiful 4K visuals from Madden NFL 18, which looked surprisingly stunning. While on the topic of Scorpio, too, EA had one big surprise – the announcement of Bioware’s brand new IP, Anthem. It was only a short teaser trailer, but it gave off a Destiny/Mass Effect/Fallout vibe. It certainly looks fascinating and stood out as another surprising highlight of the conference. A gameplay reveal took place at Microsoft’s conference earlier today, so be sure to check that out too.
Sadly for some, we had to circle back to sports games again – although, I guess it was kind of good that they weren’t all lumped together this year. Sean O’Brien took the stage to talk about NBA Live 18 and its new mode called The One. We were shown a replay which could be slowed down, rewound, and fast forwarded, as Connor Dougan walked us through it. Just like the other sports games, this segment was once again slow-paced and uninteresting. Unless you really care about the NBA games, you’ll probably feel the same way. It was announced a demo will be out in August, and there was a trailer which detailed more information about The One. Long story short, it’s a system that’s affected by your decisions, rankings, who you play with, where you play, etc. It’s honestly nothing special and really boils down to each player having an individual and unique experience.
Before moving on to the final part of the show, Andrew Wilson teased viewers with a brief look at Battlefront II gameplay but then stopped to do a little bit of housekeeping. Apparently EA’s Play to Give campaign was a huge success, in which they donated a million dollars. It was a bit odd to bring it up here, but is a good thing none the less. It was also announced that EA Access, Origin Access, and some EA titles on PS4 will be playable with free trials for games such as FIFA, Star Wars Battlefront, Madden and more until the end of the week.
The third and final highlight of the conference was presented by Janina Gavankar, who is the voice of Battlefront II’s protagonist, Iden Versio. After hammering in the fact that Battlefront II has an original campaign, we were introduced to the Game Changers, who are professional Battlefront players that got to provide input and give suggestions to improve Battlefront II. It’s really comforting to know that EA DICE are actually listening to the community in the most literal sense. It honestly left me with high hopes that the game won’t make the same mistakes that its predecessor did. Following this, there was a trailer showcasing the multiplayer in action, as well as a special message from John Boyega, who announced Finn and Captain Phasma will be free downloadable content for the game post-release. Janina further elaborated that all future maps, heroes, game modes will be provided at no additional charge to avoid separation of the community. The whole section was handled pretty well, and Janina did an good job as presenter.
To wrap things up, viewers were treated to an entire match played live by the Game Changers and commentated by two YouTube personalities and the game’s producer. From what I saw, the game looks gorgeous, and the class-based system seems like it fits really well into Battlefront’s gameplay. The numerous changes and tweaks are small, but they are all looking to be adding up to make for a better experience. A points system has also been implemented so that all players have access to vehicles, weapons, stronger units, and Heroes, which are way less overpowered, but still reward players for doing well. Similar to the first game, the match we saw being played spanned across three stages, all of which have different elements to them such as vehicles, aerial dog fights, and more.
So far, it’s looking like Battlefront II fixes many of the issues of the first game, so I’m keen to see more down the track. However, after the match finished, the conference just casually started to wrap up, which was a bit of a disappointment. The commentators went on to awkwardly talk about Galaxy of Heroes – yes, the phone app. They discussed how “obsessed” they were with it, and instead of closing things on a high note, it abruptly ended with some footage from Galaxy of Heroes. I’d argue that even putting a highlight reel of all their annual sports games at the end would’ve been better. It was a real missed opportunity, and ultimately, it ended anti-climatically.
All in all, I believe EA have taken a few steps in the right direction with their new downloadable content practices, new IP, and live gameplay demonstrations. This year was also definitely better than the past few. However, in saying that, it’s still more than likely that EA will end up being the bottom of the E3 barrel once again. Anthem, A Way Out, and Star Wars Battlefront II certainly look promising, but the tedious sports game trailers, lack of big announcements, and shaky YouTuber speeches really dragged the conference down a lot. Hopefully, they’ll take a few notes from Sony’s past presentations and make an effort to have more engaging shows in the future. Grade: C