A powerful new console launch from Microsoft, a full-fat Mario game and another strong showing from Sony await
A powerful new console launch from Microsoft, a full-fat Mario game and another strong showing from Sony await
In just three days, the most important event on the video game calendar, E3, kicks off in downtown Los Angeles. As ever, it brings with it speculation over the present state – and future promise – of the Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft trifecta and the multinational game publishers and studios they rely on to feed their growing audiences. For the second year in a row, that same audience – the public – will be showing up en masse (some 15,000) to walk the show floor and see for themselves whether the next 12 months will be anything to write home about.
It will be. This E3 marks a resurgent year for Nintendo following the successful launch of the Switch console, yet another consolidation year for Sony's PlayStation thanks to its decisive victory over the Xbox in both sales and quality exclusives, and a hardware launch in the form of the final name, price and release date (not to mention design) of Microsoft's more powerful Xbox One – codenamed Scorpio. Prepare to be teraflopped to death.
Of course, beyond the obvious console war jockeying, it's all about the games. We'll be seeing all-new chapters for some of the biggest franchises of the decade – including Mario, Far Cry, Assassin's Creed, Destiny, Star Wars: Battlefront, God of War, Call of Duty and Red Dead Redemption – as well as (finally) some big-budget Marvel games, including Spider-Man and a yet-to-be-revealed Avengers title built by the ex-Deus-Ex team at Square Enix Montreal.
Here's a breakdown of why we think this year's E3 is going to be huge.
E3 IS NOW OPEN TO THE PUBLIC (FOR REAL THIS TIME)
Last year, E3 welcomed thousands of fans to the show for the first time – an acknowledgement of the shifting priorities of the biggest publishers, who now count YouTubers and streamers among their most powerful publicity tools. To snag a ticket, you had to be invited by an EA or an Activision or some other mega-brand via their own community channels. This year, E3 is a (now sold-out) event like any other – a 3-day pass costing $249. Those lucky enough to grab a ticket will be rubbing shoulders with press and game makers, but the presence of 15,000 members of the public means big changes – everything from security to managing huge lines to the design and flow of the gigantic multi-million dollar booths that dominate the hangar-sized halls. Game Awards producer Geoff Keighley has been drafted by the show's owners to run a full schedule of on-stage, on-air programming to keep visitors entertained while adding to the already bewildering amount of live broadcasting from the floor (IGN, Gamespot, YouTube, and Twitch all have stages – as do most of the biggest publishers). Once an industry-and-press-only affair, E3 is morphing before our very eyes into a US version of Germany's Gamescom, an annual event that attracts a staggering 350,000 people. Baby steps, E3. Baby steps.
What to watch for: Crazy stage shows, B-list celebrities, long lines and merchandise-heavy promotions from the biggest publishers as they try to attract an audience with valid email addresses – not to mention fans of games that don't need E3, like League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Battlegrounds.
MICROSOFT IS LAUNCHING A NEW XBOX
For decades, the most exciting E3 shows have been the ones that hosted big hardware launches, and they almost always happened in lockstep with one another – Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft refreshing their consoles roughly every six years. Things are much different today. Last year, Nintendo launched the Switch, Sony launched its more powerful 4K-capable PS4, the PlayStation Pro and Microsoft teased Project Scorpio – a more powerful, 4K-ready Xbox One – with sleek, Apple-like videos of chips and circuit boards. This year, we get the full reveal – name, price, full specs, design and (more importantly) games.
Sony pitched the Pro very much as a big brother to its existing PS4, and with almost 60 million of those in the world, that makes sense. But Microsoft have lost a lot of ground this generation, with the Xbox One a distant second to the PS4 in sales – and that gives added weight to whatever the final form of Scorpio turns out to be. Where Sony is covering its bases with its more powerful Pro (accounting for VR, 4K), Microsoft needs Scorpio to be part of a much broader comeback for its Xbox project. The whole reveal is starting to feel more like a sequel to the Xbox One that will rapidly supercede it, rather than a mid-cycle upgrade.
As for games, expect a 4K Forza, a heavy dose of open world action-fest Crackdown 3 and either an all-new Halo or a 4K re-imagining of an existing Halo game. If Microsoft does use the Scorpio reveal to launch a new Master Chief adventure, that might be a sign that this is much more than a mere upgrade – it's a wholesale passing of the torch to a new generation of hardware. Whether that can cure what currently ails the Xbox – namely, a lack of exclusive games – is an open question.
What to watch for: A sub-$400 price for the new console and renewed emphasis on bringing popular PC games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds to Xbox to combat Sony's growing list of exclusives. Also, some exclusive lock-ups of a big third party franchises (Borderlands 3, we're looking at you).
NINTENDO WILL KILL IT (AGAIN)
From Pokémon Go flying past 100 million installs to the brilliantly designed Super Mario Run bringing its most iconic character to our phones, to launching the high-concept Switch console to delivering one of the best games ever made in Breath of the Wild – it's clear that Nintendo is killing it. They will again at this year's E3, and they only need one game to do it: Super Mario Odyssey, billed as a spiritual successor to its 1996 hit Super Mario 64 – one of the most beloved and revolutionary games of all time. It will almost certainly be playable at Nintendo's gigantic booth and will undoubtedly boast the biggest, craziest, most cosplayed-out lines at the show. Last year, Zelda was the talk of the town – this year, Mario will be. Well, unless CD Projekt RED reveals its long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077, that is. Come to think of it, that wouldn't be a bad way to juice the Scorpio reveal, Microsoft.
What to watch for: Super Mario Odyssey surprises (multiplayer game modes?) and a very long list of third-party games – maybe even something big from EA, Activision, Ubisoft or Bandai Namco, thanks to the success of the new console. And more Pokémon, this time for Switch. Oh, and Arms. Lots and lots of Arms and Splatoon 2. Oh, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. And...well, you get the idea.
SONY WILL KILL IT (AGAIN)
Given PlayStation's almost unassailable position as the world's number one console, Sony could kick back at this point and still win the year handily. It's showing no signs of relaxing its grip, however. As well as continuing to promote its VR and 4K tech in the form of new PSVR games and more PlayStation Pro-optimized titles, expect this year's E3 to be a show of force, with platform exclusives from its deep bench of worldwide studios and timed exclusives and extras for multi-platform titles. We'll see a lot more of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and a little more of The Last of Us 2 from Naughty Dog. We'll hear more about Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima's still-baffling Death Stranding (Kojima has already said they'll be nothing new to show), get our hands on a probably-playable God of War from Sony's Santa Monica Studio and no doubt see a lot more of the post-apocalyptic zombie lumberjacks simulator Days Gone, which Sony is expected to push hard.
If previous years are any guide, we'll also have some sort of on-stage reveal of the next Call of Duty – Call of Duty WWII – along with promises of exclusive content. Ditto Destiny 2, Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Far Cry 5, along with some surprises (Bloodborne 2 has been rumored, and we may see something on the Sony stage for Ubisoft's next Assassin's Creed, believed to be called "Origins").
Microsoft may have a console launch, but Sony will have another killer lineup of games to fight them with – an advantage that will only grow as more and more developers and publishers prioritize the best-selling PS4 when planning their projects.
What to watch for: Announcements from third-party publishers like EA, Ubisoft and Activision that either shut out the Xbox altogether or prioritize release dates and exclusive content for PlayStation as Sony presses its advantage. Also, price drops for both the Pro and vanilla PS4, to put pressure on Microsoft's Scorpio.
BIG COMEBACKS FROM BIG FRANCHISES
Some of the biggest franchises in the world will be making their comebacks at this year's E3. Ubisoft is rumored to be showing the much-leaked Assassin's Creed: Origins, set in Egypt – a return to one of its crown-jewels after a two year hiatus. Bethesda is rumored to be showing a new Wolfenstein title – as well as Fallout 4 VR. Witcher studio, CD Projekt Red hasn't said a word about its forthcoming cyberpunk adventure, Cyberpunk 2077 – but there's a chance we'll see something, if only another teaser. Rockstar announced its follow up (prequel?) to its western epic, Red Dead Redemption last year, but it's likely to occupy big chunks of real estate on either or both of Sony and Microsoft's booths, if only in the form of a new trailer on loop. The just-revealed Destiny 2 will be there in force, and almost certainly playable – as will Far Cry 5, Middle Earth: Shadow of War and Crackdown 3. Meanwhile, Dark Souls fans will be hoping that From Software's rumored "Space Souls" – or whatever Miyazaki's next project ends up being – and Bloodborne 2 are for real. And of course, there's the return of Mario in Super Mario Odyssey for Switch.
What to watch for: What's playable, and what's behind closed doors. If it's playable on the show floor, it's almost certainly coming out this year. Crackdown 3 is likely to be a full reveal with a launch date tied to the Scorpio console release (rumored to be October or November).
MARVEL WILL RISE
Marvel has spent almost 10 years at the top of the box office, thanks to its MCU project, but things on the game front have been mostly niche – or mobile-centric – until now. Sony is returning with a new Spider-Man game, simply titled Spider-Man, and as this was teased at last year's E3, it's almost certainly playable this time around. The big mystery is around the second big-budget Marvel game – the Square Enix Avengers title. Virtually nothing is known about the game, but we do know it's being developed by the accomplished team responsible for the recent Deus Ex series in Montreal along with Rise of the Tomb Raider studio, Crystal Dynamics. A deep, story-centered adventure with Tony Stark and his crew would go a long way to addressing the inexplicable dearth of big budget Marvel titles in our lives.
What to watch for: Something unexpectedly deep from Square Enix, that appeals to grown-ups as well as kids.
THE MISSING BLOCKBUSTERS
It can't have escaped the notice of the ESA – the organisers of the E3 show – that some of the world's biggest games, and certainly the world's biggest single platform audience, get short shrift at gaming's most important annual event. PC-centric games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Counter-Strike and Dota 2 account for tens of millions of players and countless esports tournaments and Twitch streams between them but as they're ongoing competitive titles without big annual releases to shout about, E3 may as well be happening on the moon. It's territory that the fan-focused PAX shows own, but with E3 newly opened to the ticket-buying public, the big question is how do you give those legions of fans something to show up for?
What to watch for: Now in its third year, the excellent PC Gaming Show – a 90 minute romp through the current PC gaming zeitgeist – takes place at the nearby Ace Hotel, and is the closest you can get to a press conference for the PC as a platform.