By Ashley Sterio |
Despite carving out their own little space away from E3 in the name of ‘EA Play’, EA did curiously little to deviate from their formula this year – but the standard-fare shock and awe of E3 has never been their game. Safe, accessible, and communicative are fit descriptors for EA, whose conferences are normally a tidy arrangement of well-anticipated but unsurprising showcases, with a handful of gems scattered throughout.
World War 2 multiplayer shooter Battlefield V was a key event, with DICE elaborating on the multiplayer and its business model. The main new mode, ‘Grand Operations’, is essentially an interesting take on rounds-based matches. Where a game like Call of Duty may have traditional rounds wherein you play a handful of games on the same map with the same objective whilst switching sides each round, Grand Operations are split into ‘days’, each of which have different objectives and terrain. One particularly nice touch is that the outcome of each round affects the next one. Perform well as the defending team and you’ll start the next round with extra munitions, better fortifications, and more vehicles. It’s an interesting gameplay dynamic, especially now that general munitions have been nerfed to give more utility to the Support class, and a welcome way to keep the inherently repetitive nature of online shooters from getting stale. Lastly, listening to its fans after the calamitous handling of Battlefield 1’s premium pass, EA have scrapped both the premium pass and loot boxes for Battlefield V.
The obligatory sports section reared its head thereafter, with NBA, FIFA and Madden all getting a big fancy trailer. Unsurprisingly, there were few major evolutions to be seen, but EA did seem really chuffed about the inclusion of the UEFA Champions League in FIFA 19 (FIFA 18 got a sizeable and free update in light of the World Cup, too). There was also a slightly uncomfortable and contrived section on Madden eSports. All in all, it’s exactly what you expected on the sports front: roster updates, some graphical bells and whistles here and there, but the wheel remains invented.
EA CEO Andrew Wilson then walked us through Origin Access Premier, a new streaming service which lets subscribers instantly access an enormous catalogue of EA games, plus early full access to upcoming titles. If you’re an EA fan, it’s astonishingly good value, but its practicality remains to be seen. It’s all well and good aspiring to be the Netflix of games, but PlayStation Now came and went too – we’ll have to see if EA can learn from Sony’s mistakes.
Dennis Brännvall came to the stage to talk Star Wars Battlefront 2. “We did not get it right” understates Brännvall, but offers reassurance with a series of EA’s efforts to rectify the situation, like making the game much less stingy when it comes to content progression. They also announced a Clone Wars expansion, giving delight and hope to prequel nerds everywhere. Between acknowledging their shortcomings with Battlefront 2 and offering transparency on their Battlefield V DLC model, EA are keen to win back hearts and minds.
Next up was the EA Originals section, a welcome injection of life and colour. We got some gameplay for Unravel Two, a game about two tiny yarn people – called Yarnys – and their endeavour to solve puzzles and explore the world around them. It was then promptly released on the spot after two years of development, so you can give that a go now if you’d like.
The slightly less adorable Sea of Solitude was also shown. This one’s a surreal game that follows a little girl and her journey through loneliness and mental illness. It’s looking quite avant-garde – sort of like LIMBO and Inside – and commentary from its creator at EA Play informs us that this is a very personal adventure. Get some tissues for this one.
The momentum nosedives here into a demo of what seemed to be a sort of uninspired military sci-fi mobile RTS, which turned out to be Command and Conquer Rivals. For an abandoned franchise with such a massive cult following, one desperately waiting to witness its glorious return, this feels like a betrayal of Command and Conquer’s history. Andrew Wilson then went on to say the game was targeting ‘a new generation’, which tells you all you really need to know.
Closing off the conference was a lengthy gameplay demo of EA’s biggest new IP, Anthem, which has tropical environments, jetpacks, and mobs galore. It’s looking quite a bit like Destiny and Warframe at the moment, with emphasis on movement options and loot-and-shoot gameplay, whilst developers Bioware (of Mass Effect fame), insist that there’s a meaty narrative component as well. You can pick that up on February 22nd, 2019 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC if you like.
If anything, this conference was an earnest if occasionally fumbling attempt at community damage mitigation. It’s reassuring – bar the desecration of Command and Conquer’s corpse – but the lack of gameplay shown at the event made for a dry presentation overall. At the very least, it was a mostly inoffensive demonstration of some promising games, and a welcome message from a company with quite a reputation to recover.