Rundown (6/13) E3 2021: Shatter Your Expectations

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Wherein I discuss the Microsoft, Square Enix, and PC Gaming E3 showcases!

Whenever E3 rolls around, you always see people declaring their expectations, making wishlists, or theorycrafting what studios can be doing. I understand why people do this, and why they actively want to get excited about this sort of thing, but as I have grown older, I can’t help but look at this activity as just… foolish. Hype can be an enticing thing, but it also leads to disappointment and heartbreak. I have seen too many hype cycles go poorly and too many excellent releases be spiced with cynicism simply because some people expected perfection.

Expectations can and often are a terrible thing, at least regarding things beyond your control, and this is why I would, and have, openly urged people to shatter their expectations before they ferment. Because, in the long run, you’ll be much happier that way.

Today’s happenings kicked off with the Xbox and Bethesda showcase, or rather, the Xbox showcase. Microsoft has had the biggest and most jam-packed showings the past few E3s, and this year was no exception, as they showed off a lot of games without a lot of fluff, which is what I want from a press conference. Unfortunately, I have little to say about most of the games shown. Most looked neat, but I only have something substantial to say about… 5 titles.

The kick off title of the event was a second teaser trailer for Starfield. Which took the form of an ominous CG short film that showed off the visual aesthetic of the game and established that it is about traveling through the vast recesses of space on your very own spaceship. Which, while exciting… makes me just think of No Man’s Sky

As always, I look for gameplay in my trailers, CG cannot be trusted, and while they look nice and were the end result of many talented animators, I would rather see that budget and manpower be invested in the game itself. Regardless, Starfield will reportedly see Bethesda move up to Creation Engine 2, whatever that means, and even has a release date, as the title is poised to hit Xbox Series and PC on 11/11/22. Because that is the third coolest date in the year 2022 and also the 11th anniversary of Skyrim, which truly was the game that made Bethesda what they are today.

Halo Infinite was given two new trailers, the first highlighted whatever is going on in the story of the game, while the second showed some heavily edited in-engine footage from the free-to-play multiplayer game, which looks expectedly bombastic, lively, and exciting, while showing off that the game not only looks significantly better than what was shown last year, but also features the now staple grappling hook mechanic of modern first-person-shooters. 

This showing also confirmed that the title will launch this holiday, and all I have to say to that is I hope the game was polished to a tee during this extra year of development time, as it has been a good decade since a Halo game was widely beloved which is… strange for such a marquee series. 

Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, the Suikoden spiritual successor by some of the original creative team, bizarrely got a place in this showcase despite being a Kickstarter title that is still over a year away from its 2023 release. This struck me as questionable, given the nature of crowdfunded games, but the reason I’m bringing this trailer up has to do with how the developers used their minute of fame to announce a spin-off title, Eiyuden Chronicle Rising. A town-building action RPG that serves as a prequel to Hundred Heroes, and will release in 2022. 

I have not been following Eiyuden Chronicle in much detail, as I did not back the project, but I don’t believe that the developers promised or promoted that a spin-off was in development, and announcing it this way, while confirming that both titles will debut via Game Pass, rubs me the wrong way. Crowdfunded projects have a responsibility to keep their backers on the development situation, so surprising everybody with the announcement of a project like this strikes me as… iffy. So long as both projects come out and are good, then there is nothing to really complain about, but this seems like something that should have been announced to backers before the general public, and not during the premiere gaming event of the year.

Forza Horizon 5 was shown off, as one would expect given the popularity and annual nature of the Forza series, and while I would ordinarily have nothing to say about the title, the footage shown really did hammer home just how graphically powerful the Xbox Series console is, and just how good games can look on its hardware. Even on a 720p YouTube stream, the level of detail put into the world of this game was nothing short of amazing, and it inspired me to ask the age-old question of how good graphics could get, and if graphics should get any better.

For the past decade, I thought games looked wonderful, and I have zero desire for games to look any better. I think gaming now resembles reality incredibly well, without being truly convincing as reality, which is basically impossible for many reasons. However, developers keep trying and trying to push the envelope, bit by bit, and I have to wonder when it will simply not be worth it. They are currently taking super high-resolution scans of real-world objects and converting them into game assets and using 12K footage of the sky to simulate lighting. That, to me, sounds like something only an insane person would ever attempt, so I dread to think what the next big innovation in graphics technology will be. I think a 1080p/60fps standard with HDR and Ray-Tracing is beyond fantastic… but I live in a household where we still use a standard definition TV in the living room, so what the hell do I know?

The arbitrary ‘one more thing’ showstopper of this event was the next title from Dishonored, Prey (2017), and Deathloop developer Arkane. The title, Redfall, is an open world co-op first-person-shooter centering around a gaggle of four computer or player controlled characters who travel across a quaint New England island hunting down a burgeoning vampire menace that hopes to claim this island and its citizens for their own. With the four’s unique hero perks and abilities, they must cleanse the island of these vampires, hit them at the source, and ultimately save the world.

All of which I learned from reading the official website, as Redfall was only announced via a semi-comedic CG trailer that showed off the general concept and characters, but not really how the game would play, or even what its true genre was. Still, Arkane knows how to make a good FPS, and while this premise sounds like it was forged by a focus group, it has some potential. Redfall will launch for Xbox Series and PC in the summer of 2022, and once that happens we’ll be able to see if it lives up to its lofty pedigree.

There were naturally some other announcements that struck me as noteworthy, so I’ll just list them here for good measure. Microsoft and Avalanche Studios (Rage 2, Just Cause) are working together on a “co-op smuggler’s paradise” open world game by the name of Contraband, which was announced via a vague CG trailer. A Plague Tale: Requiem, the sequel to the surprise hit survival horror title by Asobo Studio, was announced. But it was also via a CG trailer that showed a literal wave of rats which… is pretty on-brand (and horny). While The Outer Worlds 2 was revealed via a vague overly produced cinematic CG trailer that poked fun at how pointless and formulaic these trailers have become.

So there were indeed things shown and announced, but it was pretty clear that the heavy hitters were not ready to be shown, as COVID-19 is still a thing across the world, and game production overall is still not up to its pre-pandemic figures. 

The second installment of Square Enix Presents kicked off shortly after Xbox wrapped things up, and the first title shown was a game by Eidos Montreal based on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, creatively titled… Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. My immediate thought upon seeing this announcement was that it would be cut from the same cloth as Marvel’s The Avengers (2020), which famously failed to gain traction both at and after launch due to Square Enix North America’s insistence on making the title a live service.

However, either as a preemptive move by Square Enix, or based on the poor reception to Avengers, the developers made it clear that Guardians of the Galaxy is a single-player story-driven third-person action game, and not a live service which… actually sounds like it could work. 

The game is a frantic team-based third-person shooter (almost definitely built off of Avengers) where you play as the team leader Star-Lord, command the titular guardians throughout combat, and… it actually looks what I would want from a modern Mass Effect title confident enough to ditch the cover system or yore. Outside of combat, the game mimics a modern prestige title with oodles of in-game cutscenes, walk and talk sections, and (probably) light trinket collection.

I genuinely think the game looks pretty good and, if not for the bad reception to Avengers or the lack of the film’s likeness for the cast, there would be some palpable hype around the title. Unfortunately, the reactions I’ve seen are largely negative, which I think is unfortunate for the developers, who clearly put a lot of hard work into making this AAA prestige action game. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy will release on October 26, 2021 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.

A few weeks before E3, Square Enix released a small update for the mobile versions of Final Fantasy III and IV, adding (3D Remake) to the end of both titles. This caused some to suspect that Square Enix was planning something for the classic Final Fantasy titles and, through a tiny blurb in their showcase, Square Enix announced the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Series. Which aims to release visually authentic ports of Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy VI that retain their original art style instead of mucking it up with… whatever the hell the mobile versions of FF V and VI were supposed to be.

The Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series will release on PC, iOS, and Android, but no release window was specified beyond “soon.” Now, I have a LOT of questions about which specific versions of these games will be used, such as the PSP versions of FF I, II, and IV, but even if these are just SNES and NES ROM dumps… that would be better than not having a good version of Final Fantasy VI widely available (outside of emulation). 

Babylon’s Fall, the upcoming collaboration title between Square Enix and PlatinumGames was shown off once again with a trailer that contained assorted snippets of action gameplay but did little to establish what the game was like beyond the edited combat sequences. It was not clear what this game’s structure would be like, but then they showed an interview snippet stating that Babylon’s Fall is actually a live service… uh-oh.

This alone puts a damper on this game’s ability to appeal to Platinum fans, who typically prefer focused action combat and mastery, not messing with inventory and getting incrementally better stats, and this lack of mechanical identity is paired with a rather… empty visual identity. The press release claims that Babylon’s Fall’s visuals are “using a newly developed ‘brushwork style’ to create a unique fantasy setting with a medieval oil painting aesthetic.” But I simply do not see it.

The game, overall, looks like the end result of corporate meddling and trend-chasing, so while I want to think that this game has the same luster as Platinum’s past catalog, I am not convinced. A lack of confidence in the game’s design, at least to me, can be seen in how no release window is given in the trailer, which ends by stating that the game is heading to PS4, PS5, and Steam, and that it will have several closed betas. Here’s hoping that I, and others, are simply overreacting, but a live service character action game… that just doesn’t really work. 

The last title shown during this event was the previously rumored Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. A game that… I think Tim Rogers summarized the best by calling it Final Fantasy: The Movie (1993) The Video Game (2008)

The title is a complete reimagining of Final Fantasy I that ditches the summoned four heroes of light and instead follows three characters as they go into an overtly evil castle with the expressed goal of killing Chaos and rescuing the missing knight Garland. Which sounds close enough so far. Except the three heroes are a blonde breaded beefcake 7th generation video game protagonist wielding a greatsword and rocking a t-shirt— basically an American Cloud Strife— who I’m just going to call Chris Stevens. A more effeminate male character who reminds me a lot of Prompto from Final Fantasy XV if he wore armor. And a black dude who looks rad as hell and plays it cool.

The gameplay is that of a modern action RPG, but with an ample amount of monster fatalities where the protagonist insults an enemy before turning them into a crystal and smashing said crystal. The title apparently boasts a classic class system, which makes the decision to only have three characters all the more perplexing. And visually the game looks… like an Unreal Engine 4 title with a realistic art direction. However, the monster, world, and outfit design are all nice from what I can tell, even if this kind of desaturated look will always look wrong to me.

It is well worth noting that development on this title is not being headed by Square Enix, but rather Team Ninja, who Square has worked with closely over the years, most notably on Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, and while I don’t really trust Team Ninja with telling a good story, I do know they are more than proficient with developing a good action game and I am interested in seeing how this title shapes up which… hold on, what was that name again? 

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin? …Why are they calling it Origin? They already gave it a subtitle and there is no need to make a new spin-off series like this. And that phrase, Stranger of Paradise… just looks wrong to me. Paradise of Strangers, Stranger in Paradise, Stranger Paradise, these all sound better to me as a native English speaker, but—

No, no, I cannot go on tangents like this during E3 season. Paradise Strangers: Final Fantasy W

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is currently set to release in 2022 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.

The last showing of the day, at least the last one with any major news, was the PC gaming show, which I did not watch. Instead, I waited for the news to come to me so I could filter out any juicy announcements, and in the end, I wound up with one title that stood out to me. Which is not to say that there weren’t excellent games shown, just that only one really spoke to my sensibilities, and that game was Tinykin.

Tinykin follows Milo, a young boy who, after being in space for some reason, returns to Earth but finds himself shrunk to the size of a bug, and discovers that his home is completely devoid of all life aside from insects and strange creatures known as Tinykins. Creatures tho rally around Milo and serve as both his tools and companions as he travels through his conveniently messy home in order to figure out how to get back to his normal size, where the heck everybody went, and what these Tinykin things even are.

The game itself is a 3D platformer that immediately reminded me of Chibi-Robo and Pikmin, but far simpler and more direct. The goals appear to be sheer traversal, the Tinykin seem both versatile and low maintenance, being there whenever the player needs them. Movement seems both fast and fluid. Interactions with the world are generally quite simple, mostly involving throwing the little critters at things, and then there’s the art style.

Tinykins is a rare treat for me, as it features well animated 2D characters overlaid on a simplistic 3D environment that depicts a very lived in and homely environment. I have a strong adoration for games that blend 2D and 3D together like this, and I’ve come to learn that, for as lovely as vast open worlds are, my favorite environments in games tend to be the more closely knit and intimate ones, and there is nothing more intimate than a regular-ass house.

Tinykin is currently set to release on PC via Steam sometime in 2022.

That’s all for today, folks! I would say that I’ll be back tomorrow, but I do not foresee many announcements happening over the next 24 hours, so I’m most likely going to lump 6/14 and 6/15 together. Until then, seeya!

Header image from Sankaku Renai: Love Triangle Trouble.

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