Thoughts on E3 2019


So, I know the E3 announcements were a week ago, but I wrote this and forgot to publish it. Whoops. It’s not too late, is it? Well it’s my blog so if you don’t like it you can… not read it I guess?

Ah, E3. While it’s not what it once was (PAX has stolen a lot of its thunder, and media-centric cons seem to be less necessary with the rise of social media), it’s still always an exciting time filled with lots of big surprise announcements. Here are a few of my highlights from this year.

Bethesda had a really strong showing last year, but this year was a bit of a letdown. There was no information about Elder Scrolls VI or Starfield, which seems like a mistake to me. Or, perhaps more accurately, the mistake was to reveal both last year if they weren’t going to be ready to say anything about either a year later (especially since they had plenty of other material to talk about last year). Maybe it would have been more impressive if I cared about doom or horror games.
Elder Scrolls Online’s DLC trailer was good (Kamira being epic! Sai Sahan! Even more dragons?), and I’m excited that TES Blades is coming to Switch (I think I’ll enjoy it a lot more there than mobile). I was really excited to see the revival of Commander Keen, even though it looks like mobile garbage. Commander Keen was one of my favorite games as a kid, so if mobile garbage is the first step to convincing Epic that there are people who want a reboot of the originals, I’ll play it. I’m really confused as to why Zenimax Online Studios is handling this, since it looks like something an indie studio could crank out in a year, but, as much as I would love for there to be another AAA MMO on the market, I’m secretly a little relieved that they won’t be pulling too much talent away from ESO for another MMO.

Quite honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to the Square Enix presentation. I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t care about Final Fantasy. I’m even apathetic toward the Final Fantasy MMOs, which I probably should be excited about. I keep buying Final Fantasy games and then not playing them more than a few hours. I don’t know why, and even stranger is that I enjoy many of the spinoffs like Chrono Trigger and Bravely Default, but actual Final Fantasy games, not so much. And that’s ok; I can’t be into every franchise. So, while I’m happy that other people are hyped for all of the Final Fantasy goodness that Square released, I’m just… not.
I’m not sure how to feel about this Avengers game. Mainly because, like so many trailers and reveals, they told us absolutely nothing about the gameplay. Yes, the story is an important piece, but if the game is just a bland button masher that’s no fun to play, it doesn’t matter. Also, you know there are a lot more than just five avengers, right? It just feels kind of lame when it’s next to Ultimate Alliance 3. I guess they’ll come in DLC.
A lot of people seem to be hating on the Avengers’ character design. I guess people expected them to look like their MCU actors? Maybe it’s because I’ve seen enough non-MCU Marvel media to not feel too tied down to one specific look, but I thought it was fine. If anything, I thought it was too influenced by the movies.
Also, it’s sad that companies have to specify “no lootboxes or pay-to-win” now, to thunderous applause. Good job, you’re doing what used to just be expected?

Finally, the day arrived for Nintendo’s presentation. As a big Nintendo fan, this was my most anticipated presentation, and they did not disappoint. And, as a Super Smash Bros. fan, the new DLC fighter announcement was the part I was most excited for. The Hero(es) from Dragon Quest didn’t get me that excited. I haven’t played the Dragon Quest games, and “anime guy with a sword” is approaching a quarter of the roster now. Granted, my two main characters are among them, but it would be nice to have something with a new and different style. But hey, I’m sure a lot of fans, especially Japanese fans, were excited, and the more characters the merrier. Then, at the end, they surprised us with a second DLC fighter announcement: Banjo-Kazooie! Smash Bros. fans, including this one, have been asking for these guys to be added since the Nintendo 64, but it looked like it was never going to happen since Nintendo sold Rareware to Microsoft a while back. Somehow they worked out a deal, and they look perfect! I’m so excited to play them this Fall!
They crammed a surprising number of ports into this presentation, both from older consoles and contemporary ones. There wasn’t a whole lot that jumped out at me, but the sheer number of titles coming to Switch is impressive.
They brought the stream to a close with a teaser for an unnamed sequel to Breath of the Wild. This was surprising, because Nintendo doesn’t usually move that fast on sequels, especially given that there’s another Zelda game (the Link’s Awakening remake) releasing this year, but BotW is one of their most successful games ever and it’s a lot of what made the system so popular, so I guess they’re hoping to capitalize on it. I’m certainly not going to complain!

What was the biggest surprise? I thought it was more likely that one of these days we’d hear that Phantasy Star Online 2 was shutting down than to hear it was coming to America, but I’m happy to be wrong. I never played the original, but I like the original Phantasy Star games well enough (aside from the weird spelling), and it’s not every day that we get a sci-fi MMO, let alone one attached to a long standing IP.

What am I disappointed that we didn’t see? I already touched on TES6 and Starfield, so there’s that. We also didn’t get any Metroid info. I guess I was expecting that, since Nintendo recently announced that they had scrapped Prime 4 and started over with Metroid Prime’s original studio (which was the right move), but I was hoping for at least a little something. Also there were rumors that the original Prime trilogy was going to be remastered for Switch, but that hasn’t materialized either. We also know that there are some new Mega Man games in the works, but that was also absent. The rumor is that it’s for mobile only, so I’m prepared for disappointment there, but I’m still interested.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate First Impressions

I know I write mostly about MMOs here, but there is one other game genre that I love as much if not more: platform fighters. I think most people aren’t aware that Super Smash Bros. spawned a genre, but, like anything, they span from kind of bad (Brawlout) to mediocre (Icons: Combat Arena, though I still thought that one had potential if it had just kept going) to great (Rivals of Aether). Really, though, Super Smash Bros. is still the undisputed king. It invented the genre, and while many would say that no subsequent game has recaptured the glory days of Melee (it certainly is the most fun to watch, if not the most fun to play), I am personally always excited for each new release. This is the first game in years that I’ve taken the day off work for (and attended the midnight release for), and I ended up playing it pretty much all day. I unlocked all of the roster in that first weekend, and now, a week in, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the unique things about this game.

The biggest change for me in this iteration has been the new physics. Sure, every release messes with the physics, but I think it’s safe to say that Ultimate has had the biggest changes yet. It does this weird thing where characters fly away fast at first, then slow down. As a long time player (and just as a casual observer how physics works in the real world), it really messes with my head sometimes. I’ve been reading comments from players since the earliest demos about how you think for sure that hit killed, but actually your opponent stalled out off screen and managed to get back to stage, and I can now confirm that this is true. The idea is to keep people from being comboed and juggled too much, giving them more control over their own fate, and making player work more for their kills. I haven’t decided yet if I like that. Stringing together combos is one of the things that makes fighters, especially platform fighters, look and feel good when played well. It’s not like you can’t combo things, it’s just very different, especially at high percent. Then again, it’s better than metaknight just pushing you off the top every thirty seconds.

The other exciting thing about a new game release is the addition of new characters and tweaks to old ones. Nintendo traditionally doesn’t believe in supporting games over the long haul, so once those first few DLCs and updates have dried up, the game balance is pretty much set for the next few years–a far cry from what I’m used to in MMOs, with their constant poking and prodding at classes. In terms of new characters, I’ve had a lot of fun playing Ridley, who has been a long-requested character that many (myself included) thought would never be playable. I’m not really sure he’s tournament viable or anything, but that doesn’t stop him from being a lot of fun to mess around with. That tail stab move is devastating if it hits… the operative word being “if.” It’s like Jigglypuff’s rest, but even harder to hit with. I’ve also been spending a lot of time playing Chrom. The Marth-like characters have always been fun, but there’s something about his balance of power and agility that is refreshing. His recovery is a little wonky, but it can be used as a sacrificial KO, so there’s that. The two Castlevania characters are also interesting. I’m still learning how to best use their weird long, narrow chain-whip hitboxes, but I think with some practice they could be really good. I gravitate toward Richter’s longer smash attacks rather than Simon’s longer specials, but it could go either way.

As far as tweaks to older characters, I’ve been a Link fan since ’99, so I’m very happy with the changes he’s gotten this time around. He is much faster, and that remote bomb has some great potential. I also like what they’ve done to Sonic. He was one of those characters that I liked in Brawl and didn’t like in Smash 4, and I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on why. It’s the same character and moveset, but sometimes small tweaks make me not like a character, even if he was ranked higher by the pros in Smash 4. Ultimate’s Sonic seems like a nice compromise. Shulk has also gotten some nice tweaks. When Smash 4 first came out, I thought he could have been a really good character, with great range and good aerials, but in the end he was just kind of mediocre, and his self-buff Monado Arts system was unwieldy. They’ve made some nice improvements to him in Ultimate, including making those buffs more friendly, so I’ll definitely be giving him another shot. He still might be more complicated than he’s worth, though. I’m also happy that Cloud and Bayonetta got some nerfs. It always bothered me that they threw these two characters in the last round of DLCs and they immediately jumped to the top tier. They’re not unplayable or anything, just not overpowered like they were before, which is all I ask.

The biggest disappointment is Ultimate’s online play. Lag is nothing new, mainly because players don’t realize wifi, even with a strong signal, is the culprit (and it has been handled better by other platform fighters, but that’s a discussion that’s more technical than you’re probably interested in), but the worst part is that there isn’t really a 1v1 option. Nintendo has never understood that, while Smash is a nice enough 4+ player party game, it really shines in 1v1. Previous iterations allowed players to pick from 1v1 or free-for-all. This game lets you set “preferred” rules, but doesn’t guarantee you that you’ll get anything close. My preferred ruleset is 1v1 with a 7 minute time limit, no items, any stage type, but I’d say that easily two thirds of my matches have been 4 player free-for-alls with at least some form of items. More than anything else in this game, I really hope this gets changed in a future update.

But this is, and always has been, mainly a couch multiplayer game, so, as disappointing as it is, bad online play doesn’t take away from the fact that this is shaping up to be my favorite entry in the series. Better balance, new and different physics, the most stages and characters of any game (and more to come!), all in a format that I can play either on the big screen or on the go. I really can’t complain. This will be something I’ll definitely be playing for years to come!

Monthly Gaming Check-In: October

During my blogging hiatus (see previous post), I plan to give at least monthly check-ins about what I’ve been playing lately. Here’s the first, catching you up on what I did in October.

I know this is probably news to you all, but there’s this little-known company called BioWare that makes really good games. What? You knew that already? Well apparently I didn’t. I’ve owned Mass Effect for a while now–I got it and its sequel free for filling out some survey about Origin (summary: Steam is better, don’t bother trying)–but never played it past the opening level. Ever pick up an older game go “holy crap, why didn’t I play this years ago”? That’s what I just did with Mass Effect. I’ve been hearing for years about how it’s the crowning achievement of humanity, but I’ve been told that about a variety of games that I’ve been unimpressed by (Skyrim, I’m looking at you). But a few weeks ago I was bored and looking for something new and different, so I figured I’d give it a shot, and I was blown away. The depth of the story, the quality of the graphics (MoCap!), the voice acting… it all blends together into one incredibly immersive package. Better yet is that they’ve done a masterful job of keeping the gameplay and story feeling fluid, thanks in large part to the conversation wheel. I don’t feel like I’m stopping to watch a cutscene, I feel like I’m there helping make the decisions that determine how the story plays out. And many of the decisions aren’t easy, either; I’ve had to stop and think about what to do, and I’ve even found myself reloading because things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I also love the idea that your save from the previous game loads into the next one to continue your story and relationships with your teammates.

Speaking of BioWare, Mass Effect reminded me of how much I missed Star Wars: The Old Republic. I played it a lot when it first came out in late 2011. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever actually paid a subscription fee to, and it’s probably the most excited I’ve been for a new MMO launch. Sadly, though, a few months after release, the new content dropped off, and so did I. I’ve never been back since, mostly due to the rather overly restrictive F2P. But there’s been an expansion since then (plus the starfighter and housing updates, both of which sound pretty cool), and another one on the way next month, so I figured I’d give life as an F2P a try. As I mentioned, free game is pretty restrictive, even compared to F2P early adopters like LotRO. Here’s my breakdown of restrictions:

Kind of terrible:

  • A few of the raids must be purchased.
  • The raids that are available are restricted to a few plays per week, as are PvP arenas, unless you buy a weekly pass.
  • Restrictive gold cap with no way to unlock other than subscribe (seriously, I’d gladly pay $5-$10 for this, but apparently you don’t want my money).
  • Must purchase the right to wear purple gear. This one probably bothers me the most. Worth the $20ish to remove it for all characters? I haven’t decided yet.

Not so bad:

  • Can only play as the three most boring races, namely Humans, Cyborg Humans, and Zabrak (aka horned Humans with face tats).
  • Small inventory and bank. Expansions must be purchased.
  • Several cosmetic options must be purchased (hide head piece, unify colors to match chest, etc.).
  • Must pay to unlock hotbars. This one is just silly. Sure, as a preferred player I can have four, which is all I ever used four when I subscribed, but it’s still ridiculous that they expect to make money off of adding a box to the interface.
  • Only two crafting skill slots. You really only need two to craft gear, but to craft augments (not unlike gems in WoW), you need a third.

Note that I’m a former subscriber; many of the restrictions on people who haven’t payed a dime are worse. BioWare will tell you that a lot of these restrictions (most notably the gold cap) are to cut down on gold farmers/sellers/spammers, but it just feels like I’m being punished for not paying the game tax. But F2P isn’t completely without merit; I can play the story to my heart’s content, and that’s where the game really shines anyway.

I had a few Cartel Coins (premium currency) lying around as a reward for subscribing prior to the F2P transition, and, rather than doing something sensible like saving for the epic gear unlock, I bought the Cathar species, because why wouldn’t I want to play as a cat person? I’ve rolled an Imperial Operative, because it’s almost universally regarded as the best story and I never got very far with my sniper last time around, and a Jedi Sage, because I miss wielding a lightsaber (even if I’m mostly a caster, it still looks cool). Yes, both of those are healer classes. Apparently Guild Wars 2’s “everyone is a healer, therefore no one is” policy made me really miss healing. Both are still pretty low level, but I’m having a lot of fun.

Speaking of recent expansions to licensed sci-fi MMOs, Star Trek Online just released its Delta Rising expansion. I was excited about this one, but somehow it isn’t pulling me in the way I thought it would. I was playing it for about a month before the expansion hit (during the bonus XP time), and sadly I think I got just enough of a taste of the game before the expansion hit for the fun to wear off and remind me of the frustrations that caused me to drift away the last time. Star Trek Online is one of those games I can’t seem to get away from for too long, despite its faults, so I’m sure I’ll be back to play the new content eventually, just not right now.

October also saw the release of Super Smash Bros 3DS. My excitement for this game warrants an entire post for itself, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m a long time Super Smash Bros. fan, and I’m absolutely in love with this game. It feels so much more well-balanced than any previous game, and the online play actually works most of the time (as long as the person you’re playing isn’t on the other side of the ocean and/or have really bad Wi-Fi reception). Playing the game on the 3DS’s circle slider and tiny buttons is no substitute for the almighty Gamecube Controller, but it took surprisingly little adjustment. Can’t wait to play the Wii U version in a couple weeks!