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Decadence On Display

It's hard for a lifelong gamer to get much done when E3 2018 is going on.   I largely spent the week glued to Twitch, playing a little Fallout 4 to get through the padding, mustering all the brilliant insights to be had as a jaded old gamer who lost his S-pen to an automatic flushing public toilet last week.
I seem to be accomplishing a lot in Fallout 4 without making any real progress on the story.  Now at about character level 28, fully 75% of the map has been explored, leaving mostly the dense city in the middle lower part uncovered.  I have liberated about 15-20 settlements, cobbling together many crude Sim Settlements of ambiguous use to my character.

Despite that, I have yet to visit even the first leg of the major quest, meet any companions other than Codsworth and Ada, or get involved in any of the major scripted events.  For example, I arrived at Vault 81, talked my way in, and then immediately turned around before I got involved!  It seems I have blown off the story segments of Fallout 4 because I don't want to have to go through them again.

Many players of the Fallout series are bemoaning how there may be a lot less quest driven content in Fallout '76, but considering how I am playing Fallout 4, maybe that's right up my alley!
Of course, it was the extensive coverage of Fallout '76 during the Bethesda event which put some extra vim in my fading interest in Fallout 4.  During their presentation, several different game mechanics of Fallout '76 were introduced, each with their own trailers and gameplay reels.  It was a very strong showing of a mysterious new game.

The most important feature of Fallout '76 is the online multiplayer, a first in the Fallout series.  As such, every interviewer who asked Bethesda how to avoid the hell of Internet randos received non-committal replies from developers who emphasized "always online" functionality and that "it's a softcore survival experience."
The how or why of this remains vague.  Personally, I am leaning that Fallout '76 is not an MMO, but rather something more like Dark Souls with invisible lobbies and automatic matchmaking, but with survival sandbox mechanics closer to Conan Exiles.

Bethesda also teased Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield, both games I am very interested in, but these teasers were overwhelmingly bereft of game substance.  But then, E3 is a land rife with pretty trailers that promise everything but feature no gameplay, with Cyberpunk 2077 and Beyond Good And Evil 2 being two prominent examples.  At least Mutant Year Zero was able to follow up their cool trailer with some gameplay; I can trust a game that is not afraid to show itself being played.

EA, Microsoft, Square-Enix, Sony, and Ubisoft were largely up to the same vein of AAA tricks, including obnoxious stunts to try to stand apart from their competitors.  I am particularly vexed at having to sit through 5 minutes of a guy plonking away on a banjo at the start of the Sony conference.  From what desperate corporate napkin scrawl did this spawn from?  But that was pleasantly muted compared to what Ubisoft did to promote Just Dance 2019.
The AAA crew is as myopic as any in-crowd, prone to flattery, backhanded jabs, and imitation.  For the most part, the AAA studios introduced games like The Last Of Us: Part II, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, and Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which are certainly not lacking in production value, but are basically just new takes at the same old game genres.  I know that they do it because investors will only ever risk the tried and true, but where does that leave an experienced gamer like myself?  Gee, I'll try to pencil your derivative ideas into my busy procrastination schedule.

This prevailing sense of E3 excess is bad enough that Devolver Digital has devolved to absolutely taking the piss of it.
If you ask me, Devolver should go on a no blood diet for awhile, the maniacs.  Their games look fun, but are often a tad too cloying for anyone with a conscience.

Thanks to the overwhelming popularity of Fortnite and its ilk, nothing was more derivative than Battle Royale this year.  A shrinking map is an easy mechanic to implement, and so it's been cropping up everywhere (e.g. Battlefield V, Battlerite, Trove).  There's some new games that seek to specialize in this game mode, such as Mavericks, which boasts 1,000 player matches. This Battle Royale debacle has been a real eye-roller for me; I don't think the formula has much legit gaming draw, it's mostly been a spectacle effect, and I am surprised it has lasted as long as it has.
Over in Nintendo land, they tend to do things a little differently than rest of the AAA running crew.  They know they have to mix things up and stay fresh to stay interesting.  Simultaneously, though, Nintendo wants to capture that casual friendliness that made the Wii sell like hot cakes, so they are afraid of being too interesting.  I guess Nintendo is as popularity obsessed as the rest of the in-crowd; Nintendo has AAA bills to pay like any of the other big boys.  Nevertheless, as a novelty hunter, they got my attention.

This year, they mostly talked about their latest Smash Bros game, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, set to decimate the holidays this year.  "Ultimate" is an apt title, both because this game is an obvious refinement of what came before and also because they had the goal of including all the characters that have ever been in the series.  (Waluigi was noticeably absent for many, but they'll probably add him before release.)  If you wanted to see people play a lot of the new Smash Bros game this E3, you were in luck!

The Smash Bros series is a very convenient thing from Nintendo to showcase at E3, basically a solid playing diorama of idol worship for various (mostly Nintendo) properties.  But why act surprised Nintendo is showing off a lot of the same old properties?  They're down that hole so deep that they've just released a seventh Mario Tennis game, which also got a lot of coverage at E3.  Nintendo's gotta Nintendo.

Another Nintendo theme showroom, Super Mario Party, is coming to the Switch, and is exactly that: Mario Party on the Switch.  It promises to both innovate the series in the right direction and also return to the basics that made for the best game in the series.
In the trailer, Nintendo is still doing that silly thing where they hope we'll lug around a flimsy $300 piece of hardware wherever we go for impromptu gaming.  It has a mechanic where you can use two Nintendo Switch tablets in a party setting and just swipe a finger across them both to make them into a single play space.  I doubt I will ever see that feature used in my introverted life.

Meanwhile, Splatoon 2 is getting a new single player campaign, the Octo Expansion DLC, while simultaneously being foisted during E3 festivities as an eSport.  Nintendo's not wrong to smell money in eSports, and basically have been forcing just about any game that they think would qualify as one via staged competitions.  Their focus on doing this with ARMS and Pokken Tournament DX last year might not have paid off as much as they wanted.  However, when it comes to Smash Bros and Splatoon, the eSport status was fairly established.

I hated Pokemon Go for its lack of quality gameplay, and so the new Pokemon, Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee games look like a casual bastardization of an already shallow game.
Honestly, if it's depth I want, Pokemon doesn't really got anything going for it aside from the type chart.  But I cannot believe they've dumbed down catching Pokemon to throwing bait and flicking balls!  (Though it is certainly a more friendly way to meet Pokemon than beating them into submission.)  Fortunately, we still have a real Pokemon game to look forward to next year, but it was absent from E3 this year.

Hypocritically, for a gaming blogger who desires freshness, I am overwhelmingly disappointed that there was absolutely no mention of the Animal Crossing property at Nintendo E3.  Again.

Okay, so what were some fun looking games I saw in E3 gameplay footage of that I actually look forward to playing?
  • Ooblets has great promise.  They revealed that they've taken this slight Harvest Moon / Pokemon spiritual evolution in the direction of having dance battles instead of dogfighting, and frankly the result is awesome.  Given the attention to soothing visuals, just looking at the game is balm for my compassion fatigue wracked 21st century soul.
  • Sure enough, I'm looking forward to Fallout '76, albeit tentatively considering how hesitant they are to talk straight about the gameplay.
  • Coffee Stain Studios' Satisfactory looks like gloriously wrought first person Factorio, and what else could I want?  Though it might be a bit of a stretch to call what was shown gameplay footage.
  • Star Control Origins is basically a modern day Star Control II, which rests easily in the top 5 favorite games of mine of all time.   Stardock has had a spotty record as of late, and are at major legal loggerheads with Toys for Bob about the Star Control license, but I'm hoping this game is released and is better than mediocre.
  • Bard's Tale IV remains the best-looking iteration of the classic Wizardry formula ever made.  I love how organic it looks, like a vision into some kind of living claymation fantasy world.
  • I enjoyed From Software's Armored Core series, and so I am very much looking forward to playing Marvelous' Daemon X Machina, which is basically that, revived, and on steroids.
  • The Donkey King adventure expansion to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle should be a lot of good turn-based strategy fun.  (I should probably stop procrastinating and finish the original campaign...)
  • Two Point Hospital should be a great humorous hospital sim, a long-overdue spiritual successor to Theme Hospital.  The main way they could mess it up is not put adequate refinement in it, but it looks like they are aware of that and taking their time.
  • Overcooked 2 looks like a whole lot of fun, and actually has online multiplayer, which is great for an introvert like me who doesn't have a pool of convenient friends for couch coop.  I actually installed and played a bit of the first game, expecting to work out a clever strategy, but the whole short order cook nightmare gimmick gets in the way of that a bit.
  • Dead Cells is not out of Early Access, and plays as a reasonably deep hardcore platforming metrodvania with roguelike aspects that is easy to pick up and hard to master.  A real game is hard to find these days.  Black Future '88, Hollow Night, and Noita are largely in the same boat of being tight-looking, indie-made, side-scrolling metroidvanias, with the latter having an interesting pixel world simulation mechanic.  (There's tons of side-scrolling metroidvanias coming out of the indies, probably because they're easy to conceptualize and many big name game SDKs have built in physics and collider systems naturally geared towards making them.)
  • Starlink: Battle For Atlas terrifies me by being an obvious merchandising cash grab, as it is about assembling overpriced toy parts IRL for in-game power-ups.  Powering through that fear, it's a fun-looking, open-world, third person space shooter that is also a quasi-MMO with persistent enemies doing things in the virtual solar system whether or not the players are there to stop them, which gives me a great big persistent world stiffy.  Oh, and apparently Starfox is guest starring in it on the Switch.
  • Concrete Genie looks amazing, the glorious art style of a street kid with a magic paintbrush creating living tapestries on things... it craps a rainbow in my brain!  But, a PS4 exclusive, I don't know if I will be seeing it on PC any time soon.
  • Ghost Giant is in a similar boat, I'd love to play the glorious glowing friend of adorable animal people, but it's a PS4 experience only, and I hope it comes to PC VR.  (I guess I could always play Moss, but the world is not stylized in as endearing of a manner.)
  • I sort of don't want to mention Octopath Traveler, as I feel it will be a grind to play, but that jaw-dropping retro presentation and tight balance makes ignoring it some kind of crime against art.  So here it is. 
  • Death Stranding gets an honorable mention for the weirdest AAA game concept.  A realistic sci-fi future game about difficult wilderness package delivery and evading shadow monsters with the help of a smart fetus in a jar and some kind of ex-wife ghost being.  Well, if weirdness credit didn't go to Hideo Kojima this year, it probably would have been a Suda51 game.  I am morbidly fascinated, and I think that's what he was going for.
I'm sure I missed a few.  As usual, it seems it's mostly the smaller, more independent efforts which have the audacity to innovate and challenge the profit-focused drabness of AAA.
But E3 is not really an event for small names, never has been; this event is where the big entertainment money struts its stuff.  Along those lines, I found myself most interested in Bethesda and Nintendo this year, but there are no winners in E3, only the losers who have lost themselves to the hype.  It will take me just awhile to put my head together after four days of binging AAA commercial decadence on display.
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