E3 2019 Review: An Industry in Transition

Every gamer’s favorite time of the year, the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) from Los Angeles, has yet again come and gone while leaving more games and products for eager players to get excited over. The industry is in a strange place right now due to 2019 likely being the last year of this current generation of consoles. It doesn’t help that  the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), who produces this expo each year, still has an identity crisis on what E3 actually is and who it’s target audience should be. Heavy hitters like Sony and Activision completely bailed out of E3 this year while companies like EA Games continue to work independently outside of the expo at their own convention.

I can speak for all of us when I say that we all had difficulty knowing what to expect from the show this year. Will we see a surge of next generation products being showcased and hyped up while current generation content comes to a screeching hault? Are we getting current generation table scraps and leftovers shoved down our throats while the industry secretly focuses on new hardware and services? Are the majority of our most anticipated games getting pushed back to support new consoles? Looking at the show this year I think we got a little bit of all three of those concerns, making for a divisive show overall.

Microsoft and it’s Rare Opportunity

I want to start with Microsoft since they easily had the biggest presence. All eyes were on Phil Spencer and his team this year due to Sony being completely absent from E3. Xbox had a large spotlight shined on them with a unique opportunity to gather more eyes on their announcements than ever before. This was the perfect opportunity to let gamers know why Xbox is the best place to play games. I honestly feel like they didn’t quite succeed at doing that.

Microsoft’s conference felt very similar to last year’s show. We got acquisition announcements, Game Pass expansions, a minor update on their next generation console, more news on their cloud streaming technology with Project xCloud, etc. A large amount of  great third party reveals were shown too, but most of them are finding their way to other platforms as well. We all loved that Cyberpunk presentation with Keanu Reeves and the reveal of Elden Ring, right? Yet, did Microsoft succeed at giving gamers a strong reason to buy into the Xbox ecosystem over Sony’s?

I would argue that Game Pass itself is a great reason to own an Xbox One. With well over 100 titles in its catalog and many first party and third party titles releasing day one on the service, it’s one of the best values in gaming today. Microsoft has now expanded this service to the PC platform as well with Game Pass PC, while consolidating Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass PC into one affordable service called Game Pass Ultimate for $14.99 a month. For anyone such as myself who owns both an Xbox One console and a gaming PC, Game Pass Ultimate is an absolute no-brainer and an amazing value.

Unfortunately, many casual gamers want to know which titles are hot and trending, and Sony still holds the crown at delivering amazing experiences that only their platform can provide. I think Microsoft still has a lot of work to do in order to fully compete there. Thankfully, Xbox Game Studios has acquired a lot of great developers working on new content so I’m anticipating that it’ll take Microsoft another year or two to truly get in Sony’s face . At the moment, I feel Microsoft is still riding the Game Pass and backwards compatibility wave while hoping that’s enough to push console sales until those studios start releasing titles. I’m not sure if that was the right direction to go this year given the rare opportunity they had at E3 2019.

EA Games Continues to Baffle

EA Games launched it’s EA Play show in Hollywood again this year complete with a highly anticipated reveal, plenty of famous influencers and… well that’s about it. The star of the show was Respawn’s Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, an action/adventure title set in the Star Wars universe. This is the first time the game has been shown to the public and reception has been mixed. I personally felt a little disappointed by it due to Respawn’s pedigree and how it felt so “been there, done that.” Thankfully, those who have gotten hands-on with the title have had nothing but positive things to say so it’s still on my radar.

Beyond that, EA Play was basically a big fat nothingburger. We got zero new game reveals aside from Jedi Fallen Order and a bunch of content for older titles that I feel most of us have moved on from. Apex Legends, which has lost steam over the past few months, may be the only exception. Let’s not forget that Anthem was completely omitted from the show, aside from one small conversation, which is a bad sign for fans of the game. From presentation to overall content, I struggle to find the reason why this event even existed this year.

Bethesda in the Aftermath of Fallout 76

I think a lot of us were curious how Bethesda was going to approach their annual E3 showcase this year. Due to the massive backlash of Fallout 76 last year, we were all wondering if Bethesda would simply ignore the elephant in the room or embrace it. Fallout 76 and the drama surrounding it was addressed, but in a way I fully expected yet was hoping it wouldn’t. Todd Howard strolled out on stage and claimed that the launch was bumpy but the team was proud of the community surrounding it, then announced new content to expand the title to include stuff it should have at launch. Honestly, I wanted an apology from Todd for to the blatant lies thrown at fans and the depressing product that was sold to them. Still, Todd didn’t seem to feel too accountable for it and motored on with his usual self.

Fallout aside, we did get a stellar look at Doom Eternal with a release date for this Holiday season. Tango Gameworks announced an incredibly cool looking trailer for their next title Ghostwire: Tokyo with its game director, Ikumi Nakamura, stealing the hearts of many in the process. Arkane Studios announced their new IP named Deathloop that looks intriguing as well. While all of this was being presented on stage, we had the most infuriating audience I’ve ever seen at a press conference. These wild animals would not stop shouting and pouring fake enthusiasm over every sentence spoke during the entire show which ruined it for me. I was far more annoyed than I was entertained and assume the majority of the hecklers were paid to behave this way.

Ubisoft’s Safe Yet Solid Showcase

Each year Ubisoft tends to deliver a cheesy, expletive-filled show that usually includes solid titles and over-the-top performances. This year was no different. I would consider Ubisoft’s show this year to be one of their weakest in recent memory, yet it was far from bad. Yes, we got a stupid dance routine for the latest Just Dance title. Yes, we got yet another From Honor presentation. Yes, there’s still no goddamn Splinter Cell announced. Yet, a few titles like God’s and Monsters, Watch Dogs Legion and the upcoming Rainbow Six Quarantine did interest me a lot.

I’m surprised we’re getting another Ghost Recon title. Breakpoint looks fine, but we’re not too far off from Wildland’s debut. Both Splinter Cell and a campaign driven Rainbow Six game have not released this generation and I feel like Ghost Recon: Breakpoint isn’t necessarily what we’ve been asking for. Still, I’m sure it’s a solid game that will be successful for Ubisoft. Can I also point out how crazy it is that Just Dance is STILL releasing for the original Wii? It must sell, right?!

Square Enix Saves the Day

At this point during E3 2019 we’ve had an over abundance of CG trailers, missed opportunities and leaks that have ruined some of the show’s biggest surprises (Elden Ring says hello). In comes Square Enix to kick off their presentation with a lengthy session showing off Final Fantasy VII Remake that absolutely steals the show. Not only does the game look absolutely stunning, the team also delivered a lot of good information and reveals that paints a better picture of what they’re set to accomplish with this remake.

A little confusion set in surrounding a comment made about multiple Blu-ray discs and the scope of the release, but I believe most of that was cleared up soon after. Final Fantasy VII Remake will release in March of 2020 and will mostly include an expanded Midgar segment of the game with the rest coming at a later date. Personally, I’m okay with this since the beginning Midgar segment of the original game was by far my favorite part. Still, I could see how some may be disappointed.

Beyond the glorious sneak peak at FFVII, Square Enix showed off a good variety of JRPGs, remasters and Japanese imports that will surely make most fans of the publisher quite happy. The remake of Trials of Mana was a nice surprise since North America didn’t get that title originally. Afterwards, it was revealed that we are indeed getting a localized version of the original Trials of Mana through a Secret of Mana collection coming to the Nintendo Switch this week.

The show closed out with the reveal of Crystal Dynamics’ new Avengers co-op action game that releases next year in May. Marvel fans quickly jumped on the game to express disappointment with Crystal’s take on the famous superhero squad, with a few of them like Captain America and Thor looking a little silly. Personally, I’d rather wait and see how the game plays before I judge it too harshly. Crystal Dynamics kept the gameplay demo behind closed doors so it may be awhile until we all see it in action.

Devolver Digital Continues to be Weird

It isn’t E3 without a wacky presentation from Devolver Digital. The large digital indie game publisher releases a showcase each year that’s essentially a weird parody of cliche E3 press conferences in general. While the game reveals were few and nothing too exciting was shown, the presentation goes into the weirdest territory yet by ending on an actual cliffhanger that will continue into next year’s E3 presentation as well. I personally do not care much for these Devolver events but their sense of humor is appreciated and fans tend to really enjoy them. Keep on keeping on, Devolver.

Nintendo Closes E3 with a Bang

Before Nintendo launched their E3 Nintendo Direct, I was feeling pretty disappointed with this year’s expo. Square Enix ramped up my excitement a bit with Final Fantasy VII Remake, but I was still sad that we got very little gameplay footage from these shows and not enough next generation sneak peeks. In comes Nintendo to inject a much needed dose of hype and excitement into E3 with what I consider the best showcase of E3 2019.

Nintendo did an excellent job at simply showing us plenty of content to get excited about soon while also giving us a glimpse of what to get excited for next year as well. I believe this is due to Nintendo not being stuck in the middle of a console transition and simply focusing on great games. It’s crazy how even a DLC announcement can bring down the house.

We got a great first look at Luigi’s Mansion 3 which made me squeal with joy upon the first look at Luigi’s slimy new controllable doppelganger named Gooigi. Astral Chain and Daemon X Machina both look fill the void in the action genre nicely this year; both of which release in the coming months. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’s remake is very charming in its presentation and surprisingly drops in September this year, making it one of my most anticipated titles. Unfortunately, Animal Crossing was revealed but with a pushed back date of March 2020 but thankfully Nintendo is doing so in order to back off on crunch time for employees, which is commendable.

The Banjo Kazooie reveal for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was great to see with a funny little trolling attempt on Nintendo’s part. We’re getting four new Dragon Quest characters added to the game too this Summer. I feel every genre was represented very well during this presentation which made it the most satisfying out of the bunch. I can’t ignore that Breath of the Wild 2 reveal at the end too, which caught everyone off guard.

An Industry in Transition

As I stated at the start of this piece, none of us knew what direction the industry would head in during E3 this year. The direction I feel we got was one that shows the industry residing in a huge transition period. A lot of the publishers and developers are shifting focus towards the next generation of consoles, which has been confirmed to launch in the Fall of 2020. Most of the reveals we got were strictly CG proof of concepts with little to no gameplay footage included. While disappointing, I consider all of this proof that most of these games are aiming at Sony and Microsoft’s next consoles.

We also didn’t know what kind of Holiday season we were facing this year in terms of major releases. Now that we have a clearer picture of what that will be, I’m disappointed that a lot of my most anticipated titles were pushed back to 2020, with most of them dropping in the month of March. I apologize to my bank account in advance for the oncoming shopping spree that will ensue that month. I’m excited for Doom Eternal, Link’s Awakening, Death Stranding and Shenmue III as much as the next guy, but with heavy hitters like Last of Us II, Cyberpunk 2077, Animal Crossing and Final Fantasy VII missing this year, I feel much less enthusiastic about gaming in 2019.

E3 2019 showcased some good content and gave us all new things to look forward to, but nothing to backflip out of our seats over. It’s clear that we’re on our last leg with the Playstation 4 and Xbox One and E3 was representative of this. I expect next year to be a much bigger deal for the industry as we play the last remaining titles for our current consoles, clear out a spot in our closets for them, and prepare to place new boxes under our televisions next Fall. Let the E3 2020 hype begin.

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