Ever Oasis review: Wondercrawl

Ever Oasis is an action-adventure RPG game developed by Japanese developers Grezzo for the Nintendo 3DS. You may or may not have heard of Grezzo, but they’re the people responsible for developing several notable titles for 3DS, including the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time remakes for 3DS, as well as the more recent title Triforce Heroes. Ever Oasis is a brand new IP from the developers, led by director/producer Koichi Ishii, creator of the legendary Mana series. Ever Oasis is firmly rooted in the action-RPG genre, but with added life-sim elements. You, a Seedling with the magical power to create an Oasis, must attract residents to your Oasis, encourage them to set up shops and keep them happy to ensure the wellbeing of the desert’s residents. A significant portion of the game’s themes explore the importance of friendship, teamwork and cooperation, with the action itself taking place in a lush, Egyptian-themed fantasy world, with sprawling deserts and unique inhabitants.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, though I had been anticipating this title since the first reveal trailer at E3 2016. I’m a sucker for RPGs and life-sim games, and this seemed to have both of those things wrapped up in a gorgeous, cute art style. I was especially impressed to note that there was some character customisation at the start: The player can choose their gender, as well as change some minor aspects of the player model such as skin and eye colour. Though the options are not particularly comprehensive, it was still a welcome surprise, given that much of the pre-launch material only featured the male character. There are even two save file slots, so you can share your game with another person or start again if you feel like it.

Right from the opening cutscene, it’s apparent that a lot of love has been put into this game’s universe, inviting the player to understand the world that they are about to journey into. You are then forced out of your Oasis into the desert, where you’re tasked with making your own Oasis as a sanctuary for the desert’s residents from the effects of the evil Chaos, a force that threatens to destroy or corrupt all life in the area. However, you’re not without friends; you’ll meet some colourful types fairly quickly, and begin your quest with their help (if a company ever makes plush toys of the Noots, I’ll buy at least ten).

The tutorial is comprehensive and takes you through the first few days with guided quests that explain the UI and Oasis building system along the way. The ‘tutorial’ part of the game does go on for a fair while; four or five hours in, I had only just begun to build my party and explore more independently. This may frustrate some players, but it is done in a way that is not excessively limiting or hand-holding. Your Oasis expands to fit new shops and visitors as you progress and find more residents; the list of Oasis residents is impressively long, and will provide quite the challenge if you intend to find them all, as some are located in remote areas or require certain prerequisites to recruit. The game also has a day and night cycle, which affects the times you can enter your shops and when the day resets (you can sleep until the next day, or stay up three days straight in a dungeon, and not too much will change, with the exception of your garden growing and shop stock). Eventually you can craft new healing items, combat weapons, clothing and more using things you pick up in dungeons. Keeping your shop owners happy by delivering materials you find on your explorations is a necessity; your Oasis’ general happiness provides combat and health bonuses, without which the game’s dungeons can become very punishing. Eventually you can also delegate residents to do tasks such as go on explorations and tend the garden, adding another layer of complexity to the resident system.

Although this game was mainly pitched for its oasis-building gameplay, it became immediately apparent to me that the dungeons and exploration is where this game really shines. I was a huge fan of Fantasy Life, and given their similar aesthetics, I assumed it’d be the same type of basic combat — I was wrong. Behind the colourful exterior and chibi-style models, the combat and gameplay is engaging, intuitive and even punishing at times. Combat happens in real-time, with the player having to use weapon combos (unlocked over time) and dodge rolls to defeat enemies, all of whom have unique attack patterns and weaknesses. I learned the hard way that this isn’t a game you can expect to just mash buttons through. The first time I went in the desert, I got killed in two hits by one of the weakest enemies in the game because I failed to dodge and heal. This wouldn’t be as bad if not for the fact that you need to reload your save when you are defeated — save as frequently as you can! The combat becomes even more complex when you recruit party members, whom you can switch between in real-time to use individual abilities and weapons. To top it all off, the controls are seamless and fluid (remember you can also switch party members using the ZR button if you have a New 3DS; you’ll thank me later).

As for the dungeons themselves, if you’ve ever played Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask, you’ll recognise some layouts, puzzles and enemy mechanics right off the bat. Despite this, Ever Oasis manages to avoid feeling derivative. Instead of using different items to activate environmental puzzles, you use different party member skills. You might need to find a member who can plant vines to reach far-away ledges or leap across gaps, or a character to smash boulders. As you collect more party members, you can return to old dungeons to collect all the chests, giving a lot of the game’s areas excellent replayability. The areas outside the dungeons are massive, and it may take you some time to walk from one end to the other. Keep your eyes open along the way, in case you spot a harvestable plant or a hidden doorway submerged in the sand. And be careful when you go out at night; monsters are different, and stronger. Small details like this make Ever Oasis’ universe come to life with many hours of content to explore and conquer.

Ever Oasis is filled with lush, orchestral soundscapes that really enhance the atmosphere of your surroundings, with surprisingly ‘mature’ compositions that feel like they could belong in a Final Fantasy or Xenoblade title. Make sure you play this game with the sound on. An unfortunate downside is the lack of voice acting, even for cutscenes. There are some babble or voice effects in combat and conversation, but it can ruin the immersion in some cutscenes where communication is done with character lip flap and subtitles; the game would benefit from having even a handful of lines voiced, or more consistent voice effects.

Just as disappointing are the complete lack of communication features and multiplayer, which is surprising given how well the game’s concept and gameplay would work in a multiplayer context. Being able to visit other Oases through Streetpass or partying up for huge bosses in the overworld would have been a brilliant addition, but unfortunately, we may have to wait for an Ever Oasis sequel to see those features. I would also have enjoyed more complexity to the Oasis building sections, and customisation features for your Oasis and character’s appearances.

Despite its flaws, Ever Oasis is a game that doesn’t disappoint. Its engaging puzzles and immensely satisfying combat system alone make it worth playing, with the Oasis-building element adding some fun for those who like a bit of simulation in their RPGs. Although there isn’t any multiplayer, there are still many hours of content here to sink your teeth into, and the game will hit a sweet spot for both casual and more dedicated gamers alike. It’s a charming and enjoyable addition to the 3DS lineup, and definitely isn’t one to be overlooked.
If you do pick it up, don’t forget to check the game’s digital manual for a special message from director Koichi Ishii himself.

Rise Of The Tomb Raider – Dermie’s (Pile Of) Shame

I finally finished Rise Of The Tomb Raider. It took me a while to get into the game but by the end I’d say it is up there with the recent Deus Ex games for quality and experience.

Being spoilt by Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, I would have liked more stealth in the most recent Tomb Raider games. I think that would suit the character better. Lara would be ridiculously strong from all that climbing but she is still up against paid mercenaries so hand to hand or close combat should be a last resort. Dragging guys into the bushes and killing them was fun but made me miss the way Human Revolution lets you take out enemies and hide their bodies so other guards are not alerted.

Sniping had the same problem as Fallout 4 where the moment you shoot somebody, everybody else runs straight at you. I would understand if I was using a loud gun and my location was easier to guess, but a bow and arrow is silent so they should not notice me so quick. It meant I could not circle camps and pick people off while they search for me. When it turns into FPS style shooting it is pretty good and plays well. Unless you are being attacked by a bear because then you get rekt.

As a cinematic experience this game is superb. It looks amazing and plays smooth as you jump around and climb insanely high towers. The classic Tomb Raider climbing is back. The challenge tombs and crypts are more like the original games.

Everything is a definite improvement over the last Tomb Raider game which was already extremely good, even if the end battle is still a pair of quicktime events. These comments aside, play this game. Rise Of The Tomb Raider is definitely worth your time. The story is standard Tomb Raider fare and interesting enough to care about without being mind-blowing like a Deus Ex game.

I recommend Rise Of The Tomb Raider for anybody who liked the original games and is not afraid of heights.

Nintendo’s Odyssey: A Recap of Nintendo’s E3 2017 Spotlight

Nintendo has traditionally taken up the final press conference slot, though its showcases have recently been anything but. In this spirit, we are going to mix things up this time and bring on TWO of our contributors, Christos and Katherine, to run you through this year’s announcements. 

Hey there everyone, my name’s Christos, or 8BitWalugi, a new member of New Game Plus team. Along with Katherine, or Kaphrin, also a new collaborator with the NG+ crew, we’re going to give you the lowdown on Nintendo’s E3 Spotlight and share our thoughts on some of the games showed off during the 25 minute showcase.

C: So at long last on our E3 adventure, we finish up with Nintendo. In the last few years Nintendo has ditched the traditional keynote-style presentation, and instead choose to stick with its Direct format. I think it’s worked wonders for them; in the past we’ve been presented with Robot Chicken and Jim Henson Muppets. I think it’s a great way to highlight the fun Nintendo aims to bring, and a way to differentiate the company from its competitors. What do you think, Katherine?
K: I think it’s pretty neat, and it gives them the creative space to structure their announcements in a unique way. We’ve had some classic moments from past Directs featuring Reggie, Bill, and other Nintendo staff. It was a bit more toned down this year. I kind of miss the Robot Chicken and Muppets segments, and the incredible short clips and images the internet made from them.
C: Yeah, I agree. I particularly liked the Robot Chicken skit (“Give us Mother 3!”).

Local multiplayer

So, time to jump into this year’s presentation. The scene opens with a gym, just a casual reminder of Arms which launches in the next few days on the Switch. Right after we cut to a car meetup and we get a silent reveal of Rocket League on the Switch! I feel like that’s a perfect match.
K: It’s clear that there’s a push for competitive local gaming, something that Nintendo hasn’t embraced as strongly in the recent past, with the exception of the Super Smash Brothers, Pokémon and Mario Kart franchises. I guess you could count the 3DS in that, but I feel that a lot of popular handheld games focus more on co-op. Given that portability is a key selling factor of the Switch, it’s great to see that Nintendo making a real effort to support local community gaming with these titles, even if Pokkén Tournament and Rocket League aren’t Switch exclusives.
C: Yeah Pokkén has already landed on Wii U, but now we got the ‘Deluxe’ version, the expanded re-release that couldn’t be made DLC for the Wii U either. We got a scene of Pokkén Tournament DX being played in a cafeteria, again highlighting the portability and features of the Switch. Splatoon 2 and FIFA 18 too, showed being played at home then switching to on the go. I don’t think I’ll be separated from the Switch for a while once it comes out, haha.
K: I really enjoy the way they’re marketing the Switch as a way of connecting with others in a world where a lot of our communication is done via distance, though I wouldn’t bring my Switch to the cafeteria or gym. Splatoon 2 looks pretty good, though I’m not a massive fan of the series like you. I’m happy that Splatoon fans now (hopefully) have a decent local multiplayer set-up compared to the first game, which I heard was very lacklustre.
C: The first game was great, but some of the network issues brought it down. Hopefully we can get some global servers instead of everyone having to connect to Japan’s.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

C: And we have our first trailer for the night! Nintendo’s starting off strong with Xenoblade Chronicles 2! Personally, I loved the story of the first one so I can’t wait to see where this new game heads. I’m so glad they’re doing the English-accent voices again. Although, ‘The World Tree’? Is Xenoblade Chronicles 2 going to be inspired by Norse mythology? I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. We see our main character, Rex, meet a strange mystical looking girl. “You’re a blade?” I wonder what that means. It seems like the girl is a sword? This music is fantastic; Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X both had fantastic soundtracks and it’s great to hear that’s staying.
K: I’m going to leave Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to you, because you know a lot more about the franchise than I do! Like the previous entry into the series, the environments are gorgeous and the British voices are as charming as ever. I do notice that the art style is distinctly more anime-oriented than in the past. I’m in agreement with the soundtracks being incredible.
C: Yeah, Xenoblade X previously on the Wii U had some gorgeous graphics, but some of it looked a bit… questionable at times. I’m loving the new art direction.

Kirby

C:  AI enemy partners are back, and co-op play too from the looks of it. And so is merging copy abilities too! It’s been years since we last saw those. It was just a short trailer, but it looks adorable already.
K: Again, I’m not invested enough in the Kirby series to make a detailed judgment on this one. But it definitely looks cute, and I’m not going to say no to more Kirby titles for the Switch. I think that fans of the series would be pretty pleased.

Pokémon Power Hour

C: Mr. Takahashi cuts in to talk to us about the success of the Switch, only to then cut over to Mr. Ishihara from Pokémon to talk to us about Pokkén and… a new mainline game!?
K: Finally! An announcement that’s a Switch seller for me, haha. A new Pokémon RPG for the Nintendo Switch hopefully means that the next main line entry will take advantage of what the console has to offer. I wonder if we’ll see elements of a Pokemon Colosseum-like overworld and gameplay style in this one. My dream come true would be a multi-region adventure, but my hopes aren’t too high for that. Maybe I should get Jamie to say it’ll never happen.
C: Jamie you know what you must do.

Metroid Prime 4

C: Continuing on now… Is it Pikmin? Is it… It is! It’s Metroid Prime 4! Oh my god! IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING!
K: Woah! I haven’t played the Metroid games and even I felt the super hype here. It almost makes you think there might be hope for a new F-Zero, right, Christos?
C: Please Nintendo give us F-Zero too! But for now, maybe I ought to go back for a replay of some of the Metroid games.

Yoshi

K: And after that excitement and messaging people about Metroid, I almost forgot to keep my eyes on the new Yoshi trailer. I loved Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Story, but I haven’t played the recent games. It has a similar handicraft, cut-out style in places like Yoshi’s Woolly World (which, let me tell you, is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen), but with paper and cardboard rather than cloth and wool. So far, it looks like an enjoyable game with similar gameplay to other Yoshi game titles, making it great for kids and older series fans alike.
C: It’s like a diorama, I love it. “Yoshi’s Diorama Drama” is what I’m gonna call it for now.

Fire Emblem Warriors

C: Katherine, you’re the Fire Emblem fan out of the two of us, got any thoughts?
K: I may be a Fire Emblem fan, but I’m not really a Warriors fan, so I think I won’t be picking up this one. If you’re a fan of the Dynasty Warriors or Hyrule Warriors gameplay style, but also the Fire Emblem aesthetic, I have a feeling this will be a really enjoyable title. The models look really nice, and it’s great to see my husb…I mean, Fire Emblem units in such high quality. I’m more interested in the next main line FE game for Switch, hoping that they learn from the issues that Fates had and developing a concise story/complex strategy system.

Zelda (and friends)

C: Ooh it’s Eiji Aonuma now, here to talk about everyone’s favourite Zelda game, Skyrim.
K: Breath of the Wild’s new Skyrim DLC looks really good, right?! Ha ha! Wait, I can’t make that joke, because they’ve announced the actual Breath of the Wild DLC just now. And it actually does looks pretty good.
C: I loved this game, but after collecting all 900 Koroks I’m not too psyched to jump back in. The Trial of the Sword looks super neat, but that Champion DLC has my attention. I can’t wait to learn more about my fave, Mipha.
K: Anyone who knows me knows I love Koroks, so anything with more Koroks makes me happy. The fact that the Korok Mask is actually Makar’s face from Wind Waker made tears of joy well up in my eyes. I’d probably be crazy enough to collect them all for a terrible prize when I get around to playing Breath of the Wild. The Champion DLC looks like it’ll be a fascinating way to learn more about the characters and the universe of the game.
C: Oh no more amiibo. Nintendo please — my wallet can only take so much.
K: Keeping your local EB Games singlehandedly afloat with Amiibo pre orders.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

C: This has proven to be quite a divisive game. The developer’s hearts are in the right place but… why did it have to be Rabbids?
K: So I have some opinions about this one. As a disclaimer, I personally think the concept of Rabbids is awful, and I’ll forever be salty that we got them instead of Rayman 4. Though watching the Ubisoft conference announcement of this, it was clear that a lot of love and attention was put into the development of this game; it’s also the most personality we’ve seen out of the Mario cast in a long time. I’m willing to admit that I’m not the audience for this game, but I imagine that it’ll be a great game for kids: An engaging and colourful strategy game that’s refreshingly different to the Minecraft and Skylanders clones that seem to be saturating the market. Kids and Europeans will love it, I think. That probably sounds patronizing, but there’s no dismissing the popularity of Rabbids in Europe, especially France. I still think they’re butt-ugly.
C: They’re the Minions of videogames, love them or hate them.

Rocket League

C: The game is going to have new hats, customisation, local wireless multiplayer and amazingly, cross-network online multiplayer! Cross-network has been something of discussion lately. What do you think Katherine?
K: New! Hats! I think Rocket League is a great game to take advantage of what they’re aiming to achieve with Switch multiplayer, even if it’s not a new game. Cross-network gameplay between consoles is something I feel is very important to having a successful multiplayer community, and it’s pleasing to hear they’re adopting it.
C: Yeah, if it’s the same game on different platforms there’s no reason not to. Hopefully I can still wreck on the Switch version. Although it’s more likely I’ll get wrecked…

Super Mario Odyssey

C: Well the Spotlight seems to running out of time, so one last game…Oh, Super Mario Odyssey! I was wondering where you were! This music though, I love it!
K: Nice! It’s cool to see how much the game has evolved since its announcement. I think it’ll be a real Switch seller, and I feel like Nintendo has listened to the fans who want a more open world 3D Mario game. The possessing mechanic is fascinating too. Just from the gameplay we’ve seen, the worlds feel massive to me.
C: I would’ve never guessed this game’s gimmick would be possessing enemies. It looks incredible, in both the visual and gameplay department; back to the golden age of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine-style levels. And ah, we can see Pauline has finally been added into the mainline Mario games. Sneaky little nod there, Nintendo.
K: I’m definitely enjoying some of the references in Odyssey. I loved Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, so I’m hoping for that same level of Mario platforming gameplay.

C: And that about wraps up Nintendo’s E3 Spotlight. Honestly, this has been one of the best in ages. Big hitter announcements like Pokémon and Metroid Prime 4 on Switch, while also showing off more and giving release dates for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Super Mario Odyssey. Bravo Nintendo, you’ve outdone yourselves for the past few years of E3. A short, but very sweet presentation.
K: Short but sweet, for sure. Nintendo has revealed and given us a lot of information on new games from start to finish, it is hugely invested in the Switch as a gaming platform. The sheer amount of titles makes me far more confident about its direction compared to the Wii U, with new Mario, Metroid, Fire Emblem and other exclusive franchises giving it some solid footing amongst the competition. I feel we need now is Animal Crossing, Super Smash Brothers and Pikmin to have a powerful line-up of Nintendo exclusives. I wish there was more info on the new main line Fire Emblem, and I’ll always dream about more Rhythm Heaven news, but I felt like Nintendo has set itself up very well for the coming year.

Reach for the Skyrim: A Recap of Bethesda’s E3 2017 Showcase

Opening the theme-park decorated “Bethesdaland” press briefing, Global VP of PR and Marketing Pete Hinds walked out on stage and promised a showcase that would be “an experience at E3 unlike anything else.” What followed was a 40 minute trailer supercut in essence that put Bethesda’s upcoming projects front and centre, highlighting how bizarre and unique (for better or worse) these games and initiatives have the potential to be. Fortunately, what lacked was a great deal of cringe, and unfortunately, this is likely what was being referred to as “unlike anything else” at E3.

Leading the charge was Bethesda’s foray into virtual reality. Doom VFR looks to play much the same as 2016’s Doom on the HTC Vive and Playstation VR but is set to include “new characters with totally unique tools and abilities.” Fallout 4 VR brings the entirety of the Wasteland and “VR-engaged V.A.T.S” to HTC Vive. While Hinds said everything announced here will be released later this year, these VR titles are among the few with nebulous “Coming Soon” release date listed on Bethesda’s site.

Then began the pulling of skeletons out of the closet. To even bring the showcase to 40 minutes, Hinds earlier went on a spiel about games well out in the open, like Dishonored 2, Skyrim: Special Edition and Prey. Following the VR announcements though, it happened again with an E3 trailer for MMO expansion, The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind.

Morrowind was released just short of a week ago, so it was unusual to see a released expansion standing front and centre for as long as trailers for upcoming titles. What followed though was equally puzzling.

Quietly hoping everyone had forgotten about the Steam and Skyrim paid mods fiasco, Bethesda outlined a system that sounded not too dissimilar to what was originally implemented in 2015. At the time, Valve representatives said that “stepping into an established, years old modding community in Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating.” Much of the original controversy focused on how little modders were being remunerated, and so here, Bethesda went out of its way to shift the focus away from the community and toward content.

This initiative, named the Creation Club, is set to arrive for Skyrim: Special Edition and Fallout 4 across PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One by the end of Q3. Content for Creation Club will come from “Bethesda Game Studios and outside developers, including the very best community creators.” Despite playing up the benefits of the program, the wider audience doesn’t seem quite as on board — who would’ve guessed?

And if that wasn’t enough Skyrim, the Heroes of Skyrim expansion for The Elder Scrolls: Legends was announced. Truthfully, I missed most of the specifics since I was in the middle of a Hearthstone match at the time, but at least I caught that the CCG will soon be available for Android users. Featuring over 150 new cards, Heroes of Skyrim packs will be available on 29 June.

The Skyrim for Switch trailer was the first part of the conference that started to feel more like an obligation than something worthy of fanfare. Coming with support for Amiibos and motion control, we still don’t have a set release date. One odd point was that the gameplay shown was running at 60fps; which if carried over to the final release would be a departure from every other console release of the title. Nothing was confirmed during the conference in this instance, but it stuck out as either fascinating or clumsy on Bethesda’s part.

The Dishonored series made its swift return following last year’s Dishonored 2 in Death of the Outsider. Main character Billie Lurk has previously appeared in D2, but this standalone for PC, PS4 and XB1 will have her in the middle of the action using new powers and abilities. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider releases on 15 September.

Quake Champions turned up with a huge focus on the upcoming esports event, the Quake World Championships. Set to make a huge splash at QuakeCon in Dallas Texas, solo and team competitors will fight for a share of a $1 million prize pool. The finals will run from August 24th through 26th, and players can sign up for the closed beta through Bethesda’s site.

The Evil Within 2 was revealed (after a last minute leak) and will have players in the shoes of Sebastian Castellanos, the protagonist of the first game, to save his daughter. The announce trailer was appropriately off-putting and abstract and presented a release date of October 13th for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

Last, but certainly not least, was Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. This reveal trailer was as over the top as they come, but fortunately it looks to be following Wolfenstein: The New Order’s lead. The New Colossus is set to release on October 27th on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

All in all, it was a pretty lukewarm press conference. Take the mix of games as you will, but there was nothing wildly impressive to excite audiences — which arguably is the point of having these press briefings. Odds are you’ll hear different things from journos at E3 that actually can walk into a Bethesdaland exhibit, but the briefing presented more a sense of obligation than a sense of enthusiasm. Hopefully, Bethesda next year will bring more than a pile of trailers looking to walk away with points for trying.

Shadow of One’s Colossus: A recap of Sony’s Playstation E3 2017 Media Showcase

It must be hard being the E3 king. After blowing everyone away in 2015 with Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue 3, Sony has had to maintain this newfound reputation of nonstop bombshell announcements and mic-drop moments. It managed to pull it off last year with Death Stranding, although we could all tell that the well was running dry. This year, it was obvious that Sony is starting to scrape the bottom.

This was apparent with Days Gone, the open-world zombie game announced at last year’s E3. Back then it was humdrum at best and this year’s demo proved no better, highlighting its QTE combat and stealth mechanics that were tired five years ago. Admittedly, the game’s light puzzle solving via zombie horde is unique, but it could amount to being no more than a novelty. SIE Bend will have to a lot of convincing to sway minds come Days Gone’s release.

The biggest surprises came from the conference’s brief acknowledgement of its Eastern audience. After watching a hunter-looking dude sneak through a leafy jungle and track down what ended up being a dinosaur, it was all finally revealed that we were looking at Monster Hunter World. No longer shackled to the Nintendo, this edition of Monster Hunter will feature a much more robust online co-op component, and will be coming to Playstation 4 and Xbox One in early 2018 with a PC version arriving later.

Of similar interest was a remaster of Shadow of the Colossus, which is coming to the Playstation 4 in 2018. The port is being developed by Bluepoint Games, which was also responsible for the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection on the Playstation 3.

In between these announcements were story trailers for Uncharted 4: The Lost Legacy, an expansion to Horizon: Zero Dawn named The Frozen Wilds (which as the name implies takes place amidst an Ice Age), Destiny 2 (exclusive content for which will be coming to the PS4), and Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, a demo of which is available on the Playstation Store now.

We also got our second look at Call of Duty: WWII. The franchise may be treading the same territory it did over 15 years ago, but it is taking a decidedly modern approach to warfare with its tight-spaced and frantically-paced combat. Last year’s Infinite Warfare showed us that Call of Duty is occasionally capable of hitting more sombre beats, but this trailer doesn’t betray any hints of reverence. We will find out more when it comes out on 3 November.

Playstation VR owners were relieved to see about ten minutes of Sony’s conference dedicated to showing off Skyrim VR, because every conference is now legally required to include the 2011 game, as well as new and upcoming games for the device. These included Star Child (a sci-fi side-scrolling platformer), The Inpatient (which is set 60 years before the events of Until Dawn), and Moss (a whimsical adventure game starring a mouse). Monster of the Deep deserves its own sentence, because it is literally the fishing minigame from Final Fantasy XV broken out into a standalone VR experience!

After impressing everyone last year, God of War once again took to the stage to show more of what it has to offer. It appears to be doubling down on elements hinted at last year, such as the role of Kratos as a father (whilst teasing the possibility of his son being a playable character), the slower over-the-shoulder combat and the Norse mythological hooks. Though if the appearance of Jörmungandr the World Serpent is any indication, God of War will still feature boss battles of titanic proportion. God of War will be released in early 2018.

It would be hard to follow up this act, and Detroit: Become Human certainly tried. Following on from last year’s detective sequence, we were introduced to Markus (played by Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy), a android intent on freeing his fellow robots and causing an uprising. This new trailer reinforced the Quantic Dream focus on high-fidelity graphics and moral choices. No release date has been announced.

To close the show off, Sony debuted the Spider-Man title being developed by Insomniac Games. In this nine minute trailer, we saw Spidey fighting through a construction zone, gathering intel from Wilson Fisk, and slinging his way around New York whilst chasing a helicopter. Insomniac has clearly been taking notes from other recent open-world games; combat appears to be very evocative of the Batman: Arkham series, and watching Spider-Man move around the city recalls memories of Prototype. We’ll see if Spider-Man can make a name for itself when it comes out in 2018.

Thus ended a show that surprised few. Aside from Monster Hunter World, the most memorable moments came from a remaster, a Miles Morales cameo in the Spider-Man trailer and a fishing VR game; everything else this year fell considerably flatter than Sony anticipated; the broad gestures were there but it was all for nothing. Yes, the King of E3 is a false crown at best, but we wouldn’t care so much if Sony still wasn’t clutching onto it with white-knuckled desperation.

Kingdom Come: A Recap of Ubisoft’s E3 2017 Conference

Before we start, real talk: Ubisoft has copped a bit of a flogging to the reputation lately, despite releasing some decent games in the past few years amongst the turmoil. So it was up to the company coming into E3 to leave all that behind and come out swinging, and boy did they give it a red hot go, starting off by bringing out Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto and Bill Trinen to announce Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

The unlikely crossover titles teams Mario with the Rabbids characters as you battle to restore the Mushroom Kingdom after universal upheaval sees Peach, Luigi and co put in danger by out of control Rabbids. Three years in development, the game is actually a tactical strategy game similar to XCOM, complete with cover tactics, line of sight and special abilities. In a rare move, Mario and co will use various firearms and weapons to battle all sorts of Rabbid baddies, including many themed around the usual Mushroom Kingdom enemies like Petey Piranha and Chain Chomps. While the gameplay looks great, the struggle will be keeping the humour lively; but the pre-release footage gives the feeling that Ubi has nailed the balance. We’ll find out on August 29th when the game releases.

Being an Ubisoft event, there has to be Assassin’s Creed news, and this year we head to Egypt for Assassin’s Creed: Origins. While it doesn’t look like too much of the formula has changed, we did see expanded use of the toolset, including the use of your pet eagle to scout encampments and weapon drops with customisation. We also see expanded use of horses in this iteration, with some sly archery and acrobatics, alongside boats and other methods of conveyance. The setting is exactly as stunning as one would expect: the Pyramids rise high above the deserts, with the sweeping north African landscape shown in all its glory. The year off seems to have rejuvenated the series, and while it doesn’t seem to stray too far from the established formula, it’s looking like a solid addition to the series. We’ll find out either way on October 27th.

Because every publisher has to have a racing series, Ubisoft’s The Crew 2 made an appearance. Its main point of difference however has nothing to do with cars: planes, boats and motorbikes all make an appearance in The Crew, offering more than just car races for players. How these different races come together is yet to be seen, but we’ll find out in early 2018.

South Park also showed off more from The Fractured But Whole, continuing its theme of superhero movie pisstake that the team are serving up. All we got this time was another humour filled trailer showing familiar gameplay elements, but it came with a welcome reminder that the game is coming on October 17th. The bigger surprise from the South Park team was the unveiling of their new mobile game, South Park: Phone Destroyer. While very little was shown, it seems to be a card based game bringing together the multitude of different tropes the show has used in the past. Like the console game, we can expect Phone Destroyer later in 2017.

Ubisoft’s smartest play was bringing out the new IP, and they brought out a wide range of titles to the fore. The most unique is probably Transference, a VR title with an fascinating premise based on the player experiencing a stored memory. Introduced by Elijah Wood, the mysterious nature of the game left us with a lot of questions, but an eagerness to find out if the game can live up to the great trailer. Another one due in early 2018.

The next game, Skull and Bones, proved that Ubisoft doesn’t understand irony considering its position on video game piracy. Picking up a lot of Black Flag’s great pedigree, the game is set in the era of privateers, with large scale naval battles and strategy on the high seas. Different ships bring different advantages, with frigates offering attack power over the close range devastation of brigantines and more. The game also features PvP multiplayer, with Ubisoft demonstrating a 5v5 loot grab mode pitching fleets against each other to secure as much booty as they can.

The strangest announcement of the conference was definitely Starlink: Battle For Atlas. A ‘toys to life’ space game, you can construct physical ships to be uploaded to the game with varying parts, bringing to mind games like Skylanders: Swap Force with a dose of No Man’s Sky. The most pressing question has to be around the current popularity of a genre of games that were losing steam years ago, and especially one without the collectability of a Skylanders or Amiibo, but time will tell in 2018.

Far Cry 5 was also showcased, invoking scenes of Christian culthood in the US Bible Belt, a far cry (soz) from the usual exotic locations the series takes place in. While the gameplay offered a few new tidbits, such as being able to order companions into position, Ubisoft confirmed full story co-op throughout the game, a welcome addition and one long overdue. With a setting that has the the potential to be a meaningful thematic journey, and the already solid Far Cry fundamentals under it, Far Cry 5 is shaping up to be another great entry into the series. We’ll be heading down to Hope County, Montana on February 27th, 2018.

We had Just Dance and Steep news as well, but all of the big announcements above were eclipsed by a single trailer at the end of the show for the long awaited sequel to Beyond Good and Evil. After the cinematic trailer, showing a very different tone to the classic game, a teary Michel Ancel took the stage to a round of applause, thanking everyone for their patience.

It gave a bit of heart to a solid conference from Ubisoft, which was probably the best of the publisher conferences and a great demonstration of Ubi’s move into new IPs.

X Gon’ Deliver: A Recap of Microsoft’s Xbox E3 2017 Briefing

A new console usually brings with it unfounded grandstanding, a lot of hypothetical scenarios but little on day-to-day life with this new box. And in a year where Microsoft’s big tentpoles, Gears of War and Halo, are still being developed and where the platform partnerships seem to be going Sony’s way, you’d think that this would be the Scorpio Power Hour. Yes, we got some of that and more mentions of 4K than pixels in a 4K monitor, but this year’s Xbox Briefing somehow had even more game announcements.

Starting with the showstopper, the Xbox One X (formerly Project Scorpio) is the previously advertised hyper-powered version of the Xbox One, featuring a 6 teraflop GPU, 12GB of GDDR5 graphic memory and a vapour cooler; this is all in a form factor that is smaller than the Xbox One S. Ultimately, this will result in 4K performance for new games and upgraded graphical performance for existing ones. For non 4K TV owners, the Xbox One X will supersample and scale down for 1080p televisions.

This is admirable, but it is retailing for $649 in a world where the Playstation 4 Pro has failed to justify its existence even at $529; odds are this will be even lower come the Xbox One X’s launch on 7 November. At least the console isn’t mandatory; Xbox One games will still function throughout the ‘Xbox One family’ of consoles, as will backwards compatibility for the original Xbox. On top of this, Microsoft is still proceeding with Windows 10 and the Play Anywhere initiative.

Taking advantage of this is the newly announced Forza Motorsport 7. Perhaps to distract us from the inevitably iterative nature of Forza Motorsport games, Microsoft had on stage the world premiere of the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, which will feature in the game alongside dynamic weather and puddles all at 4K and 60fps. Forza Motorsport 7 will be released on 3 October.

Making similar debuts on Microsoft’s stage were Metro Exodus, which appears to have a more open setting than previous Metro titles, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This time set in Ancient Egypt, AC Origins looks to have taken many lessons from Ghost Recon: Wildlands and The Division, featuring an eagle that can be used to tag enemies as well as heavier RPG elements — right down to a “LEVEL UP” prompt.

The Xbox is also catching up with the battle royale trend. Brendan Greene, who you may know better as Playerunknown, went on stage to announce that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is coming to Xbox One as a timed exclusive. Right alongside this was The Darwin Project, a much more cartoony take on the battle royale genre, right down to the “Chief Shoutcaster” used to commentate the action. Both games will appear to benefit from Mixer, Microsoft’s in-house streaming service.

Amongst blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trailers for Dragon Ball FighterZ (Dragon Ball meets Guilty Gear Xrd), Cuphead (which finally has a release date of 29 September), Black Desert Online, Tacoma and The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti, we also got a quick look at Crackdown 3, introduced to us by a very bombastic and very enjoyable Terry Crews. Crackdown 3 will be released on 7 November; Microsoft hasn’t confirmed if it will come with a Halo 6 beta key for old time’s sake.

That trailer sat rather awkwardly between the indies of this year’s Xbox conference. Aside from the usual ID @ Xbox montage, we also received confirmation of Life is Strange: Before the Storm (a 3-part prequel to LiS which will come out starting from 31 August) and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, introduced with a live piano performance to reinforce the series’ beautiful earnestness.

Xbox may no longer house the Call of Duty announcement, but this year it made up for it by bringing Monolith Productions on stage to show off Middle-earth: Shadow of War. It will double down on the Nemesis System from the first game by allowing you to recruit orc leaders and set your army of orcs against another. Shadow of War will also deepen the characterisation of its orcs as shown with Brûz, a talkative orc from the Australian part of Mordor. Shadow of War will come out on 10 October.

After its debut back at E3 2015, we finally got a closer look at Rare’s next game Sea of Thieves. Back then, all we saw were the ship battles with little direction of what else would be on offer. The 9-minute trailer shown off today paints the game as Destiny with pirates, incorporating blunderbuss gunplay and co-operative treasure hunting; at least Rare has stepped back from the influencer-heavy delivery from last time.

Finally, after being teased yesterday at EA Play, we got our first look at Bioware’s new game Anthem. I say new, but Anthem’s inspirations are plain for all to see. Donning exosuits similar to Warframe, you and a party of players will go on quests not dissimilar to Destiny battling beasts borrowed from Xenoblade Chronicles X and giant robots that wouldn’t be out of place in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Even the awkward player banter is lifted from Ubisoft’s presentations.

Having said that, this is only a small sample of what Anthem could offer. We’ve yet to see the game’s other gameplay beats or anything of that famous Bioware lore. And as we’ve learned with games like Dead Cells, a game can still be stellar if it incorporates its source material intelligently. We will find out much more about Anthem prior to its 2018 release.

It’s ultimately unsurprising that the Xbox One X itself took up so little of this event; $649 is a very expensive proposition for a half-step console, and it’s a case that even Microsoft isn’t particularly interested in pushing. It’s learned from the original Xbox One announcement that you can’t hang your hat on the box, that you have to focus on the games; and despite the absence of the tentpoles, with games like Metro Exodus, Anthem and the Ori sequel, Microsoft at least delivered.

A Strain of Influencers: EA Play at E3 2017

Around this time every year, EA likes to remind us that it does things differently to the rest of the industry; just look at last year’s Los Angeles-London show and the developer-centric show from years before. This time around, EA continued to defy expectation with its EA Play event, and like last year it was a combination of promising and punishing.

Where EA has previously been very friendly with influencers and content creators, this year saw EA entirely embracing them. Not only did CEO Andrew Wilson’s opening speech give plenty of lip service to the greater community, content creators were a major theme of the event. This was an event where a DICE LA producer uttered the words “Creative Cave” without irony as he talked about upcoming updates to Battlefield 1.

This went both ways. Having podcasters like Men in Blazers talking FIFA 18 came across well, with plenty of charisma and entertainment. This wasn’t the case with PrankVsPrank’s Jesse Wellens. His introduction for Need for Speed Payback made for E3 2017’s first moment of pure cringe. I’m still not sure what was worse: Jesse Wellens or EA boasting about bringing in players for Star Wars Battlefront II playtesting and dubbing them the Game Changers.

Speaking of, Star Wars Battlefront II saw the bulk of EA’s press conference. It was one of the few bright spots of the event, heightened by the presence of actor Janina Gavankar (The League, Far Cry 4), who plays Commander Iden Versio in the single player campaign.

Gavankar’s charismatic performance and passion for games (if her Twitter account is any indication) was on show as she announced Battlefront II’s approach to DLC. The game will feature themed seasonal content, with heroes, maps and modes added for free. The first season was confirmed to focus around The Last Jedi, with actor John Boyega making a surprise appearance to confirm Finn and Captain Phasma will be in Battlefront II.

Passion was what drove Josef Fares, creator of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, to establish Hazelight, a studio dedicated to telling stories whilst also pushing the boundaries of gameplay. After being teased at The Game Awards back in 2014, Fares formally announced A Way Out, the second title published under the EA Originals label. The first EA Original, Fe, didn’t receive any updates this year.

A Way Out is a co-op game featuring two prisoners, Leo and Vincent, aiming to escape captivity, re-enter the world and follow up on some loose ends. Fares intends for players to experience this game in person, though online play was confirmed. As far as the co-op goes, both characters will have different perspectives and objectives; one scenario saw Vincent prisoner playing distration whilst Leo stole a laundry cart.

Unlike last year, the EA Originals game wasn’t the only new game to debut at EA’s press conference. EA Vice President Patrick Söderlund took the stage to talk about EA’s future. He first announced the Search For Extraordinary Experiences Division, or SEED, a forward thinking team at EA looking at concepts like machine learning or AI to enhance its games. Then out of nowhere, Söderlund surprised everyone with a teaser for Bioware’s newest IP,  Anthem. With more set to be a part of Microsoft’s press conference, it looks unlike anything Bioware has done to date.

EA’s roster of sporting titles is getting a major single-player push. Following in the footsteps of last year’s FIFA, Madden 18 will feature a story mode called “The Longshot”. FIFA 18 will continue the story of Alex Hunter in “The Journey: Hunter Returns”. NBA Live 18 will feature The One, a career mode where you define your legacy across street basketball, pro-am and eventually the NBA.

After its reveal a few weeks ago, Need for Speed: Payback saw its first gameplay footage, with executive producer Marcus Nilsson describing it as an action driving fantasy. We saw a set piece involving a dramatic truck chase that concluded with the players cornered by the police. While the game looked fine enough, it’s hard to watch the crashes and takedowns without thinking of a certain scrapped EA racing franchise…

EA kicked off E3 2017 with a more daring presentation than last year. Anthem and A Way Out look set to be fascinating games to watch, and the doubling down on single player modes in its sports games is an interesting approach. My one suggestion for next year would be to feature less influencers and lessen their prominence. If it means more interesting announcements, then it would be an acceptable sacrifice.

Hold The Line: Thoughts On Switch Online and Nintendo’s Online Heritage

With days until E3 2017, Nintendo re-announced its paid online suite for the Switch, clarifying details in newspaper interviews and press conferences.

There are three big takeaways from the announcement: The service will cost $AU29.95 for a yearly subscription; You’ll be able to pay for the service in 2018, with 2017 remaining free for all users; and finally, Nintendo is offering a library of classic games featuring online enhancements.

And yet I’m still not sold on what Nintendo is offering.

Nintendo now charging for online functionality raises a certain level of expectation on the service. A lot of where Nintendo’s pitch hangs in the balance is how they treat the library of classic games. An on-demand library of games from Nintendo’s back catalogue is undeniably appealing. Couple that with the low monthly fee, and this is almost a no-brainer to me.

My biggest worry is the execution. Nintendo has a long and storied history of treating their past with a disdain and apathy. I loved the idea of the Virtual Console, but it has always been problematic. Every iteration of the service has had its share of issues and they’ve all been baffling.

The 3DS is a prime example of Nintendo’s questionable Virtual Console practices at their worst. Despite adding Nintendo Network support, Virtual Console purchases weren’t unified between systems. If you wanted the luxury of playing games like Urban Champion on the go, but also wanted to play it at home, you’d have to pay twice.

The same goes with SNES games, and that’s not getting into it being a feature exclusive to the New 3DS. It was so ridiculous that it was a constant worry every time I purchased a Virtual Console game — where do I play it on?

As far as the rest of the offerings Nintendo are aiming to add with their paid online, I could care less about the smartphone app to chat with my friends. I’ve got Discord for that. Just the promise of an on-demand library of Nintendo games, accessible for $30 a year, would more than justify the existence of the paid tier to me. I’m also praying that because it’s a paid service, everything about it will be clear and easy to use.

There’s plenty of reason to be doubtful of Nintendo doing right by its back catalogue. The fact that it’s confident enough in the service to justify annual payments speaks some volumes. But then again we all said that about the previous iterations of the Virtual Console.