Being Earnest: A Recap of the Ubisoft E3 2018 Conference

Ubisoft is one of the few gaming monoliths that can still surprise us. Who would’ve thought that Assassin’s Creed: Origins would mark the franchise’s return to form? Who could’ve predicted  the critical successes of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle? This was reflected in previous years through Ubisoft’s E3 presentations, which were always the most interesting and unpredictable, backed by an sincerity unmatched by any other company. It’s curious, then, to see Ubisoft pump the brakes with this year’s showing.

Beyond Good and Evil 2 closed off last year’s show, so it’s fitting that it first on deck this year…well, first after the obligatory Just Dance choreographed sequence. Set before the events of the first BG&E, this instalment will feature the characters from last year’s debut trailer as well as the original’s Pey’j and a (possibly evil) Jade. What little gameplay we did see appeared to mimic the story’s space opera sensibilities, ranging from on the ground melee to space combat.

Inexplicably, the game will also be collaborating with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s HitRecord to allow people to submit artwork and music to potentially be used in the game. If an entry is selected, its creator will be allocated a portion of a US$50,000 pool . If that reads like crowdsourcing for a AAA game from a company that made just under €1.5 billion in revenue last year, you’re not wrong.

Trials Rising then literally crashed onto the stage, with creative director Antti Ilvessuo riding a dirtbike into the theatre before pratfalling through some on-stage furniture. The game appears to be a return to the Trials Evolution aesthetic, with the added benefit of tutorials created by Australia’s Own Brad ‘FatShady’ Hill. Trials Rising will be released in February 2019 alongside almost every other video game ever.

Ubisoft has formed the habit of providing support and roadmaps for its multiplayer titles, and we got a look at some of those plans today. The Division 2, fresh off its debut on the Microsoft stage, will be receiving three DLC episodes in its first year — all free. The medieval mashup For Honor will introduce Ancient Chinese fighters with the Marching Fire expansion, as well as a castle siege mode called Breach. And Rainbow 6 Siege, the poster child of Ubisoft’s game as a service approach, will have marquee competitive tournaments added to the currently scheduled Majors.

Last year’s Ubisoft show introduced us to a trio of titles which we’ve heard little more about until today. If you’re a Yale graduate, you would’ve left the room during the Skull and Bones presentation. Expanding on what was teased last year, you will be sailing the seas in a shared online world; you can take on rival ships or group up to take down a warship. The RPG elements are very present, with levelling and the ability to customise your ship and weapons loadout. No release date was confirmed.

Elijah Wood came on stage to remind us of Transference, the psychological thriller collaboration between Ubisoft and Woods’ SpectreVision studio. We then got another look at the space adventure Starlink: The Battle for Atlas. The game carries a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, aided by a toys-to-life component. The game will be released on all consoles on 26 October, though the Switch version will exclusively feature a cameo from none other than Starfox. Naturally, Shigeru Miyamoto was present to receive a present from the Starlink development team.

Finally, to nobody’s surprise, Ubisoft showed off Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Set in Ancient Greece, the game will allow you to play as one of two protagonists: Alexios or Kassandra. Expanding on the template laid out by Assassin’s Creed Origins, the gameplay demo showed off larger scale combat, more dialogue choices and even romance options. And of course there’s the 300 Sparta Kick. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey will come out on 5 October.

Thus marked the end of a surprisingly sedate Ubisoft E3 conference. Though pre-E3 leaks spoiled some of the surprise, this was a show that played it safe, relying on the foundations set by the games announced last year and released before that. That said, this year’s showing wasn’t completely divorced from that of Ubisoft past: Developers still presented their projects with a deep passion (and whooped backstage, unaware their microphones were still on) and we know the company will back these games for years to come. The trademark Ubisoft earnestness is still present, just not in the shape it took in previous years.