As the show began, viewers at home were surprised by a very energetic and dancing panda. He was surrounded by a British Queen’s Guard style jazz troupe and exotic dancers. Plenty of cultural mixing went down in a dance sequence that likely had many confused for a moment. What was this lavish starting flourish for? It all seemed a bit much but there was no denying the “must be done in one take” combination of dance and live music was flawless and entertaining to boot. With no following discussion, we were simply made aware that another Just Dance game would be arriving sometime in 2019
Beyond Good & Evil 2
Next up, we were spoiled with a lengthy Beyond Good & Evil 2 trailer. It was honestly a joy to see the characters we’ve gotten to know over what few snippets Creative Director, Michel Ancel had let out prior. Although, after a year of contemplation on the matter, murmurs were finally quited by an uproar of applause. Not only is Uncle Pay’j confirmed for Beyond Good & Evil 2 but so is Jade… She appears to be an antagonist and things just got real juicy. On top of this, we got the most thorough exploration of world design as we explored Ghanesha City in all its glory. The game is looking so visually crisp, it’s incredibly to think this will be available on the current generation. It’s unclear if this epic trailer we saw today will be a part of the final game’s story. However, it was less brash this time around and more witty. It had more personality to it which was a big relief to me, proving Beyond Good & Evil 2 had not lost its roots after all.
We were also told yet again about the Space Monkey Program. A program where fans can get involved in the creative process of how Beyond Good & Evil 2 is built. To that end, Ubisoft have taken things a step further with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Hit Record initiative. Leveraging his penchant for bringing communities together to create something, Gordon-Levitt came on stage to invite creatives around the world to get involved at hitrecord.org. Anything can be contributed from street art for Ghanesha City, to writing for found documents to homemade musical pieces.
Rainbow Six: Siege
Next came a talk on Rainbow Six: Siege. In another of my recent articles that discussed how Ubisoft could be the organisation to remove the stigma surrounding “games as a service”, I discussed how Siege suffered a lot in its early days, with poor player counts. Justin Kreuger, Community Manager for Siege, came on stage to explain its player count is now at thirty five million. This is an incredible feat to have achieved. It just continues to prove that Ubisoft never abandons its games. It sticks with them and drags them out of the mud if need be.
He also went on to discuss tons of incoming free content for Siege players from now and throughout the course of 2019, including 10 competitive seasons, three free DLC packs and an ever growing presence in the world of E-Sports. In closing, he left us with a trailer for “Another Mindset,” focusing on the trials and tribulations of today’s Siege E-Sports players.
Following Siege was, well… a crazy bearded man on a bike riding through the audience. This audacious chap got on the stage and smashed into the podium, wrecking a monitor and the podium with it. It was hilarious, if a little forced. He stood up and cracked a joke about crashing hard and getting back up again in Trials Rising. After the trailer, his colleague, Brad Hill explains a stronger focus on community with this iteration of Trials. He would be heading a YouTube project called Trials University. This would be his answer to many players giving up on later levels of previous games due to the difficulty. In his videos, he will guiding players through to pro stage to help them complete the game and find the satisfaction they seek.
Trials Rising is set for release on all platforms, including the Switch in February of 2019.
The Division 2
When Creative Director for The Division 2 stepped on stage to explain his latest game, I sat a little cynically, hearing his words. He would describe a game world where America had seen the last of the virus that wracked the last game. An America that was struggling desperately to rebuild amid the chaos. It was wonderfully delivered and spoken with passion but he could have easily said a majority of the same things about the first game. I was getting worried at this potential red flag. However, after the admittedly impressive trailer that gave off Walking Dead style communes of safety vibes, he dug a little deeper into what’s new in The Division 2. It will now have classes, of which there are three (judging from what I saw on the screen behind him). Each of these classes will have separate skill trees of their own. This design is supposed to compliment tactical play in co-op parties of as much as eight. To have co-op parties of such a size is rare treat these days as even Warframe only allows for four. Better still, The Division 2 will have end game content in the form of raids to push the most experienced players to their limits.
It would seem the games industry has learned a hard lesson after the dramas of last year’s Battlefront 2. We do not like over-use of monetisation and the whiplash effect of this is taking shape. Not only is all of The Siege’s ongoing content free but so is The Division 2’s. Each of its three incoming DLCs will be free, offering new story, locations and missions. Finally, we’re told The Division 2 will release March 15th, 2019.
Mario And Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure
Last year it was surprising and even a little odd to see Yves Guillemot on stage with Mr. Myamoto (one of the co-directors at Nintendo). The heads of Ubisoft and Nintendo standing next to one another on stage is probably a sight we should get used to seeing. It happened again this year as (deep breath) Mario And Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure DLC was revealed. It looks like Yves has a lot to thank his quirky Rabbids (pointedly Michel Ancel) as they appear to have opened up an ongoing franchise of Ubi-Nintendo crossovers. As a live musical performance took place to the game’s trailer, I couldn’t help feeling there’s going to be another tie in announced in the coming months.
Skull And Bones
We’ve seen a little of Skull And Bones in the past but this was a truly fleshed out reveal experience. A brilliantly brutal and atmospheric trailer to set the mood, followed by a lengthy gameplay presentation. Skull And Bones is without a doubt inspired by the concept of naval gameplay originally found way back in Assassin’s Creed 3 and later fleshed out in Black Flag. Imagine Skull And Bones as an expansion for Black Flag but it is a full retail title, dedicated to what many consider was the best part of Edward Kenway’s adventure. Many assets have clearly been borrowed like holding a button to dock / board enemy vessels. Although, weapon variants and upgrades look fantastic and I squealed like a little girl to see how we could customise our ships. Not just because customisation is fun but because we need to intimidate our enemies.
Justin Ferren of Ubisoft Singapore explains how you must “know your enemy.” A fortune teller in the game will explain weather conditions, for when you set sail for your target. A clear, sunny day means an easy catch but also that other pirate ships will be out there to contend with. These will not be A.I units but other players. They can team up with you to take down a shared foe. They can also turn on you if the booty is not shared. What worries me the most here is this business of “player encounters.” Sure there are systems in place to team up and work together. But if Sea of Thieves taught us anything, it’s that players just want to wreck each other’s day. The end result is a neglected game system that suffers off the back of unpredictable players, hungry to see another explosion and go home with a more successful grind session. Only time will tell. When that will be, we don’t know as no release date was discussed.
A totally new IP called Transference was introduced to us by Elijah Wood. That’s right, you read that correctly. He is co-founder of Spectre Vision and an avid gamer himself. He seeks to combine live action filming with a videogame experience to deliver Transference’s story. Not much was discussed in detail but the game does look interesting. Using a conventional screen or a VR setup, players will enter the consciousness of another man; a troubled man. Exploring these inner recesses of the mind and the memories within, player will need to solve puzzles to work through a disturbing horror experience. As someone who grew up partly on live action point and click titles, it’s nice to see an emerging trend for film in videogames.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas
Starlink may look like it’s just for kids with its cartoonish style and affixable toy-to-controller setup, but it could well draw an audience of all ages. From what we saw at this year’s E3, Starlink has spectacular production value. The writing and voice acting is top notch with a seemingly strong story to back it up. It appears to be exclusively a space flight sim to some degree, so boots on the ground fans need not apply. We’re told Starlink features strong upgrade systems for ships, pilots and gear. To top it off, Ubisoft’s partnership with Nintendo is on show yet again as the much loved Starfox is back, although he’s only available on the Switch release.
Starlink will arrive on all platforms November 16th.
Continuing support for their games that may not have killed it at launch, we are reintroduced to For Honor. It’s now available as a “starter pack” on Uplay for free. On top of this, the E3 stage was really used as a platform to announce the game’s Marching Fire DLC content. For Honor will also be updated with new single player content, four new heros from China and a new Castle Siege mode.
The Crew 2
Cheesy sports games are a dime a dozen. They always seem to come with an overly enthusiastic commentator doing his best to throw out all the hip language only the coolest kids use these days. The Crew 2 appears to be no exception, although there’s no denying just how fun it looks. A huge range of vehicles are on offer, with many variants of motorbikes, cars, airplanes and boats.
Keep a sharp eye on digital stores come June 21st, as this is when you’ll be able to grab The Crew 2 open beta to try it for yourself.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
After taking two years out to re-polish the gem, Ubisoft brought us Assassin’s Creed: Origins. With the impending arrival of Odyssey, it looks like we’re back on the yearly release schedule for Assassins titles. Sadly it shows as I spotted several recycled animations which visually dull the Assassins experience amidst the spectacular world building we’ve come to expect from the team. Naval warfare is back once again and, judging from the below gameplay trailer, it looks like a Black Flag approach is returning to Assassin’s Creed. That being – sailing from one hub to the next. This is a great thing as it worked wonders for Black Flag’s sense of pacing.
This time around, Odyssey is set in ancient Greece during the civil war between Spartans and Atheneans. It also appears that Leonidas’ broken spear will playing a mystical role and potentially replacing the hidden blade. Again, this would be a good thing as there’s no hard and fast rule to say a hidden blade should be in every Assassin’s game. I think a new way to stab people is needed. While the ancient Greek setting is a marvel to behold, Odyssey gives the impression that Ubisoft is beginning to care less about historical accuracy as we see insane statues littering the land, the glowy magical power of Leonidas’ spear and… a freaking Minotaur?! Really?
Voice acting is still on the weaker side of things but it’ll be interesting to see if the character selection will have an impact on the game’s narrative, potentially serving up some replay value.
Overall Conference Impressions
Voices around the internet are expressing disappointment with Ubisoft this year around. Although, I’d like to buck the trend. It was a solid conference with a good amount of game releases announced. That said, the Triple A release announcements were limited to just five of the twelve demonstrations and I was disappointed not to see Sam Fisher return. In the last year, in the deeper circles of games journalism, there has been a lot of discussion about the return of Splinter Cell. We haven’t had a Sam Fisher adventure since 2013 and he’s not even returned for this generation.
It's clear Ubisoft are on the up and up after coming out of the other side of Vivendi's hostile takeover. After The Division originally released, it would become Ubisoft's highest selling title in the history of the company. When the player base dropped, they stuck around and brought that player count back up. Not only are they applying this same loyal ethos to the fans of Siege and For Honor, but they're in cozy with Nintendo. Something tells me Ubisoft and Yves Guillemot will not have to fight for their own patch of digital land again for a long, long time.
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