E3 Week: My Highlights from the Ubisoft Press Conference

I feel like a lot the developers and publishers who exhibit at E3 kind of want to get out of this game. The “peddling their wares on a stage to the masses” game specifically. Nintendo got out a few years ago, as have Square Enix who I just got finished talking about. Ubisoft though. Oh, they want to keep this going strong and put on a show-ass-show.

I went into this one expecting a long sit. Ubisoft make a lot of games, of a wide array of genres, not all of them I care for. I expected a drawn out show with the classic Ubisoft Hallmarks such as an abundance of French Canadian accents and “totally natural” in game banter during their multiplayer focused games. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by what they had to say. Don’t get me wrong though, it was still a lot, so I’m only going to dig into the highlights on this one.

Just Dance 2019

Just to be clear, I’m not a fan of this series or anything. Don’t think I’ve ever played one. But Just Dance is a staple of the Ubisoft show at this point, and they decided to get this one started with a bang. Opening with a video segment of a high energy street dance, one which broke into the auditorium and concluded on stage.

They never showed the game. They never said the title out load. We just got a group of dancers and a Panda on stage mixing it up like they were on fire. I love that Ubisoft are still totally up for the E3 press conference experience. Throw as many things at the stage as possible, that way there’s more to go wrong. It’s not fun otherwise.

And fun is the word here, not about the game, but how Ubisoft intended to present themselves this show.

 

Beyond Good and Evil 2

We’re running out of games that refuse to come out, because so many of them are somehow, actually getting made now. It seems like Beyond Good and Evil 2 is starting to get pretty close to looking like a game that might come out at some point.

Ubisoft put some significant stage time into talking about this one, surprisingly. It started up with a brand new cinematic, pre-rendered trailer. And it’s gorgeous. There is this huge mix of science fiction design aesthetic and general weird stuff like shamans and anthropomorphic animals. This year has been one of my strongest E3s from a pure visuals standpoint.

So many games just look drop dead gorgeous, this one included. It’s got a hell of a lot of style.

After the trailer is over, we had some developers come out and give us some more information about what the game actually is. Like the original, it seems like it will be a third person, open world action game. In game looks just as pretty as the trailer. It shows the player character on foot, freely flying around the huge environment on a jetpack, then shows the ability to jump in a ship, fly around that way or even leave the atmosphere.

The scale seems crazy ambitious. In addition, the game has the ability to be played entirely in co-op apparently. I never played the first one, but I’m interested to see more of this when there is more to see. I like a lot of what is going on in this one.

The presentation wasn’t over yet though, they end the section by bringing out one of the co-founders of a company called Hit-Record; Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Wait, what?

It was at this point that they started asking fans to join their “Space Monkey Programme”, a collaboration project where fans can submit art, music or ideas towards the game. That seems cool and all, but at the same time it makes me wonder: This game still seems like a fair ways out, and you’re trying to crowd source content for it? It’s a bit worrisome.

After the fact, Gordon-Levitt clarified that contributors would be paid for their work, and regretted that that fact was omitted from the show itself. Still, it’s hard to decide where this is coming from. There is a lot to unpack here, in terms of both the game itself and the development around it.

 

Trials Rising

I like the idea of Trials more than actually playing the game itself. I dabbled with the idea of skipping talking about this one, but again, Ubisoft took a presentation that could have been kind of flat and forgettable and made me remember it. Some Finnish guy dressed as Evil Knievel starts riding down to the stage on a dirt bike and then does a pretty impressive stunt fall into a monitor.

The game itself. It looks like another Trials game. Although apparently it’s more of a back to basics game after the last one stepped away from the basic formula a little too much. There are some funny raggdolling effects, but it also looks like a game that would frustrate the hell out of me.

The other big nugget of information about the game I found cool though, was the fact that Ubisoft found their most passionate fans; Youtubers, map builders and tutorial makers, and went and offered them a job making this new one.

It’s cool that a passionate community around a game such as this can take the ball and just forge on forward. Who better to make the next iteration of a game than the talented community members and fans themselves. This feels like a better way of doing it than what Beyond Good and Evil 2 is doing because these people are physically present and, I assume, getting a wage for the job.

 

The Division 2

Ubisoft keep selling me on the Division 2. I was really middle of the road on that first one, and yet the more I see regarding the sequel, the more I feel the urge to play it.

For Ubisoft’s own showing of the game, we got a longer, more cinematic trailer. And boy did that paper aeroplane go a long way. Seriously, they don’t often gain elevation to that extreme extent. The trailer was pretty much cut from the same cloth as the first one for the first Division, showing a very pretty, destroyed cityscape.

With the trailer out of the way we actually got to learn some more about the game itself from the mouth of a developer. It seems like they’re going to increase the focus on its “endgame”, allowing players to pick a specialisation after they’ve finished the story. It’s not often games do this, but it makes sense. By this point you actually know your play style. So it feels like a much less arbitrary choice than just picking a class at the start would be

They also said we’ll be getting eight man parties in the game and that Raids were coming to the Division 2. Not only that, they announced their first year of expansions to the game, and added that they’d be free to all players.

This really feels like they’re gunning for the disillusioned Destiny crowd with these announcements. And while I’m in a positive place with Destiny right now, I’m still super interested in the Division 2.

 

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure

As if this title wasn’t already a mouthful enough. This is yet one more example of Ubisoft really giving some showmanship to what could have been a pretty forgettable feature on their conference. For the Donkey Kong story add-on to Ubisoft’s first Mario game, they brought out Grand Kirkhope himself with a live band to create musical accompaniment the trailer they showed on screen.

It’s one of the highlights of the briefing, and it’s for a game I’m 99% not going to play.

 

Skull & Bones

I feel like this game got overshadowed somewhat by having the misfortune of being revealed during the same E3 as Sea of Thieves; a game that was far more creative in concept, despite ultimately not having the content to back it up when it came out.

I love the look of this game. The detail and style of all the different ships that you captain or battle against is so granular. While these impressive navel battles were going on, I couldn’t draw my eye away from the bones laced into the ship’s wheel or the ornate skull patterns over the ship’s stern.

The game itself looks fine, it’s a much deeper dive into the sea battles from Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, it’s the whole game’s aesthetic that grabbed me. The pirate look is cool, it’ll help this game go far.

I don’t mean to sound cynical here, but this really feels like a game born of Ubisoft’s intense market research efforts. I remember filling in a questionnaire shortly after Black Flag which featured questions including “would you like a game more focused on ship combat” and “would you play a pirate focused new IP?”. Plus, it has the betrayal system from The Division. Still think it’ll do well, but you could really see the gears that got this one going.

 

Starlink: Battle for Atlas

I could actually witness the small journey  the audience went on with this game, because I did the exact same thing as most people who watched this segment. When this one started, it felt kind of throw away. It’s a science fiction star ship dog fighting game with a toys-to-life mechanic to it. It feels like Ubisoft are a little late to this particular party as many companies have abandoned the real toy element to these kinds of games.

Then they did something totally out of left field. They put Starfox in it. In hindsight, this game does look like it owes a lot to the original Starfox games, so of course, with their new relationship with Nintendo, they’d do this crossover. Plus, Nintendo sure as hell don’t know what to do with that series.

With the appearance of Shigeru Miyamoto to stand and smile at the audience, suddenly everyone’s interest in the game skyrocketed. It was an amazingly fast turnaround of opinion thanks to a pretty stellar piece of marketing from Ubisoft here. Still not going to play it though. I just suddenly hope it does well for them… Weird that.

 

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

And Ubisoft close out their show with their biggest property. I thought Assassin’s Creed Origins was a phenomenal reboot of the series after it took a year off. With it’s success, I hoped that they would bring Assassin’s to a two year release cycle rather than the annual titles that burned us out on the games in the first place.

But alas, it seems like we’re back to getting an Assassin’s Creed every year. Weirdly enough, this game is set hundreds of years prior to Origins; the game that told how the Assassin’s Brotherhood actually formed… So it’s going to be pretty light on the assassin aspect of the game in favour of playing a Spartan? You pick between one of two characters to play through the game as. They make out that this is a significant choice, but with a game of this scale, I know that’s not the case.

I played, Mass Effect Andromeda. If anything it makes your writing more awkward as many characters need to react to the player without specifically mentioning their gender.

They push the fact that they’re introducing dialogue options and a greater element of choice into the game, something they’ve lacked in the past. Doubling down on the RPG aspect of the game that introduced with Origins. They cart out the “choices have consequences” line, which we’ve heard said a lot this year, and something I always take with a huge grain of salt.

I’m kind of bummed this doesn’t continue the story of Beyek and Aya, they were fantastic protagonists that were part of the reason I was so drawn into the last game.

Otherwise, looking at footage of this game, it looks almost exactly like Origins. That’s more of a positive statement than a negative one though. Origins was a visually stunning game; bright, colourful and a joy to explore. Based on what I see here, Odyssey looks just as gorgeous.

The downside to this is that Ubisoft risk causing Assassin’s Creed burnout almost right away with the second game since their reboot. It’s the reason they had to reboot the series in the first place, because they released to many games in quick succession that changed very little as they went.

Odyssey looks and plays incredibly similarly to last year’s game. Personally, I’d have been happier with a 2019 release date, but after saying Origins was my third favourite game of last year, I suppose I should give them the benefit of the doubt.

 

My verdict on Ubisoft’s 2018 E3 Press Conference

They sure as hell put on a show didn’t they. Ubisoft seems like the last company at E3 that “gets” it. In some respect, the show is about the memorable things that go wrong, and how much weird you can push to make your minor announcements more memorable. Sure you risk having the game itself overshadowed by the meme is creates (see. Giant enemy crab), but that’s the fun.

In terms of games, Ubisoft didn’t have anything overly surprising to show. Given, most of their announcements were spoiled by rampant leaks leading up to the show. But there was a consistency throughout. They knew how and when they needed the extra kick to their show to push the less exciting games, but gave quality time to the games people wanted to see. There were titles here I didn’t even get into that I know have significant fan followings.

It was damn good showing from Ubisoft and there a lot of games here I’ve got my eye on.

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