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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

E3 2016 Roundup - The Calm After the Storm

It has now been three years since the E3 that rocked the gaming space into a rollercoaster ride that has continued throughout the years since. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One to extreme criticism and Sony the PS4 to extremely positive critical reception. In 2013, the third parties didn't matter. It was all about Xbox vs PS4—and more specifically, how Sony's press conference virtually trounced Microsoft's in every possible way. Harsh, but true. Cue E3 2014, and not much changed. Microsoft decided to play it safe with their press conference and came out looking sheepish for it while Sony steamrolled onward, riding on the market success of the PS4 as a direct result of the previous year's event. And need I even remind you of E3 2015? While Microsoft came back strong with a new controller and backwards compatibility, it's hard to beat a Final Fantasy VII remake, Shenmue 3, and The Last Guardian all making an appearance at once.

But something else happened at E3 2015 besides the ongoing Xbox vs PS4 battle. And this year, for better or worse it appears to have taken center stage. And while it may not be the most exciting press conference material, it just might also be the best thing for gamers themselves.

Because you see, E3 2015 wasn't just about consoles. Oculus showed up to talk about consumer virtual reality. Bethesda showed up to talk about everything from reviving old IPs like Doom to releasing a massively successful mobile spinoff game on the spot. EA and Ubisoft both brought heavy-hitters with Star Wars Battlefront and The Division. Even many of the best games from Microsoft's and Sony's press conferences weren't first-party offerings.

With new console hardware out and maturing, the rise of the third party had begun. And at E3 2016, the show was theirs entirely. Sure, Microsoft revealed a smaller Xbox One and a more powerful version of the console set to release next year, but those were the odd ducks at this year's conference—almost out of place among announcements for games just now getting at home with generation eight.

And this year there were a lot of them. For a full roundup of stage presentation bullet points, check out the list and live stream archives below.

Day 1 - EA and Bethesda


Unlike previous years, EA decided to start E3 off this time around, and to do it with a bang. Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, and Mass Effect: Andromeda are poised to be not only EA's biggest games over the coming year, but genuine hits with gamers as well. And let's not forget about their exclusivity deal with Disney. The Star Wars hype machine is churning along nicely, and while they didn't have much to show for it yet, anyone disappointed in the shallow scope of Battlefront should take hope in what's to come. I mean, come on, X-Wings in VR!

EA's full E3 press conference lineup:
  • Titanfall 2
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda
  • Madden NFL 2017
  • FIFA 17
  • FE
  • Star Wars Upcoming Projects
  • Battlefield 1


Next, Bethesda Softworks made a return for their second E3 press conference, literally continuing what last year started in pretty much every way. Quake is coming back as a fast-paced PC multiplayer arena shooter, Skyrim is getting a remaster (free for PC players who own the original game, by the way), and all the games from last year are getting the updates and expansions you'd expect. Prey is getting a psychological thriller reboot, and Dishonored 2 is coming along nicely. If you're catching the theme here, it's that there's not really anything truly new coming out from Bethesda, but if their games are your thing, that's probably exactly what you want to hear. Keeping old franchises going strong seems to be what Bethesda does best.

Bethesda's full E3 press conference lineup:
  • Quake Champions
  • Elder Scrolls Legends
  • Fallout 4 Contraption and NukaWorld DLC
  • Fallout Shelter Update
  • Skyrim Special Edition
  • Prey
  • Doom Unto the Evil DLC
  • Dishonored 2

Day 2 - Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Sony


For the past three years Microsoft has had something of a troubled presence at E3, but not this year. Under the leadership of Phil Spencer the Xbox brand is thriving...and evolving into something completely new. As the brand detaches itself from a single set of hardware, it's gradually becoming more and more PC-like, going back to Microsoft's roots and bringing gaming with it in some really interesting ways. From embracing Windows 10 as a gaming platform to building a more powerful Xbox One, the future for Microsoft is as bold as it is bright—and that doesn't only apply to hardware. Sure, on the gaming front we saw the old favorites like Forza and Gears of War, but we also got a look at more eastern games like Recore and Final Fantasy XV, cartoonish titles like Sea of Thieves, and grand epics like Scalebound. It may feel like it's getting a late start, but don't count the Xbox One out yet.

Microsoft's full E3 press conference lineup:
  • Xbox One S
  • Gears of War 4
  • Battlefield 1
  • Forza Horizon 3
  • Recore
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Minecraft Update
  • Killer Instinct
  • The Division: Underground Expansion
  • Inside
  • We Happy Few
  • Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
  • Tekken 7
  • Dead Rising 4
  • Scalebound
  • Sea of Thieves
  • State of Decay 2
  • Halo Wars 2
  • Xbox Play Anywhere
  • Xbox Design Lab
  • Project Scorpio


Contrary to popular belief, not all gaming journalists enjoy E3 press conferences, and Ubisoft pretty much embodies the reasons why. Completely out-of-place dance routines, painful keynote speakers, and no reason to trust that what we see on display is what we'll actually get as finished products—such is the nature of Ubisoft press conferences, and rather than combat any of it, they've decided to just embrace it and run with the shtick. But hey, at least more Trials is good, and Eagle Flight and Star Trek: Bridge Crew show a very promising dedication to VR from a major publisher. But beyond that, don't buy into the hype until reviews are out, and for goodness sake, don't preorder anything. Fool me once, shame on Ubisoft, fool me twice...well, you know how it goes.

Ubisoft's full E3 press conference lineup:
  • Just Dance 2017
  • Ghost Recon Wildlands
  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole
  • The Division: Underground and Survival DLC
  • Eagle Flight
  • Star Trek: Bridge Crew
  • For Honor
  • Trials of the Blood Dragon
  • Grow Up
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Steep


It was bound to happen eventually, and this year was finally it: Sony is just clean out of killer surprises for a while. But that's not a knock against Sony. Delivering three years of killer E3 press conferences is more than I expected anyone to be able to pull off, but now the inevitable 'pale by comparison' effect kicks in. The sad part? It didn't have to, really. Sony has a wildly diverse range of gaming experiences coming out for Playstation over the next year, but judging by their showcase alone you'd be forgiven for thinking that third-person action is the only genre available on the console in 2016. God of War, Days Gone, and Horizon: Zero Dawn all have their differences of course, but shown together come off looking very much the same. Other types of games were present as well, but were mostly either rushed through or merely teased for the future. Even Crash Bandicoot got only a mention and some Skylanders DLC. It was a very strange event for Sony, neglecting their usual diverse appeal for a subjectively less exciting approach, but major points to them as always for having the classiest event at E3. I highly doubt anyone's going to top a live orchestra and choir anytime soon.

Sony's full E3 press conference lineup:
  • God of War
  • Days Gone
  • The Last Guardian
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn
  • Detroit
  • Resident Evil VII
  • Farpoint
  • Star Wars Battlefront VR
  • Batman Arkham VR
  • Final Fantasy XV VR Experience
  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered
  • Crash Bandicoot series remasters
  • Skylanders Imaginators
  • Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Death Stranding
  • Spiderman

Who won E3 2016? We did.

And there you have it: everything there was to see on-stage at E3 2016 in a nutshell. No rollercoasters, no fireworks, no console wars, just a lot of games we expected to see and a few we didn't. Either way, it's not the surprise factor that matters: what counts is that in a few months gamers are going to have their hands full with some of the best content to come out so far this generation, and some new hardware on the side. This year, it doesn't matter much whether you're an Xbox or Playstation fan or even a hardcore PC gamer—and that's the way it should be. Regardless of your platform of choice, developers are working hard to pump out another year of great new content, and that was the crux of E3 2016.

So kick back, relax, and enjoy a game or two. The console war is over. Gamers won.