Industry Insights Reflective Reviews

E3 Reviews

It’s been a week since E3 and I’ve been going over my notes to finally put together my review of the games, besides Hero’s Journey, that I had a chance to look at.

This was my first experience at E3 and while it was a lot of fun it was also very tiring, I think my feet started proceedings to disown me on Thursday, and loud. I understand that they had some strict noise policies in place and this year they were enforcing them but still, when you’ve got 100’s of games playing at even normal volume the din can be overwhelming. I heard that the NCSoft booth got fined for one of their bands being to loud and I can believe it, lets just say that watching someone playing Aion on a system 10 feet from the stage is NOT where you want to be when the drummers started up.

The demise of the booth babe was also overly exaggerated, they were still out in force and there were still lines of gamers lined up to get their picture taken with them…kind of sad really. There were also quite a few women gamers/developers there too which just goes to show it’s not strictly a “boy’s game” anymore – a good thing if you ask me.

And now on with the reviews…

I didn’t get to see the Wii or any of the games for it that were being shown in the Nintendo booth, I wasn’t going to stand in line for 3 hours for anything much less a console. I was also told that Spore was being shown behind closed doors to press only so I didn’t bother trying to see it, I’ve since found that anyone could get in if they were willing to wait in line…that one I might have waited for had I known.

So lets start with the console wars.

As I said didn’t get to see the Wii but I did see the lines and I did talk to several people that managed to get in. From all of the reports it looks like Nintendo might have a winner, especially for the “average” gamers and for attracting new people to the hobby. A lot of the gaming bloggers are kind of dismissing it saying it won’t compete with the XBox 360 or the PS3 but I think it has the potential to put Nintendo back on top, or at least near the top. There are only 2 flaws with it as far as I can tell. Lack of support for HD, especially a digital output, this is only going to be an issue long term and might be correctable by an add-on later. The bigger issue is no DVD play back, not HD-DVD or BluRay but plain old DVD’s. I think at the $200 price point being rumored they could throw in standard DVD playback no problem and it would help sell more units. If they can create some sort of add-on that will play DVD’s, or better yet an upscaling DVD player, then they’ll definatly have a winner. I don’t think that the whole HD revolution is that big a deal, but that’s for another article.

I did get a chance to see the PlayStation killer, and it’s the PS3, this console could end Sony’s domination of the console market, at least in the U.S. At $500 it’s a very expensive game console and Sony claiming that it’s cheap for a BluRay player doesn’t work for that unit since it’s missing the HDMI output that will allow you to play flagged movies at full 1080p. At $600 you get all the features but when you remember that you’re probably going to have to by at least 1 more controller, probably a video cable of some sort, and a couple of games you’re pushing $1000 which is a large chunk of change for most people. The price combined with only having 2 real exclusive franchises at launch, Final Fantasy 13 and the new Metal Gear, probably means poor sales. I’ve seen plenty of reports of people that had been waiting for Sony to announce pricing or launch titles before deciding whether to go for the 360 or the PS3 and many of them have already headed to the store to pickup the 360. It’s out now, it has most of the major titles they’re intrested in along with some nice exclusives coming and it’s cheaper. Sure it doesn’t play 1080p but I hate to break it to Sony, the average user can’t tell much difference, heck I’ve heard from numerous sources that the Gears of War demo that Microsoft had at their press conference was the most visually stunning game they’d seen and that wasn’t shown at HD resolutions. I had a look at Gran Tourismo HD – basically GT4 reworked to 1080p – and it looked good but it didn’t really better than the latest Project Gotham… especially not a $600 console worth of better. The other game I got to play with was Warhawks, which uses the new “DualShake” controllers motion sensor stuff. The controller made the game play slightly more immersive than using the dual analog sticks but it was still kind of clunky…not surprising since the devs said they added it in less than a week before the show. For all their touting “full HD” the game, to my unpracticed eyes at least, didn’t look that much better than a current gen XBox title and the gameplay was a typical 3rd person action flyer which isn’t a genre that screams launch title to me.

On the XBox front there wasn’t a lot of new info specific to the console, the Gears of War demo looked impressive as did a few of the other upcoming titles but nothing to make me want to rush out and buy one. The big news as far as I’m concerned was the Live Everywhere…or is it Anywhere, either way. Tying XBox live into the PC is going to be very cool and it might actually be a reason for a lot of us PC gamers to upgrade to Vista, something I hadn’t really seen a reason to do yet. I also liked the idea of tying it to cell phones so you could pay for a game like Zuma once and play it across all 3 systems. That and the idea of doing things like allowing you to customize a car on your cell phone or mobile device and then make that available in Forza on your console sounds really cool. The whole putting stuff that works well on the cell phone to keep people engaged in your game world is an interesting concept to me.

And now for the games.

I had a list I made before the show so I’ll just go down that list.

  • Dark Messiah of Might & Magic – Still kind of rough but entertaining. It looked like a fairly typical first person RPG, similar to Oblivion. Graphically it was stunning, I liked it better than Oblivion but then it should look better being newer. Nothing made me want to rush out and pre-order it but for fans of the series it looks to at least take away some of the bad taste left by earlier versions.
  • Hellgate: London – Just as I had imagined this looks to be the evolution of Diablo, not a complete surprise considering the developers, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s still a ways off but even so it plays really well with only a few camera glitches that I noticed and it looks amazing. If you’re a Diablo fan you’re going to want to pick this one up.
  • Shadowrun – Probably the biggest disappointment of the show for me (other than not getting to see Spore). They took a pen & paper RPG license with a ton of potential for a wide variety of game styles and turned it into a generic sci-fi styled FPS. Sure they’ll call it an RPG because, since Diablo, anything that allows you to upgrade your character or weapons is called an RPG these days but it’s your typical FPS. From playing around with it, it’s not even all that great an FPS. All in all a depressing misuse of the license.
  • Vanguard: Saga of Heros – Ok full disclosure time – I’m pre-disposed to not liking Vanguard because it’s my fervant belief that Brad McQuaid and his “Vision” did more to harm EQ than anything SoE could possibly have done. While I have some fond memories of EQ I also believe that what Sigil is doing, and the rabid fanboi’s seem to think they want, is taking all of the very worst aspects of a generation 1.5 MMO (if muds were 1st gen then UO, EQ and AC were just graphical updates) and giving them a prettier face. I will admit that the game looks good and the little bit of gameplay I got to watch, sorry no hands on, looked entertaining but then he didn’t die and have to do a naked corpse run to the bottom of some dungeon 5 zones away. See had they taken the combat portion of EQ, the long fights that were filled with opportunites to use your various skills to gain a tactical advantage, they might have had an interesting game. But no they had to take the corpse runs, the camping, the contested spawns, the grinding, in short the crap. When I asked about this they seemed proud they said that it made the game more challenging, making the mistake I see in a lot of MMO’s that time consuming and frustrating equals challenging. I do think there is a niche for the game and I think they’ll do very well in that niche, if they stick to their guns and don’t cave to the board whinners. It’s just not going to be the game for me.
  • Dungeon Runners – I hadn’t heard a lot about this game before the show but it did sound interesting. Think an action RPG, a la Diablo, in MMO form using the Guild Wars system of cities as common areas but everything else instanced. That’s exactly what it plays like and, if you like Diablo, it’s a lot of fun. They haven’t finalized their pricing scheme yet but they’re wanting it to be free to download, free to play and maybe use micropayments for upgrades. A model that works well in Asia but may not do so hot here. The rep I spoke with also said they’re considering using the Guild Wars model as well. If they go that route then I can see this being at least as big a seller as Guild Wars and maybe bigger. Imagine Diablo without all the cheating you find on the public servers and big enough that you could find a game at just about any time.
  • Tabula Rasa – The second biggest disappointment of the show for me. I had such high hopes when this game was first announced and was even still interested after the changes in direction before last years E3. Now, it’s basically a sci-fi based MMOFPS and we all know how well those tend to do. I will admit that I didn’t spend a ton of time playing the game, mainly because I was disgusted after less than 5 minutes, but I really didn’t see anything to set this game apart. It’s set in the future, you shoot things and you can upgrade your skills and equipment as you level. It was pretty but in the MMO world pretty just doesn’t cut it for me.
  • Lord of the Rings Online – I didn’t get any time hands on with this one but I did at least get a chance to watch the game play. It looked a lot like D&D Online…I mean a LOT. I couldn’t snag a booth rep to get any specifics so I don’t know if it’s going to be as group oriented as DDO or if they’re going with the same quest to gain XP model though I tend to doubt it. The twitchy combat isn’t really my cup of tea but I can see this game attracting some new players if you made it more solo and casual friendly. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one
  • Soul of the Ultimate Nation – Think console style action RPG game mechanics merged with an MMO. Everything is instanced but it’s kind of like setting up a multiplayer game of Halo2, you pick what type of instance you want, the number of players, teams etc. and then create your instance. If you’re in a group your group will be added to the instance otherwise it gets listed and others can join in. Once you’re in you’re playing your typical console style RPG, but with keyboard and mouse – and let me just say that the keyboard layout needs some serious work for me to use it. The graphics are stunning and the animations are extremely smooth and fluid, it really looks like a next gen console game. If I understood the booth rep it’s another game that’s looking at the micropayment model but don’t quote me on that, her English was better than my Korean but that’s not saying much.
  • Huxley – Another one from Webzen (see S.U.N above) and yet another sci-fi themed MMOFPS – what is it with all of these things lately – this one at least has a hook. Supposedly both console and PC players will be able to play together. It’s supposed to be using the new Unreal 3 engine but if it is I couldn’t tell it. Maybe they decided not to use the cool new features of the engine so it could play on the original XBox or something but it didn’t look that much better than say Halo2 to me.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 – Simply put…amazing! The outdoors areas are much more flowing and natural than the original and the interiors, while still tile based, are leaps and bounds ahead of the current version. Other than a graphics update the game still plays very much like the first one but with a switch from the 3.0 rules to the new 3.5 rules. I didn’t see anything from Ebeeron but if it’s not in the base game I give it less than a month before it’s modded in. Speaking of mods, the new mod tool is a huge improvement over what I already considered one of the best mod toolsets on the market. The ability to use heightmaps for outdoor terrain is going to make for some very sweet outdoor mods. The new layout of the tool set with a tabbed style interface and the ability to only have the tabs you use open makes for a much more streamlined and professional layout. I can’t wait to get my hands on the tools…or the game.

All in all a very interesting and rewarding experience, now if only someone would hurry up and hire me :).

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