E3 2017 Impressions: EA Conference

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Featuring Star Wars: Battlefront II! Oh, and other stuff…

It’s E3 2017, and I’m fake-excited!

Last year, I attempted to cover many of the major releases that were shown at E3. By the end of the conference, I was a burned-out husk. For this year’s event, I’ve decided to take a different strategy. I’ll start by highlighting the major conferences, leaving the more in-depth musings for later. Also, I’ll be getting more help from Cousin Jose and Punisher (though he doesn’t know yet) on those write-ups.

First on the dance card is Saturday’s EA presentation. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from them. I figured their whole spiel would be summed up with three games: Star Wars: Battlefront II, Need for Speed: Payback, and MaddenFIFA (yes, I consider them both one game. Sue me!) Although there was more on display, it didn’t go too far. It was still a good enough starting point for me. Following is a summation of everything of note EA unveiled during E3 2017, in order of appearance.

Madden 18

EA kicked things off with a drumline dressed in Tom Brady jerseys. I felt deflated.

(Cue groans, followed by Pats fans throwing fake Super Bowl rings at the screen. I’m a Dolphins fan; I’m not exactly caring.)

After that, EA showed footage of a new story mode for Madden 18, Longshot. Similar to The Journey in FIFA 17, you assume the role of Devin Wade, a Texas prospect that was a star in high school and college but dropped off the radar soon after. Players guide Devin through his life, from being a young buck playing catch with his father, Colt Cruise (Mahershala Ali), to defying odds and getting drafted into the NFL. Dan Marino also makes an appearance in the trailer for Longshot and serves as a mentor to Devin.

Longshot throws in some varied gameplay, including 7-on-7 and high school games, as well as the regional combine. Devin eventually plays QB at the University of Texas, but there is no gameplay. Instead, you see him play against the Oregon Ducks. EA has avoided NCAA games of any kind since 2012 when a lawsuit alleged that EA and the NCAA benefitted from using the likenesses of real-world athletes. That case was settled in 2014.

Other than Longshot, Madden 18 promises some new tweaks. Initial impressions say the new passing mechanics will force veteran Madden players to relearn things. The new mechanic, when activated, is supposed to give players more control on how to deliver the ball. We’ll see if Madden fans consider it a success. Smaller tweaks to the gameplay – the running game seems more difficult – will surely require getting used to as well. The graphics will be powered for the first time by the Frostbite engine, which also powers FIFA 18 (see? I TOLD you they were the same game!)

Madden 18 kicks off on August 25th for The Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Battlefield 1

DICE producer Andrew Gulotta stood in the EA Play “Creator Cave” (???) to talk about the latest expansion for Battlefield 1: In the Name of the Tsar. This expansion opens up the Eastern front of World War I. It also adds the Russian army, including a Women’s Battallion of Death, represented by a new Scout class, and the Hussars cavalry.

The Eastern front was the largest region of conflict in the war. In the Name of the Tsar will be similarly large, with six new maps promised, up from the usual four. At present, only four are named: Lupkow Pass, Albion, Galicia, and Brusilov Keep. The expansion will also add a new game mode: Supply Drop. In practice, it plays similar to Star Wars” Battlefront’s Drop Zone. In the Name of the Tsar will also include 11 new weapons, a new stationary weapon in the coastal gun battery, and three new vehicles. To round out the offerings, there is a new operation: Brusilov Offensive.

In the Name of the Tsar will arrive in September. Season Pass owners will receive it for free; non-Season Pass players will have to pony up $15 to join in.

EA also announced that there will be two new night maps arriving for Battlefield 1prior to the expansion’s release. Niville Nights will drop this month, and Prise de Tahure follows in July. August will see some patches in anticipation of the expansion’s release.

FIFA 18

Alex Hunter and The Journey return for FIFA 18. The story mode, which debuted last year, continues the narrative. There will be some gameplay and visual tweaks to the game, but there is nothing new of substance. Expect FIFA 18 on September 29th for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Need for Speed: Payback

There were two things the Digital Crack crew took away from the reveal of Need for Speed: Payback: YouTuber Jesse Wellens has a great deer-in-the-headlights stare, and the Need for Speed series wants to be The Fast and Furious. I know I’m only the 4,003,989th person to make that observation, but it’s pretty obvious.

The gameplay shown is what amounts to the first mission in the single-player campaign (which is blessedly playable offline!). The player drives a Mustang GT and attempts to catch up with a tractor trailer belonging to a nefarious group called The House. Shadowing the rig are two Chargers, the House enforcers. The Mustang is seen shunting the enforcers, which lowers the equivalent of a health bar on them. Once depleted, the car wrecks violently. Then it’s on to the truck, with a few more House enforcers for good measure. Once alongside the trailer, the passenger in the Mustang climbs out, gets into the trailer, and eventually blasts out with the prize. A Koenigsegg Regera supercar. The trailer ends with the Regera stumbling upon police cars and a helicopter.

The slamming into cars is reminiscent of the Burnout series, and for good reason. Ghost Games, the developers of Need for Speed: Payback, includes many ex-Criterion members. That gives me hope that the shunting – and the driving itself – is in good hands. It certainly looks and sounds good enough. At certain points, the game switches from racing mode to a cinematic. The story elements play out during them, filling in whatever plot points need to be exposited.

EA also showed off the car customization options. They promise you will be able to grab a car off the scrap heap, throw enough chrome, spoilers, and pearlescent paint as you desire, and drive off in style. The car customization is my favorite part of playing Need for Speed: Underground, and I so want to get my hands on this game’s chop shop and tune my ride to the 9’s.

There are supposed to be three characters that players control, but there’s no word yet on how or when switching between them takes place. From the trailer, it would seem that the female passenger will be controllable once she’s on the road in the Regera.

Need for Speed: Payback will launch on November 10th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. I’m going to assume that the submarine with the torpedoes you can deflect will be DLC.

A Way Out

Indie developer Josef Fares is the creator of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, a game I love. EA is working with Fares’s new studio, Hazelight Studios, on a new title, A Way Out. The game is a story-driven prison break game that can only be played in co-op. Fares himself walked onstage to talk about the game. He stressed that the game allows local split-screen co-op, a feature that sadly has started to disappear lately. The game will also allow online co-op for shut-ins like me.

The game follows Vincent and Leo, two inmates looking to escape from prison. In co-op, both players are entirely independent. If one player reaches a cutscene, the other player can keep on playing. They will have to work together, however, if they want to successfully escape. Once free, both of them try to elude the law as they attempt to reconnect with the world.

The co-op gameplay is unique in that both players must decide how they want to go about all aspects of the game. Whether it’s deciding how they want to escape – quiet or loud – or who gets to hold a gun, every step has to be agreed to before many things are done. That means I can’t play the game with Cousin Jose; he’ll choose the opposite of me just to spite me.

A Way Out looks and sounds like a very promising game. It will be released under the EA Originals label sometime in early 2018.

Anthem

I include Anthem here only because EA did talk about it. The game, a new BioWare IP, was only teased here. For more info, check out the Microsoft Conference impressions.

NBA Live 18

After a long hiatus, a failed 2013 restart, and a delayed appearance last year, EA seems to be confident NBA Live 18 will mark their official return to the court. With Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K series pretty much monopolizing video game basketball, it’ll be interesting to see if EA Sports can make a dent.

Just like Madden 18, NBA Live 18 is introducing a story mode. Called The One, it’s shaping up to be a shot across the bow of MyCareer, NBA 2K’s story-based career mode. Unlike MyCareer, The One dispenses with the college game and lets you play in three different environments: the League, the Streets, and the Drew League. Gameplay styles vary in the modes. Whereas playing in the League may favor efficiency and production, style is more important in the Street. That potentially opens up new gameplay possibilities.

Visually, the game promises to be no slouch. Since I don’t normally play sports games, I don’t really appreciate the various fidelity improvements today’s games show. EA showed off a replay of a LeBron James-Kevin Durant iso play, and the level of detail is pretty impressive. It sure looks the part.

The question is, will it play the part? Let’s not forget, NBA Live 18 was supposed to be NBA Live 17 before delays knocked it off the roster. Also, keep in mind that that was not the first setback the series has seen. A promised NBA Live 14 never materialized, and the less said about NBA Elite 11 – the troubled rebranding – the better. EA has a ton of catching up to do, and it begins with proof that NBA Live 18 isn’t more vaporware.

Fortunately for them, a demo of the game is available to try at EA Play. YouTuber channel MeriStation even leaked out some of the gameplay from E3, and it looks legit. EA says the demo will be available in August, with the full game being released in time for the NBA’s 2017-2018 season. Video b-ball fans can only hope EA gets the formula right this time.

Star Wars: Battlefront II

Of course, EA saved its biggest upcoming title for last. Star Wars: Battlefront II. Cue the Stormtroopers walking onstage with Janina Gavankar, who plays Iden Versio of the Empire’s Inferno squad in the game’s single-player campaign. From her, we learned what may be the most important thing about the game: it was John Boyega’s tweet that made the story mode possible. See? Finn is awesome!

The much-ballyhooed single-player campaign is set in the 30 years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The story – which is confirmed to be canon by LucasFilm – puts players in the role of Versio. After the destruction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi and the death of the Emperor, she goes off on a quest for revenge. There is word that a couple of sequences will let players play as Rebels, and as Luke Skywalker in one mission. Hopefully, the campaign will be engaging enough, as it can’t possibly last more than four hours.

Past that, there’s quite a lot of information concerning the game and EA’s plans for it. According to EA, they’ve listened to the negative comments of gamers who were angered by their handling of Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015. The single-player offline campaign accompanies the multiplayer, which has been expanded and tweaked. Most evident to me is the air combat, which looks to be easier to control. The visuals also seem to be bumped up some as well.

The Heroes system will make a return appearance as well. Star Wars: Battlefront veterans Han Solo, Boba Fett, and Luke Skywalker return for this installment. Joining them at launch will be Yoda, Rey, Kylo Ren, and Darth Maul. There may be more that haven’t been confirmed, so this list is not exactly complete. But it doesn’t matter. Darth Maul is in the game, and I am happy.

The multiplayer also introduces a class system similar to Battlefield. Players can choose from one of four classes. There is the Officer class, which is the medic and support class. The Assault class is the medium-range shooter. Heavy class players bring the big guns to the fight. And the specialist class is the sniper of the side. All classes can be customized with different weapons and other bonus cards. Those bonus cards will equip other weaponry like grenades and traps to the class.

But the biggest complaint addressed concerns the dearth of content at launch. Instead of big expansion packs and a Season Pass, EA is promising smaller, more frequent DLC for free. In fact, they promised “three times the content.” That in itself is a big deal since EA and other AAA publishers love them some Season Pass cash. The content will still be doled out in “seasons”, though, which are thematic. EA says the first season will start in December and have a Return of the Jedi theme. The first season will see the introduction of a new planet, Crait, as well as a space map for D’Qar. Two new heroes, Finn and Captain Phasma, will also join the fray. Later seasons promise more content, including more weapons.

Of course, EA is not gonna give up a revenue stream as lucrative as the Season Pass without making it up somewhere. Star Wars: Battlefront II will rely on microtransactions in place of the Season Pass. I abhor microtransactions of any kind in a full-retail game, but they’re accepted by the general player base…as long as the microtransactions are cosmetic only. Gamers howled when Han Solo’s blaster – a very powerful weapon – was available to pre-order customers when Battlefront launched in 2015. Microtransactions that make the game pay-to-win will not be tolerated by them.

EA’s money-grubbing notwithstanding, everything about Star Wars: Battlefront II looks like an improvement from the previous iteration. YouTuber iJustine hosted a multiplayer match on the “Assault on Theed”, pitting Clone Tropers against Separatist battle droids. Everything looked great, with both ground and air combat shown.

Star Wars: Battlefront II will launch on November 17th for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Odds and Ends
  • EA announced that EA Access and Origin Access will be free until the end of the week. PlayStation 4 players will be able to play free trials of select EA games during that time.
  • It seems EA is embracing live streaming quite a bit. In addition to some YouTubers being part of the presentations, the Battlefield 1 segment featured a lot of content from streamers. Nothing like exploiting free content, right guys?
  • There were a few cringy moments, including the drumline (remember, ‘Fins fan), Jesse Wellens freezing while introducing Need for Speed: Payback, and a couple of other EA presenters looking like the espresso shot they took before walking on was really kicking in. I’ll throw in that wonky high-five joke the Men in Blazers “performed” during their FIFA 18
Conclusion

Considering I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, EA’s conference wasn’t too bad. I’m personally excited to try out Need for Speed: Payback and Star Wars: Battlefront II. A Way Out looked very intriguing as well. I would’ve rather they left off the teaser for Anthem, but it at least gave me another reason to look forward to Microsoft’s conference. And though I’m not a fan of sports games, it’s good to see EA is doing something different with their series, not just content to releasing little more than roster updates.

With the Microsoft show looming, I need to prepare myself. I’m sure there’s gonna be a whole lot of writing for me there.

He has been playing video games for longer than he would like to admit, and is passionate about all retro games and systems. He also goes to bars with an NES controller hoping that entering the Konami code will give him thirty chances with the drunk chick at the bar. His interests include vodka, old-school games, women, vodka, and women gamers who drink vodka.

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