Ubisoft’s E3 2017 press conference was an uneven showing of new and old with a few standout titles hogging the spotlight.
First on the stage was Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Legendary Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, effusive about Ubisoft’s “passion,” said that when he spoke to them regarding the new title, he had one request above all. Rather than recycling the Mario license into another 2D platformer, “try to make a Mario game that has never been done before.” It seems the team took that challenge to heart.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a turn-based tactics game, like a slapstick X-COM starring a mix of Nintendo characters and Ubisoft’s screeching Rabbids. I’m still not certain what marketing department is responsible for these demented rabbits’ continued existence, but I feel as if they make a strong case for the reinstatement of public floggings.
Despite that, the game itself looks great. I should have known better than to doubt the merit of a title which earned Miyamoto’s personal endorsement. Color me interested. In the words of my editor:
Do not doubt Miyamoto-san you heathen. https://t.co/XIS5YHutDH
— Noah Dulis (@Marshal_Dov) June 12, 2017
Next came Ashraf Ismail to introduce Assassin’s Creed Origins, the first main entry in the series since the release of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate in 2015. Our “taste of Egypt” was a cinematic trailer and then approximately 10 seconds of second-hand footage from a camera looking at a dim monitor. The demonstration was jarring and reeked of some sort of unexpected technical difficulty. They promised 30 minutes of gameplay footage once the press conference was over — we’ll get to that later.
We had a glimpse of racing title The Crew 2, though no real gameplay was shown. In addition to geographic expansion, the sequel expands into the air and sea. And while it was certainly very pretty, there was little way to know how the game will actually play out when the rubber hits the figurative and digital road. Twisting stunt planes around skyscrapers does look thrilling, but the original The Crew didn’t lack ambition either — it just wasn’t much fun to play. Hopefully, we’ll get a clearer picture of the game on the show floor.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole returned to the show after its unfortunate delay and now officially has a release date of October 17th, 2017. The superhero-spoof RPG looked typically crude and hilarious, and I don’t doubt that it will be one of Ubisoft’s stronger releases for the holiday season.
#UbiE3 Is this the first time "butt f***ing" has been used at an E3 press conference? I mean, besides annual franchise references.
— Nate Church (@Get2Church) June 12, 2017
After the butt-f***ing came mind-f***ing, by way of a VR experience led by Elijah Wood. Transference takes the player on what is pitched as a virtual reality trip into the memory and emotion of a test subject that has had their experiences digitally recorded by a computer. It was difficult to tell exactly what we might expect, but it’s an adventure that Ubisoft hopes will leave you “still [feeling] unsettled” even after you’ve taken off your headset. Transference is due to launch in 2018.
After that we took a trip back in time to 2013 with pirate title Skull & Bones which looks similar to Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Ubisoft Singapore has extracted the excellent naval combat for a game that is obvious wish-fulfillment for their fans. Skull & Bones is a player-vs-player piracy game where you’ll swashbuckle and hoist mainsails alongside friends and enemies, competing for booty while attempting to evade 1720’s justice on the end of a cutlass.
The game certainly has potential — Black Flag’s design was just begging for a dedicated pirate adventure — but with boarding that seems to be entirely automated and seemingly little to do beyond multiplayer matches, Skull & Bones has a lot to do to prove it can stand on its own. I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more about it on the way to its release in Fall 2018.
We left the seas for a brief aside into Just Dance and a South Park mobile game, both given little more than token attention en route to Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Think “No Man’s Skylanders.” This toys-to-life hybrid will see you customizing and piloting a transforming ship through various missions both in space and on the planet’s surface. If you can’t find your ideal craft on store shelves, this time around you can simply purchase the digital version.
It’s another solid idea that will depend on how heavily Ubisoft leans on nickel-and-diming customers for more collectible content. Skylanders was notorious for locking just about every corner of every level behind walls that could only be breached by heading to your local toy store.
Ubisoft finished their presser in grand fashion with Far Cry 5, which looked absolutely stunning. It doubled down on the series’ brutal violence, bringing it to fictional Hope County, Montana to the tune of Amazing Grace. Recruitable pets, non-player characters, and multiplayer co-op were confirmed as features, as well as some limited form of tactical command over the AI. We will definitely be diving as deep as we can go into this one — but hopefully not climbing too many towers in between.
Finally, Beyond Good & Evil 2 was debuted with a massive cinematic trailer that left most in attendance — myself included — with goosebumps. There’s no word on what the game will be, but they’ve nailed an epic aesthetic. If nothing else, they did a phenomenal job of whetting appetites for whatever drip-feed information is planned next.
After the main show, we saw Assassins Creed Origins in full. It was, in a word, devastating. The proposed rejuvenation of the franchise has turned it into a shambling mash of mechanics from Far Cry and Watch Dogs, with an Assassin’s Creed aesthetic smeared over the same things we’ve seen countless times before.
You are a Medjay, a guardian of Egypt. RPG elements take center stage here, with loot rarities and statistics that will help you advance as you level up. A branching skill tree allows you to specialize in stealth or assault approaches to the massive world’s challenges.
Senu, your eagle friend, functions like a Watch Dogs 2 drone. You’ll use him to tag enemies in order to see their level, role, and behavior. Meanwhile, your ability to actually assassinate them is almost wholly dependent on your respective level, and crafting is based on the same hunting mechanic we’ve seen reused in every Far Cry release since Far Cry 3.
The game was beautiful and polished but lacked any sense of the lethality present in earlier Assassin’s Creed titles. Seeing the protagonist drive his hidden blade into the skull of a foe, then that foe turn and charge him because his hidden blade hadn’t been crafted to a high enough level did nothing but completely destroy the fantasy around which the franchise was built.
If anything, Assassin’s Creed Origins drives home the point that Ubisoft simply doesn’t seem to understand the franchise or its loyal fans. The 30 minute demo felt bloated, unfocused, and more than anything else, like Assassin’s Creed in name only.
We’ll sit down with each of these titles in the next few days. I’m sure that the developers will have a lot to say and that we’ll have even more complete impressions once we’ve had some time to get our hands dirty. Stay tuned for our ongoing coverage of E3 2017.
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