EA E3 2017 Conference Roundup

EA mixes some new IP with a huge focus on Star Wars

By Alex Winton

There weren’t many big surprises at EA’s kind of awkward ‘conference’, but there was at least plenty to talk about. Here’s our roundup of what happened:

Sports goes big on single player

Perhaps it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise given the success of FIFA 17‘s story mode, but EA led their show tonight with a reveal of a similar story mode for this year’s Madden NFL 18. Much like Alex Hunter’s story in FIFA, Madden 18 stars a young, up and coming American Football player in a narrative that takes them from the very bottom to (presumably) the very top of their career. FIFA’s addition was surprisingly well done, and became a bit of a jewel in EA’s crown last year.

A follow up to Alex Hunter’s story in this year’s FIFA 18 was also confirmed – as well as the fact that this mode will not be included on the Switch version.

Madden was also the first glimpse we’ve had at what Microsoft’s Project Scorpio will be able to achieve, with some screenshots and clips of the the game running in EA’s Frostbite engine on Scorpio. Of course, EA and Madden are the original source of the infamous ‘Bullshot‘, so it’s probably worth waiting for tomorrow’s Microsoft conference to take anything serious away from that.

Bioware’s new game, Anthem, breaks cover

There was only the briefest of looks at Bioware Austin’s new IP (now delayed into late 2018 at the earliest), but more was promised for Microsoft’s conference tomorrow. Given that the game is touted to effectively be EA’s answer to Destiny, it’s likely that Microsoft is thinking the same as well. With Destiny 2 likely to be a big part of Sony’s show, Microsoft will be using this first look at Anthem to counterbalance that support.

Need For Speed seeming quite pedestrian?

Our first look at the gameplay of the new Need For Speed was positive in at least one sense – it wasn’t that far removed from the first trailer last week. With some kind of interesting gameplay mechanics, such as being able to bet on your success or failure and a narrative-driven heist movie/Fast and Furious style single player story, the game looks to be picking up some of the best parts of the previous Need For Speed games. There’s also a bit of cribbing from Forza Horizon on the go, as well, with the ability to find and pickup cars, an apparently open world and even a car exhibition mode where you can walk around your car in first person and interact with its fiddly bits. It’s kind of where it needed to go following the huge success of Forza Horizon, but the ‘Bayhem’ style set pieces in the gameplay trailer just seemed a bit uninspiring for what’s meant to be a great first impression. We’re pretty sure that there’ll be a lot more to the game, though, so it’s one to look out for.

Couch Co-op is back?

The guys behind Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons have continued on with the theme of brotherhood (of a sort) and centring around two main characters. In what we can only assume is a sequel to that game set in the darkest timeline, A Way Out stars two separate prison inmates, Leo and Vincent, who while they enter prison unconnected, end up forming a bond and breaking out together. The game is a co-operative game, but with a fully narrative story that you’d more expect from a single player adventure. Specifically designed against drop-in-drop-out play, the game can only be played split-screen with another person – whether they are online or on the couch beside you. The game uses an innovative twist on the split screens by changing the focus and the size of the split screens depending on the narrative of the game. At some points, the two characters will be doing entirely different things, while at others they will join up to work together. It’s an interesting and novel approach to co-op gameplay, and is designed with couch co-op specifically in mind. Given the positive response to the narrative in Brothers, it’s hard not to be excited to see how this game will come together by its release in 2018.

Free access to EA’s catalogues

Following on from last week’s ‘Play to Give’ charity drive – which saw EA donating $1million to the charities HeForShe, the National Bullying Prevention Center, and Ditch the Label as a result of players meeting the goals from those challenges – the company is giving out free access to all EA Access and Origin Access games on Xbox One and PC respectively until the 18th June. Xbox One owners will still require Xbox Live Gold to use the service, but can download and play any game in the EA Access vault for free for a week thereafter. On PS4, where EA Access is not available, there are free full trials available for Madden 17, FIFA 17, Titanfall 2, UFC 2 and Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.

Star Wars Battlefront II is EA’s apology for everything Battlefront I got wrong

While devoting a full half an hour of the show to Star Wars Battlefront II, we got explicit concessions about how EA and DICE had listened to the ‘feedback’ about the first game. Number one with a bullet – and led in the conference by Star Wars actor John Boyega’s tweet to the Battlefront team about the lack of a story mode in the first game – was further expansion about the game’s story mode. The entire Battlefront presentation was led by the actress starring in that mode, Janina Gavankar, who explained how the cinematic story fits within the Star Wars canon. Filling in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

The next big reveal was that while there would be seasons of additional content – starting with content based on The Last Jedi around the time of the film’s release later this year and starring John Boyega’s Finn and Captain Phasma – unlike the 2015’s Battlefront, all the content DLC will be free updates for everyone. There’s no confirmation that there won’t be paid DLC or microtransactions involved in any way, but at the very least it’s a solution to the problem a lot of people had with the original game.

The main multiplayer gameplay of the game was also detailed with an extended playthrough of the new Naboo map. Most positive of all from the gameplay demo was the amount of ‘Heroes’ – or major Star Wars characters to you and me – coming into play and staying in play. One of the 2015 game’s biggest frustrations was that the Heroes mechanic was so random that unless you were either camping out the drop points, or very lucky, it was very likely you might rarely ever get to take advantage of the feature. We all play Star Wars games primarily to play as one of the guys with a lightsaber, so it was understandably frustrating for that to be so awkward to manage. In Battlefront 2, instead of being a random power up, you now unlock the ability to change into a hero (or a vehicle) through your actions in the match. The change is also no longer on a temporary timer, you simply have to avoid dying and you can continue playing as your hero character. There will also be unlockables to go with each hero character, tying into the main class system that lies at the heart of the game’s updated multiplayer.

If you had any issues with Battlefront I, but still found it enjoyable in some way, Battlefront II sets out to address all your concerns all at once and hopefully deliver the definitive Star Wars battle field experience.

Was that it?

Pretty much, yeah. Turns out our predictions for everything EA hadn’t already announced were all entirely wrong! Much like Anthem, however, it feels as though EA was holding back a bit so that the platform holders could lead the way over the next few days. We’d imagine that Anthem isn’t the only new EA game we’ll be seeing across the Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo shows, so it’ll be interesting to see what else they might have in store. Hopefully we can count the Uncharted-style Star Wars adventure game amongst that, because it was otherwise conspicuous in its absence tonight.

Overall verdict?

Whilst you could hardly call this an E3 conference, given that it was neither explicitly in a conference room, nor at E3, at times it wasn’t the smoothest we’ve ever seen from most of these kinds of shows. EA’s tried really hard to be “down with the kids” in getting a lot of Youtube ‘influencers’ involved throughout the show. Something I’m sure they’ll regret after the dead air that one of them left while trying to stumble through a link after Need for Speed‘s trailer. Overall, though, the focus was on games and gameplay. On that, they absolutely delivered, and it definitely seems wise in retrospect that they put such a huge amount of time into Battlefront II alone. If you were going to pit publisher vs publisher for ‘best E3 conference’, however, it seems pretty likely in advance that Ubisoft are going to be the ones coming out on top… but we’ll see on Monday.

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