E3 2016 has been finished for a couple of weeks, giving us time to wash the taste of LA smog from our mouths and reflect upon the games we saw there. This seems like a good time to talk about what we want to see from those games next, when they no doubt appear at Gamescom 2016 in August. What games are we most hoping to play, to see new trailers of, or hoping will reveal a different side of themselves in Cologne?
Adam: There were a lot of really exciting games at E3 and I’ve already written about a fair few of them. Absolver was the highlight for me, mostly because it went from being NOTHING to being one of the most exciting games I’ve played for a long time. I didn’t even know it existed until I heard some chatter about it on the showfloor and the next day I was sitting playing it and all I wanted to do was tell everyone else to go and play it as well. Lovely stuff.
And the games I’m looking forward to at Gamescom are nothing like that at all. Absolver is exciting. Yes. Good. Done. But what about the games that might be amazing or interesting or just plain weird - the ones I’m much less certain about. High on the list is Resident Evil VII. They revealed it, showed an exciting trailer and a smart PT-esque demo and now...? Well, I’m not sure if any of that stuff is going to be representative of the actual game. So I’d like to see the actual game. Maybe that’ll happen at Gamescom, maybe later.
Graham: Maybe this is less obvious to people who haven't attended these shows in person, but this is how it often breaks down: E3 is where games are announced and first shown; Gamescom is where they're first made playable. At least when it comes to the big publishers.
I wasn't at E3 last year, so I'm a little less clear about what was and was not playable at the show this time around. As an outsider, I'd be wanting to see much more of Ghost Recon Wildlands, for example, because it's a game that seems very exciting but which I'm yet to be wholly convinced of.
Adam: I have played Wildlands but it was a very controlled demo - teams of four, with one of those four being an Ubi handler. It’s very impressive but I think I’d quite like to have an Ubi handler come with the game - maybe it’d be DLC? - because having someone to direct a gaggle of people who’d probably fail to open their parachutes if a team leader wasn’t yelling in their ear made the whole thing feel very professional.
I felt like a real soldier. Well, a real soldier if real soldiers were like soldiers in videogames. What I mean is that I opened the parachute and didn’t crash all of the cars. It feels like The Division would feel if it had open spaces and no bullet sponges. I liked it a lot.
The big mystery for me, and a game I’m not necessarily expecting to get my hands on at Gamescom, is Mafia III. I’ve seen dev walkthroughs and all kinds of videos that explain why it’s more interesting than the initial reveal led me to believe...but I haven’t touched a controller yet. It looks fantastic though.
Graham: Mafia III is the perfect Gamescom game in a way, because we've seen it but haven't made our minds up yet. I was talking to a friend about it last night and explaining that it could still be anywhere from dire to very good. And that's rare because - and I'm betraying my magazine roots here - you can normally tell quite quickly whether a game is "at least a six" or "at most an eight".
Adam: Oh, let’s play a quick game of “magazine roots”. Let’s say you need to pick a game for the cover issue of the post-Gamescom issue but you need to pick that cover before Gamescom. What are you thinking might be interesting and eye-catching enough for that cover, while also being fairly certain it won’t have such a poor showing if they let people get close to it that it’ll be yesterday’s news already.
Graham: Well, there's two schools of thought here. The most obvious is to go for the big franchise sequel, and I'm actually quite excited about Battlefield 1. I think I let my cynicism get the better of a lot when it comes to yearly, big budget manshoots, but the truth is that I have loved more Battlefield games than I've scorned. I put hundreds of hours into each of 1942, 2, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. I'm glad DICE gave the series a rest after the poor launch of Battlefield 4, and I am glad that Battlefield 1 is both returning to history and to a different part of history than the series has visited before.
So if I wanted the safe bet, I'd probably go with Battlefield 1 on the cover. It's unlikely to have a poor showing (even if the eventual game isn't up to much) and there's a built-in audience excited to learn more about it - of which I am a member. So that's one answer. How do you feel about Dice visiting the zeppelins and biplanes of World War I? What do you hope to see of it, if anything?
Adam: I got a close look at it before EA’s pre-E3 press conference, when they had a couple of teams playing and I managed to elbow my way next to one chap’s screen so I could see how it all worked from a player’s perspective. My feeling is that it’s essentially going to be World War I if World War I was a big shiny comic book, and that’s probably the smart way to approach it.
The giant vehicles are the most exciting part, particularly those zeppelins, not only because they look spectacular but because they form a focal point on the map, both visually and in terms of team focus. I always appreciate design that catches the eye and in doing so draws attention to important aspects of the actual game.
Disappointingly, the map that I saw looked like it could have been anywhere at anytime. Obviously it had specific qualities - dusty, a little muddy, lots of destructible cover buildings - but nothing about it made me think of a specific World War I theatre of battle. And that, along with the fact that everyone effectively plays a super-soldier, meant I wouldn’t have really known it was a new historical period for the series at all if I hadn’t already known. I mean, the zeppelins and weapons are a giveaway, I guess, but it does look an awful lot like other videogame wars I’ve seen.
And that’s not a criticism as such. An observation. If I take a moment to think about it seriously, I find the use of horrific conflicts as a backdrop for point-scoring team battles with multi-kill bonuses odd and distasteful, but I also want to see how well the horses actually work. I’m capable of being a killjoy and enjoying something simultaneously, it turns out!
I think Titanfall 2 is my pick of the upcoming Big Name Sequels. That’s partly because the original is the perfect foundation for an improved second showing (ie it wasn’t great) and partly because grappling hooks and a proper campaign. I hope to see much more of it at Gamescom.
Graham: I really dug Titanfall a lot, but is definite ripe for a sequel and I'm keen to see more. I'm not sure what the public appetite is for it though, so I wouldn't put it on the cover of a magazine.
The other school of thought when it comes to selecting covers is one I came to from experience. The truth is I think Battlefield 1 would do OK, but not great. It's a safe bet but it's not going to set the shelves on fire. There's a bunch of reasons for that: EA do a good job of talking directly to their audience already; people have already made their minds up about Battlefield; it's a multi-platform game and will be no doubt be on the cover of many other magazines at the same time as our imaginary RPS mag.
Instead, the best-selling issues are always when you lean into an underserved and passionate niche. I think there are two contenders at Gamescom.
The first is the one no magazine publisher would go for: Phoenix Point. Your write-up of it at E3 made it sound satisfying, and I'd love to get a proper long hands-on with it. There's also a story to tell as well as information to impart, since it's Gollop returning to the ideas that made him famous through X-COM. I think the issue would be a hard sell - an unknown name, and I'm not sure how many readers really know Gollop - but in an ideal world it'd be my pick. Readers should know Gollop. It's the game I most hope to see more of at Gamescom, even as I suspect it's still such early days for it that there won't be much more to see yet.
Or am I wrong? Do you think Phoenix Point will take Germany by storm?
Adam: I think you’re right in your suspicion that it’s too early. Whatever happens with it at Gamescom is more than likely going to be repetition or new thoughts around the information we already have, along with a possible publisher announcement. It’s very early and even if there’s a hands-on behind closed doors - and I doubt there will be - it’d most likely be a scripted mission, so as not to risk unfinished visual assets procedurally appearing.
Next year, maybe. What was your other suggestion for the RPS non-magazine non-cover? I’m presuming we did Civ VI a couple of issue ago, incidentally, so that’s out of the question. I’d probably be pushing for Dishonored 2 but, again, that’s multi-platform and has already been in the public eye a fair amount. I bet we get to play a full mission or thereabouts in Germany though.
Graham: Dishonored 2 is one of the game's I'm most looking forward to, but for its release rather than its conference appearances. Because I've already made my mind up about it. It's one of those games that it now seems a shame to spoil for myself by watching more trailers.
Yes, we definitely did Civilization VI a few issues back, although I would sign up for a Gamescom interview if it was going.
No, the game I'd put on the cover is Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord. A niche series that's attained huge appeal through multiple iterations and which has had a long time for people to pick it up via discounts and the like. It's PC only, it's an underserved genre - the medieval open world RPG commander sim - and M&B2 represents the moment when the series might achieve real mainstream appeal. It could be for Mount & Blade as Oblivion was for The Elder Scrolls.
Or it could still be a janky, bugged out mess of an interface. I've watched some demonstrations of it being played so far and read some interviews and it still seems up in the air as to which way it's going to go. Either way, I think I'm going to love playing it, and I want to get my hands on some of its larger battles, on its replay editor, on its castle sieges...
Adam: By careful design, Bannerlord’s more tricksy interface elements have been well hidden. That’s not necessarily because there’s anything wrong with them - a brief meeting at a conference isn’t really the right place to have people read into the complexities of a strategic UI - but they are notably absent, or at least not front and centre.
It was brilliant to see Bannerlord not only tucked into one of E3’s main halls but onstage at the PC Gaming Show. I’m very glad that’s a thing now, even if I did have to sneak in disguised as a peripheral to avoid detection (it’s organised by the PC Gamer folks who wouldn’t actually turf me out and are very lovely indeed) and seeing these smaller studios presenting to such a large audience is fantastic.
What people might not understand about a game like Bannerlord and its place at E3 is how difficult it is to pitch at an audience of media types. Presentations were in a very small booth, with three members of the press in attendance for each. There’s no way for the developers to know if those attendees know the series or even have an interest in historical RPG/strategy games. Some are going to show up because this was one of the games nobody else at the outlet was interested in covering and it seemed like they shouldn’t miss it completely.
It’s a difficult job, trying to explain higher-level details for people who are interested while also making sure not to lose the people who don’t know the first thing about the series or what it’s trying to achieve. You could summarise Bannerlord as Total War or Crusader Kings II: The RPG, and you’d want to show people the evidence of that claim, but personally I want to know exactly how trading and diplomacy works. I want detail, and that sometimes involves reading between the lines.
Know what I really want to play more of though? Agents of Mayhem. I got half an hour with it at E3 and it’s that perfect game that you understand completely after five minutes, but won’t be able to figure out in its entirety without at least another hour. I know what it is and I like what it is, but I have no idea how much there is get my teeth into.
Graham: I won't be interested in the PC Gaming Show until they end it with a chorus line of developers high-kicking in front of tanks.
But I agree about the difficulty of demoing Bannerlord - and many games. I saw M&B2 at Gamescom... last year? The year before? And it was exactly that situation that there were three of us, some of whom knew the series and some didn't. There was time to look at trading menus, at dialogue, at combat, but consequently the actual mission we saw had to be simple to fit everything in. If you didn't know the series you might have come away thinking it was about clunky street scraps over stolen potatoes.
Me, I came away thinking that and therefore really excited.
The other part of Gamescom, aside from seeing more detail of what's already been announced, is of course whole new games being announced. They tend not to come from the larger publishers, but that simply means they're often more surprising or interesting.
Which makes this a hard question to answer: do you think there'll be new announcements we care about at the show, and if so what?
Adam: I wouldn’t be shocked if Paradox have something to announce. With Hearts of Iron IV and Stellaris both out in the wild, it’d be a great time to get people excited about the next grand strategy game on the horizon. And with the UK taking back control maybe Victoria III has a ready-made marketing campaign. I’d expect a DLC announcement for Stellaris as well, perhaps. The first big expansion, and maybe something from Skylines devs Colossal Order as well, even if that’s another expansion rather than something entirely new (or a sequel; seems too early for that though).
From other quarters, it’s almost impossible to say. I’d love to hear something about a new Frictional game and that seems more likely at Gamescom than at any other big event, but if I were them I’d probably avoid the noisiness of a conference week altogether.
I’ll stick my neck out and say that the most exciting game at Gamescom is probably going to be something we haven’t mentioned here, even if it’s something we already know about. Something will take us by surprise.
Graham: I'd love if Colossal Order announced Cities: Skylines 2, but agree that seems too soon. Given their commitment to remaining a small team, a new substantial bit of DLC sounds right - and I'll lap that up just the same.
You're probably right about the best thing being something we've not mentioned. I like E3 a lot, but I love Gamescom in part because it's better for surprises. There are more developers there, from more parts of the world, and I've encountered some super exciting indies for the first time while wandering the Netherlands pavilion or stumbling into some corner branded by a South American country.
Wouldn't it be surprising if Valve were at the show with something new, for VR or otherwise? Ha ha. Not a chance.
Adam: Look. I couldn’t give a damn about Half-Life 3 anymore, from a personal ‘do I give a shit about seeing more of this story’ perspective, but I will be extremely upset if Left 4 Dead 3 doesn’t happen sometime soon. I want it so bad. And I don’t want it to be a VR ‘experience’ that lets me look at some zombies from a rooftop.
Left 4 Dead is secretly Valve’s best series. There. I said it.
Graham: That's Counter-Strike, but let's not fight about that when we could fight about Half-Life 3 instead.
Adam: Would I be really excited if Half-Life 3 were announced? Absolutely. Would I be disappointed if it never happened? Not at all.
Best of both worlds.
Graham: Then I suppose we really agree. Smooth move.
Would you be more excited if Half-Life 3 was announced, or if Devil Daggers 2 was announced?
Adam: Gotta be honest... Half-Life 3. But if there were actually going to be a new Silent Hill game, and it were coming to PC, and it were in the hands of trustworthy developers (bring Sam Barlow back!) that’d be the most exciting thing of all. It’s more unlikely than Half-Life 3, Portal 3 and Left 4 Dead 3 all being announced and simultaneously released in whatever colour the Orange Box might be in 2016 though.
Graham: Teal, obv.
I think we've come to the conclusion that Gamescom can only ever fail to live up to our most cherished fantasies, but I can't wait.
Adam: All of our hopes will be dashed to bits like ships on the harsh rocks of reality, but in the flotsam and jetsam we will find new dreams and new ways of living.
Graham: So long and thanks for reading this month's issue of ROCK, PAPER, SHOTGUN: The Magazine.