The Meaningless Vagrant Rant E3 2019 Awards

It was a year without the mighty Sony in attendance. The expected quiet before a new console generation storm. Another step in the ongoing march towards a world where patches, expansions and alternate monetisation strategies are more commonplace than new game announcements – A world that certainly has its advantages, but not one that lends itself to an exciting E3 trade show. Like transitional years gone by, expectations for the show were muted – well, mostly. I hope.

And yet the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2019 still delivered the headlines, the hype, the moments for which the event is so renowned. Certainly fewer in number than during the golden years of this past console generation, but a damp squib this was not. It had something for just about everyone.

I’ve written something about each E3 that has graced our computer screens since I started this blog, though the format has changed a few times. I’ve broken the show down conference by conference, I’ve counted down my favourite announcements, and in recent years I’ve tried to isolate noticeable trends in each iteration of the event. So this year I thought it was time to shake things up once again, this time by giving out some arbitrary awards. Let’s give this a go.

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Best Conference

Nintendo

Let’s get one thing straight. Until that final presentation day finished I really, really wanted to give this to Square Enix. That company has had many press conferences over the years, both onstage and more curated Nintendo Direct-style, but not a single one of them has ever come close to nailing the potential of what this proud, gigantic gaming company can offer. At least not in my opinion. For some baffling reason they usually either use it as a vehicle for their western studios, or their lesser-know output. But in 2019 they returned to the stage with one magnificent (literal) curtain raiser and a unifying picture-frame aesthetic to present, for once, a coherent and proud face to the gaming public. Highlighting exciting new projects like People Can Fly’s Outriders and Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers while dropping juicy details on the likes of Oninaki and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, they also weren’t afraid to put their major numbered Final Fantasy projects front and centre, ensuring that in an otherwise low-key year they stood on the top of the E3 pile at long last.

But, yes, Nintendo just had to to roll up at the last minute and blow everyone else away, adding to their (always arguable) 2014 and 2017 E3 “victories” this decade with a Direct that was packed with so much new information they had to bury the likes of Spyro, Ni No Kuni and Alien in a sizzle reel. You might say it wasn’t much better than their February Direct this year, but that was a very, very strong presentation. With not one but two new Smash Bros character reveals, the debut of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, an expression of intent to take over September with a cataclysmic release date pile-up, the confirmation of No More Heroes III and that incredible ending reveal… Well, it’s the most begrudging I’ve ever been to admit Nintendo nailed it, but they well and truly did. And there’s still plenty in the tank for their next big Direct to boot.

RUNNER-UP: Square Enix

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Most Disappointing Conference

Bethesda

A tough one to pick, mostly because disappointment requires expectations and I didn’t have a whole heap of those this year. But Bethesda made some strange decisions in the way they chose to structure and present their 2019 conference. Despite bringing two genuinely exciting new projects to the table in the form of Ghostwire Tokyo and Deathloop, somehow elevating my hype for Wolfenstein Youngblood even higher and blowing out the scale of Doom Eternal in a very satisfying way, their opening Todd Howard salvo lacked any sort of apology for the state of Fallout 76 last year (Whether this was the forum for such a thing is another discussion, but it still left a sour taste), the constant appearances of employees without anything truly new to talk about dragged on, and that segment where they essentially pitched streaming middleware to a customer base that wasn’t in the room was super weird. Though not as weird as the roof-tearing cheering and wooing that seemed to happen at full intensity after almost every game showing. Either everyone in that room was a Bethesda super-fan, or there was something a bit disingenuous going on.

RUNNER-UP: Ubisoft (purely by process of elimination)

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Most Dependable Conference

Microsoft

If this sounds like a weird name for an award, that’s because it is, but in a year when plenty of pundits were spelling out the death of E3 as we know it – a cry largely prompted by Sony’s decision to abstain – I thought it important to acknowledge how successfully Microsoft’s conference kicked off the show proper with that comfortable, downright warm-and-fuzzy feeling that E3 was, ahem, as E3-like as ever. The phrase “predictable” is perhaps too negative – and not even really true in Microsoft’s case given the neat surprises they managed to pull off (the long-awaited resurfacing of Phantasy Star Online 2, the purchase of Double Fine and that new Elite Controller alone) – but the big green showcase certainly followed a tried-and-true path. The only traditional beat Microsoft didn’t hit was the announcement of a new Forza game, but there was a (LEGO) car on stage anyway. Otherwise Phil Spencer and friends nailed all the expected points – XCloud, Game Pass, the Project Scarlett tease – but all with such efficiency and polish that it didn’t drag anything down or distract from the gorgeous game footage reveals. They held up their end of the E3 bargain with aplomb.

RUNNER-UP: Ubisoft (by default)

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Best Stage Moment

The Breathtaking Keanu Reeves

It’s no secret that more and more pre-recorded, curated presentations are appearing at E3 each year, as the number of traditional stage shows dwindles. And sure, having a big physical platform with a live audience can open you up to a whole bunch of awkwardness and technical mishaps. But it can also deliver moments like the relaxed appearance of Ghost Recon Breakpoint star/The Punisher Jon Bernthal and his super-chill dog, or the beyond-adorable stage debut of energetic Tango project head Ikumi Nakamura – spawning an ocean of memes and fan art. But the shock live appearance of Hollywood’s man who can do no wrong at the moment, Keanu Reeves, during the Cyberpunk 2077 part of the Microsoft show was the moment that defined E3 as a live show in 2019, no two ways about it. His beaming face and constant breaks of character – some crowd-assisted – certainly did his public persona no harm, and even though Cyberpunk hardly needed the hype boost, it sure got one anyway.

RUNNER-UP: Ikumi Nakamura charms horror fans

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Biggest Surprise

A Spooky Breath of the Wild Sequel is Coming 

When I threw together these categories I thought this one would be a no-brainer – E3 is, after all, built on surprises, so I figured it’s be easy to pick a winner. But the more surprising things piled up over the conference days – a huge amount of them Japanese in nature – the more I realised there is more than one way to interpret this one. While plenty of things were arguably more surprising, such as the decades-late localisation of Trials of Mana, the reappearance of Panzer Dragoon, a new cartoony take on Assassin’s Creed, confirmation that somebody somehow got The Witcher 3 to run on Switch, the return of Microsoft Flight Simulator, or the remaster of FF VIII despite an alleged loss of source code years ago, no single surprise was more impactful (and thus “bigger”) than Nintendo’s show-ending reveal of an atmospheric, lore-rich trailer for the as-yet-unnamed sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game is definitely still a ways away but the trailer has more than enough to keep Zelda tragics busy for months speculating on the implications of what looks like a much more story-focused Zelda follow-up. The hype should build nicely for this one.

RUNNER-UP: Final Fantasy VIII – the problem child – is finally getting remastered!

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Best Game Showing

Final Fantasy VII Remake

It can be difficult to get the balance just right when showing off an upcoming game at a show as big as E3. Show too much and you’ll be accused of dragging your feet, show too little and people cry out that a delay is inevitable or that you’re being deliberately misleading. Game publishers also often seen to be completely oblivious to the hype levels surrounding their games, and how much time is a smart amount to devote based on that hype. But after years of keeping Final Fantasy VII Remake away from the eyes of the public at major trade shows, Square Enix just seemed to nail every single piece of the puzzle when it comes to showing off a big game project at their own conference. With an astonishing introductory build-up backed by a fantastic re-orchestrated score, a lengthy stretch of gameplay that constantly unveiled delicious new mechanics, a delightful balance between new reveals (Tifa, Materia, more Midgar story) and ongoing secrets (that grey mist, the stuff after Midgar) and finally a nicely-balanced release date reveal, no E3 game felt more artfully presented than this completely reimagined videogame classic.

RUNNER-UP: Watch Dogs: Legion

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Coolest Shadow Drop

Borderlands 2: Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary

In recent years one of my absolute favourite things about E3 is (temporarily) clearing my mid-June gaming schedule for some tasty “out now” release surprises, and while 2019 hasn’t quite held a candle to 2018’s delivery of some of that year’s best videogame content (Unravel Two, Fortnite on Switch, Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion etc), there has still been some great stuff to chew on. If you’re a JRPG fan who somehow doesn’t have anything to play at the moment (If so what’s your time management secret? I must know) Square Enix just gave you a remaster of Last Remnant and three whole Mana-series games including the previously Japan-only Trials of Mana, so get amongst it! The surprising indie crown jewel Cadence of Hyrule may be out tomorrow at the time of writing, but it still counts with a mention. More on Ubisoft’s Roller Champions in a second, but my pick of the litter this year simply has to be Gearbox’s first Borderlands 2 DLC in half a decade, Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary. I’ve been playing it this week and not only does it just keep on delivering with more locations, enemies and guns than any free content for the game ever has, but it shows deep affection for the characters it needs to farewell or change in a significant way to prepare for the imminent Borderlands 3. It feels like nothing less than an essential experience for Borderlands fans, so dust off your old character (or make a new one) and go play it.

RUNNER-UP: Collection of Mana

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Most Promising New IP

Roller Champions

Fresh Intellectual Property must be treasured in this age of constant sequels and updates, so good on Bethesda for delivering us two (albeit gameplay-free) introductions to brand new would-be-franchises Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo. From Software’s George RR Martin collaboration Elden Ring deserves a mention here as well, but without any real idea of what the gameplay will look like, it’s hard to put too much stock in the mere names involved just yet. Enter Roller Champions, a new free-to-play IP that just launched a super-limited four-day Alpha build on PC. I’ve played more than two hours online with a friend with the same limited skins on the same map, and I already want to play a whole lot more. The cleanly-staged aesthetics and simple, deceptively deep mechanics give me that rare, amazing feeling I’ve only had three other times this decade – with Splatoon, Rocket League and Arms. It’s just so much fun to nail a perfect pass, run and juke to set up a scoring play. More information on this game’s proper release (and a Switch version, pretty please?) absolutely cannot come soon enough. I will be there on day one.

RUNNER-UP: Deathloop

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And that’s a wrap. No matter what you thought of this E3 overall, I hope there was something in there you to get you hyped. Regardless, it looks like there was enough held back for next year to set it up as a glorious next-generation extravaganza. Thanks for reading.

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