The latest E3 has come to an end, leaving in its wake the human carnage of drunk games industry types... and a whole lot of opinions about video games. We played dozens of upcoming games this week, and today we'll talk about the best. Here are senior editor Kat Bailey's picks for the best (and worst) of E3 2014.
Best of ShowNHL 15 (EA Canada/Electronic Arts | Multi)
I don't say this very often, but the one game that really impressed me at this E3 was a sports game.
As I've discussed elsewhere on this site, NHL 15 is just a ridiculous leap over its predecessor. They're barely even the same game. In the year since the launch of the PS4 and the Xbox One, EA Canada has revamped the physics, the presentation, the character models, the arenas... pretty much everything. It's honestly hard to think of the last time I've seen such a large leap from one sports game to the next.
I saw plenty of strong games at E3 2014, but NHL was the one of the few that made me think, "Yep, the next generation is definitely here." Comparatively few sports games can take the risk EA Canada did in effectively taking the year off to completely revamp their series. I'm glad that they used this opportunity to really take NHL to the next level.
This is in no way a rebuke of this year's lineup. I'm personally excited to playing Destiny, Forza Horizon, Sunset Overdrive, and a whole slew of indies when fall rolls around. But NHL 15 legitimately blew me away with its improvements, which was something that I was kind of looking for during this E3. For that reason, I'm comfortable calling it my favorite game of the show.
Best New IdeaNo Man's Sky (Hello Games/Hello Games | Multi)
Procedurally generated games are nothing new, but to see it combined with a starfighter-based exploration game is a real delight. This game is like catnip to me. I can't wait to sit down and spend some quality time around it.
The premise is pretty simple. You begin on a random planet; and from there, you can head out and explore a completely unique universe. I feel like this is the game that people wanted when Spectrum Holobyte announced Star Trek: A Final Unity way back in the mid-90s. Speaking of which, why in god's name has no one does this with a Star Trek game yet?
While "procedurally generated" has become almost a cliche in describing next-generation games, I have to admit that the concept is pure catnip for me. If there's one thing I love about the indie explosion of the past few years, it's the willingness of small developers to embrace starship exploration. It's an idea that I feel has been neglected in past generations, in part because it's been seen as something of a risk. Starship games have long been seen as big, expensive, and above all, niche.
That No Man's Sky even exists is proof to me that the current generation of video games is alright. It gives me hope that other dearly held dreams of mine will come true, like a Battlecruiser 3000 AD game that isn't completely broken and terrible. I've been a little grouchy about the lack of transcendantly great games at E3 this year; but I'll admit, whenever I think of No Man's Sky, a smile comes to my face. It's going to be great.
Let's Hope it Plays Like it LooksXenoblade Chronicles X (Monolith Soft/Nintendo | Wii U)
Nintendo has been pretty cagey with Xenoblade Chronicles X. There have been teaser trailers, and there was a hands-off demonstration on the show floor. But by and large, Nintendo has kept the details surrounding Monolith's latest RPG pretty close to the vest.
This is what we know about it so far. It's not really a true story from the previous game, but it does pick up on the "philosophical points." The gameplay is focused on exploration and the discovery of other survivors who can provide useful skills. And there is a city called New Los Angeles, which will evidently serve as one of the game's major hubs.*
Mostly, I really liked Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii, and I'm looking forward to seeing something similar in high-definition. If it's basically the same thing but with guns instead of swords, then so be it. All that matters to me is that Xenoblade Chronicles continue to nail the trifecta of depth, art direction, and music. Thus far, it seems like I have nothing to worry about. Though all I've seen is Nintendo's hands-off demo, it thus far seems quite reminiscent of the original. Assuming that it plays like it looks, I have every intention of buying it on Day 1.
Why Does it Have to be 2015?!Star Wars: Battlefront (DICE/Electronic Arts | Multi)
I really wanted Star Wars to steal this year's show. I did. At this point, I like Star Wars games better than I do the movies. But alas, Star Wars was largely MIA during this show, which left EA with Battlefield Hardline, Dragon Age, and a handful of sports games for E3. And The Sims, I guess.
It was probably the biggest letdown of the show for me. I mean, I'll grant that it's always been a given that Star Wars: Battlefront wouldn't be coming out until 2015. It's just that I kind of figured that it would be coming out around May; you know, in time for Episode VII. I figured that they would have real footage. But based on what was shown at E3 2014, I'm not even sure Battlefront will be out before 2016.
The reason I've been harping on this so much is that Battlefront is really good. The original game's ambitious mix of ground-based, space-based, and Jedi combat was well ahead of its time. Having waited almost a decade for a true next-gen sequel to Battlefront 2, all of the teasing over the past several years has been almost unbearable. In that light, it was downright cruel for EA to say that Battlefront would be at E3, and then literally show less than 30 seconds of real footage. I would have almost rather they had just left out Battlefront entirely.
So I guess that it's back to sitting tight and waiting for another year. While I do so, I'll just chant, "At least it exists. At least it's in the hands of DICE. It could be a lot worse." I actually do believe that it could be a lot worse, especially given the ultimate fate of LucasArts. But man, after a decade of waiting, I'm ready to get to the fireworks factory already. Getting teased like this by EA is just the worst.
Best RPGWitcher 3 (CD Projekt Red/WB Games | Multi)
I didn't get a chance to write about Witcher 3 (I know, shame on me), but it was probably my favorite RPG of the show. Already one of the best RPGs on the PC, it's a perfect fit for next-generation consoles, boasting a mix of scope and depth unmatched by any RPG outside of Skyrim. To this point, it's generally flown under the radar, appealing in large part to a hardcore niche of RPG fans, but that should change this fall.
It's tough to encapsulate its appeal in a few hundred words, but a lot of it has to do with Witcher 3 being just beautiful to look at. It also helps that it boasts a really strong story and setting, which is based in part on Polish legend. Over the years, CD Projekt Red has done a terrific job of bringing the world of Witcher to life, slowly drawing in western audiences that would normally be alienated by its foreign influences.
In making its next-gen debut on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it immediately becomes one of the best-looking games on either console. It's further bolstered by action reminiscent of Dark Souls, which is at once accessible and interesting. And its dark Eastern European-inspired fantasy aesthetic is perfect for an audience that continues to flock to "Game of Thrones."
I'll write about it more in depth soon, but I really think that Witcher is poised to become one of this generation's most popular RPGs, possibly even eclipsing offerings by BioWare. As they say, "Built it and they will come." The Witcher is the best example yet of sheer quality trumping overblown hype and name recognition in building a franchise.
Best ChartLet it Die (Grasshopper Manufacture/GungHo Online Entertainment | Multi)
Seriously, you have to look at this chart of Let it Die drawn by GungHo CEO Kazuki Morishita. It really doesn't make any sense, but I love the idea of fighting Suda 51's in-game corpse.
Worst Booth LayoutEA Sports
I have a theory that a publisher's booth is a reflection of its personality as a company. Square Enix's booth is big and messy and loaded with toys; Activision's booth is monolithic and featureless, and Nintendo's booth is cheerful but carefully controlled. It's a theory that helps to explain EA's booth, which is huge, flashy, and borderline impossible to navigate.
I should mention that it's always been like this, but it's been worse than usual this year. All of EA's sports games were hidden in what amounted to an aquarium, where I was forced to press flesh with sweaty sports game nerds under hot camera lights for more than hour. It was a miserable experience, and it was only my excitement for NHL 15 that kept me from leaving immediately. But on the bright side, EA did a fantastic job of simulating a real live locker room.
Best Way to Finish the ShowSuper Smash Bros (Sora Ltd./Nintendo | Wii U)
I spent much of E3 2014 trying to squeeze in a game of Super Smash Bros with my friend Ash Paulsen, another journalist who enjoys the series as much as I do. With much of the rest of USgamer, including our fearless leader, greeting it with a shrug, I was especially motivated to get in a game with someone who really understands what Super Smash Bros. is all about. We didn't get our game in until the last day, but it was worth it.
Going a few rounds with Ash was what made Super Smash Bros. finally click with me after a show spent wondering whether the series had gone stale. It was playing against a skilled player like Ash that helped push my skills and really give me a feel for what this iteration of Super Smash Bros. is all about. I was relieved to find that it's fun as ever, even if Greninja feels dramatically underpowered (as do smash attacks in general). Ash beat me pretty handily with Mega Man—he really knows how to abuse those charge shots—but I came away feeling much better about Super Smash Bros. Plus, I got to take some time out to play a game I really like with a close friend. If that's not time well spent at a video game conference, then I don't know what is.
* While having terrible traffic. Sorry, I've been kind of stuck in Los Angeles for a week now.