Word came in that the EA presser was going to run for two hours, and I couldn't help but wonder how the hell they were going to spin things out for that long given the paucity of content in their showing two months ago at E3. There was preciously little that was new to be had at this show (we'll get to Shadow Realms in a bit) and what more could be said apart from "here's FIFA, we'll see you next year"?
What unfolded was a mixed bag of ups and downs. Dragon Age: Inquisition got a length run out, although that was somewhat interrupted by the stream being about as stable upon launch as Battlefield 4 was. It's difficult to imagine that Inquisition is the successor to Dragon Age II, such was the laziness and mediocrity of the latter, and I must admit to being enormously impressed by the scale and ambition of Inquisition. It looks incredibly accessible on consoles, while maintaing the PC level of depth we came to expect following Origins. The return of the tactical camera cannot be overstated, and hopefully its implementation allows for more expansive, nuanced battle design and confrontations that really test our minds rather than the robust nature of our thumbs.
It's a damn fine game to behold on a visual level too, and the prospect of one's own customisable stronghold is mouth-watering. It looks as though that'll prove to be own own fantastical Normandy for this game, but with greater opportunities to make our base of operations our own, before taking missions from a giant map and sorting out the loadouts and inventories of our companions.
EA gave us much more for The Sims 4 here than they did at E3, indeed the focus on extended gameplay demonstrations was admirable. The exchanges between Rachel Franklin and Peter Moore were gloriously awkward. I kind of loved it. Moore's asides were golden, the deadpan reactions to the injustices wrought upon his virtual avatar were brilliant. It would only have been better if he'd actually started twerking onstage. We'd have all remembered that. As it is, The Sims 4 is shaping up rather nicely, it seems. The new Build Mode looks cracking, but we'll need to get hands on with it to really see how much of a difference the new traits make to the gameplay.
FIFA's looking like FIFA, and NHL 15 is a thing, but really the announcement we were most keen for was BioWare's Shadow Realms reveal, and we got it. And several weeks of curiosity and tentative excitement came flooding out of me in a handful of seconds.
Set in a "modern fantasy world," featuring magical-powered heroes "that wouldn't look out of place in this room," as BioWare Austin GM Jeff Hickman put it addressing the crowd in Cologne, Shadow Realms is a story-driven online action-RPG that will apparently feature four-vs-one gameplay. The game will pitch you and your party against the "Shadow Lord", who can set traps, wield powerful magic, and make your lives troublesome. It looks like Evolve crossed with DnD crossed with a MOBA. It'll be dispensed in episodic chunks like a TV series, to be released on PC next year.
Given that BioWare opened the show with a look at what appears to be a phenomenally deep, story-driven epic RPG, laced with branching narratives, character development, customisation, and tactical depth, I was sort of hoping we'd get something a little like that. Something that builds upon BioWare's legacy. I know it's early days, but as a reveal, Shadow Realms felt incredibly flat. It felt small rather than epic, a sign of a once-great studio forced down a path prescribed by the times, falling in with fads rather than making the industry work for itself.
Again, it's early days, but I never thought I'd feel so apathetic about a new BioWare IP.
It's the name that does it, carrying all of the gaming experiences I associate with the BioWare brand -- all of them deep, engrossing, narrative-driven RPGs, from Infinity Engine classics to modern marvels. Names can be powerful, but they also ingrain a set of expectations.
It's the same for Battlefeild. Hardline appeared once more, this time showing off some of the singleplayer elements. Battlefield's singleplayer components have been largely horrible since Bad Company 2 (and the less said about MOH the better), but within minutes, Hardline's already seems more memorable than anything we've seen from DICE of late. The troubler is, it also looks about as far from what we'd associate with a Battlefield experience. The demo featured stealthy corridor shooting and protagonist Nick pulling handcuffs out of thin air. Then it became Far Cry and had you liberate an enemy outpost. Come on DICE, even Bad Company managed to fit expansive SP maps in from time to time.
It looked so different, in fact, that one wonders if it wouldn't have been better to drop the Battlefield moniker entirely, but then you have the contrast with the multiplayer action exhibited in the beta, which was so familiar it could have passed as a BF4 map pack. In fact it did. It was basically a BF4 map pack. EA have their work cut out with that game.
A more focussed press briefing then, one with lots of gameplay footage and live demoing, but one with notable titles MIA. No word on Mass Effect, no huge detail on Shadow Realms after all of those teases, NBA Live 15 was absent, as was Mirror's Edge 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront. Inquisition was a bright spark, and I'm eagerly anticipating Carl's report after he visits EA this afternoon, but as with E3, there's not much to see here until next year.