E3 2019 – Bethesda Presser Highlights

What did Bethesda have to offer in this year’s E3 press brief?

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So here we are again, E3 2019. Of course, I am not writing this from the LA Convention Centre but rather from my sofa in drizzly England, where I’m watching the livestreams on YouTube. Honestly, I’m sorta glad I’m not in California, because the debacle that is me simultaneously trying to type these articles, take notes, watch the briefings and drink copious amounts of caffeine is not something I need to submit anyone else to.

With the Xbox briefing out of the way earlier this evening, it’s time for Bethesda’s offering. The disaster that was Fallout 76 is a dark cloud that continues to hang over their heads; Tim offered up that an apology should be one of the items of their briefing this year (it wasn’t).

In all seriousness, Bethesda had an awful lot to make up for this year and a spurned fanbase to win back. To his credit Todd Howard is a good sport about it all, but the dissatisfaction felt by fans is still ever-present. The studio’s gratitude to the community is apparent, but that doesn’t remove the bitter aftertaste of the game’s disastrous launch.

So, what pricked my ears during this year’s briefing, as someone who’s not really an Elder Scrolls fan? Trying to condense a packed briefing into anything resembling succinctness is difficult, but I’ve picked through my near-illegible notes to bring you a brief summary.

Fallout 76 – Year 2

Ah, Fallout 76. The multiplayer entry in the Fallout series absolutely nobody wanted, that released as a buggy, broken and unfinished mess. To be honest I think anything the studio does to salvage the situation is like putting a kiddie’s dinosaur plaster on a broken bone, but at least the content announced is free!

The Wastelanders expansion brings with it a new questline and stories to explore, but also brings human NPCs to West Virginia (finally!). Both this and Nuclear Winter, a 52-person battle royale mode wherein players vie for the role of Vault 51’s Overseer, are completely free. Also free is a week-long trial of the game, starting today. Bethesda clearly hope that these offerings will draw in droves of players, but honestly I’m not sure by how much the player-base will be expanding. Time will tell I guess.

GhostWire: Tokyo

When Shinji Mikami walks onstage you know you’re in for awesomeness, and boy howdy does GhostWire: Tokyo look ace. Instead of being Mikami’s lifeblood, survival horror, this is instead an action adventure game wherein we face paranormal evils in order to save the city of Tokyo. Presumably this is the same supernatural force that’s abducting Tokyo’s citizens, leaving only their clothes behind – or, sadly, a lone doggo. Why are they being taken? Where do they go? Who’s responsible? Most importantly, can you pet the pup? I have so many questions!

There’s precious little by way of information about this game thus far, but knowing its source we can be pretty sure we’re in for a terrific experience.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Sometimes all you want to do is pick up a gun and shoot some evil Nazis dead. Cyberpilot will let players fulfil their Nazi-killing fantasies in glorious VR. Youngblood lets us do it with a friend. Seeing as VR is more or less totally inaccessible to me, and as appealing as pretending to be a computer hacker in the French Resistance sounds like fun, I’ll keep my attention focused on the latter title.

Set in the 1980s, two decades after The New Colossus, Youngblood sees BJ Blazkowicz’s daughters, twins Jessica and Sophia, travel to Paris in search of their father whilst also aiding the Resistance in liberating the country from forty years of Nazi occupation. Taking control of either twin, players can either fly solo with an AI companion or be joined by a friend in co-op play.  Releasing on 26th July, we don’t have much longer to wait to kill some freaking Nazis.

Deathloop

I expected greatness from Arkane, being the colossal Dishonored fan that I am. In the glaring absence of any sort of addition to that particular franchise – excuse me whilst I cry – I can instead wait eagerly for Deathloop, which looks to be one hell of an experience.

Apparently combining a ‘mind-bending story’ with intricately designed levels and the ‘play your way’ style of gameplay we’ve come to expect from an Arkane game, Deathloop is set on the ‘lawless’ island of Blackreef and tells the tale of Colt and Juliana, two rival assassins stuck in an unrelenting cycle of death and apparent resurrection. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, or why, or how, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be there at launch to find out.

There you have it, BE3 over for another year. I’m somewhat undecided as to whether Bethesda have finished climbing out of the deep, Fallout 76-shaped hole they’ve been in since last year, but I’m choosing to remain optimistic. I just seriously hope that my optimism won’t turn out to be misplaced.

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Four Things I’d Like to See

Once I’d recovered from bursting into flames at the news of a new Creed game, I thought about all the awesomeness the game could include.

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The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been somewhat of a rollercoaster for Ubisoft. For the most part it’s a series that has seen great success, but also has a flop or two (I’m looking at you here, Unity). As a fiercely loyal and long-time devotee to this franchise I will defend it to the bitter end, but I also concede that it needed a hefty break, and then a reboot.

Thus, Assassin’s Creed Origins came along and blew the series out of the depths. Bursting onto the scene with its entirely reworked controls, RPG-style skill and weapon management options and one of the most harrowing stories in Assassin’s Creed history it has earned back a lot of respect for the series. With it being such a successful game, and rightfully so, it was inevitable for there to be another instalment of the series at some point, whether it was a sequel, an expansion such as Death of the Outsider was to Dishonored or a brand new story entirely.

Thanks to this leak, that new instalment has now been confirmed ahead of Ubisoft’s E3 press conference in a little under a fortnight; Ubisoft have now released an official teaser for the game.

Provided there are no additional leaks between now and the press conference, we’ll have to wait until 11th June for any solid details – I’m banking on a cinematic announcement trailer and an approximate release date at least. Until then all we can do is take what we do know and run with it: the game is called Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and it seems to take place in Ancient Greece.

How exactly this will fit into the timeline, I am not sure. The Ancient Greek civilisation ended when it fell to the Roman Empire in 146 BCE, which is a century before Bayek and Aya founded the Hidden Ones in 47 BCE. However, with the Order of the Ancients supposedly founded in 1334 BCE, during the late period of the Greek Bronze Age, it’s not unreasonable to assume the game might take place much earlier (although having said that, the use of the Spartan helmet suggests Sparta might play a prominent role, meaning the game would indeed take place from 800 BCE onwards). Irrespective of the Age, whichever form the Assassins take are likely to be similar to Bayek as a Medjay, total badasses but lacking the iconic hidden blade.

Whatever Ubisoft has decided, it’s certainly not going to stop me from speculating on details until the day it’s released and spouting nonsense about what I’d like to see, so here are four things I think would be damn awesome if they were to crop up in-game.

1. The Olympics

An undeniable gem of Origins is the gladiatorial arenas in Cyrene and Krokodilopolis, where players can pit Bayek against the arena bosses, or the relentless horde mode and kick some major Roman butt. Killing a dude three times your size with an axe thrown from the other side of the arena, all whilst breaking the neck of another other massive dude is hella fun, there’s no other way of putting it. So with Ancient Greece being the birthplace of the Olympic Games I think it would be an enjoyable side-activity for our hero to venture into the stadium and try his hand at the various events on offer. This may be slightly tricky, seeing as all athletes were stark naked throughout and so far the franchise has been careful to retain character modesty – Bayek’s bathhouse towel, anyone?

Nowadays Olympic sport is chock full of rules and regulations to ensure not only that the athletes play fair but also that they can participate safely. Although cheating was not condoned – cheaters were forced to pay for a statue of Zeus by way of punishment – there were no rules concerning safety. In sports like boxing or wrestling athletes routinely had their eyes gouged or were savagely bitten; boxing in particular allowed athletes to continue punching their opponent even after they’d been knocked out. Winners would be dressed with a wreath of leaves, something replicated when Athens hosted the modern Olympics in 2004, and would be welcomed home as a hero.

With combat and chariot racing already having appeared in Origins it wouldn’t be a tremendous surprise for them to reappear in the guise of the Olympics. Having a boxing event would mirror the brutality of the fight clubs of Syndicate, which stand out as one of the best side-activities available in the game. Personally I would love to see another opportunity for those sweet multi-kills to appear again, and this would definitely be it.

2.THIS. IS. SPARTA.

Thanks to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (and later Zach Snyder) most of the world is familiar with a fictionalised version of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans fight a heroic last stand against Xerxes’ 30,000 Persians. In reality the battle was fought between King Xerxes I of Persia and an alliance of Spartans and Greeks (among others) led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and whilst the last stand did contain those 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians remained at the very least.

It wouldn’t be the first time prominent battles have taken centre stage in the Assassin’s Creed universe, but the inclusion of this battle, fought in 480 BCE, would certainly make sense if Sparta does play an important role in the plot. The Templar Order’s reach has almost always been much greater than that of the Assassins, especially by the time we get into the modern day timeline, and having a heavily outnumbered Assassin army face off against a vast sea of Templars would be epic and befitting of the struggle the Brotherhood has always faced against an enemy much greater in numbers.

3. Mythology Galore

We all know at least a little Greek mythology, whether taught to us at school, discovered on a trip to a museum with family or learned via the humour of the Horrible Histories book series. Achilles, invulnerable after being dipped into the Styx as an infant with exception of the heel by which he was held; Heracles, the son of Zeus and gatekeeper of Olympus; even the Styx itself, the boundary river that the dead must cross to reach the Underworld, ruled by Hades.

Origins placed a lot of importance on Bayek’s belief in the Egyptian gods and the afterlife; I would expect Odyssey to do the same. The Greeks believed that at the point of death the soul separated from the body and arrived at the river Styx ready with a coin under the tongue to pay Charon, the Ferryman, to row them across the river – he would turn away souls that had not received a proper burial. Once at the entrance to Hades the Judges would decide where the soul would go: to Elysium, where the heroic and righteous lived a happy afterlife alongside those related to the gods; to the Asphodel Meadows, where normal souls who did not deserve damnation but hadn’t achieved greatness were sent to rest; to the Mourning Fields if the soul had wasted their life on unrequited love; to Tartarus if the soul was wicked and had earned eternal punishment.

To prevent the dead from leaving, the gates of Hades were guarded by Cerberus, the monstrous multiple-headed dog. Now, wouldn’t that be a helluva fight? Imagine that: your soul is trapped in Hades but you must escape, and to do so you might fight this monstrous beast that has many mouths with which you tear you in two.

With plenty of other mythological creatures and deities to choose from there are numerous other opportunities for the game to face the protagonist off against some otherworldly foe. I for one really enjoy the Trials of the Gods battles in Origins, with Anubis remaining my favourite, and it would be thrilling to have a similar set of battles in Odyssey, whether it’s against a Harpy or Hydra.

4. Stupid Freakin’ Trojans

One of the most famous tales to come out of Greek mythology is that of the Wooden Horse of Troy. After years of unsuccessful war with the Trojans, the Greeks hatched a plan to enter the city by constructing a giant wooden horse and hiding a select number of men inside and leaving it outside the city gates. The Greeks pretended to surrender and retreated; the Trojans, thinking the battle won, pulled the horse inside the city in victory. Overnight, the men hidden inside snuck out to open the gates for the Greek army and the city was invaded. (To be honest they were asking to be sieged: I mean if I found a giant wooden horse outside my front door I wouldn’t then wheel it into my flat! As Dave Lister says in S05E02 of Red Dwarf, “Are you telling me that not one single Trojan thought ‘hang on a minute, that’s a bit of a funny pressie? What’s wrong with a couple of hundred pairs of socks and some aftershave?’”)

As comical as it is to imagine forty men crammed inside a wooden horse, it would present a prime opportunity to weave in some direct Assassin-on-Templar action. Perhaps Troy is a city controlled by the Order of the Ancients and our protagonist is one of the Greeks inside the horse, ready to sneak his way past patrolling guards to open the gates before dramatically clashing swords with his foes. Or maybe the city is an Assassin stronghold about to be infiltrated by the Order and eliminated once and for all, giving the Order ultimate control over the land.

With the Trojan War coming to an end in 1180 BCE it would be fitting for it to be the latter, The Order of Ancients establishing their power by seizing an Assassin city. This also gives an exciting possibility: if Origins told of the birth of the Assassin Brotherhood, then perhaps Odyssey will tell of the birth of the Templars?

As previously stated this is pure waffly conjecture on my part, and I have to try to make sure I don’t get too excited for what might not come to pass. All I can do is what everyone else will now be doing: eagerly awaiting the impending announcement at E3. In the meantime, however, I’m going to locate a copy of Groovy Greeks and head to the British Museum for some important research!