E3 2015: Bethesda Press Conference Impressions

This may have been Bethesda's first E3 press conference, but the minds behind this showcase clearly learned lessons from their competition. Bethesda came out with a bang, showing a Doom demo millions of people were eager to nitpick and salivate over. For years we have known about the existence of the next Doom iteration, but this marked the game's overdue public debut. Right away we see the protagonist don his iconic helmet before eviscerating demons with little more than a shotgun and brute strength. Much like Rage, and one of the only things that game did well, enemies react to your shots. They stumble and roll to recover on the ground, but that cannot save them from you. The demo's executions would make Mortal Kombat proud.

In the span of minutes, Doom guy rips a demon's heart out, caves an abomination’s face in with its own leg, punches a monster's head off, and literally tears an enemy in half. We also got to see the impressive gib effects behind the id Tech 6 engine. Shouts of excitement nearly drowned out the game’s audio when the hero's double barrel shotgun blasted enemies into bits, leaving behind stumbling legs or groveling torsos. I assumed that would be enough of a high point, at least until the demo unleashed chainsaw executions. Yes, the fatalities did repeat, but that could be partially attributed to the game’s unreleased state. The developers could always add more.

Nevertheless, Doom would not be worthy of the franchise if its kills were clean. Rather, the cuts appear brutal, imprecise, meant to reinforce the messiness of Doom's environments and the horrors you call your enemies. The showcase eventually capped off with our protagonist being mauled by a Revenant, having his limbs forcefully removed one by one. Of course we got a multiplayer tease, too. id Software promises hectic shootouts, even if nothing will match the original Doom in its speed again.

The inclusion of mod support should give still the game some legs. I have no doubt that the community will create several truly memorable maps. The question right now is, how large will that player base be one week, one month, or one year after launch? Not content to end on a lesser note, though, we got an extra glimpse of the latest rendition of Hell, where we finally saw the rocket launcher and a tease of the BFG in action. Personally, I cannot wait to make Hell’s janitors work overtime amid early 2016.

Coming off that excitement, sadly, few things could eclipse Doom. Bethesda showed footage of BattleCry, a class-based arena brawler with visuals similar to Dishonored (Viktor Antonov did lend his pen to the proceedings). I suspect the end result evokes comparisons to Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, not including the steampunkish weaponry. On the other hand, multiplayer arena titles do not speak to me, regardless of beta announcements and the touting of 12v12 skirmishes alongside warrior customization. Maybe some hands-on time will shake my indifference, I hope it does, since the available trailers hardly rally my interest. Given how crowded the online-only multiplayer genre has recently become, too, I fear BattleCry might need to bulk up on features to set itself apart.

At least Dishonored 2 immediately reinvigorated my spirits. Had its development not leaked beforehand, it may have been my surprise of the conference. With just a trailer for reference, Princess Emily from Dishonored seems to possess an unfulfilled vendetta. Using a tentacle-like grappling hook, the power to freeze time, and a shadow mist ability similar to the Darkness, Emily worms her way through town and a mansion before cornering her prey. We then received news that Corvo would reappear as a playable character, that his arsenal would be different from Emily's, and that the entire story can be finished without killing a soul. Oh, a Dishonored Definitive Edition is coming to current-gen consoles. Moving on.

Although Elder Scrolls Online already launched on modern platforms, Bethesda thought it fitting to include a trailer for the Tamriel Unlimited version, presumably to remind viewers that, "Hey, our game is out. Please download it. I have a family to feed." Call me cynical, yet an online version of Elder Scrolls is simply not what I want from that series.

The Elder Scrolls: Legends, what could be a "me too" virtual card game, also came as an underwhelming surprise. No one outside Bethesda knows what shape Legends will take – be it the user interface, the card specifics, or how matches play out. We only know that it exists and will be free to play. I just wonder if yet another entry into the card battling genre can gain a foothold with the likes of Hearthstone draining away iPad battery lives.

To top things off, the Todd Howard stepped onstage to highlight all things Fallout. Starting off with a slideshow of various concept art images, the demo led into Fallout 4’s intro – a time before the bombs dropped. Here we saw the character creation, a rather humorous demonstration of altering a character's appearance as his significant other looks on. It would not be Fallout otherwise, imagining the NPC's terror as you suddenly sprout a beard, gain Dumbo-sized ears, or even change skin color. Some good news even came with the disclosure that you can play as a woman.

But again, just to remind you this is Fallout, the tutorial sequence ends with a sprint for a bomb shelter. For yet unrevealed story reasons, the apocalypse then picks up 200 years in the future. Following additional exploration, the video visits what remains of the protagonist's neighborhood after the nukes dropped, as well as a gas station where we might meet our canine companion. Fortunately, the rundown gas station is an ideal time for molerats to attack and present the latest version of V.A.T.S. Time does not halt completely while selecting targets, but adversaries react to the damage players deal, rolling and flinching as a consequence for picking the wrong fight, perhaps allowing us room to retreat and choose other victims.

Giving us a short Fallout 4 breather, then, Todd Howard brought news of a replica Pip-Boy to be included with each collector's editions, meant to hold your smartphone as you browse the accompanying app. What functionality such a "gimmick" contains remains a mystery, though I would hazard a guess and say mending actual fractured bones and guns has eluded Bethesda's scientists, at least for a couple more years. Likewise, will that model Pip-Boy accommodate all sizes of iOS and Android phones? I think some people will bite the bullet and find out.

Not content to be the only app at the conference, we witnessed Fallout Shelter, a vault creation/management game in the style of the Sims. You need to keep your cartoon vault dwellers content physically and emotionally while deterring invasions from outsiders, and dammit that 2D animated art works, smoothing the edges of an uncompromisingly depressing universe. It launched after the press conference, so go download Fallout Shelter now!

Back to Fallout 4, Bethesda has thrown in shelters, more impressive in scope and scale than anything seen from Skyrim. You choose what defenses guard against onslaughts of raiders, including makeshift turrets and flamethrowers, right down to the color schemes. The customization extends to weapon augmentation and armor modification as well, so, you know, if you needed an excuse to cut ties to your loved ones for another two dozen hours, there you go. To wrap the show up, we finally got a montage of Fallout 4’s extensive combat, which reveres the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach, though you could probably fashion rifle scopes and shoulder armor with those old furnishings.

Can Bethesda’s conference compete against seasoned publishers, however? We’ll have our answer within hours, yet my biggest takeaway is one of enthusiasm. Sure, Fallout 3’s initial showcase glued me to the TV when teddy bears fired from a homemade launcher obliterated mutants. Except ... the finished thing left me downtrodden and confused. The barren wasteland made me feel insignificant in Fallout 3's world, contrary to the nearly unanimous praise of other buyers. I dropped the game after six hours, but something tells me Fallout 4 is more my cup of tea. In addition, Bethesda gave us Doom and Dishonored 2 within those 60 minutes, each demo exuding confidence. I do not subscribe to the whole “who won E3?” debate, though if I did for even a moment, Bethesda’s conference debut maintained the firepower and presence to topple giants.  

Lazy's picture

Fallout 4, I'm exited for this! For 3 and NV I waited until the complete edition including all dlc came out, but I I'll probably buy this before that happens.

To me, the strength of the series lies in exploration. You are now at point A, but your quest objective lies at point B, so you have to travel there. However, before you get to point B, you'll have explored an abandoned town, befriended a small settlement, picked up 3 more quests, cleared a raider camp and found some sweet weapons hidden in a cave. By the time you finished your quest, you'll have lots of things you want to do next.

My main issue with the pevious games is that they felt very 'shoddy'. Movement and gunplay weren't very smooth and I encountered a bunch of bugs, such as getting stuck, or items falling through the map rendering me unable to complete quests. I don't know if this is tied to the Gamebryo engine, or if it's caused by a lack of QA. Good thing I could fix most of my issues with mods or console commands.

My hope for fallout 4 is that it doesn't feel like it's held together by duct tape. Judging from the presentation, it seems they've definetly improved the movement and gunplay.

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