E3 2017: 9 highlights from EA's conference

EA, cheeky sods that they are, decided not to attend E3 last year, and the trend continues this year. Instead of snubbing the biggest gaming event of the year outright, the publisher is happy to ride on the coattails of the big event, running its EA Play event alongside E3. There wasn’t a whole lot of unexpected stuff at EA’s pre-E3 2017 conference, but read on for 9 gaming-related highlights.

To boldly start with American Football
EA’s conference kicked off with Madden 18, which is a bold choice given that people are paying the most attention at the front of a conference. This is why publishers tend to leave the biggest game until the end, so people stick around, but it was a bold move to open proceedings with a game that has niche appeal outside of America. EA CEO Andrew Wilson promises it’ll be the most innovative Madden of the decade, for those of you hanging out for it.

In the name of the underwhelming Tsar
Battlefield 1 had a huge presence at EA’s pre-E3 event last year, but this year, with the game out in the wild (and, reportedly, 20 million people having bought it), the focus was on DLC. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, of course, but the first disappointment was that In the Name of the Tsar DLC won’t release until September. That’s a lot longer wait than I (and, I reckon, most other fans) were expecting. The trailer was also a bit underwhelming, with the exception of a couple of exciting moments. Be sure to check out the EA Play trailer page once it’s live, and prepare to be underwhelmed.

Still, in terms of news from the Battlefield 1 frontline, the DLC will have six new maps, the new Russian faction (which includes Hussar cavalry, and the women’s Battalion of Death), as well as the pledge of deeper player assignments and gameplay specialisation potentiality. Night maps are coming sooner than the Russian DLC, with a June release for Nivelle Nights and a July date for Prise de Tahure. EVP of EA Worldwide Studios Patrick Söderlund also promised more news on Battlefield 1’s competitive mode at Gamescom.

FIFA continues to incrementally upgrade
Yearly releases don’t leave a whole lot of time for massive gameplay evolution or revolutionary new features, especially not when the game is being built by the same studio year in, year out. FIFA 18 is being built on Frostbite once again, and will feature the continuation of FIFA 17 protagonist Alex Hunter’s story in a campaign unsurprisingly called The Journey: Hunter Returns. Players reportedly helped Hunter score more than 360 million goals in his first season in FIFA 17. Not bad for a fledgling footballer. EA Canada has enlisted the mo-cap skills of football legend Cristiano Ronaldo, and teased this is the beginning of an expansion of signature moves, team play styles, and dramatic moments (whatever they are).

Need for Speed Payback looks cinematic AF
I’m not much for racing games, but there’s no denying that Need for Speed Payback is poised to deliver some Fast and Furious-type thrills and spills in its campaign (at the very least). Executive producer Marcus Nillson is promising it will fulfil your oddly specific “action-driving fantasies” in a campaign that has three different playable characters (Tyler, Jess, and Mack) with three different play styles. You’d have to assume those styles all involve some sort of speed and a need for it. Payback lets players zoom across cities, canyons, and mountains, in what Nillson promises is the most diverse open world Need for Speed fans have ever burnt rubber in. Customisation is deeper and players can sniff out Relics (read: old classic cars) that can be transformed from wreck to stock to supercar. The slow-mo crashes look great, but the ‘enemy’ cars with healthbars looks like Need for Speed is sliding even deeper into arcade territory than ever before.

A Way Out offers a way out of solo play
A Way Out is the latest EA Originals game, and last year’s indie-esque game under the same banner, Fe, was nowhere to be seen. This new EA Originals game comes from the makers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which includes Josef Fares, who’s now the director and writer of A Way Out at the newly formed Hazelight Studios. The game seems more targeted at console players, mostly because

the reveal had a big emphasis on splitscreen play, and also given that it apparently has to be played cooperatively. Still, A Way Out is coming to PC, too, and online cooperative play was mentioned. It’s an interesting punt for a narrative-driven game to be co-op only, which means you’ll likely be forced (or, at least, heavily incentivised) to play it the whole way through with the same person (matching schedules is a tricky thing in these distracted days). That said, A Way Out looks like one to keep an eye on.

Sing an Anthem to BioWare’s new game
Despite the divisive reception of the not-so-long-ago-released Mass Effect Andromeda, Söderlund had no qualms spruiking BioWare’s next game. It was more tease than substance, but BioWare’s new game is called Anthem, and it’s being built on Frostbite. There was a brief teaser trailer and the pledge that there would be a full gameplay reveal at the Microsoft E3 conference, assumedly powered by working-title generation-refresh console Project Scorpio. Tune in tomorrow for more info when I write up the Microsoft conference. From what little that was shown, it’s hard to shake the idea that EA is looking for a Destiny competitor.

NBA Live is bouncing back… again
As with the other sports titles EA was showcasing during this conference, it was more of a brief look at NBA Live 18 than anything substantial. Executive producer Sean O’Brien says that the last two years have been spent overhauling NBA Live 18, and there was a short demonstration of (hopefully) intuitive left- and right-stick ball and defensive controls. For those interested b-ball fans, EA is pushing out a free demo in August, which will reportedly feature solo, co-op, and multiplayer modes, and you can carry over demo progress into the full game.

FrEA access
Forgive the terrible subhead; I couldn’t help myself. This week, Origin Access is free to try. And if you’re somehow reading E3 news on PC PowerPlay but are more interested in the console side of things, EA Access is free on Xbox One, too. EA also says there’s some PlayStation 4 trials available, as well. Either way, free is free, so if there are any EA games from recent history (or well into the past) that you’ve been meaning to take for a spin, you’ve got a week to get amongst it.

Star Wars Battlefront II offers a new hope
I’m still a Battlefront (2015) apologist, but I’m the first to admit it had some big problems (particularly at launch). If what EA is peddling at the EA Play event is true, Battlefront II is set to make up for the many sins of the original game. EA is promising that it’s three times bigger than the 2015 attempt, and I’m hoping that’s in comparison to Battlefront in its current form (after the release of all its DLC) and not in terms of its launch form. Still, because Battlefront II is covering all Star Wars eras, it means more heroes, vehicles, planets, space battles, starfighter assaults, as well as a deeper progression and customisation system.

I had to listen to it twice to believe it, but EA is also promising that all DLC heroes, all weapons, and all maps will be free to download post-release. Rainbow Six Siege release model be praised! I’m assuming this means EA will be charging for skins or possibly progression boosts, but who cares: it’s a very positive step in the right direction for ensuring the Battlefront II community survives beyond launch. The first “season” (EA’s words) will be inspired by The Last Jedi, and will include good-guy Finn and bad-gal Captain Phasma as new playable heroes/villains. You’ll also get to play on the new planet Crete, which was briefly seen in The Last Jedi movie trailer.

It was clear Battlefront II was the champion game for EA, as a) it was shown last and b) EA was happy to show off a full multiplayer map called Assault on Theed, which was played live. It was a 20v20 multiplayer showdown between clones and Separatist droids, and it looked glorious. The new Battle Points system lets players horde funds to unlock heroes, or spend them earlier on vehicles or specialist units. In short: no more freakin’ map pick-ups, which is great. The tactical possibilities and emphasis on teamwork provided by the welcome inclusion of a proper class system, with each class having definitive strengths and weaknesses, is a welcome addition, too.

That’s it for EA’s conference. Check back tomorrow for coverage of the Microsoft and Bethesda conferences.

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