E3 2013 was just over two weeks ago and while it certainly was a console-fest, some interesting Free-to-Play news did emerge from the heaps of media and PR bodies stacked on top of one another within the expo center.
We pulled ourselves from the pile with some opinions of our own, and in my case, the flu. From these opinions we’ve managed create an arbitrary list of what we thought was interesting at E3, so consider these our non-category-specific awards.
What console has the brightest F2P future? PlayStation 4
Consoles! Anyone who watched E3 coverage can tell you new consoles were the main focus for the majority of developers in attendance. The same held true for Free-to-Play developers. Consoles dominated the F2P news space with both Microsoft and Sony announcing multiple F2P titles across their current and next-gen platforms.
So which side emerged victorious? While Microsoft did bring F2P Russian behemoth Wargaming onstage to announce a World of Tanks port for the Xbox 360, it only announced one other F2P title. Granted, that other title just so happened to be Killer Instinct, a very popular fighting game remade for the Xbox One. However, Microsoft then took steps in the opposite direction by limiting players to just one character unless they opted to pay for more and also required Xbox LIVE Gold membership to access F2P content, making it hard to argue in favor of Xbox for F2P games.
Sony, on the other hand, seems to be doing the opposite, announcing multiple PlayStation 3 and 4 Free-to-Play titles, including their own F2P fighting game based on the Tekken series. Tekken Revolution offers eight unlocked characters, compared to Killer Instinct’s one, with the option of earning more through gameplay. While a large portion of these titles are indeed PC ports, many of them could not be played at almost max settings on a $399 gaming-capable PC.
At that price though, a budget-minded gamer could purchase a PS4 and have access to multiple current F2P titles. What’s more, Sony will also allow gamers to play F2P games online without having to pay for a subscription. This last bit is at the developers discretion, but so far no developer has stated they will impose the subscription requirement.
What game looked most next-gen? Black Desert
OK, so I couldn’t just name the category “Best MMORPG,” because it wasn’t really a competition to begin with. The F2P MMORPG presence was practically non-existent unless you count Wargaming and their gigantic booth dedicated to all things war. In the end, in terms of a normal MMORPG, the contender that looked the most promising was Black Desert.
While its NA/EU release is still somewhere shy of two years (at which point it may very well not be next-gen), Black Desert is already displaying some impressive forward-thinking features: stunning graphics which rival some single-player games, persistent housing with real ownership, the most fluid mounted combat I’ve ever seen, and large scale siege warfare are just some of the most impressive sights to behold in Black Desert. No other MMO at E3 (this includes any potential B2P MMOs) managed to make us plead for beta access like it did.
What game had the best PvP? Command and Conquer
This is again one of those categories that can be hard to define. Sure, the games at E3 presented multiple forms of PvP, but the majority of it had a “been there, done that” feel. That isn’t necessarily the game’s fault. After all PlanetSide 2, which made an appearance at this year’s E3, continues to be an extremely solid MMOFPS and it shows through the consistent updates it gets each month. However, PS2 was the big MMO on campus during last year’s E3. So what new fresh meat was there for us this year?
It ultimately came down to a choice between Turbine’s DC Universe-inspired MOBA, Infinite Crisis, and EA’s upcoming F2P adaptation of the Command and Conquer: Generals series. Both games have come under fire recently due to the plethora of MOBAs already releasing this year, and it doesn’t help that EA has embraced the “WTF where you thinking?” F2P approach recently.
Still, this isn’t an award for the company with the most objectionable business decision, but an acknowledgment of which game sported the best chops in the PvP department. And when it falls like that, the winner is Command and Conquer.
During the press event for C&C, it was evident that Victory Games wanted to separate their RTS from EA’s habit of squeezing blood from the proverbial stone for every penny it’s worth. Arguably, it’s a bit hard to do when the showcase is taking place right outside the main EA booth, which had on display at least three separate titles that receive yearly rehashe… I mean releases.
Generals offered a solid gameplay experience and we found ourselves engrossed in the action. The game offers several cooperative PvE modes on top of the usual competitive PvP, meaning gamers who fall at different ends of the RTS skill spectrum will have something to enjoy. Graphics are top notch thanks to the Frostbyte 2 engine, with loads of particle and physics effects filling the screen during each engagement.
Three factions are available at launch, with each possessing varied gameplay styles (though not as diverse as StarCraft). Multiple map environments with plenty of choke points and buildings to garrison round out some of the “core” RTS features in Generals. Combine all of this with promised support for both official and player-run tournaments and it’s clear EA wants Generals to be considered on the same level as other retail strategy games.
All of this could go out the window though, with the introduction of the game’s cash shop. Victory Games did stress, however, they are committed to listening to player feedback and tweaking balance based on that in order to provide an even playing field.
Currently the only gameplay-altering addition comes in the form of commanders who each bring unique special abilities and certain upgraded units to the field. No one commander is suppose to be stronger than another. They’re meant to be collected over time so a player to choose those he feels best suit his playstyle. Exactly how the cash shop will figure into the acquisition of commanders remains to be seen, but this will certainly be the area to watch if you want to know whether EA is taking a potentially Pay-to-Win approach with the series.
Of course, the game will not include the staple C&C single-player campaign of years past, but this award is for PvP and with the obvious lack of Free-to-Play RTS titles available, Generals deserves the attention of strategy fans.
What game was better than we thought it would be? World of Warships
I have to admit, I was not expecting much from Wargaming’s World of Warships. The feeling going into the meeting was the kind of feeling you get when you go to see the final movie in a trilogy you weren’t exactly excited about in the first place. After being a bit let down by World of Warplanes in comparison to its rival War Thunder, I was skeptical what the developer had in store for the naval MMO.
Having since watched a 20-minute presentation on World of Warships I can safely say I am now much more excited for it than I was previously. The presentation took place within a very large and very nautical domed theater, showing off a handful of matches recorded during the game’s pre-alpha.
During the gameplay demos we got to witness the various naval playstyles available in the game’s four types of ships (sorry, no submarines). Ships range from smaller maneuverable destroyers capable of flanking the enemy and striking them before they’re able to return fire to huge aircraft carriers that forgo artillery guns and instead fill the sky with tactical aircraft. The carrier actually adds a whole new layer of gameplay, since a carrier pilot must control up to six groups of aircraft at a time using an interface similar to that of an RTS. Ships do have automated AA defense to combat this, but a skilled carrier pilot with access to bomber planes can make quick work of an unsuspecting enemy. The squadrons do eventually run of of fuel though, which means they then must land and rearm before taking to the skies once more.
The ships follow a rock, paper, scissors style with some being better suited to take down a certain type of ship, but weak against others. While the ships themselves may plod along at a fairly tactical pace, the addition of scout planes in combination with long-range artillery means the action starts up quickly. Players will need to predicatively fire their guns ahead of the enemy ships, since projectiles do have travel time. Some ships can also use torpedoes, which were shown to have devastating effects. As a ship takes damage it will begin to lose buoyancy, which will ultimately lead to the ship sinking even if it has yet to be fully destroyed.
Wargaming is known to pay close attention to factual details and Warships is no exception. During the presentation the developer stated they had gone so far as to acquire full blueprints for some of the ships for their in-game models to be as historically accurate as possible. The environments were also extremely detailed and featured small fishing towns and ports that added to the game’s setting.
The game will still retain many of the popular features from previous Wargaming titles, including location-specific damage, nine upgrade tiers, 15 vs. 15 competitive modes, and multiple nations to progress with.
With Wargaming removing all Pay-to-Win practices from both their current and upcoming titles, Warship’s release in 2014 seems like the perfect time to try out some naval combat.
What was the biggest surprise of E3? Oculus Rift
Yeah I know what you’re thinking, “it’s not even a game!” That is very true, the Oculus Rift is neither a F2P game or a game in general. So what would compel us to thrust the device into our awards list? I can answer that in two words: The Experience.
The humble-looking black, boxy headset we donned during our play session of CCP’s EVR tech demo provided us an experience beyond what any next-gen game or console at E3 could. Immersion through virtual reality isn’t a new concept in gaming, but attempts at implementation have been, for the most part, poor and clunky. This is what makes the Oculus Rift that much more special. For such a relatively compact device, it provides an almost seamless virtual environment for you to enjoy. No matter what direction you look, the in-game camera will track your head movements one to one.
I should also mention it doesn’t just feel like you’re watching gameplay from a tiny screen two inches away from your face. Because of how depth is rendered for the Oculus Rift, players can feel fully immersed in the game. When I “sat” in my fighter cockpit while waiting to take off in CCP’s EVR I could look around and see my “legs” outstretched beneath me, resting on the ship’s pedals. After I got into space, I craned my neck from side to side watching other fighters whiz past me, leaving faintly glowing engine trails behind. All of this didn’t feel like it was happening on a flat screen; it felt like it was happening in a 3-D space around me. My complete vision range in every direction was filled with the sights and sounds of the game.
Don’t get me wrong, the Oculus Rift isn’t a “must have” device and certainly its current dev kit price of around $400 pushes it out of the reach of a budget-minded F2P player. However, the Oculus Rift is more than just a gimmick and deserves every bit of praise it has received from the countless outlets that have covered the device before us. It’s innovative and forward-thinking in the areas that count. It will no doubt be reduced in price – just like every other new technology – and spawn games built specifically for it, but it has already begun to garner a fairly large developer following, including major F2P devs like SOE, which is already working on Rift support for PlanetSide 2.
Games have gotten to the point where we know they can look really good and will continue to look better each year. Hardware like the Oculus Rift, though, will begin to push games beyond what can be accomplished by just adding more pixels.
By Michael Dunaway