EA’s Day at E3
Saturday at E3 2020 belonged to Electronics Arts. With no conferences scheduled, their non-traditional EA Play event – which features discreet streams focusing on specific games – had nothing to compete with. There were no bold or shocking announcements here, but that doesn’t mean that there was nothing newsworthy. Instead, EA took a deep dive into five of their announced or released properties and teased what’s to come. Fans of Madden, FIFA, Star Wars, The Sims, and Apex Legends all have at least a few things to be excited about, despite the general lack of pageantry and announcements.
Madden NFL 20
Madden has a reputation for yearly releases that offer iterative rather than evolutionary change. It’s a fair complaint, but the new features revealed for Madden NFL 20 could signify some pretty substantial changes to the world’s most popular sports gaming franchise. And the changes are largely in line with recent moves by Electronics Arts to capture not just the technical physicality of the game and accurate statistical representations of players but also the personalities at work.
Far and away the biggest addition to the game is the inclusion of new X-Factor talents which add a more arcade feel to the game while also injecting a little more personality into the players EA has shelled out the rights for. These specific abilities are designed to create more unique representations of players that go beyond raw numbers, and some characters have even been given unique animations.
There are hints that this could signify a take on Madden that could put more emphasis on the quarterback. While most players have one or two X-Factor talents, quarterbacks are the only position allowed more than that, and some offer as many as five unique talents.
The new changes to playbooks could bring added personality to the teams as well. In addition to a vast repertoire of standard plays, teams will each be given their own unique plays to work with. EA has promised that these playbooks will even be updated as the season goes on, creating a more accurate recreation of the NFL as it is while also giving players a wider variety of options.
A narrative-driven campaign mode is also returning. This year’s version will be called Face of the Franchise and follow a now standard rags to riches story that starts at the draft and conceivably ends at the Super Bowl. The Pro Bowl will also be making a return in this single player mode. The choice-driven Face of the Franchise mode had been highlighted in April, but it’s refreshing to see Madden’s newest single player experience in action.
The latest FIFA doesn’t appear to be integrating deep systemic changes on the same level as Madden, but futbol fans have one thing to be very excited about. The new “Volta” mode signifies a return to the street soccer aesthetics that fans have been clamoring about for years. 3-on-3, 4-on-5, and 5-on-5 modes are all supported in Volta mode, and they take place across a diverse variety of non-professional environments from around the world.
It looks like they took everything fans loved about FIFA Street and integrated them right into the core FIFA experience. There are no boundary lines, and players are able to perform off cool tricks that certainly aren’t legal by the traditional rules of the game.
And while you’ll have your pick of professional players for Volta mode, EA clearly wants to make this the roleplaying showcase for the FIFA brand. That’s because Volta will be the showcase for your own custom made character. A huge number of customization options are going to be available, and EA made it clear that this new mode will be free of microtransactions. Volta will be the centerpiece for FIFA 20’s single player story mode, but there’s going to be a league option as well.
That’s not to say that there aren’t going to be systemic changes, but they’re more the sort of subtle improvements that annual players will notice but will completely go over the heads of newcomers or casual players. The artificial intelligence is getting a serious buff, and you can expect computer opponents that respond more reflexively to your overall style of play. That means a better sense of time and spatial awareness. Additionally, the ball physics are getting a significant improvement that should amplify the realism of the game.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
The undoubted star of the show was Fallen Jedi. Star Wars fans have waited years for another Star Wars single player game, and EA has delivered with roughly 15 minutes of real in-game footage. Starring one of the last remaining jedi and taking place between Episodes III and IV, the demo feels authentically Star Wars through and through.
The musical and sound effects cues are on point, and the variations on stormtrooper enemies feel true to the source while still offering a diversity of design. The protagonist’s droid companion BD-1 is uniquely adorable and has all the sass of R2-D2. He’s bound to be a breakout star.
Gamers who were worried that jedi theatrics were going to devolve into simple button matching should feel relieved. The gameplay footage here wears its influences on its sleeve, but they’re promising influences. The developers have name checked both Dark Souls and the recent God of War reboot here, and it shows.
Lightsaber combat is slower and more methodical, utilizing a stamina bar akin to the ones in Souls-like games and emphasizing parries, counters, and especially the deflection of laser fire that seems to promise a more thoughtful style of play. Powers seem a bit more limited than in something like the Force Unleashed, with a Force pull being the only combat power on prominent display.
While it wasn’t shown in the conference itself, those Souls elements are pretty clear elsewhere as well. Health regeneration is handled through limited restoration items that resemble Estus flasks and can only be restored at a save point (which, in another shared feature, causes all enemies to respawn). The demo itself was largely linear, but Respawn promises an emphasis on thoughtful design with levels that loop back into themselves and encourage revisiting once you’ve acquired new gadgets and navigation methods.
When Apex Legends was stealth launched a few months ago, it quickly became one of the most popular battle royales around, but this is a genre that lives and dies on consistent updates, tweaks, and additions. Any fans that were concerned Apex Legends would become stagnant should be able to put their concerns to rest following EA’s announcement about the expansive season two plans for the game.
Apex Legends has never worn its connection to the Titanfall series on its sleeve, but that could be changing. The new L-Star light machine gun is being ported over to Apex Legends from its parent franchise, and it has the unique ability to obliterate any doors in its way. To keep what could be an excessive firearm better balanced, the L-Star will only be available through care packages.
Battle passes are the main way of keeping free to play games like these in the black, and Respawn seems to have heard concerns that the first battle pass was a bit anemic. They’ll be bulking up the second season pass significantly with new skins and materials. Season two is also going to be rolling out a whole new mode that puts it more in line with the denser feature sets of other battle royales. Ranked mode is going to offer tiers to climb and provide matchmaking options based off a player’s proven skill levels.
But the biggest new announcement regarding Apex Legends is the reveal of a new legend. New characters can change the entire meta game in a way that even new weapons can’t, and new character Wattson looks like she could change the way Apex Legends changes in a big way. She’s a defensive character with a broad focus on map control: utilizing defensive turrets to hold down territory and electrical fences that can effectively pen opponents out of sections of the board. It should be interesting to see how this changes the dominant tactics on a professional and casual level.
The Sims 4
TheSims 4 is nearly five years old, and despite not making much of an impact on the “core” gaming community, it’s managed to maintain one of the most dedicated and loyal fanbases in the world. The mod community continues to thrive creatively, and EA has consistently been turning out new expansions that add new features and utilities. The latest, just announced in the dedicated Sims 4 conference, is Island Living, and it will allow your Sims to kick back and relax in a tropical environment.
Dolphins, fish, and other sea creatures are joined by more fantastical species like mermaids, and Island Living will offer a wealth of new activities like swimming and sunbathing. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sims expansion without new jobs, and while Island Living isn’t bringing changes as dramatic as those hastened by something like Seasons, the lifeguard and conservationist job should add a new level of diversity to the game. Your success in the latter career can even change the quality of the environment around you.
Fans don’t have to wait long for this expansion either. It will be launching on consoles on June 16 and on PC and Mac on June 21. EA also took the time to announce their celebration of LGBT Pride Month. A partnership with the It Gets Better Project will bring about a variety of different clothing and outfits not just to The Sims 4 but also to The Sims Mobile and The Sims FreePlay. There will also be a gender neutral bathroom door that Sims 4 players can integrate into their games.
EA may have had Saturday to themselves, but other publishers and developers aren’t going to be afforded that privilege. Microsoft’s show Sunday promises to bring announcements on dozens of different games as well as possibly showcasing their next gen console, and Bethesda’s conference will follow soon after. The always irreverent Devolver show