You can feel the buzz in the air, spreading from person to person as the words “World Premier” appear on the giant screen for the umpteenth time. Everyone thought the showcase (previously known as a press conference or media briefing) had ended, but there was one more trailer to see, one for the highly anticipated “Cyberpunk 2077,” from “Witcher 3” developer CD Projekt Red.
The Microsoft showcase event is one of the high points of this year’s pre-E3 festivities. The annual E3 video game event and related activities took place this week in and around the Los Angeles Convention Center. While the Xbox One lags behind the PlayStation 4, and now the Nintendo Switch, in sales, Microsoft clearly wanted people to know they aren’t giving up.
At its event, Microsoft featured 50 games, including 18 exclusive titles and 15 world premieres. This included the biggest Microsoft tentpoles: “Halo,” “Gears of War” and “Forza.”
What the showcase didn’t address was Microsoft’s immediate needs for quality first-party games. Yes, “Forza Horizon 4” looks fantastic and will release on Oct. 2. But “Gears of War 5” won’t appear until 2019, and “Halo Infinite” has an undetermined release date. In this way, the Microsoft showcase epitomizes E3 2018. Publishers have announced dozens of games, but surprisingly few new titles are coming this year.
Bethesda Softworks finally showed off the previously leaked “Fallout 76” and confirmed it will release on Nov. 15, and likewise leaked “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” surprised many with its Oct. 5 launch date.
But “available in 2019” became all too familiar a refrain. It accompanied newly revealed games like the mysterious new “Battletoads” seen only in logo form, and titles players were looking forward to playing this holiday, like “Kingdom Hearts 3” and “Crackdown 3.”
It would seem the first half of 2019 will be a holiday season unto itself.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of great games still coming in 2018: “Dragon Quest XI,” “Spider-Man,” “Shadow of the Tomb Raider,” “Code Vein,” “Starlink: Battle for Atlas,” “Battlefield V,” “Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Evee” and the newly announced “Just Cause 4” are all on track to take our time and money this year. This doesn’t include the annual installments of games like “Madden NFL,” “NBA 2K” and “Call of Duty” that already have fans pre-ordering from their favorite retailer.
Other companies than Microsoft also had showcases, of course. Electronic Arts and Square Enix both underwhelmed with their weak lineups of previously announced games and already-viewed trailers. Ubisoft and Bethesda, however, dazzled with fresh gameplay and a few surprise announcements (yes, that’s Fox McCloud in the Switch version of “Starlink,” and look, Bethesda is working on “Elder Scrolls VI”!) that kept fans applauding.
The Sony showcase was a disappointing and completely bizarre presentation focused around four previously announced games, with a couple of quick presentations between them. The new footage of “The Last of Us 2,” “Ghost of Tsushima,” “Death Stranding” and “Spider-Man” (the only one due this year) shined brightly, but the whole thing lacked pop.
The one really notable brief look was for the upcoming “Resident Evil 2” remake, which looks stunning and is due, you guessed it, in 2019.
And then there is Nintendo.
Still marching to the beat of its own ragtime band, Nintendo offered a few surprises, like “Super Mario Party,” due out in the fall, but really focused on “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” coming Dec. 7. The latest game in Nintendo’s wildly popular fighting franchise will include every character from every previous “Smash Bros.” game, including those absent for a while, like the Ice Climbers and Solid Snake. Including variants, assist trophies and new, unannounced characters, it looks to be the largest, most complete iteration yet.
While the house Mario built did offer a few other surprises — people knew “Fortnite” was coming to the Switch, but no one expected it to launch Tuesday after Nintendo’s presentation — it too had a little 2019-itis. Two previously announced titles — “Fire Emblem: Three Houses” and “Daemon X Machina” have been given release windows early next year.
The popular opinion trends towards companies getting out of the way of Rockstar Games’ 800-pound gorilla, “Red Dead Redemption 2,” coming Oct. 26. (This game was not shown at E3, because Rockstar doesn’t attend game shows.)
Given the success of the company’s last big release, “Grand Theft Auto V,” it makes sense for some games to give “RDR2” some breathing room.
All in all, E3 2018 offers plenty of great games to play, and it speaks to a fantastic lineup of titles for 2018, 2019 and beyond. But somehow, the emphasis on next year cast a shadow of the show that’s hard to shake. Game companies should try to remember that fans want great games to play now.