In the annual marketing frenzy that is E3, the pressure is constantly on for companies to make an impression - to "win" the convention in some respect. It's a silly notion, really; one cooked up by marketing gurus at war with one another in order to drive consumer hype. But if that game must be played, Bethesda made an impressive opening salvo in what is sure to be a week full of grade-A marketing whiz-bang.
First up was Doom, the long-awaited and somewhat beleaguered continuation of a series that's showing its age, regardless of what generation idTech engine it's running on. It looks gorgeous, with high-quality lighting (mostly red), intricate maps (also mostly red), and blood (all red). The gameplay is a mixture of fast-paced throwback shooting and health pickups and modern-era radial menus and melee finishers; the environments exactly what we've come to expect from the series. The only thing about the reveal that felt truly new – and then, only to this series – was the Snapmap content-creation system. Doom has a long and proud history of user-created content; while it stops short of full mod support, Snapmap promises an easy way for players to create their own maps and gametypes and share them.
But I'll be honest: to me, Doom looks completely boring. The gameplay pacing just looks so nonstop and brutal as to sap any actual power away from its big moments. A visceral quick-time finishing move might net theatre-wide gasps at E3, but encountering them repeatedly in gameplay is going to get old fast. There are certainly people out there for whom this kind of throwback violence is appealing, but I'm not among them. We have a smarter class of game nowadays (a class demonstrated, in fact, by other games in this very showcase). There's room for all types of game, though, so I'm sure Doom will find its audience.
I was among the people who loved the first Dishonored, but still saw room for improvement. Like the first Assassin's Creed, its imperfections suggested a sequel that would better it in every way. Today's reveal of Dishonored 2 got spoiled in a rehearsal slip-up yesterday, but that didn't take away from the trailer's impact, or its biggest surprise. While the CG trailer didn't show any actual gameplay, Arkane did reveal the protagonist(s). We'll have the choice to play as either Corvo or Emily Kaldwin, which presents an enticing array of gameplay options - not to mention replayability. Not only having the option of a female protagonist, but making her the focus of the announcement trailer, is a huge deal. I for one congratulate Bethesda and Arkane for having the gumption to do their sequel reveal without focusing on the first game's protagonist.
Bethesda made announcements regarding The Elder Scrolls Online, new collectible card game Elder Scrolls Legends, and online arena title BattleCry, but they were minor blips on a radar screen that had monolithic contacts all over it. Legends feels a little late in the game to realistically compete with Hearthstone, and I'd have trouble picking BattleCry out from a police lineup against Overwatch and BattleBorn, but good on Bethesda for making them, I guess. And the people who somehow make Elder Scrolls Online a profitable endeavour will be happy with whatever they get anyway.
The Big Kahuna for Bethesda this year, unsurprisingly, was Fallout 4. Gimmicky Pip-Boy collector's-edition detritus aside, the gameplay reveals the studio made were truly jaw-dropping. Fallout 4 sports a great many gameplay additions to set it apart from earlier games. The concept art parade showed a ridiculous range of landscapes, promising a huge and varied game world. Opening the game pre-war should give it a different narrative flavour to previous titles. The combat and dog-management (including patting!) look great, as usual. And a voiced protagonist makes dialogue a much bigger part of gameplay. But it's the customisation and construction features - incorporating elements of simulation and tower-defense games - that really got juices flowing.
Between Fallout's crafting system and Doom's map-making mode (and elsewhere, Nintendo's Super Mario Maker), E3 2015 seems to be cementing player-created content as the key feature of games today. It might have started with Minecraft, but Fallout 4 is the latest AAA title to bring custom-building to the fore. The settlements you can create in this game look complex and creative, and I can't wait for it to suck my spare time away like an irradiated sponge.
The biggest - and most refreshing - surprise from Bethesda was Fallout Shelter. And not just because it launched at the event – it's a game unlike anything Bethesda have made. A slower-paced resource-management and people sim, it looks to be the kind of game that can suck away hours upon hours of your life in the blink of an eye. It's like a post-apocalyptic SimTower, injected full of the Fallout sense of humour and a cute, cartoony art style. It's not out for Android or PC yet, so I can't play it, but it surely won't be long before it makes it to those platforms. I'll be waiting.
Not every announcement Bethesda made was a winner, but the wins they had were pretty comprehensive. After this presentation – heavy with symbolism as games took over the traditional home of the Oscars – Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony have their work cut out for them.