While E3 has always been a weird show, recent years have seen it evolve in some unexpected ways. Between companies leaving the show to hold their own events adjacent to E3 proper (EA), and the public being let into the show, this year and the last have been a strange time.
Off-site demos were something of a theme, with multiple appointment opportunities we received taking place at nearby hotels instead of the convention center or at separate venues similar to that of Devolver Digital’s. This year Microsoft joined the party by moving their lineup off the show floor and into the Microsoft Theater next door. The same venue they held their press conference in also hosted their lineup of games for the press and public to check out. With how many companies have opted not to show up at E3 in recent years, I wonder if we’ll see more major publishers rent out space outside the convention center as well.
As for the showcase itself, while I didn’t get to play many games in the time I was given, I got to spend a fair amount of time with everything I did play. Here’s what I saw:
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
I’d been eagerly waiting to get my hands on Ori and the Will of the Wisps after its announcement last year. The first game is still one of my favorites from the past few years, and its sequel looks to be a strong improvement.
The demo was set in a desert locale, which served to demonstrate Ori’s new burrow ability. By pressing one of the triggers, he’s able to dive into the sand, allowing him to explore underground or gain additional air-time when charging skyward. Combined with his new dash ability — which can be used both on and off the ground — it greatly increases his maneuverability. The platforming in Ori was always at its best when you were able to keep moving forward in one graceful motion, and even in the small confines of the demo area, it already embodied that quality perfectly.
New to Will of the Wisps are side-quests. Very early on in the demo I encountered a bird who asked me to find an iron needle. I had to put the quest on hold until I obtained the burrow ability, as it was hidden beneath the sands at the start of the demo area. Once I found and returned it, I gained some skill points in return, which serve both as currency for items like maps and a means to strengthen skills that increase your defense or increase damage.
Where combat in the first game was a simple, automated affair, in Will of the Wisps it’s a lot more active and stylish. Ori now has a wide range of attacks that can be mapped the X, Y, and B buttons. The default configuration was a series of sword strikes, a bow for ranged attacks, and a healing spell. I eventually swapped out the healing spell for a spear that explodes on impact. Stringing sword strikes and arrows together made dispatching foes easy and extremely fun. It was nice to see the game’s combat be more engaging without taking away its simplicity.
The game’s set to be released next year, which is probably for the best given how ridiculous the coming months are looking (assuming it doesn’t come out in the midst of the Q1 blitz next year), but even now, it’s still one of the games coming out of the show I wish to keep to playing.
I played Tunic last year at the Media Indie Exchange, but I couldn’t pass up another chance to play it. The demo at the Xbox venue was the same as last year’s, beginning once again at the start of the game with our cute fox friend having just washed ashore an island. Equipped with only a stick, I fought my way past hostile blobs I followed the direction of signs that pointed me toward a sword. Combat still feels weighty and deliberate, a bit more so than I remember, as I find myself struggling with some of the larger foes. My memories from playing Tunic last year made it think it was very quick and immediate; playing it again, however, reminded me how Souls-y it is (albeit without the punishing nature of those games).
My demo didn’t last long, however, due to how quickly I stumbled upon a stone creature of some sort that I assume to be a boss battle, which marked the end of the demo. Still, I’m pleased I was able to play more Tunic, however slight my time may have been. Very much looking forward to playing the full game.
It’s been a long road for Below. Ever since its reveal at E3 2013, the game’s been quietly progressing. While the game doesn’t yet have a firm release date (Capy Games is currently targeting to release sometime this year), it looks to be coming along nicely from the time I spent with the demo.
The demo begins with you shipwrecked on an island. I picked up where someone else left off as a fresh character. Every time you die, you assume the role of a new character picking up where the previous one left off. Below is a touch roguelike in that regard. It isn’t a run-based game, however, as evidenced by how progress carries between characters — everything they did, from any open shortcuts and checkpoints they set, to the supplies they carried remain for another spelunker to use.
With no clear guidance on where to go, I ended up wandering around the island for a while trying to find the entrance to the caves below. I found what looked to be future shortcuts and what looked like a brazier of some sort in the dead center of the island before I finally made my way inside. Visibility in the caves was low, requiring me to move slowly and carefully. I could have used a torch to light the way, but they’re limited in number and so I wanted to save them. Creatures with red glowing eyes helpfully marked where I could walk as they scurried around, though.
My first expedition into the caves didn’t go so well. While I made it a few floors deep and had a nice stock of food and water, I foolishly walked into a spike trap thinking it was a floor switch of some kind. My second trip fared much better. With additional supplies on hand and a better sense of what to watch out for, I made my way through the caverns with ease. I eventually emerged on the other side of the island, shipwrecks dotting the scene. Among the wreckage was a Mask of Water, which increased the amount of time before I would need to drink more water to stay hydrated. Useful — especially if I ended up somewhere with little water to spare.
After opening up a shortcut, I delved back in to progress further. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it very far. I ultimately met my end because I didn’t have any food on hand to recover my health after nearly bleeding to death, something I could have avoided had I not used it all to make a couple flasks of stew. Should have saved some for later. The light survival elements so far add a good deal of tension without feeling like a nuisance. Food and water were easy to obtain, and campfires common enough to ensure I always had a chance to prepare food.
Hopefully Below will be able to make it out this year. I’m eager to delve back in and see more.