EA changed-up their traditional E3 press conference setup this year, choosing to present six half-hour sessions focusing on new titles and expansions for their library of titles with an outdoor event at the Hollywood Palladium that was open to the public. But what you really want to know about is the games, so let’s get to it.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order kicked off the day, with 15 minutes of gameplay to walk us through this Force-enabled new Star Wars adventure. Vince Zampella, CEO of Fallen Order developer Respawn Entertainment, and game director Stig Asmussen provided commentary after the gameplay session.
This single-player adventure takes place on a variety of planets, some months after the first enforcement of Order 66, which, as seen in “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” wiped out all the Jedi in the galaxy. Well, not all of them. Ben Kenobi survived, and so did Cal Kestis. Cal is a mere Padewan as Fallen Order opens, but this gameplay demo begins about three hours into the game, as he’s begun to train his Force powers.
The demo shows part of a mission on the Wookiee homeworld, Kashyyyk, where Imperial forces are mining sap to create a dangerous material. Cal has run across Forest Whitaker’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” character Saw Gerrera, who sets up a diversion while the young Jedi moves to break imprisoned Wookiees out of jail.
Even as a young Jedi, Cal has enough command over the Force to push and pull Stormtroopers, slow time to the degree that he can dodge laser blasts, and perform double jumps that send him flying over the heads of even the giant spiders that lurk on Kashyyyk. Yeah, I said giant spiders. (They’re called Wyyyschokk, if you want to be specific.)
There are a few black-armored stormtroopers with double-ended energy weapons, called Purge Troopers, and a KX droid which acts as a mini-boss, and begins to bash Cal just as the demo closed.
And Cal has a friend, the explorer droid BD-1. (Yeah, Titanfall fans, that’s a naming convention just like the BT-7274. That “BT” meant “Buddy Titan,” and here the “BD” means “Buddy Droid.”) The droid’s sounds are provided by long-time Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt, and he can hack doors, scan environments, and provide stim packs on demand.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is canonical, so everything that happens here can technically affect other Star Wars stories. That also means you can’t just do anything you’d like — there’s no choice to lean into the Dark Side of the Force, for example. Cal is a hero, and that’s more or less how he has to be played — not that he’s above running a few Stormtroopers through with his lightsaber.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order releases November 15 on Xbox One.
Respawn Entertainment had more than Star Wars to offer, too, as they also provided info on Season Two of Apex Legends. Project lead Drew McCoy gave some insight on the new season, Battle Charge, which kicks off on July 2.
There are some new tricks in Season 2: A new weapon, a new Legend, a Ranked Mode, and some other big tweaks.
The new Care Package weapon, the plasma-fueled L-Star light machine gun, is designed to be overpowered, but also has ammo limited to what drops with the gun. It can even blow open doors from a distance, which opens up some new tactical possibilities. There will be two new Hop-Ups, though they weren’t named, and new skins for legends and weapons. A number of existing weapons have been rebalanced, and some of the weaker weapons buffed up.
Battle Pass will behave differently, with progression based on completing challenges rather than timed events. Walk away for a week and the Battle Pass challenges will stack and can be completed when you come back to the game. Badges and stat trackers are gone, but you’ll be able to level to 100 much faster than in Season 1, with more crafting medals to use once you hit that point.
There’s also the new ranked mode, which offers progression through six tiers, with special matchmaking for each tier. The only downside there is that matchmaking for higher tiers might take longer than for lower, but the promise is better matchmaking, for play appropriate to the higher-level tier.
Finally, the 10th legend, Watson, is introduced. She’s an active support character inspired by engineers. She can drop pylons which form a defensive grid, and the defenses can conform to the specifics of any given map. Watson’s gameplay was compared to almost an RTS-style of play, especially since the fences will blink off for team members to run through, and will ping the entire team if crossed by enemies. She can use an Interception Pylon, which accelerates Watson’s cooldown when she’s near it, and can also drop grenades and other offensive goodies on enemies.
Watson’s backstory is interesting as well — she and her father invented the Ring, and she grew up in the arena as it was being built. Through Watson, we’ll start to learn about the lore of the game. She’s described as the “kid sister” to the Legends, and “the one person who could probably unite all the Legends.”
Finally, one video at the end of the demo teased an absolutely massive creature, with an eye the size of a car. We don’t know what that belongs to, but there are “a couple of big things coming into King’s Canyon at the start of Season 2.”
From there, we turn to Battlefield V. Creative Director Lars Gustavsson announced some big changes as Chapter 4 approaches. The max rank is going up — way up. While players currently max out at rank 50, that cap is being elevated to 500, starting in August. As players progress through that massively expanded system, there will be new Company coins to earn, and at every 50th rank players will get new rank icons and dog tags to show off their achievement.
Private matches are coming as well, as a replacement for the rented server program. The basic private setup will be free to all, for anyone who wants to set up their own server and define game specifics. That will arrive in September of this year.
We also got many details about Chapter 4. The first map, Al-Sundan, coming on June 27, is a huge, very “classic Battlefield” map set in North Africa. It’s adapted from Under No Flag, and sees the team doubling down on land and vehicle combat, with a significant role for air support as well. It’s a distance-oriented map, with mounted guns, planes and transports, and six flags placed across the map.
Marita, coming in July, is a much smaller, tighter map, oriented around close infantry combat, and set on the Albanian/Greek border. This one is described as fostering “total creative chaos” as units explore the narrow streets, with a lot of vertical gameplay options thanks to hills and multi-storey homes. And in August, there will be two more close-quarters maps, set in Provence, France, and the Nordic countryside. Those are oriented around tight squad play, with a lot of flanking routes, both obvious and hidden, to foster more of that creative chaos.
And in October, we’ll get Operation Underground, a reimagined version of Operation Metro from Battlefield 3. This is not a remastering, but a total redesign with a mix of large spaces and narrow streets, subway cars, and underground environments.
Gustavsoon also teased Chapter 5, which arrives at the end of the year and will mark the game’s return to the Pacific Theatre. The event showed only brief glimpses of the this “modern” take on Iwo Jima, but the designers said the maps have been based on real environment capture, and will feature “iconic weapons and gadgets, a new set of vehicles,” and the experience of invasion and amphibious warfare. The initial Chapter 5 package will have three maps, with two yet to be revealed in addition to Iwo Jima.
The biggest deal in FIFA 20 is the effective revival of FIFA Street, in the form of the Volta Football mode. Volta is designed as ultra-realistic street footy, with caged areas in London, a rooftop in Tokyo, and an underpass in Amsterdam acting as pitches. The ball never goes out of play in Volta, and players — including all the game’s licensed players and teams — can use walls and curbs and fast, unique footwork to play dynamic matches of any team size, with or without goalkeepers. You can create female players and gender-mixed teams, with a wide variety of street-ready clothes, shoes, hair, and tattoos.
Lead gameplay producer Sam Rivera talked about developing this latest FIFA installment based on community engagement and making a big push for deeper innovation and authenticity. The core gameplay changes here are part of a combination of features the team calls Football Intelligence.
This breaks down into three core pushes. The first is on-the-ball action, with new attacking and defending moves for one-on-one encounters. Composed finishing offers better goal shots, with rewritten fundamentals of the action to scale difficulty on more ambitious shots. Strafe dribbling offers more precise control of the ball while dribbling, and moves to lure defenders in, the better to deploy speed and skills to evade them. The controlled tackling system adds improvements from FIFA 19 for better tackling and attack counters, while the redesigned Penalty and Free Kick system uses the right sick to apply spin to the ball for a wide range of different shots.
Off the ball, the AI players have been redesigned to give more time and space to the dribbler and create more one-on-one encounters. Defending now responds to more user control, while team spacing makes better use of the whole pitch, hopefully to create a more realistic overall experience with additional scoring opportunities. In short, the AI is meant to be helpful, but not insistent.
And there’s a new ball physics system to rewrite who bounces and player contact behave — which should come in very handy when playing on Volta’s street pitches — and all new relationships between spin and trajectory, which also affects the level of curve in shots, and the variety of ball movement.
FIFA 20 arrives on September 27, with an EA Access hands-on beginning on September 19.
Madden NFL 20
Many of the new features in Madden NFL 20 have been revealed since the NFL Draft, so the big push at EA Play today was in the detail for modeling the specific behavior of superstars like cover athlete Patrick Mahomes.
The pushwas to “make superstars feel like superstars.” Madden has implemented X-Factors — players like Mahomes who stand as the NFL’s most elite players, with skills no one else has — and a Zone system that models very specific play styles based on real-world players.
The easiest way to get the basics down are to look at specific players. We’ll stick with Mahomes. To get into the Zone, a player must complete a set of in-game challenges; Mahomes has to complete four passes of 30 yards or more to get in the zone. Once that’s done, he — and only he — has access to Bazooka, which increases his maximum passing distance to 80 yards. When he’s in the Zone, Mahomes can throw further than anyone in the game.
He also has Superstar Abilities, such as Escape Artist, which give him extra speed and agility when scrambling, and Dashing Deadeye, which gives perfect passing accuracy on the run. Those abilities are not exclusive to him. And while that Bazooka ability, combined with some of the Superstar Abilities, would seem to make Mahomes unbeatable, we know from last year’s postseason that he isn’t infallible, and Madden works to model that as well. Defenders can knock even an X-Factor player like Mahomes out of the Zone. Aaron Donald, for example, has the Fearmonger Zone ability, which allows him to apply pressure to a quarterback even when being blocked. The whole system is designed to offer bonuses and counters, to replicate the “event football” games we saw in real stadiums in 2018.
These players also have new Signature Animations, and the game in general features more robust playbooks with newly-implemented run/pass options — the RPO you’ll now hear discussed in every game — and new gameplay mechanics like pump fakes
A closed beta for Madden NFL 20 runs June 14-16; the game arrives on August 2.
The Sims 4
Finally, Executive Producer Lyndsay Pearson and Senior Producer Michael Duke sat down to introduce Island Living, a new expansion for The Sims 4.
As the name implies, this locates Sim action on Sulani, a lush island locale inspired by Polyesian cultures. For the first time, Sims can get in the water, either to walk in the surf, swim, snorkel, or enjoy a ride on an Aqua-Zip, which is basically a Jet Ski. There’s the option to build Mermaids, with a whole variety of customization options — these no-longer mythical characters can interact with dolphins around the island, and despite the people laying around in brightly-colored beachwear, Sulani isn’t just a vacationland. There are jobs to be had — you can even create a conservationist to care for the local ecosystem — and elements of Sulani culture to explore. Elemental Spirits tied to the island will occasionally make themselves known, to give some positive and negative feedback on player actions.
And since most islands are formed by volcanic action, there’s an active volcano on the island, which spews the occasional lava bomb and, we hope, can provide a location for Sims to recreate “Joe Versus the Volcano.”
This won’t be the only expansion coming this year — Realm of Magic was teased to arrive in the fall.
The Sims 4 Island Living comes to Windows PCs on June 21, and to Xbox One on July 16.
And that wraps up all of the info from EA Play 2019. We’ll have more E3 news to share throughout the week, so keep it tuned here to Xbox Wire.