Despite a big fuss being made over Activision not having a booth at E3 2016, the savvier among us recognized that this didn’t mean that they wouldn’t be present at all. Activision was around, of course, and they were set up in their own set of meeting rooms with demo reels for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Skylanders: Imaginators, both of which I dropped by to check out.
A publisher with the kind of financial muscle and industry influence that Activision can bring to bear doesn’t play around with its biggest franchises, and we saw that in full force here. Activision may not have had a regular booth at E3, but they were certainly there, in force.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare turned out to be one of the biggest surprises for me at E3 2016. Yes, I know, it’s Call of Duty; how could that be surprising at all? It turns out that with Infinite Warfare, Activision might actually be taking the series in a new and fascinating direction, something like a more action-based Mass Effect.
The demo opened with your standard Call of Duty run-and-gunning. It’s the sci-fi flavor of Call of Duty run-and-gunning this time around, as we’ve seen in the past few games since Advanced Warfare. Before long, though, gruff military hero Captain Reyes calls in his ship, the Jackal, and takes off into space for some Star Wars-style dogfighting. The action flows smoothly in and out of the ship, with Reyes embarking and disembarking as the situation demands; we watch as he infiltrates an enemy ship by landing nearby, blasting open the bridge windows and swooping in, for instance.
Later in the trailer, we find that Reyes commands his own larger ship. Much like Mass Effect, this comes with a starmap that can be used to determine your next location. Yes, insofar as I could tell based on a non-playable vertical slice, it looks like this is going to be a Call of Duty with open-world elements where you can decide for yourself where to go and what missions to take on next. That just might be what it takes to give this franchise a new level of depth…but is the Call of Duty name going to scare off gamers who are looking for that kind of depth?
Either way, you can guarantee that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is going to sell like gangbusters when it drops on November 4th. What’s more, as a space-themed game it’s intruding on a space – pun intended – that’s gradually becoming more and more crowded thanks to the return of the Star Wars film franchise and the runaway success of Star Citizen’s neverending crowdfunding campaign. Comparisons are already being made between Infinite Warfare and Star Citizen’s single-player facet known as Squadron 42, where the latter is a story all its own – it was originally intended to be at E3 before Cloud Imperium Games pulled out at the last second, raising all kinds of uncomfortable questions about where the endless stream of crowdfunded money is going. We might end up seeing a battle between the Big Evil Publishers ™ and the Small Scrappy Indies ™, and what’s going to happen if the evil publishers deliver a better product?
Naturally, it wouldn’t be Activision if there wasn’t another iteration of Skylanders to check out. This time we got to see Skylanders Imaginators; each new version of the game adds in a new central feature like Trap Team’s enemy-trapping and Superchargers’ vehicles, and this time around we’re going to be able to create our own Skylanders. Oh, and Crash Bandicoot’s going to be in it. Maybe he’s the new central feature, given how much attention that’s been getting.
Creating your own Imaginator involves using a surprisingly detailed character creator, accessed by placing a new Creation Crystal toy on the traditional Portal of Power. This isn’t just a throwaway feature; you’re able to customize your hero’s class, abilities, looks, voice and more. Based on what we saw during the demo, there’s a decent selection of options to start with and you’ll unlock more as you play through the game.
Along with the Creation Crystals and Imaginators, we’re also going to see Senseis, the new “headliner” Skylanders for this title. Senseis are master Skylanders (including popular villains from earlier games in the series, now available in toy form) who are able to teach your Imaginators new abilities and raise their level cap, along with being powerful forces of destruction in their own right. They’re also able to use a new type of attack called Sky-Chi, essentially a massive area-clearing bomb technique. Older toys continue to work in Imaginators as well, of course, including Superchargers’ vehicles which are now used in a separate racing mode.
Activision continued its tradition of hard-hitting franchise entries at E3 2016, and it’s hard to fault them for continuing to do what works; surprisingly, though, we didn’t see anything related to last year’s Guitar Hero Live, suggesting that game may not have done as well as hoped. Frankly, I’d say the new direction I saw from Infinite Warfare made that game the highlight of the show for me and I’m looking forward to giving it a spin. I’ve got a special place in my heart for Skylanders as well, so seeing more from that franchise was a treat, especially after the shakeup of the Toys-to-Life genre earlier this year with the demise of Disney Infinity. It’s looking like the 2016-2017 season might be a winner for fans of Activision franchises.
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