Four years ago at E3 2014, Ubisoft blundered into a PR nightmare by weakly defending why both Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 lacked playable women characters in their multiplayer modes – they would require too much time and resources to animate.
Female representation in big, blockbuster games has been sporadic at best. Yes we can point to the same franchises like Metroid and Tomb Raider over and over again, but that just proves the point even more.
But there is good news. In recent years diversity and inclusion has become a major focus for many game developers and publishers. The fruits of those labors are beginning to show. We could call it the Overwatch or Wonder Woman Effect, or just a sign of many game companies hoping to avoid stagnation and seek out progressive voices and audiences.
At E3 2018 we were impressed with the number of women characters, both old and new, showcasing AAA games. In case you missed it, let’s run through the new era of leading ladies from E3 2018.
Technically Battlefield V was announced ahead of E3. The reveal trailer featured a female soldier who had the best lines and most badass moments. EA even went so far as to feature a female soldier on their cover art.
At EA Play 2018 they teased a single player campaign that also starred a woman fighter’s story of revenge and survival during World War II.
Battlefield V is a great example of the struggles a big studio and franchise can face for daring to include diversity in their games. That reveal trailer currently has more dislikes than likes, with both numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It’s sparked numerous outrages and debates about the game’s historical authenticity versus political virtue-signaling.
It’s endlessly disappointing that including diverse characters has become a political, hot-button issue, and the main reason why many big game companies steer clear. For what it’s worth, EA and DICE have committed to inclusion in their games.
Our commitment as a studio is to do everything we can to create games that are inclusive and diverse. We always set out to push boundaries and deliver unexpected experiences. But above all, our games must be fun!
— Oskar Gabrielson (@ogabrielson) May 25, 2018
I confess I’m not familiar with the Gears of War franchise beyond playing the first game nearly a decade ago. Kait Diaz was apparently a major player in 2016’s Gears of War 4, but in Gears 5 she takes center stage as the primary playable character.
The trailer, shown at the Xbox E3 2018 conference, featured both a cinematic cutscene with Kait, Marcus, and the rest of the team, as well as gameplay starring the young heroine.
Sea of Solitude
Sea of Solitude isn’t a AAA game, but it is being published through EA’s EA Originals brand. An announcement trailer was shown during the EA Play conference, revealing the personal story of loneliness and depression from game designer Cornelia Geppert.
Geppert was one of the few women game designers to take the stage at any of the press conferences. The game stars Kay, a young woman whose emotional issues have transformed her into a literal monster. She has to save both herself and her fellow monsters amidst a ruined, flooded world.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
One of the biggest female-led series has been riding high in the last few years thanks to a successful reboot by Crystal Dynamics. The third game in the rebooted Tomb Raider series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, features an even darker, more brutal story as Lara must prevent a Mayan apocalypse, which she herself helped set into motion.
In the gameplay trailer we see Lara go full-on Predator, stealthy hunting foes with bow and blade in a new outfit that proves high-stakes action-adventure makes for a solid work-out regiment.
One of the most surprising announcements from the Bethesda E3 2018 conference was a spin-off co-op sequel to Wolfenstein II. Wolfenstein: Youngblood is set in 1980s Paris, far after the events of Woflenstein II.
The bad news is that the alt-history Nazis are apparently still in control (in France at least). The good news is that BJ’s grown twin daughters are ready to fight the good fight.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
With BioWare making Anthem, the torch of romancing NPCs in a gender inclusive universe has apparently fallen to Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. Newly announced Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks absolutely gorgeous, taking place in Ancient Greece and featuring the same great series improvements found in last year’s Origins.
But the real talked about feature is choosing to play the entire game as either male character Alexios or female character Kassandra. Both are fully voiced and remain the stars of their stories. And yes, apparently you can romance multiple characters no matter whom you choose to play as.
Beyond Good & Evil 2
The original 2003 Beyond Good & Evil is still one of the most mentioned games when talking about female-led games. That’s pretty sad, yet Beyond Good & Evil has also become a cult favorite. Beyond Good & Evil 2 has been in development hell forever, eventually turning into this big AAA prequel starring a new female character as the leader of her own motley space crew.
The prequel has astonishingly great animated cinematics, but we also got our first look at some pre-alpha gameplay, which lets you fly to different planets and explore in third-person action-adventure. It looks incredibly ambitious. Unfortunately we still don’t have a release date.
As revealed at the PlayStation E3 press conference, Control is a brand new game by Remedy, developers of Quantum Break and Alan Wake. Jesse assumes the role of Director of the Bureau of Control, giving her supernatural powers and a fancy shifting gun.
We don’t know much more about it, but it definitely looks a lot like Quantum Break.
The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part II may be the single most anticipated sequel of the year, though we still don’t have a firm release date. The new trailer showed off the most memorable scene from all of E3, an older teenage Ellie passionately kissing her new love, Dina. Not only is it a sweet moment, it’s also incredibly well animated. How far we’ve come in four years!
The gameplay portion showcased the familiar brutality of The Last of Us, confirming that Ellie is the main protagonist in the sequel, and that human enemies are just as harrowing as the Clickers.
Playing mostly as Joel shepherding Ellie in the original 2013 game while switching to Ellie for the sequel is a great metaphor for the progress gaming has made over the years. Gaming is for everyone, and it’s nice to see women get more seats at the grown-ups’ table.