Ubisoft E3 2016
Watch Dogs 2, For Honor and Steep were three highlights from Ubisoft's conference.Ubisoft

From the word go, Ubisoft was in an exuberant mood for its E3 2016 conference - kicking things off with a psychedelic dance medley which resembled the closing scenes from The Wicker Man (the good one) crossed with a Ziggy Stardust fever dream.

In truth, the French publisher does have a lot to celebrate as this year marks the company's 30th anniversary. While the animal cosplay boogie that started the show was ostensibly a means to announce the expected arrival of Just Dance 2017 in October, it represented a publisher at ease with its position in the gaming sphere.

Despite receiving criticism for sticking to a perceived cookie-cutter template for its 'unique' brand of open-world games, Ubisoft has pressed on and is reaping the rewards with games like Tom Clancy's The Division selling by the bucket load and breaking company records.

The online shooter's first major slice of DLC - titled Underground - was shown at the conference, but it was the similarly Tom Clancy-branded Ghost Recon: Wildlands that was gifted the most air-time in a Ubisoft-trademarked, toe-stubbingly irritating pre-scripted co-op gameplay demo.

Perhaps there are people out there who are desperate for another 'tactical' third-person shooter with MMO elements, but to me it seems like a cover-based foray too far - which coincidentally is the same thought I had a year ago when the game debuted. Turgid faux party chat where 'players' spout nonsense like "Tango down" isn't going to change that.

Compare this to the on-stage demo of Eagle Flight - a single player and six person multiplayer VR game for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR (as a launch title no less). Oculus' Palmer Luckey even got in on the capture-the-rabbit, dog (bird) fighting fun and the organic, fun showing got us genuinely excited about trying it out for ourselves in a final build.

An encouraging first look at gameplay from the increasingly hipster-ified Watch Dogs 2 was a marked highlight of the show. Ubisoft has spewed the usual "we've listed to fans" spiel for the San Francisco-set sequel, but for once it seems to ring true. All the dreary, charmless nonsense from the 2014 original appears to have been exorcised in favour of a breezy approach to its hack-all-the-things premise.

Foul-mouth RPG sequel South Park: The Fractured But Whole was also shown for single-player enthusiasts, while extended footage from For Honor eased early worries that the solo campaign was merely tacked on to the 4v4 vikings vs samurais vs knights melee mash-up.

The biggest surprise of the event came (as it usually does) at the very end, as Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot revealed not the next Assassin's Creed (mercifully), not a Splinter Cell reboot (boo) and not Beyond Good and Evil 2 (it's still happening though apparently), but a markedly different new IP set in a markedly different open-world.

Steep drops players into its fully explorable sandbox/snowbox, multiplayer-focused recreation of the Alps and features break-neck-speed snowboarding and skiing action, with emphasis placed on the social aspect of the title and sharing your best in-game piste-runs.

The PS4, Xbox One and PC title isn't far off - apparently set for December - and Ubisoft will certainly need to assuage a few doubts IBTimes UK has about the game's depth beyond simply traversing the gorgeously rendered mountain range. However, if only in spirit, Steep at least represented a promising change of tone for the publisher.

If gamers have indeed cottoned on to the tower-heavy, side-quest saturated design that pervaded the company's big hitters from the past half decade, then it seems Ubisoft has also made the necessary changes to break from tradition by expanding its better ideas into a diverse range of genres with Steep and For Honor.

If nothing else, after 30 long years in the business, Ubisoft showed at E3 2016 that it isn't prepared to rest on its laurels by running ageing franchises into the ground.

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