Best of the Best
With E3 2021 now coming to a close, it is time to reflect on what's been a fairly varied series of events. We've definitely had a fair share of surprise announcements and big reveals, but the absence of former attendants such as Playstation and EA has certainly left an impact, and one might even go as far as to say it's been the year of the indie this time around. While this year also saw the transition to an all-digital event, we still got a healthy dose of traditional E3 awkwardness and weird moments that one might expect to find on their E3 bingo card or drinking game list. It's also around this time of reflection that many of us will be producing our lists for what stood above all others in their respective shows. So without further delay, here are my thoughts on some of E3 2021 and the best reveals from each show this year.
Summer Games Fest Kickoff - Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
While not an official E3 event, Geoff Keighley's Summer Games Fest Kickoff was pretty much the opener for E3 2021; and let's face it, there were tons of shows this year that weren't officially listed under E3 jurisdiction. I'm sure many of us were actually surprised by the variety of announcements made during the live presentation, with a decent balance of indie and AAA announcements throughout. Ironically, Summer Games Fest Kickoff also felt the most like a classic E3 live event, with musical performances, a semi-professional host, the celebrity cameo here and there, and just a general E3 vibe. As nostalgic as the event was, not much got me excited. So for me, the winner of the show - other than Geoffs boyish charm and winners smile - was Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.
Swoon over Elden Ring all you want, but Tiny Tina's Wonderlands looks great and had me sold with zero to no effort. I never really got into Borderlands 3, but when that trailer showed everything from Wyverns to vast fantasy set-pieces, Wonderlands firmly supplanted itself in my mind the rest of the show. Not only does it look like an interesting mix of Borderlands meets Middle-Earth, but it's got Andy Samberg and Bojack Horseman himself, Will Arnett lending their vocal talents to the game. How they were able to get such high-calibre comedic talent on the project is beyond me, but that final nugget of info on the game makes me feel like this could be the thing that gets me back into Borderlands, or at least its brand of looter-shooter.
Ubisoft Forward 2021 - Rocksmith+
Ubisoft is very much the games industry's ship of Theseus. Old games are replaced with the new, and so, is Ubisoft still the same Ubisoft? I mean, absolutely, yea. It has gotten to a point where we kinda know what to expect out of good ol' Ubisoft, whether that be their games having open-worlds littered with icons and side-content, or in their E3 presentations, where they announce new and bigger open worlds with even more icons and side-content. All joking aside, Ubisoft Forward 2021 was a solid presentation. Rainbow Six: Extraction looks like an interesting spin-off of Siege for those looking for Siege's combat in a PvE setting; Continued support for already existing titles is always a bonus, particularly for the likes of AC: Valhalla and Watch Dogs: Legion; and that reveal of a new Avatar game was some finisher to the show, leaving me and many others excited to see what the team can do with James Cameron's gorgeous sci-fi setting and the power of next-gen.
But for me, the highlight of the show was Rocksmith+. I am by no means a musician, nor do I have much interest in learning how to play, but Rocksmith+ is as much a symbolic announcement as it is a compelling one. Rocksmith+ promises to be one of the most advanced interactive music learning tools on the market, allowing you to learn how to play the guitar even if you are just starting out. Features like the ability to track your progress as a player rather than on individual songs seems incredible, as being able to visually see your progress is no small addition to any learning experience. It's an outstanding software package, and the fact Ubisoft cares enough to invest in something like Rocksmith+ makes the announcement even greater.
As much as we all watch E3 for the games, actually seeing a game developer and publisher work towards making something that has real-world applications is something you don't see too often. I can't help but think about how useful Rocksmith+ could be within the education system for example, as the variety of features on offer paired with the interactive nature of the product make it not only an informative learning tool but one that is easy to use, and genuinely fun. When you look at it alongside something like the Assassin's Creed Discovery Tours, there's a recurring pattern with Ubisoft that their focus isn't just on games, but on using their talented development teams to make something useful and engaging. So while the ship's planks are all but indistinguishable outside of a fresh new look, there are some improvements made here and there that make the Ubisoft ship a fine vessel worth sailing the open sea. Good job Ubisoft, good job.
Gearbox E3 showcase - Tribes of Midgard
In going over all the shows that took place this E3, my prevailing thought was this: Why on earth did Gearbox need their own show? The bizarre university induction opening to the showcase was somewhat comedic, and their referencing of lockdown and pandemic associated terms through Borderlands was vaguely charming. But seeing Randy Pitchford navigate the set of the Borderlands movie was the most entertaining part, and mildly interesting too. There was something strange about old Randy's tour of the set, not just because he looked so incredibly out of place. The whole thing seemed like Randy had snuck onto the set to film an impromptu vlog for his fan channel, with cheesy freeze-frame edits, and a weird interaction with Kevin Hart. It was, in some small capacity, enjoyable. But when it came to the announcements, the show was very brief; its existence completely unwarranted. To summarise how pointless the show was, your time would've been better spent watching Square Enix Presents - and that's saying something. We only got a look at a handful of projects but if I was to pick something out of their lacklustre presentation, it would be Tribes of Midgard.
This title had already been revealed at Summer Games Fest and a previous E3, but this time around we got to learn a bit more about the project and what to expect from it. My interest in this upcoming survival action RPG comes largely from my undying love for Norse mythology, but my eyes remain fixed on its July 27th release date because of everything else it brings to the table. Outside of the traditional action-RPG combat on display, the games cell-shaded visuals and mystical nordic setting look ferociously charming. But it's the integration of survival gameplay elements such as crafting and base-building that really make this stand apart from other games in the same genre. Plus you get to fight together with friends against all manner of monsters and creatures that dare attack your settlement. The idea that you'll be part of your very own nordic band of warriors is tantalising enough without adding in the giant bosses you fight throughout. When it comes to this stylistic action-packed co-op experience, Valhalla might be able to wait, but I can't.
Devolver Digital 2021 - Wizard with a Gun
Devolver Direct returned this year with its signature charm and wit; and a healthy heap of games. I've never watched a Devolver Digital E3 show and it has now become one of my biggest regrets in life. This is thanks to this year's showcase opening with a recap of the totally bonkers shows that came before it, featuring a handful of moments that truly characterise the shows staple chaotic absurdity. What couldn't possibly get any more insane did, as the opening montage devolved into a psychotic, satirical board room sketch followed by an incredibly confusing ad for "Devolver Max Pass+"; a new, high-end games as a service model designed to monetise everything and poke fun at a rise in video game subscription services, as well as monetization. In between game reveals and trailers, we got more and more news on what comes in Devolver's totally legit monetization package, which seemingly includes everything except for games and a price tag. But now I'm getting distracted (wait was that the point?!?). Anyway, this was a great showcase for games as much as it was for entertaining satire, with an epic gameplay trailer for Shadow Warrior 3; a fascinatingly eerie trailer of horror card-game Inscryption; and the retro-arcade themed Demon Throttle. But no game stood out to me more than the strangely familiar Wizard with a Gun.
I say it's familiar for several reasons, with the most important being that it immediately made me think of that meme where Gandalf is holding an AK-47. You know what one I'm talking about. It also showed some extreme similarities to Don't Starve, another 2D survival sandbox game that may sound familiar to some of you. That, for me at least, is a good thing. Don't Starve was a solid survival game that had a great art style, and it looks as though Wizard with a Gun is bringing that back in its own way. The hybrid fantasy-western aesthetic looks to be an interesting setting for the game, where little wizards wearing star covered cloaks and cowboy hats run around shooting up monsters to make magical new ammunition from their body parts. It looks fun, stylish, and above all else, unique. Think if Don't Starve and Enter the Gungeon had a kid whose hero was Merlin. That's Wizard with a Gun (and a pretty good pitch if you ask me).
Square Enix Presents - Guardians of the Galaxy
The Square Enix showcase was a good laugh, wasn't it? it wasn't meant to be, but their efforts to make it streamer friendly by removing copyrighted music from their trailers made for some top-notch entertainment. Fair play to them for looking out for the streaming community, but those cinematic trailers without music were hilariously awkward. But before the show started to fall apart, the opening reveal was sublime, and no doubt found its way onto nearly everyone's most anticipated games list. I am of course talking about Guardians of the Galaxy.
Successive MCU rewatches made me fall out of love with the Guardians movies, but man does this game look damn fine. It's a game I never knew I needed, with all the signature humour associated with Marvels ragtag group of misfits thrust into a Mass Effect style format. There was a real emphasis on the cinematic part of the trailer, which honestly felt like a full-scale movie trailer. Not only did we get introduced to the most charming man in the galaxy, Peter Quill (Star-Lord), but also the rest of the Guardians getting up to no good, and looking refreshingly comic-book accurate. But wait, there's more.
Square Enix clearly couldn't wait to show us their latest Marvel project and gave us an 11-minute gameplay trailer showcasing the Guardians on their way to make some quick cash. It's here we were introduced to several key gameplay features, like dialogue options; teammate commands and special moves; and an absolutely gorgeous alien world. This really gave us a good taste of what's to come from this game, which appears to be more intricate than it lets on. One moment see's Peter give Drax the okay to throw Rocket over a ravine, which appeared to tarnish the pair's relationship. It was worth it though (I mean come on, it was pretty funny). Suffice to say if it wasn't for a certain other reveal, this would easily be my favourite game announcement from E3. Guardians of the Galaxy is poised to be one of the most fun, familiar and exciting games of the year, with a charming cast of characters and engaging narrative. Even if it only lives up to half of what's expected, it seems well worth the wait.
Guerilla Collective - Rawmen/Sable/AK-xolotol
When I said that this year's E3 has been the year of the Indies, it's been shows like the Guerrilla Collective Showcase that made that possible. This was no small show either, showcasing around 70 new and existing indie titles ranging from artistic exploration adventures to first-person survival-horror games. With such a vast array of distinct and exciting titles, the Guerrilla Collective showcase is a winner in its own right, and trying to pick out one such title from its roster to call "the best" is frankly not possible. That being said, I've narrowed down some honourable mentions for this phenomenal showcase.
I find myself drawn to the weirder titles shown during this extensive presentation, but before I get to them, I have to mention Sable. If you haven't already heard, Sable is shaping up to be one of the most beautiful exploration titles releasing this year, with a gorgeous and fascinating open-world designed in the style of artist, Moebius; known for his vivid and detailed sci-fi/fantasy art. The trailer shown during the presentation done all it needed to: grab your attention, and look good doing it. It's something I'm sure many people are already excited about, and if you aren't, watching its trailers will certainly change your mind.
But now we come to my top picks. AK-xolotl is something I never knew I needed, nor thought anyone could ever conceive. The cover art for the game tells you pretty much all you need to know about this upcoming top-down arcade shooter, which is that you are playing as an adorable little axolotl with a penchant for firearms. The trailer showcased the axolotl mowing down numerous hostiles trying to invade its land, and after seeing nothing but chaos in the creature's eyes, I'm sure it's something they should've avoided altogether. It ends with our trigger-happy critter sitting down beside a little pond surrounded by piles of corpses, which is darkly comedic enough to give this a coveted spot on my Steam wishlist.
However, it was the absurd multiplayer arena shooter Rawmen that stole the show for me. Not only does it sound like a totally self-aware porno, but it looks like a damn good time. Its map design looks solid, its art style is on point, and above all else, it is totally bonkers. The trailer shows off some top-tier ragdoll physics and players rolling around as giant meatballs, dodging large doughnuts, and engaging in some of the biggest food fights ever seen. There's just something about running around as a half-naked man hurling meat and assorted food items at other half-naked men that screams fun; and if that sounds like a good time to you, then you'd best keep your eyes on this one.
Nintendo Direct - Metroid Dread
I'll be honest, I haven't owned a Nintendo console or game since the Nintendo Wii, and even then I didn't have much attachment to the developer/publisher. But part of the fun of E3 is checking out all the wonderful and exciting projects coming out of all the talented teams making our games. Nintendo being one of this year's "Head Honchos" so to speak. It had much of what we kinda expected to show up, like a few new Mario games, a new character for Smash Bros Ultimate, and some games making their Switch debut soon. But then we also got the reveal of a newly remastered collection of the old Super Monkey Ball games, and a surprise gameplay teaser for Breath of the Wild 2; which, by the way, looks pretty great. However, it was horror side-scroller Metroid Dread that stole the show for me.
While all you Metroid fans are gonna have to wait a bit longer for Metroid 4, Metroid Dread seems like a worthy replacement to keep you busy. I'm not particularly a fan of Metroidvania style games, nor have I ever played a Metroid game, but I was more than impressed by Metroid Dread's reveal trailer. What makes it look so unique is the touch of horror, with invulnerable morphing death machines and a sinister soundtrack. The gameplay itself looks to be very traditional and what I imagine will please fans of the franchise and genre; However, it's how the game is mixing up that Metroidvania design by adding an emphasis on horror that really makes it shine. I don't think I've ever seen a Metroidvania game where you actually have to consider hiding from a predatory enemy you can't kill, which is as important for gameplay as it is for making the game feel genuinely terrifying. Sci-Fi has always found favour within the horror genre, after all just look at something like Alien or Dead Space. So to see Metroid embrace that relationship is something I find incredibly interesting and worthy of your attention, especially if you own a Nintendo Switch.
Xbox/Bethesda Games Showcase - Halo Infinite
Now, I have saved the best for last (because let's be real, it was the best). The Xbox/Bethesda showcase is easily the best show we got this year. Not only did it have some outstanding announcements and surprises, but it opened with one great big middle finger, with the announcement of Bethesda's next big RPG, Starfield, being Xbox exclusive. From there, they kept rolling with the punches. It featured probably the best E3 lineup of any show this year, with the aforementioned Starfield trailer, Forza Motorsport 5, and our first look at Battlefield 2042 gameplay. Oh and perhaps gamings greatest crossover event, Pirates of the Caribbean in Sea of Thieves! But if we are to mention anything about the Xbox/Bethesda showcase, it has to of course be Xbox Game Pass. You know Game Pass right? "the best deal in gaming" and all that? well out of the 30 games on show, 27 are joining Microsoft's premier video game subscription service. Truly, Game Pass keeps getting better and better, making everyone who owns it the real winners of E3 2021. Alas, while my devotion to Game Pass compels me to praise it further, it wasn't the part of the show that earned my top spot. That honour goes to Halo: Infinite.
I'd be lying if I said Halo: Infinite being my pick for the best game of E3 2021 wasn't down to sentimentality. Halo was the franchise that got me into video games, and one that's always been part of my life growing up. Even when it started to go downhill. But it's that reason that makes Halo Infinite's appearance at E3 even more impactful. The trailer we got for multiplayer spoke a thousand words, all detailing how 343 Industries have learned from their mistakes and have gone back to basics. It was an action-packed trailer, showcasing the return of arena-style maps, familiar gameplay, and some new additions in the form of new weapons and the grappling hook. The addition of some narrative context to all the spartan v spartan action is also a nice touch. In short, it felt a lot like a homecoming; the return of the king so to speak. Watching that trailer brought a sigh of relief to me, and I'm sure many other long-time Halo fans who've been waiting desperately for the rebirth of the classic Halo multiplayer experience. The franchise's apparent return to form has no doubt been influenced by the games creative lead and former Bungie veteran, Joseph Staten, but that doesn't mean the rest of the Halo Infinite team don't deserve a round of applause. Let's just hope the final product lives up to the hype.
Though, I have to also that story trailer. It's hard to put into words how powerful this trailer was for me, and I'm sure some of you out there felt the same. Everything about it felt right: the beautiful orchestral score, Chief seemingly on his way to face some insurmountable odds, and even the echoed words of Cortana giving a speech reminiscent of Halo 3's campaign opening. Even the cutscene between Master Chief and the new Cortana, discussing how our Cortana is gone (or maybe not), tugged on the heartstrings a little. That moment where Chief takes in his new AI companion felt immensely symbolic, representing a new beginning for one of gamings most beloved duos, and the franchise too. It was heartwarming and put a smile on my face, that's all I can really say. So yea, sentiment and nostalgia may influence my decision-making here, but the game itself does look amazing and like it's going leaps and bounds in the right direction, which is why Halo: Infinite is my top pick for the best game at E3 2021.
So that's my thoughts on some of this year's E3 showcases. Overall, I'd say that this was a pretty good E3 considering the circumstances. It's important to remember that a lot of work goes into producing these online shows for us, and for the devs looking to show off their latest projects. Everyone that worked on them has genuinely done a great job of giving us some great reveals and some entertaining moments to go along with them; that can't be understated. It's looking like a great year for games, and an even better future, so as varied as E3 2021 was, it certainly gave fans of the industry, and its wonderful games, something to look forward to and keep our spirits high, even if it was just for a week.
But while that's my take on E3 2021, I'd love to know what you think too. What was your favourite show? what game(s) are you most looking forward to? did you love this year's event, or did it disappoint? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to follow me on Twitter @TheeMcGinn and let me know.