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What PC gamers can expect at E3 2016

Console gamers will spend the bulk of E3 drooling over new console updates. The PS4K and Xbox One Scorpio, as they’re currently known, are supposedly intended as mid-generation updates with 4K video playback, and improved performance. PC gamers have no such new hardware, or blockbuster announcements to froth over. The new video cards and processors were announced in the months leading up to E3.

Instead, those who prefer the company of a keyboard and mouse will be looking forward to a field of games dominated by indie developers, spurred on by easier access to new engines and greater distribution. Classic titles will re-emerge as sequels, or even reboots. Best of all, Microsoft may even bring PC users into the console gaming fold with Xbox One game support.

Small teams, big dreams

Gamers who explored the ransacked Greenbriar’s household in Gone Home will be happy to hear of the return of The Fullbright Company, in the development company’s second title, Tacoma. While Gone Home focused on a story that felt all too human, the mystery of Tacoma will take an other-worldly turn on a space station far away from Earth. The game’s release is expected in early 2017, so E3 would be the perfect time to reveal more details.

Alone on an abandoned lunar base, somewhere between System Shock and Dead Space, the Steam Greenlight baby Routine has faced a number of delays on its way to release. That hasn’t stopped it from garnering attention in the crowded space-based survival horror genre. There’s still no release date, but often games without them end up with playable demos, or at least new trailers, at E3.

While indie developers have increasing access to the tools to make high-end games, there are some who choose to remain focused on classic styling, like A Hat In Time. This old-school 3D platformer is just one of many, but it’s generating a lot of buzz for its use of the Unreal Engine, and its massively funded Kickstarter.

Old favorites

With all the fun new tech and light-hearted indie games, it’s easy to forget that PCs have a rich history of titles unique to the platform.

One of my personal favorite titles that will be making its return this year is Unreal Tournament. This classic arena shooter is fast-paced, hectic, and thanks to Unreal’s brand new engine, gorgeous. It’s already in pre-alpha, and free for anyone to download.

The next entry in Sid Meier’s popular turn-based strategy game needs no introduction, and Civilization VI is already guaranteed a spot in PC gamer’s hearts. Details are still scarce, but we do know the new game will build on the complexity of previous titles, with more dynamic diplomacy, advanced troop movements, and multi-tile cities. We expect to have an extensive hands-on with it during the show.

For those who prefer a lighter fare, Planet Coaster promises modernized fun in a classic packaging that could revive the theme park manager, a genre that was popular in the late 90s. Build a park, crash the rides, and relive the classic age of Tycoon games. It’s slated for release sometime in 2016, so you can bet it will pop up in some form at E3.

Virtual Reality

What are the next big titles that will take people to immersive new lands? It’s not really clear. While we’re sure there will be new games that take advantage of hardware that’s finally in gamers’ homes, they’re likely to be totally new IPs, built specifically for the tech. Big game publishers seem reluctant to take major franchises to VR, no doubt because the number of users will headsets is still low.

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That creates a conundrum. While there are excellent games already available, such as Fantastic Contraption for the HTC Vive, there’s a lack of major games from developers who have the money and manpower to take VR games to the next level and treat VR owners to the graphical tour-de-force they expect. E3 is going to set the tone of VR game releases for the coming year, and so far, it seems that tone will be subdued.

Xbox becomes one with PC?

A number of signs point to the idea that Microsoft may bring all Xbox One games to the PC. As Xbox One titles like Gears of War, and Halo 5’s forge have made their way to Windows, it raises questions about Microsoft’s intentions.

Bringing PC gamers into the Xbox One fold is sure to expand its user base and sell more games, but it’s unclear which franchises will make the leap, and which won’t (Microsoft says Halo won’t come to PC, for example). PC games require higher-resolution textures, sharper response times, and more robust customization features than Xbox games.

The risk for Microsoft is clear. PC hardware prices are dropping fast, and despite how new it is, the hardware in the Xbox One isn’t particularly robust, or new, even compared to budget gaming machines. Building a system that’s capable of at least the Xbox’s graphical power costs around, if not less than, the cost of a new console.

Expect the unexpected

With consoles in a more tenuous state than ever, the rise of readily-available VR headsets, and greater access by indie developers, 2016 is bound to be a great year for the PC gaming industry.

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But what defines E3 each is rarely a title we know about heading into the show. It’s the little, and sometimes big, surprises that come from unexpected corners. We’ll be taking on E3 head-on this year, hitting the show floor hard, and spending time playing games, all in an effort to find the show’s hidden gems.