The Digital Trends Best of E3 awards are all about recognizing potential, and this year is packed with it. From eye-catching new mechanics to fresh takes on both competitive and cooperative multiplayer to stories driven by choice and sometimes even authored by the player, the games we’ve highlighted this year dazzle with more than just their good looks (though many of them have that in spades as well).
After an E3 in 2013 that focused primarily on hardware and the future of gaming, the 2014 show is back to a games-first mentality. The new consoles are here and there’s a hunger for new content. Here are the best games of E3 2014.
No Man’s Sky
This visually stunning space-exploration game intends to take the “open world” model to the next level with a full-on, procedurally generated universe to engage with and discover. The gameplay trailer that debuted during Sony’s E3 press event imparts a genuine sense of wonder and impressive ambition on the part of developer Hello Games, and we can only hope the finished product that will debut on PlayStation 4 lives up to the promise of footage like this.
Rainbow Six: Siege
Reality-based tactical simulation has never seemed more real than the gameplay footage that Ubisoft premiered during its Monday media event, and the extended absence of a new Rainbow Six title appears to have been well worth the wait. Intense, comprehensive, and impressively immersive, the E3 footage that accompanied the announcement of Rainbow Six: Siege took the multiplayer attack/defend experience to a new level, and appeared to offer more than the usual, iterative upgrade.
Bungie’s open-world, cosmic MMOish feels like Halo for all the right reasons, blending the freedom of a wide-open environment and flexible narrative with the tight, intuitive control and lush visuals that made Master Chief’s journey one of the industry’s most popular shooters. What we sampled of Destiny in the run-up to E3 made it feel like the best of both worlds, and a distinct step forward in the evolution of the MMORPG experience. We’re looking forward to seeing more of this one as this month’s alpha and this summer’s beta lead into the September launch.
Mortal Kombat X
Our first extended look at gameplay for Mortal Kombat X was appropriately stomach-churning, and offered quite a few visual upgrades that made a bloody splash, enhanced by the power of new console hardware. Interactive environments, new characters, and a heap of intensely detailed, bone-breaking visuals made this preview one to remember — and the stuff of nightmares.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
The cooperative play in Assassin’s Creed: Unity appears to be as revolutionary as the historical events playing out in the game’s narrative, which turns 18th-century France into a dense, rich environment full of interactive elements and opportunities for fresh in-game experiences among the royals and the rabble. Packed with new weapons, missions, and the ability to partner up with friends, the next iteration of Assassin’s Creed appears to have found a comfort zone in the new console and PC environment.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
The trailer for The Division pulled at our heartstrings and did a masterful job of setting the stage for this post-epidemic RPG set in the ruins of the Big Apple. The promise of teaming up to take on the assorted hostile factions in online multiplayer only adds to the appeal, making it all the more reasonable to be fighting over scraps and battling from block to block between crumbling skyscrapers.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Soldiers in power suits, armored mechs, drone swarms, and more futuristic weaponry make Advanced Warfare one to keep an eye on as it breaks from the mold a bit for the 11th major installment of the record-breaking Call of Duty franchise. The underlying sci-fi tone opens up a lot of doors for new developer Sledgehammer Games, and from what we’ve seen of Advanced Warfare so far, the team seems to have made good use of their opportunities — both narratively and technically.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
The third installment of the Dragon Age franchise appears to raise the bar not only visually, but also in sheer size of the interactive world inhabited by players. All signs point to this being the largest, most comprehensively realized world of any Dragon Age title so far, with more opportunities to shape the in-game experience according to your narrative decisions and actions.
Far Cry 4
An amazingly detailed, open-world mountain environment, a compelling new villain, loads of new and deadly toys, and the ability to weaponize elephants — what’s not to like? As if that wasn’t enough, the ability to have players join you for co-op carnage on the PlayStation Network even if they don’t own the game is like a cherry on top of this sweet, wingsuit-wearing sundae.
Indie developer Playdead appears to have another visual treat in store for players, with a dark, haunting 2D adventure that builds on the foundation of its critically praised puzzle/platforming hit Limbo and offers an even more atmospheric experience. Debuting on Xbox One in the first half of 2015, Inside looks to be a surreal, one-of-a-kind adventure with enough mystery to keep things interesting and enough innovation to feel very different from everything else out there.
The creators of Dark Souls somehow manage to go even darker with the upcoming Bloodborne, which showcases some impressive — if gory — visuals that leave just the right amount to the imagination. Much of From Software’s 2015 release remains as shrouded in mystery as the trailer is shrouded in shadows, but the pedigree is there to make this one something to keep an eye on.
The opportunity to join a four-player team of hunters or play as the monster they’re hunting set this one apart from the pack at E3, and it’s clear that a lot of attention was paid to keeping things balanced for both sides of this matchup. The ability of the monster to evolve as time passes adds a deadline atmosphere to the hunt, and the arsenal of equipment available to each of the four hunter classes demands clever planning and teamwork. It’s a fresh concept with a lot promise.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
There’s clearly a lot of potential for the game’s “Nemesis System,” which creates a random hierarchy among your enemies and influences both their actions and evolution based on your interactions. While that mechanic alone is enough to keep us intrigued, a game narrative that bridges the gap between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings makes Shadow of Mordor even more fascinating.
Equal parts nostalgia and creative, user-generated content bug appear to fuel this Wii U title that allows players to create their own Super Mario Bros.-style platform stages that can be shared and switched between the old, 8-bit design and the more modern, HD textured environment.
Super Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS
The ability to let your Mii join the brawl made us take notice of Nintendo’s plans for Super Smash Bros., with the new mechanic allowing you to give your custom avatar one of four different fighting styles and select from a variety of special moves. That’s just one of a long list of new fighters added to the game’s roster, and with a few new modes and cleaned-up visuals, Nintendo has piqued our interest once again in this classic party-friendly series.
This colorful, multiplayer title for the Wii U is a new IP for Nintendo, and it offers players the chance to take control of a human-squid hybrid armed with a paint gun and an arsenal of other, equally weird, paint-based weapons. Teams of four players compete to cover the greater percentage of the game environment in their team’s color, and from what we saw of it, the innovative use of color, upbeat music, and fast-paced action make this one a fun, kinetic experience that brings something new to the Wii U.