Even when E3 is underwhelming, it still leaves players plenty to be excited about. This year’s all-digital expo was certainly quieter than previous years, but it did give us a much clearer picture of what we’ll be playing in 2021 and beyond.
A lot of that came from Microsoft, which dominated the four-day event with its 90-minute stream. The company made its strongest case yet for the Xbox Series X and Game Pass with games such as Starfield and Redfall. Not to be outdone, however, Nintendo came prepared with one of its strongest showings ever. Games including Metroid Dread and Wario Ware: Get It Together! were true surprises that captivated Switch owners. What were the overall best games of the show? Here were our favorites from the hit-and-miss four-day event.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 — Game of the Show
With Elden Ring debuting at Summer Game Fest before E3 began, the runway was clear for Nintendo to wow players with Zelda. We expected, or at least hoped, to see the sequel to Breath of the Wild at the show. Sure enough, Nintendo saved it for last by debuting a brand new gameplay trailer. While the game isn’t coming this year, it’s looking downright gorgeous and surprising too.
The big change this time around is that the game will heavily revolve around the sky, much like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The trailer shows Link falling through the air and standing atop a structure that towers over Hyrule. It’s a clever way to expand Breath of the Wild’s massive map without simply turning it into a dark world. The result is stunning, as we get to see some impressive lighting effects that really seem to make the Hyrule even prettier. With a glimpse at new abilities and enemies, there’s a lot to dig into in the clip, making this well worth the two-year wait since the game’s first teaser.
This year, we saw tons of teaser trailers that didn’t tell us too much. Starfield was something of a dud with a vague release date trailer that didn’t provide many reasons to get excited. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum was Redfall. The latest title from Arkane, the studio behind Dishonored, got a stylish reveal trailer that teased vampires, psychic powers, and team-based shooting.
Out of all the “teaser” games shown this year, Redfall was one of the few that got it right. The trailer didn’t show off any gameplay, but it gave players a good sense of what to expect. It was similar to E3 2019’s Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo debuts, which captivated gamers on tone alone. Redfall brought that same energy with a comedic trailer that signaled a creative blend of traditional shooting and the kind of special abilities that Arkane does best. We’ll see what the actual gameplay looks like, but this clip certainly did its job.
In a year where so much leaked or was assumed beforehand, Metroid Dread was a genuine shock. Not only has Nintendo been silent about the series for years, it hasn’t released a new original 2D Metroid title in almost two decades. So imagine fans’ shock when it revealed a Metroid Fusion sequel that’s coming out this fall.
It’s safe to say that Metroid Dread looks like a worthy successor, staying true to the original games while bringing new ideas to the table. It borrows several mechanics from the Nintendo 3DS title Metroid: Samus Returns too, like counterattacks and fully directional aiming. The art direction is particularly stellar here, with a creepy sci-fi setting that’s filled with murderous robots that persistently stalk Samus. The Metroidvania genre has grown significantly in the two decades since Metroid Fusion and it looks like Nintendo is finally prepared to reclaim its own crown.
Riders Republic first debuted at last year’s Ubisoft Forward and didn’t get the biggest reception. Some were intrigued by its social sports premise, but it was overshadowed by bigger games like Far Cry 6. When it was indefinitely delayed, it seemed like the title might have been in rough shape. This year’s E3 served as a sort of re-debut for the title, rolling out the full red carpet with renewed confidence. Ubisoft’s instincts were right; it’s looking surprisingly fantastic.
The new trailer gave players a much deeper look at how it works and it’s looking even wackier than expected. We got a glimpse of chaotic 64-player races, ice cream carts racing alongside bikes, and characters flying through canyons with jetpacks. With players valuing unique multiplayer experiences more than ever, Riders Republic is really looking special. It’s pulling together dozens of wild ideas to create the ultimate extreme sports game. This went from curiosity to “can’t miss” very fast.
Forza Horizon 5
Forza is usually the butt of the joke at E3. It always shows up at Microsoft’s conference and usually prompts users to break for a snack. That wasn’t the case this year. Forza Horizon 5 looks genuinely fantastic and it just might be the racing game that converts naysayers into fans. That’s largely because it’ll be available on day one via Game Pass, making it hard to pass up. That was a running theme through Microsoft’s show in general, which offered some really enticing reasons to subscribe.
As far as the game itself goes, it’s looking like a total blast. The game is set in Mexico and features some predictably gorgeous visuals that should take full advantage of the Xbox Series X. With a full campaign and tons of multiplayer modes, there will be plenty of good reasons to experience its vibrant locales when the game launches on November 9. While Forza has always been a big hit among certain gamers, this really looks like the installment that’ll win skeptics and put it in a genuine game of the year conversation.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
While Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was heavily rumored for the show, it was still a bit of a surprise. Despite knowing it existed, we didn’t really know what it would look like. Would it be another live service multiplayer game like Marvel’s Avengers? Square Enix didn’t hold back any details with around 20 minutes of information on the game. That was enough to pique our interest and then some.
The game is much different than players might have expected and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a narrative-driven, single-player experience where players only directly control Star-Lord and bark out orders to their teammates. That creates some clever team dynamics, forcing players to think carefully about when to deploy their squad members. It’s looking like a superhero version of Mass Effect, and that’s a perfect fit for the franchise. Toss in some ’80s tunes and lots of quips and you’ve got all the ingredients for a hit.
Halo Infinite is a bit of a strange case. While it appeared at Microsoft’s conference, it weirdly wasn’t the central focus of the show. Forza Horizon 5 got a bigger spotlight and Starfield got the coveted opening spot. In fact, Halo didn’t even get a release date during the show, raising concerns that it might not make its holiday 2021 window. It certainly seems like Microsoft is preparing for the possibility of another delay.
So why is it on this list? It gets the most improved award. E3 was Microsoft’s chance to get players excited about the title again after a weak gameplay reveal last year that led to its indefinite delay. It largely delivered by putting a major emphasis on multiplayer this time around. The game will feature free-to-play multiplayer that looks like it’ll right the wrong of previous entries by pulling inspiration from more classic Halo games. That really sets the stage for a possible return to shooter dominance, something Halo hasn’t had in a decade. While Battlefield 2042 seems like the shooter to beat this year, E3 successfully reigned in Halo Infinite‘s narrative and we look forward to seeing the final result.
A Plague Tale: Requiem
While we didn’t learn too much about it, A Plague Tale: Requiem gave us just enough to be excited about. The first game in the series, A Plague Tale: Innocence, was a hidden gem that featured strong storytelling and lots of rats. A cinematic trailer for its sequel signals that both of those strengths are returning and upping the ante.
Sometimes, the best part of E3 is its pleasant surprises and this falls into that category. We knew we’d see Starfield and Forza Horizon 5, but A Plague Tale: Requiem was one of the many games that came out of left field and got us excited about Xbox and Game Pass. It’s not just a Halo Infinite box.
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- Staff picks: Why Metroid Dread is our game of the year