Skip to main content

The underdogs of E3 2017: The 10 best indie games on display this year

While AAA games tend to get most of the attention at E3, the thriving indie game scene continues to turn out titles that are pushing the gaming envelope in creative ways that don’t always require blockbuster budgets. That’s pulling many of those titles into the big umbrellas of Sony, Microsoft, and publishers like Electronic Arts, who are broadening their portfolios with smaller games that are exploring and expanding the edges of gameplay and story ideas. At E3 2017, there were lots of intriguing indie titles, some of which got the fanfare of the big publisher press conferences, and some that flew well under the radar. Here are 10 of the most promising indie games that had a presence at E3 this year.


Ashen on Xbox One - 4K Trailer

There are a lot of games chasing the success of Dark Souls, but our time with Ashen at E3 shows it’s bringing a new and unique twist. Much of the gameplay is similar to tough action-adventure titles often called “Soulslikes,” but the game includes a multiplayer aspect in which other people seamlessly become part of your game world. You’ll meet and team up with other players as you make your way through Ashen, spending time with their characters and beating dungeons together. Then, those characters will appear in Ashen’s hub world as non-player characters — helping you to form a bond with them when they were inhabited by another player, but carrying those characters forward in your single-player story.

A Way Out

A Way Out Official Reveal Trailer

The developers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are back another take on cooperative play. This time, players engage in a split-screen experience in which each person takes on the role of one of the story’s two main characters. In the E3 demo we saw, both stories unfold at the same time on screen as you work together with a friend to escape prison. Each of A Way Out’s scenes is unique in terms of mechanics, so you’ll never do the same actions twice, but working together is essential to proceeding through the game and unraveling its emotional tales.

The Darwin Project

The Darwin Project on Xbox One and Windows 10 - 4K Trailer

Battle Royale”-style third-person multiplayer title The Darwin Project sets itself apart from other, similar games with a few key quirks. At E3, we saw cool iterations on the core idea of pitting several players against each other in a lethal wilderness arena where only the last person standing wins. Instead of just hiding and hoping for the best, The Darwin Project adds wrinkles like making it possible to hunt other players by finding trees they’ve cut down or treasure chests they’ve looted, and tracking them from there. There’s also the Director, a floating, player-controlled camera that can mess with player and add entertainment value to the reality TV show premise by doing things like making sections of the map inhospitable. The Darwin Project looks to bring a lot of good ideas to a growing subgenre of multiplayer games, to better replicate the experience of living through The Hunger Games.

Hunt: Showdown

Crytek is back with a first-person shooter that’s full of great ideas from the multiplayer sphere. The demo we saw combined horror elements from games like DayZ and Left 4 Dead with monster hunting ideas such as those from Evolve, Hunt: Showdown pits players in groups of two against demonic forces. The goal is to team up with another person to hunt down a boss monster, kill it, and collect its body for a bounty — but there are other teams on the same map, hunting the same monsters. You not only have to survive demonic creatures in each map, you have to fight off other players to survive matches, earn new gear and level up your characters.

A Case of Distrust

A Case of Distrust | Announcement Trailer

Taking a page from noir detective novels, A Case of Distrust inhabits the story of a 1920s, Prohibition-era detective as she works to uncover a mystery. The point-and-click style focuses on investigations, but the meat of the story comes from first-person storytelling in the vein of Raymond Chandler, and a conversation system where you’ll choose your speaking options as you interrogate witnesses and suspects, trying to find ways to trip them up and find the truth. How you choose to work through your investigation and the conversation and story branches you follow will determine how the story plays out.

The Swords of Ditto

There’s a lot of obvious inspiration from The Legend of Zelda in the E3 demo of The Swords of Ditto, which puts players in a world where every so often, evil returns to destroy everything, and a lineage of heroes rises to defeat it. You’re that hero, and if you’re killed in the attempt to banish the baddies, the world plunges into darkness for a period before you can return to fix things. Expect to die quite a bit as your abilities and triumphs are passed to the next in the line of heroes. Drop-in cooperative play also adds layers to the Zelda-like strategy and combat of The Swords of Ditto, offering some fresh approaches to familiar gameplay.


A fresh take on the third-person adventure game, Moss uses virtual reality to let you play two roles at a time. With a DualShock 4 controller, you control Quill, an adventure-seeking, sword-wielding mouse as she works through dungeons and battles. But you also play yourself, a magical observer in virtual reality who can interact with Quill and use clever motion controls to grab and move objects around the world to solve puzzles. Our E3 demo felt a bit like playing a two-player game, except you’re taking on both roles at the same time. The mechanics add a VR layer to a well-trod genre, freshening up puzzle-solving and inviting players to form a connection with Moss‘s protagonist.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine - TriBeCa Film Festival Trailer

Focused on folklore, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a road trip across America to hear the stories of its rural denizens. The game mixes a storybook look with regional music to capture a very American feeling, while players learn characters and watch them evolve over time into the mythos of a country. The game features 16 different characters to share stories with, and each of their tales was penned by a different writer, adding variety to the game that sounds very intriguing.

The Last Night

The Last Night - E3 2017 reveal trailer

Cyberpunk side-scroller The Last Night intrigued during the Microsoft press conference at E3 with a gorgeous trailer. Invoking the look and feel of classics like Blade Runner, it puts players in a dark, neon-lit world of intrigue and flying cars. Sporting some beautiful pixel graphics, the action-platformer’s mixed low-res, hi-res look is intriguing in and of itself, and it looks to be filled with the dingy alleys and creepy future conspiracies.

The Artful Escape

The Artful Escape on Xbox One - 4K Trailer

The Artful Escape is a side-scrolling platformer, but sets itself apart by adding a musical angle that captures the story of an artist trying to find himself and step out of the shadow of his famous father. The game pulls the elements of music and rhythm games into a platforming structure, as you go on a psychedelic quest through the cosmos, armed with your guitar and a rock anthem soundtrack. The art style looks great and the soundtrack is captivating, making The Artful Escape look like a great, fresh take on a tried-and-true game genre.

Editors' Recommendations

Phil Hornshaw
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Phil Hornshaw is an author, freelance writer and journalist living in Los Angeles. He is the co-author of The Space Hero's…
Nintendo confirms that it won’t be part of E3 2023
Pikmin and Bulborb in Pikmin 4.

Nintendo has confirmed reports that it won't be participating in E3 2023, meaning the gaming trade show will be missing one of its key vendors when it returns in-person this June.
"We approach our involvement in any event on a case-by-case basis and are always considering various ways to engage with our fans," a Nintendo spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. "Since this year’s E3 show didn’t fit into our plans, we have made the decision to not participate. However, we have been and continue to be a strong supporter of the ESA [Entertainment Software Association] and E3."
After taking 2020 and 2022 off and being digital-only in 2021, this year was supposed to mark the grand return of E3, which was once a dominant game industry trade show that attracted every big video game company. Although Sony hasn't participated since 2019, it still came as a shock in January when IGN reported that both Nintendo and Microsoft would not be attending E3 this year as well. It appears that the report is true, as Microsoft has not confirmed any E3-related events outside of its independently run Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase.
Nintendo skipping E3 2023 not only takes away a vendor that dominated the show floor in previous years, but also raises questions about whether or not the company will hold an exciting Nintendo Direct around then. While Nintendo typically holds a big showcase with lots of first-party game announcements around June every year, in 2022 it only held a third-party driven Partner Showcase in June. Now that we know it won't be at E3 2023, we're left to wonder when exactly then next big Nintendo Direct will be. 
E3 2023 will take place between June 13 and June 16, but don't expect Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft to have a big presence there.

Read more
Summer Game Fest returns just before E3 2023 next June
The official artwork confirming Summer Game Fest's return on June 8, 2023.

Geoff Keighley has confirmed when Summer Game Fest will return in June 2023. It will begin with a live kickoff show on June 8, 2023, placing Keighley's game announcement alternative less than a week before E3's grand (intended) 2023 return.
Unlike past years, Summer Game Fest Live Kickoff 2023 will feature a live audience, like Geoff Keighley's The Game Awards. It will take place in the YouTube Theater at Hollywood Park, with tickets going on sale in early 2023. It will still be livestreamed across platforms like YouTube and Twitch, though. It's currently unknown who's participating, how long Summer Game Fest will run afterward, or if it will feature a Summer Game Fest Play Days-like element for fans. Still, Keighley says all of that info will be revealed ahead of the event next year, teasing what people can expect. 
"In keeping with tradition, we'll have tons of exciting announcements from the developers that are pushing the games industry forward, and will once again highlight other publisher digital events, demos, and more surprises to be announced in the coming months," Keighley says in a press release. 
That June 8 start date, and the other Summer Game Fest events likely to follow, put Keighley's show just ahead of E3 2023. The ESA and ReedPop plan to bring E3 back between June 13 and June 16, 2023. With five days of lead time on E3, Summer Game Fest can coexist with the long-running gaming conference and encompass the plethora of publisher showcases that tend to precede E3.
Geoff Keighley made it clear that he wants Summer Game Fest and E3 to coexist for a while. "We've had extensive conversations with ReedPop about E3," he said in an interview with Epic Games Store. "I think it'll kind of fit together and flow kind of from what we're doing into what they're doing and stuff. E3, to me, is this kind of master brand that represents gaming news in June."
With the start date of Summer Game Fest confirmed, the coexistence of these two summer gaming events is a reality. Summer Game Fest returns on June 8, 2023.

Read more
The best indie games of all-time
digital blend the force is with angry birds and george washington becomes a king cave story

Indie games have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. It wasn't much more than a decade ago that indie games would only ever be seen by a small community on PC, with no chance of ever getting put on a major console or storefront. However, with platforms like Steam bringing more attention to these projects, plus early initiatives like the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade on the Xbox 360 shining a light on how talented single, or very small, person teams could be, indie games suddenly found themselves sharing the spotlight with the high budget AAA games. In many cases, these rag-tag teams of developers working on a passion project in their spare time, with only what money they could give to it out of pocket, were reviewing better and selling more than their titanic competition.

Today, indie games are more common than ever. Once the wall was broken down, more individuals and small teams started emerging to offer new and unique experiences that the larger developers found too risky. These indie teams are where gamers turn to not for cutting-edge graphics, although the tools they have are allowing their art to rival big-budget games, but for brand new gameplay, narrative, or even fourth wall-breaking experiences that don't exist anywhere else. In the early days, finding the best indie games was far easier, but now that time has passed and so many amazing indie titles have come along, with more arriving almost daily, there are almost too many to sort through. That's why we've curated this list of the best indie games of all time.

Read more