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E3 2021 Day 4 recap: Nintendo delivers the Direct fans have always wanted

The biggest gaming event of the year is in full swing. E3 is back after taking 2020 off due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year, it’s an all-digital event featuring several of gaming’s biggest publishers. Things are much more confusing this time around, though. Events like Summer Game Fest have splintered the gaming reveal landscape, turning the entire month of June into something of a mega expo.

In fact, some of the biggest announcements of the month came before the event even started. EA chose to reveal Battlefield 2042 on its own time, while Summer Game Fest snagged the coveted Elden Ring trailer reveal. Still, there’s plenty of news left in the tank for E3 proper. Here’s our recap of the event, which we will update every day with new information.

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Day 4: Nintendo makes up for an uneven show

It’s not clear how E3 2021 is going to be remembered overall by gaming fans. We’re way too close to the event and emotions are running high. Some days had players thrilled, while others had them declaring the show’s death. One thing’s for sure though: Nintendo delivered one of its best Direct presentations ever during the event.

That came as a bit of a shock. Before the show, fans found themselves tanking their expectations. The underwhelming, 50-minute Direct that took place earlier this year had finally beaten down many a spirited Nintendo faithful. It was starting to feel like no matter what Nintendo delivered with its streams, it would never be enough to satisfy players. Before the show even started, games like Mario Kart 9 were trending on Twitter, setting the stage for more self-induced disappointment.

Breath of the Wild 2

Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Nintendo gave fans the Direct they’ve been craving for years. First and foremost, we finally got a new look at the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it didn’t disappoint. It looks stunning and features some genuinely intriguing new ideas thanks to new abilities and its use of sky to expand Hyrule.

You know it’s a good Direct when that wasn’t even the biggest news of the show, though. Nintendo delivered several surprises that felt like a dream. Metroid Fusion is getting a proper sequel in Metroid Dread, the first original 2D Metroid game in 19 years. WarioWare is back from the grave with a new co-op game called WarioWare: Get It Together! Even the entirely dead Advance Wars franchise made a shocking comeback with Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp, which remasters the first two Game Boy Advance games. The bottom line was that there was a little something for every Nintendo fan during the show, which is an increasingly rare occurrence in Directs.

An E.M.M.I. attacks Samus in Metroid Dread.

With a strong finish to the uneven event, Nintendo may have saved E3 from a seemingly inevitable death … for now, at least. It delivered a genuine water cooler moment that kept the event relevant on its final day. That was crucial after a basically nonexistent day three that left fans out in the cold.

Still, E3 isn’t in the clear, and day four reminded us of how much it has fallen compared to previous years. Bandai Namco delivered one last reality check when it pivoted its planned showcase to a deep dive on House of Ashes, the third installment of the Man of Medan series. Many fans assumed we’d see Elden Ring during the show, considering it got a new trailer and release date just days before, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, Summer Game Fest got to walk away with the biggest news of the past week, landing one last slap on the ESA’s face.

It’s not really clear where we go from here. E3 and Summer Games Fest came out at a bit of a stalemate. There wasn’t a clear winner, which means they’ll probably continue to compete in 2022. That’s a shame, because both events could have benefitted from combining into one action-packed show. Instead, we were left with an exhausting week of streams filled with the lowest lows and highest highs.

Day 3: Sony and EA’s absence is felt

For gamers who were spoiled by Microsoft and Bethesda on Sunday, day three was a bit of a letdown. It’s not that there weren’t events happening. In fact, it was E3’s busiest day on paper, with 10 livestreams. It’s just that many of them weren’t focused on software so much as industry news.

It’s easy to forget that E3 isn’t entirely for fans. It’s an industry trade show that’s filled with a range of announcements beyond the hottest new games. We just usually don’t see most of it, as events happen in booths or behind closed doors, not on livestreams. That meant that this year, casual fans accidentally found themselves watching a B2B-focused panel from Take Two Interactive, which highlighted the company’s inclusion, instead of a Grand Theft Auto 6 reveal.

The only major bit of gaming news came from a short Capcom presentation that didn’t say too much. It confirmed that Resident Evil Village is getting DLC eventually and gave some updates on the Monster Hunter series, but it was an otherwise low-key affair. It opted out of doing a “one more thing” surprise entirely, instead using its time to welcome the return of the Capcom Pro Tour.

A hunter and a palamute in Monster Hunter Stories 2.

Even with plenty of streams from indie publishers like Freedom Games, it didn’t quite feel like an E3 day. There’s a few reasons for that. The biggest takeaway here is that E3 doesn’t quite feel the same without Sony and EA. Both companies ditched the event in 2019 but held their own satellite events the same week. Sony conceded the floor to Microsoft entirely this year, leaving a noticeably large gap in the festivities. Similarly, EA is doing its own big EA Play event in July, leaving the expo without staples like a Call of Duty reveal.

Without those two juggernauts, E3 simply doesn’t feel the same. So far, it’s felt like an elaborate Microsoft event with a few scattered games in between. The show will feel much different tomorrow when Nintendo takes the stage and Bandai Namco presumably shows more Elden Ring, but the scheduling gap put a damper on the show.

It doesn’t help that there aren’t any show floor demos or behind-closed-door presentations this year. Usually, E3’s quiet moments fill up with press dropping new details on games based on interviews and hands-on time. If you’re missing that thrill, we spoke with the team behind Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and got tons of new details on the game. We also broke down Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer, which quietly got a deep dive early on Monday.

Let’s hope Nintendo has something big in store; otherwise, we may truly be witnessing the last E3.

Day 2: Microsoft, Bethesda, and Square Enix

If you’re feeling like it was impossible to keep up with Day 2 of E3, you’re not alone.

Sunday’s show offered a tidal wave of news from various livestreams. Most of that came from Microsoft and Bethesda, who put together an excellent (but exhausting) 90-minute show filled with reveals, and Square Enix, which offered a more compact look at a select few games. Anyone who went into Sunday’s show feeling like there weren’t many games coming in 2021 got a real shock to the system: The fall calendar just got busy.

The full squad in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.

Just look at the list of 2021 games that we got a glimpse at today. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy went from a far-off rumor to an October 26 release date in no time flat. Forza Horizon 5 and Psychonauts 2 will both strengthen the Xbox Series X’s thin library over the next few months. Combine that with titles like Battlefield 2042, which got a gameplay trailer at the show, and 2021 is no longer looking like a sparse year.

That’s not even getting into the smaller streams that happened on Sunday, which were loaded in their own right. We got a deeper look at Back 4 Blood, which is looking like a perfect October release (just in time for Halloween). The PC Game Show also added to the slate with more niche titles like Orcs Must Die 3 and Lemnis Gate.

There are still plenty of questions about whether all these games will actually hit their release dates, though. After all, this is a year that’s already seen dozens of major video games delayed due to the pandemic. The biggest eyebrow raise came when Halo Infinite took the stage. While the shooter got a deep dive that went into its multiplayer, it still doesn’t have an actual release date. A vague “holiday 2021” release date certainly doesn’t instill confidence in the long-delayed game actually releasing during that window.

Halo Infinite

If it does get pushed back, it’s certainly in good company. At the moment, 2022 is shaping up to be one of the biggest years in gaming ever. We already knew Elden Ring was coming in January thanks to Summer Game Fest, but the list of future releases only grew today. Starfield, Redfall, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, A Plague Tale: Requiem, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin … the list goes on and on.  If Nintendo announces that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 is coming next year, we’ll be looking at a potential repeat of 2017.

Day 1: Ubisoft, Devolver, and a useless app

Let’s get something out of the way up front: The E3 app is functionally useless. As part of the reimagined expo, the Entertainment Software Association created an E3 web portal where users can browse digital booths. It features half-baked social features and organization tools that publishers are largely ignoring altogether. Moreover, the app was down when the show’s kickoff stream went live. It’s safe to say that this isn’t the future of digital events.

Ubisoft was the star of the first day with its Forward stream. Due to several leaks, many of the company’s biggest surprises came out beforehand. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope was an especially big talking point of the day after Nintendo accidentally leaked it early via a website. The Switch game looks particularly delightful with a new outer space theme.

Mario, Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi explore a beach in Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope.

Sci-fi was a running theme throughout Ubisoft’s show. Rainbow Six: Extraction is ditching the military shooter format for a co-op alien shooter. And then there’s Saturday’s biggest shocker, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. The open-world game’s reveal was one heck of a “one more thing,” giving a look at a gorgeous open-world game based on the James Cameron film franchise.

Things were more down to Earth outside of E3. Wholesome Direct delivered a delightful hourlong presentation full of cozy games (and a lot of birds). Then there was Devolver Digital, which has become a full-fledged E3 antihero in recent years. The publisher delivered another loud, satirical stream filled with fascinating indies like Trek To Yomi.

Samurai indie game Trek to Yomi.

Gearbox held its own showcase, too, though it was easily the dud of the day. Cringe-worthy humor and a lack of new details on Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands made this little more than a lunch break.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad way to open the four-day event aside from the failure of the format itself. Ubisoft offered a good range of blockbusters and left-field oddities that set the stage for a fun fall and stacked 2022. The E3-adjacent streams from publishers make the entire event feel a little confusing, but it’s hard to complain about having too many games to look forward to.

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We learned this week that 2022 will be the second year since 1995 to not have any kind of E3 expo. While the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) says E3's physical and digital cancelation this year enables it to "devote all our energy and resources to delivering a revitalized physical and digital E3 experience next summer," it also raises questions regarding how game announcements will happen this summer. Companies like Microsoft and Nintendo often tie big reveals to E3, so what is the industry's plan now that E3 2022 is officially canceled?
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E3's absence leaves a crater in the usual gaming hype cycle. Typically, the yearly event took place for a week in Los Angeles and served as a spot where game publishers could announce and advertise their upcoming slates of titles and game-related products. In 2020, the ESA canceled the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it returned digitally in 2021 with mixed results. 

On March 31, the event organizers at the ESA confirmed that there would be no digital or physical E3 event this year. That was quite surprising as more and more in-person events are returning, and the ESA even demonstrated that it could hold the event digitally before. The event may return in 2023, but this year the E3 event that typically consolidates many gaming announcements to one week in June won't play out like normal.
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What is happening
There are still some major gaming events that will take place this summer. This June, the biggest one is Geoff Keighley's Summer Game Fest. The creator of The Game Awards plans to hold a Summer Game Fest Kickoff Livestream full of new trailers and announcements. Last year's event featured the release date of Elden Ring, so there are certainly high expectations surrounding the showcase, especially as E3 won't be drawing away any reveals. An indie-focused Day of the Devs presentation and other Summer Game Fest-branded events are also expected to take place this June. Keighley tweeted that Summer Game Fest festivities "will be less than one month this year." 
IGN confirmed that its Summer of Gaming event would also take place in June and feature exclusive trailers, gameplay, and interviews. Bethesda has also teased that it will show Starfield this summer, and we're supposed to get another look at Final Fantasy XVI soon.
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