Anyone who thinks nerds aren’t fierce has never been to E3. When the doors open at E3 2017 and the booths come alive, all the rules go out the window. Everyone wants to earn the nod for best of E3 2017. That proved truer in 2017 than in previous years, as E3 was open to the public for the first time ever. The result? Lines so long that many booths began to turn away people hours before the show floor closed.

We persevered, and we’re glad we did. E3 2017 proved more exciting than it looked at first glance. Microsoft’s new console, the Xbox One X, had to share the spotlight with an awesome lineup games that spanned every platform. That included several new franchises, and the revival of some thought long dead.

Still, as the week wound down, it came time to pick the winners – and our gaming team flung itself happily into the task. Many of our categories were hotly contested, with at least three or four strong nominees. A few of the winners surprised us, as we’re sure they’ll surprise you.

Here’s the best of E3 2017 — and some games you’ll now find on our wishlists.

Best of Show

Super Mario Odyssey
best games of e3 2017 awards best of show

Charlie Scibetta, Nintendo’s senior director of corporate communications, made the company mission clear to us at E3 2017 – to “surprise and delight” its fans. Super Mario Odyssey, Mario’s upcoming debut on the Nintendo Switch, does exactly that, and does it better than any other game at the show.

The first “open” 3D Mario game — the kind with sprawling levels like Super Mario 64 — in more than a decade, Odyssey’s vibrant worlds are filled with playful variations on classic platforming, secret caches of coins, and small nods to Nintendo history.

Yet this isn’t a re-tread of Mario 64, as Odyssey introduces an enticing new gameplay hook. Cappy, Mario’s hat brought to life, can possess and trade places with many of the enemies and characters Mario finds, allowing him a wide variety of creative tools to navigate levels and complete missions.

While the concept can start to sound strange if you read too much into it — the internet wasted no time cracking jokes that cast Mario as a body-snatching villain  — the result is a game that feels more malleable than ever, even as its early gameplay seems more tightly honed than most platformers in their finished states.

If The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild wasn’t enough to convince you to buy a Nintendo Switch this year, watch out. Super Mario Odyssey will force your wallet open when it launches October 27.

– Mike Epstein


Best Game Franchise

God of War
best games of e3 2017 awards franchise

With a bold new take on an iconic hero and a lush — if frozen — new world to explore, God of War is shaping up to be a defining moment for the classic franchise. For the first time in its history,  we have a nuanced story about a fallen god haunted by the horrors he endured and inflicted during his gruesome campaign against the gods of Mount Olympus.

God of War focuses on an older, wiser Kratos. He feels the weight of his past in every step as he trudges through a Norse wilderness draped in snow and ice. Following at his heels is a new character and companion, Atreus, his estranged son.

Their relationship is the heart of this game. Kratos is a father again, and he’s deeply troubled by what that means for himself, and for his son. He works to teach Atreus what it is to be a god, while struggling with what being a god has meant for him. For Kratos, it’s a curse — and that’s key to how he views himself and his son.

Kratos is a man balancing his own anger and regret against what he feels he needs to teach his son about surviving in a world filled with mythological beings, gods, and goddesses.

The earlier God of War games were great in their own time, but the world has moved on since then. Games have grown, becoming vehicles for more complex and nuanced narratives. This new take on God of War introduces those elements, yet it’s still a God of War game with all the brutal, frenetic action fans want.

– Jayce Wagner


Best New IP

Days Gone
best games of e3 2017 awards new ip

Shown last year as a zombie-heavy game, Bend Studio’s Days Gone caught us off guard this year with its complex mix of gameplay and a rich, living world where danger is always just around the corner. Combining elements from open-world games, zombie-focused titles, and clever, tough human combatants, the ambitious project has shown tremendous growth over the last year — and earns a spot on our best of E3 2017 list.

A variety of frequently-changing weather systems affect every part of the game, from the freaker population (freaker is the game’s slang for zombie), to the amount of noise the player makes, to the way the motorcycle handles. Days Gone has stretched its legs into the open-world genre, turning the sort of features that gamers take for granted into harsh realities that must be endured and conquered, without losing your humanity.

You can learn to become comfortable in the wilderness of Days Gone, but that safety is deceptive. Everything might change in the blink of an eye, as hundreds of freakers can pop up any time, anywhere. The choices you make impact how you’ll deal with the inevitable hoard.

Although there’s no still release date, the team at Bend Studio has been growing with the title. The team has grown tremendously as the studio adds new gameplay hooks and a rich, growing world not unlike the high deserts of Bend, Oregon — right in the developers’ back yard. We’re surprisingly taken with Days Gone, and optimistic it’ll become another must-have for PlayStation fans.

– Brad Bourque


Best Hardware

Starlink: Battle for Atlas
best games of e3 2017 awards hardware

When we arrived at E3 2017 we felt confident the “toys-to-life” phenomenon was winding down. Activision announced it wouldn’t make a new Skylanders game in 2017, Amiibo sales have been in steep decline, and Disney has abandoned Infinity. We were surprised when Ubisoft unveiled an original toys-to-life game in Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Debuting any new toys-to-life game would seem bold. Launching one with its own, original universe is borderline insane.

Starlink players will collect modular toy spaceships, whose real-world changes are reflected in the game instantly. Its space dogfighting and planetside shooting revolve around hot-swapping pieces of your ship mid-fight. You can customize your ship to complement any situation, then change your mind and customize it again. More than any of the franchises that have dominated the space thusfar, Starlink represents what toys-to-life could be — interactive play that goes beyond the controller.

We still have a lot of questions about the game, including whether or not buying enough ships and parts to make the game fun will be prohibitively expensive. Still, we’re sold on the potential and the promise of a game where you can build a Starfighter however you want, then change it, and see that represented in the game. It’s a refreshing change from other toys-to-life games, which have always focused on figurines and lightweight action-RPG gameplay.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is on track to launch for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch in Fall 2018.

– Mike Epstein


Best Visuals

Dragon Ball FighterZ
best games of e3 2017 awards visuals

It’s a long-used trope of video game criticism to say a title looks like a live action cartoon. As one of the closest analog media, animation has just been an easy point of reference for us to articulate what we saw in games. Setting that aside — Dragon Ball FighterZ literally looks ripped from the screen of the Dragon Ball Z animated series, and the 13-year-old in us is utterly thrilled.

Dragon Ball FighterZ plays like a classic 2D fighting game, specifically echoing the character swapping system from Marvel vs. Capcom 3. That familiar foundation is like a delicious chocolate cake—accessible, known, and easy to love.

What we’re most excited for, though, are the generous and colorful dollops of frosting that elevate this title beyond the typical fighting-game fare. On close examination — particularly of cutscenes that show special moves —  you might notice that the characters 3D models, as we’ve come to expect from modern fighting games. In action, however, the textures and line work create the compelling illusion that you’re witnessing hand-drawn, 2D animation on par with the original anime.

With the vast majority of AAA titles still pursuing some measure of realism, Dragon Ball FighterZ’s bold style is a shining example of the beautiful visuals modern hardware can produce when paired with a bit of vision and bold art direction.

– Will Fulton


Best New Feature/Mechanic

The Crew 2
top games of e3 2017 awards best new featurere mechanic

The Crew 2 has the same massive map as the original — it spans the entire United States — but beyond that intriguing foundation it has another extremely cool, and completely new, feature.

You can swap between air, land and sea vehicles, from motorcycles and cars to planes and boats, with the flick of a stick. Yes, it works just like we said. One second you’re a car. The next, you’re a boat. Then, boom – you’re a plane.

The transition is instant, leaving you exactly where you were when you hit the button. That means if you transform into a boat while in car form, your boat will grind to a halt on the asphalt, and a plane-to-car transition leaves you miles above the ground.

If that sounds hilarious, well – it is. You can use the road as your runway before transforming into a plane and soar directly into the air, or change to a boat while flying high above the Hudson and hit the water at incredible speed. There may be some practical applications, as well, since you can build up speed as one vehicle and transform into the next at a moment’s notice.

What clinched the win, though, is the raw joy the mechanic offers. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s always available. Switching from jet to supercar in mid-air made us cackle with glee every time.

– Mike Rougeau


Best Future Esport

The Darwin Project
best games of e3 2017 awards future esport

The explosive popularity of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds suggests that ‘battle royale’ games will become one of the hottest genres in the next few years. Scavengers Studio’s The Darwin Project is the most intriguing entry in this burgeoning field, and should offer competition that’s just as fun to watch as it is to play. It’s an easy win for our best of E3 2017 awards.

Where Battlegrounds is built on the back of a modern military FPS, The Darwin Project takes a more holistic approach. The moment-to-moment, third-person action looks simple, but serves as the foundation for a strategically rich game where the player with the best twitch reflexes won’t win every match. Managing scarce resources to combat the constant threat of freezing to death puts a unique survival spin on the budding genre.

The in-fiction framing of the game as a dystopian reality television show, like The Hunger Games or The Running Man, lends itself well to spectatorship. The addition of a player-controlled “Director” role, who can shut down sectors of the map, drop power-ups, or more directly mess with players for entertainment value, is an exciting asymmetry we’ve not seen in a competitive title before.

The Darwin Project is early in development, with its 12-person team only working on it since this past September. That’s part of why we were so impressed by how complete it feels already, and makes us excited to see more as the game edges towards release.

– Will Fulton


Editor’s Choice

A Way Out
best games of e3 2017 awards editors choice

The developers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons already impressed a lot of gamers with a heartfelt tale that effectively used co-op play as part of its story. Yet that game was also explicitly an indie darling, with a short run-time and simple graphics. Hazelight Studios’ next game takes its production to the next level.

A Way Out has a lot of things going for it. Its cooperative gameplay works like a marriage of the most recent Hitman with the storytelling of Telltale games, and its cinematic presentation makes co-op gameplay essential to the story it’s telling.

We haven’t played much of A Way Out yet, but what we’ve seen has us excited. The game offers many options in each of its scenes, and no two scenes use the same mechanics. The point is to keep the story, and the gameplay that goes with it, constantly fresh. And the game’s split-screen presentation helps it deliver its story from two perspectives at once.

A Way Out looks to push gaming forward both in cooperative gameplay and in storytelling potential, and from what we’ve seen, it has some great ideas for both. We can’t wait to see where it goes when it comes out in 2018.

– Phil Hornshaw


Editor’s Choice

The Swords of Ditto
best games of e3 2017 awards editors choice

What happens when you cram the entire Zelda franchise into one game? You end up with The Swords of Ditto, a charming rogue-lite from indie developer Onebitbeyond that makes our list of the best of E3 2017. The game tells the epic tale of struggle between an ancient evil and the spirit of the hero, which calls upon a normal person to take up the Sword of Ditto every few hundred years.

It’s a familiar tale, but the key to Swords is its bite-sized progression. Instead of playing a 40-hour epic, you’re thrown into a brief adventure full of bite-sized puzzles and mini-dungeons. These are presented in random chunks, so you’re never exactly sure what you’ll face. Succeed or fail, your fate decides that of the world. Win, and the world enters a golden age. Fail, and it falls into darkness.

While the game’s basic adventuring is a blast, it’s co-op that could make Swords a potential indie darling. Two players can adventure on a couch or online, and while having a buddy can make combat easier, it also requires coordination, thanks to the game’s many enemies and unusual gadgets. Discovering what works is half the fun, and with two players the discovers – and blunders — come twice as fast.

The Swords of Ditto is far from the only rogue-lite around, but its world progression, charm, and entertaining co-op put it above most. We’re hopeful it’ll hook us when it’s released in 2018.

– Matt Smith


Editor’s Choice

Hunt: Showdown
best games of e3 2017 awards editors choice

Hunt: Showdown, the completely overhauled version of Crytek’s long-dormant game, Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, has us excited for a new cooperative, competitive, first-person, monster-hunting, multiplayer shooter. With demons.

Set in the dark, stagnant bogs of turn-of-the-20th-century Louisiana, Hunt pits pairs of players against each other as they hunt down a demonic creature, kill it, claim its bounty, and escape the map with the loot. As you and your partner stalk your prey, you must take care to avoid the occult creatures of the wild, as well your competitors, who have no interest in leaving you alive to steal their score. Hunt borrows many of the best ideas from modern multiplayer games like The Division and Evolve, cobbling them together to make something as innovative as it is intense.

It’s tough to say just how well the various elements of Hunt will come together, but from the demo we were shown, sneaking around other players, knifing zombies, and fighting giant spiders seems like a winning formula. Together with a brooding and eerie art style, and the kind of first-person shooter mechanics Crytek is known for, we’re optimistic that Hunt is going to be a fun and frightening addition to the multiplayer space when it comes out.

– Phil Hornshaw