E3 made a comeback this year following its absence in 2020, and it was clear right off the bat that it wasn’t going to be the even that you’d usually expect. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and plans for E3 came together later than they usually do every year. Where publishers and developers often begin preparations for the next E3 nearly a year in advance, this time, it was clear that things came together in a more haphazard way this year- which is understandable. After all, development has been fickle enough due to COVID-related production challenges as it is.
That said, it’s not like there was nothing of note at this year’s E3. Though far from perfect, E3 2021 still had quite a few exciting new announcements and meaty new updates spread out across its several showcases and events. But the question, as it ever is, is who had the best show out of all the attendees. Who should off the best, most interesting games, and promised exciting things for the future? Let’s talk about the events of E3 in the order that they happened, and take a look at how each of them turned out (for the purposes of this feature, we’re only talking about the publisher showcases).
Before E3 even technically began, Elden Ring had already taken the industry by storm, impressing with its first gameplay showing and with its promise of a game with that trademark FromSoftware depth and mechanical polish, but set in a massive, ambitious open world, and with the collective strength of Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R.R. Martin backing its story and lore. It’s hard not to salivate at that prospect, and we’d be remiss no to mention the waves Elden Ring made before E3 even technically began, with a January release date announcement to boot.
The next day, however, E3 proper did begin. First, we had Ubisoft- which was a decent yet tame way to kick off the festivities. The biggest and most exciting new announcement at the Ubisoft Forward was Mario + Rabbit Sparks of Hope. The game’s leak prior to E3 may have dampened the impact of the announcement somewhat, but nothing can take away from how good the game looks. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was one of the best games of 2017, completely contrary to initial expectations, and from what we’ve seen of it so far, it definitely seems like Sparks of Hope is looking to deliver an even better experience.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was also announced. We’ve known about Ubisoft Massive’s Avatar game for quite some time (it was first confirmed to be in the works way back in 2017), but honestly, it’s announcement here came as a bit of a surprise. We saw a purely cinematic trailer, of course, and it didn’t tell us much about the actual game or its gameplay, other than the fact that it’s going be a first person open world action-adventure game. Still the potential of a well-made open world Avatar game is exciting, and it’s good to know that the game is actually coming not long from now.
The other major reveal was Rainbow Six Extraction, which was known as Rainbow Six Quarantine not that long ago. Unfortunately, it looks… not that great. It doesn’t look terrible, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t look all that exciting. Its risk-and-reward style progression mechanics and roguelike elements are certainly interesting, but it was a pretty tepid first showing nonetheless. Riders Republic also confirmed a September launch, and it showed an extended look of its gameplay, which looked solid. The concept of a social open world where you can jump into various extreme sports is an interesting one, and Riders Republic certainly seems to have some good ideas about how to deliver that.
Meanwhile, Ubisoft also showed off the upcoming Bloodline DLC for Watch Dogs: Legion, showed another Far Cry 6 trailer, and announced that they’ll be supporting Assassin’s Creed Valhalla with more content in 2022. There was also a Just Dance segment, because of course there was. So a decent showcase, all in all, with one exciting reveal and a few more good showings, interspersed with a couple somewhat low points.
Then came Devolver Digital- and yes, of course it was an amazing show. Devolver consistently puts on hilarious shows year after year, and 2021 was no different. But it wasn’t great just because it was funny- it also showed quite a few interesting things. Trek to Yomi looks like a beautiful sidescrolling Ghost of Tsushima, Death’s Door is looking promising, Shadow Warrior 3 once again showed off blistering combat, Phantom Abyss was given an early access release date. Then there was Wizard with a Gun, Inscryption, Demon Throttle, each of which had impressive debuts at the show. Devolver’s event may not have had massive names, but it was constantly entertaining, and shed light on more than a few games that are probably going to end up surprise people.
The next day, we got the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase- and this was a big one. The best and most impressive game shown off was, without the shadow of a double, Forza Horizon 5. True to rumours, it is set in Mexico, which promises to be a stunning open world. It looks vast and varied and full of excellent activities, both solo and multiplayer. Meanwhile, on a technical level, Forza Horizon 5 is clearly leveraging the Xbox Series X/S’ hardware to great effect- the game looks ridiculously good. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it has the potential to be probably one of the best games of 2021 when it launches in November.
Halo Infinite multiplayer game was also shown off, and for Halo fans, the footage definitely hits the spot. It remains to be seen how the game’s campaign will fare, but its multiplayer is definitely headed in the right direction. And that wasn’t the only other game with a meaty gameplay showing. Battlefield 2042’s gameplay debut was solid, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl looked amazing and confirmed an April 2022 launch, Far Cry 6 showed off more gameplay and continued to look more great.
There were also quite a few major reveals. Redfall is promising what Arkane is best at, this time in an open world co-op experience brimming with vampires. A Plague Tale: Requiem was announced, and as the sequel to one of 2019’s best and biggest surprises, it’s hard not to be excited about that. The Outer Worlds 2 was unveiled as well, with a hilarious trailer that was very well aware of how little it showed. Then there’s Contraband, Avalanche’s Xbox-exclusive co-op open world game, which, frankly, didn’t really give us many reasons to be excited- but we’re still curious to learn more about it. Meanwhile, some solid like indie titles like Somerville, Replaced, and Hades – which is finally coming to Xbox and PlayStation – also got some of the spotlight.
But that’s not all. We also got release dates for several major upcoming games, including the likes of Starfield, Microsoft Flight Simulator’s Xbox Series X/S version, Psychonauts 2, Age of Empires 4, Diablo 2: Resurrected, and Twelve Minutes. The Xbox show was also packed full of Game Pass announcements- on top of all first party Microsoft games announced at the show, third part titles like A Plague Tale: Requiem, Back 4 Blood, Atomic Heart, Twelve Minutes, Somervile, and both Eiyuden Chronicle games are all confirmed as day one Xbox Game Pass releases as well.
So yeah, the Xbox show was pretty packed. Full of new reveals like Redfall, impressive gameplay showings like Forza Horizon 5, solid victories for Game Pass like A Plague Tale: Requiem, promising indies like Somerville, and major release date announcements like Starfield. It was a well-rounded, well-paced show, and it might very well be one of Microsoft’s best E3 event ever, if not the best. While the last few years have felt transitional, like Xbox was laying down the foundations for big plays, at E3 2021, we saw that beginning to come to fruition. Where past E3s have spoken about things coming far down the road, this year we got to see a bunch of games we’re going to be playing within the next year, a year and a half at most. It’s all tangible, as opposed to, say, CG trailers for Fable and Perfect Dark and other games that are not going to release for several years. What we saw at the Xbox show this year is all very easy to be excited about.
Sadly, the next couple of events after the Xbox show were less than stellar. Square Enix went next, and started things off with Guardians of the Galaxy, which certainly looks promising. It’s a story-driven single player action adventure game, and from what we’ve seen so far, it looks like it’s capturing the fun and spirit of the source material very well. It might just succeed in all the way Avengers didn’t. The other major new reveal was Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, which was a terrible way to reveal what might just be a good game. A Nioh-style action RPG set in the world of Final Fantasy 1 and developed by Team Ninja has the potential to be special, but that reveal definitely wasn’t.
Babylon’s Fall also finally resurfaced- but not how we would have hoped. It’s adopted a weird new art style, and it’s being billed as a co-op live service game. So far, it neither sounds interesting nor looks interesting, in spite of the fact that it’s being developed by PlatinumGames, which is really saying something. A whole section of the Square Enix event was also dedicated to mobile games, which seems weird for an E3 event, while that Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster announcement was also incredibly misguided. Fans have been demanding good remasters of the first six Final Fantasy games on consoles, so Square Enix decides to… announce them for mobile?
Though it started off fine with Guardians of the Galaxy, Square Enix’s E3 event was extremely uneven, and at times, even downright painful. It was then followed by a Capcom show, which… yeah, why was that a whole show again? They talked about exactly what they said they would, so at least they set the expectations, but that was all they talked about. They confirmed Resident Evil Village DLC with a line of text, which, as exciting as that is for Resident Evil fans, didn’t really tell us much. There were updates for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles and Monster Hunter Stories 2 (which, honestly, had a much better showing during the Nintendo Treehouse livestream the next day), and measly announcements for Monster Hunter Rise. All of this should probably have been just, you know, regular announcements. Capcom didn’t have to do any of this at E3, and it’s hard not to wonder why they even bothered this year.
Thankfully, E3 2021 at least signed off on a high note. Nintendo went last, as they usually do, and just like Xbox, theirs too was a packed show full of exciting new reveals and meaty new updates. Metroid Dread was easily the best announcement. The first new 2D Metroid game in almost two decades, reviving the fabled Metroid Dread that we’ve been hearing about since as far back as 2005, and looking absolutely incredible in its own right. MercurySteam impressed fans with Samus Returns on the 3DS, and with Dread, it seems like they’re on track to deliver a game that might just be exactly what Metroid fans have been craving for an interminably long time.
But that wasn’t the only crowd-please announcement at the Nintendo Direct. They also unveiled Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, which is yet another beloved Nintendo franchise that has been dormant far too long. Advance Wars have been waiting for a new game in the series for years, so to see the first two games in the series being fully remade from the ground-up and brought to the Switch is incredibly exciting. Shin Megami Tensei 5 also looked excellent, and yet again, years of anticipation are finally going to come to an end when the game, which was announced all the way back in January of 2017, when it releases this November.
Meanwhile, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s still-unnamed sequel showed off what looked like beautiful new gameplay, Mario Party Superstars was announced, WarioWare: Get It Together! was yet another crowd-pleasing announcement, and Tekken’s Kazuya was confirmed as the next character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Quite a few third party games were also confirmed for the Switch, such as Guardians of the Galaxy with a cloud release, Life is Strange: True Colors and Life is Strange: Remastered Collection, and Danganronpa Decadence, which, in addition to the main trilogy, also includes a new game, the board game style title Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp.
All of this was, of course, followed by a lengthy Treehouse livestream, which showed off extensive gameplay demos for quite a few games, including Metroid Dread, Shin Megami Tensei 5, and Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, all three of which are looking very impressive. Other imminent Switch releases like Monster Hunter Stories 2, Mario Golf: Super Rush, No More Heroes 3, WarioWare: Get it Together!, and Mario Party Superstars also showed off quite a bit of gameplay. Nintendo’s event, then, was an exciting one, to say the very least. Not extraordinarily so, but it definitely had more than a few excellent showings. Until not that long ago, the Switch’s upcoming lineup for the remainder of the year was looking a little scant, but now, not only does 2021 have plenty to look forward to, 2022 is also looking completely packed as well.
If we’re comparing the shows put on by each of publisher, it’s easy to say who had the worst. For starters, let’s not even make Capcom a part of the discussion. Their presentation was literally just a bunch of press releases cobbled together in video form, followed by some esports talk. The less said about Capcom’s show, the better. Of the ones that are left, the Square Enix showcase was definitely the most uneven. Guardians of the Galaxy looks good and Life is Strange: True Colors showed off more promising gameplay, but everything beyond that was disappointing at best, infuriating at worst. Ubisoft’s show was decent- not great, but it showed off plenty of interesting stuff, especially Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. Meanwhile, Devolver Digital’s show was predictably great- constantly entertaining, and full of interesting new games.
The Xbox and Nintendo showcases were clearly the highlights though. Both shows were full of big announcements, reveals, and updates. And honestly, between those two, you can pick either one based on where your tastes lie. Both of them showed off a lot, and the next year and a half is looking exciting for both Switch and Xbox, and their respective E3 shows did a lot to fill out that calendar for them. Personally, I find it hard to separate the two. After this E3, I’m just as excited about Redfall and Forza Horizon 5 as I am about Metroid Dread, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, and Shin Megami Tensei 5.
E2 2021, on the whole, wasn’t perfect. Far from it. Given the fact that developers and publishers are having a hard enough time keeping development on track while remote working, it makes sense that most weren’t as prepared with extremely impressive E3 showings, especially with plans for the event coming together later than usual. Even with all the rough edges though, thanks to Microsoft and Nintendo and other promising showings throughout the week, E3 2021 had more than enough to reignite our interest in the remainder of 2021.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.