I absentmindedly searched for my favorite games of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2020.
Then I remembered we didn’t have an E3 show in 2020. And it hit me how lucky we were to have an E3 2021, even though it was a stripped-down, all-digital affair this week.
For the 24th time, I thought about my E3 experience and went through the list of my favorite games. I didn’t need a roller bag to help me through the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center this time.
I watched many of the 40 E3 online events. I pulled many of my favorites from those events. But I also pulled Elden Ring from Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest, and I also included Sony’s games, even though the PlayStation company once again chose not to participate in E3 (to its great myopia). And the top game on my list wasn’t officially at E3 at all, as Electronic Arts didn’t participate in the show but it did kick off things with its own Battlefield 2042 special online event. Some games, like Hellblade II, showed up after the E3 events were over. So yes, it’s another year where we have to patch things together.
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But it beats not having an E3 at all.
I hope these games turn out well, but I haven’t been able to play any of them. That makes me nervous, because nothing tells you how good a game feels like playing it with a controller in your hands. Still, I decided to vote on my favorites, because nothing is worse than having a vote and not casting it.
Here are 15 of my favorites, in order from the best to the last, plus some honorable mentions. Not all of them are going to ship this year. If I had seen a new Call of Duty game, I’m sure it would have been on my list. But Activision Blizzard chose not to show it. Let’s hope we get to see it soon. Meanwhile, I’m in a heatwave where I live, so I hope to get the best hardware of the show soon: the Xbox Mini Fridge.
You’ll see my own personal biases in this list, and no, despite popular demand, I absolutely refuse to put Party Animals on this list. But you’ll see that part of the reason that I like these games comes from my confidence that the developers will create something wonderful.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developers: DICE in Stockholm, DICE LA, Criterion, and EA Gothenburg
EA/DICE showed off the all-out warfare mode where 128 players can square off against each other in futuristic battlegrounds with dynamic weather, dangerous environmental hazards, and world events that see tornadoes rip across the map and sandstorms block out the sun.
The tornado was a true innovation as it tapped tremendous computing power to simulate a world being torn apart and soldiers flying into the maelstrom. The action scenes were over the top and full of “Battlefield Moments,” like a quad flying off a skyscraper roof to crash into a helicopter. There are twice as many soldiers on the battlefield as there were before, and that’s a big technical advance that makes it seem like you’re in the middle of a war.
They threw down the gauntlet and challenged Call of Duty, the biggest game franchise in the world, to do better. The game will debut on October 22 on PC, PlayStation, and PlayStation and Xbox.
Developer: 343 Industries
Microsoft and 343 Industries restored my faith in the Halo Infinite by showing off a more polished version with some amazing multiplayer action, awesome 4K graphics, and a campaign that will include our old friends Master Chief and Cortana. Just looking at the trailer, it feels like the world of Halo: Infinite is coming alive with its blend of reality and the future.
We didn’t get to see all that much of the campaign, but I felt like I saw enough details to understand that the delays and restarts have been good for this game. It had no release date, but I sincerely hope that this game comes in for a landing. While it doesn’t have the destructible environments like Battlefield 2042, it does have intense action with the combined arms of air, vehicle, and Spartan combat.
Developer: Ninja Theory
All they had to do with this one was show something and they had me. Microsoft and Ninja Theory almost didn’t as the trailer showed up as part of the extended Xbox Showcase on Thursday, long after the main Xbox event was over on Sunday
I’m glad it made a late entrance. We’re not sure when it’s coming, but the original Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was my favorite game of 2017 for its groundbreaking portrayal of a woman with mental illness and its haunting tale of Senua’s journey into the underworld and madness.
Four years ago, the extremely detailed facial animations made this the first game for me that crossed the “uncanny valley,” which posits that the more realistic you try to make the face of an animated character, the more weird and artificial it seems. Senua’s face expresses raw emotion, even if she isn’t speaking. Using today’s more advanced technology from Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, I believe the next game will be so much better in this respect.
But the magic of Hellblade is that it is terrifying but you never know if all of the battles and the monsters are really just inside Senua’s tortured mind. We don’t know when it’s coming, but it’s safe to say it will be on Xbox and the PC.
Developer: Arkane Studios
This reminds me of Left 4 Dead, a four-person co-op shooter, only that it replaces the zombies with vampires. But it’s also so much more than that, as it has interesting a crew of survivalist humans with sci-fi weapons pitted against the magical powers and smart tactics of the vampires. The humans have a lot of firepower and are highly specialized, and they have the help of a robot dog. The vampires, meanwhile, can appear out of nowhere, and you have to be able to sense their presence in some way.
The human characters use guns that froze the fast vampires and then shattered them. The humans are reminiscent of Mod Squad characters. They defend humanity as the vampires take over the town of Redfall, Massachusetts. It arrives on Xbox and the PC in the summer of 2022. It was a beautiful cinematic trailer, but after playing Arkane’s Prey, I know it’s a studio I can trust to deliver some awesome gameplay.
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Just the fauna of the moon Pandora is enough to convince me this game is going to look amazing. You can see how much Ubisoft’s experience with open worlds is paying off with Avatar, which is based on James Cameron’s gigantic box office 2009 film.
I’m glad it has taken Ubisoft a long time to create this game, as it has been working on it for a while. But I feel like the technology of video games — in the form of Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine — can finally do it justice. I’m looking forward to playing as the Na’vi, the 10 feet-tall blue aliens who ride dragons. It’s going to be fun pushing back against the humans who invade and destroy their native habitat in search for resources. I know this game should have a good story, but I’m looking forward to just wandering through the open world of Pandora.
The combat will involve stampeding dinosaurs as well as aerial combat between sci-fi helicopters and flying dragons. It debuts on multiple platforms in 2022.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Turtle Rock Studios
This game is the spiritual successor of the Left 4 Dead series, and it’s in a very late stage of development. Developer Turtle Rock created the original Left 4 Dead for Valve back in 2008. The franchise has gone dormant as have many games at Valve, but Turtle Rock has made a game with intense graphics (lots of things happening on the screen at once) and some nasty zombies with some very creepy variants. It feels like you’ll be fighting both zombie hordes and big bosses at the same time.
You can play it with four-player co-op mode or in a player-versus-player mode with eight players. Players can use cards at the beginning of a round to modify their capabilities in the match. Your job as the “Cleaners” is to exterminate the zombies. While it isn’t a new concept, the advanced graphics makes it feel like a fan favorite that is coming alive again.
It debuts on October 12 on the PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: From Software
This game is the lovechild of game director Hidetaka Miyazaki and A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin. While Miyazkaki is overseeing the creative direction of the game, Martin helped to create the lore of the world.
I have full confidence that these folks are going to deliver something outstanding, but I’m a little shocked at their confidence at the release date, as Martin still owes us a much-delayed book to close out the Song of Ice and Fire series. Since it’s called Elden Ring, I can only hope that it is Martin’s effort to vanquish the memory of The Lord of the Rings, the greatest fantasy story of all time, once and for all.
The release date of January 21, 2021 feels too precise, which means that I am almost certain it will come out later than that. Shown at the Xbox Showcase, this was the first new trailer since the game was announced at E3 2019. Whether it’s a phantom or not, it looks awesome and I’ll take it if it comes out. My only request is that they add an easy Dean Takahashi mode so I can finish it.
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Sony cheated and showed this game ahead of E3 to capture some of the buzz. While I should dock them points for that, I can’t deny it looks great and I’m really looking forward to this sequel to Horizon: Zero Dawn.
The previous game sold more than 10 million copies. It stars Aloy, a strong female character who was adequately clad despite being in a video game from 2017. It has a refreshing universe set in a time when humanity was in its waning days after the apocalypse, and dinosaur-like electronic creatures governed by AI rule the Earth. This time, Guerrilla Games team spent years perfecting the underwater environment and gameplay that they showed in the reveal.
And it will be interesting to see places like San Francisco, overgrown with fauna. Aloy has some amazing mobility that can help her outmaneuver the big beasts. I can’t wait to play as Aloy again and kick some electronic dinosaur butt. This will look pretty awesome on the PlayStation 5, but we don’t know when it’s coming yet.
Developers: Ubisoft Toronto, Ubisoft Milan
Ubisoft has created another great villain with “El Presidente” Antón Castillo, played by Giancarlo Esposito. Antón is so mean to his son Diego that the kid tries to get off the island (Yara, a fictionalized version of Cuba) that his father rules.
Antón pursues Diego and is merciless to those who help his son escape, and revolution is once again in the air. Despite Ubisoft’s pleas that it isn’t being political with this game (once again), it looks like it follows Cuban history. It appears to have a gripping story that will only be outdone by the crazy weapons and fighting chickens that you can use to mow enemies down.
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
We’re finally getting a brand new intellectual property from Bethesda Game Studios, who makes The Elder Scrolls and modern Fallout games. They showed us the shortest of reveals for, but they promised it will debut on November 11, 2022.
That’s much earlier than I expected, for I thought this was another phantom. But it’s already been in the works for a while, and it was good to see Todd Howard open the Xbox Showcase with this game. That means it’s going to be backed by all the might of Bethesda and Microsoft.
The graphics look great, but all we got to see was a blastoff. So this is on my list on the assumption that the creators of Skyrim and Fallout can’t possibly screw up a major game.
Developer: Nintendo EPD
I’m sure many of you Nintendo fans are outraged this isn’t at the top of my list. But let’s be happy that it’s here, as Nintendo showed us some cool gameplay and scenery, but it didn’t tell us anything about the plot or the tentacles or the bad red magic or the floating castle. The trailer is meant to get us excited, but it doesn’t show much at all.
But I’m confident that this will have some amazing gameplay and it will keep Switch players so happy that they’ll never want another console game again.
Developers: Mercury Steam, Nintendo EPD
Nintendo has held Metroid fans hostage for too long, and they’re finally about to get what they’ve waited for. In the works for an ungodly 15 years, Metroid Dread is coming out on the Switch on October 8.
I watched the extended gameplay trailer and it shows how meticulous the developers have been with little twinkles in the water that will give you a clue that something is lurking there. The last Metroid debuted on the 3DS in 2017 with Metroid: Samus Returns. This one looks like a great game with cool gameplay, but I sure hope it was worth the developers spending so much of their lives working on it.
Publisher: Amazon Game Studios
Developers: Smilegate RPG and Tripod Studio
Lost Ark has been available in Asia and Russia since 2018, and Amazon and South Korea’s Smilegate RPG (from the company that gave us Crossfire) are bringing it to us this fall. It’s got some amazing environments with great environmental effects, and it looks like it will have some pretty intense fantasy creatures and combat. The trailer is a visual feast with a ton of battle chaos.
Developer: Sad Cat Studios
I love that this game has a blend of beautiful environments and pixelated art. It’s a platformer with gorgeous 3D backgrounds and characters who are quite pixelated yet somehow feel realistic. We didn’t get to hear much about it, but it’s a winner based on the visual artistry alone.
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Eidos Montreal took the wraps off the video game version of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy this week, and it struck me that this game had better be funny. I had a chance to ask Mary DeMarle, senior narrative director at Eidos Montreal, and she said that one day she realized how hard it would be to pull off humor in a game. But then she realized that the Guardian characters themselves are funny, so this game could almost write itself. OK, that’s me putting words in her mouth, you can tell she is taking the responsibility seriously.
It debuts October 26 as a single-player adventure where you play as Star-Lord, and you have to learn to work together with ragtag group of Groot, Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, and Bug. The game is coming out on the PC, PlayStation, and Xbox — and Nintendo announced a Switch version is coming as well.
You play as Star-Lord in a game that is intended to capture the humorous banter of the Guardians as well as the serious mission of saving the galaxy. DeMarle assures me they spend a lot of time coming up with gags. And I expect they will use 1980s music to juice the humor at just the right time in the same way that the movies do.
Xbox Mini Fridge
I think the hardware of the show goes to the Xbox Mini Fridge. It’s a joke, of course, but one that can capture the imagination of gamers who want to surround themselves with an always-on gaming culture. Microsoft assures us this is really happening, so we have to get ready for Xbox and Chill this holiday season. And why not? We need more appliances that celebrate gamer culture.
For my honorable mentions, I would point to Forza Horizon 5, which I thought was a bit odd because it was named the most-anticipated game of the show by the official E3 critics this year. I also would like to give a shout-out to Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Stalker II, Diablo II: Resurrected, and Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope.
As for the games that should have been at the show but weren’t, I’m sad we didn’t get to see God of War: Ragnarok, Call of Duty: Vanguard, Fable, Perfect Dark, and many other rumored games. But I reserve the right to revise this list later on.
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