E3 2021: Ten of the Best

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by Ian Collen

Following its cancellation in 2020 due to the coronavirus, this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo was a welcome return to the chaos of a large-scale gaming event – even if COVID restrictions meant it was mostly covered from the comfort of a laptop rather than rushing around the hallways of the Los Angeles Convention Center as in years gone by. With the new-gen consoles now established there’s a growing expectation for developers to truly maximise the latest technology, and E3 2021 gave us a glimpse into how they’re looking to do just that in the months and years ahead.

We should point out that Sony hasn’t put on showcase at E3 since 2018, preferring to focus on its own State of Play events, hence the absence of titles such as Horizon Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarök, and EA also sat this one out – hosting its own event next month instead. Microsoft did its best to fill the void, in collaboration with its new buddy Bethesda, showcasing no less than 30 titles (27 of which will be on Xbox Game Pass on launch) as well as dropping the mic by unveiling the Mini Fridge – a cheeky ‘homage’ to some descriptions of the Xbox Series X console – is indeed a real thing and will be going on sale later in the year.

But for now we’re focusing on the games and here just a few of the big names and standout titles that caught our eye…

Forza Horizon 5

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Xbox Game Studios / Playground Games / 09 November 2021 / PC, XSX/S

Halo Infinite was certainly the biggest gun in Microsoft’s own portfolio as it kicked off proceedings, with a fresh glimpse into the main campaign and a first look at the free-to-play multiplayer in action (with crossplay and cross-progression also confirmed). It’s also finally been dated, albeit only as ‘Holiday 2021’, which we’d imagine means some time in November. In addition there was a look at Microsoft Flight Simulator which is sure to test the processing power of the Xbox Series X/S when it lands on 27 July, as well as Age of Empires 4 being dated for a 28 October release.

As for the really new, if not entirely unexpected, there was the official announcement of Forza Horizon 5, once again blending street racing with off-road exuberance against a festival setting. This time the action heads to Mexico, offering a wealth of sumptuous backdrops from mountains to deserts, rainforests, beaches, ancient ruins and, as you can see, a volcano. The 4K teaser footage on show certainly looked the part. There’ll also be a new mode called Expeditions to encourage even more exploration around what should be a pretty sizeable map, plus a new Events Lab for players to custom create their own races and modes.

Contraband

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Xbox Game Studios / Avalanche Studios / TBC / PC, XSX/S

One game we know much less about from Microsoft’s showcase, but are very much interested in finding out more on, is Contraband. Developed by studio behind Just Cause, Rage and Mad Max, it’s a co-op heist game set in the 1970’s against a South Asian backdrop. Playing as part of a team of smugglers, this action-oriented experience appears to favour style and stealth over violent gunplay, although you can be sure that guns and gadgets will be at your disposal.

It also sounds like vehicles will play a big factor, bearing in mind that your host vehicle will most likely contain your smuggled goods so keeping it intact would be a very good idea. Although further details are still very much TBC, we like the whispers of online hubs to recruit an elite crew and being able to combine forces to pull off the perfect heist in a variety of different ways. We’re thinking Sea of Thieves meets Payday, which could be A Very Good Thing.

Starfield

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Bethesda Softworks / Bethesda / 11 November 2022 / PC, XSX/S

Bethesda’s rather considerable contribution to the showcase, was the official unveiling of its first new universe in some 25 years, following on from its huge successes with Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Starfield is described as a “next-generation role-playing game set amongst the stars” and one of the devs has already beaten most of us to it in accepting the tag of ‘Skyrim in space’, although there’s still very little in terms of specifics revealed so far.

We’re told it will be a journey through space with “unparalleled freedom”, so we’re hoping for some kind of Fallout meets No Man’s Sky hybrid combining action and exploration – although the devs have said it’s more open world than open universe. The game will use Bethesda’s new and improved Creation Engine 2 and the teaser trailer suggests great things from it, in what could well be the developer’s biggest adventure yet. The only downer is that we’re going to have wait until the end of next year to get started.

Redfall

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Bethesda Softworks / Arkane Austin / Summer 2022 / PC, XSX/S

Also falling under Bethesda’s watch is Redfall, which should become immediately of interest, not because some people had thought it might be the working title for Elder Scrolls 6, but because it’s being developed by the Arkane team behind Dishonored and Prey. Billed as an open-world co-op FPS with seamless single- and multiplayer integration, it places you in an isolated island town overrun by vampires and looks like it could be a whole heap of fun.

Offering a slight cartoon feel to the visuals – not unlike Dishonored but certainly a whole lot more colourful – and combining quirky characters with unique abilities, we’re expecting some fast-moving and potentially creative combat scenarios and plenty of potential for upgrades and variable skill trees etc. Four characters and (up to) four-player co-op have been revealed so far, along with a “deep campaign” that looks to add a fresh twist to the usual vampire sagas and bring some intrigue and immersion to the gameplay.

Battlefield 2042

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
EA / DICE LA / 22 October 2021 / PC, PS4, PS5, XO, XS/X

Although EA wasn’t actively at the show, there was still the official unveiling of Battlefield 2042 with a slick gameplay montage and a release date set for October 22. It was hardly a surprise given a wide number of leaks of late, although many will no doubt be disappointed to hear confirmation that there’ll be no campaign mode, so it’s multiplayer carnage all the way. As the title suggests, the game has a near-future setting with the world on the brink of ecological collapse as a shortage of water, food and energy gets people in the mood for killing each other repeatedly.

Certainly the gameplay looks impressive so far, with frenetic ground and aerial action combining with plenty of fun toys, new specialisations and traits, and lots of cool ways to navigate some of the series largest ever maps – once again vertically is a BIG thing. Plus there’ll be up to 128 players on PC and new-gen consoles (limited to a mere 64 for the older ones), a new squad-based Hazard mode, and real-time events, such as sandstorms and tornadoes, to mix things up further. You can expect more info, including a new ‘gameplay experience’, at EA’s Play Live event on 22 July.

Elden Ring

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Bandai Namco / FromSoftware / 21 January 2022 / PC, PS4, PS5, XO, XSX/S

First announced back at E3 2019, there was plenty of hype surrounding this collaboration between the Sekiro, Dark Souls and Bloodborne developer, and A Song of Fire and Ice author George R. R. Martin, but that was the last we heard of it – until now. Two years on and we’ve got a January launch date, some gameplay footage and a few more insights into the game that have more than revved up the hype once again for what could be a very early GOTY contender for 2022.

Given FromSoftware’s previous titles, the core dynamic of Elden Ring isn’t exactly a stretch, featuring swords, sorcery, monsters and bosses the size of a 3-bed semi-detached house. Again, caution is required as there’ll be precious few checkpoints or respawns, but you’ll have a vast arsenal of weapons and upgrades to seek out as you explore the vast open-world setting and tailor your powers as you see fit, with the addition of spirits that can be taken from fallen foes and used as allies in your next fight. Although the big talking point seems to be a walking pot that looks like the guy from Cuphead

Rainbow Six Extraction

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Ubisoft / Ubisoft Montreal / 16 September 2021 / PC, PS4, PS5, XO, XSX/S, Stadia

Ubisoft put on a strong showing at E3, including a few extra details on Far Cry 6, announcing a new Mario + Rabbids crossover, a revised 02 September launch date for Rider’s Republic, a Rocksmith+ subscription service for wannabe guitar heroes and a second year’s worth of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla DLC. There was also info on new content and cross-platform gameplay for Rainbow Six Siege, still going strong six years after it launched (and coming to Stadia later this month), which leads us nicely into Rainbow Six Extraction.

Like Elden Ring, this latest addition to the R6 ranks debuted at E3 2019 before going dark, only then it was known as Rainbow Six Quarantine – but now it’s resurfaced with a revised moniker and some gameplay footage. The new bio-organic alien threat is a novel twist for a franchise that’s previously been rooted in reality but it does offer up some fresh tricks for the gameplay, with the main campaign designed for 3-player PvE co-op to mix and match those skills in some cool and destructive ways.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Ubisoft / Massive Entertainment / Late 2022 / PC, PS5, XSX/S

Another Ubisoft game long since left in the dark is the much-anticipated Avatar tie-in, created in collaboration with Disney and James Cameron’s own studio Lightstorm Entertainment, and first announced way back in 2017. Last year we heard it was being pushed back to 2022 in order to line-up with the Covid-delayed movie sequel (Avatar 2 is currently dated for 16 December 2022) and now we’ve had our first real look at what the newly titled Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will look like.

Developed by Massive Entertainment, which previously gave us The Division and its sequel, it’s being billed as a first-person adventure that will take you into never-before-seen parts of Pandora, with you playing as a Na’vi fighting back against the RDA threat. It’s certainly a backdrop that could push the technological capabilities of PCs and the new-gen consoles, and the trailer footage suggests it could be a visual treat – although we’ll have to wait and see how that translates into actual gameplay.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Square Enix / Eidos Montreal / 26 October 2021 / PC, PS4, PS5, XO, XSX/S, Switch

Another movie-tie in with some potential is Deus Ex developer Eidos Montreal’s spin on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, which can hopefully build on the good things seen in Marvel’s Avengers and iron out a lot of the not-so-great elements. The fact this is a single-player only experience already eliminates some of the issues Avengers had with multiplayer, so that’s a start we guess, and with the light-hearted tone of the films and a kick-ass mixtape we’re intrigued and cautiously optimistic about how this could turn out.

Much like Avengers, this third-person action adventure looks to focus on arena-style close-quarters combat, where you, playing as Starlord, get to combine guns with melee attacks, jet boosters and a few other neat tricks to smash some skulls. Creative support is further supplied by your fellow Guardians, who can be called upon to unleash their own unique attacks, and we don’t doubt you’ll meet a few other familiar faces on your adventures in what should be a fun ride.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2

E3 2021: Ten of the Best
Nintendo / 2022 / Switch

All but wrapping up E3, Nintendo saved its best for last with the first look at the Breath of the Wild sequel since 2019. It’s showcase also included the announcement of a new 2D Metroid game called Metroid Dread (but no further word on Metroid Prime 4), plus the mini-game delights of Mario Party Superstars and a host of other titles coming to the Switch in the near future – but the widely expected announcement of the Switch Pro is being saved for a later date.

As for Breath of the Wild 2, the footage does highlight the enhanced verticality of the gameplay, with a new warp-like ability for Link to work his way up a cliff-face, while the power to glide through the skies should also add to this truly 3D world – with a flamethrower (of sorts) also hinting towards plenty more weapons and cool tricks to come. Little else was given away, but just seeing the game in action and knowing that it’s now got a 2022 window will be a high point of the show for many.

Honourable Mentions

As always, there were far too many games on show to cover them all, and there were plenty more catching the eye. From Square Enix’s showcase we saw a couple of high-profile hack and slashers, in Stranger in Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (developed by Team Ninja) and the long-forgotten Babylon’s Fall (PlatinumGames) with only some rather underwhelming trailers keeping them from making the main list.

Elsewhere S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl finally got some gameplay footage to talk about and the likes of Psychonauts 2 and the remastered Diablo II: Resurrected were both given autumn release dates. A sequel to Obsidian’s 2019 The Outer Worlds was announced, as was a director’s cut of Death Stranding and a third instalment in the excellent Payday franchise. Borderlands fans might be deliriously happy about the unveiling of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, a spin-off featuring everyone’s favourite psychotic teenager and it was also nice to see a wealth of indie games also on show. In short, the future looks very bright indeed!

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