E3 2021

E3 round-up: This could've been an email

This year's E3 didn't exactly live up to the conference's big history. But there was still plenty of hype to be found.

If 2020 was the year of playing video games because we had nothing better to do, 2021 is — at least thus far — about remembering why we love staying in to play Xbox games even when we could be out at a bar instead. This year’s E3 feels all the more pressurized because of this revitalized burden on the world’s largest gaming companies. They can’t just coast on stay-at-home orders anymore.

Add to this the fact that both Sony and Microsoft have now released their next-gen (now current-gen, barely) consoles into the world and you have a full-on Forza-style race to the next big summit. E3 reflected this mania in a barely-usable digital hub and a broad smattering of pre-recorded announcements. The conference this year has really teetered on the edge of being uncomfortable to follow along with, often leaving us with existential crises rather than genuine excitement.

If we put the E3 of it all aside for a moment (easier said than done, I know), we did end up with a wealth of top-notch gaming announcements. E3 proved there’s plenty to be excited for in the world of gaming, despite delays brought on by the pandemic. The gaming industry is doing better than ever — E3’s just left us feeling like this “conference” could’ve easily been completed in the form of a few tidy emails instead.

So here it is: the TL;DR version of E3. We promise it’ll be more fun this way.

For Xbox, it’s all about Game Pass — Microsoft really took E3 as an opportunity to double-down on its commitment to Game Pass and, more largely, its burgeoning cloud gaming network, xCloud. Microsoft kicked off E3 by teasing far-reaching expansion of the xCloud system — the company is even working to build it right into TVs and streaming sticks. And the whole xCloud backend is being upgraded to Xbox Series X servers, which should make the experience smoother all around.

Microsoft also prioritized Game Pass during its Bethesda games showcase. A bunch of big-name titles, like last year’s hit Yakuza: Like a Dragon and the entire Fallout series, are coming to Game Pass this year and next. Microsoft is also planning to make more new games available on Game Pass the day they release — Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 will be available on Day One, for example.

Overall, the Xbox’s dearth of exclusives seems to finally be healing — Flight Simulator is coming to Xbox next month, Psychonauts 2 releases in August, and Halo Infinite is (finally) coming sometime during the holiday season. And then there’s Starfield, Bethesda’s first new universe in 25 years, which looks to be very fun whenever it actually releases.

Another impressive surprise at the Bethesda x Xbox event: the announcement of The Outer Worlds 2, sequel to the 2019 open-world space adventure. Details are scarce, but it’ll almost definitely be an Xbox exclusive, and we probably won’t get to play it for quite a while.

A nice Switch lineup, but no Pro — Nintendo did not announce the Switch Pro at E3, so it still might not even exist. But the company’s 40-minute presentation — structured just like any of its other Directs — did include some big game announcements.

After literally years of waiting, we finally got to see gameplay footage of the sequel to Breath of the Wild. The Zelda series ended up with the most attention overall, with the release of a new Game & Watch and a new Skyward Sword HD trailer.

The biggest surprise of the presentation actually went to Metroid, though — Nintendo is working on the first 2D platforming entry in the series in nearly 20 years. Metroid: Dread, a title originally meant for release on the Nintendo DS, is coming out in just a few months’ time.

Speaking of classic franchises: Advance Wars and WarioWare are both coming back — announcements that honestly rival the Metroid news.

Also, there’s another Mario + Rabbids game coming next year. Man, those Rabbids are everywhere.

Bringing out the big guns — Besides the Switch Pro, the most notable absence at this year’s E3 was Sony; PlayStation decided not to hold any events for the conference. Good for her, honestly.

Third-party developers took to the stage instead, showing off forthcoming AAA games like Ubisoft’s Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora (apparently we’re still doing the Avatar thing) and Rainbow Six Extraction (which was called Rainbow Six Quarantine until, you know, actual quarantine happened).

Ubisoft also announced Rockstar+, a subscription service for learning how to play guitar. A subscription will cost $14.99 per month, though there are some deals for three-month and annual packages. It’s an entirely new direction for the Rockstar series, which has been around for about a decade. Ubisoft actually let that one slip in a press email before its event. Oops.

An unruly number of other big-name series announced new games, too, like the new Life is Strange game, which will be coming to every gaming platform. Square Enix announced Stranger Of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, along with a severely broken trial. And George R.R. Martin’s Elden Ring showed off a ton of new footage with a planned January 2022 release.

As usual, smaller developers didn’t get the spotlight for most of E3. One of our favorite indie presentations of the week, from Devolver, wasn’t even technically part of E3. Devolver’s presentation was handled by Nina Streuthers, a character the company created a while back to dunk on the serious tone of E3’s presentations. Streuthers announced a few forthcoming games from Devolver, including Wizard With A Gun, Phantom Abyss, and Death’s Door.

And, well, that’s about it. Unless you include Post Malone’s much-hyped “appearance” — which was virtual and lasted all of 30 seconds.