Everything you missed at 2021's all-digital E3

·16 min read

The first online-only E3 officially ended on Tuesday, but the complementary (or competing?) Summer Game Fest has just begun. While everything went off with few hitches, there weren’t many huge announcements, and the biggest reveal of E3 wasn’t even at an official E3 event.

Even before the switch to an online format this year, huge publishers like EA, Activision and Sony had stepped away. Activision, for example, typically holds its own events at other points in the year and gets its largest games featured at Microsoft or Sony shows. EA, meanwhile, has traditionally held its own event concurrently on the other side of town, but this year has a show scheduled for July as part of Summer Game Fest.

Regardless, a bunch of games have been announced, and the end of E3 gives us a good opportunity to take stock of what the major players have done right, and wrong, so far.

Summer Game Fest Kickoff

Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest wasn’t quite the first not-E3 event — that would be the Battlefield 2042 reveal — but it was packed with new games, and even the announcement of a new publisher. (Or, a publishing label of a publisher that’s owned by a larger publisher. Video games!) While there was lots to see, there were only two truly major game announcements: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands and Elden Ring.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a spin-off of Gearbox Software’s Borderlands series, with the titular Tina first appearing in Borderlands 2. It is, as you’d imagine, a loot-shooter with a cartoon-infused style, but this time set in a fantasy world rather than a sci-fi wasteland.

Elden Ring, if you weren’t on the internet for the past week, is the latest game from Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware, the team behind Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. He’s partnered with A Song of Ice and Fire writer George R. R. Martin on the story, and, two years on from its initial E3 2019 announcement, we finally got to see what they’ve cooked up. There was even a release date of January 21st, 2022. This was quite a coup for Summer Game Fest, which only began last year in response to E3 2020 being canceled.

Ubisoft

The first major E3 event came on Saturday 12th, with Ubisoft Forward. Far Cry 6 is Ubi’s tentpole release this year, and we got a good look at Giancarlo Esposito’s villain at the show. There was also a segment featuring classic Far Cry villains that had everyone excited, though in somewhat predictable fashion it turned out to be a new game mode that was locked behind Far Cry 6’s season pass.

Another 2021 title is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction, which was previously known as Quarantine. And for some reason, that tagline no longer felt like a slam-dunk. Our staff's opinion is divided so far, mostly because it’s a co-op shooter where you fight aliens, which doesn’t feel very Tom Clancy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a good game, though, and if you squint you could almost be playing Siege — just always on breach and against a very strange defense team.

The other “big” 2021 release is Riders Republic, a massively multiplayer extreme sports game. It’s definitely still a bit of an unknown, and often when a game tries to do this much it fails in at least some way, but racing against 63 other players with wingsuits, mountain bikes, snowboards and the like sure looks like fun.

Elsewhere, we got a new Mario + Rabbids game, Spark of Hope, which is naturally a Switch exclusive, and looks to be bringing a lot of Mario Galaxy themes to the fold. Also, Rocksmith+, a game-as-a-service for learning/practicing guitar or bass, had a lot of Engadget editors very excited.

The “one more thing” of Ubi’s conference wasn't Beyond Good and Evil 2, which was conspicuous in its absence again. Instead, Ubisoft showed off its latest AAA title, based on the hot 2009 multimedia extravaganza that was Avatar. It’s being developed by Massive (The Division 2) for a release next year on current-gen consoles, streaming and PC.

Given the trailer for Frontiers of Pandora was just a protracted series of (albeit in-engine) cinematics, your guess is as good as ours for what this game is and whether it’ll be any good. Despite the 2009 jab, Avatar 2 is scheduled for a cinematic release in December 2022, so if you somehow believe it’s not going to be delayed again, maybe the timing on this one will be just right.

Notable absences included the remake of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which has been delayed until 2022; a new Assassin’s Creed, which on the company’s usual cadence should be arriving next year also; Roller Champions, which is still scheduled for “2021”; Skull & Bones, which, who even knows anymore?; and Massive’s untitled Star Wars game, which is probably years away.

Elden Ring
Elden Ring

Xbox

Microsoft has had a strong week. Outside of games themselves, it kicked things off on Thursday, June 10th with the announcement that there’ll be Xbox Cloud Gaming streaming devices and smart TVs. Then, on Thursday the 17th, it announced that Xbox Design Lab, the much-loved gamepad customization service, is making a comeback.

The company’s big games show — now called the “Xbox and Bethesda Showcase” following the latter’s acquisition — was scheduled for Sunday the 13th. Things started on a strange note, as the opening game — Starfield  was spoiled in the hour leading up to the presentation by someone at The Washington Post, who put the trailer live, presumably by accident. With no gameplay on show in the new trailer, the biggest talking point was the decision to make Starfield an Xbox, PC and streaming exclusive. This wasn’t the biggest surprise, but it is disappointing for PlayStation owners.

Perhaps the game of the event for Xbox fans was Forza Horizon 5, which really showcased some stunning graphics. We also saw a Halo Infinite multiplayer reveal, along with release dates for Psychonauts 2 and the console version of Flight Simulator. Then, more new games, with the announcement of Contraband from Avalanche, Outer Worlds 2 from Obsidian, and Redfall from Arkane Austin. Elsewhere, Replaced looks stunning, while the Senua’s Sacrifice: Hellblade II sizzle reel at the second showcase was also very cool.

There’s a long list of games that we didn’t see: Avowed, CrossFire X, Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course, Everwild, Fable 4, Forza Motorsport and Perfect Dark immediately come to mind. On the one hand, that’s a long list of disappointments. On the other, it speaks to just how much Microsoft has going on following its buying spree.

The Elder Scrolls VI is also in development, although it remains to be seen whether that’ll end up being a Microsoft exclusive. Xbox chief Phil Spencer has said that series with a “legacy on different platforms” may not be released exclusively, and that the company would look at things on a “case-by-case” basis. While Elder Scrolls has a long history on Xbox — Morrowind was the first Elder Scrolls console port, and it came to the original Xbox — Oblivion and especially Skyrim sold millions of copies on Sony’s consoles. We’ll see how true Microsoft is to its word now that it has the temptation of scoring some major exclusive points over its console rival.

Outside of the exclusives, 2020 game-of-the-year Hades is coming to Xbox (and PlayStation) this August, A Plague Tale: Innocence will get a next-gen patch next month and its sequel, A Plague Tale: Requiem, will arrive in 2022. If we had to put money on a future acquisition for Microsoft, then Asobo Studio, which makes the Plague Tale series, but more importantly developed last year’s Microsoft Flight Simulator, would be a good bet.

All told, it was always going to be a strong E3 for Microsoft — the company owns so many studios that it’s no surprise it has lots to show. As you’d expect, all of the first-party games at the show, and even many third-party titles, are coming straight to Game Pass. With the push to get Xbox Cloud Gaming on even more devices, and the fact that the vast majority of Game Pass titles are also on Game Pass for PC, Microsoft’s subscription service is going to have a broader audience than ever before.

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite

Square Enix

Square Enix’s E3 show followed on from Microsoft’s, and was actually pretty solid as far as news goes, despite disappointing some fans.

Guardians of the Galaxy, a new Marvel tie-in game from the team behind the Deus Ex series, got the longest presentation, and looks promising. Unlike Marvel’s Avengers, Guardians is a single-player, story-driven affair, with an emphasis on decision making and relationships.

Babylon’s Fall, a long-awaited collaboration between PlatinumGames and SquareEnix, also got a proper unveiling. Unlike the pair’s last project together, Nier: Automata, this one’s an online-only, game-as-a-service kind of deal, which is an extremely difficult thing to get right. PlatinumGames does have a strong history of making fun things, so we’re intrigued to check out the beta when it drops.

The first big meme of E3 was “chaos.” That is, the trailer for the Final Fantasy spinoff (deep breath) Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin. The internet had a lot of fun with both the normcore outfit of the protagonist and the fact he was seemingly obsessed with saying “chaos” over and over. To make matters worse, a demo for the new game dropped after the show, and it was... broken. Very broken. It wouldn’t be playable for almost two days, and then when it was, we were intrigued but overall unimpressed. You can read UK Bureau Chief Mat Smith’s opinions on that experience here.

Wrapping up the show quickly because, wow, do we have a lot to get through: Life is Strange: True Colors tried to explain that empathy is definitely as cool as time travel; there are some cool “pixel-perfect” remakes of Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, V and VI on the way; and… that was pretty much that. No Final Fantasy XVI and no Forspoken; no Dragon Quest, no Tomb Raider, no Deus Ex, no Just Cause, no Kingdom Hearts. No, no, no.

The lack of Final Fantasy XVI and Forspoken could potentially be down to their platform exclusivity. The former is a PS5 exclusive, while the latter is PS5 and PC only. That makes them a good fit for a Sony PlayStation event, which may or may not be planned for the near future.

Nintendo

Nintendo is always the last of the major players to host an E3 showcase, and this year was no different. Mario + Rabbids: Spark of Hope was obviously a known entity from Ubisoft’s show, but there was still plenty to announce. (E3 saw no New Nintendo Switch, though, despite various press reports ahead of the show insisting there would be.)

The Direct presentation began with the customary “there’s a new Smash Bros. fighter” announcement — this time Tekken’s Kazuya, who ruined our E3 by dropping Kirby into a volcano. Then came Metroid Dread, the fifth mainline Metroid game and very much not Metroid Prime 4. Executive Editor Aaron Souppouris had a closer look at Dread and came away impressed.

Returning classics were a bit of a theme. WarioWare: Get It Together! is a new title in Intelligent Systems’ long-running mini-game series, and the first on a home console since 2013’s Game & Wario on the Wii U. Another Intelligent Systems staple is also returning: Advance Wars 1 + 2 Re-Boot Camp is a remake of the two classic Game Boy Advance turn-based tactics games, produced by WayForward Technologies, which was responsible for the excellent DuckTales: Remastered.

Although Metroid Prime 4 didn’t make an appearance, the much-anticipated sequel to Breath of the Wild did — after some low-key trolling from Nintendo. The company said it had time for “one final thing,” and proceeded to show off a very cool Zelda Game & Watch handheld, before finally dropping the trailer everyone had been waiting for. There wasn’t much gameplay, and we still don’t even know what it’s called, but the 100-second trailer had just the right mix of intrigue and (we think) time-travel hints to make fans lose their minds. The proud “2022” release window at the end of the trailer was tempered somewhat by language after saying it was “aiming for” that window. Nintendo is never shy about delaying games, so bear in mind that you may not get your hands on this next year.

At both Nintendo’s show and elsewhere, the intriguing case of the “Cloud Version” continued. Square Enix’s Guardians of the Galaxy is coming to Switch in a cloud wrapper, as are both A Plague Tale: Innocence and A Plague Tale: Requiem. This trend began in Japan with Resident Evil VII and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey releases, but we’ve seen Control and Hitman 3 come to the west this way too. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise: Helped somewhat by shortages elsewhere, the Switch is, worldwide, outselling Xbox Series and PlayStation 5 combined With an install base approaching 100 million, Nintendo’s platform is just too big to ignore. If there’s a way to get a game in front of those players, expect publishers to make it happen.

There were a lot of other announcements. Switch exclusive Shin Megami Tensei V has a release date; there’s a new Mario Party game, this one with online multiplayer from the start; the Life is Strange series, including True Colors, is coming to Switch; and the Danganronpa games, once PSP and Vita staples, are on the way as well. Outside of the Direct, OlliOlli World, the sequel to another Vita classic, is shaping up well, and will come to Nintendo Switch this winter.

Of course, Nintendo couldn’t please everyone, and the lack of Metroid Prime 4, Bayonetta 3 and Splatoon 3 was a source of a few post-show complaints. Another Switch console exclusive, Hollow Knight Silksong, was also absent, although the developers at least made clear before E3 that would be the case. In the case of Bayonetta 3, a sufficient number of people complained to PlatinumGames founder Hideki Kamiya that he took to Twitter to make his thoughts very clear. Development is going well, Kamiya said, and suggesting otherwise is “nothing but annoying pollution … That’s why the guy who says ‘Tell me if you’re developing’ is a human trash can waiting with their mouth open on the leftover belt conveyor.” Lovely.

Breath of the Wild sequel
Breath of the Wild sequel

PlayStation

Sony doesn’t really “do” E3 anymore, preferring instead to hold its own events. It demoed Horizon Forbidden West just three weeks ago, and is expected to hold another event this summer. Despite its absence, though, it’s still been a solid week for Sony.

At the Summer Game Fest Kickoff event, Deviation Games, a new studio founded by ex-Call of Duty heads, announced it was partnering with Sony on a new IP for its console. A Death Stranding: Director’s Cut is also on the way to PS5, bringing some next-gen enhancements as well as additional content. Then there was Salt and Sacrifice, the sequel to 2016’s Salt and Sanctuary, which is a now-rare indie PlayStation exclusive, and the news that Axiom Verge 2, previously announced for Switch and PC, will come to PS4 and PS5 on its release later this year.

Xbox also announced a bunch of titles on Sunday which, despite the obvious lack of Sony logos on display, are coming to PlayStation: A Plague Tale: Requiem and Hades were probably the biggest titles that Microsoft announced on behalf of Sony. Of course, the majority of other titles announced by third parties like Square Enix and Ubisoft are being developed for PlayStation too.

It’s shaping up to be a quiet second half of the year in terms of exclusives, with Deathloop and Kena: Bridge of Spirits probably the most major games with confirmed release dates. Death Stranding: Director’s Cut is also a sure thing, while Horizon Forbidden West, Ghostwire Tokyo and Stray are all in that awkward phase where a “2021” release date could slip to 2022 as we get further into the year without a definitive date.

The rest, and what’s to come

Away from the relative glitz of the Microsoft, Ubisoft, Square Enix and Nintendo events, there has been a host of smaller shows and one-off announcements this week. Activision Blizzard gave a release date for the HD remaster of Diablo II, showed off some new Overwatch 2 designs and notably didn’t jump into a press conference to show off some Call of Duty. It’s rumored that the next big CoD will be Vanguard, a WW2-themed entry that’ll arrive at the same time as a big update to the Warzone map.

Capcom actually did have its own show, but the only major announcement was that it is “developing additional DLC for Resident Evil Village.” Given the... cultural impact the game’s cast of villains had in certain internet circles, it would’ve been shocking if Capcom didn’t capitalize on that with an expansion of some sort.

With Elden Ring taking the stage at Summer Game Fest, fellow Japanese publisher Bandai Namco had a similarly one-note show dedicated to House of Ashes, the next installment of The Dark Pictures Anthology series. It did, however, also announce a port of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot for Nintendo Switch, and get a long featured spot at Microsoft’s second showcase for Scarlet Nexus, its new action RPG that will launch June 25th.

Last up is EA, which, as mentioned, will be hosting its own show in July. That didn’t stop it revealing Battlefield 2042 just as E3 was beginning, and a new Madden NFL game with next-gen exclusive features just as E3 was ending. Oh, and Wholesome Games, which streamed an hour of welcoming and comfy games on Saturday, is fast becoming one of our favorite E3 events — a welcome break from all the cars and guns.

So, what now?

Steam Next Fest kicks off today as part of Summer Game Fest, offering hundreds of demos for PC gamers. EA Play Live will air on July 22nd, and you’ll likely find out more about Battlefield 2042, along with the debut of FIFA 22. In terms of wishlists, the new Dragon Age game has been in development for years, there’s renewed interest in Mass Effect following the remasters, and something new in the Titanfall series isn’t out of the question given the popularity of the battle royale spin-off Apex Legends.

After that, the only confirmed events are an Annapurna Interactive showcase on July 29th and Gamescom 2021 at the end of August. Publishers said to be involved in Summer Game Fest include 2K, Activision Blizzard, Capcom, Epic Games, Sony, Riot, Square Enix, Ubisoft and Xbox, many of which had games at the Kickoff event. It’s likely that more events will arrive, but we’re not sure when.

Then, in September, we’ll get an all-digital Tokyo Game Show, and hopefully Persona 6. Please?