Wrapping Up E3 2021, Hot Takes and All
E3 2021 both feels like it happened yesterday and ten years ago. The all-virtual event, which featured a number of incredible trailers paired with otherwise pointless showcases, was somewhat of a fever dream, as the typical excitement over new game announcements came with additional scrutiny and doubt.
With that trepidation came a litany of questions: Given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, will we actually see any of these games as soon as we think? Were notable no-shows EA and Sony right to host their own presentations weeks after everyone else? Were the additional Summer Game Fest showcases necessary? Is Bayonetta 3 actually coming out? What was Verizon doing here?
Overall, the nearly weeklong event had its share of highlights and lowlights, but I think just about everyone can agree it was a little strange seeing all these games presented without any in-person interactions at all. Overall impressions were mixed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With all that said, here are some of the reactions we at The Punished Backlog had watching watching these curated sets of commercials for games we mostly won’t play:
What Did You Think of E3 2021 & Summer Game Fest Overall?
Sam Martinelli: I wouldn’t say this was the strongest E3 (or E3-equivalent) of all time, but there were enough intriguing games on display that I would say it was a good experience overall. I definitely wish we had more developer interviews and gameplay walkthroughs, but since things like that can’t really happen quite the same way without an in-person event, we’ll have to make do with just the trailers.
That said, I enter every E3 asking myself the same question: Am I more excited about games (and gaming in general) than I was last week? The answer is still yes, even if I feel some presentations could have definitely been better.
Keisuke Isobe: Summer Games Fest was surprisingly good. E3 was probably what we should have expected given the COVID situation.
David Silbert: I went into E3 2021 with relatively low expectations (we are rebounding from a deadly pandemic, after all). Still, I came away somewhat disappointed.
In the absence of a physical show, this year’s show lacked some of the energy I’d expect from gaming’s biggest stage. It didn’t help that publishers like Sony and EA were a no-show, and others—like Capcom, Bandai Namco, and Take-Two—had timeslots… just because?
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the lack of “AAA” presence helped bolster indie creators and their games. Between Geoff’s Summer Game Fest, a two-part Guerilla Collective, a Wholesome Direct, and Devolver Digital’s antics, there were plenty of smaller gems on display. None of these shows were actually part of E3, granted, but they made for a fun week nonetheless.
Who Had the Best Conference and Why?
Sam: This is a tough one for me. Microsoft had a ton of good-looking games (nearly all of which are coming to Game Pass), and I walked away from that showcase genuinely thrilled about the constant stream of seemingly high quality titles coming soon, including Forza Horizon 5, Psychonauts 2, Halo Infinite, and 12 Minutes. Still, Nintendo won me over pretty handily, and not just because they showed a new Metroid and had more on the upcoming Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel.
What really stood out about Ninty’s latest Direct was how many so-called “B-level” Nintendo games they showcased, like Mario Party Superstars, WarioWare: Get It Together, and the Advance Wars remakes. For me, these kinds of games are crucial to Nintendo’s identity as a game maker that values substance over style. Some of the Big N’s most creative ideas come through in these kinds of titles, and I was really happy that Nintendo focused heavily on them.
Kei: I can’t believe I’m saying it, but Summer Games Fest? It had the biggest announcement (Elden Ring release date) and the best trailer, and even if everything else was forgettable, in a year where no one else brought a true bombshell, Elden Ring was enough to carry it for me.
David: Nintendo gets top honors from me, beating out Microsoft by just a hair. In truth, none of these conferences were stellar, but Nintendo surprised with several reveals—including an Advance Wars revival, WarioWare sequel, and the first original 2D Metroid in 19 years. It gave dates for titles like Shin Megami Tensei V, provided a bevy of gameplay trailers (something Microsoft noticeably lacked), and ended on a stunning new look at the Breath of the Wild sequel.
It wasn’t the flashiest victory, but Nintendo earned its spot atop the crowd at this year’s show.
What Game Had the Best Trailer?
Sam: Metroid Dread, easily. There were a lot of excellent premieres (Redfall, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Forza Horizon 5 to name a few), but the fact that Nintendo A) is working on a new 2D Metroid for the first time in decades and B) plans to release it later this year was such a nice surprise, and one that has me all the way hyped up.
The trailer itself has all the makings of a great video game trailer: cinematic intensity, actual gameplay, the introduction of new ideas and systems, and a succinct explanation of what players should expect. Nintendo really blew me away with this one, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Kei: Elden Ring.
David: Elden Ring. I may not be our resident Dark Souls expert (that honor goes to Kei or Eric), but even I can spot a well-made FromSoftware trailer when I see one.
This one had it all. Gorgeous vistas. Moody lighting. Artsy camera pans. And, of course, gargantuan bosses and pulsating combat. Unlike other E3 trailers, this one was entirely in-game, providing a spectacular yet realistic look into the world of Elden Ring ahead of its January 2022 release.
Though I have some reservations based on this reveal—graphics look a bit dated, no?—the prospect of an open-world Souls game with horseback riding and flashy spells is enough to have me excited.
What Was the Biggest Disappointment of E3?
Sam: I’m not sure it’s fair for me to be disappointed by what wasn’t shown as opposed to what was shown, but I really wish Nintendo would make more of their legacy content available on the Switch. There’s absolutely no reason Switch owners shouldn’t be able to play EarthBound, Super Mario RPG, or any Nintendo 64 games right now. They might be waiting for a separate Direct to discuss additional Zelda ports on Switch, but the fact that all we have to tide us over is a Skyward Sword remake (which I’m still excited about, by the way) is kind of a let down.
David: CHAOS. Need I justify this more?
Sam: Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp was totally out of left field. Obviously, Nintendo’s whole showcase was full of nice surprises, but I genuinely thought they had given up on Advance Wars, especially considering the popularity of Fire Emblem (Nintendo can be weird that way). Sure, it’s a remake and not a totally new entry, but it’s good that Nintendo is combing through its past and giving certain franchises a new lease on life. Now if only they could do the same for F-Zero…
Kei: In terms of how unlikely I thought something was before it happened? Probably the Advance Wars remake, but as far as somewhat more monumental news goes, probably Metroid Dread (though Emily Rogers and others were very bullish on a Metroid game appearing this year).
David: The fact that Forza Horizon 5 is a thing—and that it’s coming this year.
I fully expected Forza Motorsport (the “8” got dropped for this new entry) to take center stage at Microsoft’s showcase. Instead, we were graced with a new game in Playground’s open-world spin-off series. And wow, is it a stunner.
The Forza games have always been known for their photo-realism, but Horizon 5 looks to take this to a whole new level. Mexico is shaping up to be a jaw-dropping sandbox, offering everything from tropical forests to rocky mountains and colorful city streets.
What’s more, the game has a battle royale mode. Battle royale. In a racing game. I don’t care what anyone says—I’m intrigued.
What Is Your Pick for Game of the Show?
Sam: Oof, there are so many options here. I know I’ll love Forza Horizon 5. Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer looks enticing. The new Zelda looks incredible, even if it’s a ways away. Even the new Guardians of the Galaxy game has piqued my interest. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that the return of an original 2D Metroid takes the cake. I went from not really thinking this game could exist to convincing myself of a day one purchase almost in an instant. It may not be quite as flashy or next-gen as so many other games we saw at E3, but it’s the one that blew me away the most. Can’t wait for Metroid Dread.
Kei: Elden Ring.
David: Forza Horizon 5. While I’m not a big sim racing fan (Burnout is more my style), Forza Horizon always caught my eye. I admire Playground’s commitment to their craft, and it’s clear as day they know the ins and outs of this genre.
It may not carry the same gravitas as Halo or Fable, but Forza Horizon 5 is bound to be a showcase game for Xbox Series X, as well as the new gold standard in open-world racing. I look forward to hitting the pavement this fall.
What did you think of this year’s E3? Was it fun? Bad? CHAOTIC? Let us know in the comments!