E3 2021 Conferences: Highlights, Surprises, and Lowlights

PC: TechTheLead/E3 2019

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After several jam-packed days with gaming announcements, reveals, and surprises, E3 2021 is over! Check out the best, worst, and most surprising things that happened at the gaming conference.

E3 answered our hopes for new reveals – Metroid Dread anyone? – and updates on highly anticipated titles – Halo Infinite, Elden Ring, and more! At the same time, there were times when presentations felt a little lacking.

So we here at TechTheLead took some time to look back at all the major presentations over the past week and pick out what we thought was the best, the worst, and the most surprising aspects of them all.

Here are our highlights, surprises, and lowlights of each E3 2021 (and other related) conference!

E3: Microsoft (& Bethesda) Announcements

Highlight: As much as Xbox has worked to expand its gaming library, Halo still defines Xbox. So when Xbox confirmed a 2021 release date, showed updated visuals, and gave a glimpse at exciting gameplay for Halo Infinite, it’s an immediate win.

Just as importantly, the Xbox team announced free cross-platform multiplayer. That’s right. Free. Cross-platform. Multiplayer. Xbox knew exactly what they were doing with this announcement.

The multiplayer looks clean in Halo Infinite trailers. PC: Xbox

Surprise: This may not be the biggest surprise given Xbox’s recent comments, but the commitment to Xbox Game Pass really stands out in an industry slow to integrate streaming, cross-platform services in the manner Xbox has. Almost every game that was announced is set to be available on Day 1 to Xbox Game Pass. That’s incredibly consumer-friendly and gives gamers access to premier titles for an absurdly low cost. As the Xbox Game Pass library expands, so does its value. And it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.

Lowlight: Xbox’s presentations have always had a lot of games – and recently, a lot of pretty exciting titles –  which is excellent for a platform that mainly is criticized for its lack of compelling exclusives. However, Xbox also has a problem with game diversification. That is, most the games look and feel the same way: some sort of shooter, maybe co-op, definitely intense, sprinkle in zombies, aliens, the post-apocalypse, or technological futures somewhere in there. FPS and 3rd person shooters are great. But when they start to feel cookie-cutter, it’s harder to get excited for each one.

Another small, but a meaningful consequence of having so many games is that there’s not enough time for each individual game. There were a lot of cinematic trailers but not enough gameplay, story, narrative, character intros, or even general information about the games. Cinematic trailers are exciting – they can showcase the game at its potential – but they also often misrepresent what it’s actually like playing the game. Slowing down and taking more time for each game may lead to cutting down the number of games shown, but it would also lead to more engagement with each.

E3: Nintendo had a game for everyone

Breath of the Wild 2 was a show stopper, but the show had a lot more than just this. PC: Nintendo

Highlight: Breath of the Wild 2’s trailer could be the winner here, but it’s really the cherry on top of the cake. What Nintendo did really well in this Direct was that it had a game almost for every fan. Smash release? Check. Mario game? Check. Surprise Metroid announcement? Check. Shin Megami Tensei news? Check. Warioware? Check. Random collections of older games? Check. A hit arcade game? Check.

It’s hard to knock their pacing either, knowing which games to linger on and which to move on from quickly. For example, Skyward Sword and Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope had little screen time because they were previously announced. Advance Wars 1+2 and WarioWare got more attention as previously unannounced games. They also lingered on fan favorites, like with the Kazuya Mishima Smash Ultimate reveal.

Surprise: Mario Party Superstars and Metroid Dread, without a doubt! Both were unexpected revivals of sorts of fan-favorite series. The former brings players back to the N64-era of Mario Parties, a time fans fondly remember for having some of the best boards and minigames. It’s a return to classic formula fans have been craving for since Mario Party 9.

Metroid Dread, on the other hand, was truly an out-of-left-field announcement. A proper sequel to Metroid Fusion was thought long dead, specifically given that Fusion originally released almost 20 years ago. It’s not Metroid Prime 4; it’s something that has been waited for much longer. 

Lowlight: In the Legend of Zelda portion of the Nintendo Direct, producer of the series Eiji Aonuma made a passing comment: “we don’t have any campaigns or other Nintendo Switch games planned.” Thus, for Zelda’s 35th Anniversary, fans are getting a remake of Skyward Sword and a Legend of Zelda-themed Game & Watch. On the other hand, Mario’s 35th Anniversary celebrated Mario with a Game & Watch, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, a Mario battle royale, Mario Kart Live, new merchandise, online campaigns, crossovers in other games, a themed Switch, and a collection of three of Mario’s best titles, Super Mario 3D All-Stars. It’s hard not to see just how little Legend of Zelda is actually getting.

On top of that, there have been several veritable rumors of a Windwaker/Twilight Princess remake collection. Perhaps there was a translation error. Perhaps it will still be announced after Skyward Sword HD is released. This is all speculation, but what we know is that Legend of Zelda certainly won’t get the celebration everything thought and expected in the franchise’s 35th anniversary.

Summer Game Fest Kickoff Live

Highlight: Without a doubt Elden Ring. Nothing more needs to be said.

Really, nothing more needs to be said. PC: Bandai Namco

Surprise: Without a doubt Elden Ring… Ok I’ll stop talking about Elden Ring. Instead, let’s say the surprise was that Summer Game Fest even happened this year. When Summer Game Fest 2020 was announced last year, it was because industry professional Geoff Keighley wanted a space for publishers, developers, and gamers to come together in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellations of gaming events like E3 and GDC because of said pandemic.

With events happening again, even virtually, a stand-in event like Summer Game Fest would seem irrelevant. But not, Keighley continued to host the event and had some great announcements to boot. While certainly not the scale of E3, Summer Game Fest continued to be a place where the community could come together around gaming.

It also forces ESA and E3 to share the spotlight, which hey, given their not-so-great track record, I’m all for.

Lowlight: Did you know Summer Game Fest continues after Kickoff Live? Probably not, or at least I didn’t. For the most part, what happens after the big opening is a bunch of partnered streams or commentary on presentations. Last year, Keighley and the team proved it when they co-sponsored (or helped initiate) several rounds of free demos. It is less clear how much pull they all had this year.

Summer Game Fest certainly has a place in the gaming conference landscape. It could certainly be a competitor with E3. And, as mentioned, last year it helped bring tangible opportunities to players. This year, it was kind of the opening ceremonies to a long weekend of gaming news. While totally acceptable, it has the potential to be so much more.

Ubisoft: Nothing is free

Highlight: The highlight is tough to say for Ubisoft. While there’s definitely a lot to be excited about – a new take on Rainbow Six with Extraction and a closer look at Far Cry 6 – there’s the lingering worry about monetization. For modern Ubisoft, nothing comes free.

If monetization is assumed for all games, then probably the highlight of them all was Rocksmith+. If you have to pay, might as well learn something new. And with the new features in Roacksmith+, it seems like guitar learning will be easy, immersive, more accessible.

Surprise: Ubisoft generally played to its classics. You got your Rainbow Sixs. You got your Far Crys. Hey, you even got your Assassins Creeds and Just Dances. So anything that really deviates from this list of classics could be seen as a surprise.

So when Ubisoft drops some IP outside this list, it means something. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope fits the bill as a non-typical Ubisoft IP. It also brings back a beloved game made through this unexpected collaboration. It was leaked by Nintendo the morning of, which did take away some of the element of surprise. But better than not having the game in the first place. 

Lowlight: Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was, for some, a highlight. But we consider it more of a lowlight. To this author, Avatar is an incredibly problematic movie that should not be given the platform it has. For it to be brought back, 12 years later, into the frame was perhaps to give more credibility to its colonial savior narrative.

At E3, Capcom eSports section was… cringe

Highlight: Got to hand it to Capcom. They said what they were going to present ahead of time and then, they presented just that. We appreciate the honesty and transparency.

Surprise: Definitely surprised that Capcom didn’t bring updates on upcoming games beyond Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin and The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, both games previously announced. For example, it was Mega Man Battle Network’s 20th Anniversary this year. Given Capcom’s penchant for collections, E3 could have been the perfect opportunity to announce a Battle Network collection. Or perhaps drop a reveal trailer for an unannounced project.

While certainly, Capcom is riding high on the success of Monster Hunter Rise, it’s shocking that Capcom didn’t allude to the future, leaving fans largely in the dark beyond the two aforementioned titles.

Lowlight: Capcom’s whole eSports section was a little… cringe. It seemed there to remind people that Capcom did eSports, but didn’t really fit with the rest of the presentation. It was also for Street Fighter V eSports, the game not even being mentioned in other sections. Strange.

Day of the Devs: Variety is king

Highlight: The variety of games was absolutely amazing. There were gameplay styles for everyone: metroidvania, rougelike, town simulator, photography, cooking, rhythm, action-adventure, puzzle, and more. And the different aesthetics. Just wow. Some were hand-painted, others hand-built, even others using more simple or non-realistic styles of art to convey their message.

In a world filled to the brim with hyper-realistic FPS’s, seeing the absolute variety in indie games was a breath of fresh air.

Surprise: Probably the most surprising trailer was for Unbeatable. The rhythm adventure inspired by anime was just so compellingly presented. Original music, rocking visuals, a slice of life vignettes. Unbeatable is one of this author’s most anticipated games. Hopefully, it comes to other platforms like the Switch, where it would find a nice home.

Unbeatable was a definite surprise, from gameplay to aesthetics to story. PC: D-Cell Games

Lowlight: It’s hard to say that there was one. There’s a good balance of gameplay, developer commentary, and cinematics that it feels like each game gets the spotlight. The whole show was nicely paced with a variety of indie games shown. It’s just nice to have a moment to spotlight indie devs. I know I will continue to look for Day of the Devs in future years. 

Bandai Namco and their House of Ashes

Highlight: If there had to be a highlight in Bandai Namco’s “presentation,” it would be that it did give a really close look at one game, that game being House of Ashes. In a sit-down interview with Executive Producer Dan McDonald, viewers did get a deeper understanding of the lore behind the game, certain motivations, some new elements, and the design philosophy.

Surprise: Bandai Namco, why only one game? Scarlet Nexus is set to release next week! A Tekken character was released for Smash Ultimate! What about new IPs or upcoming launches?

Lowlight: If one overlooks the fact that there was just one game shown, then the game better is shown. While House of Ashes is likely a story-driven game and meant to surprise players, there was little to no gameplay shown. Gameplay likely wouldn’t be as exciting or impactful as in other cases, but elements like UI, character movement, and environment rendering in the engine would all give a glimpse at how this builds on its predecessors.

Gearbox left a bit to be desired

Highlight: I would say more information about Tribes of Midgard. It first showed up at the Summer Game Fest Kickoff Live, but it wasn’t quite explained well. Having more information made the game more compelling.

Surprise: Did you know there’s a Borderlands movie coming out? Gearbox made it quite clear that a film was in the works. It was just surprising how much time they dedicated to it, especially when some much of what was shown was… not shown. As in, there was a lot of talking around what was going on behind the scenes without actually showing anything going on behind the scenes. Maybe this is a lowlight but…

Lowlight: Why highlight Homeworld 3 and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands if you’re not going to talk about it, Gearbox? The former kept being mentioned throughout the presentation, but nothing substantive was said. Just that it was in production. The latter appeared in Summer Game Fest as well, with the same trailer shown again at Gearbox. While there was an interview with a representative, they really didn’t say anything. Why keep bringing up games you’re not really ready to talk about deeply yet?

Devolver Digital went all in at E3 conference

Highlight: The satirical take on the industry’s monetization practices, Devolver Max Pass+, was so convincingly done that it was hard to know whether or not they were sincere. Regardless of their full commitment to the bit, it was great to see this kind of critical commentary on perhaps the most malicious industry trend.

Surprise: The whole theme and performance of the presentation was a surprise. Apparently, Devolver Digital generally does unique skits and bits during their presentations. Given everything was online, they were really going all in. Staging, lighting, cameras, a production crew. You kind of got to love them for their theatrics.

Us looking at the presentation, until it became clear it was satire. PC: Devolver Digital

Lowlight: While we loved the bit, there was perhaps too much time spent on it and not enough time spent on the games. Truly, the games were kind of lost in just the absurdity of the presentation’s theme. That says a lot about how outrageous, good or bad, the presentation was. But it also kind of says something about the games and how much attention they draw. 

PC Gaming Show – nothing really stood out

Highlight: PC Gaming Show didn’t really have a highlight in a traditional sense. A lot was great, but nothing really stood out.

Surprise: Just how many different takes on shooters can there be. While some were really innovative – Lemnis Gate, for example – others were not so much. It shouldn’t be surprising given this is what sells, but it always is.

Also, space. So many games set in the depths of space. Maybe that’s the new direction the industry is heading in. 

Lowlight: PC Gaming Show had the same problem as Microsoft and the opposite problem of Devolver Digital. First, they have so many games to show – “PC” covers a lot – but didn’t spend nearly enough time on most. There were several games where we literally could not tell what the story was, what gameplay was like, any elements of the world, etc. That’s how little time and space were given to most, if not all games.

As for the similarities with Devolver Digital, PC Gaming Show also had a theme to it. Yet… it was kind of weird and not really fully committed to. It made it seem like a sideshow rather than well integrated with the main event.

What did you think about E3? Do you agree or disagree with our opinions? Let us know in the comments below!

Our teammate, Buchanan, at E3 2019… duh!

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E3 2021 Conferences: Highlights, Surprises, and Lowlights
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