Despite the diminishing amount of time I spend playing video games, I look forward to the media circus of E3 every year for the onslaught of trailers, news, and awkward live presentation moments it reliably provides. The convention has evolved over the years, and there have been signs that it could dissolve completely in favor of isolated, publisher-run events in the future. But I hope that doesn't happen, because I enjoy the condensed spectacle of the event, the competitive nature of the conferences, and the big-picture conversation E3 allows gaming journalists and fans to have about the state of the industry.
After watching most of the major conferences this year, I would say that Sony came out ahead of Microsoft and the others, including EA, Bethesda, Ubisoft, and Nintendo. Their decision to forgo the usual format in favor of a more "theatrical" style showed how in-sync the company is with its audience, and the addition of the live orchestra accompaniment for many of the trailers was inspired. Their lineup of games is very impressive, and the lack of a hardware announcement ended up being a wise strategic choice in the wake of Microsoft's decision to announce two XBox One console iterations over the next two years.
Regardless of who "won" E3 though, I wanted to list out my overall top 5 games to come out of the event this year:
One area XBox dominated was in its assortment of exclusive indies, a category that Sony chose to omit from its presentation with few exceptions. Inside, which was revealed last E3, is the follow-up game from Playdead, developer of 2010's Limbo. While not much is revealed about the story or gameplay, the new trailer features a distinct artistic style and mood, and hints at a dark mystery that immediately aroused my curiosity. The few gaming journalists who got their hands on it early have unanimously declared it a must-play, and its shorter running time (approximately 4 hours) leads me to believe this will be a tightly-crafted, potent experience, much like its predecessor.
Marvel may be completely outclassing DC as far as their respective film universes go, but when it comes to video games, the roles are decidedly reversed. The former's efforts have been restricted to Lego tie-ins and mobile games, while the Batman: Arkham franchise has delivered four solid entries that continually refined the style of 3rd person combat they invented 7 years ago. So when the trailer for Insomniac's Spiderman dropped at Sony's presentation, it was met with a genuine sense of awe and surprise. Although it's only a short teaser, the game already looks polished and impressive, and the decision not to tie it in with the story of the upcoming Spiderman: Homecoming film is a sign that the developers are treating this as more than just an opportunity to capitalize on the character's 3rd cinematic rebirth. Hopefully, it winds up being the first in a robust video-game universe that will feature games centered around a variety of other Marvel favorites.
#3 We Happy Few
Another reminder that some of the most original storytelling in games is happening in the indie space. We Happy Few made my list solely based on the atmosphere and intrigue present in this 5 minute trailer, in which we glimpse a Bioshock: Infinite-esque dystopian environment where the population is being pacified with mandatory "upper" pills. I have since learned that this is more of a rogue-like survival game than a narrative-driven experience, but the provocative world-building and gorgeous art style will hopefully overcome my disinterest in the genre.
#2 Horizon: Zero Dawn
After sinking countless hours into games like Far Cry 4 and Mad Max, I recently swore off open-world games as too much of a time-sink to justify getting into (both took months to finish, and I'd prefer to play a large number of short, tightly-focused games as opposed to a small number of sprawling adventures stuffed with endless side-quests and boxes to tick). However, the last two games on this list are already calling that mandate into question. Horizon: Zero Dawn debuted last E3 to much acclaim, and the new gameplay footage has locked its spot as one of my most anticipated titles. The premise is original and compelling, and the question of "what led to a world populated by robot dinosaurs?" arouses enough curiosity alone to justify a play-through. The action looks fluid, the environments stunning, and the complexity of the combat promises a variety of ways to approach enemy encounters. This is definitely one of the most exciting exclusives on the PS4's release slate, and an early candidate for 2017's "best game / worst name" award.
#1 - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I've been playing games in the Zelda franchise since the original gold cartridge was released on NES, and while I haven't conquered all of them (Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and Skyward Sword sit atop my list of shame), I have to admit that the series' well-worn formula has been overdue for a shakeup. While the most recent portable entry, A Link Between Worlds, featured a more open approach to item acquisition and dungeon order, most of the key Zelda pieces were there, so it hardly qualifies as a reinvention (though it was spectacularly fun). While Nintendo have long been promising something new with their WiiU / NX Zelda game, no one expected as much of a complete re-imagining as was unveiled this week with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Inspired by the sense of unrestricted adventure that defined the 30-year-old original, Breath of the Wild features a truly open world 12 times the size of the one found in Twilight Princess. The developers have leaned into the new direction by incorporating crafting systems, environmental physics, and boundary-free nonlinear exploration, all wrapped up in a beautiful animation-inspired artistic style. The naturalistic, music-free sound design feels refreshingly different for the series, and creates an aura of melancholy and isolation during Link's traversal of the expansive, wide-open landscape. Key traits of the Zelda games such as puzzle-solving and basic melee combat are still present, but they are housed in a new shell that makes everything feel completely fresh.
Above all else, though, Breath of the Wild seems to strike that intangible quality of just being "fun," which one could argue has always been the guiding principle of Nintendo's game design. As much as any of the other trailers and announcements wowed me during this E3, there's no other game I wish I could pick up a controller and play immediately than this one. Nintendo is going to need a system-seller next year, and so far everything they've shown from this Zelda entry bodes very well for their plan to stage a console comeback with the NX in March 2017.