E3 2021: The winners, losers and inbetweeners

E3 2021 has officially wrapped up after several days of virtual conferences from major publishers. Microsoft and Nintendo had particularly good showings, but the event as a whole felt somewhat disjointed and dare I say, lacked the magic of previous E3 events. Let’s take a look back at the winners and losers of this year’s E3.

Winner: Xbox

Microsoft’s Xbox and Bethesda E3 showcase was the closest thing we had to a normal E3 presentation. It started off with a banger too, with Todd Howard immediately taking to the stage to introduce Starfield with its first proper trailer. The trailer was all captured in-game and the overhauled Creation Engine is looking great, but a lack of gameplay, story details and a late 2022 release date really held this back from being an all-time great E3 moment like Fallout 4’s reveal.

Microsoft’s other marquee exclusive, Halo Infinite, also had an underwhelming outing. We did not get a new campaign gameplay demo to showcase the improvements made since last year’s showing. Instead, 343 Industries chose to focus on multiplayer, emphasising the fact that Halo Infinite multiplayer will be free to play and that we can expect playable alpha and beta tests over the summer. Unfortunately, no specific dates were given for these playtests, in-fact, Halo Infinite does not have a final release date, instead we are left with a vague ‘Holiday 2021’ release window.

Fortunately for Microsoft, it did not need Starfield or Halo Infinite to be great in order to ‘win’ E3 2021. With so many first-party studios now under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella, Microsoft was able to win with variety. One of the best reveals of E3 came from none other than Playground Games with Forza Horizon 5, showcasing stunning next-gen graphics and better yet, a November 9th release date. Microsoft also countered an upcoming PS5 exclusive, Deathloop, with another Arkane Studios game of its own – Redfall, due out in 2022.

Microsoft dipped into its bag of third-party partnerships too, revealing exclusives like “Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl” for April 2022 and Avalanche Studios’ “Contraband “.  Sea of Thieves is getting a crossover with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Battlefield 2042 debuted its multiplayer trailer during the Xbox showcase, Blizzard made a brief appearance to announce the release date for Diablo II: Resurrected and finally, we got a lot of Xbox Game Pass titles.

Xbox Game Pass was really the standout of the show. Out of the 30 games Microsoft showed, 27 of them are coming to Xbox Game Pass, including six months’ worth of headliners all coming in the very near future. Before the end of this year, one marquee game will be launching onto Xbox Game Pass every month, including Microsoft Flight Simulator, Psychonauts 2, Back 4 Blood, Forza Horizon 5, Age of Empires IV and Halo Infinite.

With all of this, Microsoft has sent a strong message – Xbox Game Pass is going to be the best deal in gaming for years to come.

Winner: Nintendo

Nintendo stopped doing live on-stage shows for E3 many years ago, replacing them with more regular Nintendo Direct streams. Still, Nintendo always saves its biggest hitters for the summer game announcement season and this year was no exception. Out of all the games Nintendo announced at E3 this year, the majority of them are releasing in 2021, bringing plenty of excitement to Nintendo Switch owners for the second half of the year.

Over the next six months, Nintendo will have Mario Golf: Super Rush, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, No More Heroes III, Metroid: Dread, Shin Megami Tensei V, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, and another classic remake in Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp.

Nintendo fans have a lot to look forward to next year as well. Square Enix has another HD-2D Switch exclusive in the works under the name “Project Triangle Strategy”, Game Freak will be releasing its most ambitious Pokémon game to date in the form of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Ubisoft has Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope lined up.

The Nintendo Direct ended as we all hoped it would, with a brand-new trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2. Somehow though, this ended up being double-edged sword. The trailer delivered new in-game footage, but it looked quite rough as the Nintendo Switch is beginning to show its age, raising one major question – where is the Nintendo Switch Pro?

The Nintendo Switch Pro has been spinning through the rumour mill for years now and just ahead of E3 2021, insiders with proven sources began claiming that we would see the upgraded console, and games that take advantage of it, prior to and during E3. This really raised the bar for Nintendo this year and led to the unfair expectation that we would finally see upcoming exclusives like Metroid Prime 4 and Bayonetta 3.

Nintendo tried its best to temper expectations by announcing that its E3 Direct would only focus on games and more importantly, games coming out this year. However, once the hype train starts moving in one direction, it is difficult to put a stop to it, leading to what should have been a highly exciting set of announcements falling a bit flat.

Still, as you will see in our upcoming segments, compared to other publishers, Nintendo ultimately came out ahead.

The Inbetweeners: Square Enix and Ubisoft

Square Enix and Ubisoft were in the same boat this year, with neither having a particularly good or bad showing at E3. If we take the highest and lowest points of E3 2021, these conferences sit firmly in the middle.

Square Enix is the most recent publisher to switch to an all-year round announcement model, with its own Square Enix Presents streams. Thanks to this, the reveal for Life is Strange: True Colours already took place back in March, so its re-appearance at E3 lacked the weight it normally would’ve had.

To make up for this, Square Enix had two major game reveals – Guardians of the Galaxy from Eidos Montreal and Stanger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin from Team Ninja.

After Marvel’s Avengers fell flat in 2020 due to live service elements, bugs and microtransactions, Guardians of the Galaxy had an uphill battle. Fortunately, a lot of concerns were immediately alleviated by announcing that this game will be single-player and story-focused, free of any DLC or microtransactions. However, the snippets of gameplay that we did see made combat moments look slow and monotonous. Without a demo or any hands-on press previews to accompany the trailer, we are left to wonder what the hook of this game really is, outside of the Marvel branding.

Stanger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is an action-focused Final Fantasy spin-off. Initially, leaks pointed towards this being a Souls-inspired take on Final Fantasy, but the trailer is much more akin to something like Devil May Cry in my opinion, with fast paced melee combat and a focus on spectacle when taking on bigger enemies.

This reveal should have been huge for Square Enix, as the publisher also shadow-dropped a playable demo right after the stream. The demo arrived in a broken and unplayable state, taking the sheen off of the announcement.

Ubisoft had decidedly more to show off compared to Square Enix, but rather than having a tight show with trailer after trailer, Ubisoft’s hour and 40 minute long stream focused on developer-led deep dives into previously announced games, new content and DLC for previously released and upcoming games, as well as early looks at a handful of newly announced titles.

For Ubisoft, the E3 showcase seemed to be going through the motions. Previously announced games like Rainbow Six Extraction and Far Cry 6 have release dates and new gameplay footage, while already released titles like Watch Dogs: Legion, For Honor, The Crew 2, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Trackmania and Brawlhalla bulked out the runtime with new DLCs, in-game events and expansion announcements.

There was a whole lot of ‘old’ throughout Ubisoft’s E3 conference, but it was saved by two major ‘first-look’ trailers – Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, and Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope.

Ubisoft Massive has been working on Avatar for years and the first look at the game did not disappoint. Powered by the Snowdrop Engine, the world of Pandora is already looking incredible, full of alien creatures and human invaders. There is no true gameplay footage yet, but with a 2022 release date, it is much easier to get excited for.

Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope announcement was the saving grace of the show. Not only did we get a great cinematic trailer, but members of the development team followed up the reveal with new gameplay snippets showing the game in action, as Mario and friends venture through space to put a stop to the Rabbids. So far, all indications are that this will be an excellent follow-up to one of the Nintendo Switch’s best exclusives.

Looking back on the conferences from Ubisoft and Square Enix, both publishers had legitimate reasons to be at E3 and had big announcements to make, saving them from the losers bracket, but there wasn’t really enough to label them as winners either.

Losers: Capcom and the ESA

Capcom is one of the few publishers that really did not need to have a standalone presence at E3 this year. Resident Evil Village is already released and has already garnered critical and commercial acclaim, as has Monster Hunter Rise for the Nintendo Switch.

This left Capcom with extraordinarily little to announce during its E3 stream. We did get a new trailer for Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, which admittedly looks like a fun spin-off, but it is also a previously announced game that is coming out in just a matter of weeks (July 9th on Switch and PC). The other ‘new game’ Capcom had to show was The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, a re-release of two previously Japan-exclusive Ace Attorney games.

Outside of that, we got a new look at Re:Verse, the delayed multiplayer deathmatch mode for Resident Evil Village, as well as the vague promise that “additional DLC” is now in development for the game. Exactly what form this DLC will take is unknown.

With so little to show, why did Capcom bother having its own E3 stream at all? Well, that is a symptom of a much larger problem that E3 is facing. Previously, the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) would unify publishers from around the world and deliver a concentrated mega-week of announcements, interviews, panels, and demos.

Nowadays, most major publishers are organising announcements on their own terms and hosting their own streams on a more regular basis throughout the year. This puts smaller publishers in an awkward position, as it is still important to be aligned with the E3 brand to be seen as a strong industry presence, but big game announcements also need to be spread out more evenly to maintain mindshare and social engagement.

Ultimately, this year-long spread of reveals and announcements has led to E3 feeling less important than ever and at this point, it seems highly unlikely that the ESA can bring the magic back.

KitGuru Says: E3 2021 had its highs and lows but the overall prestige the event used to hold has withered away in recent years. Did many of you tune into E3 2021 this year? What were your overall thoughts on this year’s event?

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