Above: Exciting times at the Battlefield 1 event. Photo courtesy of the ESA.
E3 trailers are really good at building expectations without ever saying or showing too much. The higher the mountain of hype the more it'll hurt to tumble down, of course, so we often see quick cuts between vague scenes or goofy staged demos. We don't really know much about the new Mass Effect, for instance, and as far as we can tell, Kojima Productions has spent the last few months producing a teaser. As excited as we are for both of those games, our E3 2016 favorites are the games that were shown more boldly, with a clear, unedited look or hands-on demo.
That in mind, here's the best of what we saw at E3 this year as well as our pick for the best game of the show. With the standard E3 caveats in effect—its lineup is largely mainstream, and our demos were mostly short—these are the games we’re most excited about. Hit the next slide to see our first E3 favorite.
In an E3 awash with grappling hooks, by letting you use them to transition seamlessly into free-running, or to jump on top of robots. This was, in some ways, the most predictable reveal of E3: we knew a campaign was coming in Respawn’s sequel, and the multiplayer largely feels similar to the first game, but with a bunch of neat tweaks to the titans and additional class abilities. But with to split the player base this time, we’re ready to jump into the cockpit of a titan again. The original, despite its dwindling player count, was one of the most fun and fast-paced FPS multiplayer games of the last few years.
The fact that neither Journey nor Flower made it onto PC, thanks to an exclusivity deal with Sony, only makes the appeal of Abzû that much greater. Matt Nava worked as art director on both of those games before leaving to form developer Giant Squid, and Abzû feels very much like a spiritual successor. Which is to say that it’s meditative, beautiful looking, I’m guessing likely quite short, and aims to hit you right in the transcendent feels.
Barring occasionally surfacing to glimpse the sun, the game is played underwater. The involved hitching a ride on some of the more substantially-sized fish, avoiding the ministrations of a shark, and exploring mysterious temple-like structures. To what overall end we couldn’t say, but we are pleased to report that the lithe scubaperson is consistently enjoyable to control, and never having to worry about running out of air immediately removes another big complaint levelled at swimming in games. One for the arthouse crowd, no doubt, but hopefully also a refreshing experience for those bored by third-person adventures with grappling hooks and guns.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Unlike most games at E3, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be released in just a couple of months. We got our hands on it during a pre-E3 event and as well as a few old favorites. We’ve been promised that this time around a true and complete non-lethal playthrough will be possible, though the gameplay footage of a Dubai mission was a bit more on the deadly side. The sounds like fun, and once again it looks like Eidos has crafted a beautiful and highly detailed world for us to sneak, slither, and chisel-stab our way through.
Sloclap’s beat-’em-up ended up being one of the surprise hits of E3, as Samuel relayed in last week. This is both a PvE and PvP 3D beat-’em-up where you can alter combos on the fly, and where fighting feels like a proper duel. You can parry, block, feint attacks, time your combos to land faster hits and employ melee weapons in your arsenal, alongside hand-to-hand fighting. It’s precise, complex and so exciting. In the finished version, other online players will apparently blend seamlessly into your game. Absolver isn’t coming until 2017, but we’re jonesing to try that one-on-one combat again before then.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
Years of work on its proprietary engine is doing wonders for Mount & Blade. Thanks to new physics, flung rocks archers from their battlements. Battering rams splinter castle doors. Fire is now one of the surest counters against wooden siege weapons. Swords collide and deflect more authentically with other swords. You can even blow a huge hole in the castle wall during the pre-siege ‘bombardment’ phase. These enhancements aren’t window dressing: when you snipe a castle defender who’s about to hurl a jug of fire at you, the ensuing ragdoll might cause both them and the grenade to tumble off the wall, wounding some of your men. This won’t simply be a prettier medieval sandbox, it should be a tactically richer one. What’s special about Bannerlord is the feeling that you’re a common lord inhabiting a sandbox of systems, systems that treat you and the hundreds of other AI characters as equals.
Hiding away on a single screen in the PlayStation booth was a game that ended up being a surprise highlight of the show. Simultaneously coming to Steam early next year, Loot Rascals is a turn-based roguelike with a wonderfully strange sense of style. You wander around an alien planet made of hex-tiles, fighting (or avoiding) monsters and collecting loot to make yourself more powerful. There’s a day/night cycle, and certain creatures are stronger at certain times, so Loot Rascals becomes a delicate dance of timing your movement and attacks around the enemies in front of you. This pacing sets it apart from other roguelikes, making the game tactical without feeling slow. Aesthetically, it’s a combination of Katamari Damacy, ToeJam and Earl, and an Adult Swim cartoon, with a distinctly British sense of humor. It’s adorable, odd, and an absolute treat to play.
At ease, soldier: there’s far more going on in Battlefield 1 than pop-and-squat trench warfare. A trip to the past turned out to be exactly what Battlefield needed to recharge its batteries. The World War I setting gives Battlefield a sense of vitality it hasn’t had in years, and everything looks and feels remarkably creative for a big budget franchise. The early automatic weapons are outfitted with all sorts of bizarre scopes and ammo clips. The single-shot rifles sound like cracks of thunder. Who wants to drive a jeep when you can drive an early 1900s semi-armored jalopy? And the slightly lowered accuracy and power of these weapons relative to modern-day rifles brings combat back into slightly closer range, a welcome change from the sniping and lock-on instadeath of air combat in modern Battlefield.
Gwent’s popularity made a standalone expansion seem like a given after the release of The Witcher 3 last year, but CD Projekt Red took its time to go above and beyond expectations with a completely rebuilt Gwent. The cards and interface have gone through a total makeover and everything’s been rebalanced for competitive play. That alone may not have made for one of the best games at E3, but on top of the free-to-play competitive mode CD Projekt has spent the past year , complete with gorgeous comic book-style cutscenes, quests, and RPG-like progression. What we played of the new competitive mode was every bit as addicting as the old Gwent, with some new powers and human-against-human bluffing in the mix. But it was the demonstration of Gwent’s single-player campaigns that made it one of the most promising games of E3. It’s definitely more than a Hearthstone ripoff.
Best of Show: Dishonored 2
Arkane’s long-awaited sequel finally got a detailed first look during Bethesda’s conference this year, showcasing the game’s two playable characters, Corvo and Emily, as well as the intensive world-building that’s gone into creating the new setting of the game, Karnaca. Among the interesting info dropped by Arkane during E3 was the option to play through Dishonored 2 in a no-powers mode, where you can tell emo mystery man at the start of the game. Chris went through pretty extensively last month, and the latest look only bolsters our expectations. It wasn’t a huge reveal with pie in the sky dreams of a 10 billion square kilometer shared universe, or the jubilant return of a legendary developer, but right now Dishonored 2 looks like some of the most fun we’ll have this year.
This list represents the games we were most excited to tell you all about, but we also nominated several other great-looking games during the show. Here they are in no particular order: