Shane weighs in on his top picks of the show.
Man, putting together this list was rough. I found that my top 5 fell into place pretty quickly, but filling out the rest took a lot more effort than I had anticipated. Having too many good games on display at this year's E3 is hardly a "problem," but narrowing down the sheer volume of games of every type present at the show was a unique kind of tiring.
Before I dig into the Top 10 list proper, I wanted to give out some Honorable Mentions. This was a packed show filled with excellent games, so naturally some had to be left by the wayside.
- For Honor: Ubisoft finally showed single-player gameplay, and it looks like Bushido Blade meets Dynasty Warriors. It looks fantastic, but I'm a little worried about repetition setting in since, from what we were shown, the game has little outside of its combat. That said, this really is the type of game you have to get your hands on to fully appreciate, and there's plenty of time between now and its February 2017 release date.
- Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: This was a huge surprise for me. Going into E3 I could not have cared less about a new COD, but this will mark the first game in the series I pick up at launch. I love space faring games, and Infinity Ward's latest nails the atmosphere of floating through Zero G. The spaceship dogfighting looks intense, like a modern take on the classic Colony Wars series, and the game's structure is the most open-ended it's ever been.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda: What precious little BioWare was able to show looked astounding. An open world Mass Effect running on Frostbite looks as incredible as I'd hoped, but sadly BioWare just isn't ready to show more than a snippet of this game in action. We've been promised a deeper dive this Fall, so at least we don't have too much longer to wait.
- The Last Guardian: At this point I barely have a reaction to footage of this. Not because it doesn't look amazing, it absolutely does, but because I'm just getting tired of not being able to play it. It's been more than 10 years since the team's last game, so it's heartening to know that we will all finally be able to experience The Last Guardian this October.
- Gears of War 4: In any other year, The Coalition's powerful looking sequel would have placed in the Top 10. Everything about it is looking great, from the presentation, acting, and writing, to the new melee kills and the dynamic (and completely terrifying) weather.
With that off my chest, it's time to get to the heart of things. Here are my picks for...
The Top 10 Best Games of E3 2016
#10- Watch Dogs 2
Ubisoft and its premier Montreal studio put out more open-world games per year than most other studios can manage in a decade. Unfortunately, this means that they sometimes miss as often as they hit, but when they hit they hit BIG. Thankfully, this looks to be the case with Watch Dogs 2, which could be the most-improved sequel in Ubisoft's roster since 2009's Assassin's Creed II brought us the adventures of Ezio Auditore.
With better tech, more colorful art direction, shockingly excellent animation, and much greater confidence across all facets of design, Watch Dogs 2 is bringing the potential of the original game's hacking gameplay to full fruition. Missions are open ended in the extreme, allowing players to sneak, assault, or hack their way to victory in any combination they wish. With the expanded ability to remotely control objects like vehicles and manipulate every single NPC in the game world, it is possible to resolve almost every mission through manipulation and subterfuge. It wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to say that Watch Dogs 2 is Ubisoft's play for the Deus Ex crowd.
#9- Horizon: Zero Dawn
When it debuted at last year's show, Guerilla Games' striking post apocalyptic world reigned over by towering robot dinosaurs turned heads as the PS4 exclusive to watch. With an extended gameplay demo and a firm February release date, Horizon impressed just as much if not more at this year's E3.
Protagonist Aloy's quest to uncover the mystery of her origins and of humanity's downfall is a compelling one, but it's the multifaceted combat and rich open world that mark this as one of my most anticipated games. Similar to last year's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Horizon layers rich quest design into a vast and unpredictable open world. With smart features like the ability to generate missions on the fly to gain specific crafting rewards, Guerilla shows a remarkable willingness to trim the fat of the open world RPG experience, especially for a studio taking its first stab at the genre.
It's the combat that steals the show, however. At once beautiful and terrifying, the metallic monstrosities that roam the lands require a hefty dose of improvisational strategizing in order to take down. Aloy has a wide variety of weaponry at her disposal, and the demo sees her reprogramming beasts to aid her in battle and a unique tether that allows her to trip up and subdue larger adversaries before dismantling them piece by piece. It has a rhythm all its own, then, and marks Horizon: Zero Dawn as an experience that could be truly singular.
#8- Dishonored 2
Arkane Studios is one of the most ambitious and talented development studios in existence, and Dishonored 2 is testament to that. Featuring two protagonists with a range of delightfully distinct powers, a lavish new tropical setting, and insane new ideas like the ability to explore two different timelines of a location in tandem, the breadth and depth of experiences that Dishonored 2 will provide when it releases this November will likely be staggering.
Arkane is a studio that has built a name for itself by empowering players. Dishonored 2 lets you work out your own solutions to its problems, never holding your hand, and always encouraging you to experiment with the vast array of god-like powers at your disposal. The design is open-ended and so flexible as to be breakable, and Arkane's enthusiasm over players finding unique solutions and combinations of actions that never occurred to them during development is admirable in an industry that often seems afraid of player expression compromising a cinematic vision.
Dishonored 2 looks to be something of a masterpiece, unsurprisingly, and mercifully we don't have long to wait before we can help Empress Emily Kaldwin reclaim her throne.
#7- Spider-Man (PS4)
This was the biggest surprise of the show for me. Insomniac Games, the studio behind fantastic games like Ratchet & Clank, Sunset Overdrive, and Edge of Nowhere, is heading up a Spider-Man game. Pinch me, I have to be dreaming.
Spider-Man is a character who has always had immense potential in video games, but that potential has rarely been realized. Other than the amazing physics and mobility system of Treyarch's Spider-Man 2 game, nothing has come close to giving the wall-crawler the game that he deserves. He deserves to have his own "Arkham Asylum" moment, and I can't think of a better studio to get him there.
Insomniac has a sense of playfulness and a stronger idea of what makes games fun than most. Games like Ratchet & Clank and Sunset Overdrive are the rare types of games where simply moving around is exciting, to say nothing of their rewarding mechanics and clever progression systems. Best of all, this is a fresh take on the character that has nothing to do with Marvel's upcoming film, which frees Insomniac to deliver the best interactive take on Spider-Man possible.
The Prey "franchise" is a case study in wasted potential. The first game was one of the 360's earliest titles, and sparked interest with its dark, alien setting. Sadly, it was cursed with being boring in the extreme, and a more exciting looking sequel never made it out of development hell. In an utterly haunting reveal trailer, Prey makes its grand return as a psychological thriller from none other than Arkane Studios.
There are all sorts of reasons to be excited by this. The trailer was eerie and subtle, effectively conveying feelings of paranoia while also intriguing with its mysteries. The game will be running on Dishonored 2's Void Engine, and will be the type of ludicrously flexible, open ended, and narrative rich first-person adventure that Arkane is so celebrated for.
Though we don't know much beyond the trailer and a vague 2017 release window, there is one more interesting tidbit. Chris Avellone, the founder of Obsidian Entertainment and the legendary writer and game designer behind RPGs like Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, Alpha Protocol, Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity, and Divinity: Original Sin, will be lending his considerable talent and experience to Arkane Studios and Prey. Can this just come out tomorrow? Please?
#5- NieR: Automata
Platinum Games, which includes talent that has worked on the likes of Resident Evil 4, Okami, and the Bayonetta series, is one of the premiere developers of action games in existence. Although I can't quite manage to get excited about what's been shown of Scalebound, NieR: Automata is looking like exactly the best combination of its Square Enix developed predecessor's haunting nature with the lightning fast action of Platinum Games' Bayonetta.
When it was revealed at last year's show that the original game's director, Yoko Taro, would be collaborating with Platinum on the sequel, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Thankfully, nothing on display at this year's E3 casts any doubt on this. With rich RPG systems, towns and NPCs, and Platinum's expertise at delivering polished melee action, there's a lot to be excited for when NieR: Automata releases early next year.
#4- Death Stranding
Kojima is back. The legendary game designer and professional prankster's Death Stranding made a bold statement for his studio's post-Konami future. The game's teaser is heavily psychological, overstuffed with mysteries that the internet is already having fun picking apart. It also stars Norman Reedus, and it's a pleasure to see Kojima and Reedus working together again after the cancellation of Silent Hills.
Although we know little about the game other than guesses as to its story, setting, and general content, we do know that it will be an action game, and Kojima specifically highlights Naughty Dog's Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and Ubisoft's The Division as examples.
If nothing else, it's clear that Kojima is back in full force after this bizarre and mysterious teaser.
#3- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo's newest console Zelda title has been an extremely long time coming, and any worries I had about it were immediately washed away with a beautiful trailer that highlighted the game's dazzling vision. More than that, however, is that Nintendo was right to dedicate almost their entire E3 presence to the unveiling of Breath of the Wild.
Whereas most other games at the show existed solely in trailers, Nintendo showed off hours and hours of Breath of the Wild and had the game in playable form on the showfloor. What occurred over the next few days was a veritable flood of information, as the rich and complex nature of the new Zelda's open world and flexible game systems were able to reveal themselves more organically than a crowded show like E3 typically allows.
Players made and shared all sorts of little discoveries, like going nuts with the game's surprisingly advanced fire physics, snowboarding on a shield, or getting struck by lightning while holding a metal sword in a storm. That the game has only been shown so far on the Wii U fills me with nothing but confidence for both versions of the game, as it is already insanely polished for how long we still have to go before release. Things can only improve from here, and I can't wait to find out more, including how the NX version differs.
#2- Persona 5
Persona 5 had a tragically small presence at this year's show. Multiple years in a row now, Sony fails to realize just how potent of an exclusive they have in the form of Atlus' mega RPG franchise. At least Atlus does and, with nearly 10 minutes of new gameplay footage, we have a more substantial idea of P5's new mechanics than ever before.
P5 returns to the polished turn-based combat of its predecessors, complete with the celebrated 1-More system which rewards tactical thinking with extra turns. It adds a host of interesting new wrinkles on top of that solid foundation, however. The "Baton Touch" system lets you pass a character's turn onto another, and gives that new member a stat boost in the process. This is especially interesting because it puts far more tactical control in the player's hands, letting them decide who they want to use, and when, to best exploit enemy weaknesses and take advantage of the 1-More system.
P5 also allows players to "Hold Up" weakened enemies, which sees the return of the Demon Negotiation system from the early Persona titles and recent mainline entries like Shin Megami Tensei IV on 3DS. In what's quickly becoming a theme, this puts the acquisition of new Personas directly in the player's hands, eliminating the sense of luck that dominated obtaining new Personas in P3 and P4. Additionally, players now have more choices than ever before in how they approach combat, with dungeon design giving players access to cover and stealth options that allow them to sneak up on enemies and initiate battles on their own terms with a ridiculously stylish animation.
It's this renewed focus on player choice that makes P5 so exciting. P3 and P4 made waves with their Social Link systems, which allowed players to navigate complex interpersonal relationships and choose exactly how to spend each in-game day. P5 brings this focus to the forefront by injecting choice into every aspect of the game design. When combined with how compelling its narrative and characters are sure to be, and how lavish and impossibly stylish its aesthetic is, it's almost unthinkable to believe that there will be a better RPG in the next decade than Persona 5.
#1- God of War
I count the core God of War trilogy among the greatest games ever made, and would gladly make an argument for any or all of them in The Vault. Those, along with their contributions to indie greats such as Journey and The Unfinished Swan, has cemented Sony's Santa Monica Studio as one of my favorite developers.
All that said, their near-spotless reputation was tarnished a bit with 2013's God of War: Ascension. Where do you go after your iconic-yet-one-note protagonist annihilates the entire Greek pantheon and brings about a permanent change to the state of the world itself? The team's answer at the time was to take things backwards, giving us a THIRD prequel to join Ready At Dawn's PSP titles in expanding upon Kratos' increasingly thin backstory. They also gave us a decent, but ultimately tacked on multiplayer mode.
Yes, Kratos as a character and "God of War" as a concept were both tired, thoroughly exhausted and stretched past the limits of what made them intriguing to begin with. When rumblings of a new God of War surfaced, I'll admit to some apathy. I did not want a repeat of Ascension, understandably. When it was announced that Cory Barlog, the director of God of War II who left to work at Crystal Dynamics on the excellent Rise of the Tomb Raider, was returning to head up the project, I was excited.
Rightly so, it turns out. Cory and the rest of the team clearly understand that Kratos and the the entire "God of War" concept needed to evolve, or die. What we saw at E3 was incredible, an emotionally resonant take on a broken man whose life has been filled with mistakes, now doing his best to not inflict them on his son. The entire game is about fatherhood, about change, about Kratos and his son forging a bond. To paraphrase Cory, it's the story of Kratos teaching his son how to be a god, while his son teaches him how to be human. It's touching in a way the series has never been, and the hints at more open-ended exploration shown in the demo promise great things for the future.
Ultimately, no one game has me more excited about the medium's future than Santa Monica's new God of War. Though it is likely years away, I'll gladly wait if it means its talented team can realize its potential.