Another E3 has come and gone, leaving our brains swimming in endorphins, our eyes dried out and reddened from staring at screens, and jaws glued to the floor. With so many awesome announcements, trailers, playable demos, and incredible technology on display, it felt a little bit like Christmas had come early. Yet, now that the conference has come to a close, it’s up to us to complete a seemingly impossible task: picking the best of the best from what we saw on the show floor. After much hand-wringing and painstaking deliberation though, we can quite literally tell you who won E3.
The awards are split into two distinct categories, Editor’s Choice and Best in Show. Our Editor’s Choice seal of approval marks the most innovative, exciting, entertaining, and downright fun titles that we saw at E3. However, for that one title that rose above the competition to stand on its own, we have a the equivalent of a gold medal, a high five, and rolling around in a room full of puppies: our Best in Show award. Many will enter, few will leave. These are the champions of the Thunderdome known as E3 as selected by gaming editor Malik Forte, myself, and our editorial team.
Star Wars: Battlefront
Dan: There are few things happening in 2015 that are more exciting to me than the impending arrival of Star Wars: Battlefront. Since Battlefront II‘s release in 2005, Star Wars fans have be champing at the bit for a sequel, and come November 17 their wish will be granted. Now, it may not be precisely the Battlefront that you remember (as I outlined in my extensive hands-on impressions), but it is a tremendously successful blend of classic gameplay elements and necessary modernizations.
To say that Battlefront is simply Battlefield with Star Wars skins is both ignorant and downright false. The influences of Battlefield can be felt, but the game stands on its own as one of the most compelling new shooters. Under DICE’s stewardship, Battlefront has created a truly next-gen Star Wars experience that blends the realism of modern shooters with just enough arcade-y touches to make you feel the thrill of stepping into the greatest battles of the galaxy far, far away. Precise controls, eye-popping graphics, excellent level design, and supremely addictive gameplay makes this a worthy successor to the Battlefront mantle. If this early hands-on experience is indicative of the final product, this is a must-buy for fans of competitive multiplayer shooters and Star Wars alike.
Malik: Not to bring back bad memories, but I personally am still feeling the sting of Star Wars: 1313 being cancelled some time ago– hence my infinite craving for a Star Wars experience that pushes the boundaries of today’s video game hardware. DICE’s rendition of Star Wars: Battlefront was a pleasant look at what the future of Star Wars games hold. The piercing zing of blaster rounds shooting through my eardrums as an AT-AT rumbled the ground I was trotting on was indicative of the immersion to be expected with Star Wars games moving forward.
It also helped that the first match I ever played on the game came down to the very last second, with an X-Wing suicide crashing into an AT-AT to win the game. I can only imagine how much more fun this game is when you throw the heroes and villains into the mix, something we did not have the luxury of experiencing at E3. Either way, judging by what I did get an opportunity to play, Star Wars fans, old Battlefront players and Battlefield die-hards alike will enjoy what DICE has done at the helm of the series.
Halo 5: Guardians
Dan: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Halo franchise has been such a complete, nearly perfect experience for so long that it almost became boring. Its challenging campaign mode, endlessly replayable multiplayer, and vast universe have been a mainstay of the modern gaming landscape since Halo: Combat Evolved burst onto the scene in 2001. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been without its fair share of changes and innovations. With Halo 4, 343 Industries took over the vaunted franchise, and that is where they began laying the groundwork for their most ambitious undertaking to date: Halo 5: Guardians.
With Halo 5, 343 Industries is both expanding and unifying the expansive lore that has stretched across multiple games, a digital series, comics, and multiple tie-in novels. This time around, Master Chief and his Spartans are on the run–why exactly remains unknown. Players will also take control of Fireteam Osiris, led by Nightfall‘s Jameson Locke, as they track down the rogue super soldiers. It all has the sense of being the Civil War of the Halo franchise, which is a much more exciting premise than Master Chief single-handedly overcoming a monolithic evil.
More exciting than that though is the addition of Warzones, a new 24-player multiplayer mode that brings massive skirmishes to the online arena. With A.I. combatants fighting alongside you, the potential for mid-game boss monsters, and an in-game reward system (a la Titanfall‘s burn cards), Warzones looks to add an exciting new dimension to one of the cleanest multiplayer experiences around. Don’t worry, Halo purists, there will be 20 maps included at launch, with 15 more coming in the first 8 months–entirely for free. And for those of you who prefer a more traditional experience, they have kept that intact and are fine-tuning it for tournament-level competitive play. In short, there’s never been a better time to climb back in to the Spartan armor.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Malik: You can’t speak about PlayStation first-party offerings without mentioning Guerrilla Games and their work with the Killzone franchise. The series has been known to push the envelope graphically, delivering some of PlayStation’s most visually astounding titles since it first surfaced on the PlayStation 2. But given that first-person shooters were the fad during the last generation of gaming, the studio had been locked down as Sony’s go-to FPS studio. We even saw remnants of open-world gameplay in Killzone: Shadow Fall, which lead me to believe that Guerrilla Games has been ready to move on to something new for quite some time. If this year’s E3 taught us anything, it’s that we still have yet to see the best that the European studio has to offer.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is Guerrilla Games’ true coming out party. It’s an immersive, seamless, open-world action-RPG that’s free of load screens and filled with lush environments that players will be able to explore with the immensely agile Aloy. The game from a conceptual standpoint is very interesting also–taking place in the “post-post-apocalypse” after a civilization of machines have colonized a good portion of the earth, sending humans back to tribal living, and allowing nature to reclaim most of the remaining sections of the globe. Not to discredit the stellar work done on the Killzone IP, but a break way from the X and Y axes is the freedom I’ve been wanting Guerrilla Games to enjoy since 2009, and Horizon: Zero Dawn will be the first game that fully displays the extent of the studio’s brilliance in game development.
Dan: Creating an original IP in today’s media landscape always feels like a victory in and of itself. Creating one that looks as droolworthy as Horizon: Zero Dawn is damn near impossible. Guerrilla Games is leaving the Killzone franchise behind for the greener pastures of Horizon: Zero Dawn, an action RPG that puts you in control of a bow-wielding heroine who stalks across a cruel, unforgiving landscape. Except this isn’t your grandma’s bow and arrow; this is an epic composite bow with arrows that can explode, electrocute, and tether their targets. And considering that your targets include biomechanical dinosaurs that fill up the sky, this is especially exhilarating.
Sword Coast Legends
Dan: Playing Dungeons & Dragons is a singular pleasure in which you, your friends, and an unhealthy amount of snacks create sweeping sagas of swordplay and sorcery with little more than pen, paper, and polyhedral dice. But as much fun as it is, D&D can be a bit clunky to play with its reams of rules, sometimes esoteric game mechanics, and the necessity of coordinating everyone’s schedules to get them in the same place for 4-5 hours. Sword Coast Legends aims to fix all of that by offering the most comprehensive and engaging digital version of the D&D experience yet.
In the grand tradition of games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, Sword Coast Legends is an isometric real-time role-playing game that puts players into a virtual D&D campaign. Yet where this game differs from its predecessors is in its robust dungeon master (DM) toolkit, which facilitates virtual campaign creation like nothing we’ve seen to date. From chests filled with epic loot to encounters with malevolent mindflayers to creating branching, twisting storylines, the creation tool allows prospective DMs and storytellers to create complex missions with event triggers, trap-filled dungeons, and memorable NPCs with the click of a button. In the live demo that I saw, the tools seemed staggeringly deep, the kind of thing in which one could get lost for hours on end. As any DM worth their salt will tell you though, that’s part of the fun.
When we finally hopped into our newly created campaign, I took control of a dwarven fighter as we explored a seriously creepy, cobweb-filled complex that was home to cultists who worshipped a demonic spider queen. As we ventured deeper into that den of iniquity, we discovered booby traps galore, roving bands of monsters with murder on their minds, and eventually a gigantic demonic spider who nearly killed me with its venomous bite. Occasionally, we would see a pale will-o-the-wisp floating past us, which we learned was the dungeon master who was monitoring our progress and adjusting the encounters in real time–much like in a real D&D session. That was when I realized that we weren’t just playing through a game like Neverwinter Nights (which is fun it its own way); rather, we were entering into an undiscovered country where the only limits were the DM’s imagination (and how well we could manage our healing potions).
Malik: The end of the long road that dates back to The Division‘s 2013 reveal has finally reached our field of view. There are still many questions that need to be answered about this game, but we at least are able to leave this years E3 knowing that The Division is proving to be just as ambitious as it was when first unveiled, which is more than what can be said about other Ubisoft titles (see: Watch Dogs). Turns out that the persistence that Ubisoft Massive was referring to when calling their game a “persistent online shooter” was in reference to the game’s many RPG elements. You will lose hours in The Division attempting to become the most formidable agent as battling, looting, and gaining experience will play a key role in your progression in the game.
New York City is your playground. It’s your safe haven. Your battleground. You and your unit of friends can traverse the streets of Manhattan free of load screen intrusions, moving from cooperative areas into the PvP “dark zone” areas by simply climbing into them. While in the game’s PvP areas, you can decide whether or not you want to work alongside the other human controlled players, or “go rogue”, and kill them all so that you may take any available loot for yourself. So many betrayals will happen on this game, so you have to wonder–will you be the betrayer or the betrayed. You have until March 8, 2016 to work that out with your conscious.
Dan: Is it a shooter? Is it an RPG? Is it a post-apocalyptic Tom Clancy game? The answer to all of these is yes. The Division is all of these things exceedingly well, but where it truly triumphs is in how beautifully it blends all of its gameplay elements and influences together. A seamless open-world, The Division has no load screens or wait times in its vast expanses; only the prospect of exploration, epic loot, and bloody showdowns with bandits, soldiers, and other player characters.
During our developer-led playthrough, my squad came upon an evacuation zone where we could take our contaminated loot to get it cleaned and laundered for use. However, upon our arrival we discovered two other squadrons closing in on our location. Naturally, my baser instincts kicked in and I threw down a defense turret on top of a nearby police car, took cover behind a low wall, and unleashed hell on them. What followed was a frantic, frenetic, three-way firefight that saw a number of fatalities, shocking reversals, and close calls. Ultimately, our opponents managed to load their loot into the evac chopper, but I took my sweet revenge by tossing a grenade at their feet.
After it exploded, I took a moment to marvel at both the intuitive gameplay and the majorly gorgeous graphics. Snow fell down around us and as I gazed up at a skyscraper, a bullet passed through my chest incapacitating my character. But I wasn’t even mad; I just wanted to respawn and play it all over again.
Malik: You may have heard me state before that Cuphead cuts out the fluff of stage progression and throws you straight into boss battles– most of which seem impossible to overcome. It’s that Mega Man-like difficulty that makes this game so hard to walk away from. Winning in Cuphead feels so gratifying! The thrill of defeating a boss in this game will coerce you into taking the time to learn the ins and outs of each enemy. Also, the gorgeous 1930’s cartoon art-style makes the game’s difficulty much more bearable, and is yet another reason why Cuphead is a definite must play for Xbox One owners.
Dan: What happens when you take 1930s-era cartoon iconography, challenging co-op gameplay, and a score that would make Fallout 4‘s music supervisor green with envy? You get Cuphead, an indie title from Canadian brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. The game puts you in control of two goofy-looking characters with literal cups for heads as they fight their way through a series of big bad bosses in order to repay a debt to the devil. With a look and a feel that reminds me of classic titles like Castle of Illusion, Cuphead is one of the best-looking games I have seen in a long, long time.
Dan: I haven’t purchased a new FIFA game since 2008. That isn’t because I don’t love the franchise; I do. And this isn’t to say that I haven’t played the subsequent games; I have. It is simply because the core experience of FIFA has largely remained the same since it hit PlayStation 3/Xbox 360. Now, however, with FIFA 16, Electronic Arts is delivering what is quite literally a gamechanger: playable womens’ teams. While disheartening that it has taken this long to see women included in a FIFA game, the prospect of playing as Megan Rapinoe, slide tackling someone, and driving the ball down the field for a golden-booted goal is enough to get me to shell out 60 more dollars.
Matters of gender notwithstanding, this year’s FIFA looks to finally be making full use of the PS4 and Xbox One’s graphical capabilities. With improved player control, in-game physics, and a robust online infrastructure, FIFA 16 looks like it may be the best iteration of the franchise yet. Considering the amount of hours I’ll likely be spending playing it (and the amount of expletives I’ll be shouting upon receiving a totally unwarranted red card), that is music to my ears.
Malik: It’s about damn time, EA! I’m rather excited about the inclusion of women’s teams in FIFA 16–something that was a long time coming given the popularity of women’s fútbol. But what’s more impressive outside of this head-turning addition is the fact that FIFA 16 actually feels like an gigantic advancement from the previous years’ installments. This is an accomplishment for any annual sports title. Also, EA Sports’ refined Ignite engine gets increasingly better looking with every sports title they make, and FIFA 16 is putting these improvements on display for our gaming pleasure. Can’t wait to light up the nets with Alex Morgan this holiday, baby!
Malik: When you have vehicular combat reminiscent of classic car brawler titles like Twisted Metal, and hand-to-hand combat similar to that of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, not much needs to be said to make a case for whether your game should be played or not. Mad Max is an open-world experience brought to you by the makers of the Just Cause series, which means there is sure to be loads of explosions, hilarious rag doll physics, and of course, over-the-top grappling hook action! The grappling hook that’s used in Mad Max is attached to your car, the Magnum Opus, which you can upgrade and tool around with until it is to your liking. It pretty much feels like a co-op game, with your car being the supporting character (or main depending on how you decide to distribute skill points).
Speaking of cars, the Wasteland feels just as authentic as depicted in the cinema, with the constant threat of marauders in vehicles attacking you at any moment. This makes you value your car even more, because stepping outside of it can almost always guarantee becoming a road pancake. All of the comparisons to Fallout and Shadow of Mordor are lofty indeed, but you better believe that Mad Max holds up quite well as its own game. Keep an eye out for this one when it hits store shelves in September.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Dan: One of the most pleasant surprises of 2013 was Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider reboot, which brought Lara Croft back to her roots. Rebuilt from the ground up, the game focused on Lara’s transformation from scared but capable castaway into a hardened, savvy survivor. The crucible for her metamorphosis was a mysterious island where the only thing more dangerous than the wildlife were the people lurking on it. Oh, and the supernatural monsters serving an ancient power the likes of which was never meant to be accessed by man, but that’s neither here nor there. More importantly, it was one of our top 10 games of that year.
With Rise of the Tomb Raider, though, it seems like we’ll be taking that formula and kicking things up to eleven. (Whether this extends to the first game’s terrifying variety of brutal death animations remains to be seen.) If this can be the Uncharted 2 of the Tomb Raider series, then this could be Lara Croft’s greatest coup yet. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, not only is that possible, but it’s looking likelier and likelier with each new look we get at the Xbox One timed exclusive.
Malik: Need a reason to go out and buy an Xbox One this holiday? Crystal Dynamics has one for ya! The second wing of Lara Croft’s rebooted legacy continues right where the first game left off–with Lara Croft thirsting for more death-defying adventure. Rise of the Tomb Raider takes us to the icy cold mountains of Siberia, where Lara travels to in search of the an ancient city called Kitezh. In an effort to uncover the mysteries that Yamatai posed in the last game, Croft must go toe to toe with a shady organization known as Trinity, in order to get answers for the incident that claimed the lives of some of her friends.
All of our favorite elements from the previous game, like hunting and open-world roaming, will be back in play. You’ll also get to go toe-to-paw with giant bears, because Lara Croft already showed she’s more OP than Liam Neeson’s character in The Grey during her previous outing. No word on if you’ll get a Siberian Husky companion to tag along for the adventures. The definitive edition of Tomb Raider that released on the PS4 and Xbox One showed that Crystal Dynamics is more than willing to utilize the hardware at their disposal, and they are sparing no expense in upping the ante aesthetically with Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The Last Guardian
Malik: I’m still rubbing my eyes over the fact that it’s real. I joked about it and even stated that I expected to see the game in countless prediction segments, but I didn’t expect that we’d actually be graced with its presence. The spiritual successor to the Ico series is a charming story about a boy and his giant furry creature, set in an empty world full of beauty and mystery. There is sure to be plenty of platforming, puzzle-solving, and tear-inducing moments on the way when we finally get our hands on this.
The swell part about The Last Guardian and its showing at this year’s E3 is that even 8 years after being originally revealed, the concept of the game still feels like a refreshing escape for what we’re use to seeing. I doubt you’ll hear many complaints of the game being “dated” or “out too late”– everything about The Last Guardian screams “timeless.” 2016 is going to be one hell of a year for PlayStation 4 owners.
Dan: Last year during a meetup at E3 a Sony employee winkingly told me not to count out The Last Guardian just yet. It seemed too good to be true, but I chose to be optimistic about the long-dormant title’s prospects. Even knowing that little tidbit of information wasn’t enough to prepare me for the stunned wonderment and subsequent outpouring of joy that came when Sony kicked off it’s press conference by revealing The Last Guardian. Let me repeat that: they started their presser by revealing The Last Guardian.
It was a bombshell of an announcement that they backed up with an alternately adorable gameplay demo. With an aesthetic that evokes Guillermo Del Toro and Studio Ghibli and gameplay that looks beautiful in its simplicity yet compelling in its complexity, The Last Guardian made me put down my smartphone and my laptop and just gaze in awe. Though the only release date we got was “2016,” what we saw was promising enough to cement this as one of the most impressive titles on display at E3.
And real talk, one of them–either that boy or that puppygriffin–is definitely going to die. It will be tragic. It will be an emotional punch to the junk. But it will be magnificent.
Best in Show
Malik: It was a tough decision, but after hours of game playing and deliberation, we’ve decided that Fallout 4 was the best in show at E3 this year. Why, you ask? All hype-train locomotion aside, Fallout 4 is taking everything we loved about the previous installments, and amplifying it in every way possible. There’s so much more to do in Fallout 4, and they’re even bringing PC mods to the Xbox One version of the game. The scale of Fallout 4 is going to keep folks in front of their televisions and monitors for most of the holiday season.
Folks complained about the visuals when the game was first unveiled a couple of weeks back, with some expressing disappointment in the game’s engine being an updated version of the engine that ran Skyrim. But E3’s showing of the game boasted nice visuals with great lighting, crisp environmental detail, and sleek character models. Not that Fallout 4‘s visuals are going to be the main sale for the game, but they’re most definitely nothing to sneeze at. Regardless, it’s impressive that they were able to reach such a high level of graphical allure, given the scale of the game.
But graphics have never been the soul reason we’ve played Fallout games. It’s always been about the stories and the environment, which Fallout 4 seems to be excelling in from a conceptual standpoint. The intricacies of the character builder from the games opening, the potential narratives that can be told in the city of Boston, and the fact that we’re getting to start the game outside of the vault and before the nuclear holocaust should prove to be enticing for any Fallout fan.
Bethesda tacked on about 20+ extra hours of gameplay with their new crafting system. Players can construct entire colonies on the surface, and host a population within their colony in a Negan-esque manner. There’s a bit of a tower defense element to this, however, and you will need to make sure to fortify your stronghold against roaming bandits who pass through and decide they want your luxurious space for themselves. You’ll need different parts to build different structures, all of which can be picked up while exploring the ruins of the surface. This gives more meaning to the looting system when you’re ransacking abandoned buildings throughout Boston. Also, the weapons have a robust amount of customization options, with over 50 base weapons and over 700 weapon combinations.
There is so much more that can be said about Fallout 4 and this is without having played the full game. I’ll save the rest of my remarks for when I get my hands on a retail copy, but until then, I highly suggest marking November 10, 2015 down on your calendars. I’ll see you on the surface of post-nuclear Boston!
Dan: There were many highlights at E3 2015, but there was only one title that made me pump my fist in the air and shout, “YES!” That game was Fallout 4. (In the interest of full disclosure, when they announced Final Fantasy VII Remake, I shouted, “No! NO WAY!”) Fallout 4 was a standout from word one, but Bethesda didn’t stop rest on its laurels for the long-awaited sequel to its fan-favorite franchise. Bethesda kept raising the stakes, introducing unparalleled customization options, a robust system that lets you create entire communities, and an overhauled version of signature series mechanics. With its crisp graphics, wicked sense of humor, and most importantly, its sense of evolution, Fallout 4 looks to be one of the greatest games of 2015 and a potential high-water mark for the franchise.
The fact that it’s set in my hometown of Boston helps too; I can’t wait to explore the shantytown surrounding Fenway Park.
What were your favorite titles of E3? What do you think of our top picks? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Additional reporting by Malik Forte.