We came, we played, we conquered…then we passed out for approximately 72 hours from sheer exhaustion because E3 really takes it out of you. With a plethora of amazing announcements, next-gen technology, and playable demos on hand, there were plenty of reasons to be excited about the next year in video games at this year’s E3 Expo. However, now that E3 2016 has come and gone, we find ourselves with a difficult task: sorting through the sprawling array of video games showcased at this year’s show to pick the best of the best from what we saw on the show floor. After many hours of careful deliberation, we winnowed down the list to a handful of titles that excited us more than anything else we saw at the show.
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, energizing, and genuinely fun titles that we saw at E3. However, for that one game that rose above the competition to stand on its own, we have a the equivalent of a high five wrapped in bacon: our Best in Show award. In a year with many very impressive entries, these are the games worthy of additional accolade as selected by our editorial team.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
In the world of South Park, nothing is sacred. The satirical animated series has skewered everything from Saddam Hussein to Kanye West to World of Warcraft and beyond. So it should come as no surprise that in South Park: The Fractured But Whole, takes on the most dominant force in today’s pop cultural landscape: superhero movies. The Fractured But Whole picks up immediately where The Stick of Truth left off, refining the addictive RPG mechanics of the original to create a delightfully silly takedown of the spandex-clad cinematic universe craze. With an improved battle system, more character classes, a brand new crafting system, and an incredibly interactive environment, this game is shaping up to be the best way to immerse yourself in the weird, wild world of South Park yet.
On October 21, say goodbye to the last vestiges of free time you have. Because when Civilization VI finally comes out, it is going to become your sole obsession, dominating your every waking thought and leaving you in a semipermanent fugue state full of visions of Teddy Roosevelt threatening you with his big stick diplomacy. The reigning king of 4X turn-based strategy isn’t sitting pretty on its throne, though. The developers over at Firaxis Games are finding new ways to evolve the gameplay, and the results are staggeringly fun. Chief among these improvements is the notion of unstacking cities, which forces you to strategically construct improvements that were formerly housed within your city in districts surrounding the city center. Not only does it give a more immersive sense of empire-building, but it adds a new dimension of planning and plotting to the game, giving it a shot of intellectual adrenaline that I didn’t realize it was missing until I spent sixty turns playing the game during a hands-on session. And when those sixty turns came to an end, I found myself endlessly, breathlessly uttering three words over and over again: “One more turn…”
When Gone Home suddenly appeared on the Steam Store in August 2013, it felt like a jolt of electricity surging through the gaming community. This mysterious little adventure game placed players in a seemingly empty house in the Pacific Northwest and gave you little instruction other than to find out where your family was. The sense of wonder, exploration, and existential dread that pervaded the game made it one of the most surprising and joyously fun gaming experiences of that year. (It came in at #4 on our list of Best Games of 2013.) Now, Fullbright is taking their talents to space with Tacoma, their follow-up to Gone Home in which players must investigate an abandoned lunar station to find out what happened to the ship’s crew and it’s onboard A.I.. Yet this isn’t simply Gone Home in space; it’s a creepy-cool journey that sends the player investigating the many mysteries of Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma. Despite its sci-fi setting, Tacoma is a deeply human story about how a crisis impacted six lives, allowing the player to be both voyeur and detective. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, and it’s something we can’t wait to play.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
What happens if a young Ygritte from Game of Thrones were forced to eke out a hardscrabble living by hunting down robotic dinosaurs and stripping them for parts? You’d get Horizon: Zero Dawn, that’s what. The free-roaming action-adventure title is a breath of fresh air in a sea of AAA titles dominated by franchises and sequels. The open-world game from Killzone devs Guerilla Games puts you in the boots of Aloy, a skilled young hunter who must uncover the many secrets this world has to offer, while contending with mechanized creatures and various tribal societies. With its innovative creature design, fast-paced combat, and robust crafting system, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a world in which we are eager to lose ourselves. After all, it’s not every day that my steampunk Jurassic Park-meets-Brave fan fiction comes to life in blistering 1080p.
Last year, we got our first taste of For Honor‘s medieval melee mayhem with a multiplayer demo that made us feel like we had stepped into Game of Thrones. This year, though, the emphasis was placed on the expansive single-player campaign, which weaves an interconnected narrative of three warring factions: the Knights, the Vikings, and the Samurai. You know, those mortal enemies? Well, at least they’re mortal enemies in this world. While at first glance the gameplay may seem to be a bit Dynasty Warriors-esque, with players hacking and slashing their way through various levels, there is more nuance at play. The combat system doesn’t reward mere button mashing; rather, it requires a mixture of skill, timing, and reflexes to master the game’s toughest fights. As a result, when your steel finds purchase on your hulking enemies, it feels immensely satisfying. The fact that soldiers are battling all around you and arrows are blotting out the sun above help, too. Long story short: this game look like it’ll deliver on the visceral thrill of medieval warfare showcased in things like “The Battle of the Bastards” — and that is something to be celebrated.
Batman: The Telltale Series
It was a good year for The Dark Knight at E3 as Gotham City’s defender of truth, justice, and mortally imperiled teen wards made an appearance in no fewer than three games. One of the best of the bunch, though, places equal emphasis on both the Batman and the man beneath the cowl, Bruce Wayne. In Telltale Games’ Batman: The Telltale Series, you play the dual role of Bat and Man, fighting crime by night and navigating the swirling eddys of politics, betrayal, and deceit that is doing business in Gotham City by day. Watching the first 30 minutes of the game revealed a product that feels tense, engrossing, and deeply satisfying. Telltale Games has built its reputation on rock-solid adventure games that force the players to make some truly horrific, morally ambiguous choices. Given that in this game what you do as Batman affects what you do as Bruce Wayne and vice versa, choosing the right path to ensure a brighter future for Gotham City may be our hardest decision to date. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Final Fantasy XV
At long last, Square Enix is letting players live their dream of role-playing a J-Rock band going on a sweet, cross-country road trip in a fancy new Mercedes convertible. At least that’s what Final Fantasy XV looks like from all outward appearances. But beneath its delightfully Japanese exterior lies the beating, pulsing heart of a JRPG for a new generation, one that will push the Final Fantasy franchise forward in a bold new direction. With a largely open world and a real-time battle system, Final Fantasy XV eschews tradition to create a new gaming experience for longtime fans. With a battle system that is easy to learn, but hard to master, and a staggering number of side quests, it’s easy to see how far down the rabbit hole we’ll go come September 30 when the game makes its way stateside. Considering how much fun I had just playing the freakin’ cooking mini-game, I can’t tell you how unreasonably excited I am to get my hands on the full version this fall.
God of War
Kratos is back, baby—and this time he’s got a killer beard and a potentially killer son to match! Sony started off their press conference with a thunderclap by having Bear McCreary and an orchestra provide live accompaniment to a live gameplay demo of the first new God of War game since 2013’s God of War: Ascension (and yes, I know they released God of War III: Remastered in 2015). The game looks more graphically stunning that Uncharted 4, which for my money is the current reigning champ of prettiest game in all the land. This time around, Sony Santa Monica Studios is giving us a much more emotional version of the action-adventure hero. This new God of War picks up with Kratos many years after he exacted his bloody vengeance on the Greek pantheon, now living with his son in the realm of Norse mythology. Now wielding a magically enhanced axe, Kratos must train his son in the art of survival and teach the boy to become an even better man that his father. With new challenges — both personal and martial — to overcome, this looks like a bold new chapter for the franchise.
Though the announcement leaked before E3 even began, Injustice 2 still packed a major punch at this year’s trade show. Warner Bros. Interactive and NetherRealm Studios’ follow-up 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us boasts familiar but greatly improved gameplay. Fans familiar with the original will recognize the delightfully bombastic super moves, bonecrunching combos, and highly interactive environments, but they will find plenty of new reasons to get excited for the superhero slugfest sequel too. In addition to adding new pugilists like Gorilla Grodd, Supergirl, and Atrocitus, there’s an RPG-like progression that allows players to level up characters and unlock gear that confers stat bonuses that can tip the scales of a fight. Just like the DC Universe in the comics, it seems that Injustice 2 is undergoing a spectacular rebirth, and we can’t wait to play the end result.
Best in Show
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Even though I played Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild last Tuesday, my face still hurts from smiling so much. From the moment the trailer made its debut on the Nintendo Treehouse Live stream to the moment I got to pick up the Wii U controller and explore this shiny, new version of Hyrule, I was on cloud 9. Whether you’re a longtime Zelda fan or a newcomer to the venerable series, Breath of the Wild is a genuine treat to play, combining addictive open-world exploration with airtight action-adventure mechanics. What makes this new version of Zelda so exciting isn’t just the gorgeous graphics or the nostalgia factor; rather it is the freedom afforded to the player. You can pretty much do anything you want in this game — including crafting weapons, surfing on your shield, cooking over an open fire, climbing practically any surface — and you can do it at your own pace. Hell, you can even immediately head to the game’s final boss if that’s your bag. But with the immense levels of love, care, and craftsmanship that Nintendo has poured into this game, it’d be a shame to end the adventure so soon. And something tells me that there’ll be no shortage of ways to lose yourself in this bold new vision of Hyrule come 2017.
And did I mention that you can SURF ON A FREAKIN’ SHIELD?
What were your favorite games of E3 2016? What are you most excited to play? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
For even more E3 awards, find out who won big on Nerdist News:
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment