The biggest (and strangest) moments of E3 2021

E3 2021 has wrapped, and it's safe to say that it was a fairly up and down show. The event was home to some major announcements presented side-by-side with segments that felt like they didn't really fit the typical E3 schedule. Despite the awkwardness that comes with transitioning a show that normally takes place in-person to an entirely online one, we still got some of the big announcements that E3 is known for.

The Good

I think it's clear that this wouldn't have been much of an E3 to write home about without Microsoft and Nintendo. I would also count Geoff Keighley's Summer Game Fest as a major contributor, even though it technically wasn't part of E3 proper. It was at those shows, however, that we got the biggest announcements.

As for the single biggest announcement of the entire event, that's a hard thing to call. Summer Game Fest, for instance, gave us not only our first look at Elden Ring gameplay footage but also gave us a release date for the game. Then you had Microsoft revealing things like Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite multiplayer, and even the release date for Bethesda's Starfield. Putting a cap on the show was Nintendo, which shared another teaser for Breath of the Wild 2 and told us that it's targeting a 2022 release date for the game.

These were the big, show-stopping reveals that people tune in to E3 specifically. There were plenty of other big and exciting reveals during all three shows, but if I had to pick the biggest of the event as a whole, I would count all of those I just listed. If my feet were to the fire and I had to pick one that was the show's biggest reveal, I would probably say it was Elden Ring.

The trailer we saw for Elden Ring was much more substantial than, say, the trailer for Breath of the Wild 2, and Souls fans have been waiting a very long time to hear more about it. People have been asking for more on Elden Ring for so long that Geoff Keighley even expressed relief that it was finally shown this year, proclaiming, "I hope you guys are happy – I'm free! Out of prison!" after the trailer debuted. We can only imagine how much that poor man has been hounded by rabid Dark Souls fans wanting to know more about Elden Ring over the past two years.

While Elden Ring definitely stole the show during Summer Game Fest's Kickoff Live, there were other exciting announcements during that show as well. For instance – and this is coming from someone who feels a little cool toward Borderlands these days – I think that Tiny Tina's Wonderlands sounds like an awesome concept for a Borderlands spin-off and I'm excited to see more.

I also think that Metal Slug Tactics looks great, but I've always been a sucker for a good tactics game. As SlashGear's resident man-child who never stopped thinking that dinosaurs are awesome, I'm tentatively excited for Jurassic World Evolution 2 as well. However, I'm hoping that Frontier goes a little deeper with the simulation mechanics this time around.

The Xbox and Bethesda Showcase was packed from start to finish with game announcements as well. I'm very excited for Forza Horizon 5, especially after confirmation that we'll be heading to Mexico in this installment. Not only is this American excited to explore Forza's take on a country like Mexico, but after entries in Australia and Great Britain, he's also ready to start driving on the right side of the road again.

Microsoft's conference also announced The Outer Worlds 2 in what was quite possibly the best trailer of E3 2021, and it gave us a big surprise when it revealed Diablo II Resurrected's release date. Redfall, which is an upcoming game from Arkane Austin, sounds promising, but of course, we need to see the game in action as well. The conference also brought word that Microsoft is making the Xbox Series X mini-fridge a reality, and I think that's wonderful.

Then we had Nintendo, which covered a lot of ground as well. As I already said, Breath of the Wild 2 was unquestionably the biggest part of the show, but Metroid Dread – which served as the Direct's opener – definitely gave it a run for its money. The new WarioWare game looks fantastic, and I know I'm not alone in saying that I'm super excited for the return of Advance Wars. It has been far too long since we heard from the Advance Wars series, so hopefully, these remakes that are on the way to Switch signal a larger revival for the franchise.

While the presentations from smaller publishers like Square Enix and Ubisoft were a little lighter than they usually are, there were still some exciting announcements to be found during those events. I'm very interested in hearing more about the so-called "pixel remasters" of the first six Final Fantasy games that were announced during Square Enix's show, while Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope was not only the highlight of Ubisoft's show for me but a highlight of E3 in general.

The Rest

I'll start this section by saying that it was clear what kind of impact the pandemic has had on most companies "attending" E3 this year. I'm not saying that as a knock against these developers and publishers – the pandemic has derailed life as we know it for 18 months and counting – but I think it's obvious that many of the publishers who would normally have a bunch of announcements ready to go for E3 didn't have that this year.

Many of these E3 conferences were focused on games that have already been announced – or even released – instead of entirely new games. We'll always see a mix of announcements for new and previously-revealed games at E3, but as far as major publishers like Ubisoft and Square Enix are concerned, it felt like the balance tipped more to the side of games that we already knew about.

Some publishers filled their time with panels and discussions, giving those in the industry the chance to talk about certain issues or developers a chance to talk about their games in further depth. Koch Media, which held its first E3 conference this year, didn't have much gameplay footage on tap for its show. Instead, a lot of its show comprised interviews where developers talked about their games instead of showing them off.

Take-Two did something similar for its own E3 slot; only it didn't talk about games at all. Instead, Take Two's event was a panel on diversity and inclusiveness in the games industry. I will admit that when Alan Lewis, who serves as Take-Two's VP of corporate communications and public affairs, hopped on screen before the panel to deliver a statement on inclusivity, the cynic in me thought it was just another corporation giving mouth service to inclusivity and nothing more.

I ended up watching most of that panel, and the people who participated in it had a lot of good things to say about diversity within the games industry. I think it was a necessary discussion, and the fact that it happened at E3 got it in front of many people who wouldn't have otherwise tuned in. For what it's worth, I also find developer interviews fascinating (when they're done well, at least), so I wasn't really bothered by the fact that there were more of them than usual this year.

Do they feel like good fits for a show like E3? I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder, but it does feel like many of these segments would have been a better fit for something like GDC, where panels and talks are more the main appeal. Am I opposed to seeing E3 offer a blend of reveal events and talks in the future? Definitely not, but I'm not going to blame anyone for saying that E3 2021 ultimately wasn't what they were expecting.

The question is whether or not we saw these discussions and interviews solely because publishers had nothing else to show and needed to fill the time in some way or if those publishers want to make discussions about industry issues a key focus moving forward. I suspect that when E3 is back to being an in-person event, these discussions will happen behind the scenes rather than being "main stage events," so to speak, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Do we really need E3 anymore?

After this show, the big question I have is what the ESA added to major reveal events that would have happened with or without an E3 anyway. If E3 had been canceled this year, I think it's pretty safe to assume that at least the major shows like the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase, the Nintendo Direct, and Summer Game Fest would have still happened and would have more or less been the same.

You could argue that E3 is more about giving attendees hands-on time with the announced games, but we're starting to see that change as well. Steam, for instance, is hosting Next Fest this week, with more demos for upcoming games than one could ever hope to play. Xbox, in a partnership with Summer Game Fest, is offering a slate of demos as well. These programs certainly draw in far more players than E3 ever would simply because they allow gamers to try out games from their own homes rather than requiring them to travel to California for a week.

The only thing that the ESA seemed to add to the past week was a bunch of filler content where hired streamers and content creators recapped announcements and talked about what they were looking forward to in events that were coming up. All of the presenters I saw on the main E3 stream were clearly talented hosts, but their segments amounted to nothing more than fluff meant to bridge the gap between major announcements.

We end up with this weird contradiction where E3 2021 became a really good argument for the insignificance of these massive shows in the modern-day. Back when the internet wasn't as robust as it is now and gamers got most of their news through magazines, something like E3 had a lot of value because it allowed journalists to travel to one place and get hands-on time with a bunch of games over the course of a week.

Now, though, with modern live streaming and the capability of platforms like the Xbox and Steam stores to host and deliver limited-time demos directly to gamers, I feel like the industry and gamers, in general, have outgrown E3. I'm not the only one who thinks that because Sony has been MIA at E3 for several years, opting to host its own shows as separate events instead. EA is doing the same, as it won't be hosting EA Play Live until July.

If everyone else followed Sony and EA's lead, we'd still get all the game reveals we normally get at E3, but it would happen on a much more relaxed schedule that plays out over the course of the summer rather than a packed schedule that happens over a single weekend. Each publisher could pick a time when all eyes would be on them instead of worrying about following right after major players like Nintendo or Microsoft. If they didn't have anything to reveal, they could opt not to host an event of their own rather than trying to find something to fill their allotted time.

I honestly wouldn't mind if in-person E3 never came back, but I doubt that's going to happen. Next year, E3 2022 will probably happen in person, and it'll be a bigger, more cohesive show than E3 2021 was. Maybe then I'll realize I was wrong, but following E3 2021, I'm left wondering what the point of it all is.