My Top 10 of E3 2021: The Year That Just Shouldn’t Have

| | ,

By Thomas Wilde on June 21st, 2021


It was a frustrating year for E3. With the COVID production issues finally showing up in the release schedule, everything worth talking about has either been significantly delayed or arguably should’ve been. Even the games of 2021 that I’ve likedResident Evil Village, Guilty Gear Strive, Roguebook, Outriders—have frequently come off like they could’ve used some more time in the oven.

With that in mind, it probably would’ve been better if E3 itself had been pushed to 2022. For all the enthusiasm on display, the abiding theme of this year’s show was “just wait until next year,” when everything’s reopened, the production lines have been unkinked, and everyone who wants a next-generation console has had a chance to get one without paying 200% MSRP to an eBay bridge troll. E3 itself has been a show searching for a reason to exist for at least the last three years, but this time out, the existential crisis was hitting from two sides at once.

That doesn’t mean there was nothing at this year’s show, but it wasn’t the by-now-expected cavalcade of big reveals,secret projects, scrappy indies, and sleep-deprived insanity. It was just a few things we knew about beforehand, coupled with a few interesting reveals and a bumper crop of solid indies.

Personally, I’m doing my best here to avoid my typical E3 tradition of being extravagantly wrong. I usually fixate on some interesting indie, talk about it for a month, then discover in a year or two that the game is in fact a fascinating misfire. I gave No Straight Roads my Game of Show in 2019 and ended up having to walk that back pretty quick. I’m playing it safe this time.

In no particular order:

Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes

Eiyuden Chronicle, like Bloodstained before it, is a Kickstarted attempt to file the serial numbers off a franchise that Konami is inexplicably just sitting on. This time, Yoshitaka Murayama, original artist Junko Kawano, and Osamu Komuta are teaming up to bring back the look, feel, and gameplay of the first two Suikoden games in a brand-new franchise.

Suikoden is probably my favorite JRPG franchise; its stakes are toned down, its characters are interesting, and the base gimmick just works. Whenever I’m really trying to annoy a ’90s kid, I like to say that Suikoden II is a better game than the original Final Fantasy VII, which also has the benefit of being true.

While this could always be a misfire, particularly since Rabbit & Bear Studios is making an action-RPG companion game, Rising, at the same time, I’ll be following this one. It’s the Suikoden not-sequel I’ve wanted to see for over 20 years.

Back 4 Blood

I’m bleakly amused that everyone seems to have gotten sick of Valve’s procrastination at around the same time. Back 4 Blood being a WB Games joint does make me a little wary—the general air of desperation out of Time-Warner these days is pretty stifling—but even a spiritual follow-up to Left 4 Dead is more than I ever thought I’d get at this point.

Some people have aired a frustration with the predominance of snark-fueled co-op shooters at this year’s show. These people are fools. I’ve already started putting a team together for Back 4 Blood.

I generally prefer survival horror, but there’s always something to be said for getting together with a crew and shotgunning the zombie apocalypse right in its distended maw. Just give me some split-screen for couch co-op and I’ll be set for a year or two.


On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with also punching the vampire apocalypse.

I’ve got a lot of faith in Arkane at this point. Between Dishonored and the 2017 Prey, the studio’s pretty good at creating games that I can’t put down until I’ve gotten at least one ending. While Redfall seems at first glance to be outside of Arkane’s typical open-ended morality-play action-adventure comfort zone, there’s nothing wrong with broadening one’s horizons from time to time.

Again, however, I’m wary of getting too extravagant with my praise until I’ve seen more about the actual gameplay, and doubly so of getting invested in an online game that’s planned to hit the Xbox Game Pass on Day One. As we’ve just seen with Outriders, it’s a near-guaranteed recipe for the servers melting down on Redfall‘s launch weekend, unless Microsoft has a plan up its sleeve for that.

River City Girls 2

I came late to the original River City Girls. While it’s got an undeniably rough start, it eventually matures into the current-generation beat-’em-up I didn’t know I was looking for. If RCG2 just provides more of the same, with smoother edges and more playable characters, I’ll be both fine and dandy with a day-one purchase.

Also, you know what, I’m just going to say it: the theme song needs to be longer, if only for cardio reasons. I’d have the title track from RCG on my workout mix if it wasn’t less than a minute long.

Metroid Dread

Did anyone think that we’d ever see a mainline, 2.5D Metroid game out of Nintendo again without holding someone hostage? Dread has been more of a running joke than an actual possibility for almost 20 years, so seeing its reveal trailer at the Direct this week felt like the product of divine intervention.

Given the history of the franchise, I’m fully expecting something terrible to happen to Dread at launch. It’ll end up coming out on the same day as some juggernaut AAA shooter, it’ll ship with a bug that makes your Switch physically melt, or its ending will somehow be just as insulting as Other M; really, there’s no floor for Nintendo’s least fortunate tentpole franchise.

They’re great games, but disaster chases Metroid. If this ends up being the new start Samus has needed, it could mark a new era of actual respect for the series.

Twelve Minutes

I was sure this was vaporware until it showed up at this year’s Xbox show.

I don’t know what it is about the last few years that’s made everyone at once fall in love with time loops—Happy Death Day, Boss Level, Before I Fall, See You Yesterday—but a time loop plus a murder mystery, in a video game, with Willem Dafoe hopefully eating all the scenery he can reach sounds like a good time to me.

Plus, I’ve ended up having a lot of time for Annapurna Interactive lately. Between What Remains of Edith Finch, Donut County, and Sayonara Wild Hearts, someone at Annapurna seems to have a gift for picking usefully weird games.

The Outer Worlds 2

Like River City Girls, the original Outer Worlds was one of those games I’d managed to skip on its debut year, but once it appeared on the Game Pass, I ran out of excuses. You can make some criticisms of its overall tone and lack of replay value, but in the final analysis it’s a better cyberpunk game than Cyberpunk 2077 turned out to be.

That does make it farcical that Obsidian proceeded to get acquired by Microsoft, of all companies—Microsoft having anything to do with a story about oppressive corporations feels more like a promise than a narrative—but I have to give it up for the tongue-in-cheek trailer it released at the Xbox show. I can appreciate that the moment Obsidian got access to the ol’ Microsoft money tree, it immediately veered into parody. Now if it can only talk Phil Spencer into greenlighting an Alpha Protocol sequel…

A Plague Tale: Requiem

While I dinged 2019’s A Plague Tale: Innocence for being an obnoxious hours-long rescue mission, it really is the most fun I’ve ever had feeding people to demonic rats.

I’m a little surprised/disappointed to see that Requiem is a direct sequel, featuring an older Amicia and Hugo still dealing with a none-too-subtle metaphor for the Black Death, but half the value of Innocence was in its unusual setting.

Medieval France during the Hundred Years’ War turned out to be a surprisingly vital backdrop for a horror/adventure game, and Asobo Studio had the guts to make sure it ended on the down note it demanded. I’m interested in seeing just how gross and oppressive the rats can be on a second run.


Inside is still responsible for several of my biggest “what the hell did I just watch” moments in gaming. While Somerville doesn’t look like a total reversion to type—this is technically the product of a different studio, founded by one of the same creators—I’m up for another surreal puzzle/adventure game in the same mold.

It’s hard to say much more from what’s been revealed. It’s also likely that Somerville, like Inside and Limbo before it, is one of those games where you can’t discuss it at too much length without removing some of its impact. I do hope that the developers have had the foresight to let us pet that (probably doomed) dog, though.

Whatever the Hell it is That New Blood is Doing

I’m convinced that the only reason we don’t hear a lot about New Blood’s 2018 throwback shooter Dusk is because a lot of the people who played it are stuck on the Guardian boss fight. That’s the last boundary between you and some of the most surreal levels ever made for a twitch-reflexes FPS.

That’s most of what got me looking at New Blood’s E3 lineup, along with its “We Love You and Hate Money” tagline. At first, it looked like it had showed up for E3 with a simple highlights reel, showcasing Dusk, Amid Evil, Ultrakill, and a few more of its previous games.

As it turned out, New Blood was in full hating-money mode, as a full five games in that reel had yet to be released, announced, or even named. This includes another first-person shooter, a visual novel, an RPG in the style of the original Fallout, a top-down twin-stick shooter, a car combat game, and a virtual-reality version of Amid Evil.

Dave Oshry, New Blood’s CEO, spoke to PC Gamer on the subject, saying that all the games are in various stages of development at New Blood, with the proviso that some or all of the games might not actually ever be completed. (The visual novel is apparently in development under the working title Doki Doki Mortis Club, which… yeah.)

I’m giving New Blood a nod for Best of E3 based not on my hype for their imminent releases, but my appreciation for a stunt like this. E3 doesn’t really reward weirdness anymore, and hasn’t since they stopped stuffing all the indies, hardware startups, and weird Russian developers into Kentia Hall like the Island of Misfit Comicons, but New Blood brought that energy in style.


Review: Mighty Goose

Souls-like Boss Rush Eldest Souls Releases Next Month