PC Gamer’s Best of E3 2021 Awards


Some of our Best of E3 2019 Awards are funny in hindsight. We said that Elden Ring was exciting, but didn't put it in the list because we'd only seen a "pretty cinematic." Meanwhile, we did include Cyberpunk 2077 (decent, but not everything we hoped for), Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 (delayed indefinitely, quality TBD), and Empire of Sin (we gave it a 49%). 

That's how it goes sometimes: E3 awards are expressions of curiosity and surprise, a way to put a spotlight on games that got our imaginations going. Things don't always turn out how we hope they will, but we did pick some bangers in 2019, most notably Doom Eternal.

In previous years, we focused our awards on E3 games we've actually been able to play. E3 2021 was all-digital, which meant fewer opportunities to play demos, so we didn't make that a criteria this year—which made it even harder to narrow down our favorites. We'll be posting about other games we thought looked cool throughout the next week, and there are many more exciting games in our list of all the games we saw at E3 2021 (Bethesda's Starfield among them). 

Halo Infinite

Who's making it? 343 Industries
Where did we see it? Xbox & Bethesda Showcase

Wes: I still don't know what to expect from Infinite's campaign, but it wasn't the focus at E3 this year. Microsoft showed Halo Infinite's multiplayer for the first time, and the whole time I watched its trailer I was waiting for something that looked or felt off. It never came. Infinite's multiplayer just looks fantastic, as Nat and I already discussed. I especially loved how prominently it featured CTF and Big Team Battle, my favorite multiplayer experiences. No game has done CTF better than Halo (except maybe Tribes), and as antiquated a mode as it may seem today, I think it's the perfect showcase for Halo multiplayer. It brings everything together: the strategy of offense and defense and controlling the map's power weapons, the mayhem of vehicle combat, the physicality of tossing a flag up to a teammate waiting at a shortcut. I'm confident in predicting I'll play more Halo Infinite multiplayer than any game in the series since 3.

Steven: Even though Halo's combat has evolved (get it?), Infinite's multiplayer really evoked Halo 3 for me too. I love that the levels look like actual battlegrounds and the chaos of it had me reeling with nostalgia for all the evenings I spent in Halo 3's multiplayer. I've never been much of a fan of the different abilities that started appearing in later Halo games, but enough time has passed that I'm willing to give them another shot.

James: I'm with you two on the multiplayer, but even those short shots of Infinite's campaign spaces has my mind running wild. It's not quite open world, but the levels are definitely massive and more freeform than any other Halo yet. It's a natural scaling of the ethos set in the first game. We're sandbox shooting again, but the sandbox just got way bigger. It's our duty as PC gamers to break it.

Gloomwood

Who's making it? Dillon Rogers, David Szymanski
Where did we see it? PC Gaming Show (bumped for Gabe Newell)

Rick: Every time I see new footage of Gloomwood, I’m more impressed by it. I was already sold on the premise, but new features like the wonderfully physical inventory system, conversations between guards, and more nuanced player animations highlight the care and attention New Blood is baking into the game.

Andy C: My favorite thing about the new trailer is the way it emphasizes that Gloomwood is not Thief. It looks like Thief, and sounds like it, and you can go at it like an OG taffer if you want, but if gunfire and explosions are more your thing, that's fine too. It comes across very strongly as an homage without an anchor: The Dark Project DNA is obvious, but Gloomwood isn't afraid to go off and do its own thing, too. Fantastic gameplay video, and my hopes for the game are higher than ever.

Steven: If you haven't played the Gloomwood pre-alpha demo on Steam, go do it. It's a wickedly fun and creepy game.

Forza Horizon 5

Who's making it? Playground Games
Where did we see it? Xbox & Bethesda Showcase

Jacob: I required absolutely zero convincing to play Forza Horizon 5 before the reveal, and yet everything from E3 wildly exceeded my expectations.

Tyler: I like seeing the shiny cars go fast. 

Malindy: Forza Horizon continues to wow pretty much everyone. I remember people going "whoah, this is nuts" at FH4, and somehow, FH5 just kicked that aside with something that looks even more… nuts. Nutsier?

Wes: I love Mexico as a location choice. It's not a location many people expected, I don't think (I saw a lot of cries for Japan), but what we saw looked beautiful, and I think it's a confident move. The quality of the game will sell people on the location, not the other way around.

James: The Horizon series is so malleable, barely resisting whatever way you want to play it. Here's my recipe for the last three games: paint a van, drive it off cliffs, take pictures. It is simultaneously a rich racing simulation and a stupid sandbox for dopes like me to smash cars around in, losing track of time. And now it's prettier than ever. I'm in.

Riders Republic

Who's making it? Ubisoft
Where did we see it? Ubisoft Forward

Chris: I'm on the hunt for a new hangout game, and doing extreme sports with my friends (while also being able to ride an ice cream cart bike around) seems like it has potential.

Tyler: It was one of the few E3 games I popped into the 'ol Discord to share, and someone posted it just before me to suggest the same thing: we should play this. Here's hoping the rocket wingsuit races will be as good as the janky ATV races we do in theHunter: Call of the Wild.

Morgan: The idea of bikes, paramotors, jetpacks, and snowboards all racing down the same hill reminded me of Diddy Kong Racing, except no hovercraft because nobody ever played as the hovercraft. I also hope it's like Burnout Paradise in that my buds and I can just wander around and start up a random challenge at will. "Hey, let's see who can do the most flips on the way to that mountain."

Fraser: I'm really excited to see how quickly I vomit while racing down a mountain on a bike in first-person. I'm guessing five minutes.

Tyler: Morgan, I thought I'd never hear those three words in that order again: "Diddy King Racing." E3 week is full of surprises.

Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl

Who's making it? GSC Game World
Where did we see it? Xbox & Bethesda Showcase

Chris: I know this was a heavily manicured gameplay trailer, but dang I'm still excited for Stalker 2, and at the same time finding myself in the strange position wondering if my PC will be able to run it well.

Morgan: Yea, you could smell the E3 demo stench all over that video, but it totally worked on me. Jankiness has kept me away from the other Stalker games despite knowing they should be my jam. Hopefully Stalker 2 is the start of a beautiful friendship. (Holy crap Chris you're right, there's no way I can run it.)

Rick: If GSC can deliver a seamless open world free of the jank that has always hindered the series, I'll be OK with that. But I hope the game brings something new to the Zone, and doesn’t simply repeat what we’ve seen before.

Malindy: It was a very good trailer, that's not always a given. I haven't played the first Stalker, and this seriously made me want to, if the game ends up batting as high as the trailer did, it'll put the games on the map for a lot of people.

Fraser: It's weird getting the warm and fuzzies from a trailer about exploring a haunted, radioactive disaster zone, but here I am, feeling all nostalgic and comforted by the fact that this definitely looks like Stalker, but with better teeth. 

Andy C: The jank is part of the experience, you guys! That said, I won't mind if Stalker 2 comes out a little more fully baked than Shadow of Chernobyl, which even I have to admit was probably more challenging than it should have been. But I think the trailer strikes the right tone, prioritizing the overall strangeness of the zone rather than gameplay specifics. It's got the right look, and at this point, with most of a year left before launch (if it makes the April 2022 release at all, which I'm not holding my breath for) and the buggy reputation of the original to overcome, that's the smart move.

Tyler: I'm with Andy: Embrace the jank. (Note: If you see any typos in articles I've written, that's jank.)

Battlefield 2042

Who's making it? DICE, DICE LA
Where did we see it? Xbox & Bethesda Showcase

Tyler: Maybe because it was technically announced before E3, I put Battlefield 2042 out of my mind. Now I'm doing that thing cartoon characters do when they shake off a daze and realize what they missed: 128-players! Levolution! Why did I make fun of EA for making up the word "levolution" back when Battlefield 4 was announced? What kind of aloof bastard was I in 2013 that I didn't think levels should 'olution? They obviously should. I love that there are tornadoes in Battlefield 1942, and people fighting at the foot of a launching rocket, when what they should be doing is running away from the launching rocket. The setting and premise (world bad, US and Russia fight) aren't that exciting but everything else looks fun as hell.

James: I'm going to climb that crane and snipe everyone, and no one can stop me. 

Tyler: You know what? That's your right as a No-Pat. (If you aren't up with the Battlefield 2042 lore lingo, No-Pat stands for Non-Patriated, a mercenary with no state. What I'm saying is that perhaps in the gritty world of 2042, there are no rules.)

Death Trash

Who's making it? Crafting Legends
Where did we see it? PC Gaming Show (among others)

Tyler: First of all, it's at least in the running for 'upcoming game with the best title.' 

Morgan: Right behind Wizard With A Gun.

Fraser: Shotgun-wielding punks, cosmic horrors, and all those gloomy but gorgeous pixels? My interest is piqued. 

Steven: Death Trash is a great example of how pixel art can still surprise and delight even though it's a classic (and arguably overused) look. I love how sketchy everything looks. It's a gnarly aesthetic. 

Andy C: The only thing that concerns me about Death Trash is the twin-stick shooter-style combat system. I'm not sure I have the coordination for that if things get really crunchy. That aside, super stoked for it.

Immortality

Who's making it? Sam Barlow/Half Mermaid
Where did we see it? Future Games Show

Rachel: Another Sam Barlow mystery? Sign me up. The trailer didn't show much, but I've been staring at the game's cryptic Steam page ever since it was pushed live over a year ago.

Wes: I love this premise already—it reminds me a bit of Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress. The story here will probably be nothing alike, but I'm immediately into any mystery about classic Hollywood. I can't imagine a much better premise for an FMV game, to boot.   

Tyler: It is a great idea, yeah. As I understand it, we'll be investigating three unreleased movies scene-by-scene to uncover what happened to their disappeared star, or what we think happened, at least. I'm making some assumptions there, but it follows from Barlow's previous games that it'll work something like that. It's my favorite premise of his so far. On one hand, it's presumably got the usual digital sleuthing rabbit hole to disappear down—the kind of a subreddits would obsess over—but can also explore film as a medium, or art in general, and I'm curious what Barlow and Amelia Gray (who co-wrote Telling Lies) do there. They've brought on two other writers, too: Allan Scott (Don't Look Now, Queen's Gambit) and Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart, Lost Highway).

Mechajammer

Who's making it? Whalenought Studios
Where did we see it? PC Gaming Show

Andy C: Mechajammer bangs all my gongs: Open-world RPG, isometric immersive sim, '80s action movies roots, retrowave soundtrack, it's like this thing was purpose-built for me. The demo currently available on Steam promising but too short to make any real judgment on, but between that and the E3 trailer, my hopes are high.

Tyler: Some games matter to me purely because I like the way they look. At the moment, Mechajammer's one of those. I kind of don't care about endless future syndicate wars, but I love that artists keep finding ways to make games that look cool in ways I never expected a game to look cool. Same goes for SacriFire (see below). I hope they're fun RPGs, but if not, I'll still appreciate them for looking sweet.

Sable

Who's making it? Shedworks
Where did we see it? Summer Game Fest 

Malindy: There's just something that gets me about Sable every time I see it. When I look at this game in motion, I think of freedom, and I can't wait to explore desert ruins or just cruise around on my glider.

Nat: I knew Sable was gonna be pretty. But after putting a bit of time into the demo, I wasn't prepared for how warm and cosy it'd feel, welcoming you into a family of nomads before sending you off out into the world. It's very Breath of the Wild, but in a way that feels so much more intimate and personal.

Steven: It's hard to find more to say about Sable without bordering on rambling but this has been the indie game I've been looking forward to for a few years now and with each day it draws closer I get a little more excited. It's just such a stunner.

Somerville

Who's making it? Jumpship
Where did we see it? Xbox and Bethesda Showcase

Malindy: I just want more of it, pronto. It seems like the good kind of gloomy (the one without jumpscares and ickiness), terribly atmospheric stuff, and I'm genuinely interested to see how close to Dino Patti's former stuff it'll play.

Rachel: I feel like Somerville is going to make me cry… that dog in the trailer had better survive until then end.

Nat: I never played Limbo, but Inside is an all-timer. I'm so excited to see how that style of moody platformer evolves when you're controlling not just one unfortunate kid, but a whole family (plus dog) trying to survive this wonderfully bleak world.

Andy C: Definitely here for Somerville. I can't claim to really (or even slightly) understand what the hell happened in Limbo or Inside, but I love their ambient bleakness, and even though Somerville is being made by a new studio the DNA is obviously still there, and I'm excited to see how it has evolved in what is effectively the third part of "Dino Patti's Weird-Ass Platformer Trilogy."

SacriFire

Who's making it? Pixelated Milk
Where did we see it? PC Gaming Show

Steven: There have been a lot of classic JRPG revivals lately (even though the genre is dead or anything), but SacriFire is one of my most anticipated because its inspirations are evident but not all-consuming. In talking with the developers, I could see how Vagrant Story influenced the combat but at the same time this isn't a game that is beholden to the past and developer Pixelated Milk seems very keen to sidestep the common complaints with most JRPGs. The story is going to be lean and there's no grinding or repetitive combat encounters, either. What I really like, though, is the art. It's just a very pretty game.

Wes: I'm not convinced that Sacrifire is much like Vagrant Story, but the pitch here is great, and so is the art. I am absolutely here for an era of lean 20-hour JRPGs, whether they're made in Japan or not.

Best of Show: Elden Ring

Who's making it? FromSoftware
Where did we see it? Summer Game Fest (aka 'not technically E3' aka 'Geoff Keighley gets out of jail')

Rick: A great big Dark Souls with a magical jumping horse and George RR Martin behind the keyboard, what's not to like?

Wes: Literally nothing, Rick. Nothing's not to like. Okay, I guess some people are disappointed it looks so much like Dark Souls, but I'm not worried. The aesthetic may not be a big departure, but we're talking about games that inspire years of analysis just of their flavor text; some small changes to Elden Ring's roleplaying systems and the way the open world affects progression will set Elden Ring apart from just feeling like a Dark Souls rehash. And seriously, no trailer at E3 contained the riches of this look at Elden Ring—the last minute or so was just one stunning boss design after another. The seven layer cake of trailers.

Steven: That's what excites me about Elden Ring the most. FromSoftware has done an incredible job imagining new horrors to fight over its last few games, but all those bosses have been bound by the same types of rules too and the archetypes are beginning to become more and more apparent. But because Elden Ring is a truly open-world game that has a horse (that you can definitely use in combat, if the trailer is any indication), I think that opens a whole new realm of possibilities when it comes to boss design. I'm excited to see what FromSoftware does with it.

James: It's Big Dark Souls, sure, but Elden Ring also represents the culmination of decades of dungeon-crawling on PC taking a new, more evolved form. Elden Ring basically reads like a Dark Souls sandbox game, with all of FromSoftware's learnings across combat, stealth, and level design dropped into a huge, dangerous open world. I love what happens to my brain in a Souls game, that moment when I sense a seemingly impossible task ahead and throw myself down the same corridor until it's not just possible, but routine. Now the hallway is a boundless swamp or a massive forest, and my means through are exponentially more varied. I think the biggest challenge in Elden Ring will be settling on a plan, and that's an exciting new feeling for a Souls game. 

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