Rating The E3 Conferences: How Did They Do?

by Sage Ashford

With E3 done and in the books, it’s time for everyone’s favorite part: figuring out who won. But that’s kind of a boring question since “who won” is generally going to come down to personal taste. People who like big games will likely lean in favor of Microsoft, while enthusiast fans might lean more in the direction of Nintendo. Instead, let’s talk about how each major E3 presentation did.

Before we do, a few ground rules are necessary. To begin with, I can only include the conferences I saw. I missed out on Guerilla Showcase 2 and the Devolver Digital show. Also, we’re not purely grading off what I found interesting at the conference, because that’s far too subjective. Instead, we’re discussing how well each show was paced, the variety of games presented, the number of majorly anticipated titles they had, and whether they managed to avoid repetition by having the same titles as other shows.

Summer Game Fest Kickoff Live:  Geoff Keighley‘s Summer Game Fest Kickoff Live was meant to be a prologue of sorts to E3, an opportunity for us to celebrate games while also getting some announcements at the same time. The highlights of this show were largely in the opening and ending segments. The show opened with a look at Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, a spin-off of the Borderlands brand. Unfortunately, that first look didn’t include gameplay, leaving most fans wondering what the game even feels like to play, let alone what this fantasy world looks like. The closing segment turned out to be a look at Elden Ring, making its return after appearing at E3 2019.

Ultimately, this conference is proof that people mostly only remember the beginning and the end of the show, because the middle was a lot of commercials. And yes, technically the entire point of E3 is that it’s a giant commercial, but it feels different announcing something new versus something that’s already out to remind you it exists. The Kickoff was filled with stuff like CoD Warzone Season 4, Chivalry 2, and live services showing off a bunch of crossovers like Rocket League‘s F9 crossover or Fall GuysNier: Automata tie-in or a SMITE Stranger Things crossover. It’s hard not to get the sense that a lot of these were here to help Keighley pay the bills — which, to be fair, is completely necessary on his end, even if it doesn’t make for an overall entertaining watch for the viewers at home.

Grade: All in all, this was a solid C+ conference that could’ve been shortened by 10-15 minutes to really keep viewer interest. Shout out to them including Monster Hunter Rise and Tales of Arise, two games I’ve been excited for, though.

Koch Primetime Show: Perhaps the most baffling E3 conference I’ve seen in my eight years watching expo presentations. Koch Primetime was Koch Media (also known as Embracer Group)’s attempt at a press conference, where they intended to show off games from their new Prime Matter publishing arm. With a dozen different titles available, this wasn’t a bad idea at all. Or, at least, it wouldn’t have been if they had shown some games.

E3 is an opportunity for any developer to show up and either make a name for themselves or embarrassingly fall flat on their face. Even never having heard of this studio, people were there because they wanted to see what games they might be highlight. And Prime Matter Games’ idea of getting fans’ attention was to show 6,000 people a two hour show consisting of nothing but interviews of developers no one had ever heard of, and showing the bare minimum amount of gameplay or even cinematic trailers. Developers were left to vaguely describe their games, which viewers had never heard of, in the hopes that anyone would care. The sad thing is that several of them sounded interesting based on screen shots and actual press releases, but that’s the issue — this was a blog post that somehow got turned into a two hour conference.

Grade: An easy F-, and not only the worst press conference this week, but the worst conference I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say I think the developers or the presenters did terribly — they did the best they could, but the higher-ups should never have put them in this position. #STREAMOVER.

Wholesome Gaming Direct: There’s a significant contingent of fans who insist that indie games are better and more creative than AAA titles, which aren’t able to take risks because their games have budgets on par with blockbuster films.   But the unfortunate reality is that indie games are a slave to what’s popular at the time as well, which is why there are so many rogue-likes, 2D Dark Souls clones, and endless Metroidvanias. It was easy to sit through certain presentations this past weekend and wonder where this so-called “originality” was at.

…. Wholesome Gaming Direct was very much the opposite of that. It featured games from creators around the world, giving us beautiful visual spectacles and unique stories that we don’t normally get to see. We Are OFK and Lake made their way into the Top 10 games I’m most excited to try, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were also games that didn’t necessary appeal to me, but still had standout concepts like Bird Problems, a game that’s literally a sitcom starring different kinds of birds, or Spirit Swap, which had absolutely gorgeous queer BIPOC designs. The preview didn’t catch me because I’m not a Match-3 fan, but the music and art was so gorgeous that I still might change my mind about the game.

Anyone who likes indie games should give this a watch. It’s a delightful reminder that games can be about more than simply interacting with the game world through killing.

Grade: A+. There were no expectations to disappoint, the conference was paced well, and I walked away with a ton of games I really wanted to see in the future. It didn’t feel like I’d seen these games anywhere else, or even could.

Ubisoft Forward: This is where people run into the problem of expectations versus prior knowledge. Certainly, there were fans who “expected” Assassin’s Creed to get a new entry or for Skull & Bones or Beyond Good and Evil 2 to make an appearance, but even the slightest bit of research would have negated that. Of course, not everyone watches E3 after having meticulously looked up what might be there versus what won’t be there or researched leaks and so on.

As someone who would’ve done that research even if it wasn’t my job, Ubisoft Forward was about as good as I could’ve expected it to be. They led things off by giving fans a new look at Rainbow Six: Extraction, which is meant to be their new story-based Rainbow Six title. Then they moved into Rocksmith, which dragged on for quite some time, but they managed to segue into more interesting things quickly enough.

That said, it’s obvious things were pretty threadbare over on their end, as they showed off a sizzle reel explaining the updates coming to their existing games, right down to titles like The Crew 2, which you’d think they would’ve stopped supporting by now. The highlights of this stream for me involved the Anton Castillo trailer for Far Cry 6 and the Riders Republic deep dive, which looks incredible. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope made its premiere, and it looks to be bigger and better than the original in every way. The show capped off with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, a game that was announced back in 2017 and looks to be worth the wait just from how gorgeous it is.

Grade: B-. Considering what they had available, this show was almost as good as it could’ve been. Both the Rocksmith and Rainbow Six segments of the show went on for way too long, but all-in-all, they had a nice variety of different titles that are worth looking into further.

Gearbox Software Showcase: Why was this a thing?  I’m struggling to remember anything they showed off aside from Randy Pitchford walking around on the set of the Borderlands movie talking about all the cool things he couldn’t show that were there. They couldn’t even show one of the actors who was in costume, so they blurred her out! Talking to Kevin Hart was neat, but outside of that, this whole thing was a waste of time.

Grade: D+. Nothing could be as bad as Koch Primetime, frankly. At least this was fairly short, but I would’ve rather not spent the time watching it.

Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase: It took three years, but Xbox finally threw the gauntlet down. I really thought this would be a disappointing performance as a list of titles that weren’t going to be there started to leak, combined with a bunch of games that were fairly new and wouldn’t be there anyway. Despite that, the recently unified companies did a ninety minute showcase with thirty-one titles — twenty-eight of which will available Day 1 on Game Pass. That’s an incredible sales pitch for people who are looking to invest in the Xbox eco-system.

Bethesda’s long-in-development Starfield was the lead, but it also felt like the developer would’ve rather not had it there, considering we didn’t get much playtime for it at all. Bethesda likely would’ve preferred a blow-out reveal in 2022, but Microsoft got them there for a teaser that doesn’t really help us understand what the game plays like just yet (Todd Howard assures everyone it’s “Skyrim in Space”).

There was a brief down point during a lengthy Battlefield 2042 trailer that really should have been it’s own reveal, but so many titles were new and either console launch exclusive or Day One Game Pass that it kept the energy up. The pacing of this show was incredible — few lengthy talk segments, just a bunch of awesome looking games. Microsoft also went out of their way to separate themselves from classic XBro connotations with everything from cutesy platformers to W-RPGs like The Outer Worlds 2 to Microsoft Flight Simulator. Even Forza Horizon 5 looked incredible from the graphics to the addition of a proper campaign mode.

Grade: A. What keeps this from being an A+ is the fact some of their biggest titles very clearly weren’t ready — Contraband and Redfall looked interesting from their cinematic trailers, but what do they play like? It’ll be another year before we know, apparently.

Square Enix Presents: Summer 2021: Oof. Every game premiered at this show currently has extremely high dislike bars.  Square did this to themselves though — there’s a mix of expectations not being set properly and just not understanding how to put their best foot forward.

Personally, Eidos Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the game of the show for me. As a superhero nerd, it’s something I’m excited to sink my teeth into. But the presentation spent way too much time on it for a company that’s not even thought of for it’s Western game division. They moved on to brief glimpses of upcoming remasters and their mobile titles before disappointing everyone by ending the show with Babylon’s Fall (which looks terrible) and Stranger of Paradise: A Final Fantasy Origin (which looks like a meme).

The thing is, Square has no shortage of exciting titles coming out in the next few years — Dragon Quest III Remake, Final Fantasy XVI, Dragon Quest XII, Forspoken, and Project Triangle Fantasy — and exactly none of them could make an appearance here because Square has deals with Nintendo and Sony, who would want to debut those trailers or gameplay at their own directs. In the meantime, they’re left with Western titles like Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda, which, even if they nail it, has at least another six months before people finally start to turn the corner on it. Their B-tier titles also, unfortunately, look mediocre at best; which resulted in fans considering this one of their worst conferences ever. Frankly, I’ve seen much worse than this from them in previous years, so I thought it was decent enough.

Grade: C+. It’s hard to dodge the fact that under my own rules, pacing is crucial. Spending 18 minutes on Guardians of the Galaxy works for me, but not for most of their audience. The Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster deserved much more time than it got, and they could definitely have spent a bit more time on Stranger of Paradise. If it looks like a mess and you aren’t confident in showing it … then wait? If you’re confident enough to put out a demo, though, you could’ve run us through more than a few minutes and done more than having the main character yell about chaos.

PC Gaming Show: This show managed to sneak a few interesting titles in, but the most entertaining part about it was the MST3K-ness of it all, with Day 9 and Frankie Ward hanging out with Mica Burton for something like ninety minutes. They had just over thirty games, but the problem here was that most of them were games we’d seen before. Remember that problem of having to show games to pay the bills that the Summer Game Fest Kickoff had? Welp, it was back here — they pushed MechWarrior 5 way hard, and that’s from someone who actually has MechWarrior 5.

Grade: C-. This show was entertaining because of the hosts more than the reveal, which left a ton to be desired, right down to them promising Valve would make an appearance. It’s obvious it was small games, but some of these games had been seen before. Highlights include War Tales, Ixion, and Lakeburg Legends.

Future Gaming Show: It’s as if the Koch Primetime people managed to come back for a second time. They were mad we complained about not seeing enough gameplay in their show, and the response was this show. I might’ve missed about five-to-ten games, but my personal final tally was forty-nine titles previeweed. In ninety minutes, they managed to show probably sixty games.

This on it’s own would be great, but maybe a dozen of them were games viewers hadn’t seen before. And sure, if someone wants to remind me a game first shown a year ago exists, I get it. But to try and show me titles I’d seen just this Friday or even at the PC Gaming Show an hour earlier? This felt endless, but not in a good way. It just made me wonder how many times one can show off the same game in a matter of days.

Grade: D+. Nothing can be worse than Koch Primetime, because the point of these things is to show some games. But it’s also ideally to show games people haven’t already seen a billion times. This conference also reminded me of how creatively bankrupt the indie scene can be sometimes.

Capcom: This was exactly what Capcom said it was — they looked at two games they already had out, and two games coming up, and called it a show. People who were disappointed expected more from them, and despite Capcom clearly announcing its plan, they absolutely should have had more. Monster Hunter Rise and Resident Evil Village are already out, there’s no need to have them show up here. Ace Attorney Chronicles and Monster Hunter Stories 2 are so close to release that they could’ve just shown these at other conferences. In fact, Monster Hunter Stories 2 did show up at multiple other shows. No E3 show should be about games that are either already out or so close to release.

Grade: D-. Even being reasonable by understanding they might not be ready to show anything and even tried keeping expectations in check, there was no point to this conference. It was a waste of thirty minutes.

Nintendo Direct: Coming out of so many decent-at-best E3 performances, people wanted Nintendo to “save” E3. If that was the expectation, most people probably left disappointed. But if people only went in looking for some good games, this was a great show. They started off with a hype presentation revealing Tekken‘s Kazuya Mishima as the next Super Smash Bros Ultimate fighter in a, frankly, hilarious trailer (Kirby’s not going for your Tekken nonsense, Kazuya!), then showed off Metroid: Dread — a game fans have been wanting for sixteen years!

Those weren’t the only things they had present either. They also showed off a new WarioWare title, a new Cruis’n, and capped the show off with a look at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2. All-in-all, this was a solid show that left people informed on what games Nintendo has planned for the remainder of the year and Switch owners everywhere should have no questions left in their mind on what major titles are coming for the summer and fall seasons.

But the show did leave some questions. Where was NEO: The World Ends With You 2? Where was Pokemon? That game is also a fall title and it was mysteriously missing, let alone Pokemon Legends: Arceus, which comes out in Q1 2022. And that’s to say nothing about major new titles like a new Fire Emblem or a new Monolith Software project. And it also doesn’t involve figuring out what’s happened to Metroid Prime 4 and Bayonetta 3.

Grade: B-. In the end, Nintendo’s biggest upcoming titles were left off the list, and much of what was show were ports of games that already exist on other consoles along with some of Nintendo’s C-Tier franchises. As cool as it is to see WarioWare, that’s not even in the same tier as Fire Emblem, which itself isn’t in the same tier as something like Mario Kart or Super Mario. This direct presentation had a couple games for Nintendo casuals, mixed with a lot of games for the Nintendo hardcore.

(Editor’s Note: Bandai Namco’s presentation was so laughably slapdash and short that we still can’t believe the ten-minute show was real.)

E3 2021 was something fans begged to see return, but in the end left most of us feeling either underwhelmed or even outright frustrated at just how little was there. The unfortunate reality is a lot of the games fans are aware of were pushed back to 2022, which means a lot of publishers could show upcoming games fans aren’t aware of, but those games probably got pushed to make room for the 2021 games that were shoved into 2022. Ultimately, the show probably deserves about a 7/10. Even with that rating, it was still a delight to have E3 make its grand return.

Hopefully, next year developers are a little more prepared … and Sony decides to step back into the ring.

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