We hope you like video games, because E3 2021 just left us with a ton of them. This year, gaming’s biggest annual event traded the halls of Los Angeles for an all-online show, so we spent long hours watching press conferences and taking meetings from the comfort of our couch in order to spotlight the games and gadgets we think will actually be worth your money.
In order to pick out the best of E3, we met with developers for in-depth demonstrations, combed through tons of detailed gameplay videos, and even went hands-on with some games and peripherals ourselves. Game reveals had to include substantial gameplay footage to be considered for our awards — no pre-rendered hype trailers here. We also factored in our experience with each developer’s previous releases when picking our winners.
From exciting new games for your PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch and PC, to gadgets that will open up new ways to play them, here’s what stood out the most to us from a jampacked E3 2021.
Best of show: Xbox Game Pass (starting at $9.99; microsoft.com)
Even among all the new game and gadget announcements, Xbox Game Pass was the real winner of E3. With 27 out of the 30 games revealed at the Xbox E3 showcase coming to Game Pass at launch, Microsoft’s gaming subscription service positioned itself as an even better value for those looking to enjoy as many titles as possible without blowing a ton of money.
Xbox Game Pass gained some serious heavy hitters at E3, including the wacky role-playing of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the intense zombie shooting of Back 4 Blood, and the addictive dungeon crawling of Hades (one of our favorite games of 2020). Game Pass will continue to get you all of Microsoft’s flagship releases on day one, including two of our best-of-show picks — Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 — in addition to 2022’s much-anticipated space adventure, Starfield.
In a world where games typically sell for $60 to $70, the fact that you’ll get all of these titles as part of your $10- to $15-per-month subscription is kind of bonkers. And with Xbox Game Pass continuing to become available on just about any device with a screen, you don’t even have to hunt down an expensive Xbox Series X to enjoy them. We already consider Game Pass to be the best value in gaming, and now it’s even better.
Where you can play it: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, mobile, web browser
When you can play it: Now (release dates vary by game)
Best gaming accessory: Turtle Beach Recon Controller ($59.95; turtlebeach.com)
The Turtle Beach Recon Controller is the company’s first entry into the controller space, and while we haven’t gone hands-on yet, our previous experience with Turtle Beach products has us eager to take its compelling feature set for a spin. This $60 wired gamepad offers textured grips designed to keep your hands cool, two remappable buttons on the rear, and a Pro-Aim focus mode built to help you get more precise shots in games like Call of Duty and Fortnite. Those are perks you can’t get on the standard Xbox Wireless Controller that costs the same.
But we’re especially excited about the onboard audio controls, which let you take advantage of Turtle Beach’s signature audio features using any gaming headset that you plug into the controller’s headphone jack. Those include Superhuman Hearing for better spotting enemy footsteps, mic monitoring for hearing your own voice clearly, and multiple sound profiles — all of which helped make the Turtle Beach Stealth 700 our favorite wireless gaming headset. With its ability to bring those perks to any pair of headphones while offering extra grips and buttons over the standard Xbox controller, we’re especially eager to get our hands on the Recon controller later this year.
Where you can use it: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
When you can get it: Summer 2021
Best throwback gadget: The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch ($49.99; bestbuy.com)
Nintendo might not have given us a new Switch at E3 2021, but it did show off a new piece of hardware that we expect to be a big hit this holiday. Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda is a standalone handheld system that lets you play The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening in all their pixelated glory.
In addition to those three Nintendo classics, you’ll also get to play Vermin, a game from Nintendo’s classic Game & Watch LCD handhelds that’s been updated to feature Zelda series star Link. You can also use this gadget as an interactive, Zelda-themed clock or timer when you’re not gaming on it. We had a lot of fun playing with the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. handheld that Nintendo released last year, and we think this new Zelda version will be a must-have gift for anyone who swears by the Master Sword.
When you can get it: November 12
Best gaming hardware: Arcade 1UP Infinity Game Table (Price TBD; arcade1up.com)
Arcade 1UP’s Infinity Game Table lets you enjoy family board game nights without having to clean up all the plastic pieces afterward — whether your loved ones are in the same room or across the country. We’ve spent the past week with this large interactive table and have had a good time playing classics like Battleship, Sorry, Connect Four, Checkers and Scrabble on its big touch display.
Available in 24-inch and 32-inch variations (we tested the former), the Infinity Game Table is easy to set up and comes with a set of detachable legs, so that you have the freedom to put it in the center of your living room or on top of your kitchen counter. It includes 30 games out of the box, and largely felt responsive whether we were rolling virtual dice or scrambling to put words together. The machine’s built-in haptic feedback added a nice extra dimension to these typically analog games, as we could feel our board rumble every time we secured a hit in Battleship.
But it’s the table’s online play functionality that really makes it a standout. We played a round of online Monopoly in a demo with the Arcade 1UP team, and were very impressed by how quick and easy it was to get a game together with people scattered around the country. Considering that some folks might not be ready to gather in person just yet, we appreciate that the Infinity Game Table does a good job replicating the game night experience, whether or not you have people nearby.
When you can get it: July 17 (pre-orders)
Best PlayStation game: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy ($59.99; amazon.com)
Square Enix is once again taking on the Marvel universe with a new Guardians of the Galaxy game, which seems to retain what we liked about Marvel’s Avengers while also addressing some of our problems with it. This intergalactic action-adventure game stood out to us thanks to vibrant art that looks both photorealistic and comic-booky, stylish third-person action, and interactive dialogue that allows you to shape how the story goes.
Watching Star-Lord shoot up and knock around bad guys brings to mind the satisfying combat in last year’s Avengers game, while the dynamic narrative and ability to give commands to allies like Drax and Gamora have echoes of Mass Effect, a digital space opera we really love. And while Marvel’s Avengers felt weighed down by an underwhelming multiplayer experience, Guardians looks like a much more focused single-player adventure that will hopefully hone in on why we love these characters to begin with.
Where you can play it: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
When you can play it: October 26, 2021
Best Xbox game: Forza Horizon 5 ($59.99; microsoft.com)
From a pure visual standpoint, no game at E3 blew us away quite like Forza Horizon 5. Microsoft’s latest open-world racer looks more photorealistic than the series ever has, with stunning weather and lighting effects as well as a painstakingly detailed recreation of Mexico that should make for a great showpiece for the Xbox Series X and Series S.
But it’s not only the fancy graphics that impressed us — Forza Horizon 5 also just looks like a lot of fun. In an extended overview of the game’s free-roaming driving action, we got a look at Forza Link, which automatically suggests multiplayer activities for you and your fellow drivers based on your progress and preferences. So if Forza Link knows you love mini-games, it’ll automatically group you up with other players in a Horizon Arcade activity, such as the Pinata Pop, a goofy challenge of destruction that we can’t wait to try out.
We put a ton of hours into 2018’s Forza Horizon 4 thanks to its tight and accessible driving, gorgeous visuals, and boatload of races and challenges, and Horizon 5 looks like it’ll take all of that to the next level when it drops this fall.
Where you can play it: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
When you can play it: November 9, 2021
Best Nintendo Switch game: Metroid Dread ($59.99, amazon.com)
While we still have a while to wait for the hotly anticipated Metroid Prime 4, Metroid Dread is looking like it’ll hold us over just fine. Dread is the first new 2D entry in Nintendo’s beloved action series in 19 years, harkening back to the days of running and gunning through labyrinthe sci-fi worlds while gaining new abilities and discovering cool secrets.
Based on the footage we’ve seen, Metroid Dread looks like it’ll retain the tight 2D shooting and expansive exploration we’ve enjoyed in classics like Super Metroid while modernizing things with slick graphics, immersive cutscenes and new over-the-shoulder gameplay segments. It’s also simply refreshing to see a new Metroid game on Nintendo Switch, as this classic franchise has stayed dormant for way too long. If you need a break from Mario and Animal Crossing and want something a little more mature and action-packed, keep an eye on this one.
Where you can play it: Nintendo Switch
When you can play it: October 8
Best PC game: Battlefield 2042 ($59.99; amazon.com)
Battlefield 2042 aims to be the biggest, most dynamic entry yet in a first-person shooter series already known for its massive scale. And based on the gameplay we’ve seen in both trailers and private presentations, we think the developers at DICE are well on their way to that goal.
The new Battlefield game brings the series back to a future-warfare setting, and will support a whopping 128 players on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S — that’s double the player count of previous installments.
“There [are] a lot of things we weren’t able to do before that we can do now, which is quite exciting,” game design director Feras Musmar told us in an interview, explaining how the team is taking advantage of the latest PC and console hardware. “The maps are obviously bigger than ever. The world is quite dynamic.”
The “dynamic” part doesn’t seem like just a buzzword. Sandstorms, tornadoes and even nuclear rocket launches can all occur mid-battle, forcing you to adapt on the fly whether you’re fighting on the ground or piloting one of the game’s many land or air vehicles. These moments are a sight to behold in live gameplay and should add a fun layer of spectacle and strategy to this already-ambitious series. And while we’ve enjoyed our time with the historical action of Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V, we’ve been yearning for a more futuristic setting that will give us more high-tech toys to play with.
Where you can play it: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
When you can play it: October 22, 2021
Best multiplayer game: Halo Infinite ($59.99; amazon.com)
We put more than 100 hours into Halo 5’s multiplayer component, so when we say that Halo Infinite looks like an exciting evolution of an already-great formula, we mean it. The latest installment in Microsoft’s flagship shooter seems to be building on the tight, competitive action from the previous game, complete with some exciting new wrinkles to shake things up.
You’ll be able to use the new grappling hook to grab powerful weapons from a distance, or utilize Halo 3-style abilities like a deployable shield or a Threat Sensor that lets you see enemies behind walls. This should hopefully lead to some of the most dynamic, tactical and fun Halo combat yet — you can literally use your grappling hook to jack an enemy’s vehicle and throw them out of it, which is just one of many crazy plays from the trailers that we can’t wait to try ourselves.
What has us even more excited is that Halo Infinite’s multiplayer suite will be completely free to play, with full cross-play support between Xbox and PC. So if you’re looking for a new shooter to dive into with your friends without spending a single dime, Infinite should absolutely be on your radar.
Where you can play it: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
When you can play it: Holiday 2021
Best indie game: Cat Cafe Manager (price TBD; steampowered.com)
We got to play a handful of fun indie games during E3 2021, but Cat Cafe Manager is the one we’re itching to get back to the most. As its name implies, this charming title tasks you with designing and running your own cat cafe, where you’ll have to take care of your customers as well as the growing collection of stray cats you’ll adopt over time. And it’s all set against a whimsical fantasy story involving an ancient cat shrine. What’s not to like?
We really enjoyed Cat Cafe Manager for how relaxing it is to play. Laying out and decorating our cafe was as simple as clicking around the screen, and it wasn’t long before we were chatting up customers and upgrading our space with new tools (and more cats, of course). The game’s chill pace and simple-yet-addicting gameplay reminds us of similar titles we love like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Sims 4, and it’s shaping up to be a nice retreat for anyone looking to escape the chaos of real life for a few hours at a time.
Where you can play it: Nintendo Switch, PC
When you can play it: Q2 2022