The Biggest Winner from E3 2021 Is...

This year's E3 wasn't one of most exciting in living memory, but it had its moments.
This year's E3 wasn't one of most exciting in living memory, but it had its moments. / Photo courtesy of E3

Kind of a sleepy E3, huh? After so many years as the most show-stopping event in the gaming calendar, with a pedigree of major announcements nearly as long as the industry is old, E3's time at the top may be coming to a close. But that doesn't mean this year's all-digital conference was devoid of excitement.

A few companies in particular stepped up to bring the heat on the announcements front. Ubisoft's conference was solid, highlighted by some gameplay for Rainbow Six Extraction and a pair of exciting announcements in the form of Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Square Enix had some heaters in its lineup, namely Eidos Montreal's Guardians of the Galaxy action game and Team Ninja's Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin.

Other companies took very different approaches, with mixed results. Take-Two spent its whole conference talking corporate responsibility around diversity and equity, which made for an interesting if not quite as engaging conference. Gearbox fell flat on its face in front of the entire E3 audience. Different approaches, for sure.

Ultimately, the best conference of the event comes down to two main competitors: Nintendo and Microsoft. Both came to play. Nintendo revealed the final Smash Ultimate DLC figher, Kazuya from the Tekken series. It revived Metroid, Mario Party, WarioWare, and Advance Wars from varying states of decay, and announced Life is Strange was coming to the console. Above all else, of course, it played its trump card and showed off the first gameplay trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2. For many, that was likely the most exciting part of the entire long weekend.

But Microsoft had a couple of trump card of its own, one of which was recent acquisition Bethesda. And while the studio didn't bring the next Elder Scrolls to play, it did bring a release date for its first new IP in ages, the sci-fi exploration game Starfield — an Xbox and PC exclusive that will be available on the Xbox Game Pass. Speaking of, Bethesda announced 30 of its games are now available via Game Pass. Not too shabby.

Microsoft's other ace in the hole was a Halo Infinite trailer, multiplayer preview, and release window setting the game for a holiday 2021 launch. The multiplayer, which makes liberal use of the grappling hook from the campaign, will launch alongside the campaign at that time.

Other big titles from the conference: The Outer Worlds 2 was announced for Xbox and PC, Age of Empires 4 got a release date (Oct. 28), Forza Horison got a release date (Nov. 9), Microsoft debuted some pre-alpha gameplay for Battlefield 2042, showing off the series' trademark massive scale and vehicle combat.

That wasn't all. The long-awaited S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2: Heart of Chernobyl also got a release date (April 28, 2022), Xbox and PC exclusivity, and day one Game Pass availability. Microsoft unveiled Arkane's co-op vampire shooter, Redfall. The new title came with a spiffy trailer, Xbox-exclusivity, and a summer 2022 release window. Indie favorites Slime Rancher and A Plague Tale announced upcoming sequels. Microsoft Flight Simulator is coming to consoles July 27 with a Top Gun expansion to tie into the new movie.

All in all, Microsoft's conference was about as full of gas as these things get, and a welcome adrenaline injection amid an otherwise lackluster E3. For its depth and breadth of content, it's safe to crown Microsoft E3's biggest winner.