By Adi Robertson and Andrew Webster
Last year's E3 was all about new console hardware. In 2014 it'll be about the games.
Now that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are out in the wild, the biggest gaming show around will see a shift in perspective when it kicks off next week — it’s time to see what next-gen games really look like. Exciting new releases have been slim for both consoles, and outside of Titanfall there haven't been many exclusive games to differentiate the Xbox One and PS4. That should change at E3, where we're likely to see huge new properties for both consoles, including the likes of Halo and Uncharted. Now that the Xbox One will soon be sold without a Kinect, the two consoles are on even footing when it comes to price. This means that the games that will be the key differentiator between the two.
While Microsoft and Sony duke it out for first place in the console war, Nintendo will be out to prove that it's still a big player. The Wii U hasn't been selling, but Nintendo has a few tricks up its sleeve that could salvage the struggling console — there's more to look forward to than just an HD Legend of Zelda.
Outside of the big three, PC gaming will likely have a relatively small presence, especially with the delay of Valve's Steam Machines, but games like Civilization: Beyond Earth should help keep PC gamers interested. And with Sony's Project Morpheus and Facebook's acquisition of Oculus, this could be the first big coming out party for virtual reality games: we've seen plenty of the technology, but there have been few commercial VR-exclusive games announced to date. That will soon change.
The Verge will be live from Los Angeles next week to bring you all the news, starting with a full day of press conferences on Monday, before the show floor opens up on Tuesday. In the meantime, here's what to expect from gaming's biggest showcase.
Get ready for 'Halo'
When the Xbox One was first unveiled, Microsoft's focus seemed almost entirely on things other than games: it was all about owning the living room, turning the console into something that changed how you watched TV. A year later and things are different. Microsoft has been shifting its focus to games, and we expect that to continue at E3. We should get our first real glimpse at Halo 5: Guardians, the first main game in the series since 2012, which is due to hit the Xbox One in the fall of 2015. And now that Microsoft owns the rights to Gears of War, there's a good chance we'll see at least a tease of the next entry in that series as well. With Epic Games no longer at the helm, the next Gears of War is being developed by Black Tusk Studios, a brand-new studio focused exclusively on the franchise. But that’s all we really know about the upcoming game.
You can expect more familiar faces, as well. Microsoft recently announced the sequel to Forza Horizon — an open-world, street-racing spinoff of the popular racer — which is slated to hit both the One and 360 later this year. There's also a very good chance that Microsoft will continue to showcase its newfound emphasis on indie games. At last year's E3 press conference the company showed off Below, an intriguing new exclusive from Super Time Force developer Capy Games, and this year will likely include some similar indie surprises. One thing we won't be seeing much of is the curious TV / gaming hybrid Quantum Break — developer Remedy Entertainment recently announced that the game won’t get a full reveal until the summer, at Gamescom in Germany.
PS4 finally gets some good exclusives
Like Microsoft, Sony's presence at E3 will most likely be focused on new games — now that the PS4 is out, it needs to give more people reasons to buy it. The biggest title on display will likely be Uncharted 4. We've seen teases before, but this could be the first time we see what the traditionally beautiful series looks like on a powerful new console (the same goes for the PS4 remake of The Last of Us, also from developer Naughty Dog). Other big exclusives we'll get a chance to check out include the Victorian steampunk action game The Order: 1866 and The Witness, a fascinating new adventure game from the creator of indie classic Braid.
Maybe 2014 will be the year we see 'The Last Guardian' again
No Media Molecule, No That Game Company
What else we'll see remains a bit mysterious. We know that Media Molecule, the studio behind adorable PlayStation hits LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, won't be at E3, while Journey developer That Game Company will be expanding beyond Sony platforms for its next release. There are a few big PlayStation franchises we've yet to hear about on PS4, however, including God of War, Gran Turismo, and MotorStorm, so there's a good chance we'll see a next-gen version of at least one of them. And, as has been Sony's way of late, there will undoubtedly be an onslaught of new indie games announced for both the PS4 and Vita. We already know about exciting new titles like N++ and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, but next week we'll hear about at least a few more. But outside of new indie releases we aren’t expecting much in the way of new Vita titles.
If we're lucky we might even see the oft-delayed The Last Guardian, the next game from Shadow of the Colossus developer Team Ico. First announced way back in 2009 as a PS3 game, Sony claims that the much-anticipated title is still in development, but we've seen little of it since then. Maybe 2014 will be the year that finally changes.
Keeping the Wii U alive
While Microsoft and Sony try to keep the momentum of new console launches alive, Nintendo has a different problem: keeping the Wii U relevant after incredibly disappointing sales. We've already seen fantastic new Super Mario and Mario Kart games for the console, and we'll get to hear a lot more about the next Super Smash Bros. at E3, but Nintendo is running out of big franchises to help turn the tide. That means there’s a good chance Nintendo could pull out all the stops this year: we know a Wii U version of The Legend of Zelda is in the works, and next week we might finally see the series' high-definition debut in action. Given the company's dire predicament, we'll likely see Wii U version of other popular franchises as well, including Animal Crossing and Mario Party.
Mario meets 'Skylanders'
But the biggest thing on display might just be a toy, not a game. Nintendo recently revealed its Nintendo Figurine Platform, which is the company's attempt to sell NFC-enabled figures that can interact with Wii U games. It's a system popularized by franchises like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, and Nintendo will hope the likes of Mario and Pikachu will prove just as popular. The figures are expected to debut in time for the holidays, and coupled with a killer game they could be a big deal for Nintendo.
A big new 3DS game
The struggling Wii U may be the focus, but there's a good chance the 3DS might steal the show. We know that Nintendo will be announcing a brand-new title for the handheld next week. That in itself isn't that exciting, except that the company is dedicating a 90-minute-long presentation to that game alone, suggesting that it's something important. We're hoping for a new 2D Metroid — there hasn't been one since Metroid Fusion in 2002 — but Nintendo isn't giving any hints.
Big new games
A closer look at 'Destiny'
While 2013 was all about exclusives, we’re looking forward to plenty of cross-platform games in 2014, including some that we first heard about last year. Though a short prologue was released in March, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain still doesn’t have a release date besides "early 2015," and we’re expecting more details early next week. Destiny, a massively multiplayer first-person shooter designed by Halo studio Bungie, will make another appearance, where Bungie has confirmed we’ll see a playable competitive multiplayer demo and more details about a summer beta program. On the far more speculative side, we’re hoping for news — any news at all — about a second Mirror’s Edge game, which was teased at E3 2013. EA's press conference is expected to include "updates" on the franchise.
'Battlefield,' 'Call of Duty,' and more
Ubisoft, which just released bestseller Watch Dogs, has a few highly anticipated sequels in its official E3 lineup. Among others, Assassin’s Creed Unity is a new installment set during the French Revolution, following last year’s pirate-themed Black Flag, and Far Cry 4 moves its series from a tropical island to the Himalayas. Two military shooter dynasties are both getting new titles: Activision is showing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and unexpectedly police-themed Battlefield Hardline will be officially unveiled on June 9th. Arkham Knight, the final part of the (mostly) critically acclaimed series of Batman action games, was recently delayed until 2015, but it’s still highly anticipated at E3.
Expect to see a lot of familiar franchises
The Borderlands series has not one but two games at the event, but neither of them are made by original developers Gearbox. Telltale has spun off Tales from the Borderlands, an episodic adventure game in the vein of its acclaimed Walking Dead series. 2K Australia will show a playable demo of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, made in the original series’ RPG-infused first-person shooter style. In fact, all in all, we’ve got a lot of franchise installments on the table, including Mortal Kombat X, Alien: Isolation, and Star Wars: Battlefront, with the possibility of another Star Wars game from Dead Space studio Visceral. Civilization: Beyond Earth and The Sims 4 are rounding out the list. And in addition to big budget games, we'll also get to check out some of the latest and greatest in indie releases. There will be plenty on the show floor, as well as at the second annual Horizon press conference, which takes place at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Then there are the updates. Disney is preparing a standalone "2.0" version of its action figure-based Disney Infinity, adding characters from the Marvel universe. And in less solidly sourced news, Rockstar is rumored to be announcing a version of Grand Theft Auto V for the PlayStation 4, finally bringing one of last year’s most popular games to next-gen consoles.
Oculus after Facebook
The last big news in virtual reality came during the Game Developers Conference in March. Oculus began taking preorders for the second (and final) version of its development kit, and Sony revealed Project Morpheus, its competing prototype headset for the PlayStation 4. Both companies will be showing off their hardware again at E3, but what exactly we’ll see is a mystery.
This is Oculus’ first big event since being acquired by Facebook, and it’s possible — though hardly certain — that we’ll hear details about a final consumer version of the Oculus Rift, which is currently expected in 2015. Oculus has also branched out from hardware to publishing, and it’s supposedly working with a number of major developers on dedicated VR games, so seeing some new games isn’t out of the question either. With much of the headset tech locked down, the next big hurdle is finding things to do with it.
VR games go commercial
On that front, we’re looking forward to checking out Adr1ft, a virtual reality game developed by former Microsoft creative director Adam Orth — who started work on it after being notoriously fired for inopportune comments about the Xbox One’s always-on connection — and Call of Duty veteran Omar Aziz. A survival game about an astronaut attempting to repair a destroyed space station, it could end up being one of the first major VR titles.
Sony hasn’t been talking about its headset for nearly as long, and its plans are more nebulous. Any details about pricing, release date, or final design would be welcome revelations. It’s also shown off little more than a few tech demos, so we’ll be watching carefully for any new content. But rumors have been scarce. Last month, inside sources supposedly said that Media Molecule was going to announce a "landmark" world-building game for Morpheus, but the company’s recent announcement shot that down.
Valve was a big presence at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, but several months later, it’s nowhere to be seen. The company’s ambitious plans to release gaming-focused Linux "Steam Machines" with custom controllers have been pushed back to 2015, though we’re not sure yet how that affects partners like Asus and Alienware. Its prototype VR headset, allegedly superior to that of Sony or Oculus, seems to have appeared at a VR meetup in Boston, but it’s never been clear whether it will ever come to market. Obviously, it wouldn’t be E3 without rumors of a Half-Life 3 appearance, but Valve has called one such report "bogus." The company isn’t even on the exhibitors’ list, let alone ready to show a game that’s more apocrypha at this point than reality.
That's a lot of gaming to take in in just a few days, but it's also likely just the tip of the iceberg — E3 is typically full of surprises, so expect to plenty of brand new games you never even thought of. A desperate Nintendo, duelling Sony and Microsoft, and the first big push for commercial VR games should make for plenty of exciting reveals. Even without the draw of brand new consoles there's a lot to look forward to — and you can check it all out starting on Monday.