E3 2019 is behind us, and over 70 PC games were shown in some form or another. Now that we’re all home recovering, we’ve taken some time to discuss our favorite trailers and gameplay demonstrations from the week, choosing the 10 games we came away from E3 most excited to play.
We set no specific criteria for these awards, though we focused on games we got the best looks at—we’re excited for Elden Ring, for example, but all we saw was a pretty cinematic. But even where we did get a good look, these awards are based on ideas and potential. We hope all these games are as good as they looked at E3.
John Wick Hex
Samuel: Bithell Games’ take on John Hex is a strategy game, as the name suggests, but it’s not turn-based. Instead, the action is continuous, to replicate the moment-to-moment feel of a John Wick set piece, where goons arrive out of nowhere for close combat scraps. Each level doesn’t last very long, and the tactical choices you have to make mid-battle are cool: is it worth rolling and grabbing that gun, at the risk of being hit by two incoming enemy bullets? Is it worth throwing your pistol since it’s faster than aiming and shooting, even though the chance of hitting is only 70%? You have to think like Wick, basically. I played three levels of it at E3, and it really hit the spot as a fast-moving, fresh-feeling strategy experience.
Chris: It feels bold to make a Wolfenstein game where the star of the series has gone missing. It’s also daring to make it a two-player co-op game (though you can play solo with the AI as your partner). But MachineGames may have managed to pull off both those risks nicely. BJ Blazkowicz’s daughters, Jess and Soph, are fun: loud, cocky, and enjoyably energetic. There’s lots of graphic, satisfying, Nazi-killing action, and just as importantly, lots of fun ways to work as a team that don’t involve pumping lead into the scum of humanity. Working as a team to open doors, solve puzzles, activate elevators, and unlock secrets feels novel and takes the co-op to places beyond simply picking up your partner when they’ve been knocked down. MachineGames is partnered with Arkane, developers of Dishonored, which is evident in the level design which gives players lots of different options for combat and stealth. I’m excited to see more when it releases this summer.
Wes: I almost wish Cyberpunk 2077 could remain an idea forever, because as it becomes a real game it will inevitably disappoint in some ways. But it’s also shaping up to be by far the highest fidelity single-city RPG ever, unprecedented in scale and detail. Combining Deus Ex’s approach to open-ended design with The Witcher 3’s RPG chops brings this down to Earth, but in a way that still makes Cyberpunk 2077 thrilling to watch take shape.
James: Cyberpunk 2077 ‘s 50-minute E3 demo showed off the bewildering scope and detail of just one of Night City’s districts, which I’m thinking will be the true draw once it releases in April. What we saw of the combat stuck to the guns-blazing vs stealthy dichotomy we’ve seen in plenty of games already, but the people and history and atmosphere of the Pacifica district depict a setting that’s been carefully considered from every angle.
Cyberpunk is an angry genre and Cyberpunk 2077’s portrayal of late-late-late capitalism and systemic racism are propped up to give players plenty of incentive to exercise their anger to, as digital Keanu said in this year’s cinematic trailer, “wake the fuck up” and get to burning that city. Let’s just hope the story and role-playing versatility within don’t simply treat these issues and people as set dressing.
If we’re going to wallow in grim futuristic reflections of contemporary problems, let’s learn a thing or two along the way. Cyberpunk 2077 has the potential to be one of the few big-budget games that doesn’t shy away from ugly truths. Coupled with those stunning looks, complex stat systems, a diversity of playstyles, and, of course, Keanu, and we could have a modern classic on our hands. All that’s left to do is play it and find out.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
Chris: I’m excited about the idea that you’re not the only one who has been illegally turned into a vampire in the Mass Embrace at the start of the game. There are others, too, still out there somewhere in the city, and you’ll be able to track them down and see how they’re doing in a series of optional side-quests. Cara Ellision (who formerly wrote for PC Gamer) wrote these quests and they seem like an interesting way to tell the stories of regular people with jobs, with families, with lives, struggling to cope with their new situation in ways that your character might not be.—Chris Livingston
Tyler: The gameplay we were shown was a bit wonky—especially the combat—but as Phil said after his look at Bloodlines 2 at E3, it wouldn’t be a true sequel if it weren’t. I hope it’s been refined by the time it releases next year, but the goofy ragdolls don’t turn me off of the roleplaying opportunities. Phil, who wasn’t controlling the game but was directing the choices, decided to play as a cocksure vampire who thinks he can talk his way out of everything, but always fails to do so. That’ll probably be my approach.
Empire of Sin
Phil: Brenda Romero’s new strategy game looks like the spiritual successor to Gangster: Organised Crime. Set in 1920’s prohibition-era Chicago, you pick one of 14 crime lords, based on real gangsters from the time, and work to take over the city’s underworld. You can assault, build and upgrade businesses, recruit underlings who will gain dynamic personality traits based on your actions, and even sit down with your rivals for tense negotiations.
Combat takes place in XCOM-style turn-based strategy encounters that are still affected by the underlying simulation. Cause too much carnage with grenades, for instance, and nearby police will be drawn to your location mid-fight. And Romero Games has already committed to comprehensive mod tools. This was one of the most surprising things I saw at the show, and I can’t wait to see how deep the simulation runs.
Phil: Her Story’s Sam Barlow doesn’t shy away from a challenge. His new narrative mystery, Telling Lies, draws inspiration from Breath of the Wild. Specifically, Barlow wants to create an ‘open world’ version of Her Story’s scene search mechanic, where every thread you pursue leads to a satisfying story beat—even if it isn’t directly related to the game’s central mystery.
Once again you’re searching for words contained in video clips—although this time you’re scraping the data from video calls its characters have made. It’s a much bigger game, with four central characters and many more clips to uncover. To make that less daunting, new tools let you scrub through video clips, highlight terms from within videos themselves, and even bookmark to a specific point in time. It’s a satisfying tactile upgrade to Her Story’s systems, and—with Barlow being incredibly careful about not showing anything of the story—I’m excited to see what mysteries hide in its many, many scenes.
Phil: The combat is just as satisfying as in 2016’s Doom, but Doom Eternal is doubling down on the resource juggling that so expertly set the pace of its predecessor. Need health? Punch it out of your foes with a melee takedown. Need ammo? Chainsaw an enemy and it will burst from their corpse. Need armour? Your shoulder mounted flamethrower will make that happen. Of course, everything is limited, meaning there’s a delicate balancing act happening within each pacey display of gore-soaked combat skill. Enemies now gruesomely deform, combat mods feel more situational, and your Super Shotgun has a goddamned meat hook. Doom is arguably the best singleplayer shooter of this decade. Doom Eternal could well surpass it.
Wes: I’m in love with Doom Eternal’s new way of implementing 1UPs—like all of Doom 2016, it’s a clever rethinking of an age-old gaming staple, rooted in the idea of balancing challenge with the goal of never letting up on momentum.
Chris: It was sort of hard to imagine how Doom Eternal could top the acrobatic gunplay of 2016’s Doom, but maybe it was obvious: more acrobatics and more guns. And dashing, climbing, and swinging around with the grappling hook all feel great thanks to a level design that makes it intuitive. At times during the demo my boots hardly seemed to touch the ground, and when they did it was just to stomp some grunt’s head into mush before taking off again.
Hollow Knight: Silksong
James: Expect more lavish art, a triumphant orchestral score, and secrets to uncover for years, but Silksong isn’t just another Hollow Knight with a new face. This is Hollow Knight by way of Bloodborne, with a strong focus on agility and aggression in combat encounters and a much more complex moveset to work through them with. Nearly all of Hornet’s moves push her forward. The down attack is still allows you to bounce off of enemies, but Hornet moves down and forward at an angle, flinging you back and forth across arenas in a frantic bid to maintain momentum while slashing about to rid a room of armored bugs. Hold dash to move into a sprint. A well-timed slash while sprinting vaults you over the enemy, setting you up for another slash from behind or a downward dash into another aerial maneuver.
Healing is different now too. Powered up from hitting enemies, the silk bar instantly and completely heals Hornet, a strong contrast to Hollow Knight much slower health recharge ability. It sounds like it simplifies things, but because you can only use it once the silk bar is completely full and because it completely heals Hornet, you’re encouraged to dance on the edge of death to get the full benefit of her healing power. It’s better to heal Hornet when she’s one hit away from death rather than four hits, for instance. Every hit you can ‘buy’ for her is more time spent alive, desperately chipping away at a boss’s health. These changes might not mean much to anyone that hasn’t played Hollow Knight, but think of it this way: the sequel to the best Metroid game ever now has much, much better combat.
The Outer Worlds
Samuel: The only disappointing thing about The Outer Worlds’ presence at E3 this year was that it wasn’t hands-on. It might’ve been a contender for game of the show if it was, and if it plays as well as it looks. It really has been crafted to be the dream RPG for a certain generation of player, with quests that can permeate in a whole bunch of ways, colourful little planetary hubs, and a bizarre, dark sense of humour that fans of earlier Fallout games will no doubt appreciate (bacon-flavoured pig tumours are a popular food item on the world shown in the E3 demo). The presentation shown off by Obsidian was a little too slight at about 20 minutes in length, under half of what CD Projekt Red had in store for Cyberpunk, but I still emerged excited. Just let me play an hour of this damn thing. It looks so good.
Wes: The Outer Worlds seems like the exact RPG many of us crave right now—dense and reactive to our choices, but at a scale that won’t take a hundred hours to see through. That hits the spot.
Best of the show: Watch Dogs Legion
Samuel: Ubisoft’s open world hacking series gets a serious upgrade with Legion’s novel central conceit: you can play as anyone you meet in a post-Brexit London dystopia, recruiting them to the Dedsec cause and unlocking them as your new protagonist. As the Ubisoft reveal showed, yes, this includes grandma assassins. The major twist, though, is that permadeath plays an important part of this game. If your new hero is gunned down and you don’t surrender or end up in the hospital, they’re gone. That should make each run through the game feel like a different story.
But there’s a load of other neat ideas in Watch Dogs Legion. You can hack and control delivery drones, and drop explosive barrels and boxes on people from above. The three new, defined classes let you play as a stealth character with a brief invisibility window, or put you in charge of mini spider robots to let you infiltrate enemy territory. You’re not forced to fight lethally, which is most welcome in a game where you’re playing as ordinary civilians.
Chris: As someone with more than a passing interest in NPCs, Samuel’s writeup of Legion sent it rocketing to the top of my most-wanted games list instantly. The trailer brought me back down to earth a bit—there was an awful lot of gunplay and this is London, not Chicago—but I’m still 100% into the premise of playing as a bunch of random nobodies instead of a single protagonist. Plus, there are plenty of non-lethal weapons and a genuinely great reason to use them—you can actually recruit your enemies, provided you leave them alive.
Mainly, I love games that let players tell their own stories, and Legion feels it could accomplish that because we’ll all be playing it as a different group of people. I’m looking forward to hearing about everyone else’s experiences as I am in having my own.