E3 was a tough sell this year. Sure, there were attendees and panels for the first time, and the show has slowly been losing its luster for years when it comes to AAA game announcements, but even amid the slowly decaying husk, there have usually been a few gems. Last year gave us Absolver, BC's Best of E3 2016 winner, Bound, ABZU, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Mafia III. 2017's E3 was a barrage of CGI trailers, the occasional gameplay walkthrough, and very little of the show seemed new. Sony ignored their usual indie programming in favor of a bunch of AAA titles that are just the next entry in an established franchise with little change, Microsoft shot through their indie showcase so quickly that few games stuck, and the PC Games Show has never really been the kind of venue to move indie titles around.
More than that, many of the expected games didn't show. And the ones that did got gorgeous CGI trailers and incredibly rushed pre-alpha "gameplay" that barely constitutes a game. I'm looking at you Beyond Good And Evil 2. Call of Duty WWII plays like Infinite Warfare, except set back in 1944. Destiny 2 gave us a multiplayer that is a slightly tweaked version of Destiny's multiplayer, which we know Bungie does well. Monster Hunter Worlds gave us the ability to watch a developer play through an early demo of the game. Shadow of War suffered from mono-focus, and obvious problems the developers were refusing to even acknowledge, and Shadow of the Colossus, while interesting, was more of an announcement than even a proper trailer.
Which leaves us with very little left.
The easy thing to do would be to blame the whole damn thing on the new consumer badges, call the show dead, and move on. It's been done before and it will continue to be done again.
Instead, I'm going to do my best to bring you the games that gave us some actual gameplay, were playable on the floor, and seemed truly representative of the state of gaming in 2017.
So first, the nominees for Best of Show:
Sea of Thieves
It's a pretty common fantasy, being a pirate. We never want the reality, the scurvy, the nearly democratically elected captains who served at their crew's approval, the abject misery of being aboard a rotting hunk of wood. We want the fantasy, the epic sea battles, the drinking, the random carousing on an island with our crew. And Sea of Thieves does a perfect job of delivering on that fantasy. With all the changes in the game we've seen in the last year, it is a more elaborate fantasy, with the same kind of light-hearted feel. And despite 2017 being the Year of The Boat, Sea of Thieves is still the one that gets to the heart of the pirate fantasy. It isn't about reality, it's about freedom and fun and being the most pirate version of yourself you can be. I've had a massive soft spot for this game since last year's E3, and it was a definite highlight of the show again this year. Despite being a favorite, I couldn't quite pin Sea of Thieves down as the Best of Show. Because it just isn't unique this year. Too many games involve boats and ship battles.
Focus Home Interactive and Dontnod Entertainment's Vampyr has also been kicking around since last year, and still showed slick gameplay while presenting players with difficult decisions. That's the sort of challenge that really does seem to be lacking in gaming some days. Having choices is common, but meaningful ones with lasting ramifications is another story. And Vampyr provides you with the sort of moraltiy conflict that isn't easy to rationalize. And it isn't meant to be. That's the beauty of it. But, that complexity didn't feel worthy enough of the title.
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is the kind of game that just refuses to be labelled. There's crazy hats, you play guitar, hang out with weird humans, control your enemies, inanimate objects, and dinosaurs. It is an utter madhouse and is honestly a perfect step forward for Nintendo's Mario franchise. Things had been so stable in the land of Mario for far too long, and Odyssey is here to shake things up. Granted, I can't say this will play well, but it's a good year to be Nintendo. If they were to bring out this game at any point in time, it would be now, when Switch demand is high and they're the current media darling. It's still one hell of an oddball game, and a risky move for Nintendo.
There are few things Bethesda does as well as they do batshit insanity, Nazis, elaborate staging is definitely a must, and then wrapping it all up with an immense story to keep us hooked. We've all bought Skyrim how many times now? And Wolfenstein II takes the best of Bethesda and makes the idea of shooting Nazis in the same year as Call of Duty WWII seem interesting. That is a feat in and of itself. But, some of Wolfenstein II's gameplay suffered from sequelitis. It was as if we were playing Wolfenstein all over with slightly better graphics. And thus, it eluded that Best of Show title.
And now, for the winner, BC's Best of Show at E3 2017:
That this particular game won will probably surprise you, but that's expected. A mobile game as Best of E3? Sheer unrestrained lunacy. But it isn't what King's Knight: Wrath of the Dark Dragon actually is that makes this game Best of Show. No, King's Knight is the best of E3 because it represents exactly what we have done to ourselves as gamers and games journalists. We have loved Final Fantasy XV so much that we easily accepted news of a Fishing VR entry in the game's massive expanded world, but more than that, we went ahead and demanded a separate universe for Final Fantasy XV. Every last one of us saw the Monster of the Deep trailer and wanted to sit there by a campfire and crack open a cold one with the boys. We wanted it so much that Square Enix gave us what we asked for. We have an expanded FFXV universe that includes King's Knight: Wrath of the Dark Dragon, which is a throwback to the original King's Knight, but is also the game that Noctis, Prompto, and presumably Gladio and Ignis, spend their time playing. We aren't getting a new version of King's Knight. No, we are getting a playable version of a game within a game. With this game, we can BE one of the boys as we stand in line at Starbucks tapping furiously at our smartphones. We won't just be fishing with the boys, cracking open a cold one with the boys, no. We will have achieved the ultimate experience and become them.
And you know what? We all loved this idea so much that King's Knight had a consistently massive line of people waiting at the Square Enix booth to play it.
If there is any game that perfectly represents E3 2017, it is this game, so help us all.